Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Reference Roundup 

Image hosted by Photobucket.com A young man approached the reference desk. "I have an infestation of roaches. Remember that movie Joe’s Apartment? It's like that, except the little bastards don't sing and dance, they just die in my cereal boxes. Help."

Whenever a patron asks how to get rid of roaches or some other pest, I always recommend Tiny Game Hunting. I have yet to have a man who is not delighted by the title, which must appeal to his sense of adventure, as if he is going on safari rather than, say, rid prize roses of aphids. I also always print out this article from the Straight Dope.

A Chinese man who bought some greeting cards in bulk called telephone reference. He thought the cards were blank, but when he opened them up he discovered they were inscribed, “From your secret pal.” Since his English was limited he didn’t understand what ‘secret pal’ meant, so I tried to explain that it’s perhaps someone who’s trying anonymously to cheer up a friend or a relative. I hesitated even to get into the creepy and stalker implications of sending cards anonymously as a “secret pal” but suggested that if he must use the cards to only do so with family members.

I had a difficult time trying to explain to a Chinese woman the different pronunciations of Warren Buffet (financial investor), buffet (to strike or beat), and buffet (piece of furniture, smorgasbord).

God, English is a bitch! I told her that since English sometimes comes up short, it will assimilate languages’ words, which accounts for some of the variations in pronunciations. Or, as Booker T. Washington said, “We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

"Is it more sanitary to be peed on or spit on?"
Don't know the reasons for this question, and I didn't care to ask. Spit is teeming with bacteria, but urine is quite sterile, so much so that it was actually used to clean wounds by Aztecs and drunk medicinally by Gandhi and, if you believe his daughter, J.D. Salinger. Licking your own wounds may be beneficial, though. Good old Cecil Adams answers the age old question about whose mouth is cleaner: a dog's or human's.

"Which is higher, the Atlantic or Pacific side of the Panama Canal?"
Tricky question! Because of tidal pull, mean sea level at the Pacific end of the canal is on average about 20 centimetres (8 in) higher than at the Atlantic end.

"How much urine does the average adult male pass a day?"
For a healthy man, 1 - 2 L per day.

The latest news on female circumcision. The patron claims he's a lawyer who’s interested in the subject from a human right’s standpoint, but I bet I have an unpleasant suspicion that he just wants to get a female librarian to talk to him about it and obtain photocopies of pictures of mutilated vaginas for him. I usually transfer him to the men in interlibrary loan to satisfy his research needs.

"What's Star Jones up to nowadays?"

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bete Noire 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comE captured the dogs going beserker in the office over a black cat cutting through the neighbor's yard. When the cat noticed that the dogs barking at it, it froze and stared back with yellow, sulfuric eyes. When the cat realized the dogs couldn't reach it, the cat settled down and began insolently cleaning its privates while the dogs screamed and raged.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

How ya' going to keep them down on the farm 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comA gloomy old Scandinavian man, his eyes pink rimmed and rheumy, wanted help locating his estranged daughter. He told me she was born and raised in his small farming town in South Dakota, but she had blown town in her late teens and never looked back. All I could think of was the scene in the Big Lebowski when a detective hired to find Tara Reid’s character questions the Dude and explains the situation.

“The Knutsens. It's a wandering daughter job. Bunny Lebowski, man. Her real name is Fawn Knutsen. Her parents want her back.” He reaches into his pocket and shows the Dude a photograph. "The Knutsens told me to show her this when I found her. The family farm. Outside of Moorhead, Minnesota. They think it'll make her homesick.”

The photo is of a desolate farm on a snow covered, windblasted wasteland. I always loved that scene because the detective is so sincere, as if that photograph of that frozen tundra dump would entice Tara Reid’s character, a gold digging former porn star living it up in L.A., back home. I printed off some matches of his daughter’s name from Zabbasearch and wished him luck.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Land of Nod 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI have a feeling that there’s another potent batch of heroin circulating through the city. I’ve noticed a lot of patrons dozing off in unlikely places, like at the 15 minute express computers, their heads sunk onto the keyboards. I've also come across several in a leaning stand against bookshelves in the stacks, delicately snoring, and returning from lunch the other day I saw a group of unconscious bodies bloodlessly strewn about some statuary outside like our own little Jonestown. Japanese tourists there to see the statuary were taking pictures of one of the women. She had a large urine stain on her pants and burst capillaries the size of carnations covering her face, a scene which just made my bosom SWELL with civic pride. On a more humorous note, one of the security guards described a man nodding off while operating his Jazzy outside the library. He was ramming it into parked cars at slow speed, and each time the Jazzy hit a car, or a meter, or when a pedestrian screamed at him after a near miss, he would jolt awake, but then almost immediately his head would sag and he would nod right back off. Because they’re not dying, I don’t believe it’s the deadly fentanyl mix, which has been sending hundreds of heroin users throughout the country straight off to Junkie Valhalla. And by the way, please check out the picture of the woman in the article. There's no way that that bitch is 32! Typical junkie veracity. And don't you love her junkie thinking when she admits that she's 'intrigued' by the incredible high the mix promises, even though her fellow drug addicts are dying like flies from it.

