- 1452. The Byzantium Area Public Library System issues its final notice to the Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos that he has accrued $4.00 in fines on a copy of So You Think Invading the Balkans Will Make You Happy Now, Do You? and if he does not return the book and the fine promptly they will turn matters over to Mehmed II’s collection agency.
- 1492. Christopher Columbus, sailing three ships whose names were lost to history, arrives on the shores of the Guangdong area of China. The Chinese people, sensing both trouble and gullibility, spin a tale that this is actually the West Indies, thousands of miles east of where anybody wanted to be. They are delighted to find that the idea catches on, and there are no follow-on consequences that anyone has any reason to regret. The ship names were later found by history, in the junk drawer next to four pens that don’t work.
- 1582. Nothing happens. People in Italy and Spain feel a great sense of unease. Mobs of people resolve to figure out just what’s going on when they wake up the next day, but nothing happens then either.
- 1664. Saturn enters the house of Aries. Aries is not present. Saturn takes the chances to playfully rearrange the dishes, leaving the coffee mugs on the wrong side of the cabinet. Saturn was all set to sneak out undetected, but gave in to the temptation to go through Aries’s refrigerator and turn all the condiment bottles so the labels face the back. Aries finally arrives home, and they have an argument, and Aries doesn’t forgive Saturn for over two hundred years and a month.
- 1805. Napoleon Bonaparte announces he intends to build a stone-arch bridge that encircles the world. His subordinates acclaim this as a bold, challenging accomplishment that will prove French greatness to the world for centuries to come. Napoleon then announces he’ll make the problem less challenging by building it as a ring just under a kilometer from the North Pole, a great distance farther north than anyone has ever been, never mind where any stone bridges have been. His subordinates nod slowly but agree this will also capture the imaginations of history, especially when they point out how hard it is to get construction-great stone up to the North Pole. Napoleon then says, you know, the Earth is round, and his subordinates ask where this is going now. He says that since it is, you could say there’s an axis through any points on the Earth. So why not declare there’s an imperial North Pole that pokes its way through the suburbs of Paris, with the actual North Pole offset from that by about 31 degrees of latitude, and build the arch around that. This leaves his subordinates pretty sure he’s messing with them. They’re honestly relieved to hear the British are attacking something, anything, at this point.
- 1868. Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Prussia, announces his intention to unify the states of North and South Dakota. He is finally convinced by his wife that he is getting way ahead of himself.
- 1903. Automobile pioneer Henry Ford, racing in a car of his own design, crosses the finish line to win the New York City-to-San Francisco Driving Contest of 1902.
- 1959. Argentina and Japan, following the discovery in June that they had never signed a peace treaty after the Crimean War, take the chance to sign one now. The purely ceremonial affair in Paris is dignified and pleasant and quite merry. It’s only spoiled near the end when a nosey Art Buchwald asks whether either of the nations had anything to do with the Crimean War in the first place. He is locked into a broom closet.
- 1978. The first time that otters are seated in the Italian parliament. This follows elections which many say reflect a public desire to check the influence of fish in the lower house. Their first speeches on the floor are acclaimed by the press as “damp”.
- 1996. I publish to Usenet my thesis that in the well-worn prank, the person who insists on seeing that the dictionary does indeed contain the word “gullible” is not displaying the gullibility implicit in the premise because it is an act of skepticism to insist on proving whether a possible-but-unlikely state is true, and am immediately showered with acclaim and recognition for how I am completely right and everyone arguing this point with me any further is wrong and stupid and foolish and a bad person.
- 2015. The Byzantium Area Public Library System apologizes, saying it found that So You Think Invading the Balkans Will Make You Happy Now, Do You? had been filed wrong. It was on the shelf right next to Art Buchwald all this time and they were wrong to send the matter to collections. Whoops!
1st of April. Easter! Learn which of your friends have rabbit costumes they’ve just been waiting for a chance to use! That’s fun. Also learn which of your friends have egg costumes they’ve just been waiting for a chance to use! That’s a something. Good luck poking around the yard finding all your egg-costumed friends. If you miss any it’s going to lead to soooo many petty, passive-aggressive little quarrels. “Why would I go looking for you underneath the goldfish pond netting in the neighbor’s garage, Matthew?” “I don’t know, because you thought I was worth finding, maybe?” Maybe you should tie strings to your friends before they go off hiding. But where you are you going to tie a string around an egg? They thought about this way before you did, clearly. I don’t know what to suggest.
