Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Essential Employee

The Governor of my state, Minnesota, called, under emergency declaration, a Shelter In Place order.

Oh Lord, Shelter in Place!

It is unprecedented!

It is unheard of!

It is amazing!

And it is all because of this terrible pandemic. Oooooh it's terrible, so terrible, the most terrible.

And under this shelter in place order we have to stay home unless it is an absolute emergency! You have to need food. You have to be in danger! You have to need MEDICAL HELP!

Oh, or you have to want to get a library book, perhaps a dvd of Chicago Fire season 3?  

My library and my County have interpreted the Governor's order to mean just that. Indeed they insist that it is exactly what the Governor meant.

So do you know what that makes me?


Fear me. For I am a hero.

Step aside all you slacker Doctors and Nurses. Cower before me oh grocery store stockers and farmers and drivers. Get off the roads you with your ambulances and firetrucks, your tool trucks keeping the city going, for I am on the move! I am the key to Western Civilization surviving through this darkness. Scurry before me little people! For Glenn Watson, 82 years old, of Blaine, Minnesota, would like to pick up a copy of Lee Child's seventh book...


And so to all of you out there in Internetland, lolling about in your pj's, good for you. Stop the spread. Shelter at home. Do the right thing.

But do not forget there are still giants among you, risking our lives to do the dangerous work that must be done. Do not forget we heroes, we titans, we ESSENTIAL workers, the people who put old bestsellers out on a table for you as you illegally defy state orders to get them. For lo we stride, we essential library employees, heroes of the age, like as Gods among you, tireless, resolute, heroic, bold, irreplaceable, and maybe, or maybe not, infected.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The problem with art

During a recent pandemic I was walking through my neighborhood alleyways, trying to keep the recommended 400 feet of distance from everyone in the world other than my wife.

Can we please do this forever?

People can just be, so, I don't know, infected.

And as I was walking I smelled tar.

I had so many feelings!

I know most of the reasons why, many of them having to do with the relation of smell to memory, and to how my four-year-old love of The La Brea Tar pits in L.A. imprinted deep emotions of positive association with the smell of tar that haunts me to this day. But that's not the point!

The point is that walking in that alley and smelling tar evoked in me a rich, complex array of sentiments and sensations as profound as any response to a piece of art. Yes, a song, book, or a painting may open up my world, cause reconsideration, and a complex burgeoning of feeling to be unleashed inside of me, but if tar can do that what makes art special or valuable? Because let's face it, anything I regard seriously and deeply, a tree, a glass, a sky, the song of a bird, a scrap of trash in the road, can well up with metaphor and meaning inside me. Anyone of them, if my effort is pure enough, is capable of briefly peeling back the facade, the great facade everywhere, and revealing the terrible and wonderful face of god!

And so what then, I ask again, is the point of art over any other random thing in the Universe?

I don't know. I don't have all the answers here. I'm just trying to make you feel.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Just wanted to say hey.

Credit to jim, but I edited it a tiny bit so it's almost like a fancy collaboration!

Pandemic jukebox 2

One Summer evening in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, in the 1990's, my wife and I went out to sit on the front steps of the four-plex Queen Anne house we lived in. Someone was playing music really loud. We could hear it reverberating through the ground in that way that overemphasizes the bass and drums and makes it hard to pick out the singing and melody. But at some point we were able to pick out that it was R.E.M.

"Who would play this so loud?" We asked each other.

Then "How could anyone play it so loud like this?"

And then the other strange, wonderful shoe dropped.

We lived a mile or two from a stadium where a popular minor league baseball club played at the time- Midway Stadium. The place also sometimes hosted concerts. We saw Bob Dylan there once with Ani Difranco. And once, one Summer evening in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, in the 1990's, my wife and I went out to sit on the front steps and we heard R.E.M. playing there live in a way that mysteriously carried through the humid air all the way to us.

This was that time!

And all of that is to introduce what I firmly believe is the greatest music video ever made. Of course I adore the song, but to bring it to film and actually deepen it is an astonishing act of art.

If you've never seen it the subtitles may throw you at first, as I think they maybe did me. They are not accidentally there. Stick with it.

I hope you like it:

Everybody Hurts

Time for some Internet exercise!