I prefer having the junkies come to the library to nod than to kick, but still, what a sorry nuisance. The guards reported apprehending a man trying to cook up heroin and Vicodin in the bathroom. I thought the entire reason the opiate in Vicodin was bonded with acetaminophen was to prevent junkies from cooking it up, but the junkie had heard that Vicodin injected with heroin made a good high so he gamely tried it. The result was that the pill cooked into a thick sludge, which clogged his needle up. Weeping in frustration, the junkie had resorted to jamming the needle into his arm savagely and repeatedly. When the guards found him, he was attacking and stabbing his arms like they were Janet Leigh .

One of my colleagues told me that a schizophrenic woman, a regular patron, wanted her library card number. My colleague said that she needed the woman’s ID to give her her number. She refused, hissing, “I don’t give my ID to DEAD people!" Jabbing her fingers at the librarians, she said, "You’re dead, and you’re dead and you’re dead, and I don't give my ID to dead people!” I thought that was hilarious until I remembered the scene from Terminator 2, when Sarah Connor is raving at her smug, smarmy psychiatrist and the orderlies, “You think you're alive and safe, but you're already dead. Everybody, you, him...everybody... you're all fucking dead!”

I certainly hope the schizophrenic patron doesn’t know something that we don’t.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ordure du Jour 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWe've suffered an exasperating streak of bio-vandalism lately, acts which I find childish, malicious and psychotic in equal measure. I won't go into too much nauseating detail - even I have my limits - but let me just say that employees keep finding book pages that have been ripped out and used for 'intimate hygiene' littering the stacks, and last night I inadvertently rolled my bike through a foamy slick of urine right outside the employee exit, a favorite bathroom destination for the homeless. Public toilets abound in this area, including at least 50 roomy stalls inside the library, but I guess defecating and urinating right outside the employee door is the antisocial's and/or homeless’ petty little way of sticking it to the library employees, of expressing their institutional anger at “the man.” I thought I heard that Singapore, to discourage public urination, started somehow running an electrical charge against the side of certain buildings and structures so that a nasty current would run back up the steam of urine and jolt the pisser. I can find no confirmation of this, however, and so it must just be an urban myth about Singapore, which is increasingly sounding more and more like my idea of utopia, as fascist and full of caning as it may be.

The other day a patron attempted to smuggle several reference books out of the library. He had the books shoved up against his body under his sweater like a suicide bomber and the outlines of the book were clearly visible. The books triggered the security alarm and a guard asked him to step inside the security office. The thief refused and protested that he had to go to the bathroom. The security guard said he could go in a minute, but that he had to settle this matter first. The security guard led the patron into the office, but then the patron began clutching his sides and removing his pants. Before the guard could utter, “Don't you dare" or "Oh no you did-n’t” the patron dropped his pants, bent over and began spraying jets of black, tarry diarrhea, like a like squid emitting puddles of ink. I have to wonder if this was some sort of biological defense mechanism, because a friend of mine’s cat voided its bowels in much the same way when it was being chased by a coyote. In any case, the guard could do nothing more than allow the man to stay put and let nature take its course, so the man sat on the bench, naked from the waist down, for a good five minutes while his bowels spasmed out. In another case of outrageous leniency at the library, this man is only banned for a year.

Dorothy Parker Quote of the Day 

When asked as part of a word game to use the word horticulture, Parker shot off, "You can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

In Praise of the Battleaxe 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comGranny Weatherall, the subject of my last post, is a fine example of the battleaxe, a certain forceful type of dowager who wields an incredible amount of power and respect both within their family and society. Although a bit gruff, dour and sharp tounged, a battleaxe is wise and highly sought after for advice on both family and financial matters. One can always count on them to set oneself straight.

From "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall":

She wasn’t too old yet for Lydia to be driving eighty miles for advice when one of the children jumped the track, and Jimmy still dropped in and talked things over: “Now, Mammy, you’ve a good business head, I want to know what you think of this?…