9th of April. Videotechque, the beloved and iconic longrunning institution, on the nation’s list of the ten most awesome video stores, announces it’s closing. The owners cite their advancing age, and the trouble in finding someone willing to take over even a place the whole metro area agrees is the best spot to find knowledgeable and friendly lovers of TV and cinema. But someone put Encino Man on to play in the shop, and the local alt-weekly’s business reporter stopped in while that was on, and asked about it, and after fifteen seconds of embarrassed stammering the owner just announced they were shutting down and it would be too awkward to go back on that statement now that it’s been made to the press and all. Really the movie isn’t that bad, it’s kind of dopily charming.
15th of April. Roving gangs of pedants wandering around the business district waiting for some unsuspecting person who’ll refer to the tax deadline as “the ides of April”, just so they can explain at length how the 15th is no such thing. This group of ten know-it-alls correcting each other is the biggest crowd downtown has had since the cleanup of the Unexplained Hardenberg Street Sewer Explosion of ’14.
16th of April. Roving gangs of accountants wandering around the business district talking about those dopes who forgot the tax deadline was the 17th this year.
18th of April. The library’s first Community Library of Stuff event turns out to just be chance for people to swap their old toasters with each other. Pretty good time all around though.
22nd of April. The Blitman Street Diner that’s a beloved and longrunning institution, on the alt-weekly’s list as one of the top two best places to hang out when it’s 3 am and you need to stare at a carafe of bad coffee and a plate of strawberry pancakes in a confused mix of fury and longing, announces it’s closing. The owners cite increases in rents and how hard it is to keep staff after someone’s just emitted a 65-second long scream of despair at the heap of plastic-packet creamer.
24th of April. So the club you didn’t know you needed in your life? The one for old-time radio enthusiasts who get together and talk about the stuff and even do re-enactments and sometimes perform charity shows? The one that’s got three people who’d go on to be the best friends you ever knew? The one that leads you into a minor but incredibly fun sideline as a voice actor, mostly recording stuff for museums or doing puppets for the occasional educational play for elementary schools? Yeah, that was meeting at 5:00 and you missed it. Sorry.
26th of April. That weird store on Holland Grove Road 3 that’s just got to be a front for something, because nobody’s ever seen any person going in or coming out from it, or buying it, and there’s no figuring out what they sell from looking in the window, and they’ve never run an advertisement in any known medium, and there’s like five different heaps of words somewhere in the window and on the door door any of which might be the name of the place but none of them clearly are, and the city tax records just list them as ‘PRODUCT SERVICES LLC’? They announce they’re closing because all the other beloved and longrunning institutions are closing and they want to hear some nice stuff said about them for a change. So gather your stories about finding the place weird and a little creepy!
30th of April. The County Line Road Merchants Association announces they’re putting covered scaffolding all along the sidewalks. This isn’t because of any construction going on. They just like the atmosphere it gives of being in a bustling, busy city.
I was in the university library because I don’t really make sense anywhere else. Not to brag but in my life I’ve been in over twenty places, and really, “university library” is the one I look the least awkward and weird in. I don’t mind. At least it’s somewhere.
But I was there because I’d wanted to read this history of word processors. Not a recent book, mind you. The book was written sometime in the mid-80s. That’s a lot of word-processor history ago, I admit. Back then word processors were primitive affairs, often programs we got by typing them in from magazines that cost $2.95 at the grocery store and there’s nothing about that I’m making up. Many of them were coal-powered and they were able to store up to one macro, which would be “add a line break after each paragraph, except that makes your document more than 4 kilobytes big, so the computer runs out of memory”. Still, I’d want to know more about how we got to that point.
And that’s when I discovered the horror: the library was reorganizing its shelves. Like, all of them, best I can figure. Everything. And I thought: no! That shelf where I ran across that book about pasta technologies holds nothing now! How will I ever find that book again? I haven’t wanted to find it again since I first read it but still, I knew where it was. I was lost.
This made me realize something. I own multiple books about the history of containerized cargo. I own a book that’s entirely about nutmeg, a spice I could not positively affirm under oath that I had ever had. Seriously, if I tried it would go something like this, taken from my court appearance for failure-to-yield in this minor traffic accident I had at the awful traffic circle where Route 206 crosses White Horse Avenue in Trenton, New Jersey:
ATTORNEY: And have you, knowingly, ever consumed a thing with nutmeg on or in it?
