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Saturday, April 30, 2005

You're It! 

Dialogic hit me with a book tag, a viral request of sorts for the recipient to answer 5 questions about books. After I've completed the questions, I'm supposed to ask five more people.

Q1 -- You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to save?

Rats, Lice and History – Because I learned more about Western Civilization and the natural history of man in its 300 pages than in any History class I took or in anything else I have ever read. Ostensibly a natural history of typhus, microbiologist Hans Zinsser uses the disease and its impact on man to provide a sweeping narrative of 2000 years of Western civillization.

Jared Diamond ripped off the title, style and form for his book Gun, Germs and Steel. Michael Pollan is indebted to him as well. In the book Zinsser offers a history not only of rats (he points out uncomfortable similarities of that species to ours), lice and typhus, but also medicine, plague, parasitisim, religion, warfare and (especially in how the outcome was inevitably determined by disease), conquest human folly, evolution, science, epidemiology, civic sanitation, and various diseases like syphilis, Black Plague, St. Vitus’ Dance and scurvy.

He’s cumudgeonly but never too cynical and he NEVER loses his sense of humor. The entire book is brilliantly insightful and astoundingly funny, full of fascinating digressions, tangents and erudite wit. If Ambrose Bierce were a microbiologist this is the work he would have produced.

I would memorize it because it’s one of my all time favorite books, and its purpose will be to let others know that as dark as times may be, humanity (along with its sidekick, the rat) will prevail.

Q2 -- Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee, although life expectancy for his special ladies was never too long, since they were usually killed off so he could have another interesting romantic interest in the next installment. It would never have worked. He was too much of a loner.

I always had a crush on those charming alcoholic sophisticates Nick and Nora Charles. They had a pleasant marital arrangement based on lots of money (hers), mutual affection, witty banter and crime solving. I also like Morticia and Gomez Addams. If only all ennui and all of life's troubles could be chased away by Gomez’s cry of, “Tango!”

Q3 -- The last book you bought is?

(Or bought for me at my request. Thank you, E!) Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective's Scrapbook. It’s a collection of remembrances of an L.A. homicide detective who served during the 30s and 40s. Fascinating visual record of gruesome but every day events he would encounter on the job. One of the most haunting pictures is of a bunch of partygoers who succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. They all looked as if they had just peacefully fallen asleep on the couch. I felt a little bit like Serial Mom reading it in bed the other night. It reminds me of my days at the Sheriff’s Office, where I would spend hours poring over crime scene photos, where I developed a lurid streak a mile wide.


Q4 -- What books are you currently reading?

Too many to list here, which is the pitfall of working in a public library and having all of this access. I just finished My Life So Far by ‘Hanoi’ Jane Fonda. She’s pretty annoying but so emblematic of that Boomer generation I just had to.
I like to keep the works of mordant gay men like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs close by to read and reread.
I just finished the Epicure's Lament by Kate Christiansen, who writes like a mordant gay man. It's excellent.
I always keep my Southern belle lettrists by my bedside (Florence King – hilarious and wise but beware, she does not suffer fools gladly. Rosemary Daniell, Flannery O’Conner).

I just finished February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof In Wartime America, about the time before WWII when this amazingly diverse group of artist created a colony of sorts in a house in Brooklyn.

Q5 -- Five books you would take to a desert[ed] island?

I would like them epic, to pass the time.
Gone with the Wind –. Mitchell captures the oral history tradition of her culture brilliantly – a remarkable piece of storytelling. Also, the pure social Darwinism aspect of it, how these people had to recreate their lives and a new society from the ashes of war in which most of them lost everything.

Shogun – Perhaps only a writer who was a prisoner of war and husband to a Japanese national could produce such a that provides a window to the mentality of the Japanese. Recreates Shogun Japan vividly. He really opens up an entirely other world to the reader. Read this instead of the dreadful Memoirs of a Geisha.

House of Spirits – While I find Marquez’s magic realistic style nightmarish and unsettling, Allende's is beautiful and lyrical. She began this book as a letter to her grandfather about the history of their family. Politics, love, the whole South American, and human experience.

