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Friday, March 31, 2006

Ref Grunt 

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"How do you say Elvis in Spanish?"
El Vez?

A tenderhearted woman wanted to know how long skunks nursed, because there was a litter of them in a nest underneath her cottage. “They're right underneath the floorboards and I can hear them mewling. My entire place needs to be fumigated, but I called Animal Control and they said that if they removed them they would have to euthanize them. I can hold out, but I need to know when the end is in sight.”

I told her 8-10 weeks before they’re weaned, and then the juveniles tended to hang around for a few more weeks after that, accompanying their mother on hunting forays before they strike out on their own. Fun fact I learned from this reference question: skunks stamp their feet to express displeasure and warn off unwelcome suitors. I’ve noticed that Spoon the dog stamps her feet when we’re not forthcoming with her dinner or when she wants us to share something we’re eating. Southern Belles in a lot of the old Moonlight and Magnolia romances I used to read tended to stamp their dainty feet, usually to express pique.

I had to quiet some rowdy Germans by the internet terminals.

An elderly African American woman laid her hands on my forehead and blessed me after I found a bunch of sacred texts for her.

The poem Timothy McVeigh read before his execution. Unrepentant to the end!

A colleague talking a hysterical older woman down from a ledge (metaphorically speaking). Her time had run out while she was typing a cover letter and she didn’t know how to save it, so she lost all of her work. She was practically tearing her hair out and rending her clothes. He calmed her down and helped her type her letter. Through jagged breaths and tear hiccoughs she dictated her letter. I was so touched by his kindness and patience. There are so many technologically intimidated, emotionally fragile people at the library who were left in the dust by the Rise of the Machines. I really feel for these people trying to get their lives together and do the right thing despite all of the obstacles they must overcome. Even a city janitorial job must be applied for over the internet now.

A man who looked like an addict wanting to know how to spell the word addict.

Cold Turkey
A man, shaking and sweating and covered in goosebumps, begged “I’m really sick (you mean dopesick). Would you please call my friend (you mean dealer) for me? I was supposed to meet him here but somehow I missed him. Please, I don’t have any money.” He was so pitiful that I made the phone call for him. “I’ll be back here in this chair.” I watched him walk over and collapse and start rocking back and forth.

A well groomed man wearing an ascot handed me a book he had pinched between his forefinger and thumb. Wrinkling his nose, he informed me, “This book smells FOETID.” He was right.

Man with a crude swastika tattoo on his neck. “I need to find a job.” Consider a turtleneck.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

We Make the Rockin' World Go Round 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI have been asked to model for an entrepreneurial library page’s hip hop urban streetwear line he runs on the side. Not that I am not extremely flattered, but as we all know, the brothers are notoriously lax on standards of booty size, and this is clear indication that I need to drop a few. I've definitely let myself go lately. I tried to justify it to myself that it's part of my survival tactic working with the lonely, lonely and often alarmingly horny public to be purposefully unattractive while on the job, but I better watch myself before I end up looking like Andrea Dworkin.

I was commiserating with a friend who has a famously voluptuous rear and she told me about one time she ran into McDonalds to grab some fries. The man working behind the counter saw her and dropped his fry scoop.

“Damn, girl! I’ve never seen a booty like that on a white girl! What’s your number?”

She mumbled something about being married.

“You need to leave your husband RIGHT NOW and go out with me. He can’t appreciate that booty like I can! Oh, please, girl, give me your number!”

I love that he was saying all of this while he was on the clock, in uniform. He must have been new on the job, because he obviously hadn’t watched mandatory sexual harassment video yet. Either that, or he was just overcome.

Another time she, her husband and his friend had been surfing and were changing out of their wetsuits in the parking lot at the beach. A Cadillac Escalade with tinted windows that was slowly cruising by suddenly screeched to a halt. It had been tricked out, and the front wheels started lifting and bouncing off the ground. A window rolled down, and some brothers started screaming, “OH MY GOD, GIRL! WHOA, JESUS! LOOK AT THAT BOOTY! I AM IN LOVE! YOU ARE SO FINE. MMMMM-MMMM” Of course, there’s nowhere to run or hide in a wetsuit and she just stood there, feeling completely exposed.