People will occasionally proffer some helpful advice on the Internet like:

Hey, maybe you should get off the Internet and walk around a bit.

Which is fine, even if a bit superior, I mean, isn't the person who said that writing it on the Internet. Maybe they should try walking around a bit instead of telling other people to do so!

And so in that spirit, with some of you trapped in your homes, I have borrowed from a tiny piece of my blog history to offer this opportunity to do a few short laps without having to leave the Internet

This is possible because what I am offering here are laps around the Internet.

You can run as many laps as you like, but I'll warn you, it starts out mildly interesting the first lap and gets way less interesting from there. Mainly it's for the exercise.

Though what it exercises the health professionals have not yet determined.

Click here and get ready for a healthful but pointless lap around the Internet

No lessons, just history

Gather around my friends and I will tell you another grim library tale from way back in the dark days of the 2020 pandemic.

Oh, it's still the dark days of the 2020 pandemic?

But I wrote this post five whole days ahead of time. Are you sure?

Well it's almost over isn't it?


Okay stop, that's enough, I don't want to know anything more about the future! It's horrible!

My library tale? Oh, now it just seems so trifling compared to what you all are dealing with in the future. 

But if you insist...

My sad tale begins on the gray first day that my stupid library began its inadvisable curbside pickup program. I arrived to a disorganized scene of unsafe chaos as the processes were worked out. Calls were coming in. Elaborate explanations were made. Double call protocols and multiple people hand-offs were instituted. Many pointless things were printed out. As many people, phone calls, and individual book touches as possible were involved. We still haven't entirely recovered from it and need 16 employees to check out a few dozen books to 20 or 30 people over the course of a full day.

Not that there's anything else to do.

Except stay home.

So you might guess that I had a bad attitude about it. You might even imagine that I complained about it just a tiny bit.

I did.

I was on the phone with a patron who had resolved not to just stay home, even though all the buses and billboards and Internet memes had begged them to. And I was hunting down their requested item that was not where it was supposed to be because even still our byzantine system goes mildly wrong half the time and it was much worse back then, and I was complaining about the Governor and the County Manager and the Library Director and the President and the Union and Capitalism and Communicable Diseases and MANAGERS, when one of my colleagues, sitting at a desk with nothing at all to do, offered me some advice.

"Why don't you just decide that everything is for the best and that we are helping people?" She asked.

I shrugged and replied "Why don't you just decide I am the best person you have ever met and can do no wrong?"

Alas, neither of us learned our lesson.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Pictures from Jim, the post

In preparation for the Pandemic rules in this blog I bought a camera. But it hasn't come yet. Then from out of nowhere my friend Jim sent pictures.

"Hey, I was going to do that!" I said. "Can I put them in my blog?"

He said sure.

One of the main things I wanted to photograph was graffiti. And along with all this coincidence of what Jim sent here is one I quite like of a post, splitting the more colorless Minnesota landscape of early Spring.

You're safe here in the inner circle

At this point this is something of a traditional sentiment from clerkmanifesto. It may no longer carry the weight of its earlier vehemence and in many ways has become more ritualistic, almost an observance. But what better time is there than during our pandemic rules to assert our meaning and history and rituals! So gather round my angry but light-giving fire as we talk to everyone who is not us:

To everyone who has not yet read this, is not currently reading this, and never will read this:

Fuck you.

And to those kind souls reading this, don't worry about them, they'll be fine anyway. Those types always are.

Pandemic Jukebox

In doing my hundred greatest albums of all time I regularly wonder: How will I fit the Kinks in there? They are easily one of my favorite bands of all time, but I'm not sure there is any album in particular that I can pick out. For me, more than any album, it's all those... songs.

As we stroll through the pandemic, with some of us dropping away to die (well, I mean, I HOPE not!), I do plan on providing a jukebox. I mean, can't you listen to a song or two from the computer you're at right now? And if you can, maybe you should listen to what, for me, belongs as the absolute song of the Pandemic.


Strangers on this road we are on. We are not two we are one.

Come on.

Maybe sometimes the songs I'll be sharing here will just be the music, but if I can, well: this is not only one of the most lovely Kink's songs, and one of the most lovely songs ever written, but as seen here it is from one of the most beautiful passages of film I have ever seen. 

