Wednesday 07 July @ 11:05:14
by Tom Hallett
I’ve had this recurring nightmare for over 30 years now: I’m walking down Main Street in Homer, Alaska, the tiny fishing hamlet I was raised in, when I come across the public library. It’s the old, tiny, rustic building, not the spiffy, larger, more antiseptic unit that was built after I left town, and the closer I get to it, the more fearful I become. There’s a horrible, sinking feeling in my guts that I’m about to walk into a whole passel of trouble, and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what it is.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I don't continually question my reason to live—it's just a state of being. I'm just here. The real question is what you're doing with the living you're doing, what you want to do with that living."
—Sir Mick Jagger
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Big Brother”
I’m drawn, inexorably, to the library entrance, a single wooden door with an OPEN sign and the business hours posted. I want to turn and flee, screaming, back down the street or out into the woods, or, better yet to the airport, where I’d climb frantically aboard any plane going anywhere just to escape the fate awaiting me inside that building.
Against my will, I push open the door, which glides noiselessly inward, revealing that familiar room full of desks, bookshelves, filing cabinets, carts, wheeled ladders and tidy, spotless metal trash cans. My eyes are immediately drawn to the rather large rack in the center of the room that held that cool, gigantic-size hard-cover collection of Flash Gordon comics; I’d spent hours standing there as a kid, paging slowly through a universe full of cartoon images depicting a futuristic world we were sure we’d one day inhabit.
Suddenly, I hear a voice. I freeze, chilled to the bone. It’s HER ... the dreaded Mrs. Kunz. She’s never left this place; never aged a day, never forgotten my transgression. I recognize that flat, stern tone immediately, and can still suss out the almost inaudible sneer in the way she intones my name—like she knew I wasn’t really a SERIOUS reader. “Welcome back, MR. HALLETT ... I’m assuming you’ve either brought back the copy of Ethan Allen And His Green Mountain Boys you checked out in 1975 or the ... let’s see ... SIX HUNDRED AND EIGHTY SEVEN DOLLARS AND THIRTY FIVE CENTS you owe us for late fees?”
I run, shrieking, from the room and out into the street, where I’m greeted by a host of librarians I’d known over the years. And though none of them speak out loud, I know what each and every one wants of me.
They appear to be almost floating (at least I can’t see any of their feet moving), and they all have that blood-thirsty look like the zombies in “Dawn Of The Dead” had—hungry for flesh—especially book abuser flesh. I see the Native American head start teacher I had back on the res, waving a fading white card that has some long-forgotten Curious George title and my name on it. There’s my fourth grade librarian, mouth open in a silent reprimand, wondering where that Encyclopedia Brown mystery book is. The town librarian from that redneck burgh in Oregon we’d lived in for less than a year—hands held out like Lon Cheney’s Mummy, caught up in a never-ending, vain quest for that copy of Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” (which I swear I turned back in, but maybe that other dream I had, the one about burying the book in my mom’s backyard with a pair of sticks tied into a cross shape so Barlow would quit haunting me was real, and not a dream at all ... ?)—his half-lidded brown puppy eyes pleading and accusing all at once.
The procession is almost never-ending; my guilt builds to near breaking point, and I get that feeling (I know you’ve had it too) that if I don’t escape this particular scenario soon, it won’t be just a dream. I try to tear my eyes away, but they’re locked in like Mrs. Kunz’s peepers on a kid in a dirty t-shirt perusing the paperback romance novel section. Along totters my pseudo-hippie high school librarian, Mr. Manning, handlebar mustache pulled downward into a permanent frown, on a perennial search for a John Lennon biography that’s probably still under the front passenger seat of my stoner pal Mike Fury’s old Mustang, along with a smattering of rusting 3.2 Olympia beer cans, four crumpled, empty soft packs of Marlboro reds (66 cents a pack back then y’know), and those headphones I always knew he ripped me off for. And then I wake up.
