Tuesday, December 29, 2020

January 19, 2016: The Riverview Cafe Saves My Life Again


The Riverview Cafe Saves My Life Again

And the shadows fall and I think I am writing in pure darkness. Who can read anything I write when it is too pitch black in the world to read and when all of light is owned? I grow bitter about the precise ways fame fails to visit me. I imprudently complain about all the people not reading what I write to the very people who are reading what I write. I am faithless. I have worked all my life as an artist, and I have achieved only...


So I go to The Riverview Cafe on Thursday night. And everyone is a genius. Greatness nips at every singer songwriter's heels. How many people do my wife and I hear sing and play? Maybe twenty or thirty. None of them are remunerated, none long remembered, none lionized. No ones ship, or maybe I should say train, since they sing about them so much,  is ever coming in. Oh, all of them are gifted enough. All of them try hard enough. Everyone of them deserved something more. And why not. You may take this as a hard argument against God, or you may take it as the best way to love God, but

Everyone everywhere, through all of time, deserved something more.

Spare me the black tongues of realists. I'll have none of that cold acceptance that passes for pragmatic. "Life's not fair." is the devil's version of "Everyone deserved more." Let's start with that then: Everyone deserved more.

And so everyone playing at The Riverview Cafe deserved more. They deserved to be able to see, to walk again without pain, to be young again, to have someone hear their lovely voice and put them on a great stage and give them so much money they don't have to work in some grinding job. They deserve an old fashioned record contract, love, a fresh start, and more applause than such a modest audience as ours can produce. Sometimes, sitting there, I actually wish I could clap louder. But even though I swear they all deserve it, I don't believe that in those shining moments, on that unglamorous and raggedy stage, any one of them cares. I can't see them caring at all. Sometimes I even look for it, hear it whispering around, but every time I look I find that all of that deserving more dies dead on the stage. No one cares. For two songs a person, ten minutes maximum, no musician, no singer, cares that they deserve more. They have whatever there is to have. Their piece of art.

Oh how I like listening to them. Oh how my heart is restored.

Some of the performers are okay that night, some are completely wonderful. That's the way it goes. Maybe it's just that night, and those who are great will later be merely okay, and someone okay may, in three weeks time, play a song more lovely and touching than I would ever imagine hearing, for free, in such a humble place. And then too they may never play that song again.

Did you know that genius belongs to everyone? 

Genius belongs to everyone. That's what they sing to me, on Thursday night, Open Mike Night, at The Riverview Cafewhen they save my life.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

January 17, 2014: A Book Moves Somewhere and I Know it


A Book Moves Somewhere and I Know it

I have not been getting enough sleep lately. Late at night I go downstairs into my bitterly cold basement, turn on a small electric heater, and wrap a giant faux sheepskin blanket around me. For some reason this makes me feel like Victor Hugo, so, naturally, I write. Blog posts, yes, but I try to make them as good as his poem The Ocean's Song, which is not as high a bar as one might think. And then I go to bed and get six hours of sleep. 

It is a well known scientific fact that I require 11 hours of sleep each night to function properly. So I am spending a lot of time in a strange hallucinatory daze at the library. This daze makes me a less efficient worker, but it also gives me access to strange and heightened clerking abilities. So, though most of what I am capable of at work in this sleep deprived state is, 

1. reading books 

2. leaning on things, and 

3. staring into space, 

I am also at my peak of what I'll call Heightened Library Awareness, or HLA. This is a skill that leads to feats that, from the outside, can look a bit like magic, but really just has to do with the power of the human mind.

I'll explain.

There was a book that I loved when I was younger called The Tracker. It is Tom Brown's story of growing up spending a lot of time in the Pine Barrens, in the woods, and it is about learning about tracking, and the wilderness, from an older Native American teacher. What I am thinking of now is the quote on the back. Tom Brown says:

When somebody moves something in your house, you notice it. When somebody moves something in the woods, I notice it.

Well, when somebody moves something in the library, I notice it.

Tom Brown, in this entertaining book, recounts some amazing abilities. He is able, for example, to observe a few scuffs in the dirt, then a mark on a tree, and perhaps a bit of grass out of place, and from that he can construct a detailed account of the travels of a small bird, one that ends in finding it on, yes, that branch there. 

