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Thursday, September 29, 2005

It’s a good life 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe rest of the world must think we’re insane. Thanks to the miracle that is Tivo, I rarely have to endure commercials, so I’m not sure how long the latest Pediasure drink commercial has been around, but I saw it for the first time last night and it really kind of freaked me out. I realize that there has been an ongoing trend in advertisement featuring disrespectful children rolling their eyes derisively and contemptuously at their parents, but I haven’t seen one yet where a parent actually seems afraid of her child.

The commercial begins with a nervously concerned mother wheeling her little girl around the grocery store. At one aisle she says a little tentatively, “We need chicken.”

The little girl wrinkles her nose and says, “I don’t wike chicken!”

This continues for several more food items. Each time the food item is proffered the little girl declares she doesn’t like it. The tone of the little girl transcends typical spoiled brattiness. She says it like she’s making a threat.

Back at home the mother offers the Fussiest Little Eater a bottle of Pediasure, a drink concocted from sugar water with some vitamins and electrolytes thrown in. While the little girl drinks it down, she shoots her mother an evil smirk that clearly communicates, “This will do, for now.” The anxious mother breathes a sigh of relief.

The Pediasure ad reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode It's a Good Life in which the entire town is held captive by a tyrannical little boy with supernatural powers. The townspeople spend their days groveling before him and trying to keep him amused because if anyone displeases him - and boy is he easily displeased - he’ll send them to "the cornfield," where something unspeakably awful happens.

Nobody wants a Corrections style scene of an all night stand off at the dining room table over the liver and rhubarb monstrosity that Edith is trying to force down her son, but can't we have some sort of middle ground? Parents, even if your kids can program the VCR and do other things that technologically intimidate you, they can't send you to the cornfield, or to the Veldt, or wherever. Step up and be a parent.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

As pretty on the inside... 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWhen I was in 6th grade, the most popular and beautiful girl of the class above me was named Margaret. Everything seemed so effortless for her. She was the lead in the school play, she made straight A’s and she was a star athlete. She had perfect skin and long golden hair. Perhaps she was bored because everything came so easily to her, or she was just a sadist, but she liked to amuse herself by torturing the class odd ball, a withdrawn loner named Lisa who suffered from a mild case of trichotillomania. I’m not sure if the administration at the all girls school I attended had some sort of prime directive about interfering with bullying, or if they were oblivious to the cruelty and psychological terror perpetrated by Margaret and her flunkies, but they seemed to ignore the situation and let Margaret behave as she pleased. Perhaps they were conducting some grand social experiment to see how far she would go. Probably Margaret wanted some authority figure to stop her, to set a limit for her, but until anybody did, she remained intoxicated with her power and sadism.

One day in ceramics class she was taunting Lisa about something and the girl quietly took her palette knife, walked over to Margaret and stabbed her in the back. The knife sank over an inch, missing anything vital, but the amount of blood and Margaret’s screams were impressive. The police came, and Lisa was sent off somewhere for a psychological evaluation. She was expelled from school, and the last anyone heard she was attending an out of state boarding school for troubled girls with psychological problems.

Margaret recovered, but soon after she got back to school she underwent a dramatic physical transformation. Seemingly overnight, her hair, which had been golden, soft and flowing, became a brillo-y mess, like it had been fried by some harsh chemical process. She developed cystic acne, and her skin, enflamed and ruddy, would occasionally erupt in boils. She ceased growing in height and began to pack on weight. Her figure, which had been so promisingly voluptuous, thickened into a dumpy, stout mess. Her facial features coarsened and even her brow seemed to thicken and jut out. However, the last vestige of her beauty, her voice, actually increased in loveliness. It seemed incredibly incongruous with the rest of her appearance. What is even odder is that she seemed resigned to her fate, and instead of becoming bitter and nastier, threw herself into voice training and opera. She didn’t seem to mind that her former toadies and sycophants now shunned her - she was above petty social concerns. The only thing that now held her interest was opera, which was a good thing, because now she had the figure for it.