The Stand – When I read this when I was 13 I proclaimed, “STEPHEN KING IS THE GREATEST LIVING AUTHOR, EVER!” Ok, he sucks now, but his early stuff is fantastic, especially this apocalyptic tale of a battle for good and evil that takes place among the survivors of a super plague. I reread the Stand every couple of years. What a storyteller.

I’m sneaking a few more on: Books of Lists, People’s Almanac or anything else published by the team of Wallechinsky and Wallace. These books are compendiums of every fascinating, bizarre, delightful and wondrous fact that you can imagine. Their works have provided endless amusement and education and have made me a formidable Trivial Pursuit player.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Dope Sick Love - For the Love of God, Don't Watch It 

I have been riveted by A&E’s Intervention, the documentary style television show that follows various addicted people around and then surprises them with an intervention that the show has helped their friends and families stage. Although it has come under fire for being exploitative (one outraged critic called it ‘an emotional snuff film’), I find it fascinating, educational and cautionary, especially in the ways it exposes how families and friends inadvertently support the addict’s disease. I thought I would also enjoy watching the documentary Dope Sick Love, which chronicles the trials and tribulations a junkie faces on the streets of New York. I watched it last night and it was absolutely revolting, and unless you especially enjoy seeing needles plunging into veins covered with crusted sores, I don’t recommend it. To counteract this vile images do you know how many hours I will have to spend immersing myself in Benac.com (like I don’t already!), the website of the wholesome Mormon family I cyberstalk? This was a documentary that offered neither hope nor redemption.

The subjects of this film are two couples as they con, scam, thieve, lie, bicker, prostitute themselves, and search for a viable vein, all of which they do in a hideous New York accent, which I found made the whole experience even harder to endure. One of the women, screeching after her life partner during a quarrel and then whining and crying because her needle is too dull to pierce her vein (her boyfriend selfishly took the ‘good’ needle), sounded just like a strung out Joan Rivers. Nancy Spungun lives! Another delightful scene involves one of them cleaning his syringe in a commode and then loading it up and sticking it in his vein. His body is a temple!

I am curious to know why the junkies never go to the NYPL to fix. Instead, they spend a lot of time trying to break into apartment and office buildings to shoot up in the stairwells. Perhaps under the new order established by Giuliani the librarians are empowered enough to enforce the rules and there is a zero tolerance for that sort of behavior, which flourishes and is done with impunity in this city and elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Foxzilla 


Stamping on the model city of Charleston, SC at the visitor center.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Moonshine and Magnolias 

Sorry for the dearth of posts. I've been all over Dixie for the past 11 days attending a wedding and a reunion. More later when I gather my wits.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Bulwer Lytton Submissions Due April 15th 

Be sure to get your bad writing in.

Here's mine.

"Touch my baby sister again, you two bit Romeo, and I'll kick you right where it hurts," she said testily.

Collaboration with E:

Even though he was well seasoned officer with over 20 years of experience, when Sgt. O’Riley arrived at the crime scene (forever to be known in crime annals as the Great Waffle House on Highway 105 Massacre) and saw all of the bodies scattered, smothered, diced and covered, he promptly chunked.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Goin' tharn 

My very elegant manager wanted to walk me around the building to show me all of the different entrances employees could use. We almost tripped over a sobbing man, who was sitting right outside the front doors, curled up with his knees against his chest. He reminded me of one of those horrifying Peruvian mummies, the preserved remains of sacrificial victims who were OBVIOUSLY BURIED ALIVE and died in untold pain and fear. Say what you will, Zinn, about how evil the White Man is and how he should forever squirm in guilt about the crimes he perpetrated upon native peoples, there was still some hair raising stuff going on in these native civilizations that we need to remember, ritual human sacrifice being just one of them. There was also plenty of subjugation, slavery, torture and genocide of their own neighboring natives, so one should be wary of romanticizing these people, especially if you're a historian. During my first attempt at reading People’s History when Zinn wrote about the Aztecs and how horrible and treacherous Cortez and the Spaniards were against this beautiful, great civilization all I could think about was if ever there were two Peoples that deserved each other more it was the Spaniards and the Aztecs. What disgusting torture one hadn’t thought of the other one had. No one culture has a monopoly or Lion’s Share on depravity and evil, it’s all humanity that needs to be watched for because the potential for great evil and sadism resides in all of us. Some cultures, namely the Germans and Japanese, need to be watched even more closely.