It is not only what he has learned, but his deep presence and familiarity with the woods.

I am very familiar with this library. I am interested, and I am here a lot. Sometimes I'll hear people discussing books, and a book will come up that I've never read, but nevertheless the cover will appear vividly in my mind, the author, perhaps along with a blurb from the back, and its precise location on the shelves. Sometimes a patron will come to the front desk and say "I just have a quick question." and I will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what the question is.

But it is only when I am exhausted, with my conscious mind too bleary to put up a fight, that my strongest HLA, heightened library awareness, comes through.

A woman comes to the desk.

"It's in the Board Room." I say. "Go upstairs. Left, and left again."

Not believing I can know the answer to her question before she asks, she asks. "Where is the PACA meeting?"

"It's in the Board Room." I say. "Go upstairs. Left, and left again."

I am walking through the library in a daze, on some vague mission to get a few Mo Willems books from the kid's room, when a man at a computer waves an arm to flag me down. I don't even look. "After you hit print, select "shrink to fit page" on the lower right." I say it not even breaking my shambling stride.

"How did you know that?" The man calls after me. "How did you know that!"

I'm in the back tending the machine, or leaning on the machine, or whatever. A couple co-workers come back because a book that a patron had on a table got "cleaned up" and put onto the machine. No one remembers what the book was. It could be anything in 25 bins. I walk to one bin and pull out a paperback. "What about this one?" They laugh. I am being silly again. "No, no, try this one." I say. Me and my comedy routines. One co-worker heads back to the patron for more information. I stand there in my stupor saying "This one. This one." 

It ends up being that one indeed.

Even writing this my co-worker Dave asks to use the computer for a minute. He needs to put something to mending.

"It's stained." I say. And though you cannot see that until you open the book, it is.

So how do I do this? How do I know all this?

I've seen it all. Over and over. And I am so tired. Too tired to pretend I don't know exactly what's going on in this place just to be polite. I will tell you this though. All of these magic tricks put together are probably not worth being able to get a whole cart of books shelved without staring into space drooling for 45 minutes.

I have got to get some sleep.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

January 16, 2018, Customer Feedback

Customer Feedback, from January 16, 2018

It is time for our annual customer feedback review. If you would be so kind as to fill out this year's Customer Feedback Survey Form we can immediately begin to make the changes to this blog that you have been longing for. Unless you think this blog is already perfect, in which case we won't have to do anything. Which would be nice, because we're really very, very tired.

So tired...

Deeply tired...

Anyway, please do fill out our form:

Clerkmanifesto Customer Feedback Survey, 2018

My number one concern with clerkmanifesto is

A. None. I think it's perfect! Or like, perfect 30 percent of the time.
B. I'm concerned with how tired you are.
C. Ho boy, concern. Plenty of concerns! Pull up a chair. But I mean it in a good way.
D. There must be some mistake. I'm supposed to be here doing the Taco Bell Customer Survey.
E. The narrow and highly particular range of options on your multiple choice surveys.

I read clerkmanifesto

A. Yes.
B. Er, will I still receive a coupon for one of Taco Bell's delicious chimichilangalaquas?
D. Answer "C" is making me uncomfortable.
E. Sorry I'm late. Has the survey started yet?

My favorite part of clerkmanifesto is

A. When you pretend you're joking.
B. "Favorite" is a very strong word in this context.
C. Its profound obscurity.
D. Is this clerkmanifesto? It's kind of cute. Where are the pictures?
E. I'd really rather not be pinned down to a single letter choice answer. Oh, foiled again!

My least favorite part of clerkmanifesto is

A.When the hilarity dies down and I am left sadly and wistfully looking at my computer wondering painfully what it's all about.
B. The free kittens. But not so much the crippled ones. I know that doesn't speak well of me but I must answer honestly.
C. When it awkwardly inserts mentions of its corporate sponsor Taco Bell.
D. When it starts going on about how great it is, even if it totally is great, maybe the most amazing thing ever written for the Internet, a work of towering genius and a shining light in a dark world. It is a masterpiece of beauty, vision, and wisdom, and a gift, truly a gift to humanity like no other. I am ever humbled and inspired by it.
E. Yeah. Same as "D" for me. Or maybe "A", although I thought about "B" too for awhile. What was "E" again?

