Thursday, August 31, 2023

Debt: Almost a book review


I am learning a lot from the rich and erudite book written by the late David Graeber, entitled Debt: The First 5,000 Years. You might even say I owe quite a bit to this book!

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Oh, you'd like to know what I'm learning from this dense, thorough, anthropologically oriented book on the history and meaning of debt?

Oooooh. Good question! And well put. I'd super like to know the answer too!

How about this:

The more a culture believes in all their own crap, the more people get hurt.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The joke teller


There is a library regular who likes to tell me jokes. No, that is an understatement, he loves to tell me jokes. When I see him coming in he has a gleeful look in his eye. He is really excited. He is going to blow me away... with comedy!

Unfortunately, he only knows a couple jokes.

He's not senile or anything. He'll say "I already showed you the number joke, right?"

And I'll say sadly "Yes."

Then he'll try maybe the "Why do seagulls fly over the sea?" Joke. 

But I've heard it (if they flew over the bay they'd be bay-gulls).

Then he'll mention the new Minnesota fish which is a cross between a Coho Salmon, a Walleye, and a Muskie.

"Yeah, the Kowalski." I say gently.

Then he sorrowfully has to confess he doesn't have a new joke.

So maybe I tell him a joke:

"Why did the half-blind man walk into a well?" I ask.

He doesn't know because I've never told him this before.

"Because he didn't see that well."

He smiles. It's funny, but he wants to tell the joke more than hear the joke.

I just want to inspire him to come prepared.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Compulsively nice to library patrons


I don't always mean to be nice to library patrons. It's just that sometimes I can't help it.

Here's an example:

A library patron bypasses three, open, very easy to use self check out machines, walks by my front desk co-worker, who is also sitting around poking the Internet, and comes to me at the front desk of my library. They set three books on the counter and utter not a word.

"How can I help you?" I say in a very friendly, welcoming manner because even though I suspect they are going to be asking me to do something for them that they could easily do themselves, what if they aren't? I don't want to feel I was less than supremely welcoming if they surprise me and say something like "Can you suggest any heartwarming romantic comedies for a lonely widower?"

But the patron only blandly says "I'd like to check out my books."

Ah, so it's the pointless thing that they could've done themselves, as I suspected. Naturally I am tempted to make the patron pay for imposing on my time, perhaps by drawing the process out, or maybe by providing an innocent seeming, but annoying reminder, for the patron's own information, that they can also use our lovely, state of the art, self check out machines.

But before I do this, I have pause. 

Why would anyone bypass easy to use self check out machines to come to an irascible middle-aged man like me who already looks super busy on his computer typing a brilliant short essay about library work? No one in their right mind would do this!


Clearly this person is mentally impaired! 

They understand little about institutions and probably couldn't handle a self check out machine if their life depended on it. Well, obviously I'm not going to be anything but incredibly nice to a seriously mentally impaired person like that!

And so I am.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Ten improvements to a painting by John Constable

Today I have made ten improvements to a painting by John Constable. Can the John Constable scholars out there name all ten? There is a huge prize for anyone who can! I haven't even thought of the prize because I am so confident of the following:

1. No one will ever spot the claw coming out of the window!

2. John Constable scholars don't, as a rule, read clerkmanifesto.

3. Even if someone were clever enough to spot the claw, everyone will think the volcano was part of the original painting since John Constable was so obsessed with volcanoes!

Which brings us to the question:

How would John Constable feel about these extraordinary liberties being taken with his painstaking and quite brilliant art?

I think John Constable would enjoy the contest, but be unable to spot the hard to see tenth improvement due to his being dead.

Rest in peace, John.


Sunday, August 27, 2023

Paintings into paintings into paintings


For a couple of years in the early nineties I made large, tempera paintings on paper. I think I might have used acrylics too. And some of the paintings weren't that big, actually. Which just goes to show I might want to organize my thoughts and material before I start writing. It also shows that there are certain things I refuse to edit once I've written them. Some people call this the Wabi Sabi school of writing.

 Other people call it...


