Monday, August 30, 2004

D-CON: Kills Nerds Dead

In case you haven't guessed by now, let me just spell it out: I'm an enormous nerd.

That's right. Gasp in shock and horror at the darn near 32 year old male who collects comic books, plays Magic: The Gathering, watches cartoons regularly and is an avid role playing gamer (or at least he used to be back when he had nerdy friends to play with).

Nerd, nerd, nerd. Huge nerd.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

With this established, it should come as no huge surprise that in a mere 4 days, I'll be off to Hotlanta, GA, where I will be meeting a goodly number of my college Nerd Herd pals for our semi-annual sojourn to Dragon Con.

For those unschooled in the ways of nerddom, Dragon Con is a science fiction/fantasy/comic book convention that's held annually in Atlanta around Labor Day. It's an excuse for lots of nerds, closet nerds, freaks, geeks, subsidiary Buffites, Pern-People (Oh, God, the Pern people!), Trekkers, Trekkies, Tolkien Scholars, Poser Tolkien Scholars and a few otherwise normal folk to congregate and meet some of their genre heroes (actors, writers, artists, sundry creators, washed up b-movie has-beens, former porn actresses, and, as always, Boomer from Battlestar Galactica) who are responsible for large chunks of their nerdy entertainment pleasure.

Many of the attendees even dress up for the event, sporting some of the best and the worst home-spun costumes ever conceived. (Check out Dragon Con's picture pages for the good the bad and the ugly from years past.) Now most cons have dressup as a factor, but Dragon Con is especially well-known for being something of a freak show. Sure, you've got a huge representation of Storm Troopers, Elves, G.I. Joe troops, miscellaneous Cobra soldiers, Klingons, Hobbits, Ghostbusters, residents of the Matrix and comic and sci-fi characters, but there are plenty of people dressed up for completely non-innocent reasons as well.

To put this in perspective, Dragon Con has more leather present than do most herds of cattle.

In fact, the dealer's room, while chock full of nerdy goodness, is also home to booths that sell a wide assortment of leather gear. Some of this is couched as Ren-Fest supplies, but others are openly geared toward the S&M crowd.

Need whips, chains, hand-cuffs (both padded and not), leather lingere, riding crops or harnesses of any sort? Hit the dealer's room. They'll have what you want.

Need a speculum? Ho boy, do they have speculums. And ladies, these are not those comfy warm plastic speculums most thoughtful gynecologists use these days; we're talking nice cold gunmetal speculums that'll ratchet you open to 11. Two words: Dealer's room.

Need a testicle vice? Well, I haven't seen one of those in the Dealer's room, but I wasn't exactly looking for one either. It's probably there.

So as you can see, Dragon Con is nearly as much fun to attend just to watch the strange, disturbing, sometimes titilating but more often than not just plain unsettling scenery as it is for all the nerd stuff. And as weird as some of it gets and as much as I'm glad some of the people there are not among my close personal friends, it's a very open and welcoming atmosphere. Where else are you going to find two entire metropolitan high-rise hotels chock full of people just being themselves and not feeling out of place because of it. From the tiniest goth chick to the most whale-like comic book nerd, all are welcome to the party. It is a sight to behold.

Plus there's always the chance you'll get to ride in an elevator with Chekov from Star Trek, see a former member of the Royal Shakespere Company dry hump a fat guy or get to buy an overpriced autographed 8x10 of Lou Ferigno in the Walk of Fame hall where the celebrities hang out.

I confess that I get a bit star struck when I visit the Walk of Fame hall at Dragon Con. I usually just walk around and see the famous folks there without actually bothering them about anything. When I do talk to the celebrities, it's mostly to tell those I admire and respect that I admire and respect them, then I get the hell away. Not that there should be a problem with chatting to such folks at the con, it's just not usually my bag. I did chat for a while with Brad "Wormtongue" Douriff, but only because I found out he's from West Virginia and wanted to know which part. Turns out he has relatives in the Tri-Metro area and spent a lot of time around here as a kid.

Another drooling fanboy moment is pictured at right. This was my nerd's dream come true photograph taken with actors Andreas "G'Kar" Katsulas and Peter "Londo" Jurrasik, of TV's Babylon 5 fame. Peter wasn't even scheduled to be at the con that year. Imagine my surprise to walk into he hall of fame and see the both of them, my two favorite characters from the B5 series, seated side by side. I nearly screamed like a girl. My friend Joe had to ask them if they'd consent to a group photo and they graciously did. I'm such a damned nerd.

So you can see that there are celebs that make me too starstruck to say anything at all. I'm not sure why this is, as I'm a former broadcasting professional who has interviewed and otherwise met quite a few semi and actual famous people through the course of my job without once losing the ability to speak to them. Perhaps, though, it's because I never gave a rat's ass about most of the famous folks I met in the course of my radio career. Not so at Dragon Con.

For instance, while standing in a nerd traffic jam in the dealer's room, I happened to glance over at a woman standing to my immediate left, who was equally stuck, and noted that she was actress Claudia "Ivonova" Christian, also from B5.

Wow, I thought. She looks exactly like Claudia Christian!

And that's pretty much the extent of what was running through my head. Not: "Oh, excuse me, I just wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed your work on B5. You played one of my favorite characters on the show." Or better yet: "Why the %&#! didn't you come back for Season 5? What the hell were you thinking, woman?!" Nope. Just: She looks exactly like Claudia Christian! And in my starstruck beffudlement, I failed to notice that Ms. Christian had a gerbil peeking out of her cleavage. That's right, a live gerbil. In her cleavage. It should also be noted that one of my nerd companions, who I won't name so as not to embarrass him, (Mark Chow), first locked eyes on the gerbil in the cleavage and then was too distracted to notice whose cleavage it was peeking out of until we told him later. I don't know which of us you should feel more sorry for on that one.

Chatting with the celebrities can also be a dangerous thing to do unless you're armed with beaucoup small-talk skills and common sense. Otherwise it can quickly degenerate into something uncomfortable for all involved. For instance, there was the time we accompanied our above cleavage-fixated friend to meet Biff from Back to the Future:

MARK CHOW: "Oh, hey. I, uh... I just wanted to tell you that I liked you in Back to the Future."

ACTOR THAT PLAYED BIFF: "Oh, thank you very much. It was fun."

MARK CHOW: "Yeah. That movie was... that was great."


(Time passes)

MARK CHOW: "Oh, and you were good in the sequels too... playing all those other Biffs."


(More seconds of awkward silence pass as we all stand there looking at Biff and his expensive autographed Biff merchandise we're not about to shell out good money for. None of the rest of us have any idea what else to say to Biff either since the only thing he's ever done that we've seen is play Biff, so we just leave Mark hanging out there like a moron.)

MARK CHOW: "Well... um. It was, uh... good to meet you."


(We slink away)

That's how these things go sometimes, though.

Another far more personal failure at smalltalk came when I met comic book artist Adam Hughes. When I first heard he was going to be at the con, I was bound and determined to get him to sign one of his issues of Justice League America for me and tell him how much I've enjoyed his art. He draws very clean and very well composed comic pages with a great deal of skill and I wanted to tell him I appreciated it. What I did NOT want to do was be the slack-jawed stereotypical nerd fanboy who just likes Hughes art cause he draws fantastically well-stacked women. So here I go, marching up to Hughes's table with my JLA issue in my hand and all that came out of my mouth was something akin to "Yew draw womens purdeee!" That's not an exact quote, but I assure you the real quote was startlingly similar. I was mortified even as I said it, for it was precisely what I was trying to avoid saying. I'm an intelligent human capable of discussing the finer points of comic art, but enormous well-composed cans were all I could think of when it came down to the wire. Hughes sort of smiled/sort of looked sad for me and then signed my book, mentally putting another check mark under the Horny Mouth-Breathing Dipshit column in his fanboy tally tables.

Sometimes, though, meeting celebrities can present more actual danger, such as the time a couple of friends of mine inadvertantly picked a fight with author Harlan Ellison...

For anyone who's ever seen author Harlan Ellison on TV, (yeah, I know, it's probably been a while, but Tom Snyder's show couldn't last forever), you are probably aware of the sort of volatility his personality holds. He's an extraordinarily intelligent man who doesn't suffer fools lightly and seems to view at least 95 percent of the populace as fools. He's also had like 8 heart attacks, so he doesn't have a lot of time to mince words, hates political correctness with obvious passion and is capable of very precise verbal surgery when confronting a suspected fool. With science fiction conventions being simply rife with fools, you can imagine how fun and curse-filled his panels can become. Being connoisseurs of political incorrectness and crassness in general ourselves, Ellison's panels are just the sort of thing my friends and I love to witness.

A few years back, after one such Ellison panel, during which he lambasted a girl in a wheelchair for taking up valuable aisle space, my friends Marc Stewart and Joe Evans decided to approach Ellison at his autograph table to congratulate him on his extraordinary skills as a master crassman.

