Sunday, July 31, 2005

Little Cubicle of Horrors - I Mean Really Cool Shit 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe area of the back offices where our cubicles reside has fluourescent lighting that is as hideous and unflattering as that of an airplane lavatory. Although the sickly, yellow light saps my energy and fills me with despair, it is apparently wonderful for plants, because every potted plant in the cubicle farm is thriving and lush. In the offices, even the most delicate hothouse flower is impervious to the blackest of thumbs. Like a Lourdes for plants, there have even been miraculous reports of the light's restorative and regenerative powers. People will bring plants on the brink of death to the office and in a few days they will return to the peak of health. One colleague said that she stuck a stem rose in a vase of water before she left for vacation and when she returned it had sprouted a rat's nest of roots. She transplanted the rose into a pot and it grew into a bush that survives unto this day. My cubicle is one of the few bereft of plantlife so I stopped by the farmer's market and said to hippy plant seller, "I have ten bucks to spend. What are my choices." He showed me a an odd bulbed plant the size of a softball with little bulbs dangling off it like moles, a specimen he identified as a pregnant onion. Although it didn't smell like an onion it did have the same parchment like skin. At first I thought he was being cute; in my botanical ignorance I thought that it was really an onion that was reproducing by budding until I did some research on the internet and found out that it is a succulent and not in the onion family at all. Its most fascinating characteristic is the way it was gravid with other bulbs, which you could see beginning to poke out of the skin in various stages of development. Since I adore curiosities and freaky things, I immediately bought it to decorate my cubicle.

Not to sound like one of those orchid obsessives, but I actually got excited to come to work to see my new plant the next day. It has become quite a conversation piece but mostly because I think my it scares my colleagues. It does look like something from outer space. Are the bulbs that are beginning to drop off parasitic pods intent on enslaving the human race? Only time will tell. In any case, I hope that I haven't caught the bizarre plant bug and end up filling my cubicle with other botanical oddities like carnivorous plants and prehistoric ferns, transforming it a miniature, in-door replica of arch villainess Violet Venable's garden in Suddenly Last Summer

Friday, July 29, 2005

Such a Subtle Wrist 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI almost ran over one of those mysteriously unemployed upscale slackers who are ubiquitous in this city this morning on my bike. He was jaywalking right in front of truck stalled in traffic, in too much of a hurry to obey simple traffic laws and cross at the light, even though he obviously had no job to get to. The worst part about the situation is his female companion had safely darted out in front of me at the same place a few seconds before. Either in an act of passive aggression or inexcusable obliviousness she didn’t turn around to warn her friend but just kept going, even though I know she saw me and had to realize that her friend and I were on a collision course. The couple was making their way to Starbucks in a dazed but determined stupor, like the Eloi when the air sirens sound from the temple.

Fortunately, I am used to driving treacherous country roads in Virginia, a state which now has more deer than people, and have learned the hard way that deer usually travel never alone and when the first one leaps out in front of your car so you better be prepared for at one or two to follow that one. I like to go at a sedate pace anyway but I instinctively slowed down. Because I decelerated I didn’t hit him outright, but he saw me coming and froze right in front of me. He then acted just like a squirrel, starting and stopping in each direction, panicking but faking me out and making it impossible for me to predict where he was going to move. He stepped back just in the nick of time.

E gave me one of those freestanding cocktail table MsPacman video game machines for my birthday and each night I sit at it for hours like Tommy. I’ve noticed that I’m applying lessons and skills acquired from Ms Pacman to my bike ride, especially as far as exercising my peripheral vision goes. As I pedal along I’ll spot out of the corner of my eye some junkie way off into the distance shambling out toward the street, just like I've trained myself to be super observant and notice if one of the far off ghosts enters the warp tunnel at the top of the screen. I’ll know from my video game heightened sense of timing and powers of observation how to take notice of this hazard and to when to take evasive maneuvers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Dope Sick Love 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWhenever I teach the public basic internet course I always reserve 15 minutes of free time at the end of class for pupils to practice what they've learned and explore the world wide web on their own. The last time I taught class I spent most of that final fifteen minutes trying to assist a homeless man obtain a Match.com account. He really had his heart set on setting up a profile but he was so high on heroin or methadone that he kept nodding off as I tried to walk him through the sign-up process. He was also so loaded that couldn't even manage to type his e-mail address in correctly, not to mention confirm it.