Most of us have had at least a semblance of that very nightmare over the years—it’s a natural guilt reflex for having checked out books, records, or research material from various libraries over the years and, through happenstance, bad fortune, or just plain laziness, never returning them. Seinfeld did a bit about it on his television show; Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Bob Newhart, and a thousand other stand-up comics have used the situation as a bit; books have been written; priests and psychologists have spewed forth on the subject. And even though we know deep inside that we’ll probably never be taken to task for our thoughtlessness (for that’s usually the culprit; those who do knowingly steal from libraries are probably not susceptible to self-appointed guilt dreams—at least not the kind we want to know about), we can’t help but feel a twinge every time we pass by, or God forbid, enter, one of those daunting, hallowed vaults of knowledge.
Here’s a suggestion: If there’s absolutely no way you can find, return, or replace the book, album, etc., that you checked out so long ago, simply make a donation to your local public library system, or volunteer to help out—your friendly neighborhood librarians can always use another pair of eyes and a strong voice to read to children, or the vision-impaired, or new immigrants to this country, or mentally-challenged adults ... you get the picture.
Either way, a simple act of selflessness can go a long way toward helping you dump that eternal guilt, and I can guarantee that you’ll actually find that you enjoy visiting a public library once again. I know I have—and it’s not just about the books anymore. You can check out magazines, albums, tapes, videos, DVD’s, CD’s, and more these days—making the library a one-stop entertainment shop for those of us on a, shall we say, less than healthy monthly budget. And remember—with the state that the country’s in today, it really can’t hurt to have some educated, concerned eyes and ears observing changes in—and deletions from—our national library system. Somebody has to watch the watchers.
Recently, a musical compatriot absolutely HAD to have a copy of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner”—the one DNA remixed—and I found that my vinyl copy was packed away under too many other boxes of crap to make it worthwhile digging out. What to do? Borrow it from a friend? Are you kidding? Most of my friends’ CD collections are either already sitting in a Cheapo’s rack somewhere around town (thanks for the beers, dude!) or so full of their own albums (a job hazard when you work and drink with the bands you write about—not that I’m complaining) that I woulda had a helluva time finding anybody with a copy. And frankly, on my writing salary, I couldn’t afford to LISTEN to the song online (even if I did have a credit card to do so with), let alone buy the album. Sorry, Suzie. So I logged on to http://www.spl.org, the official website of the Saintly City’s Public Library system, and checked it out. Just hit “Catalog” and start your search. Sure, I could find that song there. And if I couldn’t have, why, the Minneapolis library system is just as easy to access, at http://www.mplib.org.
Admittedly, the search engines both libraries utilize for finding records/CD’s/tapes is a bit cheesy, to say the least, what with them offering to find your album of choice by some stupid code the UPC greed-iots made up, but I found that ya can enter the name of about any album you can think of and (unless it’s either too bad or too good, or has been officially banned by the Patriot Act—more to come on that subject in a sec) if they have it, it’ll pop up. I threw in AC/DC’s Back In Black just fer shits an’ giggles, and found that both cities’ libraries (of which there are over a dozen locations on either side of the ole Miss) had multiple copies of the album. I also thought it was pretty cool that the Minneapolis library posts pertinent info on the status of the record, as well—the songs are all listed, so you know what the hell you’re getting; what location it’s available at; if it’s currently checked out and how long for, and whether someone else has a hold on it once it is turned back in. If you “join up,” and become an official online ‘bary-head, you can reserve copies of books and albums yourself, and get an e-mail when it’s ready for pick-up. Pretty tight, man.
Less encouraging news came after I consumed a couple tasty cold bevvies and decided to get freaky with the sites. I typed in keywords like “MC5,” “Iggy Pop,” “Fun House,” and “John Sinclair,” and found out a couple of disturbing factoids. Fer instance, Under “MC5,” the website gave me no info except under “Nearby Authors.” The list included the following keywords: “Editor Of The Brown Book Of The Hitler Terror” and “The Jefferson Airplane Musical Group,” among others. Now, how fucking bizarre is that? I mean, I’m not one for conspiracy theories (har har), but it strikes me as a bit odd that a wild, politically-motivated and affiliated rock and roll band that had all kinds of trouble with the government in the sixties and seventies ends up linked to Hitler (not to mention a band that went on—in some form—to release “We Built This City” ack), of all people, on the library’s website. Kinda reminds me of the current GOP ads runnin’ on T.V.- but I digress.