In conclusion I just really want you to know that

A. A customer feedback survey that is functionally impossible to fill out or submit is hardly likely to be a great font of improvement for your little blog.
B. You are undercharging for clerkmanifesto the blog, but overcharging for your wonderful (but expensive) Clerkmanifesto Tea Cosy.
C. Answer "A" is not a nice person, in case you wondered.
D. Your failure to institute any of my suggestions from your last eleven customer feedback surveys only makes me more optimistic that this one is finally gonna be it!
E. All my favorite answers were "E" up until the last one when, oh, curses! Foiled again!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

August 2, 2016: Circulation Staff Only

My god! Look at my circulation co-worker over there! Are they shopping for shoes? There's work to be done! Why, when I was over on the phones station it was amazing how hard I worked. I was a blaze of fire! I processed an entire bin of incoming requests in six minutes! A whole cart in six minutes!

Of course, for the other 54 minutes I was, um, shopping for shoes.

And that's really what it comes down to. There is not a one of us at my library who is not, at least occasionally, dissatisfied with the productivity of everyone else. Tempting as outraged superiority can be, mostly this is an impulse to be resisted.

I have consistently found that when we measure the work rate of others we measure it against our own highest possible personal work rate. If I knocked myself out shelving five swollen carts of fiction books seven years ago as flood waters were rising in the library, and I was on a coffee high, that will forever be the standard by which all my co-workers must be measured in every single moment of every working day.

So let me say it again: We measure the work rate of our co-workers by our highest and most perfect work accomplishments, by the rare level of work we perform when we are motivated, engaged, well-treated, happy, lucky, and feeling like it.

Since we can't possibly measure our own work rate against ourselves we must measure it against others. And so we measure it against the worst possible work rate of our co-workers. Sue, for instance, spent an hour socializing and talking about her vacation with half a dozen people. So surely I am allowed to sit here and read this interesting book at my leisure.

We work at a library. Everyone is always allowed to sit and read an interesting book for god's sake! That's the first thing to keep in mind.

But I might also want to keep in mind that after Sue chatted with everyone endlessly about her vacation, she went and cleaned up the entire Children's Room, which was in total chaos, a freaking mess, on a crazy day, and she did it totally alone, while the librarian just sat there!

Fucking librarians.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

March 27, 2017: Ten Questions with Bob Dylan

Ten Questions with Bob Dylan, from March 27, 2017:

Recently Bob Dylan posted a new interview on his website. This is rare enough that the St. Paul daily paper, The Pioneer Press, put news of it on its front page. Minnesota, after decades of stand-offishness, has finally accepted Dylan as its proud own, like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Charles Schultz, two other artistic legends who fled Minnesota for other places. "Bob Dylan Posts Rare Interview on his Website" was the title of the article, or something like that. Even I consider that questionable as front page news, but a new Bob Dylan interview is indeed rare. And don't think I didn't let Bob know it.

"You know, it's one thing when you aren't doing any interviews." I said to Bob over cocktails. "But it's kind of cold that you won't do an interview on my blog when you're happy to do one on your own, already sufficiently popular, website!"

"Oh man." Bob complained.

"The guilt and shame hurts?"

"No, what do they put in this drink? It's making me so weird." Bob said.

"Too much green chartreuse, I think." I replied. "Super pretty though with the absinthe and dry ice."

"Absinthe!" Dylan exclaimed startled. "Are you sure it's not driving me mad?"

"No, no, bunch of myths about absinthe."

"Go ahead. Do yourself an interview. Ten questions." Bob said, magnanimously.

"Wait, let me get out my post-it notes."

                                   Ten Questions with Bob Dylan

Me: What are your favorite blog posts on clerkmanifesto?

Bob: Uh, I like the ones mostly about library policy and procedures, I guess.

Me: Really, what about the ones with you in it?

Bob: The only ones I don't like are the ones with me in it.

Me: But they're really good. They're funny. Plus no one believes they're real anyway.

Bob: Why wouldn't someone believe they're real?

Me: For someone as crusty and knowing as yourself you can suddenly get so disarmingly innocent.

Bob: Bah!

Me: How many questions have we used up so far?

