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)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

THE PUBLIC GOOD: Public libraries are a public good, or so people keep telling me; I must admit I am not altogether convinced of the overall veracity of this statement. After close to nineteen years experience working in the public library business, I think it is fairly safe to say that we could get a lot more work done than we get done now if we could only figure out some way of keeping the public out of the building altogether. There’s nothing like the public to really screw up the workings of a really good public library. In any case, the constant reader of The Passing Parade will know by now that while the inhabitants of our happy little burg enjoy the services we provide them here at the egregious mold pit—why rent a DVD from a video rental place, after all, when you can get it from us for nothing—they would just as soon not increase the budget that makes it possible for us to offer them this service in the first place.

I think we suffer from a bad case of guilt by association; as the taxpayers assume that we serve the school district then we must somehow or other be involved with that much loathed institution, the school board, and large numbers of the citizenry here regard the school board as the one institution in our civic affairs that prevents life in our happy little burg from being the closest thing to celestial bliss possible on this our temporal plane. To tell the truth, just about everyone within the city limits thinks they’re a bunch of idiots, and those who don’t think the school board are a collection of slavering idiots unable to tell the difference between their asses and their elbows don’t think so because they think the board are a mob of dolts, jackasses, and poltroons, with most of this group opting for the jackass designation, since as a rule the local dolts and poltroons wind up on the City Council or working for the department of motor vehicles. However, since they collect our taxes for us, we are stuck with this fairly scurvy crew of knaves and varlets unless and until we can think of a way of getting some money into this place that doesn’t have to go through their sticky little fingers first.

There are any number of options available to us and a good many that aren’t; no one went for my suggestion that we start selling drugs to the patrons, for example, even though an addicted patron is one we can count on to keep paying our salaries. The library board of trustees, as wise a group of solons as ever banged a gavel, and yes, you’d better believe I am sucking up big time there, thanked me for the suggestion and told me they would consider the financial feasibility, but I have not heard from them about it yet and I strongly suspect on the basis of the wiretaps on my phone that the trustees think that this might not be the brightest idea I’ve had in a month of Sundays.

So we need something less likely to involve gunfire from either the local dealers or the local constabulary than the narcotics traffic. I must admit that I was flummoxed in no small degree at first; narcotics seemed the perfect solution to our problem, but the truly creative mind can find its way around any obstacle; all that is necessary is a willingness to think big. So I thought long and hard about our problem and the more I thought about it the more the clearly the answer seemed to be. I wrote the proposal out and submitted it for the board’s scrutiny.
Basically, it comes down to this: we must find a way to get someone other than the taxpayers here to pay for the public library. I mean, let’s face facts, if we wait for the denizens of our happy little burg to pull their collective heads out of their collective backsides and vote us some spare change then this mycological sinkhole will be one with Ozymandias and his works before we get a nickel (No, I am not going to explain the reference; for chrissakes, didn’t you go to high school? Didn’t you pay attention in English class?) This is, after all, a citizenry that turned down a 0% increase in the budget last year; even if you give these people what they want they won’t vote for it. So we’re going to have to soak someone else. But who could this be?

In short, we need tourists, lots of them. If you go to Saratoga Springs or to Gettysburg you will see what a good thing tourism can be for public libraries. The libraries in those towns are spectacular: the one in Saratoga Springs looks like a Barnes & Noble superstore on steroids and the one in Gettysburg is a three story Greek temple of knowledge. I don’t know for certain how many people live in Saratoga Springs, but I know for a fact that the population of Gettysburg is about half that of our happy little burg, and their public library people don’t work out of an old five and dime. Why the difference? Tourists. Tourists flock to these places. People love betting on the horses and seeing Civil War battlefields. That’s the difference.

Now, the trouble here is that we don’t have a racetrack and the Civil War didn’t reach our neck of the woods. There is a monument to the county’s Civil War regiment, of course, but you have to go to Gettysburg to see it, which doesn’t do us any good here. For an area so steeped in our country’s Colonial and Revolutionary past, not a whole hell of a lot ever happened here. The British did break through the boom down at West Point once and sailed up the river to burn Kingston during the Saratoga campaign in 1777, but they didn’t do anything except lob a shell or two here, and no one is going to pay good money to see shrapnel. Washington also kept his gunpowder in a church about five miles from here, but no one wants to see an old church, and he had a headquarters across the river in the slough of urban despond, but no one wants to go there if they can help it except illegal aliens and Nigerian scam artists.

To sum up, no major Revolutionary War battles happened here, no Civil War battles happened here, not much of anything ever happened here. We can’t even work up a decent sized skirmish from the French and Indian War for tourists to look at. I do know that in 18something or other a train jumped the tracks about five miles from the center of town and burned down an entire village, but that didn’t happen to us and not too many people died in the fire and urban renewal, even accidental urban renewal, is not something people will go out of their way to see, which puts the kibosh on this idea. So unless we can get South Carolina to secede from the Union again and start the hostilities all over again this is not going to work, or better yet, we could secede ourselves, but I don’t think there’s enough firepower in the city to hold off a determined attack from the sheriff’s department, not unless we ask the dope dealers for the loan of their guns, and I don’t think they’d be willing to give them up. They’re all funny that way.

Horseracing is a good thing, too; Saratoga Springs has done well with its annual racing season and soaking the suckers for every dime they can get (I mean, really, five dollars for a sausage and pepper hero? Give me a break). But we have a problem in implementing this solution here—there’s no room for a racetrack. I suppose we could tear down most of the south end of town and put the track there, but my guess is most of the people living there would object vociferously to the idea. People are always objecting to one thing or another; I suppose it gives them something to do and keeps them off the street, but it does nothing for getting me out of this place. Racing other animals doesn’t seem to work much better; dog tracks need almost as much room as horse tracks, and there’s not all that much demand for pig racing. That’s a shame, too; we could make big money in pig racing and we could auction off the pigs that don’t win, place, or show. This would add a lot of excitement to the races, I think; be a winner or be a dinner is a motto guaranteed to concentrate the mind and athletic abilities of even the slowest and most recalcitrant swine in the land.

We do have an art museum, but it is one of these modern art museums without a decent picture of Jesus in orange paint on black velvet, and who really wants to go look at art if you can’t see at least one good picture of Jesus in orange paint on black velvet? I don’t think we can count on too many people going to see the kind of thing they actually have down there, which I hear is mostly stuff from the Conceptualist and the Minimalist schools of art. What is conceptualism and minimalism? I am not exactly sure, but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that the concept of paying ten bucks to look at art you don’t understand grates on many of the spectators’ nerves no end, and I suspect that most of these people’s concept of minimalism consists solely of the thought of how do I spend the minimal amount of time and money in this place before I can get on the train and head back home?

If you ask me, we are not going to get a lot of bang for the tourist dollar with these people, not unless we find some way of keeping them in town to spend their money. However, my idea of charging people to watch porno on our computers doesn’t have any real chance of passing the board of trustees’ review, or so some of the administrators have told me. It was just an off the cuff idea, but there doesn’t seem to be anyway of putting a coin slot on any of our computers, but they thanked me for the excellent idea and wondered if I ought not go home for a couple of days and rest; I look tired. I hadn’t given the idea much thought recently, but I am a little tired these days—maybe I ought to take a few days off and rest up.


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