Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Real Shitty Week 

Before I left to visit home we had quite a situation at the library. For about a week piles of human feces were discovered at various places in and around the the building. One was boldly left near the internet computers, for which I find impossible to believe there were no eyewitnesses, and one in the problem alcove of the employee exit, a hotbed of malfeasance.

Non-house broken patrons roaming the library are nothing new, and finding human feces in the library is an unpleasant fact of public librarianship that I have chronicled extensively and nauseatingly in this blog. There was something unusual about the frequency of these episodes, however, and it was beginning to feel like we were under fecal assault. I'm not sure if these were isolated incidences, a coordinated effort, or a disgruntled patron trying to send a message. Perhaps it was the work of some kind of serial shitter.

Well, I should be able to recognize an omen when I see it. I arrived home to the news that my mother's cancer is back, my grandmother suffered a heart attack and other family drama to depressing to mention - a perfect storm of shit. I am going to stay home for a while to help.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Good Germans 

I spent a lighthearted, fun filled Friday night watching the German movie Downfall, where you get to be a fly on the wall in Hitler’s bunker during the last days of the Third Reich. For a claustrophobic 2 ½ hours, you witness the utter chaos and anarchy as the members of the Reich turn on each other like frenzied dogs while the Russians close in. One critic said it was like watching rats trying to claw their way out of a slow flushing toilet for 2 ½ hours. I’ve spent several restless nights as my subconscious has tried to process and work out the horrors I saw: the summary executions for the slightest hint of disloyalty, weeping officers blowing themselves and their unsuspecting families up at the dinner table, roving bands of MPs shooting and hanging civilians, Magda Goebbels calmly poisoning her 6 children with cyanide because she couldn’t bear them living in a world without National Socialism, Nazi officer’s drunken, cocaine fueled orgies, Hitler and friends methodically discussing the pros and cons of different suicide methods, people throwing themselves at the feet of Hitler in crazy-eyed, fanatical devotion.

I've had enough of Germans for a while. I recently tried to watch Heimat, the epic German miniseries, which came highly recommended. I had expectations of some sweet, life affirming chronicle of village life like one of those sleepy English series such as The Vicar of the Dibley or All Creatures Great and Small. After the first show I really had to stop watching. I believed that the story of a German village that spans a hundred years would provide illuminating insight into the German human experience, like the exquisite, heartbreaking Stones from the River, which explained how ordinary human beings could get caught up and participate in great evil. Heimat was created by Germans, so I expected at least a little bit of a romanticized and sentimentalized version of their history, especially since they were getting to tell their side themselves. First of all, Heimat is filmed in the German Expressionist style, and its weird and upsetting camera angles, long, odd silences all filmed in a black and white like dreamscape, were alone enough to make me recoil in horror. Instead, Heimat did nothing but confirm my worst suspicions about the German people. The miniseries begins right after Armistice in a small village. The hateful, suspicious residents of Heimat constantly pry into their neighbor’s business and turn each other into the authorities for whatever petty and vindictive reason they can. Roving bands of bullying children taunt and throw rocks at anyone weak, especially those with physical deformities. Anyone dark is accused of being polluted with gypsy blood. Songs the villagers sing would seem beautiful until you paid attention to the words, which would describe how hateful the French are and how they would be getting theirs soon. You can see where this is all headed. I have enough problems with the Germans as it is – I don’t need to fuel it.

I often have to be careful with what I read or watch. I had to take a break from reading popular Chinese-American authors like Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston because their stories populated with despotic, unbelievably cruel mothers and mothers-in-law, and the overall nasty treatment of the characters to each other in were too painful to take. Their descriptions of the peasantry, especially their misogyny and superstitions, which seemed particularly alien and repulsive to me, were stirring dark currents of xenophobia within me rather than building bridges to cultural understanding.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Today at Krav Maga 

I was sitting on the bench outside the classroom waiting for my punch bag class to start when I overheard the two guys next to me. There was no need to eavesdrop because the one guy doing most of the talking was broadcasting his voice in a way that means he is holding forth and that what he is sasaying is meant for everyone in the room.