The fields looked something like this:

E-mail: sketchyhomeless@yahoo.....com
Confirm your e-mail: sketyahoo;!yaho.com

If he ever managed to set up his profile I think it would be something like:

Lonely man currently in between places with lots of time on his hands and a giant monkey on his back seeks love from a special lady. Meet me at the library cafeteria or in the 2nd floor stacks.

Whatever drugs he was on seemed to slow his temporal reality to a near halt and it was as if his responses and movements were on time delay. I found the effect very disconcerting, and at times I felt like we were on a completely different spacetime continuum. I noticed the same phenomenon as a child with one of my friend's mom who was addicted to valium. She would wile away the days in her Texas mansion in her king size bed smoking menthol cigarettes and watching gameshows like the Price is Right. She used her bed as an office of sorts and there would always be papers spread all around her on the bed. Although it was 110 degrees outside in the Texas summer she kept her curtains drawn and her bedroom as cold as a cryogenic chamber. Whenever Amy and I would go in there to ask her something she obviously understood everything clearly but her response time was slow, like she was on a 2 second time delay. The benzodiazapines didn't make her speech slower but made it off a beat, as if our words had to travel a long way to reach her. She was usually preternaturally calm but would fly into rages over odd, unpredictable matters like one time when Amy ate a slice of bologna before dinner. I'm not sure if this incident is related to Amy's hospitalization for anorexia in high school a few years later.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Quote of the Day 

Image hosted by Photobucket.com'It's a bit of a metaphor for my career. Like Icarus. That's all I'm saying. If you get it, great. If not, that's fine too... But you should probably read more."

Factory Records founder Tony Wilson, trying to hang glide, as played by English comic Steve Coogan in 24 Hour Party People.

I always liked this other Icarus painting by Brueghel. See if you can find him!

See if you can find Joseph and Mary in this painting of the Flight from Egypt.

I'm not sure if these artists were trying to find an excuse to do a painting of primarily a secular still life or contemporary landscape painting, or if they were making some sort of statement about how life goes on and people obliviously go about their business while these momentous events are occurring around them.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Gentle, Angry People 

A man wearing a rather redundant Quakers for Peace button approached the desk and muttered a question about where a conference room was. Since there were several meetings going on the librarian questioned him about which meeting room he wanted to find. He clenched a fist and slammed it against his thigh, "There is a sign out there that says there's a peace meeting in the 1st floor meeting room SO TELL ME WHERE THAT IS!"

I was laughing about later it with my colleague who commented, "I've heard that pacifists are some of the angriest people on earth." But a Quaker pacifist?

I love paradoxical behavior. One time a girl rushed in to my branch library to try to print off her resume. Computers at my old branch did not have word processing and when I informed her she suffered a hysterical meltdown right in front of my desk. I can't bear histrionics and since we all have really bad days I told her that I would print it out from my computer. As I was printing her resume off I noticed that under her personal strengths statement she had written, "I always remain calm and collected even in the most stressful situations."

Friday, July 22, 2005

I Ain't Afraid of no Scientologists! 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comSomeone was telling me that an African American friend of hers was so tired of turning on the television and seeing ubiquitous Tom Cruise and his future child bride Katie Holmes that she changed the station to BET. There, she believed, she would be free from them. But when she turned the channel to BET she found herself right in the middle of a lengthy segment on 'the pair of fools' - on BET! She was outraged.