Her husband’s friend, staring at the car bouncing around, commented, “I think there’s something wrong with that car’s brakes.”

Doggerel 

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Songs that we sing to Billy Jack, Spoon and Sid.

To the tune of the Wonder Woman theme:
Wonder Puppies! Wonder Puppies!
In your furry tights
Fighting for your rights
And for the red, white and bluuuue


To the tune of the old Wrangler jingle:
Here comes Billy Jack,
He's one tough customer
He knows what he likes when he seeeeees it


To the tune of Afternoon Delight by the Starland Vocal Band
Lots a barking and a screaming
at other dogs on the street
Going to go look in my foodbowl for something nice to eat
Going to find some sunlight to nap 'cause I'm beat
Life here on XXXX Street is pretty su-weet

Sky Puppies in Flight!
Mind your hand she bites!
Whooooaaaaah sky puppies in flight


ACDC's She Shook me all Night Long (for Sid, specifically, who's licking his forearms in the picture, and his bete noire, the bumble bee).

He was a fuzzy machine
He kept his forearms clean
He was the whitest damn puppy I’ve ever seen
He loved spicy food
Humping other dog dudes
Hated blimps and cats and Hoover vacuums

But bumble bees made him scared
Made him snap in the air
Made him shake like a Whippet and bite and stare

Yeah bees – made him shake all night long


Gangsta Gangsta by NWA (created when Spoon was attacking other female terriers):
'Cause I'm the Spoon, I don't slang or bang
I just smoke motherfucking bitches like it ain't no thang


Also for Sid, to the tune of We're the Kids in America
We're the Sids in America, whoa
We're the Sids in America, whoa
Everybody bite the music as it goes round
'round 'round 'round 'round


To the tune of Michael Jackson's Thriller:
Because it's dinner, (ee-hee) diiiiiner time
the time of night when puppies scream and bark and maybe start to fight


For their cousin Hercules, the pug, to the tune of the Sopranos theme:
Woke up this morning and I bought myself a pug

A little REO Speedwagon:
Heard it from a pug, who heard it from a whippet who
Heard it from a Bijon you've been messing the rug

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Monkey Paw Wish 

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On my morning walk with the dogs I have been catching up on episodes of This American Life, the excellent weekly radio program on public radio. The other day I listened to an episode entitled Reunited, which contains a remarkable, haunting and true story about a beautiful white Brahman bull named Chance.

The story features extensive interviews with Ralph Fisher, an animal trainer, who once owned Chance. Fisher is a rancher who had a business that would hire Chance out for corporate events and birthday parties, during which attendees would ride the bull and have their picture taken on or next to him. Chance wasn't just working livestock, though, he was more like a beloved pet. Because of his unusually gentle nature, he was so trusted that he was allowed to roam freely in the Fisher’s front yard. He would lope up to the Fishers and their children like a big dog and lick them on the hand. He had a favorite spot in the front yard where he like to curl up and nap, and when the wife would look out her kitchen window and see him her heart would swell with love and affection and this incredible feeling of peace. So beloved was this bull that when the wife would gaze upon that animal resting in her front yard in the shade, all felt right in the world. One day he found Chance dead in the pasture at the ripe old age of 21, and the family was devastated. Then they heard a program at Texas A&M that was cloning animals, and they jumped at the chance to have Chance cloned. The cloning was successful, and they brought the result, whom they named Second Chance, home at seventh months old. Immediately they were struck by eerie similarities between the two animals. Not only did Second Chance look just like Chance, but they also shared many characteristics and mannerisms. When Second Chance trotted off the trailer he went right to Chance’s favorite spot in the front yard and curled up to rest. He also would eat just like Chance, by bringing his head back to chew with his eyes closed in pleasure, something that Ralph had never seen another animal do, ever. It was like Chance had been reborn, resurrected.

