Friday, December 29, 2006

Damn Matthew Lesko to Hell for all Eternity 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI hate Matthew Lesko, that flim flam artist who is the bane of librarian and government worker's existences. Due to his criminally misleading television commercials, especially the one shilling his book "Free money fto Pay your Bills,” I have confused, desperate patrons waving their overdue credit card/final notice utility bills in my face in the misguided belief that Lesko’s book will provide them with a magical phone number to make all of their money problems go away.

Lesko generally advertises on the cheap local late night slots, the ones targeting the drunk and desperate late night television viewer, the adult version of the suckers who send off for sea monkeys, x-ray goggles and hovercrafts. Bursting with crazy good cheer, he practically jumps out of the television at you, screaming about ‘free money’ like some deranged, frantic gremlin or retarded, methed up Batman super-villain. “Government studies show that 50 million consumers are not taking advantage of even the basic programs,” he shrieks, “Don’t you be one of them!”

Lesko’s scam is that his books, which sell for $39.95 and up, are nothing but repackaged GPO pamphlets. And suckers, hearing what they want to believe, shell money out that they can ill afford in the hopes of an immediate windfall. Hey – I’m all for people getting the assistance they need. Why should Halliburton get it all? His ads are disingenuous and misleading, however, and I have to deal with disgruntled patrons looking to lash out at someone when they take a look at the dogeared reference copy and it dawns on them that it's not just as simple as making a phone call to get their bills taken care of.

What I do appreciate about Lesko’s books, however, is that they expose the welfare state that the United States has become. The New York Times had a recent revelatory article on the explosion in the SSI disability rolls. We in the U.S. sniff at Europe for being a welfare state but the US is just as bad – we just refuse to admit it. I could tell you first hand about the SSI disability recipients who hang out at the library all the live long day, getting paid by the government to sit on their ass and not bother anyone.

U.S. citizens on welfare sometimes don’t even realize that they are. In the wonderful Cadillac Desert: the American West and Its Disappearing Water by the late, great Marc Reisner, he chronicles how the Western farmers, with their massive water and farm subsidies, became the embodiment of the welfare state. He marvels at the hypocrisy of their conservative, anti-welfare, all-about-personal-responsibility, self righteous politics when they are, in fact, some of the biggest 'welfare queens' of them all.

"They regularly sent to congress politicians eager to demolish the social
edifice built by the New Deal - to abolish welfare, school lunch programs, aid
to the handicapped, funding for the arts, even to sell off some of the national
parks and public lands. But their constituents had become the ultimate example of what they decried, so coddled by the government that they lived in the cocoonlike world of a child. They remained oblivious to what their CAP water would cost them but were certain that it would be offered to them at a price they could afford. The farmers had become the embodiment of the costly, irrational welfare state which they loathed - and they had absolutely no idea."

Hell, even I, as a civil servant, am on the government dole, although I strongly believe in what I do and the mission of public libraries. But I've done my time in the private sector and know that it isn't pretty, so I am profoundly grateful of my job. When colleagues complain about working conditions here I stare at them in open-jawed amazement. This job may have its peculiar stresses, but when I listen to them bellyache I just think to myself, "You have NO idea what it's like out there." I may be a government parasite but I'm greatly appreciative one.

Worker and Parasite.

The Wikipedia exegesis

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Evil Eye 

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One of the many pleasures of my job is the fascinating and varied topics my patrons expose me to when asking for my help in research. In my department I only get to do initial, superficial research before I have to send patrons on their way to a subject specialist on another floor, but often if a patron's question intrigues me, I will spend days absorbed in the subject on my own, with, of course, all of the library's vast resources at my fingertips. The history of eunuchs in China, the science of deja vu, sweating sickness, trench art, territorial behavior in sea horses, the Bushwhackers during the U.S. Civil War, susperstitious and ritual behavior in animals - I can think of no happier job than that of a librarian if one has a meandering, catholic curiousity.

The other day I helped a patron get started on a paper about the origins of the evil eye. I thought the evil eye was something only gypsies cast, but in fact every culture seems to possess its own version. The seminal work, Evil Eye: Wet and Dry, by Berkeley ethnologist and folklorist Alan Dundes, reports that the universal, cross culture theme is that the evil eye has a detrimental, sometimes fatal, drying effect on its victim, and that its antidote usually involves water. The evil eye has had a powerful influence on art and society, and one can see it pop up throughout mankind's history. It is even believed that the 10th commandment, thou shall not covet, a word which means to eye enviously, is specifically a mandate against casting the evil eye.

In any case, the belief in the evil eye recognizes the power of looking at someone. I'm sure you have all experienced the sense of being stared at. There are many expressions in English that I can think of right off the bat that acknowledge the power of a stare or look as well: the weight of stares, eyes burning holes, to give a scathing, wounding, dirty, eat shit look, to shoot daggers with ones eyes. Our tax dollars are training operatives to kill goats with stares.