Another odd thing was that Margaret’s younger sister, who was also beautiful, remained so. She retained her fine pored skin, lithe figure and delicate features and grew to a willowy height. The entire situation was really like something out of a fairy tale, as if the palette knife had wielded some magical power and somehow cast a spell over Margaret revealing her true, inner self. Margaret accepted her fate, seemed almost happy to shed her beauty and popularity with their pressures and distractions so she could concentrate on her singing talent and love of opera. Even if she had been cursed, it allowed her to achieve some sort of state transcendence and find her true calling.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A clown who actually did something funny 

Before I transferred to the Main and became blessed with full time security, the burden of enforcing the rules at the branch often fell on me. Like many in my profession I don't particularly enjoy confrontation, so having to ask someone to leave because, say, their odor was making other patrons gag and faint filled me with dread. I especially disliked waking patrons, since people can be dangerously unpredictable and surly when they're coming to. At the branches I often looked the other way when seniors drifted off doing a cross word puzzle, but had little tolerance for habitual offenders, especially our 'overserved' patrons who came into the library to sleep it off.

One day after helping a patron with an involved reference question I looked around and noticed that almost every patron in the library was slumped over asleep, as if they had all been struck with darts dipped in curare. As I steeled my resolve to go deal with them a children's performance began on the upper level. A maniacally cheerful clown yelled at the audience of children, "OK, everybody! You all look sleepy to me! On the count of three, I want each and every one of you to scream, ‘Wake up!’ Are you ready now? One-Two-Three!" All the children, about 3 classes worth of 4th graders, then screamed with all of their might, "WAKE UP!" The vibration of the sound waves, carried on the frequency of the piercing, prepubescent children's voices, made a pencil roll off of my desk. The sound also jolted all of our sleepers awake, and it was comical in a kind of mean way to see them jerk out of their chairs and look about in panic. Usually clowns completely repulse and creep me out, and nothing they do amuses me in the least, so it was nice to finally get a good laugh from one.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Sheriff Dayz 

The first day at my new office I arrived just as the investigators were adjourning their morning meeting. They were all sitting around the office, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and eating donuts. One of them waved me over and asked if I wanted to see his vacation pictures. I puzzled over the pictures, which were not of the beach or mountains but looked but of a living room in which a pot of spaghetti had exploded. It dawned on me that these were not vacation photos, but crime scene investigation photos of a brutal murder. A divorcing couple had been ill advisedly sharing the same roof while they squabbled over the property. The husband had tired of the negotiations and decided to wrap things up by blowing his wife’s head off execution style with a shotgun, which he tried to disguise as a robbery. The stack was picture after picture of her body and blood splatter. This was well before the internet, where grotesque snuff images are readily available on sites like Rotten.com, and I had never seen anything like this. I actually became light headed and had to sit down. After that little bit of hazing it didn’t take me long to become desensitized, and then fascinated by the pictures and the tragic stories behind them. Some memorable ones:

One Sunday I was driving somewhere and heard some breaking news about a grisly murder on the radio. My heart skipped a beat, and I realized that I couldn’t wait to go to work on Monday to see the pictures. It horrified me because it dawned on me right then that had become a depraved ghoul. It was time to find another line of work. The strong stomach and sense of black humor that I developed at the job, however, has served me well in the library.

She's Working for the Sheriff II 

One day my supervisor, a Sergeant, called me into his office. He explained that the police investigators downstairs, who were fighting real crimes like rape, murder, auto theft and bad check writing, as opposed to victimless, bullshit crimes like growing marijuana, were stretched thin and drowning in paperwork. He asked if I would mind helping out with some of their clerical work. The terms of my position restricted me to the narcotics department, so this would mean I would have to get a little creative when I typed up my monthly reports to submit to the federal agency that funded my position, but I was game. Most of the narcotics agents were out in the field or worked odd hours so I was a little lonely in my little office next to Family Court upstairs. I longed for the esprit de corps of working with other people in an office. I was also tired of emerging from my office to see screaming parents and sobbing children entering and leaving family court. The entire floor seemed poisoned by this miasma of hate and rancor, and since this was the rural South, I feared gunplay. I was also becoming disillusioned with Narcotics. It sickened me to hear the desperate tone of people diming out their friends and families in an effort to save their own skin. No omerta existed among these small time non-professionals. The part that made me feel the dirtiest still was asset forfeiture.