One day Ralph was leading Second Chance back to his pen when, out of the blue, Second Chance knocked him to the ground and tried to gore him. There were holes gouged, 5 inch tunnels, into the earth, where Second Chance had just missed his target, Ralph's abdomen. Second Chance did manage to break some of Ralph’s ribs and Ralph was hospitalized. Amazingly, Ralph and his family so desperately wanted him to be Chance, to have Chance back, that they made excuses for his unpredictably murderous behavior. Ralph told the interviewers that he didn’t get Chance until he was seven, and that a lot of young bulls do aggressive, terrible things. It was his fault that he let his guard down. He was going to give the bull until he was seven to 'become' Chance.

Remarkably, a few months later, while the This American Life crew was there, Second Chance attacked Ralph again. His injuries were gruesome and severe (suffice it to say Second Chance attempted to make Ralph a 'steer'). But when interviewed at the hospital, in a voice thick with painkillers, Ralph still insisted that he was going to give Second Chance until seven to be as trustworthy as Chance, and insisted that it had been his carelessness that precipitated the attack. I think the words he managed to get out were, "Not...seven...yet."

I have remained fascinated by this story, which is like a cross between the Flannery O’Connor story Greenleaf, the Europa myth, Pet Semetary and the terrifying short story The Monkey's Paw.

In this story, the wife, begging her husband to wish their dead son, the victim of a grisly factory accident, alive again by using the cursed monkey paw, demands,

"Bring him back," cried the old woman, and dragged him toward the door. "Do you think I fear the child I have nursed?"

Oh, but you should fear! After the wish, something comes slouching to the door, knocking, and... Brrrr, scary!

Here's a link to the Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror spoof.

As stupid as it may be, I'm sympathetic to the Fishers' stubborn, clinging belief that this bull is the same animal as their beloved pet, that they could miss a creature so terribly that they would seize upon any chance and would risk defying the laws of nature (not to mention their own lives) to have him back.

Read (or read again) the Flannery O’Connor story if you have a chance. She really had it out for a certain type of silly, self righteous, sanctimonious, middle class farm woman, didn’t she? She was always making them pay by being the butt of some kind of terrible, grotesque joke. These women could probably do with a good comeuppance, but Jesus! These characters sound suspiciously like her mother, a bourgeois, widow farm owner upon whom O'Connor had to depend and be nursed by after she was rendered helpless by Lupus.

Pictures of Chance and Second Chance. Looks like Second Chance doesn't have much longer to get his act together.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

It puts the lotion... 

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An old patron I had in Alabama looked and and acted so much like fictional serial killer Jame Gumb from Silence of the Lambs that it had to be intentional. He had the same wispy blonde mullet and booming, resonating voice, which he used to great effect when he needed help, which he would signify by shooting his hand up and yelling, “TEACHER!” It certainly got my attention. Instead of having LOVE and HATE tattooed on his fingers like Jame Gumb, though, he had the skeletal structure of his hand tattooed in black, in prison quality workmanship. It was like looking at a reverse X-ray of a hand, and it was very disconcerting.

The first time I saw the LOVE and HATE tattoo, it was on the back of Robert Mitchum’s hands in Night of the Hunter, an eerie, beautiful nightmare of a movie. (Night of the Hunter also features an unexpectedly alluring Shelly Winters. Forget her later, bloated, Poseidon Adventure years, she is seriously hot in the movie.) In the movie, Robert Mitchum portrays one of the most spellbinding villains of all time, and in one memorable scene he has his hands wrestle each other to demonstrate the eternal battle for good (LOVE) and evil (HATE) over man’s soul. I've noticed that LOVE and HATE tattoos are a common, recurring motif in cinema. Aside from Robert Mitchum’s character, the LOVE and HATE tattoos appear on the knuckles of:


One time in our journals and newspapers database class my colleague asked if any of the students had a particular magazine he or she would like to find.

