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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

More truths that eerily reveal themselves in fiction 

From Amy Tan's collection of essays, The Opposite of Fate. Isabel Allende reported a similar experience.

While I was writing the Joy Luck Club, I asked my mother to tell me more about her parents, both of who had died when she was a child. My mother revealed that my widowed grandmother had remarried – a disgraceful thing to do, my mother said, but at least she became the first wife to a rich man. Later my grandmother gave birth to a son; two months after that, she accidentally died, from eating opium while having too much of a good time.

When I wrote the story “Magpies,” I changed the detail a bit; the young widow is raped by a rich man and becomes his fourth wife, a lowly concubine who gives birth to the man’s first son, the result of the rape. The baby is claimed by a higher-ranking wife, and this so enrages the fourth wife about the worthlessness of her life that she dies, not accidentally while having fun, but with the vengeance of suicide.

When my mother read this story, she asked me, “How you know what really happen? Why can you write about things you don’t know?” And then she remembered: I have always been able to talk to ghosts.


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Punky and the Revolution 

I helped a patron today find the phone number of a family in Italy that had taken her in from a refugee camp when she was a young woman fleeing Communists in Hungary in the 1960s. She cared for this Italian family's children and then eventually moved on to the United States after being granted asylum. She was going back to Italy and wanted to see them and thank them again for their kindness. We were able to find a couple of promising phone number leads and she came back a while later to say that she had reached them on the phone and then we both got a little emotional together. I have a special soft spot for survivors of communist totalitarian regimes because we get a lot of haunted survivors of the Cultural Revolution in China at this branch. Orwell had no idea how bad it could get. 1984 was a real walk in the park in comparison.

Earlier I spotted Punky roving around the neighborhood with a videocamera - just like Leni Riefenstahl, but a lot more mincing and drunk. I was wondering if Punky had taken up videography as a new hobby when the Feisty Old Broad came in and said that Punky told her he 'found' the camera on a playground bench. I'm sure he found that video camera just like he found the bike he stole outside the library. He then tried to sell it to her and every single person that passes through the park, but there were no takers. Even the wig shop/thrift store on the corner, which is notorious for fencing stolen items, won't touch it.

The FOB said that she saw that the frantic and heartbroken owners took out an advertisement in the paper offering a reward for its return in yesterday's paper. The FOB said that she was going to go to the homeless center and threaten Punky that she would call the police on him if doesn't return it. I hope that the rightful owners get it back, but Punky is so spiteful that I fear he will destroy the camera rather than relinquish it, even if it is of no use to him. He's just that petty.

Loretta Update

It's now summer and Loretta has taken a new lover. Putting her boozy coquetry and cozy new lodgings to work, she got herself a man and she is now cohabitating with him in her new residential hotel room. I hope he treats her decently.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Flop Sweet Flop for Loretta 

I apologize if it seems that I have been neglecting my blog, but I was away in the beautiful countryside of Connecticut for my cousin’s wedding. I had a wonderful time and got to reconnect with many cousins and friends I haven’t seen in years, but I am now bone tired, jet lagged and all around fried.

At the rehearsal dinner I was seated next to a friend of the groom who is a social worker. She specializes in addiction and works in a methadone clinic. Since that is what my my job seems like at times, my cousin knew we would have lots in common to talk about. The social worker lives in Charleston, WV, and told me that Oxycontin (a.k.a. Hillybilly Heroin) has become a real scourge there, outpacing even crystal meth. Her addicted patients crush the pills to release its time release feature, snort the powder, and then spend the day woolgathering and collecting disability, much like their west coast urban counterpart, the denizens of the park near my library branch.

Happy news on the Loretta front. The city is trying to wean its homeless off of cash handouts by providing more housing and services, and Loretta has been affected by this new policy. Although the city reduced Loretta's welfare payment, it set her up in a room in a residential hotel on the other side of town. Her new residence is far enough away from the park that it is too much effort for her to visit often, although it would finally be safe for her to do so. Archie, the man who broke her finger and stamped on her foot when she refused to share her money with him a few months ago, violated parole and is back in jail, so Loretta is safe from his predations for the time being.