I'm sorry that maybe it cuts off. I hate that, but I do beg you to take a look.

A favorite song in a favorite movie and absolutely essential to our current moment:


Bonuses for those of you doing the deep dive:

Keep in mind this is the second best song writer in the Kinks!

An enormously personable cover

You guys like the Kinks?

And one more singer I like

but these are all just footnotes.

Authority Issues, a post from 3 years ago

Yes, I suppose it's true that I have "Authority" issues. You can even tell by the way I put "Authority" in quotes like that, as if to say "Right, what a bunch of bullshit." Perhaps a tip off to my  "Authority" issues is how relentlessly I try to be an "Authority" myself. Look at this blog sometimes. It's just kind of fishy.

One place my "Authority" issues really pops up is when someone I like dies. Tom Petty? Seriously, why would you kill Tom Petty? You don't like Free Fallin'? There is something really wrong with you if you don't like Free Fallin'.

I know the apologetics: Some must die so that others may live. We must make room for the new. It's the circle of life. Whatever. I don't need more babies. Enough with the babies already! I don't need any new people! I like the old people just fine! I'm crazy about the old people! Why can't we just get old for awhile and then get younger for awhile. We can just sort of oscillate into eternity.

But no, we'll all die instead. Wow, that's clever. Who's the genius who thought of that?

Corona....... virus

 Lately, in the course of the pandemic it has become too crowded to walk safely along the river paths so I've had to switch to neighborhood routes. However, this morning dawned in the dismal gray of a lingering snow. The world dripped and slushed and I felt it might be discouraging enough to keep the river paths free of the infected masses for the morning. And so once again I walked with moderate safety in my bubble of copious space along the Mississippi.

While I was walking I got a really good idea for a blog post. It was the one a couple days ago about how Clerkmanifesto was designated as a Stage 2 Emergency Blog. It was satire. You might remember it.


It was really good! I mean, I liked it. 

Other people have different opinions. Like, all the time. 

All the time.

Anyway my idea was so good (to me) I had to pull off the river and write it in the little notebook I carry with me wherever I go. Luckily I was right then at the monument to WWI veterans. A spacious overlook there provides a sweeping view of the Mississippi. So I stood there in the chill gloom and wrote. I wrote about the coronavirus. It was a dark humor, but it kept me warm for a while.

I finished. Then I put my notebook away and turned from the river. A bottlecap caught my eye. It was sitting conspicuously on the edge of the monument.

"Corona" it said.

I laughed. Someone had left a tribute, or the message of a Corona bottlecap. "That's funny." I thought. And I decided maybe it would be amusing to take it to work with me, so I leaned forward to pick it up.


Oh my god, I almost touched it!

A bit I found in an old blog post

I like to keep my jokes around here at a "modestly funny" level because I can't figure out the trick of making them "very funny"

Friday, March 27, 2020


Aw the hell with it. 

Pandemic Rules Instituted.

The moment this is published my State, Minnesota, by order of the Governor, will be going under a stay at home order. Despite the fact that my County and my Library flatteringly thinks that my sitting around occasionally pulling holds to deliver books out the front doors to people illegally leaving their homes in the midst of the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime is essential work, I will defer to the Governor. I will be unable to work at my library.

Cough cough.

For two weeks I will be staying home with my wife, who is able to work at home.

During this time, now, I will be changing the rules of clerkmanifesto.

Everything is allowed.

Posts will be frequent, full of links, random, overwhelming. There might be pictures, music, video. In my fantasy world of readership I will be providing entertainment in an UNSTEADY INTERNET for the multitudes.

In reality...

I guess there are a few of you out there, mostly at home, maybe on the Internet more than usual. I hope this is useful and occasionally entertaining to you.


I adore the English language. I am fluent in no others, so, let's face it, I am not equipped to argue its comparative values. I mean Italian seems delightful. French is fabulously twisty. Japanese is full of satisfying emphasis. I find Portuguese so friendly! And Lakota positively dances. But I don't really know them.

But I do know about English! And I adore it!

Not only is it practical for my purposes, and agonizing, and essential.

But it is my favorite toy in the whole world.

