Saturday, March 19, 2011

Library Record as Window to the Soul 

I know I am breaking a cardinal rule of blogging by updating my blog so pathetically infrequently. I am continuing to suffer from post partum retardation/feeble mindedness, still forgetting matters of vital importance like zipping my fly and not leaving keys in doors. Motherhood after forty has kicked my ass. I am a spawned out salmon, Charlie after the smart drugs wore off.

Librarians are generally fanatically, pig-headedly protective of patrons’ privacy and civil liberties. This is why most are not fans of the Patriot Act, which requires libraries to cough up patron’s checkout histories, ostensibly to aid in the War against Terror. I’m a bit conflicted over the matter myself – I’m all for saving lives and stopping terrorism Jack Bauer style, but it seems once you concede civil liberties, even for one defined, limited area, law enforcement will slowly creep their fresh powers into unrelated areas. And usually that area is The War on Drugs, a war in which I am a conscientious objector. (See Fisa courts, a short cut to warrantless wire tapping created to protect citizens against terrorism, but soon became just a way to obtain warrantless wire-taps to be used for anything, especially drug cases. Seems investigators just can’t help themselves…) Our library system goes so far as to expunge a patron’s checkout history in case, say, the Feds come a knockin’ and demand to scrutinize records to obtain warrants to search people’s houses for marijuana because they once checked out a book on hydroponic gardening.

To thwart the Patriot Act, our system expunges patrons' checkout histories with just two major exceptions: if the patron has fines associated with the item or has kept the items so long that they have been billed. A colleague in the interlibrary loan department frequently scans the crime section of newspapers to look up suspects' library records to see if they have any interlibrary loan books checked out. And believe, me, these deperados are always card carrying members of the library, and their library records are typically a disaster of billed items and late fines. I’m not saying that having a checkered library record is an indicator of criminal/anti-social/psychotic tendencies, but I must say they often they do go together. If you're a scofflaw, maintaining a spotless your library account is the least of your concerns. Because I am a Nosy Parker inquisitive person and student of human nature I always ask him to tell me the good ones. Often they are poignant reflection of their dreams and goals and attempts to better themselves or to seek power. Often they are incriminating, or exactly what you would expect. In any case, they offer a unique insight into the person's mind, or at least his or her taste in reading.

DISCLAIMER: the following have been all heavily disguised to protect the innocent and guilty. You will not uncover anyone’s actual name regardless of your Google sleuthing skills. I too consider a patron’s privacy sacred (or saaaaycred, as I heard it pronounced when I lived in Alabama).

A parolee intravenous meth addict suspected of a murder break-in:
The Satanic Bible (not one but two copies)
Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People

A man who strangled his common law wife, stuffed her body in a suitcase and dumped it in the ocean:
Inside the Australian Parliament
Deliberative Democracy in Australia: The Changing Place of Parliament
I suspect he had hopes of escaping the long arm of the law and immigrating, but they dry tomes would offer no insight or help into the immigration process.

The man who beat his neighbor to death in his own garage with a tire iron over an easement dispute:
Nolo Press' Neighbor Law At least he tried to go the legal, civilized route.

The man who stabbed a bus driver randomly and senselessly:Love Signs and You: The Ultimate Astrological Guide to Love
Numbers and You: A Numerology Guide for Everyday LivingThe 48 Laws of Power
Lonely, powerless and trying to make sense of a random universe?

The man with no pants who robbed a bank
7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Then again, if a criminal profiler were to analyze my currently checked out items: Goebbels Diaries 1941-1943; Traci Lords Underneath it All and The Everything Fondue Party Book, they would most likely conclude that this is someone with a dangerously disordered mind. Seize her!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Best cheatin' song, ever 

I know I do my fair share of handwringing about the homeless in this city, the down-and-outs’ land of milk and honey, but I have to admit that I am often deeply touched by their gallantry. When I was noticeably pregnant, they were always the first to jump up and insist I take their seat, while not one triathaloned toned businessman ever did. Even when these expensively suited men were seated in the front seats, which able bodied passengers are required BY LAW to relinquish to the elderly and handicapped, they would remain firmly planted, intently studying their smart phones or laptops, self servedly oblivious. At times like these I would become desperately homesick for the South, where no self respecting, vigilante minded redneck would ever let this behavior stand.