Marc, ever the crassness ambassador, was the one to actually speak. He told Ellison they enjoyed his work and were glad he was a consultant on Babylon 5. Then, completely as a compliment and with good cheer in his voice, Marc added, "Mr. Ellison, we just wanted to let you know we think you're the king of crassness." Now either Ellison didn't take this as the intended compliment it was or he simply decided to prove the point, because he lit into my friend with a series of blinding curses and insults that completely cut Marc's legs out from under him. Joe described Marc as being pinned like a frog on a dissecting table as Ellison verbally carved him several new assholes in front of God and everybody. The onslaught continued for nearly a minute before Joe was able to reach in and grab Marc's arm and physically pull him out of Ellison's Dead Lights. They fled toward the nearest exit, while Ellison's screaming continued as a soundtrack to their escape.

Harlan Ellison is scheduled to be at the con this year, as are Marc and Joe. I'm looking forward to the rematch.

My own personal favorite celebrity moment at Dragon Con, though, was when I attended the Mystery Science Theater 3000 panel, featuring Mike "Mike" Nelson and Kevin "Tom Servo" Murphy, two years back. About mid way through the panel, they opened the floor for Q&A's and I stood up to be the first to speak. I had no question for them. I merely wanted to tell them thank you for their little TV series and tell them just how much of an influence their creation has had on shaping the collective sense of humor of not only me and my friends but pretty much everyone in the room that day and kindred spirits across the earth. It was a heart-felt speech that I extemporaneously summoned up and delivered with the skill that would befit a man of my broadcasting background. I'm proud to say that the entire population of the hall backed me up with cheers and applause for Mike & Kev and they seemed to take the compliment well. It was a moment that could have come across as Scary Emotional Nerd Guy at the Mic, but I believe worked out for the best. It was something that had to be said.

This will be my 4th year attending Dragon Con and I am looking forward to it. Quite a few heroes of mine will be in attendance this year, such as Warren Ellis (writer of Planetary, The Authority, Orbiter, Red), Denny O'Neill (writer of The Question, lots of Batman, and the classic Green Arrow/Green Lantern series from the 1970s), and Dr. Demento. Plus one of our Con favorites Peter Woodward (of Combat and B5: Crusade fame) will be on hand. We always try to attend as many panels as he's a part of cause he's just one of the most entertaining and intelligent guys around beyond his ties to nerddom. (For those keeping score, Peter's the former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company who humped a fat guy on stage. Twice, in fact. He did it once while actually humping the fat guy during a martial arts demonstration two years ago, and then again last year when the fat guy returned with pictures of the humping and Peter then had to reinact it for the audience, using the same fat guy, in order to tell the story. Nothing like a proper English gent humping stuff to tickle the funny bone.)

Beyond all the nerd stuff, I mostly go to Dragon Con to hang out with my friends. I don't get to see them often enough these days--almost exclusively at weddings and major holidays and Dragon Con. And I only usually get to see a fraction of them at the Con anyway, but we've got a good crew this year. I liken this to the typical "Annual Hunting Lodge Gathering" that lots of men engage in with their buddies on an annual basis. (As imortalized in Da Upers song "Second Week of Deer Camp" which I heard thanks to Dr. Demento.) Frankly, if my pals weren't there I probably wouldn't bother going to the Con at all. There is very little in this world these days that can coax me from my house beyond work, comics, friendship and love.


Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Book Sale (a.k.a. Make the Bad Books Go Away, Mommy! Make them Go Away!)

Today's book sale went much better than might be expected. In fact, it was very little trouble at all, apart from the whole matter of having to haul around all those boxes of books. I'd guess we had around 350 boxes worth of books to unload from the U-Haul onto the long portable tables we'd spread out on the community college lawn. They were arranged into rows of Fiction Hardback, Fiction Paperback, Children's and General Non-Fiction of both the paper and hard back varieties. We started doing this at 7 in the morning and were finished with the unpacking and setting up by 8:30 or so, just in time for the early bird crowd.

The early birds were the major headache we were anticipating, but they weren't nearly as annoying this year. We only had to tell them four times that we were not yet open and they therefore were not allowed to begin bum rushing the tables. Naturally, they weren't too happy about this.

"We can't even look at the books?" one lady asked.

"No, ma'am. We have to be fair to all the customers," I told her. It's no good letting them shop early, even if they aren't physically taking the books from the tables. They're still marking them in their minds for future removal, getting a head start on everyone else. Granted, this is nothing I wasn't doing as I unpacked the books, but I work there and am doing all the heavy lifting so I figure I can mentally earmark a few books.

After being warned off, most of the early birders slunk away to what they hoped we would consider a safe non-shopping distance (i.e. only four feet from the tables). There they continued to scan the books, studiously not shopping yet still moving along the table rows at a very methodical pace. Their de facto leader in all this was Mr. Smiley, second grumpiest old man in the world. He stepped in three feet from the tables as he very conspicuously scanned them, daring us to tell him otherwise. Whatever. We let him go, cause there's just no pleasing him with the book sale anyway. He firmly believes, and has in the past loudly stated to all within earshot, that Mrs. A hoards all the good books for herself. This isn't true, but even if it was true she would only be hoarding them for the library's collection, which is why the bloody things were donated to us in the first place.  He's also complained in the past that Mrs. A's dog was making too much noise, presumably disturbing his illicit early bird shopping.

The reason we are watchful of the early bird crowd is because last year a group of them gave us lots of trouble. The group in question was a family of used book dealers from another state who flock to weekend book sales to help restock their storehouse. They had arrived well before 7 a.m. last year spent the two hours before we opened the sale trying every trick they knew to get a look at the books early. Now, I can understand their need to seek cheap stock, but they're going to have to abide by the rules if they're going to do it at our book sale. We had to tell them to stay away from the tables several times and practically needed a whip to enforce the policy. Then, as soon as we opened, they descended on the books like ravenous birds of prey. They would swoop in and scoop up whole sections, which they carted back to their little nest of operations, where they could sort through them away from the prying eyes of other shoppers. They picked out what they wanted and returned only the detritus. When we caught on to their scheme, Mrs. A told them to cut it out immediately and do their shopping at the tables themselves. They continued to swoop in and take books, but not in the same quantities as before. They managed to amass several teetering piles of books that they still had not paid for by 2:45 in the afternoon. That's when we realized what their real game was.

See at our sale we charge $3 for hardbacks and $2 for paperbacks until 3 p.m., at which time we shut things down for half an hour to arrange the tables and shift books before reopening and charging only $3 per bag of books. These early-bird dickweeds had been planning to hold all their piles of books until after 3:30 and then buy them at $3 per bag. After all, why pay $3 for a hardback book when you could get a whole bag of them for the same price? They could have escaped with their entire hoard for under $25.

Once we realized this, Mrs. A told them that they weren't allowed to do that and that they had to either purchase the books they had gathered before 3 p.m. or put them all back on the tables and take their chances that they would still be there when we reopened at 3:30. The family figured it was a safe enough bet, so just before we shut down at 3, they put all the books back on specific tables where they could find them again quickly at 3:30. This was a mistake on their part, but their REAL mistake was in leaving the area for the half hour we were in siesta. We'd been watching them as they put their books back and so, as soon as they went to get some coffee, we dashed right to their "secret" tables, took all their desired books and seeded them throughout all the other tables. And some of the more noticeably valuable books we took and hid in the U-Haul, just for spite. They were not happy campers when they returned to their "secret" tables and found their chosen books missing. I'm sure they relocated quite a few of them, but they had to work for it. Then, as soon as they checked out, we put the hidden books back out for mass consumption at $3 a bag.

I know, we're bastards, but at least we're only bastards to bastards.

This very family of book dealers did come to the sale this year, but they behaved themselves. They sent their daughter in to case the joint before 3. She bought a few books at regular price. Then, after 3:30, the whole family came back and bought 8 bulging bags of books. They played fair, we played fair.

Other than the minor trouble the early birders gave us, the rest of the book sale went pretty smoothly and was a rousing success.

I found that my book radar was pretty strong throughout the day. At my request Mrs. C recently ordered a favorite childhood series, the Tripods Trilogy, by John Christopher, for the library's juvenile collection. Trouble is, the book supplier didn't have a copy of The White Mountains, the first book in the series, so they sent books 2, 3 and the prequel book (of which I was previously unaware). Just as the sale started, I happened to walk by the children's section and got a ping on my book radar. There, nestled among some juvenile paperbacks was a pristine copy of The White Mountains. In fact, it was the only one of the series to be found there. Providence.

Another ping came when I was doing some shopping on my own. I'd gone into the sale wanting to pick up some of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Shadow series and found the first book right away, pinging at me from the paperback fiction.

I used my ping to help find books for several customers. It's kind of like playing a big game of Memory, finding the books we've seen earlier like shape cards turned face down.

Other books I picked up included Stephen King's Dreamcatcher, which I wanted to read just to see if it is as bad in print as it was as a movie. I found a few of Brad Meltzers novels. He's been doing a damn fine job writing comics these days, so I wanted to see how his novels were. (Check out his run on Green Arrow from a couple years ago, available in trade paperback, as well as his current gig as the writer of the Identity Crisis limited series from DC. Good stuff.) And speaking of comics, I managed to find the trade paperback of Dean Motter's The Prisoner mini-series from the late 1980s as well as a Marvel Masterpiece collection of The Essential Dr. Strange. I don't even like Dr. Strange, but it was in great shape so I picked it up. The only other comic to be found was the Batman Forever movie adaptation, which I have no use for on several different levels, so I didn't buy it.