These old paintings from the days of yore were all of flying wolves and erupting volcanoes spewing chunks of rock. They were cartoony, dramatic, 3D, and very theatrical.

Hey! You suddenly realize. Aren't you doing lots of pictures of volcanoes now?

That's what I thought!

 Flying wolves, erupting volcanoes, hurtling rock, I guess we're all drawn to what we're drawn to. Maybe sometimes forever...

Saturday, August 26, 2023



We're back with the John Constable paintings today. He was a very fine painter who just needed a few more volcanoes in his work. Luckily I am here to rectify that.

As usual I am deciding between minimal intercessions and just packing the paintings full of whatever stuff I can make work. For our four pictures today I have chosen paintings the run the gamut of that range. The first is a simple volcano addition. The middle two have, with varying subtlety, Norman Rockwell additions. The last is pretty well crammed with details.

Am I, with all these volcanoes, secretly signaling that somewhere a volcano is about to erupt in the World.



I forgot. That second picture is actually a Van Gogh drawing!

Please resume your scrolling.

Thank you.

Almost there.

I don't know why I'm doing this.

I'll stop.

Friday, August 25, 2023

The new Van Gogh


Vincent Van Gogh was a very fine painter, like, as good an anyone else who ever lived! And there have been some pretty good painters who lived! We won't count the ones who didn't live as the comparison is unfair. But did you know that Van Gogh was also a terrific drawer! I once held one of his drawings in my hands!

What was that like? You ask.

It was a lot like holding any other rectangular thing in my hands.

But it is totally something to talk about.

I took a picture of some pictures in a Van Gogh book (there are an endless number of Van Gogh books!). One picture was of a man shoveling. I thought maybe I could put the drawn shoveler in a John Constable painting in that rascally way I have, but he didn't fit in any of them so well. 

Where, I wondered, could I put this cool shoveling guy?

I found a great spot for him in another drawing...

by Van Gogh.

"Well that's kind of silly." You say in an affectionate way like we're all living in a Winnie the Pooh book.

But hear me out!

It was like I created a new Van Gogh!


No, I didn't think so either. So I drew stuff all over the picture with a marking pen, metaphorically, where the marking pen is a ton of photo manipulations.

And now it's just...

whatever it is.

Thursday, August 24, 2023



I work in a lot of different places and in an assortment of capacities at my library. But the cherry on top assignment for me, and probably for most of my co-workers, is known as "Phones". At this station, one answers the incoming calls for the library, which varies these days from a few calls to none at all depending on the hour, though the main job is processing requested books, which means generating a slip for each book in a large bin and putting it alphabetically on a cart. Depending on the hour there can be plenty of these requests to process or none at all, but either way, it is pleasant, mindless work that can be done while watching YouTube videos, which is how I like to do it.

Because this is such a plum position I have begun to wonder about the frequency with which people graciously come to replace me five minutes early.

If one is working the front desk of the library and a replacement comes a minute or two early it is always understood as a rather gracious gift, and though it is not rare for this to happen, it is certainly uncommon. People at the front desk start checking the schedule a few minutes before the hour just to size up who they might soon have to resent. Perhaps cynically we expect nothing better than co-workers at best being strictly on time and consider a mere minute late to be a gross abuse of the schedule. The number of times someone has come to replace me at the front desk five minutes early because they figure, why not, can be counted on one hand for all the past ten years of my working here, whereas the number of times someone has wandered over to take over my precious phones five minutes ahead of time since they just happened to be in the area, or simply decided it's close enough to time, can also be counted on one hand, but this for any average week!

So what am I saying here? Am I saying that my co-workers are self-interested, selfish, and deceptive?

No, they're mostly fine, it's just our clocks here are all kind of messed up.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Finding my way to the golden mean


I don't know when or where I thought it, but I wrote it down on a slip of paper and shoved it in my pocket. I knew it mostly wasn't true, but why would I think it if there wasn't something in it?

Everything I don't love, I hate.