ME: I … think? Maybe? Don’t they use it for pumpkin pies? I’ve eaten that.
ATTORNEY: Maybe? Didn’t you knowingly and deliberately sprinkle some onto the free coffee you got at the farmer’s market so you could see what it was like?
ME: Oh, yes, I guess. It tasted … like every spice ever?
I don’t know what the attorney hoped to prove. In any case they forgave the failure-to-yield and only gave me a citation for listening to an audiobook about the history of the concept of corporations. And that feeds back to my point. I want to say I’m curious about all aspects of the human experience, and that I’m open to how much thought and history goes in to even the small, insignificant things. And then the attorney asks, “Don’t you own multiple books about the history of calendars each written by someone with the name “Duncan”?” Yes. Yes I do. And I already knew all the good stuff in the various Duncans’ books from having read many books about the calendar when I was a kid.
Clearly, I need help. I need some kind of guide to what things are in fact interesting and what things are not. This might take the form of some kind of specially-trained support dog. Someone who will notice how I’m looking over a history of subway tokens (by Brian J Cudahy, author of one of those containerized-cargo books) and leap onto me, shoving me to the ground and maybe rolling me over to something of more general interest. Like a history of an Apollo mission. No, not that Apollo mission. A famous one, like Apollo 11 or 13. Good grief. Fine, maybe 8. No not 12 why are you looking at 12? Who notices Apollo missions that didn’t have James Lovell involved?
They didn’t have the word-processing book. So, hey, someone else found it interesting or they lost it in 1992 and nobody’s asked about it yet. Left to my own devices, I got to Harvey C Mansfield’s 1947 A Short History of the Office of Price Administration, because apparently I need to know something about the theory and practice of World War II price-control administration that I couldn’t just pick up from listening to Lum and Abner episodes that had a public-service mission. Ah, but consider this: it includes this July 1947 quote from Bernard Baruch, architect of what price controls the United States government attempted in World War I and a leading advocate for strategic planning of economic needs given the national emergency:
Also, as a result of piecemeal price control, we are now faced with inflation which, next to human slaughter, maiming and destruction, is the worst consequence of war.
This serves as a valuable reminder that one does not get to be an extraordinarily wealthy individual and public intellectual advising presidents across many decades without completely losing one’s ability to realize one has just composed the daftest sentence in all of 1947, a year when the administration of Germany was divided into The Soviet Sector, the Brassiere, and Bizonia. Yes, yes, plus the Protectorate of the Saar. Don’t nitpick me. I do my reading.
The Apollo 12 astronauts considered giving their Command Module the name Abner, so that their call signs would be Lem and Abner, but this was stopped when, I trust, a NASA Public Affairs Officer came down and slugged Lunar Module pilot Alan Bean. I can show you the book that’s from.
I have to explain right away what kind of dream I mean here. I don’t mean dreaming about how to alter your life so everything is great and happy and wonderful forever and ever. Those are all the dream to be an accomplished celebrity, and the trouble with that is you have to accomplish something worth celebrating. That’s a big pile of work, and even after that, you have to get really lucky, and after all that, you’ll just want to do something else anyway. And anyway the part you really want is people saying, “I’m sorry for all the times I wronged you”. It won’t happen. They’re waiting for you to apologize for the same thing.
What I mean is the kind of dream you have between when you lie down at night, trying to sleep and thinking about all the people who wronged you, and when you wake up in the morning because someone, somewhere, in the neighborhood has a dog. Dreams are a good way to distract from the feelings of helpless and loneliness and it’s a pity people aren’t trying that more.
The fundamental unit of dreaming is to deal with a thing that is also, somehow, another thing. Let me show. Start with one thing, such as a living room. Now pick another thing, such as a dining room. Imagining a place that’s both a living room and a dining room probably won’t explode your mind, what with having heard of efficiency apartments. But remember, there are some people reading this essay who don’t know how to dream to start with. We have to work up to the more complicated ideas.
Take as much time as needed with the living-room/dining-room dream. Explore its implications, such as whether in this context you may set a fork on the throw pillow. Or set a throw pillow on the serving plate. No: that serving plate is too nice for a throw pillow. Try one of the nice souvenir pillows that you keep locked up in the breakfront because they’re too nice to put on the sofa. But wait: why are you putting the nice serving plate on the table when it isn’t even Thanksgiving? It’s too nice for that. Because it’s a dream. You can take all the nice stuff out for that even when nothing special is going on.