By 5 p.m., we'd sold eight tables worth of books out of probably 16 or 17 tables total and we sold another table's worth by closing time at 6 p.m. We let late stragglers come and have their pick of the leftovers as we packed them all back up in boxes to haul away. We didn't have nearly as many leftover books this year as we have in the past, but they still amounted to around 130 boxes worth in the end.

Now those of you who had near cardiac infarctions when I last spoke of us chucking all the leftover books into the garbage truck, take your nitro and calm down. This year we did things a little differently.

Sure, I've been trying to convince Mrs. A that we'd sell a lot more books if we'd just back a garbage truck up to the book sale around 4:30, with the usual accompanying BEEP BEEP BEEP sound. If customers really knew that the garbage was the actual fate of the books, I'm betting they'd buy quite a few more $3 bags worth and we'd have that many less to throw out. However, Mrs. A fears the uproar this would cause so she looked into other avenues.

Turns out, a lady who lives in the closest bigger city to us wanted to attend the book sale but was unable to make it on the day it was held. She wrote to Mrs. A and requested a private session to go through the books herself. Mrs. A refused this on the grounds that it was even more blatant an early bird move than most of the early birders attempt. The lady then said that she would like to be able to go through the leftover books. Again, Mrs. A refused as what the lady was requesting meant a tremendous amount of unnecessary work for us. In that scenario, we the staff would have to pack up all the books from the sale, haul them back to our storage location instead of to the garbage truck, unload them, wait a couple of days for the lady to drive over, then we'd have to go back, unpack them all, let her go through them, pack up what she didn't want and load all those boxes on the truck to haul to the garbage and unload again. Work work work. Mrs. A told the lady that if she wanted any books, she had to take them ALL off our hands as well as do all the loading work herself (or bring her own help to do it). We absolutely were not going to haul any more boxes of books until next year. Surprisingly, the lady went for it and offered to pay us $1 per box. At 130 boxes, that nets us another $130 bucks to add to the $3890 we made in the sale itself, pushing us over $4000 total. Plus, it's no more work for us and we don't have to throw any books away. Sweet.

May all future book sales go so smoothly.


Thursday, August 26, 2004

Bladders Running on Empty

Learned some very encouraging news, yesterday.

Sometime on Sunday afternoon, Mrs. C heard on the police band scanner that an officer was in pursuit of a green Jeep with its top down. The officer had run the plates on the Jeep and discovered that its owner had around 6 outstanding tickets and a suspended drivers license. Before the officer even said the man's name, Mrs. C knew who the owner of the vehicle was going to be... The Amazing Bladderboy!

That's right, the Amazing Bladderboy, the cohort/lover/hater of Jimmy the Anonymous Snitch and the prime suspect in the theft of our library's laptop computer last January. He's also the only one of the two who remains at large, being as how Jimmy got packed off to prison for embezzling from a former employer. Also, Bladderboy's Jeep license plate number was originally provided to the police by none other than the staff of our "liberry" back when we were trying to play clubhouse detectives in the latptop theft case.

As Mrs. C described it to me, she listened intently to the play by play of the chase over the scanner for several minutes until it petered out. Bladders was able to lose his pursuers fairly quickly. For a while the police coordinated efforts to find him again, but beyond one possible sighting of the Jeep near police headquarters itself (where there were no available officers to give chase) Bladderboy was not to be found.

Still, we are overjoyed at this turn of events for Bladderboy will now have warrants issued for his ass, possibly an APB, and will most likely see the inside of a jail for his crimes. And, if he shows his face around the library itself, we now have carte blanche to call the cops on him.

Ain't life grand?


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Manglehoffen Bluff

One of our semi-frequent patrons, Mrs. Manglehoffen (not her real name) came in yesterday. She dropped her books on the circulation desk and went to browse some while I checked them in. One by one, the books checked in bringing up her name on my screen as they did.

Presently, Mrs. Manglehoffen wanted to search for some interlibrary loans and asked if I could look them up for her. Sure thing. I helped her out, found the books at other libraries and put ILL requests in for them. Meanwhile, Mrs. Manglehoffen had picked out a few new books and walked up to the desk to check them out.

"Do you have your card?" I asked.

"My card? Oh, no. I don't. But I'm in there," she said, pointing to my screen. "It's Stella Manglehoffen."

"I'm sorry, but we do require an actual card to check out books now."

Mrs. Manglehoffen stared at me for a second, making some careful calculations. "I don't have a card," she repeated.

"Yes, ma'am. I realize you don't have your card, but we do require that you have it to check out books."

"But I'm in there," she said.

"Yes, ma'am. But we do need a card. If you like, we can hold your books here at the desk and you can look for it."

"Oh, no. That won't do," she said. "I don't have time to come back to town tonight."

I was fully prepared for Mrs. Manglehoffen to do the typical Old White Lady Stands There Staring at You, Waiting for you to Accede to her Wishes bit, but she didn't even try it on for size. She just stacked her books neatly on top of one another and slid them to one side of the desk and left the building. She wasn't even angry about it, which I thought was mighty nice of her. I felt a little bit bad for her, but we've really been cracking down on actual physical card presence recently.

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs. A allowed a patron to check out books without a card due to the fact that Mrs. A had forgotten to close out the patron's record and it was already on the screen. That patron rewarded her generosity by going around to other area libraries and telling them that we'd let her check out without a card, so why were they getting so snotty about requiring one? The libraries then, in turn, got snotty with us about it, so we've been card Nazis ever since.

A few minutes later Mrs. Manglehoffen reappeared at the desk. She had her purse out and had evidently been searching through it, as she was clutching several stray pieces of paper that she likely found during the search.

"I've looked. I don't have one," she said.

I started to explain to her once again that I understood that she didn't have it with her, but that she couldn't check out without it when she stopped me and threw a new wrinkle into the mix.

"No, I mean don't have one at all," Mrs. Manglehoffen said. "I was never given a card."

Did my ears deceive me? Was she really trying this? Was this really the hand she was attempting to bluff her way through with?

"Uh, yes, ma'am, you were," I said.

"No. No. I never got a card."

"Ma'am, when I checked your books in, your name came up on my screen. That means you DO have a card with us."

"No, I never got one," Mrs. Manglehoffen said again. "She wouldn't give me one that day because I didn't have my drivers license."

By "she" Mrs. Manglehoffen likely meant Mrs. A, who wasn't there to defend herself. Didn't matter, because I've witnessed Mrs. A issue plenty of cards to people who forgot their drivers licenses, telling them to phone the number in later. We're not in the business of entering patrons into the database and then not giving them their cards. Occasionally, we've had patrons walk off and forget their cards, at which point we save them in a little card box at the desk, but Mrs. Manglehoffen was not one of them. I checked.

I tried to explain all this to Mrs. Manglehoffen, but she didn't care. She just wanted a new card.

Fine! But I wasn't giving it away for free. We're already getting plenty of people who "forget" to bring their cards and suddenly claim that they've "lost" the card in order to get a new one and check out books. So we've decided to charge them $1 for the first replacement card and $5 for each additional. I explained this to Mrs. Manglehoffen and she forked out a dollar for her new card, no arguments at all.

After Mrs. Manglehoffen had left, Mrs. C stepped over from her desk, where she'd kept herself deeply involved in a telephone conversation while all this had gone on. She suggested a very real possibility for why Mrs. Manglehoffen didn't have her card. It seems earlier in the week, our very own Mrs. J was attempting to check out books and was lamenting that she had already managed to lose her own card. She'd looked everywhere for it, searched her purse inside and out, trashed her house trying to find it and came up blank.

Mrs. B had just smiled as Mrs. J told her story, then said, "It's on your keys."

Sure enough, Mrs. J had one of our key-card models instead of the full-size wallet card. I'm willing to bet Mrs. Manglehoffen does too.


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Brent, Brice, Busted

Our print-stealing New Devil Twins, Brent & Brice, came back the other day intent on using a computer. The last time they tried this, Mrs. C busted them--not for stealing prints the last time they'd been in to use a computer, but for not having a permission slip on file allowing them to use a computer at all. She gave them one to take home and have their mom fill out and it was this completed form that they were armed with upon their return.

"Thank you very much," I said, taking their permission form. Then I added, "You still can't use the computer."

"How come?"

"Because the last time you guys came in and used it, you walked off with a stack of prints that you didn't pay for." I held up my fingers, approximating a 5th of a ream of paper. "We've told you not to do that twice already, so before you can use a computer again you're going to have to talk to our librarian and see what she wants to do about this."

I wasn't angry with them and said all this very matter-of-factly. To their credit, the boys didn't seem scared or angry either. They waited at the desk while I went upstairs to tell Mrs. A who I'd just caught in my web. She came down and talked to them, explaining that the amount of prints they had made would be worth far more than $1, but that this is what she was going to charge them before they could use the computers again. They agreed, and left.

About an hour later, Brent returned on his own. I thought he was going to fork over a dollar and sign up for a computer, but he'd only returned to tell us that his mom had decided that he would need to pay for this out of his allowance and he wouldn't get that for another week, so that's when he could pay us.

Maybe they'll learn a lesson out of this after all.