The other day I was humbled by their chivalry again while I was riding my bike to work through the heart of the Tenderloin and the chain popped off my gears. Two men loitering and passing a bottle back and forth on the corner ran up and expertly replaced the chain on the gear and provided me with a very patient and informative lecture about how to shift properly. They also waved away my attempts to pay them. Thank you to them! Their act almost made up for the confrontation I had with a drunken crazy ranting man the night before at the bus stop who demanded to see the contents of my backpack and chased me about 50 feet before a coworker and a muscular Samaritan came to my aid and scared him off.

The Mail Bag

To relieve the tedium of sorting through the volumes of email the library receives I often listen to music on Youtube. I have been on a Dark end of the Street kick lately, and all of its countless covers. This song, banged out in 30 minutes by Muscle Shoals songwriters Dan Penn and Chips Moman, who wanted to write “the best cheatin’ song, ever" has been covered by practically everyone: Percy Sledge (great, but a little too adenoidal), Linda Rondstadt, Aretha Franklin, Cat Power, Dolly Parton, the Committments. Besides the original, by James Carr, my favorite is an obscure version that was used to such heartbreaking effect in Steve Okazaki's brutal documentary Black Tar Heroin: Dark end of the Street. After listening to the lovely, haunting version about 30 times, I noticed that the singer shared the name of a coworker of mine. I asked her about it and she said, “Yeah, that’s me. I’m old friends with Steve Okazaki.” My life has been full of these eerie coincidences lately, especially regarding repeated random people sighting. The fat man who is always sitting on the same curb smoking a joint that I pass on my run no matter the time, the woman who is always in my Bikram class, no matter how I switch my schedule up, the older woman with the Louise Brooks bob I run into almost every shop I go into. Either I am under surveillance, am starring in my own personal Truman Show, or, most likely, that all of them, and all of you for that matter, are just phantom, increasingly recycled computer images in the artificial matrix construct of my mind.

Speaking of cray cray, here is a sampling of some of the emails I received the past week:

Angry crazy
“How dare you use my tax dollars to purchase books from China, a totalitarian regime that forcibly rips out babies from the wombs of their mothers?”

“Why do you never have any programs promoting straight, white males? Will you not be satisfied until you systematically destroy us? 99.9% of all patents are filed by straight white males. When you destroy us you destroy civilization! I gag at your insane liberal agenda.”

World salad crazy
“where do we water your imagination paper on the computer?”

Insane in the membrane crazy
“If 71% of the people polled don't know or even care what about what happened in Ireland in 1823? It was actually Sister Bridget Mulroney that had a cup of Marijuana tea with his later brother Jesus H. Christ.....Anyway It was also in Dublin Ireland. It was the 15% Solution. It not only tastes good it smell real good Private Joke.........No, because I was a living sacrifice too! I have the scar om my comatic skull with the Same Gun that Dan White used!!!”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Get on up! (Like a Sex Machine) 

I have so many tales of patron exploits to report but stringing all of these stories into coherent sentences just makes…me…so…tired.

Here's one that has being making me laugh for a couple of days. A patron was sleeping the sleep of the dead at one of the CD listening stations in the audiovisual room, a long string of saliva petrifying between his lower lip and the counter. When a staff person gently approached to wake him the patron jerked awake, full body convulsed a couple of times, sending a stack of CDs flying everywhere. His eyes rolled wildly around and he blurted, “GOT ANY JAMES BROWN?”

To me, one of the most stressful and dreaded duties at the security staff-less branches was enforcing the no sleeping policy. Dozing patrons were only to be approached with the most extreme caution – I once saw one lunge and take a groggy swing at a librarian who tried to wake him up. No matter how gently you tried to awake them their reactions were completely unpredictable and usually terrifying. I understand why - many of the sleeping patrons are 'in between places' and I would be touchy, too, if I had just been released from prison or were living on the streets and had people constantly trying to prey on you when you were at your most vulnerable, asleep. But, as much as I feel for their plight we can’t have the libraries looking like the Ft Worth or Dallas Greyhound bus stations that my brother and I would spend a good part of our Sundays in when we were children being shuttled between our divorced parents. The stations had rows of snoring homeless sleeping it off in front of the little black and white individual TV sets that cost a quarter for 15 minutes of grainy pictures with rolling static lines and sobbing runaways on the pay phones. Every time I looked around I saw a small child getting smacked by his or her parent. God those places were grim.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hot, dope sick love 