More later after I collect my wits.


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Braaains...Internet...Braaains...Internet 

The doors of this branch are glass so when patrons crowd outside waiting for the library to open they can see me inside milling about or seated at the reference desk. I can feel them watching me. This library is always busy, but now school is out and our neighboring branch is closed for remodeling so we have even larger numbers than usual. Today well before we opened a mob had already formed. Just like the cannibalistic zombies in the shopping mall of Dawn of the Dead, they were pressing against the glass, trying to get in to eat my brain and/or get first in line for the internet computers, fogging and fingerprinting and smudging up the glass as they pawed at the doors with horrible, mindless intent.

I really shouldn't think of my patrons in this way.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Bolshevik Beach Reading 

Listening to the local listener call-in show on public radio this morning was like listening to a spoof. The topic of the day's show was fun summer reading, and the literary taste of the callers revealed a lot about this area’s 10:00 AM NPR market demographic, which apparently consists of unemployed radical relics of the sixties with indoctrination on their mind. Although I found it hilarious, it would have been enough to give that gorgon-of-The-Right Anne Coulter an aneurism. Here’s some light reading that the callers suggested you tote to the beach, along with your copy of the Daily Worker and Jemima J. Curiously, there hasn't been a run on these titles at the library today.

I’m not making these up - these were actual suggestions.

Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend

The Autobiography of Mother Jones

Murdered by Capitalism: A Memoir of 150 Years of Life and Death on the American Left

The Koran

Friday, June 18, 2004

You're my bitch, rope toy 

We used to think it was absolutely adorable when Billy Jack would methodically gather all of his toys together in a big pile like this, until we noticed that he was arranging his toys like this so he could hump them in this disturbingly aggressive manner. He was not being a little sex fiend, though. Humping of this sort is a sign of dominance, and this behavior signified that we a had a pathologically dominant puppy on our hands. We theorize Billy never got over being the runt of his litter, and now he is hell bent on being the alpha of all.


The other day I answered a reference question over the telephone for an elderly woman with the most lovely phone manner, and after we finished her question we stayed on the phone having an interesting discussion about some of her favorite new books. She had such a beautiful speaking voice as well as a droll, urbane wit - definitely the product of a more elegant era. She was like Myrna Loy as Nora Charles in her dotage. After our discussion she spent a good minute singing the praises of library services. Then her voice suddenly darkened and she said, “When I think of what this fucking administration is trying to do to you librarians I just… Oh, please forgive me! I don’t know why I do that. It’s like I have a tiny devil in my mouth that makes me say the most terrible things. Well, have a wonderful day, my darling. You have been most helpful.”

I told her to please call again because I had enjoyed talking to her so much. With the exception of the crankily loathsome AndyRooney, I feel that the elderly have earned the right to speak their mind and if they want to drop an f bomb now and then that’s perfectly fine with me, although I hope in her case it wasn't a harbinger of age related dementia.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Shoot up @ your library - a slogan I don't care to see 


I was at the branch in the formerly ‘hippie’ section of town yesterday. Although there were still plenty of flower children patrons, they’re now way outnumbered by permanent dropouts, scary drifters, and junkies. In fact, there were enough opiate addicts there that it would make it a convenient time saver for all involved to just go ahead and open a methadone clinic in the branch. I was stationed there because the regular librarian was being stalked and threatened by a deranged female patron the day before. The librarian didn't feel comfortable returning to this branch the next day for some reason and had herself transferred to another branch temporarily. No one bothered to tell me the situation until I reported for duty yesterday morning and I all I could do was wait there like a sitting duck, terrified some angry, crazy woman would come bursting into the library hell bent on revenge. I hoped that her particular mental disorder had not disabled her facial recognition capabilities. Even if she could distinguish me from the object of her obsessive hatred, I prayed that she wouldn't shrug and say to herself, “Well, I’m already here, so I guess the librarian sitting at her desk will have to do.”