I am aware of Aristotle's thoughts on the golden mean, which is to say there is a rational path, virtuous, that lies between two extremes. So, for example, the middle way between stinginess and excess is the virtuous mean of generosity, or between cowardice and recklessness lies courage. But Aristotle was no fool. He understood this golden mean was not a mere balanced "center" or some kind of average of extremes. He understood that sometimes the rational, golden mean could lie much closer to one extreme than another. For instance, between the extremes of authoritarian fascism and anarchist utopia, the golden mean is, well, anarchist utopia.

And so with the question of Love and Hate, we must ask what is in the middle? Indifference? Liking? Bland tolerance? What is the golden mean here? Could it be love, or could it even be hate?

I like to think Aristotle would agree with me when I answer; 

It depends.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023



I am reading a book about the history of debt. It's pretty rich. So far it is about debt, the history of money, and, ultimately, about being human and what that even means, but it's barely getting started. In this early part of the book, there has been a lot of cultural and religious ideas concerning the idea of being born with a debt; to the gods, to parents, to society, and so on, and what that framing means, and how those debts are discharged. 

It is interesting!

But I'll admit I am still waiting and hoping that my perspective will show up, maybe even that the author of the book will, in some sense share my perspective on this:

When each of us has gone through the unasked for trouble of being born, for every last creature, a debt of the Universe is owed to us.

Monday, August 21, 2023

100 Greatest Albums: Ready for the Flood


In these days of the late Summer, my darling wife and I have been attending the occasional concert. We have not done this sort of thing for awhile and have added a new wrinkle: The artists need to be widely beloved, the concerts have to be free, and we can easily duck out after a half dozen or so songs.

One might think that this would be a nearly unreachable bar; high profile acts for free! But we have managed two concerts that fit the bill. In Duluth, Bon Iver played in an outdoor amphitheater that allowed us to easily steal, no, scratch that, pirate his concert from a nearby bench that looked out over the picturesque Duluth Harbor (full of small craft gathered nearby to do the same thing we were doing). And in Saint Minneapolis last week, there was a free concert at the Harriet Bandshell of the semi-legendary local 90's band, The Jayhawks.

Thousands and thousands of people were at The Jayhawks concert, but through some mysterious process, partly contingent upon my wife's "let's go for it" attitude, we were able to walk up along the side of the crowd and end up comfortably standing close to the stage, surely no more than 20 feet from the lead singer, Gary Louris, who, I am nearly certain, performed half of a song for some reason looking directly at me.

Which slowly wheels us around to our greatest album discussion of the day.

This is a series in which I write a few words about the hundred greatest albums of all time, each one independently being the greatest album ever. I haven't written one of these in ages, and looking over my past ones in preparation I was surprised to find the last one I did was for Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago. The very band we just heard in Duluth! So naturally it would be perfect to do a Jayhawks album today then.

Unfortunately, as much as I love some of those Jayhawks albums, and there would be a fair shoutout for Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, I can't quite say these great albums are the greatest albums of all time.


In 1995 one of the two main singers of the Jayhawks, Mark Olson, left the band. And then 13 years later the lead singer, Gary Louris, who once sang to me looking into my eyes, and Mark Olson, got together, and together made Ready for the Flood, the greatest album of all time. Yearning, heartrending, and exquisitely harmonized by the best voices together since CSNY, this album just kills me. Coming out of the same glowing folk rock milieu as the above mentioned CSNY, this album is about

It's about

Nope, I hardly ever have any idea what any album is about. Does it have to be about something? Maybe that's the mark of many a great album: that it feels intensely about something, and yet it's a wide open road. 

"It's hard to ride at night, on your bicycle with no lights to guide. Just take a chance and ride, on your bicycle with no lights to guide."

For our outtake, here is this wonderfully put-together mini-documentary that samples the music richly, if incompletely, and has awfully little to say about its content, which, I am suggesting, is not necessarily a fault. But Gary Louris, the man who looked into my eyes just days ago, does say this: 

"I like beautiful things that have depth and a bit of pain in them."

Sunday, August 20, 2023

A quiet descent into library madness


When books came in from other, nearby library systems we put a special slip in them that we've stamped with the current date, and put the books in a red box. Those books go off then to an agency that sorts them by library system and sends them to their home library system where, since as much as a couple weeks will have passed since their return, they are finally checked in according to the date on the stamped slip inside each book. These backdated check-ins prevented people from being unfairly fined.

