Thursday, April 30, 2020

Puns going up and puns going down

This will contain the first version with the straight spelling and the second version with the pun spelling. It is a mostly true story.


I was at the front desk with Dan during the pandemic. Things had fallen off as they do with curbside pickup at the library during the evening and, because he does some freelance work as a house painter, he was researching different products online that would help him climb down from things, and he was also researching products that would help him climb up on things.

I watched at a distance over his shoulder, then offered my opinion. "If you're going to get one of those I'd get the latter."

He just turned and stared at me.

Pun version:

I was at the front desk with Dan during the pandemic. Things had fallen off as they do with curbside pickup at the library during the evening and, because he does some freelance work as a house painter, he was researching different products online that would help him climb down from things, and he was also researching products that would help him climb up on things.

I watched at a distance over his shoulder, then offered my opinion. "If you're going to get one of those I'd get the ladder."

He just turned and staired at me.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

American optimism

In the course of the pandemic I have been posting occasional photo essays here on clerkmanifesto. I have found a few things to be true about me and photography:

1. I like wandering around the neighborhoods and river I live near photographing... stuff.

2. I'm okay at it. I mean, I'm not bad, but neither do I have those fits of absolute conviction that I am a genius either (see for contrast previous blogposts about writing: # 11, 19, 41, 42, 64, 68, 89, 99, 102, 111, 134, 147, 158, 188, 189, 190, 211, 233, 248, 266, 297, 339, 390, 459, 499, 588, 604, 667, 677, 700, 701, 782, 789, 819, er, ... and several hundred assorted through to 2,655 which you might want to read again because well, it is just sooooo goooood!). Ultimately, unlike with writing, I am just, you know... fine. I'm fine at photography, mostly. 

This, surprisingly, is kind of a pleasant relief so far. It takes the pressure off.

3. The super cheap camera I got is... super cheap, but I have a growing affection for it. I like the way it sort of bosses me around. "You want a decent picture of this flower?" It says. "Then you need to be precisely this distance away, in this light. And hold your hand steady for a long time!" And then it says "Nope, not good enough. Try again." So I do.

And that is where the story stands now.

Except I am American. And so it is ever my fervent belief that all that separates me from becoming way, way better at something is the quality of my equipment.


No, you're probably thinking of another country. Here you just have to buy the right thing. That's really all it takes.

And so through the many American years I have longed for a better baseball mitt, the right shoes, a nicer backpack, higher quality paints and paper, more expensive inflatable canoes, pricier liqueurs, and fancier computers.

Over the years I have gotten better and better at acquiring the things I want. I set my eyes on the hobby item two steps up from where I am and before you know it I am buying the one three steps up. It is very exciting when it happens.

On the other hand I have gotten absolutely no better at understanding that none of these things make me any better at anything. Nothing ever does. I don't catch better with that mitt. My paints are pretty but my painting is still just... me painting whatever I can paint. The canoes all float however rugged and streamlined they are, and ultimately my back ended up too hurt to use them anymore. The best of backpacks still had to be hauled up mountains that I was too wildly out of shape to climb. And the computers still play the same stupid video games and surf the same crappy Internet they always did.

So, naturally, I bought a new camera! 

It's really neat! I haven't gotten it yet because of all the shipping and supply delays, but I'm very excited. It has a super powerful zoom and all kinds of fancy settings and it cost money.

So, in the end, I just wanted to warn you:

The pictures I put here on clerkmanifesto are about to get super good!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Hundred greatest albums: The Kinks Album

When asked who is the greatest of the five legendary Sixties British rock bands my immediate, unhesitating answer is The Beatles. But not wanting to make a needless fuss of it I will immediately start talking about how brilliant The Rolling Stones were, the underrated genius of The Who, and the sheer overwhelming and thrilling power of Led Zeppelin. I mean, it's really not a competition. I have been crazy about them all.

But for some years now, with all that being said on the surface, I am quietly, reverently, passionately, singing to myself Kink's songs.

So if I am boldly proclaiming the greatest album of all time, one of a hundred, with each being the single greatest, which album is this. What is "The Kink's Album"?

There isn't one. I don't have one.

I am cheating today.

With The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, I swallowed their works, mostly in my youth, running through their prodigious outlays of masterpieces all in a few months to a few years. While I still have encounters with their music where I am suddenly struck, like with lightning, by the sheer brilliance of some song, for the most part I have burned through all my available listens to these musical works. By the time I was in my forties, after hearing all their music hundreds, perhaps sometimes thousands of times, it was rare to be able to make a real emotional connection to any of them. And even rarer to discover something missed from deep in their back catalogs.

But the Kinks were never like any of this. They have played out in a mysteriously unique manner of fandom. Instead of gluts of Kinks music, and acquaintance with multiple albums of theirs, every two to four years I am hit by one or two of their songs. I am gobsmacked, flattened, heartbroken, enthralled, splattered, all like I am a bug flying around on a highway in the desert, and they are a car going 85 miles per hour.