His hand shot up, “EASYRIDERS MAGAZINE!”

My colleague searched, and of course it was not in any of the databases. "I'm sorry. We don't have a lot of the good ones like that. Mostly they just carry publications like Consumer Reports, Time Magazine and Harper's."

"That’s OK.”

A little later she had them search the New York Times Historical using the phrase “haunted house.” My colleague said, “I apologize. It seems like every search I do has to do with the occult.

His hand shot up. “You would be very surprised who was in the church of Satan." He cocked his eyebrow. "Verrrry surprised. One day my friend walked into Anthon Levay's place and there was a picture of him shaking Sammy Davis, Jr.'s hand. As I said, you would be very surprised."

When I commented on the similarities in appearance between Jame Gumb and the patron, my colleague sighed. "Well, as long as he doesn't tuck his thingie between his legs and start cavorting about the computer lab I guess we’ll be OK."

Rear Window 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWe were milling about the kitchen this morning when we heard a man screaming in fury. We ran to the back of the house, toward the direction of the sound, and were treated to a 10 minute screaming tirade performed by one of our neighbors whose back yard abuts ours. The target of his rage is another neighbor whom we’ve never been able/never particularly wanted to identify. She is quite an uninhibited lady, in that she’s very vocal, and likes to turn what should be a most intimate act into a public performance for the neighborhood. Judging by the sounds, she's a real wildcat in the sack. She’s especially fond of nooners, as well as wake-ups, afternoon delights and elevenses, and on nice days like today she likes to have her windows open. Apparently, years of frustration and annoyance over this neighbor’s lack of decorum and discretion caused our neighbor to snap.

“Shut the fuck up! I’m sick of this! You sound like an animal!”

“Who the fuck do you think you are, Jenna Jameson?”

“I work out of my house, and I’m sick of hearing you! I’m trying to work! But then maybe so are you!”

"You sound like you have a 10 inch dildo shoved up your ass!"

"Are you a professional?"

“Are you an animal? Because you sound like you are! You sound like a goddamn ape!”

“I’m fucking not kidding!”

“Why don’t you get your ass down here and we’ll discuss this in person, like adults! Give me one grunt for yes, two grunts for no!”

“I’m so calling your landlord! I can’t work under these conditions! FUCK YOU!”

“What kind of animal makes noise like that! DEAR FUCKING GOD!”

Fisher, Pam the dogs and I were all pressed up against the window. When he began calling her out, E called the police. While E explained to the sweet Latina dispatcher what the man was screaming, the dispatcher replied, “Oh, my!”

I live in a nice neighborhood, and none of us really appreciate the female neighbor’s exhibitionism, but the man’s moral authority was lost by his profanity and the amount of noise he was making. He was disturbing the peace much more than she ever did. Still, it was some exciting neighborhood theater.

Springtime has arrived and love is in the air! Today at the library, two homeless patrons who were making out like teenagers during the weekly film had to be separated.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Jane Lynch 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI finally watched the 40 Year Old Virgin, and I have to say that Jane Lynch is an extremely brilliant improv comedian, and the monologues she delivers are sublimely bizarre and filthy. Besides playing the predatory lesbian lawyer on the L Word and Steve Carell's floor manager in 40 Year Old Virgin , she has appeared in several of Christopher Guest's productions. Here is her monologue from A Mighty Wind, in which she portrays a wholesome member of the New Main Street Folk Singers who was saved from a life of sin and seediness by the musical group. This monologue is mostly improvised. Of course this transcript cannot capture the strange intensity in which she delivered it, but I still find reading it hilarious.

Her husband, "It's odd that Laurie came from such a different--"

"Right. A completely different path. I was brought up in a very small town, south of the Chicago city limits. Just far enough away to have been peopled with pure, unadulterated white trash. And because I was one of so many children, I don't believe that anyone noticed...when I blew town at 15 and ended up in San Francisco, California.