Anyway, we had to practically step over the sobbing man, who then pulled his sweatshirt hood over his head, because even if he was occupying a space in a very crowded sidewalk he needed his privacy. When we turned around the corner I saw that the side street was deserted except for a deranged homeless man kicking, screaming and beating a tree. I felt that we should have turned around but the side entrance was 5 feet in front of us and my manager said, “I think it’s all right. I think we can make it.” I have a new sympathy for squirrels and other creatures routinely flattened by cars because we both stood there frozen with indecision whether to turn around and head back or go for the door. In the language of the rabbits in Watership Down it's called 'going tharn.'

Right then he spotted us and took a break from his tree battering to scream, “Do you two cunts have something to say? Well, do you? Because I'll take you up to the state hospital where they'll really do something to your forehead!!!" He then reared up like he was going to charge us. I desperately groped for my key to the side entrance and we got in to the sanctuary of the building just in time.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Men laying their trick money down 

Challenge o' the Day! The movie Seabiscuit was challenged the other day. 'Challenge' is a library term meaning a patron has asked that something be removed from the collection because the patron finds the material too offensive and objectionable to reside in a library. When asked why, the patron, an elderly woman, snapped, "Because that little jockey visits a WHORE in MEXICO!"

She was the spitting image of the boardroom member in Tommy Boy.

Boardroom Man (J.R. Zimmerman): "If this factory goes under, the whole town goes under."
Boardroom Woman (Helen Hughes): "And that's when the whores come in."
Paul: "Excuse me? What was that?"
Boardroom Woman: Looking with hateful resentment at her husband, who flinches. "Men laying their trick money down. $20 to pay the rent? Maybe instead I'll spend it on the whore. Whores running around doing their little behind shake for the menfolk."
Richard: "I kinda like her idea."
Boardroom Man: "For Christ sake, once during the war I visited a prostitute, and my life has been a living hell ever since."

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The most beautiful word in the English language: Security 

At the branches there is no Security, which could make for some harrowing times. As a branch librarian I was responsible for maintaining peace and order while trying to balance the rights, needs and expectations of every patron, some of whom were clinically insane, or, if I was lucky, a simple garden variety sociopath. Breaking up fisticuffs over the internet, waking up sleeping homeless, asking a person who smells like a corpse to leave and not come back until he or she has showered (a painfully awkward conversation for both parties), these duties were all for me as a branch librarian to handle on my own, unless I wanted to call the police, which I was oddly hesitant to do. Help from library security was always a good hour away.

Although the clientele are definitely scarier down here at The Main, now Security handles everything! Someone having a seizure? Call Security! Someone reporting a guy fixing, vomiting and nodding off in a study carrel? Call Security! Patron lost a wallet, an umbrella, a child? Call Security! People overstaying their time on the internet, having noisy sex in the upstairs bathrooms, masturbating to porn? Oh, yoo-hoo, Se-cur-it-y!

It’s heavenly. Simply not having to referee the internets has made the stress level of my job plummet and my blood pressure return to normal levels. I love Security and plan on lavishing these heroes with gifts and baked goods.

Needle and the Damage Done 



Recently one of the library branches suffered a terrible clog in its public toilet. When the plumber came to deal with the mess the manager told him to be careful of needles, the probable source of the obstruction. The plumber looked at her quizzically and asked,

"You mean pine needles?"

Isn't that sweet? He obviously isn't from the city. I wonder if the libraries should just admit defeat and install needle safety disposal canisters in all of the public restrooms.

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