Guy 1: You’re looking awfully coordinated with your black and red shirt and your black and red shoes. Is that on purpose?

Guy 2: Yeah! (the homosexual implications of this statement escaping him) Black and red are pretty much my favorite colors. My car out there – see it? The Porsche? It’s black and red also. Everything I own is black and red. Even my boat. Did I tell you I got a boat? Remember on Miami Vice? It’s just like the one on that show, the one that what’s-his-face used to have.

Guy 1: Really? What do you call it?

Guy 2: It’s The Genocide.

Guy 1: The Genocide?

Guy 2: Yeah. My ex-girlfriend’s name is Jenna, so I named it The Jennacide after that bitch. Heh-heh. But in these P.C. times you have to be careful so I made the name real small. (like my penis)

Jenna, how could you have let this one go? What a keeper. He then got up and I saw that he was 5’2. I felt a little stab of pity at his sad efforts at overcompensation but then as he swaggered out past me I thought, “Thank you for giving me the visual of your face to put on the punch bag as I pummel it for the next hour. It should definitely increase my level of intensity, you twerp.”

I thought Krav Maga would be a healthy way to release some stress and aggression, but at times I worry that instead it might tap into some bottomless reservoir of rage that will come spewing forth in this uncontrollable gush like at Spindletop. In any case, it will give me a fighting chance if some homicidal patron sneaks up behind me in the stacks and puts his hands around my throat.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Pee-wee exhibition game 

Check out this video clip of tiny Ultimate players. Aren’t they as cute as the dickens? I’m so glad that I’ll be officially retired from Ultimate by the time their powers reach maturity.

There is a casual pick-up football game that the homeless play in the parking lot next to the library. Sometimes when I'm leaving for the day I’ll stop and watch them play. It gives this place a collegiate feel, like they’re a bunch of carefree students playing sports in the campus quad. The thick marijuana smoke in the air adds to this feeling. I’m considering giving them a Frisbee to play with.

I was watching their game the other day when an older man in overalls rocking back and forth next to me barked, "I LIKE BUTTERMILK!" in a perfect imitation of Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade.

Update on the guy who threatened to blow the library up if it didn't waive his $25 fine! I half believed that it was written by someone trying to set the poor guy up, perhaps a friend playing a really dangerous practical joke on him. Who would be so stupid to provide his name AND library card number on a threat that carries a federal offense? But, of course he was the author of the note, and even though he boasted that we would never find (fined) him, the authorities did so quickly and without much effort. He was living at his mother's house. He quickly confessed.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Letters from the Big House 

The other day I came across a real treasure trove, a file folder of mail from prisons. The folder contains an archive of letters we have received from the incarcerated from all over the world. We make a good faith effort to answer all questions we receive, no matter what the nature of the question or from where it originates.

Most of the questions are straightforward and sincere: “What is the mailing address of the United Nations?” Others are more whimsical, the products of a bored mind trying to pass the time. “What is considered the greatest book of all time, and why?” Some are wistful, and have a sad, yearning, almost lonely hearts flavor to them. “I grew up in your city but moved away when I was young. I returned as an adult but fell in with the wrong crowd. I love your city and dream about it often. I wish I had made better choices. Please could you send me a brochure of your city, and some information about its history? Please write back soon if you have the time. I look forward to hearing from you.” Those you have to be careful to keep a remote, professional distance or the writer might pay a visit to the library looking for you when released.

They are unfailingly respectful and courteous, even the ones from the desperately insane, which of course hold the most interest for me. Here is an excerpt from a Texas prisoner that consists of 4 pages covered with tightly packed script. The letter is one giant sentence of Faulknerian/David Foster Wallace length.