I used to draw pictures, but the hell with pictures I finally decided. There is no tool in the world that I love like English. I can do anything with it. And sure, I get sad sometimes that not very many people get very excited about what I can do with English, but more recently I have decided I don't care as much as I thought. I can twirl English through the stars and the grass. I can force laughter out of human bodies. I can paint all the trees in the world in a single sweeping stroke.

Think of them now. Three trillion trees. Cause that's exactly how many there are. All of them. Dancing in a light breeze. One singular forest of all the trees. Seven elephants shuffle ponderously through. A leaf falls. It hits a caterpillar on the head. He looks up. "Look at all these trees!" He thinks.

Oh I love English.

All the stories. All the terrible jokes. All that truth!

I love truth. Most of the time. Sometimes it is very, very difficult. Sometimes I don't like it at all!  But I love the English of it.

But there is one thing, one tiny thing about English I despise. And I'm sorry to be so picky, but I must speak. I must speak in my beloved English.


There is nothing I hate in English more than the word "read".

"Wait." You wonder. "Read like pronounced in the river plant "reed", like we are doing it in the present tense, or 'Read' like the color red, like we have already done it in the past tense?"

Absolutely, fucking, exactly.

Thursday, March 26, 2020


Sometimes I write blogposts in my head as I try to fall asleep. And they're very important. Too important to forget. So I get up and walk to the living room. I look out upon my city from our wee but lordly perch. In the glowing street lights I am taken by surprise by a falling snow.

I don't know why I am surprised. It is hardly unusual for snow to fall here in the early Spring. Maybe all the grand crisis of the World and its terrible shutdown has made me forget the simple things like how we do not slip out of Winter here, but lurch unevenly.

And then I notice all the cars on the street below. Ten-thirty in the evening on a snowy Saturday night and the cars stream steadily by. No bars are open, no restaurants. There are no houses to visit, or clubs or businesses or theaters. It is all shut down. But still the cars. 

"Who on Earth would drive at night in the middle of an apocalypse?" I wonder.

I have now forgotten all the blogposts I have written in my head.

New ones will come.

I can sleep.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

This blog is important!

Due to the vital, lifesaving information this blog provides on the Coronavirus Covid-19 crisis we are proud to announce that Clerkmanifesto has been designated a Class 2 emergency business for the duration of all lock downs, with a temporary Class 2 emergency license running through the end of the calendar year. Only 42 blogs in the nation, mainly dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak, were chosen for this vital designation. We will do our best to carry forward with our mission of keeping you informed and up to date on all aspects of this immense social, health, and economic crisis.

Yesterday the 42 blog creators with this special emergency designation were flown to a hotel in Florida where we met together in a small, secured room in a hotel center there. Generous Federal funds were dispersed to us to broaden the scope our urgent missions. An all day strategy session took place. Each of the blogs were designated to specific regions. My region includes Minnesota, the Dakotas, Western Wisconsin, and a small corner of Nevada.

Starting tomorrow teams of four people will be canvassing your neighborhood and going door to door to hand out literature and inform you about what Clerkmanifesto has to offer in the Coronavirus situation. If you see these dedicated workers don't be alarmed. They are there to help and engage. Even if you already know all about our work at Clerkmanifesto, don't be afraid to say hi and shake their hands, maybe even give them a hug! They'll be out there doing hard and dangerous work to keep us all as safe as possible in this immensely difficult time.

And I too will be here every day fighting for you too. Check in often! Together we will triumph over this terrible disease!

Thank you, and stay strong!

F. Calypso

for Clerkmanifesto

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Library commitment

I am very hopeful that none of this nonsense will come to pass, and as I am writing this little bit of timely comedy three days before it actually unfurls on the Internet, you may well know so much more than me.


As I write from an empty library on a Saturday afternoon some of my managers are furiously preparing the front lobby of the library for a special request pick-up station during the time the library is closed. They are setting up checkout computers, lines, barricades, and social distancing measures. There are only one or two of them working on it. I was not invited to help, but I want to contribute to this bold initiative. So I've come up with a job for myself to help prepare.

I have decided to make a beautiful, proud, giant banner to hang above it all. In a grand and triumphal type it will read:

If we can get one book to one person we don't care how many people have to die!