And it's at this point in my story that the dark clouds part...because I met a certain Mr. Wiseman, who gave me a job in his shop. And before Long, he tapped me to do some small roles...in some of his short films for more mature audiences. And before Long, I had landed, if you will, some leads...and then I started to do some cameos. Well, I was known for doing a certain thing...that many of the other girls wouldn't do.

Of course, I loved to sing, ever since I was a little girl. And I learned to play the ukulele in one of my last films, Not So Tiny Tim. And based on that, my world opened up...because I was invited to join the re-formed New Main Street Singers.

And that's where I met my man, and before Long I was the new Mrs. Bohner.

Ain't that something?

-A beautiful story. -I tell you.

In the 40 year old Virgin, she plays Steve Carell's manager, who corners him on the sales floor to make a peculiar and uncomfortable offer. Watching Steve Carell's face transform from severe discomfort to extreme terror to utter despair makes this one of the funniest scenes in the movie.

After sidling up to him, "You ever heard of the term "fuck buddy"?"

"What?"

"It's a special friend...who you fuck."

"No, haven't heard that term."

"When I was a little girl, I developed early. By the time I was fourteen I had this body you're looking at. Can you imagine that?"

"I don't want to, no."

"Well, needless to say, I got a lot of male attention."

"Like men, yes."

"Especially from our Guatemalan gardener, Javier."

"Okay."

"You know, Javier...before he made passionate yet gentle love to me for the first time...he serenaded me with a beautiful old Guatemalan love song."

"Really, that's...That sounds nice."

She stares into his eyes and serenades him tenderly in Spanish. All I caught was the last bit of the song, which I swear to God was "un equipo de futbol" (soccer team)

"Okay."

Fanning herself to cool herself down, "My goodness. I think we better get back to work."

"Yeah."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Lost in Translation 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comA French couple, tourists, somehow wandered into the Deaf Services area of the library. In thickly accented English, they asked some patrons milling about for directions to a museum. The French couple had no idea that everyone they were talking to was deaf, and the deaf people, even though they were proficient lip readers, could not make sense of what the couple was saying because of their accent. The deaf patrons, after staring intently at the couples’ lips, began using sign language. Since people who don’t speak each other’s language often resort to gesticulation, the French couple still didn’t realize why they weren’t being understood. Finally the deaf services librarian escorted the baffled tourists out to the reference desk.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Never Cross the Data Stream 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe other day I helped my colleague teach a class for the public on our magazines and newspapers databases. A perky woman sitting in the back row raised her hand. She was wearing a brightly colored hat slightly askew a la Blossom.

“Hi! Do you have a question?”

“Yes, I sure do! How do you categorize the data stream?”

“Excuse me? The data stream? What do you mean?” She walked over to the woman’s computer.

The woman pointed at her browser’s address bar.“Right here! All of these numbers and letters streaming together. How do you take each piece apart to tell where it is? Does each piece lead to a separate location? My friend told me all about the data stream, but I didn’t understand at the time. Explain it to me.”

“Do you mean the URL? The website address? It changes each time we follow a link to reflect the new address.”

She began to get frustrated. “Nooo! The data stream! What does each piece mean?”

Feeling the schizophrenia coming off the woman in waves, my colleague replied, “Ma’am, maybe we can talk after class. But right now we need to concentrate on this news database.”

A few minutes passed, and the woman raised her hand again.

My colleague, wincing a little, “Yes?”

“I have a question about the data stream, and the letters and the numbers and what they mean. How do you categorize it?”

“Ma’am! After class.”

"But -"

"After class!"

About five minutes later, my colleague asked if there were any questions. The woman’s hand shot up. My colleague asked, “Is this question about the data stream? Because if it is, you can wait until after class.”