Monday, August 23, 2004

Actual Semi-Paraphrased Second-Hand Information Conversations Heard in Actual Libraries #6

SETTING: Our "liberry". A new patron has come in and applied for a library card with our new circulation system. My fellow "liberry" ass. Mrs. B took the man's information typed it into our computer and issued him a new library card.

MRS. B: (TO NEW PATRON) ...and you'll need to bring your library card each time you want to check out a book.

NEW PATRON: Oh, okay.

UNRELATED EAVESDROPPING FEMALE PATRON WHO ALREADY HAS A NEW CARD: What? Did you just say we have to have our library card to check out books?

MRS. B: Um, yeah. You do.


(PATRON THEN STORMS OUT OF THE LIBRARY.)Now, could someone please explain to me how having a library card to check out a book--a time honored practice at libraries world wide for at least the past, oh, century--has anything at all to do with Homeland Security? Even if we didn't require you to actually HAVE your card, your patron account is still being accessed by us and books put on it. How is that any different from if we scanned your frickin' card? 

And even if Homeland Security somehow DID have something to do with knowing what you've checked out, doesn't it make sense that having a library card would have no effect whatsoever on their ability to crack into a given library database and find out what was being checked out?
I'm really tempted to start telling patrons who complain like this that if they don't bring their library card Tom Ridge will personally come to their house and kick them in the ass. Trouble is, this would just feed the flames of their paranoia and confirm their worst fears. 

Son of a B! 


Sunday, August 22, 2004

Sayonara, Bear Piss San

Today's Sunday shift went pretty well over all, but it sure didn't seem like it when I started out.

I nearly broke my and my car's ass trying to get to work on time. After church I barely had time to dash home, snatch up a plate of cabbage and boudain and hit the road.

(By the way, for those not in the know, boudain--pronounced boodan--is an exquisite New Orleans delicacy involving spiced pork, beef, chicken, liver and rice ground into a dressing and stuffed in a sausage skin. Done right, it can be as heavenly in a savory way as cinnamon rolls are in a sweet way. Most of the country, and indeed the world, is ignorant of this stuffed wonder. You can't buy it anywhere within at least eight states of here, so we had to import ours from friends passing through New Orleans. It's been sitting in our freezer for just over a year now, so we decided that since the wife and I are taking a minor break from our usual low-carb habits--due to her being stressed out at having to take the second round of board exams this week--we'd cook those suckers up today.)

So here I go, racing from home to make my usual 15 minute journey in 10 minutes. Never mind that the Fair is still going strong and traffic is nutty. I realize as I'm driving, though, that even if I'm a couple minutes late to work, the only person who will be inconvenienced is Mr. B-Natural, who's almost always waiting for us to open. Sure enough, he was the only one there when I drove up, a full two minutes before 1. By the time I actually opened the doors, Mr. B-Natural had been joined by Mr. Smiley, concentrating the world's population of grumpiest old men on our front step.

Mrs. H, who worked Saturday, had quite a busy day according to the circulation stats. She didn't even have time to finish the ILL's, so that was on my agenda. Eating my lunch was also on my agenda... that is, until Bear Piss Man wafted in for a computer. I didn't have a computer free for him, though, so he just stood around stinking up the front room until I did. Bear Piss Man still smelled like bear piss, but he had obviously tried to cover it by spraying himself down with some sort of air-freshener. It did not help whatsoever. He smelled exactly like a urinal cake.

"Been to the fair yet?" he asked, still trying to ply his free entrance to the freak-show favor. "Oh yeah, you went for the cinnamon rolls the other day," he said, remembering that I'd told him that. "Better go today, cause it's your last chance til next year."

I didn't reply. I finally put him on a computer and he proceeded to stink up the computer hall for the better part of two hours. When he left, he said, "Well, if I don't see you before next year, it's been a real pleasure." Then he reached out and shook my hand. And his hand was every bit as clammy as you'd expect it to be. As soon as he'd left, I booked it to the sink to wash my hand, trying not to breathe too heavily least I smell something on it.

I was unable to eat my beloved boudain until the place had been given quite a while to air out.


Friday, August 20, 2004

No, seriously, we don't want any more books.

Our annual book sale is just over a week away. We've been collecting book donations for it since last September. Throughout the year, the donations come in and are hauled to the basement where Mrs. B periodically sorts them into categories and boxes them up to be moved to our storage facility in a local city-owned building.

While we're very grateful for all the donations made throughout the year, toward the end of July we begin really talking up the book sale in an effort to let our patrons know that if they were planning to donate books they should put some ass into it and get it done cause there WILL be a cut off date. This year that date was last Sunday, August 15, after which we put up lots of signs saying we weren't accepting any more book donations until September 15. Not that this has stopped people from bringing them anyway.

Most insistent book donators are turned away with a kind "Thank you very much, but we're no longer accepting books until September 15." They may not like it, but they do go away. One in particular, however, was not so easily disuaded. She phoned us up on Tuesday to ask if she could bring in her books. Mrs. B told her, sorry, no, but we stopped taking books on the 15th.

"But that was Sunday!" the woman said.

"Yes, it was," Mrs. B replied.

Within an hour or two the lady from the phone drove up outside and began unloading boxes. Mrs. B told the woman we really weren't accepting any more books, but the lady insisted on continuing to unload her boxes, stacking them neatly by the front door. Throughout the stacking, Mrs. B continued to tell the woman that No, seriously, we're not accepting any more book donations. You have to take these boxes away. Didn't stop the lady. Didn't even slow her down. She just kept stacking, not saying a word. It seemed nothing short of physical violence was going to stop her, and Mrs. B, having recently had surgery, was in no condition to dish any out. Then, when she'd deposited the tenth box onto the pile, she looked Mrs. B in the eye and said, "You should be grateful for these books." She then got in her car and drove off.

It may seem strange that we would be at all ungrateful for books to benefit our library or that we would have a cut off date at all, but it is absolutely necessary to the process. For one thing, it's very difficult to organize the books you already have when more keep getting dumped on the pile. For another, we're never NEEEEEVER gonna sell all of them anyway. We'd be dancing in the streets if we could sell half of what we usually have. It just doesn't happen, though.

Our booksale is always well attended, but when the number of books we have on sale outnumbers the population of the entire county and only a fraction of that population shows up to the sale, there are going to be lots of books left unsold. At the end of the day, all those unsold books will have to be boxed up again and hauled back onto the rental truck. Then they take a ride to see their new friend Mr. City Garbage Truck where they are compacted into book mush and eventually deposited into a landfill.


That's right, we throw them away.

It sounds brutal and horrible and I completely understand if you think we're all a bunch of inhuman monsters at this point, but stay with me cause I'm going somewhere with all this.

I was spared having to see the fate of the leftover books during my first year working the sale. I could live in my little fantasy world in which all those books were taken back to the book-orphanage that is our storage shed to await another chance at happiness in a new home come next year. (Picture scenes from Cider House Rules, only starring books instead of Dewey from Malcolm In The Middle.) Last year, however, they made me go help load the boxes into the garbage truck and I had to do some real soul searching.

I'm still pretty conflicted about seeing books destroyed in this manner. There's just something about a book, no matter how useless it may be to me personally or to the rest of humanity (*COUGH* *COUGH*ROBINCOOK*COUGH*), that grants it inherent value and twists at my soul to see destroyed. However, after much thought, I came to the conclusion (rationalization) that throwing away all those books was not the high crime it might seem on the surface. In fact, it is a valuable community service.

See, the public and patrons in general don't want to see books thrown away any more than we do. In lieu of throwing their own books away, which would be unthinkable, they bring them to us in the belief that their gift will be used for a greater purpose. Either we'll add their books to our collection (the ultimate honor) or we'll sell them in the booksale and the funds will go toward keeping the library running (still pretty honorable). Both of those possibilities MAY be true for any given book. Odds being what they are, however, it is also nearly as likely that their book will be among the leftovers we chunk. Doesn't really matter in either case, though. Our valuable service is that the library becomes the one unloaded rifle in the firing squad that allows each rifleman to sleep at night in the belief that they didn't actually kill anyone. We throw books no one wants away so that average citizens don't have to and don't feel anguished over having done so.

I also realized that what we do is not actually destroying books, at least not in the larger sense. We're merely destroying copies of certain books. Those books still exist out there in the world with plenty of other copies, we've just removed one or two of them from circulation. It happens.

("Oh, yeah? Well if EVERYONE did that then ALL copies of books would be destroyed!" someone out there just said in knee-jerk reaction. Yes, that is true. If everyone destroyed all their book copies then the books would be destroyed. And when and if that happens, we can start making a big deal about it. Since it isn't, and since most of what we destroy are people's old unwanted Chicken Soup for the Asshole's Soul copies and ratty 200th printings of John Grisham, I'm gonna be cool about it.)

On Wednesday, Mrs. C printed out a gigantic banner that reads "WE WILL NOT BE ACCEPTING BOOK DONATIONS UNTIL SEPTEMBER 17!!!" and plastered it across the outside of our front door. Already it has stopped several well-meaning donors in their tracks coming up the front walk.

The good news, however, is that we have also discovered an alternate donation site. One of the libraries in a nearby county was shut down a couple of years ago due to not being able to sustain itself financially. That community has now rallied together, though, and they are about to reopen that branch and are in dire need of books. So now we're sending latecomers their way and may be able to unload a few orphans of our own there after the sale.