Bob: I think with that one you're at, like, 8 or 9.

Me: Let me check my notes. It's three! It's only three. And you're at one. So it's three to one.

Bob: Okay, my turn. What's your favorite liqueur?

Me: St. Germaine.

Bob: Bartenders ketchup.

Me: I like ketchup. Ketchup is amazing.

Bob: You go.

Me: What do you think of Messi, the greatest soccer player of all time?

Bob: I think you get these fixations. And then you think everyone should have them.

Me: No. He's really that good. Besides, what about you?

Bob: What about me what?

Me: Three more discs coming out of you singing songs from the Great American Songbook, or whatever.

Bob: These are classics. Some of the greatest songs ever written!

Me: They're fine, but around the time I was born, which is a long time ago already, you had single-handedly begun the process of ripping open the soft belly of the Great American Songbook, gutting it, and reinventing what a person can do with a song.

Bob: Really, I did that?

Me: They gave you a Nobel Prize for it.

Bob: Oh yeah, that. (In a smaller voice) I was too busy to go get it. (Bob starts giggling).

I gently teased the remains of his cocktail away from him as he giggled some more. Then I drank it myself. Then I started giggling a bit too. It took a while for us to resume.

Bob: I think that was ten questions. Five each?

Me: Close enough.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

July 6, 2016: Country Folk Blues

Country Folk Blues

My wife saw him first. He emerged from the Metro Mobility Bus, struggling slightly with his guitar. 
Metro Mobility is the door-to-door bus that helps the infirm or disabled get around these twin cities. It was good news to see him, this old man, walking slowly, but ably enough. It meant that The Open Mike Night at the Riverview Cafe would be a good one.

Fairly speaking, Open Mike Night at the Riverview Cafe is always pretty good. And despite the old man's auspicious arrival, this Open Mike was one of the least interesting I have seen in awhile. Always suffering from an old white man syndrome, Thursday's Open Mike was at its worst in this regard. I don't have anything against old white men, especially as I'm working my way to aging into one, but we were wall to wall with them here. We might have been two hours into the show without an exception to the demographic, and for the whole of the night "fiftyish" would have qualified any singer as a mere babe in the woods.

That might not have been so bad if it weren't for a problem of musical sameness rearing its head too. Start to finish was crowded up shoulder to shoulder with songs of deep Americana: Country Folk Blues. Dirge music, rust belt Union Songs, sad tales of broken down cars, lost dogs, and love gone wrong. This was dusty stuff, and though a notable proportion of the songs were written by the performers themselves, there was nothing in them to show they weren't all songs from the 1930's. I'm not saying this music doesn't interest me, but a little emotional variation, an occasionally different genre or tempo, can exert a powerfully refreshing quality on the listener's ability to absorb, to feel, and to see.

Poignantly, things started steadily improving only as the crowd thinned down, better music to a smaller crowd. We were a little looser with wine and beer, more forgiving, and clearly bettered by a dwindling count of audience members who were anxious about their own upcoming performance. By the time the old man came on I doubt there were more than a dozen of us out watching on the cafe floorThe old man hooked his guitar up just like everyone else did. The night's host set the sound for him, and the old man sat down and played. It was every bit Americana; Old folk blues just like we'd been hearing most of the night. But here it was suddenly revealed. Split open. This was how it was supposed to be done. The lyrics were all heartbreak, but so was his voice, beautiful, cracked, burnt hard in an old fire, but clear. No dirge these songs, because on the refrain that voice of pain and age and sorrow turned. It soared up piercing and giant and sharp. The feeling filled up all the pain so high that for a brief second it floated into heaven, up to that place where something catches in you and your heart leaves the room. For one weird, soaring moment it leaves the world and it leaves all of time.

Then it comes back, drifting down. The old voice again. The old man, no polish or fame. No following. Everyone taking it for granted. This is how art usually is.

Nothing to see here. 

He finishes up. We applaud. He unplugs his guitar and shuffles off. Just another one of the night's performers. Maybe in another world, a world more just, roadies are packing up his guitar for him. The limo waits for him backstage at Carnegie Hall or at the old Ryman Auditorium. Maybe in another world he
 got everything he deserved, and so did you, which, at the very least, is a little more than you have now.