Suppose you’ve gotten good at the living-room/dining-room dream. Now you can advance to more complicated things that are also other things. For example, imagine a public library that’s also a friendly dragon. What are the implications of this? Are the books the dragon’s teeth? Or scales? Do you have to venture warily into the dragon’s mouth to get your card renewed? Might it be necessary to go into the more advanced parts of the dragon’s digestive system in order to get the DVDs you’d put on hold? No, of course not. The dragon is a public library only to meet certain zoning requirements. Left to itself the library would rather be a griffin. Now you can have adventures in arranging exemptions to municipal zoning policy. These go well, because you are having a dream, which does not have to comply with open-public-meeting requirements.
Now, you may occasionally hear about really wild dreams. Like, ones where a chance hop out of the excessively large convenience-store/art-museum by your rabbit tips you off to a plan by some gangsters in an Adam West Batman-style Dive Bar (it’s tidier than the efficiency apartment your parents had when they first got married) to finally rub out Shemp, of the Three Stooges. And then you have to help the Fun, Pleasant Batman and Robin on a chase through New Year’s Eve Boston to keep the Stooges alive and maybe make their big show(?). These should be left to the advanced dreamer, one who has experience with all the legal clearances required for this kind of scenario. While you’re learning, stick to imagining people telling you how sorry they are for wronging you. It’s way easier to get the rights.
Do remember, though, there’s no truly wrong way to dream. Whatever things you want to put together are fine. And there’s not any wrong details to expand upon. So make sure to write down all the salient details of each night’s dream, so you can compare them with other people in your dreaming circles, and see who wins.
My love needed some books from the library. I went along because I like being places with my love. I did not go because I needed any books. I had several library books to read yet anyway. And I have a half-dozen or so books, some going back to summer, that I’ve bought and haven’t got to because I’ve been borrowing library books at a good rate (about one book per book finished) since then. I was there simply in a companionate role, smiling and being present and that was it.
What I’m saying is of course I borrowed Alan Abel’s The Great American Hoax, about the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals. This was the early-60s satire of groups that go out caring about stuff. It proposed that all sufficiently large animals wear clothes. The story of how allegedly grown-up people were fooled into thinking it was real was bought by Paramount for adaptation into a movie, if you believe the jacket copy, which who would?
I am in some ways never happier than when I’m in a library. It’s just a natural place for me, somewhere it makes sense for me to be, and I think anyone who knows me would agree that if I were to shed all my worldly possessions and set up camp somewhere not particularly needed by other people, like around the oversized, falling-apart books about motorcycles, they would say they kind of saw that coming.
Among other problems I have terrible impulse control in libraries, and will notice books and decide that if someone went to the bother of writing it there must be something interesting worth reading in it, and, well, what I’m saying is this is why I borrowed Pasta and Noodle Technology, a collection of papers and monographs on the title subject published by the American Association of Cereal Chemists, edited by James E Kruger, Robert B Matsuo, and Joel W Dick. And the book was published in 1996, so it’s not even a book about the current state of pasta and noodle technology, but is instead about the state of pasta and noodle technology from the days when having an online community devoted to Spaghetti-o’s was just the distant dream of some madmen in alt.fan.pasta. What I’m saying is I think I need librarians to save me from myself.
Ocean County Library Card. I haven’t lived in Ocean County, New Jersey, for 27 months. Even my parents don’t live there anymore. It’s nearly a thousand miles away and while I do sometimes return to it the chance I will be seized with an urgent need to borrow a book while in the area and couldn’t just use the Rutgers library instead seems pretty small. Verdict: Yes, needs to be kept.
Loyalty Card, Subway chain, New York Yankees design style. Acquired in April of 2012 again in Ocean County, New Jersey. Yankees pattern might arouse a low-level grumbling from the people who could, theoretically, spit in my egg-and-cheese flatbread sandwich if I took my eyes off them and they were particularly devoted fans of the Detroit Tigers or such other teams that aren’t the Yankees. Loyalty points never redeemed. The last time I attempted to use it was in Trenton while trying to buy some cookies in early 2013, which resulted in the discovery that the Trenton-area Subway didn’t respect the loyalty cards of the Ocean County-area Subway shops. This also implies that if I did try using it in mid-Michigan I might just get slugged. Verdict: set it on the dresser underneath where I keep my wallet so it’ll be on hand whenever I might go out and possibly need it.
