Extra sugar, extra salt, extra oil and MSG!

Friday, November 29, 2002

Middle-Aged Wife: "Have you read the cat mysteries?"

Middle-Aged Husband: "What?"

MAW: "Cat mysteries."

MAH: "Oh. Yeah, I read one. Didn't like it."

MAW: "How come?"

MAH: "Too much about the god-damned cat."

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

It's no secret that there are all kinds of interesting, unusual library collections out there, and one of my favorite special collections is the Raymond Scott Archives. Today, though, we're focusing on odd methods of library book storage and transport:

Locally, we have a library in an underground cavern. The Minnesota Library Access Center (MLAC) is a climate controlled high-density storage area located under the Elmer L. Anderson Library at the University of Minnesota. Check out the "book's view" slideshow tour, apparently inspired by Blur's "Coffee & TV" video.

Recently I was excited to learn that you can be a librarian on a boat, as part the University of Pittsburgh's "Semester at Sea" program.

Liberry O' Da Fyutcha: Controversial architect Frank O. Gehry designed the Frances Howard Goldwyn public library in Hollywood. It looks much better at dusk.

And finally, my favorite and yours: the "camel library."

Sadly, my liberry is not hooved, wheeled, finned, winged, or time-travelling. Not yet.

Speech prepared by Vin Weber, "Super Lobbyist"

Writing Amazon.com reviews was my first major foray into the online community. I churned out over one hundred of them while working for this great city of ours. That quantity, in tandem with several major successes (such as recieving 60 positive votes for my review of David Gray's "Sell Sell Sell") led me to become one of Amazon's exhalted TOP 1000 REVIEWERS.

(hold for applause)

Time passed, and I grew weary of the kingdom which had made me fat. Little time had I to write for someone else's profit-earning site, so my output decreased. Community interest had shifted away from the CDs I was reviewing, so there was a decline in my vote-gathering. And now...now...I've dropped to the disappointing rank of...1007.

(pretend to cry)

Excuse me...

(appear to collect yourself)

I'm sorry. Whew! This is tough. It's difficult to accept, but I've realized that as the sun passes around the earth, or vice versa -- whatever they decided -- life continues. And so must I. Continue, that is. And so I shall prevail. Gathering all my strength and courage, with the wisdom of our elders and the foresight of our forefathers, walking hand in hand with myself, I will march into the wilderness with my head held high, and my fist raised proudly in salute to my beautiful sisters and brothers.

(gesture as if applause is to much)
(hold for further applause)
(exit stage left)
(accept drink from young redhead)
(look at that thing go!)
(be thankful wife is across country)

Monday, November 25, 2002


Earlier this year I read that Mission of Burma played some reunion shows in Boston and New York, and I hoped and hoped that they'd come play my neck of the woods. Burma broke up in 1983 due to guitarist Roger Miller's tinnitus. Now he wears a protective headset, plays behind his amp, and with a plexiglass wall around drummer Peter Prescott, but man do they rock. Roger Miller is, if I may (and I will, so step off), the Jimi Hendrix of post-punk. Though a million Miller-clones haven't surfaced since, the guy is a bonafide original, casually spilling out noise like you've never heard. Imagine Eddie Van Halen playing in Husker Du and you'll come close to the sound of Roger Miller (and you'll understand why he almost went deaf).

To continue my awkward metaphor, then, as Pete Ham is to Lennon & McCartney, Clint Conley is to Strummer & Jones; that is, a near-genius overshadowed by greater powers. Though Conley didn't have the formal connection to his superiors that Ham did, his vocal similarity led some to write Burma off as a second-rate Clash knockoff, rather than appreciate them on their own terms. Conley wrote and sang the few hits that Burma had, "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" (which Miller dedicated to Grant Hart), and one of my all-time favorites, "Academy Fight Song." Besides being a kick-ass bass player, Conley produced the first Yo La Tengo album and is now in a very cool band called Consonant (in which he co-writes lyrics with Minnesota's own Holly Anderson).

In its original incarnation, Mission of Burma featured Martin Swope doing tape manipulation. Now they've got Shellac's Bob Weston. The most obvious elements he added were vocal loops sampled live and then repeated backwards, creating an eerie, artificial back-up singer of sorts. Mission of Burma isn't an easy band to love -- they tend to lack tunefullness and confuse the listener with weird rhythm changes -- but like Ornette Coleman, it's worth struggling through to get at the underlying power and spirit.

In that same vein, then, I also saw Low this weekend. Power? Check. Spirit? Check. Rhythm? Plodding. But that's okay 'cause they sure can sing. Their new album was released in Japan with a bonus track: a cover of Pink Floyd's "Fearless," which just so happens to be another one of my all-time favorite songs. Recently they tacked it on to the single for "Canada" which I bought despite the frustrating $10 pricetag. I was hoping they'd play it live, and once again my dreams were realized. When I saw Red House Painters last year, Mark Kozelek started playing the "Fearless" guitar riff in the middle of a song, which segued into his soaring-guitar blast version of John Denver's "Fly Away," a personal concert-going high. Now I got to see the whole song performed by Low and I'm as happy as a duck.