Monday, March 23, 2020


Housekeeping is a novel by Marilynne Robinson. It came out 40 years ago. It is a slow, beautifully written book that I actually read all of, a feat that never ceases to amaze me. I mean, it seems like the kind of thing I might occasionally mean to read, but not the sort of thing I would actually read. It's just so... literary. It's like if during this pandemic I boldly proclaimed that I am going to read all the works of transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson!

Because I'm just not. But if I tried hard enough I could convince myself I was going to for maybe a few hours, or until I started on the first page, whichever came first.

But I actually read Housekeeping!

However this post is not about Marilynne Robinson's brilliant 1980 novel Housekeeping. I just started today's dissertation with the title "Housekeeping" because I thought I'd say some things about some of my coming up plans with this blog, some 'housekeeping', but then I started writing and, well, words came out, the very words you just read, albeit with a few small edited changes for clarity. Er, maybe not "changes for clarity", maybe more changes to add stuff in because I have so much to say!

Which leads beautifully into the issues of my housekeeping here today. I have a lot to say, although I am not clear on what, exactly, it is until I start saying it. Also, I have said a lot! I am a little more clear on what that is, and at least I have the numbers to tell me- over 2,600 blogposts and counting, and I am definitely counting. So I thought with more of us increasingly pinned down to our computers like a collection of butterflies in cases,  it might be fun, or engaging, or probably both (or neither, isn't that the way it goes?) to provide a lot more content on clerkmanifesto. I am thinking old posts, links, pictures, songs, more essays, and random... things. I am still trapped pointlessly at work, and while my Governor's "Shelter in Place" order seems likely, it is by no means sure at this point (well, yes, actually, it's going to happen if it hasn't already at time of this publication, because the rule is: Everything that happens in this pandemic is predictable, but it all happens two to 21 days after it should have- and we are in that time frame now). So when I am officially hunkered down with my lovely wife and my cupboard full of canned tomatoes, and way too little Galliano and orange cognac, the usual rules of clerkmanifesto will be going out the window and anywhere from a little more to a ton more content will be showing up here.

As it currently stands I will continue with my simple 8:30 a.m. post every day format. But when I am sheltering in place officially I will issue forth my new status under the code:

Pandemic Rules Instituted.

So stay home. Don't go anywhere unless you absolutely have to. And watch this space, obsessively! 

Or not, it will all happen either way. It's all a matter of how bad, how good, and how soon.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Same as it ever was

I'm at the closed library. I am sitting in the back room. I am working, such as it is, which it isn't. Maybe the phone will ring, maybe it won't. Half a dozen co-workers are somewhere out in this large library, I really don't know where. That's less than half of what we normally would have. I have no idea where the rest are- absent from fear, bunkered down, or on ventilators.

That last bit wasn't very funny, was it? No one here is on a ventilator, yet.

The world spins as ever. People like to say "We don't know what will happen tomorrow."

Yes we do.

Every day we know generally speaking what will happen tomorrow. We are accurate enough 99 times out of a hundred. That is an amazing level of accuracy!

But fucking hell that one time...

Saturday, March 21, 2020

What it's like working in a closed library

I risked my life for this.

Yours too.

I came in to work at my closed library as required.

For three hours I chatted with my co-workers. Eventually, to my gratification, everyone was calling the County Manager "Hairdo".

Every once in awhile I answered a phone call as well.

At about ten after four I realized it was my dinner break hour! so I took a cart of genre fiction upstairs to shelve. I mean really, what's the difference?

Time is just whatever happens in between washing our hands.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Pandemic winners

If there are enough losers around surely there has to be a few winners somewhere. In this Covid-19 Pandemic there are, and are going to be, an awful lot of losers. Don't look, but we might be ones now.

So who wins?

Pet dogs. Pet dogs are the winners here.

I went out for my morning walk. I kept my distance. I went down to the river. I took all my explorations. Maybe there will be other posts to tell you about the peace and the anger and the birds and the garbage and the art. But here, for now, I will just tell you that everyone was out walking their dog.

So many people are home, and I suspect the great majority of their dogs are very happy about it. And after an hour or two of being home most of those people say "Well, I guess I'll go walk the dog again." And so I see them in the neighborhoods. I see them on the sidewalks. I see them on the river.