My sheriff was a scrupulous man and he kept his department and officers honest. Often busts would be multi jurisdictional/agency, however, and each one was entitled to a piece of the forfeited assets. One case involved a pot dealer who was supplied large shipments of marijuana from his brother who lived in Humboldt County, California, a region famous for the quality and potency of its marijuana. When he was arrested he had every single piece of his property seized: his children’s Big Wheels, his Charles Schwab retirement accounts and a very expensive fishing boat. I know because I typed up the inventory. The DEA bureau of the nearby city that had participated in the bust wanted the boat, not to sell, but for the agents to use on water patrols, which would primarily be conducted on weekends with coolers of beer and fishing equipment. My Sheriff was outraged by this blatant corruption and refused to surrender the boat. This interagency tug-o-war over a citizen’s property astounded me, as did the catalogs of surveillance equipment arriving daily. A gigantic, powerful industry, one fed by asset forfeiture funds and the current drug laws, was out there. I realized that this industry would lobby and do anything it could to keep marijuana illegal and prevent any sort of reform of our drug laws. Talk about the military/drug/prison/industrial complex. I was eager to separate myself from that machine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"The crows seemed to be calling his name," thought Caw. ~ Jack Handey 

The other morning we ran out of coffee so I went downstairs to get some from the Free Store (my cousin and Pam's apartment) and surprised Pam sitting on her couch, pale and shaken. She was distraught over a nightmare that was so horrific that she wouldn't even tell me what it was about, except that that it involved the death of a loved one. As I was trying to console her E called from upstairs, "Look outside! It's a flock of wild parrots! They're so beautiful!" We both ran to the window to look. Through the fog we saw about 20 large birds perched on a telephone wire outside, staring into the window at us. These weren't parrots, however, but a flock of giant crows, a murder of crows, to be exact, eerily cawing and staring back at us like portents of death. They seemed to say, "Just in case you didn't get the message that someone you love dearly is going to die we're here to do so, registered mail."

I yelled, "Oh, my God! What is wrong with you? Those are CROWS, not parrots!"

E, who had joined us, peered out the window. "Hmmmm, you're right. My bad."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The End of Civility, or Hold my baby while I kick this bitch's ass 

Image hosted by Photobucket.com Sunday at the library was the decline and fall of Western Civilization. I have extremely low expectations. I realize that we are no longer living in a genteel era, that our society has reached a new low in civility. Patrons wearing a shirt that reads, "Let's Fuck!," a teen mother changing her baby's reeking diaper on our atlas table, people clipping their nails while they wait in the line for the internet, patrons smacking and popping their gum while they ask me a question at the reference desk (my particular bete noir) - nothing really fazes me anymore. When I witness these things I still, however, will hear a voice from my childhood, my grandmother's African American maid grumbling, "Didn't anyone ever teach that child how to behave?" (Sometimes the child she was referring to was 45 years old.)

Sunday I witnessed the death rattle of our civilization.

A young woman approached the desk and asked me a question about our newspaper databases. While I was giving her a brief tutorial she picked up her foot, placed the sole of her shoe on my desk and tied her laces. I was dumbfounded. What must someone from one of those Asian cultures where you don't even wear your shoes indoors, ever, think? Or an Arabic country, where you are advised never to cross your legs in front of anyone because even flashing the sole of one's foot at someone is considered the worst sort of insult?

Then a man came up to book a computer.