I hadn't been to this branch in a while, but I used to work here a lot back when I was a naïve, fledging public librarian and I credit it with bringing me up to speed. One night I went to the children's section and saw that the young woman I had helped print something from the internet earlier had passed out over the heating grate. I immediately thought that she must have slipped into a diabetic coma or suffered a brain aneurysm and shrieked at the tech to call 911. I tried to revive her but she remained inert and unresponsive. Instead of calling 911, the old jaded tech marched over, stood over her and yelled, "No sleeping in the library!" This had about the same effect on her as it did on Uma Thurman when John Travolta plunged the hypodermic needle of adrenaline into her heart in Pulp Fiction. She woke with a gasp, looked around and smiled sheepishly. She then got up and weaved her way unsteadily out the library. Her pupils were pin pricked, what I now recognize as a tell tale sign of heroin use, and soon after we found some hypodermic needles in the bathroom.

I got quite an education the next few times I worked there, and also got good assertiveness training by having to kick junkies off the computers that were nodding off in front of the monitors. Talk about a waste of your turn at the computer! Anyway, I hope that I don’t become so cynical that I won’t recognize a genuine medical emergency when one does happen.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I am the devil 





The cutest, wittlewist bartender, you say? More like Lloyd, the satanic bartender in The Shining! Here is another picture of Billy Jack and further documentation of his preternatural ability to manipulate and seduce. Placing that little paw on the brick is a coldly calculated maneuver on his (its?) part - save yourself, because he will devour your soul.






Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Chicken Soup for your Who-Ha 



A while back Elizabeth and I were browsing in a used book store and noticed that all of those fulsome books in the Chicken Soup for your Soul series inexplicably fed right into the women’s sexual health section. Elizabeth remarked, “This must be where you find the Chicken Soup for your Pussy  books." Which isn’t too much of a stretch, considering some of the bizarre and micro market targeted books Jack Canfield's treacly, cultish factory empire emits like so much greenhouse gas. From Canfield's website:

It is our deepest pleasure to offer you Chicken Soup for the Chiropractic Soul. As you begin to read Chicken Soup for the Chiropractic Soul we hope that you will be inspired and moved by the heart warming stories of people like yourself who have chosen chiropractic for a holistic approach to healing, pain relief, and lifelong wellness.

Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul features great stories of speed, courage, dedication and over-coming adversity. Buckle up for the fastest-moving Chicken Soup for the Soul book ever as many of the sport's biggest names, including Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte, take us inside the race car for one inspirational and uplifting story after another. You'll also hear from devoted fans who share how NASCAR has touched their lives.

Do you love your dental team? Once you've read Chicken Soup for the Dental Soul, you'll never think of the dental office—and the professionals who work there—in the same way again. Eavesdrop on kids at the dentist as they make you laugh and cry; delight in hilarious Tooth Fairy adventures; share in the heartwarming experiences of service to the poor and dental missions to third-world countries; see people's self esteem soar and their lives turn around—all thanks to the help of a caring dental team.

I can never get through one goddamned day at the reference desk without having to help at least one person find one of these insipid ‘inspirational’ books. Here is a list I have compiled for future suggestions, inspired by patrons at the library today.

Chicken Soup for the Bipolar Patron Who Forgot to Take his Meds

Chicken Soup for the Stressed Mother Who Just Lost It with Her Child in the Video Section

Chicken Soup for the Haunted, Heroin Addicted Vietnam Vet

Chicken Soup for the Cheap Euro Tourist Who Would Rather Wait Two Hours for the Internet than Pay for it at the Reasonably Priced Internet Cafe across the Street (they can read it while they wait!)