Being neither a huge fan of strange dogs or coronavirus I give them all a wide birth; six feet for the dog and six feet for the virus.

Twelve feet is pretty far. 

But even from there I can still see that all the dogs look really happy.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

100 greatest albums in the days of the pandemic: Gone Again

There is a kind of pattern in these 100 greatest albums I'm writing about, with each album being individually the greatest album ever. A seminal artist makes an album that revolutionizes music, that is essential, and revolutionary. 

And I set that aside. 

A decade or two later they make something else. It's just a little more personal and somehow deeper, with nothing to prove, but it doesn't add much to the evolution of music and its genres. 

And who cares. 

That, that later album, rarely written into the sacred book of the culture, is the album

At least, for me.

And so it is with this one. Patti Smith made an essential album that went some long way into ushering in all of punk rock. It also included maybe the greatest line of Rock N' Roll history: 

"Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine." 

But... whatever.

Let's move a couple decades forward. 

Let's talk about the people she loved dying; husband, brother, close friend. 

Even Kurt Cobain takes his place:

Boy boy
Just a boy
Just a little boy
Just a little boy
Who will never grow 

Let's talk about Gone Again. All chants and hypnosis, rage and wisdom, grief and, oh, I wanted to say redemption because it sounded good. I don't know about redemption, almost nothing at all. Death is the bottom falling out. Falling out forever. There are some things we will never, ever, ever get back. 

In the end, all of them.

Hold on.

If there's one thing could do for you...

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Avoid gatherings of ten or more!

(As an update: my library system has closed now, but had not yet at the time this was written. It's a bit dangerous writing anything about coronavirus even on a short delay. Things have had a tendency to develop... quickly. On Tuesday I went to work in an empty library.)


The size of the gatherings everyone was supposed to avoid dropped precipitously over the last week. I vaguely remember a 1,000 figure, though that seems like a bit of a warm up from my current perspective looking back to those carefree six days ago. There was an urge against gatherings of 250 around the time when the sports and concerts were all getting cancelled. Then the Governors sporadically started calling for an end to gatherings of 100 or more, albeit on a voluntary basis. Barely any time had passed from that level to when that broken... President... troubled... guy said we're now advising no gatherings of ten or more. 

And now, as I write, we seem to be, piece by piece, getting into something more like "Just stay away from everybody else for god's sake!"

Of course in some bizarre glitch this doesn't apply yet to the majority of libraries around here, and so I am calling in sick at my library still. 

Not only is it the ethical, right thing to do, but I also enjoy not working.

I did go out though for a walk. I kept a lot of distance from people. I even climbed down a bluff and followed a creek to the river. Soon I was a thousand very safe feet away from any humans. I stood on the muddy, early Spring shore of the Mississippi doing my part.

I thought of my dead friend Matthew who loved the Mississippi and always wrote the nicest things about my river posts.

I breathed in and wondered what would happen in the world.

And then I saw a great gathering.

I tried to count the members of this gathering because I couldn't tell just by looking at them. It was hard because they were moving. I got to 184 of them, all together in close proximity. They were heading west. When they got far enough away that I couldn't count them individually anymore they became a shimmering line.

And then two other geese swam up the river and stopped in front of me.

I decided the three of us were probably safe enough as long as we just waved.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Bald eagle encounter in the pandemic of 2020

Gather around my friends and I will tell you the glorious tale of my bald eagle encounter during the great pandemic of 2020!

Except it should be noted that the pandemic doesn't much come into it. And "glorious" is a bit of an overstatement. 

Oh, and it's really not that "great" of a pandemic. Indeed, it has many negative features to it!

So is everybody ready?

I went out for a walk on the river this morning. And in a tree up over the Mississippi River, straight in front of me, was a enormous bald eagle. He was about 30 percent scuzzy and 70 percent majestic. His feet were kind of scabby and all his lower feathers bedraggled. His white head was clean and very fine. That's about how it usually is when one gets a good look at a wild animal. It's dirty out there in the world and a little rough. The eagle had his back to me with his head turned to the side. Bald eagles always look like they're posing for a portrait, chin held high, trying to look imperious. It mostly works. This eagle looked 30 percent ridiculous, 70 percent inspiring.