"I'm sorry, we close in 15 minutes. There's no more time left for today."

"Well, FUCK. That's just the way my day's going, now isn't it?" He stormed off.
Fuck, it's the new darn.

The nadir occured when one of our resident mentally ill patrons almost got herself killed. Jeannie, a 120 pound woman, is a bit of a pest, but completely harmless. During most of our open hours she loiters in the area in front of the main reference desk. When she's on one of her manic upswings she while away the day twirling around, performing little arabesques and barking out strange nonsense to patrons as they stream by.

"You'll need your passport to go on the train to China!"

"Can I have your number so I can call you collect 8 times a day?"

When we tell her to quiet down she'll act the coy little girl and baby talk, "Sowweeeee."

Her high jinks are annoying but she is obviously harmless, and anyone can immediately tell that she is simpleminded. On Sunday she approached a man, his wife and their baby. She jabbered something at them and fluttered her fingers close to their faces.

This infuriated the man. "What the hell did you just do! Get the hell out of my face!"

She started barking like a dog at them.

The man screamed, "I'm going to kick your ass!" He then shoved his baby into his wife's arms. The baby's head flopped around violently and he charged Jeanne. Providentially, the security guard was right on the spot and escorted Dad of the Year and his family out. Right at the exit he turned around and screamed at Jeanne, "I don't usually hit women, but join me outside and I'll kick your ass!" He then yelled at the security guard, "I'm an off duty city policeman! You can't make me leave!"

The security guard was having none of that. "You're threatening to beat up a woman and you claim you're a cop? Get out of here."

Everyone's a powder keg now, so be careful, because you'll never know what will set them off. But a dad handing his baby to his wife to kick a woman's ass? Judith Martin would shit.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Head Performance: Cuter than Anime 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThere is just something so quintessentially Japanese about this website, which chronicles the days of rabbit Oolong and his successor, Moon Cake. One day Oolong's owner, a Japanese photographer, noticed Oolong had a unique talent for balancing items on his head. Over the years, Oolong's owner cultivated and documented this skill, which he calls 'head performance.' Oolong balances a variety of objects: Hello Kitty figurines, pastries, donuts, plants, flowers. Usually the item bears some relevancy to the various festivals and holidays of the Japanese calendar year and changing of the seasons.

Clicking through all the pictures as they mark the passage of time has a very meditative effect.

Oolong's pages are not translated from the Japanese, so what is going on is often inscrutable, but most of Moon Cake's, 'the new rabbit,' are. Moon Cake has many charms but has not achieved the same level of talent for head performance and consequently suffers many 'head failures.' But, as one patient caption concedes, "She is still young." Actually, Moon Cake doesn't seem interested in doing much except licking, a nervous habit most likely developed from living in the shadow of Oolong's reputation.

One of my favorites tableaux is of Moon Cake meeting a 'great senior rabbit' named Mack, who has reached the remarkable old age of 12. The captions reveal a lot about Japanese mentality. Respect him, Moon Cake, and he will tell you secret of long life!

Here is Moon Cake seeking divine favor at the rabbit shrine 'Tsuki-jinja.'

This one kind of tugged at my heart. The photographer captures a beetle for Moon Cake to play with, but it bores her and she ignores it. A photograph of the beetle wistfully looking at Moon Cake is entitled "Beetle is Lonely."


I was also deeply moved by Moon Cake paying her respects at Oolong's grave.

The captions, even in their rough translations, have a beautiful, almost haiku quality and titles like "Spring Excursion" have an elegant simplicity.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comSpoon, however, scoffs at the rabbits. "I (head) PERFORMER!"

Here E captures the ultra competitive Spoon displaying her own formidable talents with a piece of All American wheat bread. Spoonie says, "Suck it, Moon Cake!"

Friday, September 09, 2005

Word of the Day 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI subscribe to a great word of the day site that recently featured the word fomites. Fomites (rhymes with vomit tease) are inanimate objects which can harbor disease and germs. Some common fomites are toilet seats, cutting boards, coins and BOOKS. The singular is fomes.