Thursday, August 19, 2004

Stank Week

Oh, the unpleasant smells of humanity I have smelled this week.

In addition to daily visits from The Sweatiest Woman in All the Land, whose stank is now in danger of achieving Rogue Status all on its own, we've also been visited by an even stinkier person.

Bear Piss Man is his name. I first met him on Sunday when he came in to use a computer. He doesn't live around here, though he'd fit right in. He didn't even smell particularly bad that day and I even talked to him for a bit. He had mentioned not being from the area nor having a library card when he'd inquired about the computers. I asked if he was in town for the Fair and he confirmed that he was. Seems he's something of a professional carny and is in charge of the Freak Show booth. He invited me to come by and said I just had to mention his name to the ticket taker and they'd let me right in for free. I even thought about taking him up on it when I went to get my cinnamon rolls on Wednesday, but decided not to.

I've never been to the freak show at this particular fair before, but from what I understand there are more animal oddities than human oddities on display. And most of them are dead. Most. Regardless, I didn't want anything to spoil my roll, so I didn't stop in. This was a wise move in retrospect, as when I did turn up for work at the "liberry" Bear Piss Man was already there at the computers, reeking of urine.

The staff had already classified the urine smell as cat-piss, as it's in that general neighborhood of unvanquishable stench. Then they had second thoughts.

"I think he runs the bear show," Mrs. J suggested.

"Oh, so it's bear piss?" Mrs. A said in a low voice that Bear Piss Man probably couldn't hear.

"Uh, I don't know about that," I said. "He told me he ran the freak show."

"Freak piss, then?" Mrs. A countered.

Regardless of the species that actually issued his pissy smell, Bear Piss Man was the name that stuck.

He spied me while I was logging on a computer for someone else and asked if I'd been to the fair yet.

"Well, yeah, I was there this morning, but just for the cinnamon rolls."

Bear Piss Man then reissued his invitation that I should stop on by the show, tell the ticket guy his name and come right in for free. I found the urgency of the man's invitation more than a little bit unsettling. I told this to the wife over the phone last night.

"He probably needs a new Fat Man," she suggested.

I'd argue, but I do still look preggers from my double shot of cinnamon rolls.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Cinnamon Roll Day

Every year, we have a fair in town for a week and every year the whole Tri-Metro area is thrown into bedlam and confusion as people from all over the region descend upon our heads, tie up our roads and make life a good bit more stressful. Many local citizens choose this week to leave the area on vacation just to avoid it. Those of us who have to stay quickly learn the back roads to get around the glut of traffic between us and work. Even the "liberry" reduces hours of operation to close at 5 p.m. all week just to compensate for the lower patronage. This royally horks off the internet crowd, though, so it's not all bad.

I first encountered the Fair Cinnamon Roll two years ago while visiting the fair with my in-laws. We'd already eaten our share of the usual fair food and were feeling kind of bloated from it, but spied the cinnamon roll stand on our way out. The wife and I bought a roll to share, but didn't actually eat any of it until we'd been home for an hour or two. Upon having our first bite, we knew we'd made a grave error in judgment. Not because it was cold, mind, but because if we had known how amazing these giant sugar-coated balls of heaven truly were we would have bought several more. To get more, we would have to pay upwards of $7 just to get into the fair, then another $5 a pop for each roll. It was quite an expensive endeavor, but dammit we were addicts now and had to have them!  I finally wound up bribing Mrs. A to buy three cinnamon rolls when she went to the Fair to work the literacy booth. The wife and I each had one and we generously gave the third to our next door neighbor.

I missed out on the rolls last year because I was visiting my sister in Austin, but I more than made up for it by eating my weight in Tex Mex while there.

This year I was determined to get my hands on at least one cinnamon roll and I knew exactly when I was going to do it.


See today was Free Day at the Fair. This doesn't mean you can get into the Fair free all day, but you can get in free between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Just in time for breakfast! So I left all guilt and the chain-rattling ghost of Dr. Atkins at the house and headed out at 8:15 to secure my cinnamon roll.

After negotiating my way through the free-parking lot, running over a bottle in the process thanks to the kindly direction of the parking staff, and maneuvering through the mass crowd of families who were headed in for free day with no intentions of leaving until they ran out of money or were forcibly removed by carnies, I was finally there.

I felt very lucky that only a handful of people were in line at the cinnamon roll trailer, waiting to make off with some of the earliest rolls fresh from the oven. I needn't have worried.  The lines for this booth usually rival those of It's A Small World at Disneyland.  And the rolls are always fresh because they have no time to sit around because of the demand.  And, if you get close, you can watch their blessed creation...

The cinnamon roll guys roll out the dough right there in front of the big window. They lovingly put around 16 pats of real butter all over the surface of the dough, not skimping, before sprinkling the whole thing with a quarter inch of sugar and cinnamon. Then they roll that sucker up, slice it into huge chunks, put the chunks on a baking sheet, bake it for a while, then slather the whole piping hot tray in a gooey sugar/cinnamon icing. Eating one is like becoming David Bowman at the end of 2001. "My God, it's full of stars!"

"I'll have a coffee and two cinnamon rolls, please," I told the man at the window. He took a spatula and gathered up my rolls into little plastic containers, slid them into a white paper bag and poured my coffee. My total price was $11 and I knew already it would be worth every last penny of it.

I took my bag of cinnamony sugary carb-laden goodness to find a spot to sit and eat. The picnic tables were infested with teenagers waiting for the rides to open, so I decided to use the mostly uncrowded concrete front step of one of the exhibit buildings as my dining table.

Take a good close look at the full-size picture of my cinnamon roll to the right. A beauty isn't it? My stomach's been living for this moment for months now. This is to be the pinnacle moment of low carb-cheating for my entire year. All other cheats--including eating half a box of Golden Grahams, by myself, in one sitting, a month back--pale by comparison.

I take the first bite. It is every bit as good as I've been hoping it would be. I can taste the salt from the butter as it has a menage a trois with the sugar and cinnamon across my tongue. Only by eating one of these can you understand just how on the money all those scientific studies showing how men equate smells of warm cinnamon buns with sex truly are.  Well... if you're a man, I guess.  I take another bite. It's just as good as the first. I then proceed, bite by bite, through the entire roll over the course of six or so minutes.

While eating, I try to analyze the experience as best I can, cause it turns out there are highs and lows to it.

I've come to the conclusion that, for me at least, the first seven or eight bites were probably the best. Eight put me about half-way through the cinnamon roll. After that, each bite was diminishing returns.  I'm really not a sweet-tooth at heart and I can only stand so much sugary richness before the endorphin flow begins to trickle off. At around four bites from the end, I could really see the logic in merely sharing one of these rolls with someone else. That way, you get the best parts of the experience and not so much of the whole long haul to the finish line praying for merciful death thing. The penultimate bite was painful, cause I could see the last one coming, and it was a big one. I didn't get sick or anything, but my poor sugar-deprived stomach was definitely feeling confused as to what to do with the mass influx of sucrose.

After that, I walked around the fair for a while, looking at all the other food booths that are just opening up. I knew that while I was in for free I really should indulge in some of the better edible attractions, but my gut was full of roll and I just couldn't imagine eating anything else, particularly something sweet. After twenty minutes or so, I went home with my other cinnamon roll, which I planned to offer to my sweet baby upon her impending return from Clarksburg.  I even mentioned it to her on the phone tonight, secretly hoping she would turn it down.

"Noooo, I don't need any more sugar," she said. "You should eat it. Don't let it sit around in the congealed butter grease and get nasty."

I didn't need to be told twice. I popped that sucker in a bowl, nuked it for a couple of minutes and feasted on warm cinnamon roll that was almost exactly as good as the one this morning. I even ate some of it on the phone so she could live vicariously through me.

Frankly, I think she's a bit jealous of my near adulterous relationship with the rolls.

Monday, August 16, 2004

The Clone Conspiracy

A patron was checking out recently when she surprised me by saying, "Hey, I saw you out the other day... Down at HISTORIC RESTAURANT, right?"

For a moment my brain was thrown into confusion mode as I tried to make sense of what she was saying. HISTORIC RESTAURANT is one of our fine and expensive downtown restaurants. Trouble is, I've never set foot in the place. Not that I don't want to, I just can't afford to.

Being as how nothing else at the library had made much sense that afternoon, it took me a few seconds to figure out that I wasn't the only one in the room who was confused. Then with an almost audible *PING* my brain realized whom it was she had actually seen at HISTORIC RESTAURANT.

"Oh, no. That wasn't me," I said. "That was one of my clones."

"Your clones?"

"Yeah. There's a guy that works at that restaurant who looks a lot like me, but it's not me."

"It wasn't you?" she said suspiciously.

"Nope. Clone."

"Wow. Well he sure did look like you."


I haven't officially met my current local clone, but I've seen more than one of them in the area.

Understand, I don't actually believe these people who resemble me are honest to God clones. That's just a nice short-hand I use to describe them. I could say doppelgangers or evil twins or faerie children with just as little seriousness as clones. Also know that I'm not actually saying there's any kind of sinister plot concerning them, nor is there anything remotely supernatural or conspiratorial about them. (Yet.) There just happen to be a goodly number of gents walking the earth who look a damn sight like me, who occasionally cross my path and infrequently cause complications to my life. I'd probably find it unsettling if this sort of thing hasn't been happening to me for the past thirteen years.

