The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, July 02, 2005

ESTER OF WOOD ROSIN AND HER ADVENTURES ON THE BIG FARM: We all want to make more money, of course, that’s the American way, and librarians are no exception to this rule, although if we really wanted to make more money we should have listened to our mothers and gone into a more lucrative line of work like computer design or loansharking. Librarians don’t even have the chances to pick up some honest graft that other civil servants have. No one pays us off the way a labor contractor will pay off a housing inspector to ignore the thirty Mexican migrant workers the contractor's got stuffed in a two room apartment just before apple-picking time; no one is that interested if we pack the shelves between parenting and cover letters with illegal aliens, pornography, free pizza, or dirty socks. In the great metropolis to the south there is a police corruption scandal every twenty years or so, scandals that will rock the metropolis to the very foundations of its being in a way the previous scandal that rocked the metropolis to the very foundations of its being didn’t for reasons that surpasseth understanding, and banner headlines in the metropolitan tabloids will scream SCANDAL!!!, with several exclamation points for added emphasis so as to carry the news far and wide to every hamlet and hamster hole in the nation. Hollywood may even make a movie of the whole sordid business, if they can get someone bankable for the lead, but for all of this peculation, there has never been a scandal involving the metropolis’ great public library, and I don’t think anyone would care if there was. The vast American movie going public is not going to spend money watching a flick about undercover library cops out to nail crooked librarians for filching money out of the fines drawer. It just ain’t going to happen.

But the librarians here would still like more money, especially the part-timers. Why would any part-timer want to work in this egregious mold pit for the scanty wages we pay them when they could get a fulltime job complete with benefits somewhere else? The logic of this contention is irrefutable, which is why one of this bibliographic Petri dish’s part-time librarians is moving on up to bigger and better things. He’s been working a few hours here, a few hours there, leading a peripatetic occupational existence wandering from library to library in search of a dental plan. But no more; he leaves us shortly for a position at the legal library of one of our local prisons, incarceration being a major industry in this neck of the woods, and a place where he will have to refer to his staff of felons as guests.

That’s right: guests. Apparently only uniformed corrections officers may refer to our local hoosegows’ resident population as inmates, felons, convicts, criminals, etc.; for all other employees of the Department of Correctional Services, itself a misnomer since they are not providing anyone with a service and correcting criminal behavior is not the service they are not providing, the required appellation is guest. The problem we have here is that these people are not guests in any sense anyone even remotely familiar with a dictionary would understand that word to mean.

If, for example, I invite some people to my house for a party or for a small get-together I expect that they will come and enjoy themselves and then leave at a reasonable hour with my home in more or less the same condition they found it in. I know there’ll always be the occasional minor catastrophe: someone will break a glass or smash some of the “good” china or flood the bathroom floor by putting too much paper in the toilet. One must learn to expect the odd disaster here and there as we wander through this vale of tears, but I think we all expect our homes will still be standing at the end of the evening’s festivities, and how much more than that do you want, really? I, for one, do not stand on ceremony; I am to social events what McDonalds’ is to cuisine: eat, drink, and get out, and if you want to go home before the rest of the guests because you’ve got to get the babysitter home by nine or to water the geraniums then go right ahead, I won’t stand in your way. Far from it, in fact; you can get lost with my blessings.

The guests we are speaking of, however, unlike the guests at my hypothetical dinner party, did not answer an R.S.V. P. or give a call back when someone left a message on their answering machine, which is generally how I get people to come to my house, although free food and drink will draw a crowd no matter what time of day or night it is, invitation or no invitation. No, this lot invited themselves to their current digs, despite the best efforts of their lawyers to get them off, and because of their efforts to get into these places the state will go to great lengths to hang on to them, using barbed wire, high walls, and the most advanced surveillance systems available from the lowest bidder so as not to lose the pleasure of their company anytime soon. You’ve got to admire a host who’ll put themselves out like this for their guests. I know I wouldn’t do it; for me someone who does not take the hint when you start washing the dishes in your pajamas is definitely not a guest in my book, or in Noah Webster’s either, no matter what edition you look at, but is a being firmly ensconced in a different category altogether, that category usually not repeatable in mixed company.

I think part of the problem is that the state insists we call these people something we know they aren’t. They’re not guests: they are convicts, as I am sure they know all too well. Sometimes you can get away with this sort of thing. If you take a look at the ingredients in your average can of soda you will probably see something called ester of wood rosin. Ester of Wood Rosin is not, as the soft drink makers would have you think, Anne of Green Gables older and not as attractive sister, or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’s larcenous and none too bright rag-picking cousin from the big city, nor is Ester of Wood Rosin a character in some exceptionally literate soft drink commercial.

No, Ester of Wood Rosin is the sap left in tree stumps once the lumber companies have cut the trees down and turned them into newsprint. It keeps the other stuff in your soda from coming out of solution and forming a nasty looking layer of scummy ickyness at the top of your bottle, a layer that will cause you, the consumer, to swiftly put (and yes, I know I am splitting an infinitive there so please don’t write me and point it out to me) that bottle of your favorite soft drink back on the shelf where you found it and shiver violently. So think about that the next time you sit in your favorite chair, drinking a cold soft drink and checking the sports pages to see how the Yankees are doing this season (don't get me started on this or I'll have a stroke). You wouldn’t think of eating your newspaper and washing the paper down with a generous swig of your soda—that, after all, would be silliness raised to the nth level, even if newpapers compare favorably with wheat germ in fiber content and prolonged newspaper consumption lessens the incidence of colon cancer in laboratory rats—but that’s what you’re doing anyway, whether you think it’s silly or not.


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