Thank God I am so far off the OCD spectrum that working at a filthy place like the library doesn't bother me one bit, even if this particular psychological makeup makes me a deficient housekeeper. If I ruminated too hard on what is crawling all over books and other fomites in the library I would end up in the corner behind a fortress of milk bottles filled with my own urine, rocking myself, my arms clutched around me and my kleenex box shoes. Speaking of OCD, I'm reading the hilarious Devil in the Details, a memoir of the author's youthful battles with scrupulosity and various other OCD disorders. E looked over the cover and commented, "Aw, but those lines aren't straight."

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pack up your rape culture and take a hike! 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comA young woman with dyed magenta hair and army boots stalked up to the desk. She looked like she was fresh from a WTO protest. "I have a complaint about this place!"

I reached under the desk and handed her a suggestion and complaint form.

She angrily filled out a form. She seemed to be using every bit of her arm muscle, which looked bulked up, probably from throwing rocks through the windows of Starbucks' and other chains during demonstrations. I was concerned she was going to snap my innocent pen in two or leave permanent indentation marks on the desk.

“These guards!”

“Yes?”

"They give the library a real nice feel - like an institution! Like, the security guards, they look like cops! I mean, why do they need those sticks? And uniforms? They look like stormtroopers! The library is supposed to be a place of learning, not a prison! They totally ruin it!"

I adore security. Without it, this place would descend into 3rd day without food and water conditions at the New Orleans Superdome. In about 5 minutes. But, my policy is not to engage, because, really, it’s just pointless, and it usually only escalates the situation. If you just smile and nod and say, “I hear you,” this will usually satisfy them enough to go away. Oftentimes people just want to be heard, especially mentally ill people, because no one else in their lives will listen to or acknowledge them. So my habit is to listen, but not dance. That way, if a patron comes to the library to blow off some steam by picking a fight, he'll find, as Adam Carolla says, that it's about as much fun as throwing a handball against the drapes.

There was something about this girl, however, that really made me want to poke a stick at her.

"Security guards are here to maintain the peace and protect library property. They're here for everyone's protection. This is a public building and we get all types."

Believing that she had caught me making a discriminatory statement, her eyes blazed triumphantly. "By all types do you mean the HOMELESS? Because they have just as much right to be here as anyone else!"

"The homeless, like all of our patrons, have a right to be safe in the library. Many come here because they know they can be safe here and they can get some peace and quiet."

She looked a bit crestfallen. Stymied, she started to say something, and then stopped.

“Well, I bet those security guards,” pointing to the bored African American security guard examining her manicure by the security gates, “I bet they even engage in PROFILING. I promise you, if a man in a briefcase sets off the alarm, they just wave him through! But if someone stands out, if they look different, like if they have red hair, then they get stopped and hassled!"

"Red hair? What are you talking about? Look, I'm not going to get into a philosophical debate with you at the reference desk about library policy. I don't speak for the administration and their decisions. You turned in your complaint; they'll get it. Unless you have a reference question I ask that you step aside and let the next person step forward in that long line that has formed behind you."

"But you do speak for the library!"

At that point I turned to my computer screen and yawned.

"Great, now you're tuning me out!"

A long line of people glared at her. Probably embarrassed over her red hair statement, which has to be one of the most retarded points ever made, she stomped off.

We get so much misplaced anger. There are many things to be angry, even paranoid about, in this society, but the library isn't one of them, I promise you. I guess we’re easy targets for people to unleash their aggression on, like waitresses at restaurants.

She reminded me so much of one of the angry womynists in PCU. This is some dialogue from when two of them go to a fraternity party.