In short, I'm not making this shit up.

In March of 1991, I was a Freshman in college. During Spring Break that year, my buddy John and I took a trip to New York City as chaperones for a group of high school students my former high school drama teacher, Mrs. Mabry, was taking there on a tour. On the last day of our trip, our flight home wound up getting cancelled and the airline rescheduled us for a later flight. Having an extra six hours in the big city on our hands, our touring organization sent us on a scenic bus tour. So we drove around for a while, going through places like Greenwich Village and eventually past the NY headquarters of the Hell's Angels. A few blocks from there, we wound up getting stuck in a minor traffic jam for a couple of minutes. I was looking out of the right-side bus windows when from the left side of the bus Mrs. Mabry suddenly shouted, "Hey, look, there's JUICE!"

Everyone turned and looked out of the left side bus windows and sure enough, there I was on the sidewalk. It was boo-creepy! The kid looked exactly like me, though perhaps a couple of years younger. He had my face, he had my hair, he had my gargantu-head. He even had my ass.

Clone kid didn't notice us. He was too preoccupied helping a friend sort through a big cardboard box which seemed to contain lots of magic markers. I don't know what they really were, as magic markers don't make a lot of sense in that New York City sidewalk context. I've always imagined they were something more illegal in nature, but still have no idea what. Just white plastic magic markery-looking tubes.

Only later, after we'd driven on, did I realize that the greatest practical joke of my entire life had been within my grasp and I'd missed it. If I'd been on the ball, I should have stepped off the bus, walked over to the clone kid and said, "Mom lied!" then just got back on the bus. It would have shattered his world. Actually, the idea disturbed me a bit too and as soon as I got home I began grilling my dad as to whether or not he'd spent any time in the NYC area around 16 years previous. He denied having been there, but I think I caught a glint of fear in his eye for just a second.

This was only the first of my college clones. By the time I graduated, I'd seen a succession of them.

Within months of returning from NYC, I began hearing about appearances I'd made around campus which I knew I hadn't made. Friends and acquaintances would claim to have seen me at a distance, called my name to the point of shouting, and then would get pissed that I had ignored them or that I'd given them a dirty look for their trouble. It was a mystery for which I had no explanation for quite a while. Then I began having such sightings of myself myself and realized there was another clone at work.

Usually these sightings would occur while I was on my way to class and would spy a very familiar visage across the campus's drill field moving in the opposite direction. A few times, though, our paths crossed even closer and I was able to get a better look at him. He sure did look like me. It was hard not to stare.

My dad and I even saw one of my clones eating at McDonald's one night. Dad was completely blown away by the resemblance and kept trying to get me to go up and talk to the guy. Dad's a firm believer in the old adage: If someone looks just like you, go hunt them down and point it out to them. He'd actually done this to one of his own clones a few years earlier. (His clone agreed that they did indeed look very similar.) I almost did go speak to mine then, if only to keep Dad from doing it on his own and creating an embarrassing situation over which I would have no control. I could just see Dad marching over and saying, "Hey, you look like my kid," at which time he would point back across the restaurant at me cowering beneath our booth. Nope. That was not an experience I wanted to have.  And the idea of speaking to my clone just seemed like a very uncomfortable situation for everyone involved. It's like Ford Prefect says in Douglas Adams' book Life, the Universe and Everything: "People who talk to themselves on the phone never learn anything to their advantage." I suspect the same goes for in-person encounters as well.  So I forbade Dad to move from his seat until my clone had safely left the building.

Within another year, yet another clone appeared. This one was different from the one I'd seen in McDonald's in that he was slightly taller and slightly chunkier than me. However, we also shared several mutual acquaintances, which really began confusing things. Around this same time I grew my hair out to shoulder length and developed something of a goatee. Naturally, my clone decided that would be a good look for him as well. Thanks, bitch.

Questions concerning which of us was the Evil Twin soon began to arise in my mind. I was pretty sure it was him, but perhaps he'd disagree. (TMBG fans sing along.... *I know he looks like me and walks like me, hates work like me and talks like me, he's even got a twin like me!*) I eventually got the chance to ask him myself when some of our mutual acquaintances hosted a party and we both wound up going.

That was a very strange evening indeed for reasons beyond the presence of my clone. My friend Joe, who was also at the party, had just learned that his older brother had died that morning and was understandably still shaken. My crew of friends present were not really in a partying sort of mood as a result. I tried to console Joe by mixing up some Lemon/Lime flavored Mad Dog 20/20 with Shasta and then drinking it. This cheered him up immensely, if only for the expression on my face as I determinedly choked that reisty concoction down. (I maintain that mixing MD20/20 with Shasta is the only way to make it go down and stay down, but I still don't recommend it.)

My clone, meanwhile, wisely avoided drinking anything nearly so foul, perhaps proving himself the more intelligent of the two of us. We barely spoke at all, except to say, "No, we're not. But, uh, yeah, he does kind of look like me," when people kept asking if we were brothers. It was very awkward. Neither of us really wanted to acknowledge the resemblance and I think we were both irritated that no one else would just shut up about it and leave us alone. I did, however, learn that my clone's name was Dennis.

Some months later, one of my clones was attacked on my behalf. I'm not sure if it was Dennis or the first clone.  And while it was a minor, non life-threatening attack, it was an attack all the same. The attacker was a girl named Dawn who I worked with at the college radio station. We'd only just met a couple of weeks before, but were friendly enough, which is why the attack is all the more odd. According to Dawn herself, she had been walking on campus one day and thought she saw me moseying along the sidewalk some distance ahead of her. In this situation, Dawn did what anyone would have done upon discovering a fairly new acquaintance was walking ahead of her. That's right, she sprinted up behind me, leaped onto my back and knocked me to the ground. Then, to her horror, she discovered that it wasn't me at all and that she had just assaulted a complete stranger. She didn't discover it right away, mind you. She had a brief argument with him over whether nor not he was actually me, before realizing that he truly wasn't then had to explain to him that she hadn't intended to attack him, per se, but someone who looked just like him.

"Why the hell would you want to jump on me and knock me down in the first place?" I asked her. It's not like we were even good friends. We'd practically just met.

Dawn never gave me a satisfactory answer, but I'll bet she thought twice before attacking anyone else in the future.

So why is it a guy like me has so many look-a-likes (or like-a-looks, for you Cerebus fans)?
It's not like I'm the most commonplace-looking fellow in the world. I'm of average to stocky build, occasionally fat, have perpetually rosy red cheeks and a collossal cranium that's damn near impossible to fit a hat on. Yet, all my clones seem to match up pretty well for almost all of those traits.

Well, not ALL of them. I actually count my friend Glen Bryant among my clones. This is a pretty good trick too, what with him being over 6 feet tall and Korean while I'm a short white guy. We both have goatees, sure, but beyond that we'd hardly be mistaken for one another in a lineup. Yet I have been mistaken for him on more than one occasion, and he for me. I chalk it up to a shared aura of mischief, but have no explanation beyond that.

Then again, it might just come down to a matter of mathematics. As my friend Gordon Carskadon once told me, "If you're one in a million then there are 10,000 of you walking around in this country alone." And that's assuming I'm only one in a million, instead of one in 242,973, which I think is far more likely. Plus, that figure comes from before the last census, so there are probably even more of me now.

Since college, the clones have continued to turn up unexpectedly in my life.

One of my coworkers when I worked for Onstar was a clone. We were both damn good at our jobs, so at least we didn't cause each other any hassles when we were mistaken.

I've actually known about my current clone down at HISTORIC RESTAURANT for a couple of years now. He's a waiter. Some of my wife's fellow students once had dinner there and mistook him for me. They waved and smiled and waved some more, then began to get irritated that I was studiously not coming over to say hi to them nor acknowledging them in any way. (He wasn't their waiter.) Weeks later, they tracked me down and confronted me about it. That's when I realized I had a clone in the area. Since then that same scenario has played itself out several times, so now I have even more of a reputation for being a standoffish jerk.

It was a while before I actually saw that clone myself, though. I thought I saw him at Wal-Mart one day, but it turned out to be a different one entirely. He looked almost exactly like me only he was blond. (I've always wondered how I'd look as a blond and the answer is: really not all that different.) He was also wearing ski-gear, so I'm pretty sure he was just in the area as a pit-stop on the way to the slopes.

Eventually I did have a personal sighting of my waiter clone. (Or, at least I assume he was my waiter clone. If not then I have a third twin around here too, dammit.) He came in the library one day and did indeed look quite like me only a good bit scragglier. Mrs. A saw him too and she just stood and stared at him for the longest time before nervously looking over at me for an explanation.

"Clone," I told her.

Later she paid me the compliment that she thought I was the better looking of the two of us. That's good, cause that's what I thought too.

I've since begun to wonder if maybe the waiter clone had come in specifically to get a look at me, though. Surely if I've been hearing rumors about some guy that looks like me haunting a restaurant just down the hill from us, he's hearing the same thing about a slightly better-looking guy who works at the library just up the hill. I've not seen him in since then, so maybe he was just confirming the situation then backing off to a safe distance. Maybe he too realizes that people who talk to themselves never learn anything to their advantage.