I half expect Katie Holmes to start subtly shooting the finger in one of her interviews as a desperate signal for help like our captured servicemen in those North Korean POW propaganda films. Be careful, Katie! Once you're in the clutches of those Scientologists, it's very hard to break free, and they'll hound you for years. I know that they're relentlessly aggressive if you criticize them as well, so I guess I should be careful too. But in the immortal words of Betty Butterfield, "I survived Stage 4 titty cancer! I ain't afraid of no goddamned Scientologists!" Watch this video clip of Betty's dangerous flirtation with the church of Scientology. Betty couldn't help herself; she had to get a personality test because she was feeling so sorry for herself and Tom Cruise just seemed so happy jumping all over the furniture on Oprah.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Wallowing in their own crapulence 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comMy old branch is in a neighborhood infested with self labeled poets and artist types who use their artistic identity as a license for drunken excess and moral turpitude. Because of their immature philosophies about the kind of life an artist should lead, they feel outside the boundaries of common decency and believe that to be an artist is to be drunken layabout who engages in self destructive behavior, has self-indulgent, theatrical mental breakdowns and just generally wallows in his own crapulence. In other words, they all fancy themselves Bukowski.

Hey – to each his own, but they were a source of constant irritation to me because of the way they were always slinking into the branch and rattling their cup, trying to wheedle huge sums of money out of my manager to perform whatever doggerel their shitty muse had inspired. Every once in a while in a weak moment or to amuse himself my manager would agree to arrange a performance. On the night of the reading, the audience would be comprised soley of other neighborhood artists. Of course they all despise each other and are gossipier, pettier and more jealous than seventh grade girls, so the audience would heckle and shout obscenities and destroy any possibility of the event being remotely a culturally enriching experience.

So, I was quite amused myself to learn that one of them is now serving jail time for charging into a bar wildly brandishing a machete at an artistic rival over some perceived slight to his work. He seems to actually be thriving in the structured environment of prison, however, and is teaching his fellow inmates yoga, of which he is an ardent practioner. In fact, he was featured prominently in the big book of naked yoga. I hope that he’s not teaching the naked style there, which I think would be dangerous in men's prison. Another ‘artist,’ who is celebrated as a major communist poet in, (oh, Lord where else) France, was recently committed involuntarily and spent one entire week strapped naked to a chair in a padded cell, foaming at the mouth and screaming. He is out now but lost 10 pounds in the mental hospital and looks great. “Apparently,” my boss reported, “a week tied naked to a chair works better than the South Beach Diet.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Library Aquarium 

Image hosted by Photobucket.com When I man the front desk it I get to watch patrons stream by as they enter and exit the library. As I watch all the people go drifting by I feel as if I’m sitting in front of a giant aquarium, an activity I find endlessly fascinating. The last time I was at the New Orleans' aquarium, E and I couldn't get enough and stared for hours in slack jawed wonder at the tanks of gently rocking sea horses and hypnotically pulsating jellyfish. I think we alarmed the docent, who must have suspected that we had eaten some very powerful blotter acid. I’ve noticed my blood pressure and stress level lower when I watch people go by the desk, just as they do when I gaze into an aquarium. If the desk if very slow, patron watching will send me into a state of deep relaxation, practically a theta state.

With the exception of when we first open the doors, which we call ‘the running of the bulls’ because of the way the hoards rush and shove in to get in line on the computers, most people take their time and wander about. Colorful drag queens in all of their finery, gray bottom feeders, hustler types casing everyone like sharp eyed predators, classes of uniformed children darting about like schools of sardines, sassy streetwalkers, men and women in business suits, new immigrants in ethnic costume, elegant dowagers, deranged homeless cackling and jabbering to themselves, Hare Krishnas in saffron robes, European and Japanese tourists with brightly colored backpacks, tattooed bike messengers, rumpled scholars - they all pass by the desk in a colorful fanfare as if carried along by gentle currents. I again am reminded that libraries are one of this society's last mixing places, where people from all walks of life and all strata freely mingle. Sometimes when I'm marveling at all of the people I get philosophical and I can’t help but think that whoever is responsible for all this, for all of this glorious and sublimely ridiculous creation, surely loves variety. Who/whatever also had quite a sense of humor and graciously bestowed in all of us a sense of wonder and humor so we could appreciate his work.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Lost in Translation 