Then the eagle turned his head all the way around so his beak was over his back. Imagine if your chin were directly aligned with your spine. Standing there I could almost imagine that, but the difference with my imagination was that there was no apparent twist to his pose, no stretching, the eagle's head just neatly swiveled 180 degrees with no tension.

Oh, was he looking at me?


Really I was just standing there, very politely.

He turned to look over the river. Then he started screeching. This was pretty exciting. He screeched a lot, like he was trying to say something. Then I noticed a bird was flying by, heading upriver. At first I thought maybe it was all a "between eagles" thing. But it wasn't an eagle. 

It might have been a heron.

The eagle leaped out of the tree and flew towards the heron. The heron picked up the pace. The eagle chased the heron. My view was clear and I watched them for a long time. The eagle never gained ground that I could tell, and they both never stopped beating their wings. Finally they disappeared into the northern horizon, one after the other.

Like so much these days: who knows what will happen?

Monday, March 16, 2020



Coronavirus or Covid-19, your choice. There's even something about SARS in there if you want. I'm guessing we're all at least sort of informed on the subject here, even if the details can get a little debatable as we dig down. No one is too put out about the names. There are bigger fish to fry.

On Sunday I went to work at the library. I wasn't sure whether I was willing or not because I genuinely believe the libraries should close. All of them. Everywhere. They are wonderful, wonderful places and also festering pools of disease spreading like few other places anywhere.

The first thing I did upon arriving at a workplace that had taken nearly no action whatsoever was to close every other public computer to create social distancing. All around me co-workers said "Oh, I heard maybe we were going to do that."

I guess maybe we were I found out later. It was in some vague multi-day discussion phase when I expedited the process.

Then I washed my hands.

I sanitized them.

Then I put on blue gloves.

Then I just refused to touch anything on principle for awhile.

They say if you don't look a little crazy now you probably aren't being careful enough. 

I don't know who said that. It might just be the voices in my head... whispering... 

The library is crowded today. People ask "Will the library be open this week? Do you have any plans to close?"

I say "We have no plans to close. None of the information I have received suggests anything about closing. Nevertheless I personally expect that we'll close sometime in the middle of the week."

"Oh." They respond.

My sense of fatalistic doom hasn't been the best thing for me in my life, but all of the sudden lately it's getting things eerily right.

The thing I didn't anticipate so well is how I feel about the library patrons. In my storied career I have managed to hold a kind of love for them somewhere deep in my, well, if not heart, maybe elbow or something. And that love gives me the strength to carry on, a warmth to keep me going and give my best.

But today I am so disappointed in them. "Why are you here?" I want to ask. "This is not really a good idea." I want to say.

But I can't. 

So I say it to myself.

I'll be staying home now for a bit.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

An only lightly sad story from the early days of the pandemic

What's the old curse?

May you live in interesting times.

This pandemic sure is interesting, and everyone alive and old enough to be aware will remember things about these days of the pandemic for the rest of their lives.

Some of those things haven't happened yet, maybe most. 

It's too interesting.

Today is an impossibly gray day in Minnesota, the one day off I have alone. As a rule I'm a little too interested in the news of the World, but today I turn away from it for awhile. It's just a bit too dark for me. It's too interesting indeed.

As I have told you, as your friends and colleagues have joked on the square, as the CDC insists, as your workplace advises, as the mass media urges, as is faultlessly correct and beyond debate:

Wash your hands.

So in the course of the past week I have washed my hands.

At the library I work at I wash them so often they become dry and red. They crack and burn. By the end of the day just the water of the sink hurts them. They sting. I try using gloves, but when I take them off I always sort of feel like I should wash my hands. 


And washing my hands, to make sure I do it long enough, I sing the Happy Birthday song.

I like my birthday, and one day I came to the sad realization that though I'd sung Happy Birthday dozens of time to myself, it wasn't, indeed, my birthday. This made me feel a little sad.

On Monday my friend Richard was volunteering at the library. It was his birthday. I tried to buy him a drink at our coffee shop, but they insisted on giving it to him for free. We sat and had pleasant conversation, much of it not about coronavirus even. Then I had to get back to work. 