The main reason I am writing is really mainly because I would like to know just how do you go about having a computerized tomography (CT) or a Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI) done to examining your head would you have to go see a special kind of psychologist and pay to get it done because I really want to be tested I believe I hope a little bit of everything multiple personally I know I have obsessive thinking very bad and I always make my whole life competitive like for a good example I will do something out the ordinary like go for a girl she can be just as ugly as sin but it like a real powerful force I try my best no to do it but I cannot help myself and I can be doing just fine perfect find and I will do something on purpose to file it up and do not want to something so bad so many times it will be just plain old broke you will not be able to fix it like getting a girl pregnant now I do not believe I am psycho but I do have really bad hallucinations...

After a few more pages in this vein he wraps up the letter with, OK you have a great Thanksgiving Day and have a Merry Christmas also eat a lot of pecan pies, and million dollar pies I really appreciate you taking your most valuable time to help me and answer my questions, all my questions, all my questions, all my questions please let me hear from you as soon as possible.

Right after I got my MLS I actually considered becoming a prison librarian. The pay is good and I wanted to atone for being a bureaucrat/foot soldier in this country’s abominable war on drugs, where women are languishing for decades in prison while they serve preposterous mandatory sentences because they rode in the car with their boyfriend once to pick up some fertilizer so he could make meth.

Each job announcement includes the warning that if you are ever taken hostage during a prison riot, the administration will not negotiate your release, so I thought better of it. After reading Wally Lamb’s collection of stories from the writing workshop he conducted at a women’s prison I’m inspired to try to get involved, but on a volunteer basis.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Have a Suggestion? Use our friendly on-line form! 

Hi My Name is XXXX and this is my library card number XXXX i know i have to pay my 25.oo and i won't pay anything to you until you take that 25.00 off i you don't ill blow up the Library and you will not fined me any where in the city so i know you will do the right think ok bitch and i'll suck your Dick if you want me to

This patron was disgruntled that his record was frozen because he owed $25 for some videos he had checked out and never returned in 2003. We get bomb threats all of the time (what is it with that compulsion?) but this one, with its bewitching blend of federal offense level threats, offers of sexual favors and adorable Freudian slips (fined for find), has been my favorite so far.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Lottery in June, Corn be Heavy Soon! 

We have been having a run on numerology books lately because our state lottery jackpot has reached an astronomical sum. I guess that approach, although hardly scientific, is as good as any for state sanctioned gambling. I am fascinated by and have a soft spot for the occult and people trying to use it to improve their lives. It adds an element of magical fun into our sterile, scientifically (i.e., boring) modern existences. Right after 9-11 I was working at the branch in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. The patrons would tentatively approach the desk, look furtively around and whisper, "Hay libros de... Nostradamus?" Apparently, wild rumors were circulating around about how Nostradamus had predicted the fall of the twin towers and they wanted to verify it.

She's so good looking that she looks like a man 

A transgender (man to woman) called the library the other day because she had lost her makeup bag somewhere in the library. She was transferred to security, which handles all lost and found. While she was explaining her situation the security officer kept referring to her as “Sir.” Although insensitive, he didn’t mean to be disrespectful or insulting, it’s that she sounded, well, like a man, and the security guard kept forgetting himself. The patron was deeply hurt and called back to complain, but before she could get too far into her story she burst into tears. I’m sure she was upset and distressed over her lost makeup bag – makeup is a pricey investment, and I would be devastated if I lost mine - but I also had to wonder how much of her outburst was caused by the emotional roller of her hormone treatments. Although I did feel terrible for her, and was deeply apologetic and passed along the news about the need for further sensitivity training, there was a small part of me that went, “HAH! Welcome to my world! You think being a woman is all about makeup and nail polish and pretty clothes? Well let me tell you that it’s also about being at the mercy of evil female hormones that make you irrational and moody and seethe and bloat and pout and binge eat and cry for no reason, which can completely destroy your professional credibility with your male colleagues. Congratulations, you're a woman now."