I have been attempting to play my own private game of kodo by thinking of smells to accompany particular literary works, but it’s really hard. Perhaps my sense of smell is too dormant. Certainly in my line of work I certainly haven’t been trying to develop it. Perhaps like many things eastern, it’s too much for my hopelessly western mind and I am incapable of grokking it, like when I watched MTV India a few years ago. I could only handle about twenty minutes before I had to turn it off and go lie down in a dark room. The images were so alien and bizarre to me that they were upsetting to me and actually caused my brain physical pain.

Here’s my feeble attempt at kodo. I don’t think I’m doing it right, but it is an interesting synesthetic exercise.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: patchouli and b.o.

The works of Hemingway: whiskey, gun smoke and brain matter

The works of Mitch Albom: vanilla, or something else insipid but comforting

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

They are from another planet 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comIt only takes only a cursory view of Japanese horror films like The Ring, Dark Water and Hot Tub Girls to know that Japanese culture differs vastly from ours. But what can you say about a society that has elevated a smelling game to a high art? From the endlessly fascinating Jacobson's Organ and the Remarkable Nature of Smell:

In Japan they play a game, called kodo, in which participants try to guess the names of up to two and a half thousand different scents. In even more refined versions of the game, one kind of incense is burned and the participants are required to find whichever other incense will combine most pleasantly with the first. And at the highest and most aesthetic level of competition, participants try to create an odour which would be most appropriate as an accompaniment to a particular literary work, perhaps one of the lesser-known poems of Kokinshu.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Post Partum 

Image hosted by Photobucket.com God, I adore this picture of my Aunt Kitsie. I have coveted this picture for years and she finally allowed me to borrow it to scan it when I was home. Here she is, shortly after her ‘lying-in,’ receiving visitors, her state of confinement over at last. She gave birth the civilized way, drugged to the gills and out like a light. Her husband was banished outside to the waiting room where he spent hours pacing nervously, getting loaded and handing out cigars. The baby is superfluous and has been whisked away by attentive nurses so there is nothing to distract from the most important person in the situation, the mother. She has assumed her rightful place, the center of attention and is chainsmoking, not having been able to smoke (I assume) during labor. I love her full professional make up and glamorous up-do. Although you can’t tell from the picture, her room is full of guests and they’re all carrying on like it’s one giant cocktail party. So much preferable to some hippy home birth on a shower curtain.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

I Love Amazon's Listmania 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comFilms for the bourgeoisie to walk out on

Crazy-Ass Patrons and their Delusional Riffs 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comA man approached the desk and said in a panicked rush, “Something’s wrong with the computer! I just got on and it’s telling me that I only have 2 minutes left!”

“Sir, you probably need to restart it.”

“How do I do that?”

I showed him Ctrl Alt Delete.

“I can’t possibly do that!” he whined. “My wrist is broken, see?” He showed me what looked like a perfectly fine wrist. “I’ve been trying to get acupuncture and I can’t get the government to pay for it. I just moved back from Japan and can’t handle this pace of life. What I really can’t handle is this society of computers. I don’t know how to use them. I can’t believe I have to go through all of this! Now I’ve written the governor all about it and explained to him why I’m trying to impeach the president. I need to go back to Indonesia because everything is too rushed here. I need to meditate. I’m working so hard to impeach the president. ALL I WANT IS THE GOVERNMENT TO PAY FOR MY FUCKING ACUPUNCTURE!”

He then went stormed back to his computer, now occupied by an opportunistic squatter. They got into a screaming match and security arrived at last and escorted him out of the building.

I then went to work the telephones.
My first call:

Hello, do you have any books on freemasonry? I’m very interested because my father and grandfather were freemasons and therefore responsible for much of this city’s skyline.

I told her a few of the titles.