Chicken Soup for the Vegan’s Soul. Oh, wait… (Elizabeth’s contribution)

Chicken Soup for the Latchkey child who is on his own for Lunch

Chicken Soup for the Computer Game Addicted Child with Gnarled Hands who Hasn’t Played Outside in Years

Chicken Soup for the Oddly Attractive Exposure Tanned Homeless Man

Chicken Soup seething with Salmonella for the Gorgon (hateful woman who yells at the staff and lies pathologically about when she returned her items to weasel out of her late fines)

Chicken Soup for the Skeevy Relic from the Beat Generation Who Now Lives in a Depressing Residential Hotel and Thinks that Women 40 years his Junior whom he Has the Nerve to Hit on Would Actually be Impressed b/c he had a Passing Acquaintance with Jack Kerouac

Chicken Soup for the Sleeper Cell Terrorist

Chicken Soup for the Book Defacer’s Soul

Monday, June 14, 2004

SINKS ARE FOR HANDWASHING ONLY 

AND, AS A COURTESY TO OTHERS, BATHROOM TIME IS LIMITED TO 15 MINUTES

This sign is posted on our bathroom door to discourage patrons from using our small facilities to bathe, inject drugs, and do other things I don’t wish to contemplate. Even if there isn't any malfeasance taking place in the lavatory, the diet and lifestyle of a bum do not promote ‘regularity,’ and so I often end up having to perform one of my least favorite duties: banging on the bathroom door and telling the user that they have exceeded their time and they need to finish things up. Often this puts the bathroom user in a bad temper, and when they emerge they act all indignant, give me the stink eye, and storm out. It’s unpleasant, but since we don’t have security it’s up to the librarians to enforce the rules.

The Tacoma library had terrible issues with their public restrooms, ones that were affecting the entire neighborhood. Prostitutes began using the library's bathroom, the only public one in the area, to 'freshen up' in between customers, and their presence caused a domino effect of drug dealing, other illicit activities and blight in the neighborhood. The fed up library administration went to the city council to demand emergency funding to hire a full-time security guard to stand outside the bathroom door, and his intimidating presence alone was enough for the prostitutes to move elsewhere. Once the ladies moved on, the neighborhood underwent a tiny urban renewal.

Euro tourists are always dismayed and scandalized by this city's lack of public restrooms, and by the time many of them manage to find their way to our library's bathroom they are desperately crossing their little legs. A French company put up free standing, coin operated public restrooms all over the city but those are not always in service. Even if they are, I wouldn’t call them exactly inviting, even for the non-fastidious. Due to the ADA, the bathrooms have to be wheelchair accessible, and so they are just the right size for many of our citizens to turn tricks, transform into a cozy shooting gallery, or take a nap. Every twenty minutes the doors swing open and hoses spray the walls and floors and any occupants down with scalding bleachy water (whether it is occupied or not), but that function is easy to disable. Until the city comes up with a better solution, libraries offer one of the few public restrooms available in the city, except the ones in the park, and chances are they are locked or in use by Loretta.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


I have been spellbound by Songs of the Gorilla Nation, a beautifully written memoir of a young woman who has Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. Although she has difficulty communicating and interacting in person, she is a remarkably eloquent writer, and is able to describe and provide profound insight into the thought processes and experiences of people who have the syndrome.

She describes her syndrome as a sensory filter malfunction (interestingly enough, many people with Autism and Asperger's have asthma and terrible allergies, which can be seen as other types of 'filter' disorders). For her, to experience the world is to drown in synesthetic sensory overload. Overwhelmed, unable to process the tidal wave of stimuli, she escapes the painful barrage through obsessive compulsive behavior, repetitive actions, and solipsism. As a child she was unable to connect normally with other people and was incapable of picking up on normal social cues. Although not cognitively or verbally delayed, she was socially helpless. Blunt, inadvertantly rude, and always “different,’ she was a vulnerable target for vicious schoolmates and even teachers. She suffered greatly as a tormented, confused social outcast.