The woman slowly lowered her hand.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

But my Kid's Been Dying to See Harvey Kietel Full Frontal 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBecause items checked out on juvenile cards do not accrue fines, people will often try to circumvent the system by using their child's card to check out their own material, especially in the case with videos, a pricey $1.00 per late day. This problem could be eliminated if we would limit juvenile cards to to juvenile items, but sometimes children legitimately want to check out material classified as adult, like the little ten year old girl who wanted a book on making cupcakes. The circulation staff has the right to challenge parents checking out adult items on their children's card, and this can lead to some amusing conversations at the circulation desk.

"Wow. Your infant must be very precocious to want to learn about motorcycle repair already."

"Sir. I really doubt your 3 year old child wants to watch Bad Lieutenant."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Directional or Reference? 

The library is currently collecting reference statistics for a study, and whenever we’re at the reference desk we’re supposed to tally how many questions we receive. We're also supposed to distinguish whether the questions are directional/ready reference (i.e., Where are the bathrooms? Why can’t I get more than an hour on the computer? How do I print this document?) or reference (i.e., What is the latest audio book on Winston Churchill? How do I find the number of ice cream parlors in a certain zip code?).

There were a few I had a hard time classifying.

A young woman. “Look, I don't know if I should report this, but I was looking for wedding planning books, trying to plan my wedding, and I looked over and there was some guy jerking off in the aisle. I think he…finished and he approached me and tried to give me advice about the kind of wedding cake I should have!” Poor girl! Here she is at the library, researching her magical day, and some masturbating creep tries to chat her up.

I counted that one as directional, as in I directed her right to security.

A disheveled Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia type. “Did you know that the governor of Montana can't spell? He really can’t! I've been to 8 states in my life, and you learn a lot by traveling like that. I mean it, read the newspaper, the people of Montana can't read either! And what does that say about our president, George W. Bush! He can’t read either! And in Oregon, did you know that the police are shooting people down in the street? You go stand outside the subway, and you're liable to be shot by the PIGS! Where are the newspapers?”

Directional.

A man drunk of his ass. “Are you married?”

Directional.

A series of ruthless old ladies calling trying to get a jump on their fellow book club members for next month’s selection, Martha Washington.

Reference.

A man in drab, Eastern Bloc fashion said that he needed to change his address. “I brought all my papers.” He pulled out some tattered Xeroxes.

“May I see your library card?”

"Library card? I don't want or need a library card! You’re not understanding! I need to change my address." Apparently, he thought the library was some sort of central government registry. I’m sure in the communist hellhole from whence he came every move had to be reported to the appropriate agency, but, dude, you’re in America now!

I counted that one as directional.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Day 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comOn the dogs' and my walk this morning I noticed no less than 6 homeless men unconscious on the street. One had passed out on the sidewalk while pushing his grocery cart, which had tumped over, spilling the contents to the curb. When I walked by, two grimfaced cops were standing over him. They looked extremely reluctant to begin cleaning up the mess.

Another man by the park was lying on a bunch of Fed-Ex boxes that he had laid out like a raft. He was on his back, hands folded on his chest. He was surrounded by his possessions, which were carefully stacked and folded around his body on the Fed-Ex white boxes, nothing touching the ground. It looked a Viking funeral pyre, ready to be pushed out to sea.

Another man was slumped back against a building on my very own street. He was sitting upright but his legs were splayed out in this impossible, contorted way, like they had been deboned. I called the cops on that one.

Homeless passed out on the street are nothing unusual in this city, and I step over them as blithely as the New Yorkers who so horrified country boy innocent Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy. The unusually high number was enough to make even my jaded self take notice, though. It’s not even the 1st or 15th, when the welfare checks arrive and the homeless fill the emergency rooms instead of the library. I wonder if there’s some new drug or a particularly powerful batch of heroin that has hit the streets. Typically, all that is obtainable in this town is the dirty and inferior Mexican Black Tar. Maybe some Asian stuff managed to slip in and the junkies, unused to its quality and potency, are overdosing.