A battleaxe makes a fine, reassuring role model for young women. Why fear aging and loss of beauty and physical allure if you get to become a battleaxe? Unlike most elderly in this society, they’re not marginalized. They haven't subsumed themselves completely to a man like Nancy Reagan. They're not pitifully frightening like that plastic surgery victim/mutton dressed as lamb Helen Gurley Brown, a woman who prattles on about her sex life in her seventies, as if anyone would be interested in hearing about that. Battleaxes age gracefully and with dignity. They dress age appropriately and are often stout. In the South, they’re president of the charity clubs and arbiters of society rules and decorum. They possess the power to decide the social fates of young women, as Margaret Mitchell discovered when the old battleaxes blackballed her from the Junior League after she scandalized them by doing something called the Apache Dance at a debutante party. In Gone with the Wind, Rhett Butler knows that these women will determine whether his daughter Bonnie would be making her debut and in whose houses she will be received, so he begins paying court to them as soon as his daughter is in her pram. Gone with the Wind, like the South, is replete with battleaxes. I wrote about my favorite, Grandma Fontaine, a few years ago.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBattleaxes are not necessarily part of white high society. African Americans have their versions of the archetype with Madea and Big Momma. In Night of the Hunter, Lillian Gish portrays Rachel Cooper, an old country widow who takes in and fosters stray children during the Great Depression. She’s gentle and nurturing but tough and sure of her place in the world. Surrounded by her adopted children she says, “I'm a strong tree with branches for many birds. I'm good for something in this world and I know it, too.” She protects the children during the all night stand off with Robert Mitchum's character, a psychopathic preacher who is pursuing two of the children. Knowing he is hiding somewhere on the porch, she rocks all night in a rocking chair, shotgun in her lap. Accustomed to staying up all night nursing sick children and holding deathbed and childbirth vigils, she patiently and stoically outlasts Robert Mitchum. When he can stand to wait no longer, he shrieks out of his hiding place and charges her. She shoots him and then calls the Sheriff. "You better get out here. I've got something trapped in my barn."

Catherine Mingott in the Age of Innocence is another grand battleaxe from literature. Her immense weight, which has prevented her from wrinkling or appearing to age, has also incapacitated her to the point where she never leaves her house. Although confined to her mansion, she wields incredible power and controls her social sphere and her family, which visit her like attendants to a queen bee. She is the standard and enforcer of propriety. My favorite scene is when her niece comes to her to beg her to give her money to prevent a financial scandal caused by her husband, "to back up her husband, see them through--not to desert them, as she called it--in fact to induce the whole family to cover and condone their monstrous dishonour." Catherine, who has the rectitude and ideals of a Roman matron, will hear none of it. "I said to her: "Honour's always been honour, and honesty honesty, in Manson Mingott's house, and will be till I'm carried out of it feet first... And when she said: `But my name, Auntie--my name's Regina Dallas,' I said: `It was Beaufort when he covered you with jewels, and it's got to stay Beaufort now that he's covered you with shame!"

Image hosted by Photobucket.comSquinty, prune faced Ruby Thewes from Cold Mountain, although too young to be considered a true battleaxe, is well on her way to becoming one. We are introduced to her when she walks up to the porch where the refined to the point of uselessness Ada is being held hostage by a tyrannical rooster. Ignoring Ada’s warnings, Ruby marches right up to the rooster and wrings his neck. “Let’s put ‘im in a pot.” Ruby is practical, self sufficient and tough. She whips the farm back into shape and saves Ada from starvation. Judging by the way Ruby's husband snaps to when she tells him to get the cider at the picnic at the end of the movie, the viewer knows that Ruby will make a fine battleaxe in years to come.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Jilting of Granny Weatherall 

I’m still enjoying the literature anthology I picked up in a thrift store last month, and am happy to see that it includes the wonderful short story The Jilting of Granny Weatherall. I adore Katherine Anne Porter, and find her so superior to the extremely overrated but now more famous Southern writer Eudora Welty, although I do enjoy her photography.), I found the Optimist’s Daughter a tedious, soporific experience, and after reading it, American Pastoral, 1000 Acres and Middlesex and I have become deeply suspicious and wary of Pulitzer Prize fiction winners.

The recent death of my mother, a cousin, my favorite patron and the extended and scary convalescence of a formative grandmother have made this an extremely difficult year for me, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted or needed to revisit any stories about Southern matriarchs on their deathbeds, but I’m glad I did. Told mostly in a stream of consciousness style that drifts into occasional delirium, the story is about the experiences of a dying, 80 year old Southern matriarch. Like her name implies, she is a model of endurance and perseverance, a real battleaxe, but through flashbacks, you learn that she was jilted at the altar when she was twenty, an event from which she has never truly recovered. She eventually married another man and made a good, fulfilling life for herself and their children. She transformed from a belle with a painted fan to a woman who "fenced in a hundred acres once, digging the post holes herself and clamping the wires with just a negro boy to help," a woman who rode "country roads in the winter when women had their babies...sitting up nights with sick horses and sick negroes and sick children and hardly ever losing one." In her old age she is greatly respected for her wisdom and common sense, and family and friends constantly seek her advice. The memory of her jilting still preoccupies her, however, and when her time comes near and death is not exactly what she has envisioned, she assumes she’s being jilted once again, but this time by Jesus. She’s wrong, though, God's coming for her, just not in the form that she recognizes and presumes. Instead of Jesus, she starts to 'see' people like her favorite child, Hapsy, who died in childbirth years before, baby on her arm. Her stubborn will and pride are traits which allowed her to survive the trauma of the first jilting, but they have also blinded her a bit. When she dies, she does so bitterly but on her own terms, by stretching herself with a deep breath and forcefully "blowing out the light" herself. Even though she dies in despair, erroneously believing that she has been stood up and betrayed once again, the reader knows that she is going to be all right, that loved ones who have passed on before her have gathered to lead her into the hereafter.

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