P.S. Clint Conley is pretty hot for a whatever-year-old. Maybe I was just blinded by his rocking. Or his leather pants. Maybe I just like guys named "Clint." But I'm tellin' ya: ladies, don't miss out.

Friday, November 22, 2002


People get really freaked out during tax season. They won't leave at closing: hands gripped tightly to the photocopier, knuckles white, sweat beading on their brows, paging furiously through hundreds of forms. You find out just how little people know about their taxes. Adult people who have somehow gone through decades without ever filling out a tax form. Adults who don't know the difference between state and federal taxes. One chilly Spring evening a frantic citizen ran in the door and came at me:

She: "Can you tell me where the tax forms are?"
Me: "Which one do you need?"
She: "The one for if you worked."

This summer, a large black woman waddled laboriously into the middle of the room and bellowed:
"Y'all have a fax and notarary republic?"

This afternoon a woman warily approached the desk and told me "I've never been here before, can you show me where you have the Dr. Atkins books?" Dr. Atkins is author of "The New Diet Revolution" which has been published under that same title four times since 1992, somewhat undermining its claim. This is one of those goddamn lo-carb diets that have been dominating the market for the last few years (I say "goddamn" because when I was super skinny I was eating pasta, bread, cereal, and rice almost exclusively, and I weep for those who trust in universal applications).

As I was looking up the book for her, she casually emitted this non sequitur: "Do you have porno in the library?"

Generally when people do things like this I look at them somewhat incredulously and say "excuse me?" A more appropriate question might be "gay or straight?" but I followed my better judgment and gave her the standard "I can't believe you're asking that so I'm going to politely pretend that I must've misheard you" reaction.

Unfazed, she continued, "can people look at porno on the computers here?"

"No, it's not allowed," I told her. Did I mention how much I hate it when people say "porno?" Especially older women. That's a word for high school boys.

Anyway, I can only assume she'd been listening to Jason Lewis or some other right-wing hothead and thought she'd "challenge" me, or something. Instead she was letting the trumpets blare: "I'm a goddamn freak! Run and hide!"

I like to think she got a small thrill out of saying "porno" to a young man in a public place. It's not like she quizzed me about filtering or anything (which we don't do, in case you were wondering).

Of course, all the Dr. Atkins books were checked out.


Later on, a cute little girl asked me for books about planets for adults, that might be at a higher reading level (higher than what?), or even "medium." I asked her if she needed information on a specific planet. "Africa," she answered. Apparently George Clinton and Sun Ra have had more of an effect on the national consciousness than had been previously realized.


An obese teenager stopped by to tell me she was on her way to school for a science fair (this was around 6:45 PM). She was wearing a tie around her collarless shirt, which I can only assume was inspired by Avril Lavigne or Gwen Stefani. I feel kinda sorry for her, because her mother is pretty nasty to her, and she doesn't seem to have many friends, though she claims to have some kind of internet boyfriend (hopefully not a 43 year old rapist).

A few days ago she told me she got her first e-mail account and asked me if I wanted her address. I had to tell her no. It makes me feel icky, but I don't want to get personally involved with any library patrons, especially not underage girls. At the same time, what's the problem with establishing a friendly rapport with people? I'm having a hard time maintaining a balance without seeming standoffish. It just seems like a situation that's ripe for trouble.

She loves the band Gorillaz, which I thought was cool for a high school kid, and I helped her find out who the real musicians are behind the cartoon characters. This endeared me to her, apparently, and I have since found out that she goes to bible camp and likes Veggie Tales (if you don't know what that is, be glad). People sometimes surprise me like that. A really nice old white woman once started whispering to me about how all the black kids are ruining the schools.


The real fun, right now, is that we've got a crafty peeping tom. Our maintenance guy (who owns a bar with a logo that rips off the Hamm's beer mascot -- shh! don't tell!) discovered boot marks on the walls in the men's room and noticed that the ceiling tiles had been tampered with. There was some damage in the women's restroom, too, including a hole in the ceiling. Turns out the holes were being made from above, which means somebody climbed up there and was looking down on women in our bathroom. Industrious little bastards.

We've also had some poo play going on, including the somewhat disturbing message "DON'T UNDERESTIMATE US, LIBRARIANS" written out entirely in feces. I'm actually adding the comma, there, since I assume it was intended by the author(s). I remember the first time I wrote "human fecal matter" when filing an incident report. It seems so long ago now. Being as impressed as I am by their handiwork, their concerns appear unfounded.


Oh man, look at this other picture of Sun Ra. We need more of that: multiple keyboards being played by deranged geniuses in ornate costumery. Okay, I need more of that.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002


Oh, Lordy. I'm exhausted from engaging in a heated "political" "discussion" and struggling with my new role as washroom attendant (don't ask). There is a thin ray of hope, though:

Dear all,
Barbie is getting a new career and you are asked to vote for one
of the following: librarian, architect, or policewoman. Vote today!