One of the Italian apotropic gestures against the evil eye, especially of the sort that causes impotency, is the mano cornuta. Interestingly, Steve Ditko, the creator of the Spiderman and Dr. Strange comics, has both of the title characters use this gesture: Dr Strange when he casts a spell and Spiderman when he releases silk from his wrist spinnarets to swing from building to building and, I assume, encase villains so he can store them in his web and drain them of their body fluids to drink at his leisure. At least that is what he would do if I wrote the the spider man comics - it would be more true and in keeping with the rest of his acquired arachnid behavior, no? Which reminds me of my new area of interest, so now I'm off to read more about sexual cannibalism in spiders.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Come Hither and Bring me a Cookie 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comHere is a recumbant Billy practicing his bedroom eyes.

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I can't decide whether he's more Venus of Urbino or Carravagio's Bacchus.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comNotice how Bacchus is posed in that peculiar Roman patrician reclining posture to eat. To me, that does not seem like a body position that would lend itself to ease of digestion, and seems much more awkwardly uncomfortable than luxurious. Perhaps lounging about like that made it easier to transition into post prandial orgy time. Sadly, it seems like the existence of vomitoriums was greatly exaggerated, so perhaps such other "Fall of Rome" depravities like orgies were as well. Interestingly enough, during Roman banquets one's seating and posture indicated rank - only the those of the highest rank got to recline. Humans, it seems, are as obsessed as chickens with hierarchy.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Obits - Sports Pages for Seniors 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBecause I have been writing my share lately, and have a morbid streak in the best of circumstances, I've become very interested in the craft of writing an obituary. The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson is a great read and highlights many of the best of the genre, many of which hale from the London Times, a publication is known for elevating the obituary to an art form. She excerpts many wonderful examples, my favorite being Robert Helpmann's, whose obituary called him "a homosexual of the proselytzing kind."

As well as giving you a tender feeling of schadenfreude, the best obituaries also teach a little history lesson, one that is made all the more powerful and memorable because of the obituary subject's role in it. Here is one I have never forgot about a U.S. survivor of a Japanese concentration camp in the Philippines during WWII. After the war, she and fellow prisoners appealed for the life of the commander, who had been very kind and allowed them to keep and grow their own food, which is the only way they were able to survive. He was was so benevolent that his superiors removed him from his post for "excessive leniency." Years later, she and other camp survivors organized a reunion with him in the United States to express their gratitude.

The title of this one was so evocative of the Dallas/Ft Worth Metroplex, where I was born: Local Man Loved Tractors and Grandkids.

But my favorite obituary ever was for a dog. As a librarian I should be more of a copyright warrior, but I'm going to risk a cease and desist and print it in its entirety here because it's too wonderful not to share. It makes my eyes sting with tears every time I read it.

Mountain Gazette 92, March 2003


The deceased: Ace
Born: 1989
Died: December 10, 2002
Cause of death: Cancer

Ace was "put to sleep" on December 10, 2002, after over 13 years of being a Mountain Dawg. He was born at over 8,000 feet and was named after the Ace High Tavern in Golden, Colorado. He was, at six months old, in two avalanches in one day on Mt. Sniktau near Loveland Pass. So, he was nicknamed "Avalanche Ace' " He never did learn to avoid standing on cornices.

He lived with his partner, Scruffy, on Floyd Hill near Evergreen and climbed extensively in the Mt. Evans area. He loved ski mountaineering with his partners/owners, Tim and Laurie, and other ski buddies. Never one to follow a ski track, Ace chased squirrels and bunnies all over the Front Range ski trails. He loved to run ahead of you on the trail and turn back and run straight for you. Just before hitting your ski tips, Ace would veer off to the side of the trail and get face shots in the soft snow. He loved to lay on his belly and pull himself down snow fields by his front paws.

Sometimes, he would be walking on the ski trail and would cut off the trail and run down a snow field for no apparent reason other than a powder run. That is, of course, the best reason.

As Ace got a little older, he added some impressive climbs to his resume, including several 13,000-14,000-foot summits. He skied the north face of Mt. Evans, the NE chute of Grizzly Peak, the north chute of Mt. Snoopy (Pettingell Peak) and the north face of Torres peak. He was often seen up and down the NE bowls on Berthoud Pass and was credited with a full-moon climb on James Peak. He often did the Second-Creek-to-Winter-Park ski tour, sometimes spending the night in the A-frame, sometimes not.