My family's involvement with clones has not ended either. Dad reported to me just the other day about spying a clone of my sister in Birmingham, AL. He, of course, walked right up to her and said, "Hey, you look like my kid." The girl took the news well and was pleased to hear that her look-a-like lives in such a cool city as Austin, TX.

That's my dad for you.

I still think this is all somehow his fault.

Friday, August 13, 2004

It Takes a Village

This has been a pretty heavy work week for me, actually. I subbed for Mrs. C on Monday and for Mrs. B on Tuesday. I actually had a Thursday off for the first time in forever, so I used my free afternoon to go see M. Night Shyamalan's The Village.

I'd been hearing bad buzz about the film on AICN for a while, but I don't always trust the particular reviewer who buzzed badly. (After all, anyone who claims not to "get" Babylon 5 is obviously not going to share the same sense of quality as I do.) Before I went to the theater, though, I also heard some second hand bad reviews from Garin the Comic Shop Guy. He'd not seen it yet, but had several customers who had told him it was incredibly predictable and that they'd walked out of it due to it being so bad.

Even with that knowledge, I was going in anyway. I've loved Shyamalan's last few films and feel that he's more than earned my movie watching dollar even if it turned out to be a turkey. Plus, I haven't walked out of a movie for being bad in 15 years, though Lord knows I probably should have with some. (I did fail to finish watching the DVD of Made I rented last week because Vince Vaughn's character was making me crazy.)

So I went.

My non-spoiler review of it is that I don't think it was a turkey at all. In fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's not Shyamalan's best, but it was enjoyable for what it was. The trick is to go into it with no expectations, though. The movie is being mis-marketed as a horror movie filled with frights and chills. However, while there are a few spooky moments, it is NOT a horror movie nor do the scares live up to the marketing. I think that's why some people may be disappointed with it. They went in for cake and were given whole-wheat bread.

As to the predictability of it, I did figure out what the big twist ending was going to be within the first half hour. However, I don't really think this was the fault of the film itself. I think it's my own fault as a viewer who's seen too many M. Night Shyamalan movies and that I knew there was going to be a twist coming and deduced it. I just asked myself, "Hmm. If I was going to put a twist ending on this film given the story presented thus far and the fact that it is more than likely set in Pennsylvania, as Shyamalan almost always does, what would be the most twisty ending that could come up?" I turned out to be right on the money. I didn't have all the specifics nailed down, but I had the broad brush strokes spotted well in advance.

There were still a lot of surprises to be had. The story itself bobs and weaves around common expectations pretty well. And given some of the major dramatic shifts in the story, I also found it ironic that Sigourney Weaver had been in the cast.

Overall I think this movie would have been received far better by viewers had it been Shyamalan's first film rather than his 5th. It would be a good one to take a Shyamalan newbie to.

One Week, Two Kreskins

At the risk of having readers question my honesty, I must report yet another Mr. Kreskin incident. Two in one week. Who'da thunk?

Mrs. C was unavoidably out on Wednesday, so I came in at 11 a.m. to help Mrs. A steer the ship. She seemed nice and refreshed from her vacation that early in the day, but I suspect by the end she was on the verge of scheduling another one. Last week, most of the people who usually call desperate to speak to Mrs. A had been told she was out for the week, so they just saved up everything they desperately needed to phone in for Mrs. A's first day back on Wednesday. The phone was thus almost constantly ringing. After three hours of it, my silent curses began to be voiced and every ring was met with snarls at the least.

Around 2 p.m., Mrs. A left for lunch, which really irritated the 30 people who called during the next hour, but none moreso than Mr. Kreskin.

It's uncanny. An example of true psychic phenomena if ever there was one. That's the only way I can explain how the man is able to call ONLY when both people he wants to talk to are gone EVERY SINGLE TIME. It's astounding.

I was able to help him with what he needed this time, which probably saved Mrs. A a stern talking to later. He gets royally peeved when neither Mrs. A nor Mrs. C are in. He's tried to lay down the law with them before, insisting that one of them HAS to be there at all times. By "all times" however, I'm pretty sure he means "24/7." Even if he just meant "during normal business hours" it's still such an unrealistic expectation that it didn't stick for very long.

"MR. KRESKIN called," I said to Mrs. A when she got back. "I helped him, though."

She then pointed out to me that Mr. Kreskin knowing that I'm a capable human being with skills is not necessarily a good thing. That knowledge will surely mean more work for me when they're not around. Not more hours, mind you, but more work during the hours I'm already scheduled for. Mr. Kreskin tends to view Mrs. A and Mrs. C as his own personal secretaries, and has them type up correspondence for him regularly. Most of it is library related, so they don't mind so much, but it can still be inconvenient. Hopefully he won't learn of my 80 wpm typing speed or copy-writing/editing background.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Grampy Patrol (In Color!)

So I go to Wal-Mart the other day.

Sure, I know I'm depriving my community of needed revenue by shopping at the corporate giant, but dammit I needed Russell Stover sugar free low-carb peanut butter cups and all the locally owned businesses charge $8,000 for them if they have them at all. I'm only human!

(Oh, and a word of advice to you low-carbers out there.  Allow me to assure you that it is a VERY bad idea indeed to eat the suggested serving size of 5 cups of the Reese's brand of sugar-free mini-peanut butter cups. That is, unless you've got a hankering to spend the rest of your evening running carefully to and from the toilet to do your best impression of the Serial Shitter. Not so much trouble in that department with my boy Russ, so that's my brand.)

As I was maneuvering my Malibu through Wally World's parking lot, I got behind an older gentleman driving a big Pontiac who was slowly turning into one of the parking aisles near the store's southern entrance. I immediately recognized him as a member of that international fraternal brotherhood and cabalistic society known as the Grampy Patrol—a loose-knit organization of elderly men who drive around in big vehicles, preferably pickup trucks, at irritatingly slow speeds, take twenty minutes to make a turn and who always wear hats while doing so. They are among my many arch-nemeses and will remain so until I'm old enough to join them and subvert them from within.

I pulled into the same aisle and then had to slow down to maintain the car-length of distance between my car and his, since he refused to go any faster. It was a good thing that distance was there, though, because the man suddenly came to a halt. Much to my surprise and annoyance, he then threw his car into reverse and started backing up toward me. Turned out, the man had driven right past the empty handicapped parking space near the door and had decided he wanted it after all. However, my car was at that moment perpendicular to that space, blocking the way. The man didn't seem to have noticed this, though, as he had not bothered to even look in his rear view mirror to check if anyone was behind him before throwing it into reverse. He wasn't exactly flying back, though, so I kept waiting for him to catch a glimpse of me and stop. He didn't, because he was not only NOT using his mirror but he wasn't even turning his head to look behind him at all as he backed up. Instead, he was watching the parked cars to his right to gauge his progress.

Seeing that he was going to hit me, I threw my own car into reverse. Fortunately, I DID check my mirror and saw there were several people in the pedestrian walkway directly behind my car. I couldn't back up at all without backing over them. I was trapped!

*HONK*HONK*HONK*, I honked. This seemed to get the man’s attention and he slowed to a halt. For good measure, I gave him several longer, angrier honks. Only then did his head finally swivel around and actually look at me. Still the man remained in reverse. He was actually waiting for me to get out of his way.


When the crosswalk was clear, I backed up and took the next aisle down where I found a parking space and quickly got out of my car to go find this guy and vent my fury.

How could someone have such a colossal failure to exercise common sense in driving? The guy was old enough to have been driving for several decades, so he should know better! Anyone could have been behind him, closer than I was. Hell, a pedestrian could have been behind him and he hadn't bothered to look at all!

I soon spotted him. He had exited his car and was slowly making his way across the pedestrian crosswalk; had his Grampy Patrol hat on and everything. I started in his direction and noticed that he was already looking nervously back over his shoulder in my direction. (Oh, sure, NOW he looks over his shoulder?! ) I'm sure I had a fiery expression of rage on my face, but as I watched this frail little old man hobble along toward the door of Wally World, I was internally starting to soften.

What good could really come from me yelling at this guy for nearly testing my front bumper? Probably none. No one had been hurt, he had hopefully learned the lesson that it was a mistake to blindly throw his car into reverse and I'd already gotten to righteously honk at him, which is always fun. Embarrassing the man in front of half of Wal-Mart was probably not a good idea and would definitely not be respecting my elders.  By the time I'd reached the crosswalk myself, I'd decided I wouldn't yell at him at all.

"Pssst! Hey, pssst!" I heard from my left. It was an equally old man seated on the bench outside of Wally-World's entrance. He was jerking his head at me in an effort to beckon me over. He wasn't wearing a Grampy Patrol hat, so I figured it was safe.

"Yeah?" I said, coming closer. The man nodded in the direction of the thoughtless older man, who was only then reaching the doors of Wally World.

"That's him," the man on the bench said, still nodding in the first one’s direction. I nearly burst out laughing. Dude on the bench was trying to start a fight. Oh, sure, he was wrapping it up in civic-duty, trying to make it seem like he was just helping me find the man who nearly backed into me, but deep down this guy was trying to cause trouble.  Then, as though he had judged me too dim to "get" what he meant, the man on the bench lifted a hand and pointed his finger at the first man, now well within Wally World’s breezeway, and said, "That's him. That's the guy."