Completely alienated, she dropped out of school at 16 and was moved to Seattle and became homeless, eating out of garbage cans to survive. She eventually became an exotic dancer, and with her first paycheck visted the Seattle zoo because she had always found solace in animals. There she discovers an almost mystical connection with the gorillas, and for the first time experiences empathy and connection with another primate. Adept at shutting her senses off, she is able to focus her brain like a laser, and with a formidable singlemindedness observed and learned everything she could about them. Through studying their social interactions, and from the relationships she develops with the gorillas, she learns how to interact with humans. She credits the gorillas with "civilizing" her, and forms deep, communicative relationships with some of them. She becomes involved with the zoo and eventually is able to earn her PhD in Interdisciplinary Anthropology, form a relationship with a significant other, have a child, and become an activist for gorillas. Now she works to bridge the worlds between ape and human as well as autistic and normal people.

Although she can “pass” now as a normal person, there are still some things about human society that counfound her, although I can certainly see why.

It is hard to express the horror I feel when I am out at a parade or carnival (already a sensory nightmare) and I see a clown coming. The garish colors of an exaggerated smile, the electric daggers that are rainbow wigs, the oversized hands and feet: all of these make me want to run at top speed for the nearest exit. If I can't get away, I sometimes feel like I want to attack the clown.

Amen, sister. Amen.


Tuesday, June 08, 2004


As part of its “Flops” theme week Trio broadcasted the shortlived Cop Rock series in its entirety, and Elizabeth made sure to Tivo every single one. In case you don’t know, Cop Rock was conceived and produced by Stephen Bochco, who previously had the Midas touch with critically acclaimed hits like Hill Street Blues and LA Law. I don’t know what can explain this show except coke induced hubris. Imagine a gritty crime drama in which beat cops, criminals, lowlifes, and civic leaders break out, for no good reason, into Bollywood style song and dance routines. It is spellbindingly awful.

Most of the songs are composed by Randy Newman and are vaguely reminiscent of bad 80s hits (think lots of shrieky sax), although some embarrassingly bad rap songs also manage to work their way in, usually after a crack house raid. Although the songs are ridiculous, some of them are pernicious earworms. I still can’t get the sappy ballad one police officer tenderly sings to his wounded partner in the hospital out of my head, and I fear that it might drive me mad if I can’t somehow flush it out.

My favorite scene takes place after a meeting of undercover police women adjourns. They are all setting out to nab a serial rapist, and as they strut down the police headquarter's hall with aggressive, angry intent like the hookers in Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield video, they begin to sing lines like:

That rapist be getting on my last nerve
Gonna make sure he gets what he deserves
We're going to give him a niii-AIGHT to remember


Wow. A staggering 1.8 million dollar cost per episode (In 1990s dollars!) and widespread public scorn sank the show after only 4 months, and it has become one of the most notorious failures in TV history. If you would like to spend a few hours in jaw dropping amazement and wonder at this fiasco then be sure to try to catch it.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Female Trouble 



When I picked up an extra shift at a different branch this Saturday the library tech reported a revolting incident involving one of their library regulars, a bag lady. This patron is a classic bag lady, a mentally ill homeless woman who totes around all of her earthly belongings in multiple shopping bags. She is a little unusual because her bags seem to contain nothing but hundreds of small stuffed animals. Usually she comes in right after the library opens to stake out a small desk in the back of the stacks. Once settled, she spends the morning erecting a stuffed animal fort around her. Safely behind its plush walls, she then reads or draws quietly, minding her own business, just one of the many eccentric but seemingly harmless people that haunt public libraries.

The other night at the branch she asked to use the bathroom 3 minutes before it closed. The public restroom closes 15 minutes before the library does for many cogent reasons, chiefly so the entire staff will not be held hostage in the library after closing time waiting on some bum's ravaged and temperamental alimentary system. When denied access to the bathroom, she gave the staff a dark look and marched back to the stacks. She then emerged a minute later and disappeared into the night. When the tech was doing the final ‘creep sweep’ he spotted something on the floor in the area where she had been that looked like a little brown rat, but when he looked closer he discovered it was a feminine hygiene product, a thoroughly used  feminine hygiene product. What a horrible thing for anyone to find, but it must have been especially traumatizing to a finicky gay man who is already squeamish about female bodily functions. She must have left this 'calling card,' this biohazard token of her displeasure at our bathroom closing procedure, out of aggressive spite because there is another public restroom about 50 yards away in the park that she could have used if she were that desperate. She hasn’t been back since, but the manager plans on having a talk with her when she does, which is why I never, ever want to go into management.