But then all the library systems around here stopped charging people late fines.

And then, after a pretty long time, everyone realized there was no need to backdate these items or date stamp slips for every book returned this way. So with some fanfare and general delight the policy officially changed:

We no longer stamp slips for library returns to other systems.

A week later I was walking through the back area of the library. A colleague had a large pile of books belonging to a different system and was diligently stamping slip after slip to put in each book. Thunk, thunk, thunk.

"Oh." I said helpfully. "You know that we no longer have to stamp any of those slips?"

"Oh, I know." She said blithely.  "But I'm just a creature of habit. So I'm going to just keep on stamping them.

And then she continued stamping.








Saturday, August 19, 2023


We all just want to be helpful.

Well, some of us want to be helpful. 

And sometimes we're good at it, but sometimes we aren't.

A woman brings a book up to me at the front desk of the library. "This book is on hold for me, but I don't need it." She says. "I already got it through interlibrary loan."

Setting aside the curiosity of the fact that an interlibrary loan book is only requested for items that we don't have in the system, so how did she get that interlibrary version, all I need from her now is a last name.

Why, you ask, do I need her last name?

Thank you for your interest in library procedure!

Her last name is the simplest possible verification to assure that she hasn't pulled someone else's hold off the shelf, which happens enough to make it worth it to add a three-second question to make sure it doesn't. Except, alas, sometimes a surfeit of helpfulness takes this a bit off the "Three-second" tracks.

"What is your last name?" I ask.

"I, um." The lady responds. "Let me just get..." And she starts rifling through her purse, possibly for a library card, or identification.

"I just need to know your last name. Verbally" I interject.

She stops combing through her purse, frozen. In her eyes I can see the desire to do the right thing, to be helpful in this situation, but she is thrown. She doesn't know what to do! "I, uh." She says. Then she sort of understands. "W-A-T-S-O-N?" She spells out slowly.

It's a match! "Thank you." I say.

She stands eagerly ready for the next steps that aren't coming.

"We're all done." I tell her.

"Oh." She says.

Then she scurries off.

Well, we got it done.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Back to the darkroom!


I have not much been working on pictures after a burst of pre vacation energy, but a few days ago, while shelving, of course, I came across a book of John Constable paintings. I took some pictures of these paintings and am finally getting to... what I do to them. 

He was one bona fide brilliant painter!

But he may have had slightly too few monsters in his paintings.

Here are my first four, though there will probably be more later from this set.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Drinkin' 'n' Readin'


I have never particularly associated drinking with reading. Is it more fun to read while having cocktails? Well, yes, but I like most things better while having cocktails. Five or ten years ago there was a mild fad for book group meetings in pubs, and maybe even a couple of incidences of after-hours library beer-drinking book events, but none of that lasted long. And beyond that paltry bit, there is no great connection I can find between alcohol and reading.

Nevertheless, for decades, I have been on the receiving end of book donations. I have probably taken part in the receiving of thousands of boxes of books over the years. And while there are several interesting through-lines in those donations, the one that most regularly grabs my attention is this:

Half of every box used for donations of books is a liquor box. Cheap wine, cases of vodka, gummy liqueurs, and plenty of whiskey; people with books apparently drink like fishes! 

But it's not like any library patrons, who tell me plenty of stuff, ever come in and say "I drank a bottle of wine last night and read Crime and Punishment, and it was fantastic!"

They also never seem particularly drunk.

Or maybe everybody always seems a little drunk, so I can't tell.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

New theory developed with library patron


A ladybug has landed on my keyboard. Nothing in this column will be written using the F12 key! 

A library patron was waiting for my desk partner to return with something. And I warned them. "I can't help you do anything if it involves using an F12 key! There is a ladybug on my F12 key!"

"Are you sure it's a ladybug and not a Japanese Beetle?" The patron asked.

Then followed a short, confused, ill-informed discussion about the two varieties of red beetles with black dots. I am sparing you that discussion in this recounting in order to make this entertaining. 