Summer was another favorite season, when Ace went on extensive backpacking trips, sailing and kayaking on Dillon Reservoir and guarding the beer while his partners with prehensile thumbs rock climbed. He trained- for two marathons with his partner Laurie running long runs of 10 miles- His last long run, about six months before his death, was on the trail between Bakerville and Loveland Valley ski area- Here he ran the five miles with ease, even including several "bunny sprints" along the way

Ace loved wildlife and would chase whistle pigs (marmots) and ptarmigans at high altitude. He found a bighorn sheep carcass on Mt. Evans and proudly dragged it to his favorite snowfield where he could roll on it. One day, hiking on Floyd Hill, he found a mountain lion, which fortunately wasn't hungry. Also on Floyd Hill he came across a dead elk skull while hiking with his partner Tim. He was forbidden from bringing it home, but the next day, when no one was home, Ace let himself out of the house via the dog door, scaled a five-foot fence, hiked more than a mile to the elk skull, carried it home BACK OVER THE SAME FIVE-FOOT FENCE, through the dog door and up two flights of stairs, where he laid it on his partners' bed. Maggots and all...

A gift from a good friend.

Ace regularly skied at Loveland and would hike up into Zip Basin or Mt. Trelease with Tim. After the ski back down, Ace was on "van duty." Together, Tim and Ace would ski more than 100 days a year. He was also a regular fixture at the Loveland Apres Ski scene, just recently getting himself 86ed for reasons unknown. He was also often seen at the Red Ram in Georgetown and the back porch of the West Winds in Idaho Springs.

In his older years, Ace skijored with his pal Scruffy, even entering a ski-joring race with no formal training. After two dog fights and Scruffy contributing some brown klister to the trail, they still came in fifth place out of a field of about a dozen. Soon after, their racing careers ended.

Scruffy died in January of 2000, and Ace became a season pass holder at Devil's Thumb Ranch. He never got over his wanderlust and loved to escape and tour most of Clear Creek County, including a five-mile trip down I70 from Floyd Hill to Kermit's, where he walked in the bar, got a drink out of the toilet, licked himself and laid down for a nap.

Ace's last big adventure was two months before his death - a five-day trip into the Cirque of Towers in the Wind Rivers. He had his own bed - a half bag (down) - and slept in the tent. He hiked for five days, being lifted over boulders in a talus field. Three weeks before he died, Ace ran the dog trail at Devil's Thumb, rolling in and consuming a large pile of horse manure. Life was good to Ace.

On December 10, the vet found a six-inch tumor on his spleen. We wondered why he was moving slowly.

Soon, we will pick up his ashes at the vet hospital and scatter them on Mt. Sniktau, where he became Avalanche Ace. He was a tough, barrelchested guy with sunburned eyes and paws scarred from scree.

- Laurie Crow

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Crabs Season 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comCrab season kicked off recently and inadvertent hilarity ensued when I called the Safeway seafood department to inquire if there were any in stock.

“Do you have crabs?” I asked the butcher.

I didn’t realize the implications of what I had said until E, who had overhead my question, began shrieking with laughter. “Didn’t you mean to ask if he had CRAB?” Then I started laughing myself and apologizing and insisting that this was not a prank call. I promised that I wasn’t going to ask him if his refrigerator were running or for him to page Mike Hunt or Amanda Hugginkiss. The butcher had a very thick Cantonese accent so I don’t think he got my accidental joke. In any case, I was very appreciative that he patiently waited for me to calm down so he could answer my question.

I’m not a big fan of prank phone calls or the television show Crank Yankers. I don’t think it’s right to harass good people who are just trying to do their jobs. I get enough outrageous and odd questions as it is when I work the phones from the genuinely mentally ill and other vulnerable members of the population so don’t burn up my patience, compassion, goodwill and time on jokes that are not as nearly as clever as the perpetrator likes to think.

The other day I had my first call from a woman on a bipolar manic upswing. I’ve heard the term ‘pressured speech,’ but this went way beyond that. She seemed helpless in the grip of this talking jag. I felt pummeled by her words to the point where I wanted cover my head protectively with my hands like a boxer. She kept going on and on about the reasons for her overdue books and how she had been mistreated by a branch manager until I finally had to wish her a good night and hang up on her. She kept calling back the rest of the evening to go over the same matter, even though her problem had been resolved and there was nothing more to do for her. I felt sorry for her because she acted like she needed an audience for her torrent of words like it was a matter of life or death, but there was just no way to accomodate her.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Trouble, trouble move away 

Sorry for the radio silence but I was called home for yet another family funeral and asked to write another obituary... This was only a week after my good frisbee buddy and frequent Foxylibrarian commentator Ryan Stich was killed in a motorcycle accident in Georgia. What a shame and what a waste.

When the family is gathered all together like that I get to snoop around for more family lore - one of the few solaces of funerals. Here's a gem: my grandmother is rumored to have been born at 12:30 AM, February 12, but her parents backdated the event to February 11th. Her parents didn't want her sharing a birthday with Abraham Lincoln, that day being one of infamy in the South. Or I guess I should say for a certain segment of the Southern population, since I'm sure the descendents of freed slaves didn't have such a problem with the day. It was easier to do those sort of things - to tamper with the official record - in the days of home births.

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