Thank you. I saw my father, well, I’m talking about my natural father. I was raised in a foster home but by family. My father fought in the war in the Pacific against the Emperor and shortly after he returned stateside he was taken to fight the Cold War, even though we were royal. This was in the early 60s. I never saw him again but I am not sad or bitter. I was born severely deformed so my foster family, even though we were related, shunned me. Even though we were royalty, we were struggling, so we always worked. That’s why my father and grandfather and his father before him and so on were Freemasons. They liked to put things together with their hands. We were always very prominent, proud and shy. I will come by to pick up those books. GOD BLESS THE USA AND GOD BLESS THE LIBRARIES!

The Homeless at the Library & in my Neighborhood 

Who are all of these peoples? What got them? What happened in their lives? Is this lifestyle forced upon them, or are they choosing to live this way?

What could have gone wrong? Brain disease? Did their brain start malfunctioning, through no fault of their own, and turn on them? Did they start hearing voices, implacable and relentless? Did they have a giant nervous breakdown? Did their mental demons get the best of them? Was it brain damage, something organic perhaps, like a concussion from falling off of a ladder or a blow to the head? A catastrophic stroke, or an aneurism? Alcohol dementia?

Or is homelessness caused by economic and societal forces? Are these displaced people? Throwaway kids? Drifters, hobos? People who didn’t put enough away for retirement? Were these men who stepped out for cigarettes and never came home? Foster kids graduated from the system with no family or safety net to fall back on? Are these the victims of systematic abuse that no child, no matter how resilient, could endure to become a functioning member of society? Or teenagers lured by the romance of the streets and some naive concept of freedom? Burn outs? Domestic abuse refugees? People with innate streaks of self destruction and self loathing? Rejected misfits, tormented loners? Maimed veterans who suffered some unspeakable trauma in war now with an intractable case of PSTD? Victims of repeated bad choices? Ex-cons waiting to cycle back into prison because they can’t hack it on the outside? People with no job skills? IV drug users? Drunks? The hopelessly addicted? Disconnected, alienated people? Seekers and artists who took their bohemian lifestyles too far? People who have intentionally marginalized themselves because they won’t live within society and its rules, who love the carousing, free wheeling life and easy camaraderie of the streets and are only too happy to live on charity and sleep in doorways?

Are these the mass deinstitutionalized, old patients ruined by psychotropic drugs and shock treatments from the dark ages of psychiatry? Are these people who just gave up and resigned themselves to life on the streets?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Mock - Si! - Ing! Si! Bird - Si! 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThose hateful mockingbirds are back. Although we can’t locate their nest, there has to be one, because that can be the only explanation for their territorial, aggressive behavior. Billy and Spoon cannot even go into the backyard to poo in peace. One chased Spoon all the way up the back stairs landing, swooping and screeching like some tiny pterodactyl. Flying by the window one of them spied the dogs in the office, and now it will sit on the ledge screeching threats until I charge the window and it flies away.

I wish I had my mom’s cat, Ginger. Ginger is a solid black stray who showed up rather eerily the day after our other black cat, Slinky, also a stray, died. Slinky expired of old age on the oriental carpet of the living room while my mom was in the process of selling her house. The real estate agent was touring some very promising prospective buyers and when they entered the living room they all practically tripped over his body, which blended in nicely with the carpet. Rigor had set in and his four legs were sticking stiffly out like a tipped over piñata. The wife screamed and burst into tears. The couple must have decided that if having a black cat cross over your path was bad luck, tripping over a dead one in your potential living room was even worse, so they passed on the house. Ginger, through some underground network of cats, heard there was an opening and appeared at the door, and was taken in because everyone was in mourning and sentimental and Ginger looked just like Slinky. Ginger, although extremely loving to humans, was quite the stealthy, bordering on psychopathic, hunter. My parents lived in front of a wooded levee teeming with rats and field mice. He liked to stun them and drag them unconscious into my mom’s dressing room, an enclosed space with no avenue for escape that he used as his own personal torture chamber. He would lie there waiting for the hapless creature to come to and then would toy with them like some serial killer for hours. When he tired of his little Jeffrey Dahmer games he would eat the body and then thoughtfully leave the head for my mom on her pillow.