I am smeared by their songs.

Or painfully transported to heaven.

I love the Kinks

"One or two songs," you might think though, "That's not really so many." 

However, here's the rub: Over the course of 40 years it really adds up!

It adds up to a perfect mega album of mega albums.

It adds up to the greatest album of all time.

Witty, driving, way ahead of their time, essential, groundbreaking, idiosyncratic, melancholic, defiant, and full of feeling, this stuff is one amazing car window. This car is going very fast. 

I am but a very little bug.

I am a little sad not to give you the whole personalized 40 year album here, but a post a day asks for a little restraint sometimes. Nevertheless some highlights surely seem in order. And why not start with the most recent:

Last night in putting together a playlist to listen to with my darling wife I grabbed an old Kinks song just sort of on the basis of it being the Kinks. I literally am incapable of understanding how I missed this song. Like if you were a huge Beatles fan for four decades and suddenly came upon, I don't know, Come Together for the first time. It would be thrilling, yes, but also a little disconcerting.

 Anyway, the best new rock song I have heard in a year, in 10 years? 20? Ever? was cut when I was a baby! And I'm almost old now, in a moderate sort of way.

The ragged vocals and loose, ungodly harmonies put me in mind of another favorite song of mine- Sweet Jane.

I'm Not Like Everybody Else

If that's the most recent Kinks song to enter my idiosyncratic album here what was first? Oddly probably Lola, twisty, ubiquitous, and wonderful. Do I even need the link? I remember a time when this was the most played oldie in the world.

Oh, but, what if you've never heard of it? 

Ohhh, you're in for a treat! 

You might like Come Together by the Beatles as well.

As a side note I saw the Kinks in concert in the eighties. They did one of the most cynical, lazy, hostile versions of any famous song I have ever seen. Ray refused to sing more than 10 percent of the song, leaving the rest to the audience. It was pretty terrible.

I have not used that version:


Recently I posted this, very recently, but I'll do it again. It's from possibly my favorite scene from any movie ever. So this song is for me due to that movie and thus came into my Kink's Album about 13 years ago:


And to end with I'll go with one I discovered for myself maybe 15 years after it was written, around the time I saw the Kinks in concert, and maybe it's even slightly obscure enough to be new to you. 

It's hardly the end of the story here. 

God's Children

If I went the rest of the way there would be no dip in quality for surely another 20 songs. So a bit of a double album, eh. 

The greatest one of all time.

Monday, April 27, 2020

More tales from the fall of books

Dear Publisher,

Thank you so much for your suggestion that I might like to take the series of 2,500 short essays I sent you for your consideration and instead put them on the Internet. It was very thoughtful of you.

Unfortunately I have already done this.

They didn't like them.

The Internet doesn't seem to be particularly keen on complexity... or, um, me.

That's why I thought I'd try pursuing an audience with a higher tolerance for complexity, like cats, or 4-year-olds, or book readers.

You don't happen to know any book readers, do you?

Yeah, I work at a library. 

Me either.


Feldenstein Calypso

Sunday, April 26, 2020

It's been a long lonely lonely lonely lonely lonely time

There is a kind of genre of YouTube videos where some young, but supposedly accomplished person listens to some older music, ostensibly for the first time, and reacts to it. Like "Young opera singer listens to Freddy Mercury- Mind Blown" or "Talented Rap producer reacts to Desolation Row. Wow!" I guess the idea is to watch these young professionals be amazed or something, but what happens instead is that they nod their heads thoughtfully to the music and go "This is really gooood." And the middle aged person watching just wonders "How did a 22 year old singer never hear of The Beatles! (or whatever it is they're listening to)."

A few days ago my lovely wife and I randomly fell to watching some video excerpts on YouTube of the Global Citizen, One World Together at Home concert. I had stumbled into the Rolling Stones performance, which, while a straight forward ancient rehash, was terribly charming, so we tried some of the other things without much success. To be fair the awful, schmaltzy, lackluster performances were as much by old legends as by young stars (the two oddly respectable performances being by the Stones, having fun, and Taylor Swift being kind of human, which stood out in that crowd), but it all did cause me to have a vision of a YouTube video of older people reacting to newer music. We could have one called maybe "Crabby 65 year old guy reacts to Lizzo's Truth Hurts" He could sit there with his headphones trying to get into it, pause it halfway, and say "It's not bad. Do I need to listen to the rest of it?"

I'd do it, but I'm only 55.

A few days ago here I wrote about my library director's plan to deal with the problems of our library during pandemic by, dramatic drum roll, "Implementing Appreciation". And it was about how that was a microcosm of my whole country and how we seem to have moved from a "Maybe we can help people" mode, over to a "Let's just thank them instead" mode. It's so much cheaper, and look, we don't have to change anything that makes us, the people in charge, feel uncomfortable or less important! Not least on my mind in that discussion was the Global Citizen, One World Together at Home concert. A bunch of stars, wealthy beyond (or at the level of) our dreams, cozy in their large but strangely bourgeois and middle class looking living rooms, super sincerely thanked people, all those tireless, wonderful, essential people, low paid shitty working conditions afraid of not having a job or money people, and sang some toothless songs of harmony for them to, um, make them happy, and, um, thank them, a lot.