Football Player: What's up, babes?
Womynist #1: Pack up your rape culture and take a hike!
Football Player: You want a brewdog?
Womynist #1: We're not interested in your penis!
Womynist #2: Wait, wait, I think he's offering us a beer. Um...yes...we...would...like...a...beer.
Football Player: Okayl! (To fellow jocks) Hey! Gimme a beer! Gimme a beer!
Womynist #1: It's like, if you're nice to them, they bring you things?
Womynist #2: Exactly.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Balkan Beats 

Image hosted by Photobucket.com Image hosted by Photobucket.com




A colleague who likes to vacation in off the beaten track former Eastern bloc hellholes introduced me to this website, and I’ve been mired in it for the last few days. The music, a hypnotic blend of Turkish ululating and pounding techno back beat, will get under your skin and lay eggs. The music is nothing, however, compared to the video clips of the performing artists. I challenge you to tear your eyes away from these lanky Christina Aguillera knock offs as they writhe sensually and suggestively over the gypsy infested, rotting carcass of the Soviet and Ottoman empires! The way they ingeniously blend traditional and pop culture is endlessly fascinating, especially when the artists incorporate a piece of their national costume into 21st century skank attire. 19th century lace up bodice with hot pants and crotch high stiletto boots=WOW. The videos are full of bizarre tableaux: vixens strutting around in tarted up military uniforms in some inefficient, defunct ball bearing factory, a rusted out legacy of some failed Soviet 5 year industrialization plan; siliconed bosoms jiggling over flashing slot machines in the ubiquitous gambling parlors of gangster New Russia; dancers in fields surrounded by suspicious, torch wielding villagers. You really must see it for yourself. And, um, Kamelia? What's going on with that hand?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

How May We Serve You Better? 

Image hosted by Photobucket.com A sampling...

1) I have very bad allergies and when I sit in a seat occupied by numerous different individuals I tend to "itch." Most of the time I sit on a footstool. There are other adults as well as children like me. In Columbus, Ohio the library has seats WITHOUT BACKS for people who are allergic so they do not itch. These seats are short that both adults and children can use while they use the library facilities and IT WORKS. A few at this library would be great for people like us.

2) I am chemically sensitive and this makes it impossible for me to come to the library because of the chemical air deodorizers, disinfectants and cologne you pump through your vents. This is a doctor diagnosed MEDICAL CONDITION so quit trying to POISON me.

3) I spend a lot of times in the park and have noticed that since the city started spraying them there are no more mosquitoes and I no longer get bitten. When I come into the library and use the indoor water fountains swarms of mosquitoes come flying out of the spigot and bite me. Please spray and treat your water fountains for mosquitoes.

A Valuable Lesson about Reaching out to Strangers 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWhen E was a little girl she placed a note in a red balloon filled with helium.

Hi! I'm 8 years old. I live in _____. If you find this please let me know how far this balloon traveled. This is an experiment.
Thank you!


As she released the balloon and watched it float away, she dreamed of all the exotic locations it might reach. What kind of person would find the note? Maybe she and the finder could become penpals! In what seemed like an eternity (more likely a couple of weeks) a thick envelope arrived at her house addressed to "The little girl who sent the balloon."

Full of joyful anticipation, she read the note, which was written in a spidery, ancient script.

Dear little girl,
Your note was just the sweetest thing. Your balloon traveled 30 miles away to my town. Are you saved? If not, you must read these.


Curious to see what gifts her new friend sent, she dug through the rest of the package. It was crammed with Chick tracts, each one full of completely age inappropriate subject matter and terrifying images of sinners writhing in the flames of hell. She was bitterly disappointed.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hobby of Kings 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comA collector of and authority on stamps is a philatelist, not philatist, which sounds like something completely else, something that has nothing to do with the sedate and venerable hobby of stamp collecting, also known as "the hobby of kings."

If I had known this, I would never, ever have told the patron, an elderly gentleman wearing a musty old tweed jacket, "Stamp collecting and pricing guides are on the 2nd floor! That's where you'll find your fellow phil-LAY-tists," causing his beetly eyebrows to shoot up.

Those people do exist in the library, but on other floors, usually deep in the stacks.

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