Help me pressure Barbie to become a librarian! This is great, because it encourages young women not to make decisions for themselves, and in the process we can corral her into a traditionally female career. And...holy crap! Librarian is winning! We're so awesome.

Speaking of awesome crap, do me a favor and treat yourself to Homestar Runner, if you haven't already. Like my boys in 3x1-1, the Homestar Runner gonna make everything a'ight.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

or: Somebody Set Up Us The Bomb!

Sometime during the tumultuous Summer of '02, I was helping a woman set up her patron record on a library catalog terminal. The third step in the process is chosing a PIN number, which she didn't understand. She asked me what a PIN number is and why she had to get one, and I explained to her that it was a security measure, at which point she wondered if that was "because of the World Trade Center." I displayed great decorum as I assured her that it was not. I like to think, though, that in response to 9/11/01 public libraries nationwide rushed to action and implemented special measures to ensure that no terrorist organization, domestic or foreign, could gain illegal access to any citizen's library records. There is no way to assess the damage that has been averted because of these measures, but you can sleep soundly knowing that Ayman al-Zawahiri is not renewing your books.

People are freaked out about their privacy and civil rights in light of the Patriot Act, and rightly so. Our circulation system does not track or store items that people have checked out in the past, only the items they currently have out, but we have been told to comply with the FBI should they come looking for anything (so far it hasn't happened). The ALA, already under fire (along with the much-maligned ACLU) for maintaining their anti-internet filtering software stance, has a useful page full of information and guidelines here.

Now we face the creation of the still-nebulous Homeland Security Agency, which may implement the nefarious "Total Information Awareness System." Here is the genesis of Big Brother. Please note the disturbing logo in the upper left-hand corner. Last night I saw a new film by Matt Ehling called "Urban Warrior," about the increasing millitarization of the police (and the policification of the millitary). Matt prepared this letter that introduced me to the TIAS, which people have already been worried about for awhile now. As is always the case with these things, it's going to be hard to separate fact from fiction as people start going crazygonuts, but who can blame 'em?

Friday, November 15, 2002

(Statement of Purpose)

Um, so, uh.......yeah. Is this thing on? (feedback...nervous laughter...long, long uncomfortable pause)...

This is supposed to be one of those "boy I sure gotta lotta funny stories 'bout my job" blogs that I hear are so popular these days. I'm sure that's no longer true since I'm about 15 years behind when it comes to the miraculous world of compooters. I also plan to go on self-serving tangents about music, and maybe movies, or sex, or whatever bad mood I'm in at the moment. There might even be some essay-style rants (who doesn't love essays?). We'll see. I don't have the desire to be disciplined and focused here. Oh, who cares? Tune in and see what there is to see. Or don't. It's entirely up to you.

Thursday, November 14, 2002


First there was the Rabbit Lady, then the Log Lady, and now we introduce America's new favorite eccentric: the Mink Lady. Every public library has its share of oddballs, to be sure, but that never stops us from being surprised and chagrined at the latest display of human peculiarity.

People don't just come to the library for information, they come for help, and sometimes it's the kind of help that we're not able to provide, that we shouldn't provide. In this case, it's helping a woman try to defy the law. She wanted to get a pet mink (hence the moniker), but it is illegal to have a pet mink in this city, so the story should end there. But the Mink Lady was cunning. She claimed to know someone who had a mink as part of a private zoo, so she wanted to know what you need to do to start your own zoo. The Mink Lady was not content to follow only one avenue, however, so I also helped her find information on getting a license for a mink farm. The regulations on this are very tight, and she asked me to explain specific aspects of the statutes to her, but quickly got sidelined by stories about her trailer home, her boyfriend, animal breeding, and her money-making schemes (such as selling stained glass crafts out of her trailer home). She wanted to know if we had any books on minks, which we did not. I went on break and my boss ended up doing some ILL requests for her.

A few days later, the Mink Lady appeared again (five minutes before closing) and asked me if we had any books on minks. I'm sure I flushed slightly as I calmly explained to her that we didn't, and that's why we had to order books for her. I got to listen to the Mink Lady tell me about her problems with hedgehogs before I politely excused myself to shut down the library. I have since discovered that the entire reference staff has worked on variations of the same mink question for her. It seems she's hoping one of us will eventually give her the answer she wants to hear.

I'm not sure if she's given up yet, but it does seem that she's out to stretch the limits of acceptable behavior. The Mink Lady appeared in the library the other night with a ferret on her shoulder, but I'm not ready to start calling her the Ferret Lady just yet.

The Mink Lady is a relatively benevolent example of a larger problem: people who can't take care of themselves and aren't being taken care of. Sometimes they just need a friend, other times they should probably be institutionalized (bus stations don't count). We have way too many kids being dumped at the library all day because there's no support system for them outside of school. But before I get all preachy on you, remind me to tell you about Virgin Birth Woman and Long-winded Stories Without A Point Man....

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