Friday, June 04, 2004

This is your brain on dope 


I guess John the Fisherman has sufficiently forgiven me for leading him on, because he came in the other day, smelling and looking like he had just rolled out of Cheech and Chong's van, to seek my help with a possible new venture. He wants to start a marijuana farming collective to sell pot to local medical cannabis clubs. He also wants to acquire a small business loan to get him started as well as have me research what federal farm subsidies are available, which is a cautionary example of the kind of impaired, magical thinking that smoking large amounts of dope on a daily basis leads you to have. The cannabis clubs have a weird, shady semi-legal status in the city, but still violate federal law while the courts battle it out. For now, citizens cannot grow pot to sell to these clubs unless they want a bunch of DEA stormtroopers raiding their farms and seizing their property. I didn't want to be too discouraging, but it seems too many obstacles lie in the way of his (pipe) dream for now, the least of which is his own voracious appetite for the substance. I don’t see how he would restrain himself from smoking his entire cash crop up anyway.

Speaking of dreams, you know that it has long been one of mine to have a manservant. My 20 year old little brother is staying with us for the month while he interns at a venture capital company, one of the first steps on his journey to becoming a capitalist pig who I'm hoping will not forget the kindess of his shockingly and tragically underpaid public servant sister when he amasses his fortune. In his spare time he is exhausting the dogs on longs runs, taking the garbage out, and performing other handy errands. He’ll do in the meantime.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Boob Fan 



A few years ago back when I had just started with this system and I was callow I worked an evening shift as the only librarian at a quiet branch. The evening had not been going well. The police had come in and conducted a lengthy and disruptive interrogation of a homeless man who was at the computer right next to the reference desk. Someone complained earlier that she had seen this man killing and roasting pigeons outside the library on a small makeshift spit, which apparently violates some sort of city ordinance. The man was truculent and uncooperative, and the police finally hauled him away after they ran his name through their computers and found out that there were several warrants for him. After that unpleasantness was over and things had finally quieted down I received a phone reference question.

"Yeah. I'm calling long distance from Texas. I need some reference help."

"Sure, I'll see what I can do, but may I ask why you aren't calling your local library?"

"They won't help me anymore. I need to know if that actress, that one with the gigantic tits, if she's still alive. I think her name is something like Busty or Titty. She has blonde hair."

My first thought was that this was about to degenerate into a very obscene phone call or that it was a practical joke. But, because I can be paranoid, I began to fear that this might be some sort sort of quality control test. I immediately imagined a committee of library administrators at the other end on the phone line, testing my composure and judging my professionalism by the manner in which I dealt with this unusual reference question.

Using the clues he offered, I did a Google search using the keywords blonde gigantic breasts movie star  and somehow came up with Chesty Morgan. She had been the star of several B exploitation movies. She was best known for Deadly Weapons, in which she seeks revenge against the mob by weilding her 73" breasts, the "deadly weapons" of the title. In this case she uses them as suffocation devices, not weighty nunchucks as I would have assumed. What a way to go.

When I offered the name Chesty Morgan he shouted,

"Yeah! That's the one, that's her! Is she still alive?"

I searched the newspaper databases and I couldn’t find any obituaries and her sites didn't mention her death, so I told him that she was most likely still alive. He replied,

“She is? Then I need her phone number. I want to ask her out to dinner.”

I told him that I couldn't do that, and for privacy reasons that she most likely had an unlisted number, so I gave him the address of one of her fan clubs.

Eager to end the phone call so he could start to work on his fan letter/ invitation to dinner, he thanked me and hung up.


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