Recently, a man approached the front desk and said that he was a transgender and wanted to use the women’s bathroom. He was wearing a lumberjack shirt and work boots and couldn’t have looked more manly and macho. His presence in the women’s bathroom would have caused nothing less than panic. The librarian asked for documentation, which he couldn’t provide, and he stormed away with a, “You’ll be hearing from me soon.” I mean, how are we supposed to distinguish between your garden variety pervert and a true transgender? Although, from what I’ve heard of the condition of the men’s restroom, I couldn’t blame him for using a ploy to gain acces to the women’s bathroom.

I wonder how Asian countries, where men who live as women are tolerated as a third sex, handle the bathroom situation. It was hard not to gawk in amazement and admiration at the transgender women in Malaysia, who were without exception stunning and gorgeous. The only way to really distinguish them from ‘real women,’ the dead giveaway, is that they looked too perfect. Real women always have some flaw, and the way to test for authenticity was to look for the flaw, like with a diamond.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

I bet you're as pretty on the inside as you are on the outside 

During the mid-day rush a woman called to see what Perricone books we had available. Patrons in person always take precedence over telephone patrons, so the librarian told the woman that it would be a moment because there was a line of people. The woman replied that she would wait. Not more than two minutes later, the librarian ran back to the shelves and returned with some books for the telephone patron. When she picked up the phone the woman exploded, "I've been on hold forever! FUCK YOU!" and slammed down the phone. My. I know that there has been a sad decline in civility and gentility in this society, but even with my extremely low expectations that response shocked me.

Perhaps someone should recommend some books on inner beauty to her. She will need a lot more than salmon and blueberries and other foods rich in antioxidants to make her an attractive person.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Miss Daisy Makes a Phone Call 

I received a phone message from my 87 year old, deeply southern grandmother that I should save and send off to the Library of Congress. It really is a cultural relic that ought to be preserved for posterity. Apparently an old school friend is trying to get in touch with me and called her phone number, which she has had for the past 50 years. The phone is being forwarded to a rehabilitative facility where she is convalescing from a broken hip and where her African American maid, Debbie, has also moved in to care for her. My grandmother called me to relay the message and the transcript of her message went something like,

"Hello! An old school friend of yours called and she's trying to reach you. Here's her numb-ah. Well, I thought I had it here. Debbie, now where is that numb-ah? I thought I asked you to give it to me!"

"Oh, no you didn't, Mz. Ferrell! You didn't ask me no such thing."

"I'm sure I did! I know I asked you for that numb-ah. Then help me find that numbah."

Adamantly, "Uh-uh, no ma'am. You did not ask me to give it to you." Then with a lot of exasperated sass, "Now what have you gone and done with that number, Mz. Ferrell! I swear!"

The sound of paper rustling and objects being thrown about.

"Well, have you found it?"

"No, I haven't! I have no idea where you have gone and put it!!" More clucking and muttering, a lot more yelling back and forth, and several of Debbie's drawn out 'Mmm-mmmms.' The repartee goes on for about 5 for minutes until the number is located at last.

I was laughing about the conversation with my mom and she said, "I'm so glad that she has Debbie. It's obvious that these kind of exchanges are very stimulating to her."

Thursday, June 09, 2005


I have a really bad habit of sticking the ends of pens and pencils in my mouth and chewing on them in this absentminded fashion. I don’t know why I go around putting objects around in my mouth like a toddler - I guess I must be partially arrested in some oral fixation stage or I never got over quitting smoking. I had a wake up call as to how dangerously unsanitary this habit is the other day at the reference desk, where we keep boxes of golf pencils at the edge for the general public to use. Toward closing time a man who had so much grime encrusted all over him he looked like he was doing an impression of Al Jolsen in The Jazz Singer approached the desk. He was particularly memorable because he had a large goiter, something I have never seen outside of a textbook. He fumbled around in one of his pockets and produced a handful of our golf pencils he had been hoarding for some reason. He dumped them in the box and grunted, “I’m returning these.”