Admittedly, I still have a ways to go.

I lifted the keyboard to show the patron the beetle. We decided it was probably an Asian Beetle because the red color was so washed out.

"Maybe ladybugs have just gotten more faded." The library patron suggested.

I liked this line of thinking. "Maybe the increased global heat of climate change is slowly blanching out the colors of all animals and plants everywhere and everything is going to become faded and washed out."

We ruminated sadly on this for awhile.

The ladybug moved over to the F9 key.

It was pale in color, and actually an Asian Beetle technically. 

But it was still a nice bug. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Another Ancient Mariner story


I felt pretty bad about it, which is why I am telling you. Among other things, so many other things, I am compelled here on clerkmanifesto to confess every single sin. 

But I also want to explain why I don't feel that bad.

Someone came to me at the front desk of the library. They said something like "I guess I should change my address. I retired so I better change my work email to my home email instead."

I thought she wanted to change her address and her email address, so I asked her for the required documentation that verified her new address, which is practically anything with her address, no matter how random. She started looking for an address, but I think she just wanted to change her email address and was confused by the whole thing. So she said "I worked here. I just retired and need to change my email address." Then, even more taken aback she said "I'm Jane Morrison." Like I should know her!



of course...


I worked with her for five or ten years in the twenty-tens, when she was a librarian at least part of the time at my branch before moving all her hours to another branch in our system. 

"Oh my god!" I exclaimed. "Jane Morrison! Of course. I'm SO sorry. I just never really looked up." I exclaimed, looking up, thinking:

Wow, she looks so much older. I barely recognize her!

My relationship with this co-worker was always pretty stilted. Besides our not having a great deal to do with each other, her lack of warmth, common cause, and lack of a sense of humor kept us pretty distant. Curiously she was the mother-in-law of one of my long gone co-workers of that time. But I just add that pointlessly to increase my word count and because it is super interesting.

So it was a bit embarrassing to not recognize her, but I make the following point to myself, and now to you too:

 As a longtime colleague and acquaintance, how about a greeting like: "Feldenstein, Hi, nice to see you. Now that I am retiring I better change my email address." This just seems so basic.

But either way, I now pronounce myself, absolved.

Monday, August 14, 2023

From each according to ability


Working, as I do, in this Socialist Library Urban Republic Paradise, or SLURP, with many co-workers of various... skills, the instructive adage regularly comes up: "From each according to their ability."

On this day I am constantly paired with a co-worker who will take a ponderous and relentless two and a half hours to complete fifteen minutes of simple work. It will not be done well,  and nearly everything else that need be done during that time will be shunted off to, well, me, but it will all get done, eventually.

But, and this is the important part, this is all that person can do.

This is the level of their ability.


From each according to their ability.

Which begs the question: What are my abilities?

I have so many abilities!

I can help library patrons. I can process holds. I can research books I might like to read later. I can check those books out to myself. I can listen to Anarchist podcasts on my earbud. I can shelve requests. I can read tips on my new favorite computer game, Baldur's Gate 3. I can hand out bookmarks with great fanfare. I can complain to my other co-workers about how the person doing fifteen minutes of work in two and a half hours is slowly driving me mad. I can think of my darling wife at home to restore my sanity. I can follow the day's soccer news. I can consider dinner. And I can write this column for the benefit of an Internet that understands nearly everything somewhere, but close to nothing everywhere.

That is a lot of abilities!

But by the law of the title of this piece, I will, on this day, undertake to perform them all.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Warriors for Christ


While walking around my city with my darling wife, going to as many coffee shops as humanly possible, we came across what is probably a nearly constant protest of the local Planned Parenthood. 

People were carrying signs in a tireless vigil against...

I don't know?


But like so many people with energy, they had found precisely the wrong place.

Because the hardest place to protest...

Is in one's own head.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

No substitution for fresh tortillas


I am willing to accept that there is no substitution for fresh tortillas.

I just ate five of them, somewhat crudely made, taco'd up with some cheese and highly spiced ground pork, squash, and onion. I made them myself with some fancy nixtamalized corn and a marginally workable tortilla press that I bought on vacation last week. The tortillas were...