I read that cats were originally domesticated to guard granaries. They were selectively bred for their hunting and killing prowess, so soon that instinct became removed from any tie to hunger. Cats became remorseless killers who killed for the pleasure of it. Wild bird enthusiasts despise them because of the millions of birds they kill each year. In any case, we could never have a cat because Billy and Spoon are their sworn enemy. We have to spell out the word, otherwise Billy and Spoon will start on a screaming, barking jag and run into the back yard looking for the stray who sometimes walks along the top of the fence. How they learned the word I don’t know.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Paperboy Wants his Two Dollars 

Occasionally I get to work the front information desk and when patrons unfamiliar with this vast library wander in, I direct them to the appropriate floor and section of the library. Often patrons will ask questions like, "Do you have a paging system? I thought I told my friend to meet me here but now I can’t remember if we’re supposed to meet somewhere else.” Apparently, they have confused the library with an airport terminal, and don’t think that other patrons trying to study or read or spend time in quiet contemplation would mind constant interruption by a squawking loudspeaker. These are the kissing cousins of people who don’t understand why the following statement should never, ever be uttered into cell phone, “Hey! What are you doing? I’m just sitting here at the library!”

If a member of the public wishes to speak to a specific employee in the library, he or she comes to the information desk. Oftentimes the person looks rather dubious, or throws off some strange stalker energy, but that is not for me to judge. After taking the person’s name, I’ll call the person at their desk and try to track them down to inform/warn him that a patron is trying to reach him. One day this teenage boy swaggered up and asked for one of our computer technicians. My colleague called him at his desk and there was no answer. She asked the young man if he would like to leave a message and he replied, “Well, where is he?” She said that she had no idea and that leaving a message was the best she could do. After he gave off a lot of attitude she suggested that he try back in a little while, which he did every fifteen minutes for the next two hours. Each time, the exchange went:

“Well, when is he coming back?”

“All I can do is keep calling.”

Finally, he gave this disdainful harrumph, leaned in over the desk and asked her in this really nasty, insolent way, “Is this a problem, me asking for him?” Like his tough, menacing attitude was going to command him respect. He then told her breasts, “I’m outta here.” In an ominous tone he added, "Tell him the paperboy was here to see him."

I had to wonder if the computer technician had stiffed his paperboy, because this patron reminded of the relentless paperboy in Better Off Dead, who chases hapless John Cusack the entire film like a Fury for the two dollars he owes him. I felt like leaving the computer technician a message, “Two dollars! I want my two dollars!”

More Favorite Quotes 

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."
-- Philo of Alexandria

"My work is my sole comfort."
Josef Goebbels

Eric Cartman: "Mom, you'd tell me if you'd ever been in a German Scheisse video,
wouldn't you?"
Mrs. Cartman: "Of course, dear."

Advice to vampires: why not "do your business" as a bat, not a human. Easier that way, and less pollution.
Jack Handey

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Find your Groove at the Library 

"If you bring forth what is within you, what you will bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."
Jesus, from the Gospel of Thomas

I love this proverb, which is almost like a Buddhist koan or a riddle. When I contemplate it it sends me into the same sort of perplexed but meditative state, in any case. There could be several meanings – is he talking about emotions, or spirituality, or the Kingdom of Heaven? - but my interpretation is that he is admonishing you to find and use your gifts and talents. That is why, as a librarian, when I'm not stepping over poo, I feel it is my duty and privilege to help people use the library to discover their talents, calling and mission. The library is a sacred place. When I wander through the stacks I can sometimes feel this mystical energy of potential and promise emitted by all of the books.

So, come to the library and find what's within you. Unless you're Karl Marx. Instead of working and feeding his impoverished family, he spent his days poring over economics journals at the British Library, analyzing capitalism and piecing together communism. He wrote much of the Communist Manifesto in the reading room of the British Library.

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