When I tried to thank him I realized that I had a pencil in my mouth – a staff pencil, but still, seeing those little golf pencils grimy and crawling with pestilence brought it home that I must break myself of this habit immediately. I spit out the pencil like a blow dart and desperately wished I could run off and scrub my mouth with lye and boiling water. After he lumbered off I stared at the pencils and thought how nice it would be if we kept the pencils for the public suspended in barbicide, like barbers do their combs. It would be way more sanitary that way, and if I ever, EVER stuck one in my mouth the bitter taste would serve as a corrective reminder.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Fecal Mischief 

On one of the study tables, a librarian found a brown lunch bag filled with human shit, still warm. I guess we should be thankful for small favors, because at least the person who left it hadn't set it on fire. That particular floor of the library sees a lot of this type action. Not too long ago someone was fingerpainting shit all over sheets of music, destroying thousands of dollars worth. This must have sunk deeply into my subconscious because I made a mortifying Freudian slip when a patron asked me where to find musical scores. I replied, "6th floor has shits of music."

Sometimes it's not limited to solid waste. One time a librarian heard the merry tinkling of liquid hitting glass. She investigated and interrupted a homeless man urinating against a window, closed, of course. She shrieked, "What do you think you're doing?" He replied, all surly, "Well, what was I supposed to do? You don't have a goddamn bathroom on this floor!"

The geniuses who designed this library had put bathrooms on that floor - small, discrete single-user bathrooms hidden away in the stacks. They were perfect spots to slip inside to shoot up, nap or rendevouz for anonymous sex. After the bathrooms made the featured site of the week on CruisingforSex.com (NOT SAFE FOR WORK!!!) the bathrooms were bricked over.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Little Emperors 

Children with older, upwardly mobile parents often spell trouble in the library. Their parents have a lax and overindulgent style of childrearing that can cause problems and disruption in the library. Perhaps because the parents are older and postponed childbearing so long, they tend to marvel over and treat their children like adored grandchildren. Please don’t get me wrong - I’m all for people being into their children. I see enough neglected latchkey children as it is. I also don’t want a return to the Spartan method of pedagogy, what with all of the exposing infants on the hillside to weed out the weak ones and the mothers sending their sons off to war with a cold, “Son, you are to come home with your shield or on it.” Although, if this country is going to engage in perpetual warmongering then a return to the Spartan model of society might be a good idea, since it did seem to produce excellent citizen soldiers.

I also think the English upper class tradition of sending one’s children off to year round kindergarten boarding school is cruel. Really, what then is the point of having children? It reminds me of that old National Lampoon spoof ad of those military schools you see in the back of the New Yorker. The ad had a picture of a tiny baby in a full military school uniform and the tagline, “Give us your infant and we’ll return a reasonable adult to you in 21 years.”

One day I was out in a slightly obnoxiously gentrified neighborhood working at the children’s desk. A mother had been hovering over her little four year old boy for an hour, trying to push books upon him when all he wanted to do was piece together a puzzle. I’m sure because he couldn’t finish the puzzle he acted out in frustration and rebellion by shoving a bunch of the puzzle pieces in his pockets. She caught him and said that he couldn't have them and that they belonged to the library. In a pleading tone she tried to coax them from him.

He said, “No! I don’t want to.”

“But honey, they belong to the library. Don’t you want other children to be able to play with them?” She begged him, “Please put them back.”

He stuck his lower lip out and pouted, "You're not being my FWIEYEND."

I felt like saying, "You're damn right she's not your FWIEYEND. She's your MOTHER, and her job number 1 is to turn you into a decent, non thieving human being/citizen.”

“Oh, darling! But of course I’m you’re friend!” Rushing to appease to her child, she hugged him and clucked over him. She saw that I was watching and pried the pieces away from him while his obstinance escalated into a tantrum.

I grit my teeth and tried to fake a smile of commiseration.