MTA subway card. Goodness knows when I’m going to find myself in Manhattan or Brooklyn or maybe some other borough if New York City still has them anymore and I might need to get to the Port Authority and I’m certainly not going to go buying another card when my old one still has easily $7.35 on it. Verdict: Definitely keep. Maybe get another just in case.
Loyalty Card, Panera Bread. With my track record of buying stuff from Panera Bread sometimes four, maybe even six times per year it would be foolish to give this up. I’ve surely worked my way nearly to getting a free small coffee or whatever is going on. Verdict: Move to the little plastic-covered pouch up front where it’s more accessible than even my driver’s license.
Little Metal Tab Containing A Combination Lock’s Default Code. Verdict: absolutely keep, for the overwhelming sentimental value.
Movie Ticket Stubs. Granted the risk is small that a genially cranky police officer from a pulp series of detective fiction, under the belief that I am a world-renowned jewel thief who’s only pretending to go straight even though I keep solving miscellaneous non-jewel-related crimes for him, will demand to know my alibi for the late afternoon of the 14th of August this year, but if he does then I can suavely pull out the receipt showing I bought tickets to see the Rifftrax version of Godzilla, and thus come under greater suspicion because why would I be able to answer where I was and what I was doing unless I were covering up my participation in the Tubbsworth National Bank heist, anyway? Similarly for the times I saw Frozen, Star Trek Into Darkness and Lincoln. Verdict: talk with my old pal Alan the fence who’s working the pawn shop down on the waterfront and get myself kidnapped by the actual bank robbers who’re figuring to put an end to my meddling, and Jeanette, give me three hours and telephone the Inspector to report I just left for the laundry just opposite the bank.
Discover Card. Originally put in the wallet just in case I find myself at the Great Adventure theme park, where the card offers a discount on buying expensive but tolerable pizza and soda, and to draw the pleading attention of the Discover Card Corporation, which really wants me to use it for stuff and things, like, you know? Verdict: Leave in the little cubby-hole on the nightstand and try to plug my ears at night so the desperation of the card, wanting so much to be used for something, anything, doesn’t deprive me of sleep.
Curiously Sandy Grit of Some Kind. Possibly sand, possibly dust, possibly unused coffee grounds, possibly industrial-grade diamond chips. Verdict: attempt to clean out, only to find it’s impossible to clean this kind of wallet.
I borrow a lot of books from the library, since that’s a great way for a compulsive reader like myself to get exposed to books I have literally no way of telling how many previous readers have held while sitting on the toilet. Plus you get discoveries: in this case, a Cathy comic strip someone clipped from the newspaper and used as a bookmark. The thing is the comic strip is dated 1998, and the book was published in 2004, so whoever left the bookmark had been using it for at least six years before abandoning it.
So now I’m left trying to understand the story of the bookmark-abandoner. Did he find this comic of Cathy doing exercises (spoiler: she doesn’t do a lot of exercise) speaking to him for over a half a decade, and then suddenly, realize that it just didn’t need to be part of his life and he left it in the book in the hopes a future reader would find some meaningful link to the universe through it? Was the clipped-out strip an unwanted gift and he finally found a way to “accidentally” lose it and apologize that it must have been an oversight? Since the bookmark was around page 50 of a 300-page book, is it possible he was interrupted while reading, and returned the book without remembering the bookmark was in there, and he’s been searching the library ever since for the comic strip he wanted back?
With no knowledge of why the strip was clipped out, or how it was viewed, or why it was left so early in the book, I can’t say why it was there, and neither can you, unless it was your bookmark in which case I’ll probably bring it back to the library next week. I use fast food receipts for my bookmarks anyway.
Basic Computer Familiarity. The next installment of the Lesser Pompous Lakes Community Library and Media District’s course on Basic Computer Familiarity introduces timid students to the “Q” key as well as the one for increasing the volume, with explanations of how some keyboards don’t have the increase-volume key. Students comfortable with this will be then introduced to “mute”, as a concept, with the key to be introduced two weeks from now. Please alert the instructors beforehand if you are dropping into the course for the first time so they may make arrangements to bring you up to speed, by phone (preferred) or e-mail (snarky of you). Fledged Squirrel Room, 4th Fourth Street Library, Tuesday, 12:30 – 1:30, am or pm TBD.