"Yeah. I know," I said.

I didn't bother hunting down the Grampy Patrol driver, though we did see one another a couple of more times while I was shopping. Whenever he saw me, he'd look nervous again and maybe shuffle his shopping cart a little faster down the aisle.

Great, I thought, now I'm inadvertently bullying the elderly.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Where's Jan Brady when you need her?

There are a couple of homes for wayward youth in the area. They send groups of their kids out on field trips into the real world and occasionally these lead them to the library.

These visits have been a bit of a tricky situation for us in the past, as we have to walk a fine line with them. We want to encourage their rehabilitation as much as we can by allowing them to check out books and videos. However, doing so is a risky gamble since our stuff often fails to come back by its due date, or indeed at all. These kids are usually only at the home for x number of weeks and many of them don't seem to mind taking our materials with them when they go. Or, they "lose" them, at which point they begin claiming that they "brought them back already" and we still never see them again.

The administrators of the homes in question have historically been unsympathetic to our plight. One of the homes even received a banning due to their poor attitudes about the borrowing/stealing behavior of their residents. They were only allowed to return once Mrs. A established with them that they, the administration of the homes, were in fact responsible for returning all our materials to us. It's still probably a 60/40 success ratio, skewed toward those who do return our material, but at least when the kids don't bring stuff back the home now pays for the lost items.

So yesterday, in walked a group of around seven 15-17 year-old boys from one of the homes. Nearly every one of them had a book or two and came up and plunked it down on the circulation desk, under the watchful gaze of their daytrip supervisor, an enormous muscle-bound man who looked like he could take the whole lot of `em using only his steely no-nonsense expression. They quickly spread throughout the "liberry" to search for new stuff to borrow. I was just thankful they all already had cards--well, except for one of them, who managed to lose his card since they were in last and didn't appreciate the $1 we were going to charge him for a replacement card.

About this time, Mrs. C decided to take her lunch break, leaving me and Mrs. J to run the ship by ourselves. I didn't really like this, but I also couldn't really say why since we almost never have trouble from the group home kids while they're actually IN the library. It's only after they leave with our stuff that the trouble usually occurs.

They behaved, as far as I could tell, though. The group stayed for around fifteen minutes and a few of them found things to check out. When it was time to go, their pro-wrestler-looking supervisor herded them up and back to the van they obediently went.

A few minutes later, I went back to the computer hallway to log off the vacant computers. I'd done one of them and was nearly finished with the second when I realized that the familiar smell my nose was detecting was not actually familiar to the library.


Yep. It was definitely coming from in-house and seemed to be stronger near the stairs. I ascended and the smell became even stronger. I went into the non-fiction room. The only people there were a lone patron and Mrs. J. I didn't think the smell was coming from them. Besides, it seemed to diminish in the non-fiction room.

I turned around and traced it back to the top of the stairs, then into Mrs. A's office, then into the private staff restroom, the door of which was left open, the light of which was left on. That's where the smell was at its most concentrated.

Someone had been in there and... (*ADOPTS BEST JAN BRADY VOICE*)... they were SMOking!

If the smell of smoke hadn't been enough of a clue, there were ashes on the toilet seat to back it up. My guess is at least two of them had been in there. (After all, what fun is it to be bad and rebellious and take a smoke break in the library all by yourself?)

Mrs. J had smelled it too, but couldn't figure out where it was coming from or who had been doing it. She also seemed to think it smelled like marijuana, but I assured her it was most likely Marlboro.

Mrs. C was unhappy about this when she finally returned. I asked her if she knew which home that group had come from and she did. She phoned them up and advised the administrator she talked to that the entire library was most definitely a non-smoking facility.

Course, now the kids will probably all get in trouble.  I just hope our library materials don't bear the brunt of any revenge they seek upon us.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

R.I.P. Super Freak

Dear Rick James... bitch. Thanks ever so much kicking off dead a mere three weeks after I borrowed your name to use as a pseudonym for one of our problem patrons. Now I'm going to look like an asshole in poor taste for using your name when I only just learned of your passing today in Newsweek. And I'm going to feel all creepy and stuff when I keep using it in the future.

Love and kisses,


Monday, August 09, 2004

Boy, someone needs a nap

Our major problem patron of the day was a middle-aged lady who seemed somehow offended that all of our computers were full and she couldn't immediately have one. Offended. That's the best way I can think to describe her ire. I told her she could have one in two minutes, when Mr. B-Natural's time ran out. I said this in earshot of Mr. B-Natural, though I didn't mention him by name. Happily, he took it as the hint it was meant to be and relinquished his computer without having to be asked. I put her on it and started the timer for her half hour.

Slightly over half an hour later, we had another rush on the computers and I went back to tell her that her time was up. Again, she was instantly offended.

"But I'm not out of time!" she said.

"Yes, ma'am. I'm afraid you are."

"No, I'm not."

"Ma'am, I was timing you. You got over half an hour."

"Well, I'm used to getting the full hour," she huffed.

"Ma'am, we give patrons half an hour."

"Every time I've come here I've gotten a full hour!"

"That may be the case, ma'am, but it was probably because we don't ask patrons to get off unless someone is waiting."

The woman adopted an even huffier tone. "Well, I've never been told there was a half hour limit."

I calmly reached over and flipped down the orange sign taped to the monitor and pointed to the line that said "TIME LIMIT: 30 MINUTES." I was waiting for her to say that she hadn't seen it, just so I could say that I wasn't responsible for glaringly obvious policy signs that our patrons don't read. (Course, that's technically not true, as I was responsible for creating that particular policy sign that patrons never read.) She declined to go that route. Instead, she took a much more childish one.

"But I'm not finished. I have a lot more to read here and my husband won't be back to pick me up for another half hour!"

My voice remained admirably calm as I said, "Regardless, ma'am, we DO have someone waiting to use this computer and your time IS up." Then I turned and walked away. If she wanted to argue more, she could do so without me. It's the same tactic I used to use on Mr. B-Natural, back when he was a much surlier patron.

Within a minute, the lady had signed off and stomped up front. Just to further irritate her, I decided to continue being terribly nice to her. I cheerfully told her she could sign on for another computer, since we'd have one opening up in about ten minutes. She groused that she wouldn't have enough time, since her husband was coming to get her soon. That's when I realized the joke was on me, since she was going to determinedly stand there in the middle of the room and wait for him for the full half-hour, subjecting me to her unpleasantness. Fortunately, hubby turned up early, but not before she could try to make sour prune small talk, inquiring about the best time of day to try and use the internet here and how she went to college with Mrs. A, my boss.

If that was meant as a veiled threat, I'm not threatened. Mrs. A does not suffer grumpy fools lightly, and I can't imagine her actually being friends with such a grumpy fool as this woman,let alone getting angry with me that I hadn't let her grumpy "friend" violate library policy.

The Kreskin Prophecy

Last week, Mrs. C asked if I would substitute for her usual 1-5 Monday shift today. Foolishly I said yes.

I know better than to volunteer for Monday desk duty, but in addition to liking cash I also like to be Mr. Nice Guy Subber whenever I can. It allows me to build up a backstock of favors owed, which I can cash in for prizes later.

Before leaving the house, I remembered that Mrs. A wasn't scheduled to return from vacation until Tuesday. This would mean only one thing: At some point during my day, I was going to get a call from our board president, Mr. Kreskin.

As I've mentioned several times before, the president of our library's board of directors has the mutant ability to sense when both of our librarians are not at work, at which point he develops a sudden desperate, earth-shattering need to speak to one and/or both of them and will subsequently not rest until he has done so. The only time in my experience that this has failed to happen was on a day when he had a really bad cold. Otherwise, an enterprising guy could win a lot of money by wagering on it.

Well, he didn't phone today. However, five minutes after our doors opened at 1 p.m., he walked through them, on the usual desperate mission to speak to Mrs. A/C.

"I'm sorry, neither of them are here today," I said, trying not to grin at my prophecy having been fulfilled so vividly and soon.

"Well, that's okay," Mr. Kreskin said. His tone of voice, however, said it wasn't okay, but that he recognized that there was hardly anything I could do about it. Mr. Kreskin decided to leave them a note, so I passed over the legal pad and continued dealing with the throng of patrons at the desk.

A few minutes later, Mr. Kreskin passed back the note on the pad and started for the door. A quick glance at it showed that he was, as in accordance with tradition, looking for a copy of some sort of correspondence he'd sent out before.

"Uh, sir. I can probably find this for you, if you like," I said. Backstock Board President Favors Owed are better than most other kinds of favors owed. (In fact, it's trumped only by Bedroom-Oriented Wifely Favors Owed, and by quite a large margin.) I figured that the correspondence Mr. Kreskin wanted would be in the previously secret Kreskin Correspondence folder in the filing cabinet. I hauled it out and began flipping through it for him. It wasn't filed in any noticeable order, however, so the search was not an easy one. Finally, Mr. K offered to just look through it himself, freeing me to return to the busy circ desk.

Mr. Kreskin eventually found what he wanted, photocopied it and left happy and grateful.

Chalk another point up for the Juiceman.

An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.