I think this, all of this, is the reason Rock and Roll was invented in the first place. 

Rock n Roll: You remember, 1958 to, I don't know, to The White Stripes? A little to cut the bullshit. A little to fight the power. And a lot for all the too big and dangerous feelings.

But now everyone in music is so very professional and competent and running a business. 

You know: Show biz.

Don't you know? It was all show biz all along.

And we come full circle. 

Isn't there anyone freakishly talented, 19, and angry out there?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Another graffiti tour

These pictures are from a train that has been left for some weeks now to sit on the tracks just this side of the Mississippi River in St. Paul. Because my photography is uneven, with each visit to the train I come away with some pictures that work, and some that don't. So I keep going back for more, because there is a wealth of wonderful graffiti out there and I only get it little by little.

And I won't say so a ton more than that: More pictures, less words today.

I do want to say though that as much as I admire some of these amazing individual pieces:

I also really love the weathering, the feel of the tracks, and the way it all interacts with the train and the elements.

Here's the train:

And here's what some of the bridges and barricades of the area are like:

The used cans add up!

And the work on the metal walls nicely backdrop the train itself:

But most of my favorite things are the fresher graffiti work on the side of railroad cars. Here are a bunch of them, usually wider shots followed by details, if I have both, generally without comment:

This one is one of my favorites on the train with its unusual approach, but I kept bringing home blurry pictures of it because I am not the best photographer. Finally I got a couple of decent shots of it:

More, the first I might have shown before, but these are better shots of it now. The background is just fabulous!:

I love the purple airbrush sort of effect:


And lastly here are some pictures of mainly details from the metal bridges and barricades:

And that about does it.

If one looks through my ouvre here on clerkmanifesto one would see I am not terribly prone to modesty, but here I actually feel it: All credit to the artists responsible for all this, and very little to me.

I hope you enjoyed it.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Implement Appreciation

In one of the great, emblematic moments of the Coronavirus Crisis at my library, all the big library managers were having an important meeting- because they are all very important meetings- and one of the Branch Managers was weighing in on how much of a toll the curbside pickup was taking on her staff. She said they were badly overworked, understaffed, unsafe, and working in extremely stressful circumstances. In short, they needed help.

So the Library Director, formerly of Marketing, not usually one for big decisions, went ahead and made one:

"It's time," She said flatly "To implement appreciation."

Bold move.

And if you are far away enough from me and my mess of a library system to laugh at the Orwellian outlandishness of such a thing, you might want to reconsider your slightly horrified chuckles and try a few tears instead. Because I am pretty sure the whole country has now switched to this phase: 

Implement Appreciation.

The nice businesses gave their bonuses and paid leave and reassurances. The local municipalities handed out their scraps of extra sick time. The government sent people their modest one time stipends and forgivable small business loans. The Hospitals hired some extra staff and went through their scant supplies of protective gear. Promises were made. We needed to come together as one and look adversity in the eye!

But that's all over now.

Now is the time to implement appreciation.

You hospital orderly getting paid next to nothing, and nurse without a mask working a double shift, thank you! You grocery store worker doing twice the work, facing extra danger, and at the same paltry pay, thank you. Firemen and garbage collectors, nursing home worker and fry cook in the to-go cafe, thank you. Tireless Doctors fighting bureaucracy to give help, low paid delivery drivers, mail carriers, and factory workers in essential services, thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you!

Will the powerful lessen their grip a little and let the people on the ground make a few decisions based on reality? Will the rich forgo some of their vast fortunes to lighten the load? Will we all come together to feed the poor, take care of the sick, and shelter the cold? Will we do the right thing, with resolve and generosity of spirit?

These are the wrong questions. 

Indeed the time for questions has passed.

Now is the time to say thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Thursday, April 23, 2020


Did you know that what I have called Crocuses are really Snow Glories?

I was informed so here in my comments.

So I went back and changed all of history.

Let us then pretend it was always Snow Glories.

Snow Glories, Snow Glories, Snow Glories. Glory-of-the-Snow.

The sun came out today. And finally, in the slow roll out of our spring here, the Snow Glories, having a banner year, were joined by a few other flowers. Each day I think I am done with the Snow Glories. I have told you enough about them. And every day I see them and I think:

I would not like you to experience withdrawal!

Or me either.

So what if I could ease you off with just one more Snow Glory:

Okay, two more (maybe three?) Snow Glories:

We will never forget you Snow Glories! Not least now that we know your name.


I feel better. A little.

Do you feel better?

Are you ready?

I can try.

Then, to the future!