What really caught my eye on the Minneapolis library website was the garish posting of the USA Patriot Act that our good pal G.W. shoved through the legal shit-pipe after “the events of...” (I won’t even print it, mon) I mean, I suppose I’m glad they have to at least post the warning that basically tells you that if you type in the “wrong” keywords or set of keywords that you may be under scrutiny and investigation from the Men In Black, and that your good book buddies the librarians are forbidden by law to tell you about it, even if they do know. Ugh. Seriously pissed, I punched in “1984,” “Animal Farm,” and John Lennon.
Lennon drew a blank. I typed in The Beatles, hit a goldmine of albums. Rubber Soul, still there. Whew. They haven’t TOTALLY fucking wiped the last thirty or forty years of history from the racks yet. But no Lennon—hmmm. The FBI has MILES OF FILES—no Lennon solo discs? Too rad, I guess. But, typically, “Animal Farm” and “1984” were still available, and the fine folks at your neighborhood learnin’ facility even go so far as to offer both titles on audio cassette. (Burl Ives reads George Orwell? Naw. More like Charlton Heston with a grant from the NRA and The Halliburton Foundation For Less Learning—I’m kidding, I don’t have a clue who narrated ‘em) My point is, I think it’s kind of like what I call the X Files Factor—throw as much truth at the common folk as they can stand, until they’re so sure that it’s all bullshit that they wouldn’t know a lie if it hit ‘em in the eye—and then deny everything. Or something like that.
So, bottom line, kiddies—the library is fundamentally a GOOD place. For now. But it’s gettin’ scary. And it’s our job to monitor this shit. WE ARE THE CITIZENS, all jive aside. Let’s not pretend like the Bush girls need—or would ever even consider using—public libraries, for the kind of education their “status” requires. But that greasy, shifty-lookin’ kid down the street, the one with a butt hangin’ out of his mouth and the too-loud guitars in the garage on Saturday nights—the one who’s gonna check out both Rubber Soul AND 1984 and never turn either one of ‘em in- that’s the real future of America, man. And hopefully, in twenty or thirty years, he’ll dig the message I’m layin’ down and give something back, as well.
As for you, you lazy, good-for-nothing, prose-thrashing, poem-bashing, word-smashing book abusers, you should immediately discharge all of your past debts and guilts and get yer asses back in there where the air is too thick and it’s too quiet and you stick your face in a book or lock yer ears into some headphones and LOSE this great big spinning ball of shite we call Planet Earth for a sufficient amount of time that you can actually go back and face it one more day. Your own personal Mrs. Kunz misses you in a BIG way, I just know it.
Plus, it’s a cool way to save money on music and reading materials. Just ask my pal Taylor, who’s jammin’ his ass off to the DNA remix of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” right this minute: “Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo ....” Hey, Taylor, say hi! TAYLOR!! Oh, fergeddit. I’ll leave you all this week with a copy of that scary ol’ USA PATRIOT Act (note how cute it is that the word “patriot” is ACTUALLY an acronym ... even the USA part ... damn, that President—er—I mean VICE-PRESIDENT Cheney is a friggin’ GENIUS!!!) our horn-rimmed glasses-sporting neighborhood librarians were kind enough to post on their web sites. Make the world a brighter place—hug your favorite bookworm today.
The USA PATRIOT Act
1. The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA PATRIOT Act) became law on Oct. 26, 2001. Under the act, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and law enforcement officials can seek court orders for Library records for investigations relevant to national security or terrorism. Library staff who are served with these search warrants are not allowed to say anything about the warrants or whether any records were turned over to law enforcement. Library staff cannot tell you that your records were given to law enforcement agencies or that you have been the subject of an FBI investigation.
Many provisions of the PATRIOT Act, including the section that relates to libraries, expire automatically on Dec. 31, 2005, unless Congress decides to renew them before that date. *Until next time—make yer own (might soon be censored) news.*
If you have local music news/gigs/CDs/conspiracies you'd like to see mentioned in this column, or you're just that scary-looking Bookmobile driver who wants his copy of “If Life’s A Bowl Of Cherries, Why Do I Always Get the Pits?” back, send replies to: (temporary e-mail) email@example.com.