Light. Delicate. Strong. Tasty. 


Wait, what?



There is also no substitution for not making fresh tortillas.

They are fussy, even infuriatingly so. The sticky dough I can live with as I get the hang of it, and learn to form it into balls. But one has to line both sides of the tortilla press with thin plastic each time one uses it. Then, after pressing, one has to peel the thin, insanely delicate dough off the plastic into a hot skillet without melting the plastic onto the pan or clumping up the tortilla, which must come off the plastic perfectly because there is no way to flatten or straighten or adjust the nascent tortilla in any way once it's free.

Sometimes I was sort of able to do this.

Not as often as I would imagine a Mexican Abuela would.

Not even close.

I found it all messy, labor intensive, frustrating, and delicious.

Wait, delicious?

Yes, I'm not going to come onto the beautiful, shiny, happy Internet and complain about making tortillas!

I don't regret it for a second!

But I'm pretty sure I hated it and will never do it again.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Learn how to smell our bookmarks!


I have recently, through a long, bureaucratic process, obtained free bookmarks to hand out to our library visitors (free for them!). Here is a picture sampler of our variety:

We've got some lovely and very sturdy famous painting bookmarks. These are two-sided. There are also the Snoopy ones, and Dr. Seuss, and Ernst Haeckel. Oh, but you can't see any Ernst Haeckel in the above picture. So...

Those are the Ernst Haeckel, flanking Snoopy.

But I am not here about any of those really, as exciting as they may be. I am here about the smellable bookmarks, like the one you can see below that says "I love to read cherry much":

"Wait!" You cry out. "If it's 'I love to read cherry much', then what did they do with the 'berry' bookmark?"

I've anticipated your question:

So, pretty much the same.


You really are the berry best!

Now, I love scented bookmarks, and I got as many as I could this time around. But I confess I was at first disappointed. Many of the bookmarks didn't smell like the fake versions of their pictured fruits. They smelled too... chemically.

But then, by divine providence, I stumbled upon an invaluable proper technique to smelling this kind of bookmark. And I am going to teach it to you, whether you are interested in it or not, which is usually how we do things around here.

First, choose the matte, or non shiny side of the bookmark.

Next, scratch it up a bit with your fingernail.

Then, don't hold it right up to your nose and sniff! That seems like the natural move, but it gets into the artificial chemical profile of the scent. What we want to do is ease the illusion out of the bookmark. So gently waft the bookmark in front of your face, like you're fanning your slightly too warm nose. Gently breathe in.

Smell that?

It's berry good, isn't it.

You'll be melon for more!

I hope that made scents.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Lost and found quotes


Here are some quotes I collected on my recent vacation. There are not many, but 67 percent of them are my own. I will give them titles to try to increase their portentousness.

The Roads Quote:

All roads lead to the present, even the ones away from it.

The Realistic Quote:

Be realistic: Demand the impossible.

And finally,

The Lazy Person's Quote About Time:

Time: You don't have to do a single thing to find yourself somewhere else.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Paj Llamas


A longtime library patron came to the front desk. She was wearing a T-shirt that had a picture of a llama on it. It read:

"It is no prob llama"

She had a book she wanted to check out, but she had forgotten her library card.

Oh no!

That's okay. I could use her driver's license.

She didn't have her driver's license either!

Well, that's a... thing.

But having seen her come to the library for forty years, or whatever, I was pretty sure I maybe knew this person's name. "What's your last name?" I asked.

She told me, and at that point, her first name, from some mysterious place, immediately popped into my mind.

So I looked her record up and checked the book out.

This woman was not known to our library staff for her graciousness, but she nonetheless thanked me politely enough.

I was happy I could do it. "No prob llama." I replied.

She looked at me blankly and then exited.

I may have misunderstood her T-shirt.


Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Duluth: Gateway to the North


Well, I am back from vacation.

As a rule, I do not take pictures on vacation.

However, I have learned to steal pictures after I get back from vacation. 

These pictures below then are stolen pictures of Duluth, featuring places important to our trip.

I have made them my own, and, theoretically now, everyone's.