I recently read about an interesting and promising new treatment for opiate addiction, the African shrub ibogaine. A hallucinogenic like peyote, it is similarly used in religious ceremonies by certain West African tribes. People who have taken it describe it as a 3 day trip of nearly indescribable intensity and complexity. They compare the trip to a vision quest, and many describe seeing their entire life as if on a movie reel. The person sees and works through traumatic events in their life and reaches a peaceful understanding of his past. Some alkaloid in the plant also plugs up the body’s opiate receptors, so addicts don't go through the dreaded withdrawal or cravings. It has a reported success rate of 80%, which certainly blows traditional treatments out of the water. Currently the drug is illegal in the US, and more study is needed, but its ethnobotanical potential is extremely promising.

Some of the testimonials are fascinating.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Piggy, Piggy 

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"Greg and Nancy Balzly of Benjamin, Utah, couldn't figure out how Bo, an 8 1/2 week-old border collie, and his brother were getting fat when they refused to eat the dog food put out for them. Mystery solved when the couple found Bo lunching with Bertha the sow's piglets on Jan. 24."

Diggin' the Scene with a Gangsta Lean 

A patron wanted to know the artist of the song containing the lyrics ‘Diamond in the back, sunroof top/ Diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean.” Through a little research, we discovered the song was a one hit wonder in the 70s by William Devaughn entitled "Be Thankful For What You Got" (1974). It has since been sampled in several rap songs, most notably by half-pint Eazy-E in the N.W.A. classic Gangsta Gangsta, which happens serendipitiously to be on my Ipod, sandwiched somewhere between Air Supply, (Pipin' Hot) Bread, Enya and The Little River Band. As you know, librarians are nothing if not full of street cred. I had always wondered myself where the rather mellow excerpt, which is sung in sweet falsetto, originated. It's used with such jarring effect in the middle of that gritty, violent and angry song. Although the sample seemed so out of place, so harmonically incongruous and dissonant, it worked well within "Gangsta Gangsta." It was catchy enough to lodge itself in my memory, to the extent where I would find myself humming it.

Lyrics from the William Devaughn song:

Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac
Gangsta whitewalls
TV antennas in the back
You may not have a car at all
But remember brothers and sisters
You can still stand tall

Just be thankful for what you've got
Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac
Diamond in the back, sunroof top
Diggin' the scene
With a gangsta lean
Gangsta whitewalls
TV antennas in the back


The diamond in the back refers to the diamond shaped rear window of certain makes of Cadillacs popular in the inner cities during the 1970s. Although the message of the song is a positive one of non-materialism, Devoughn still rather wistfully decribes the Cadillac in loving, lingering detail.

However, it is a much more life affirming message than the murderous and “life ain’t nothing but bitches and money" message of the NWA song in which its sampled. NWA also twisted the classic R&B Express Yourself, a song about individuality, healthy non conformity and the courage of artistic expression, into a much more violent, cynical, crude, message full of thuggish bravado. Perhaps this is a reflection the level of anger and alienation that has pervaded in the inner city and they're trying to turn the prior message on its head. Or, the songs are familiar and in the popular collective consciousness and they're capitalizing on its catchy hook.

From Gangsta Gangsta:

Police tried to roll, so it's time to go
I creeped away real slow and jumped in the six-fo'
Wit the "Diamond in the back, sun-roof top"
Diggin the scene with the gangsta lean
Cause I'm the E, I don't slang or bang
I just smoke motherf**kers like it ain't no thang



Ludacris samples Diamond in Back song to justify a life of crime.

Hmm, what about that pimpin'? It's good tippin'
Tax free, and I know a lot of people that love to screw
Yeah, it's just a way of the world, with boys and girls
I'm adjustin' to my environment
This government cheatin' us, so I'll cheat 'em back
Why can't work feel like retirement?