I have one regret.

Would that I had said to Richard "Before you go I have one small favor to ask. Come with me to the sink."

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Library at night

Shelving at night can be strange. My colleagues are thinned out for the day and those that remain are on the front lines. I'm alone and unnoticed in the stacks. I feel like I have a lot of time. I feel like I have nowhere to go and nothing to do. The shelving is just another kind of idling. So I open a short book by a Chilean author, Roberto Bolano. It's slow and extraordinarily sad and beautifully written. I read almost half of it and think "What am I doing to myself?" as it quietly breaks down my spirit. And then I shelve it.

I shelve many, many books. It feels like several carts worth, but I suddenly notice almost nothing is gone from my cart. I find myself merely in the "C's" and am quietly amazed. After all this I've barely shelved a thing.

I think from out of nowhere "I have spent most of my adult life working with books. I wish it were ridiculously easy to make a perfect book. I would make one, just one, and put it on the shelf here."

I shelve the rest of my cart. It takes just a few seconds, but that doesn't mean much where there is no beginning and no end.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Choosing the right club to belong to

The Orienteering Club is meeting at the library tonight. Two of the club members came up to me at the front desk. "Where is The Orienteering Club meeting?" They asked.

The Orienteering Club is meeting in The Board Room, which is located behind me and over my head and requires a few simple directions, most of them having to do with turning left all the time. "You go left, left, left and left." I said. They thanked me and headed off to the stairs. At the top of them they wandered uncertainly to the right. I can see them right now, wandering confusedly in circles on the wrong side of the library.

I'm tempted to just dash up the stairs and give them some help, but what if finding the room itself is a prerequisite?

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A frank assessment

I have my moments. And then I have a lot of other moments.


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Dylan and fame

Bob Dylan and I went out for a cocktail at a new place on Grand Avenue in St. Paul called Hyacinth. The drinks sounded good and we were instantly delighted with how the hospitality was included in the prices. The downside was that because we were new there Dylan's fame caused a small ruckus. He handled the small spate of questions, autographs, and lingering people a little better than usual. To a neutral observer he would have appeared thinly polite, begrudging, and churlish, but there weren't any neutral observers. There never are.

Dylan had a Black Manhattan, black because it was made with an Italian liqueur called Averna. I had an Ultimate Parola, finding the pineapple tequila and Yellow Chartreuse irresistible. After we ordered I said to Bob "I used to want to be famous."

He sort of scoffed "When did you stop wanting to be famous?"  Bob is not exactly my nicest friend from The Iron Range. My nicest friend from The Iron Range would be Richard Tomassoni, who would ask the same question maybe, but without any scoffing. He doesn't drink cocktails though. But I have to admit that either way those Iron Range people are pretty interesting.

"Three days ago." I answered.

Bob looked more seriously at me, like if I stopped wanting to be famous three days ago it wasn't deserving of scoffing. "I used to want to be famous too." He said.

It sounded very poetical when he said it. He's like that. 

"How's your drink?" I asked.

He perked right up, and then he talked about it for a pretty long time.


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Why does death smell so good?

This morning I was walking by a parking lot where a recently murdered tree had been ground up into tiny bits. It smelled wonderful! It was fresh and piney, invigorating, hopeful, and magical. It instantly made me twice as happy as I was. And though that isn't very much happiness because I was not feeling very happy at that moment, it was still something

The smell of a dead, macerated tree was beautiful.

Kill a cow, a nice, friendly, peaceful cow. Hack out a thick chunk of its warm flesh, throw it over some tree you killed and burned into glowing red hot coals. The fat and blood drips from the dead animal and sizzles and sputters and smokes and... oh my god, it's fantastic; evocative, appetizing, indescribable. Rip a garlic plant out of the earth that gives it life, crush its roots. Throw it in boiling oil. Slash at the grass beneath your feet with a sharp knife until the field is littered with your hacking. Rip off part of a sage plant and light it on fire, practically burning it to death, until the smoke of its demise floods into the air. Crush a lavender flower in your hands and smear its purple blood.

Decapitate a rose.

Bring it home.

Breathe it in.

Death death death death death.

And heaven.