I had been at another branch with a little boy screaming for Thomas the Tank Engine videos. The children’s area and the adult area were not separate, so the little boys screams were disturbing the adults trying to read newspapers at the tables. They glared at the child and began to grumble. The manager, an infinitely kind and patient woman, knelt down and said, “This is a library. Use your inside voice.”

The mother snatched her child away like a grizzly sow and hissed, “How dare you! We don’t like to come into this library! And you know why? Each time we do you try to crush his spirit!”

How can you reason with a person like this? I wish I could have told her, “Look, lady. Your child is crushing my spirit and every other adult's in here.”

Give me a raving paranoid schizophrenic homeless man brandishing a plastic jug of his urine at me any day.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Thrill Ride 2000 

I usually slide into a little funk at the beginning of summer because I’m overcome with melancholy nostalgia for the pine woods of East Texas where I spent many halcyon summers at camp. When I graduated from camper to counselor I worked in the horse stables teaching riding there. One of the best parts of the job was taking the friskier, more high spirited horses out for a run in between classes, especially the summer after a devastating equine infectious anemia outbreak decimated our usual herd of ancient, mellow trail horses. These gentle nags were replaced with 5 years old half broken horses fresh from the racetracks, almost completely unsuitable for novice riders. Horses are sly and crafty creatures that can immediately sense when an inexperienced rider is on them. They will take full advantage, stepping on a rider’s feet and leaning all of its weight onto that when the rider is trying to mount the horse, sticking its head in the grass to graze while the rider pulls on the reins in vain, or, without warning, galloping off for a few spins around the riding ring while the terrified, hysterical camper clings to its neck for dear life. One way to ensure better equine behavior was to wear the horses out between classes.

We would take the horses and race hell for leather through trails in the woods. There was really nothing as thrilling as crashing through the trees, jumping over fallen logs, getting whipped in the face by overgrown branches and eating spider webs (if you were first) or dirt clods (if you weren’t) kicked up by the rider in front of you. Lately I have managed to recapture some of the thrill by riding my bike to work, especially when I ride through a certain section of the city on my way to the library, a free-for-all, lawless neighborhood that has fiercely resisted any attempts at gentrification. This area has been basically ceded to drug addicts, hookers, retired sailors, the hopelessly insane and the permanently addicted. It’s as lawless as Deadwood, and it is vibrant with depravity and sin. The sexual energy alone thrown off by prostitutes, boy hustlers and men cruising for sex is enough to knock me off my bike. Yesterday was the first of the month, a.ka. pay day, and the entire area was even more festive than usual as people poured out into the streets like it was Mardi Gras. The streets and sidewalks were transformed into an open air marketplace, a bazaar of vice.

Addicts don’t respect laws, especially minor ones like jaywalking, and I had to dodge and weave my way through junkies wandering and carousing in the streets as I pedaled as fast as I could. I was distracted by one drag queen’s outfit, ho’ couture at its finest, and almost rammed a barefoot woman in a t-shirt and nothing else who had lurched out between two parked cars right into the bike lane. She looked like whatever she was addicted to had given her permanent neurological damage, but she jerked back in time and disaster was avoided.

One of the many sex shops that line the streets has a window dresser with a sense of humor, creativity and style who updates the displays frequently. Usually the window features a mannequin dressed in t-shirts the store is selling. Sometimes these shirts will have a seasonal theme. Around St. Patrick’s day the mannequin wore a vibrant green t-shirt that read in huge letters encased in a shamrock “F*ck me, I’m Irish!.” These days the shirt reads “Beaverfight Referee” and the mannequin had a whistle around its neck and a referee hat. In an artistic touch, sort of the the Surrealist school, the mannequin is surrounded by a garden of upright pitch black dildoes that I pray are novelty size. I still prefer riding through the woods on a horse, but biking through the urban jungle as fast as I can is still a pretty exhilarating way to start my day. The smell of crack burning in the morning is beginning to smell like victory to me.

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