[Chorus]
Diamond in the back
I wanna (sunroof top)
I wanna (diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean)
I wanna (diamond in the back)
Could use a (sunroof top)
Sho' wanna (diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean)
I wish I had a (diamond in the back)
I wanna (sunroof top)
I wanna (diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean)
I wanna (diamond in the back)
And I wanna (sunroof top)
I wanna (diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean)

Gangsta, gangsta, gangsta...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ring of (sap)Phire 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comA woman with a thick Russian accent called for help writing a reward poster. She had been in a grocery store bathroom earlier that day and removed her ring to wash her hands. She placed it next to the sink but then forget it and left, and when she returned a few moments later, the ring was gone. She wanted to know what she should write on the poster, and what kind of reward should be offered. She was distraught and weeping throughout the entire phone call, and toward the end she confided that the piece, a ring of amber and intricate gold workmanship, was her engagement ring, and was priceless to her. She sobbed that she didn’t know how she was going to confess her mistake to her husband.

And by the way, how many women lose rings this way? I know that my grandmother lost a ruby and diamond ring in Mexico City doing the exact same thing – she took off her ring in a public bathroom to wash her hands and left it there. Jewelry is beautiful but it carries a heavy responsibility. I myself have tried to cultivate a philosophy of non attachment to it, ever since I had a ring stolen from me my junior year of high school.

I was attending an all girls boarding school at the time, and although the students were supposedly young ladies from well-to-do families, the entire place was a den of thieves. I’m not sure why stealing was so widespread, but I think it was more of a sickness, a psychological disorder like kleptomania, than greed/need motivated stealing. I got the feeling that it was about stealing the other owner’s essence and power than the actual object. Items taken ranged from the smallest, most inconsequential things to big ticket items like typewriters and jewelry. One girl was actually shipping boxes of stolen objects home. For some reason a box was returned and the administration opened it. In it there were half empty bottles of shampoo, a typewriter and about 50 bras of varying sizes that had been stolen from the laundry room throughout the year. She was as indiscriminate as a magpie - there was really no rhyme or reason to what she had taken. In any case, in the boarding school environment, kleptomania and other unfortunate psychological disorders like bulimia flourished. The environment just seemed to breed it.

Like a fool, I brought back to school a sapphire and diamond ring my grandmother had given me for my sixteenth birthday. Right before a big three day weekend, the ring vanished from my dresser. I was devastated. Although I don’t quite remember why, my roommate and I suspected one of the girls in the room next to us. Although we had no concrete proof, the girl we suspected seemed a little too eager to cast the blame on others, and had acted strangely when I told her the ring was missing. One of the girls down the hall even dreamed that she had been the culprit. We could never prove anything, however, and the suspect was expelled the next month for cheating on a math test.

I thought I would never see my ring again. Several years later my roommate was at a fraternity party at Washington and Lee, and saw the girl, our former neighbor we had suspected, WEARING THE RING. My roommate was drunk and scared to confront her, but all of her friends kept goading her on, making chicken sounds, and finally she walked right up to her and said, “Look. I know you have the ring. Give it back.” And she did! Just like that. My roommate knew a bunch of her classmates, and so word was out about her larceny and her reputation was ruined. My roommate also heard from the girl’s friend that that week she had had an abortion as well, the consequence of a one night stand with some completely unsympathetic fraternity asshole. To be exposed as a thief and suffer an abortion in so short a time period - what a shitty week that must have been for her!

One of the African American cooks at a summer camp in East Texas I went to told me about an unusual thief. She began noticing that her jewelry and various articles around the house like hairbrushes started disappearing. She suspected and accused her sisters, who then claimed that they were missing objects as well. The air was thick with suspicion and they all eyed each other with mistrust until one day she went to the attic and discovered a little lair that her pet raccoon had set up for himself, full of all the missing items. Her raccoon had been stealing them and decorating his nest with all of the objects. She said that it was like a miniature Aladdin’s Cave, full of jewelry and other shiny objects and bright feathers and colorful bits of cloth. I guess all God’s creatures love and get tempted by pretty things.

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