Spring is in the air, and as everyone knows this is the time of year a young junkie's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of feeding a black tar heroin habit, finding a non-collapsed vein, and LOVE! Here is a picture of two of our friendly neighborhood junkies going at it on this lovely spring day. I apologize for the quality but I walked past them about 10 times trying to get a good shot without being too obvious about what I was doing, not that they would have noticed over their frenzied groping and moaning. I guess I need to work on my stalkerazzi skills. I also regret not being able to include the old homeless men waving and basking their stumps in the warm spring air right next to them – the sight of which is a known aphrodisiac. At least it is for me!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Burnt Fingers 

Long ago I read a book about a French-Canadian girl who was a servant in a pioneer home in Maine. In the story, all the busy body old crones in the vicinity advise a young mother of a little baby girl to take a red hot coal from the fire, show it to the baby and then press it into her baby’s hand so she would learn to fear the fire and always steer clear of it. The tenderhearted mother can’t bear to do this to her baby, the darling of the family, and sure enough the baby’s clothes catch fire after she reaches into the hearth to touch one of the pretty red coals. She dies a horrible death of full body burns.

This story made quite an impression on me and I’ve been wanting to decommission our fireplace ever since the babies achieved mobility. This solution works particularly well since it provides more space for our book hoarding, a problem that has reached levels worthy of a DSM IV entry and is most likely causing structural damage to our building. Note the plastic cover affixed with Velcro dots, which should prevent any pint sized Collyer brother type tragedy.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Team FoxyLibrarian! 

When it dawned on me that it isn’t standard practice to still be wearing maternity clothes 2 years after giving birth, I bought a NIKE Sport Kit and have been jogging - at a stately pace, but jogging all the same, damnit - during my lunch hour. The most inspirational and enjoyable part of the run is the cheers and words of encouragement shouted at me by the homeless crew that loiter and hang out by the library, steaming themselves like dumplings on the warm grates. They pretty much spend their day there carousing, smoking and making undeniably humorous commentary about the passersby.

Say what you will about them but they are a jolly, convivial bunch, they don’t panhandle near the library’s entrance and in general clean up after themselves. They have also earned a special place in my heart by always making sure to tell me how beautiful I was in the latter stages of pregnancy, when I was anything but, and to this day always inquire about the baby. I don’t know what hellish childhoods/ circumstances brought them to homelessness, but they have retained a rough gallantry which is incredibly touching. When I was pregnant, men like them were always the first one to jump up and offer me their seat on the bus, while many a well dressed professional would be intently staring into his laptop, purposefully oblivious. Also, most can tell a damn good story which goes a long way in my book. Life would be much duller without them.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Plate o' Shrimp 

Perhaps ‘tis the season, but lately I’ve been feeling this wondrous feeling of synchronicity, the likes of which a person experiences in the meth honeymoon stage, or a rapidly cycling manic upswing, or schizophrenia. The twins had a play date with their identical twin boy cousins and yet another set of identical twin boys – six in all. I left a comment Facebook picture : the Van Buren Boys!, in reference to the Seinfeld episode when Kramer wards off an attack by the New York street gang the Van Buren Boys when he accidentally flashes the Van Buren gang sign. (Eight fingers up, since Van Buren was the 8th president. He was also the first president from New York).
Not an hour later a patron approached the reference desk and asked who the 8th president was and I blurted out "Van Buren! Van Buren was the 8th president!"like some autistic savant, which unnerved my colleague and the patron. I mean, what are the odds?
About six months ago a patron asked me to find a book for him. He said that it might be by a local author and could only describe the cover, a drawing of a baby in a bassinet. The worst part about it was that I knew I had seen the book somewhere, but no matter what I tried– searches on Amazon, Google, numerous databases, consultations with colleagues - I failed to unearth the title. Long after the patron left I kept at it until I finally came across it: Dirty Jobs by Christopher Moore. My failure to find the book for the patron ate at me and I always considered it the reference question that got away.
The other day a man came in looking for a book. "All I can tell you is that it’s about a man’s wife dying in childbirth and…"

I pointed at him and said with dead certainty, "A Dirty Job".

Although I had never read the book, and had only the slightest idea of what it was about, I just knew that the universe was giving me a do-over. Sure enough, that was the book he was looking for.

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