God in the (Vending) Machine

The first job that ever taught me anything was at a bar by my house. My commute was a five-minute drive.

It was late one night, the end of a shift, and I was wrapping up the host booth. Not too far away, one of the bouncers was there eating.

He was a great guy, great at his job, rarely complained. From what I could gather, his life wasn’t easy, but that night he was eating like a king; the kitchen had cooked a steak by accident, so that was what he was getting for an end-of-shift meal.

We started chatting, and he told me that earlier, he had thought of how great a steak might be. This thought, he said, had been broadcast to the universe, and the universe had provided him with a steak, just like he wanted. He was convinced that this was the secret to getting rich, living life to the fullest, and being successful. He talked about it like a preacher talks God, or a barefoot runner talks about how running shoes ruin your joints.

I didn’t think much of this at the time, but looking back, this was my first encounter with a particular American belief system, one supersedes all our other beliefs, even the Christianity many of us believe to be the bedrock of our country.

It’s part of a faith I call the religion of the Vending Machine God.

The Vending Machine God has its own church. It has its own texts, doctrine, and clergy.

It’s a faith you’ve never heard of, but it’s everywhere.
Continue reading

Song of Straw

In the sun
You turn in offering

Holding only
light and water

The fruit is heavy;
still you cup your hands
built so strong
of damp earth
cured in the sun

But now

you can rest
stacked as you are
ready to give warmth
and become a prayer yourself

24 Hours of Lemons is Decadant and Depraved

The world is full of opportunity for adventure.

Often, we avoid it, not because we don’t want adventures, but because we’re not adventurous.

I fit that description. After all I am a librarian; my profession is not one that attracts the adventurous or the death-defying. There are happy exceptions to this rule, but it is the rule. I like my quiet house. I like my quiet street. I like my quiet library, although it is louder than you might suppose.

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is become a gear head. I’ve met a lot of these people. I’ve known kids that could swap engines, make SAE racers, all sorts of things. I know a lot of engineers that can work with machines in ways I can barely comprehend. And who doesn’t want to be like that, really? Who doesn’t want dominion over their tools and their machines? To make things that produce power, go fast, and make a lot of noise?

One of my friends, Mike, is one of those gear heads. He’s done work on solar cars while he was in school. Now he’s an engineer for a living. He knows machines inside and out.

He told me once about a race he does. They’re all around the country, but find an easy home here in Michigan. They’re called 24 Hours of LeMons. Continue reading

Comic Assumptions

Librarians are over thinkers.

That is, after all, how we make our living. We are also not known for confidence, or the ability to keep things in perspective.

As a librarian, I’ve done a few articles interviewing people about their work. It’s always fascinating. Everybody’s got a story. If you can’t see that, if you can’t connect, that’s your problem.

Comedians get paid to do that, when you think about it. They get paid to connect with people. Laughter, in and of itself, is a connection with the people in the crowd. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of standup and interviews with comedians. They’re interesting people. They love to talk. Interviewing one should be really easy. Continue reading

Chasing Rabbits

It’s odd
Thoroughly stupid, in fact
That a man
Can chase so many rabbits at once
Some are larger
Most smaller
They have every color
Scattering so quickly
When the damn kale is gone
Or they want to escape
From me
They’re wise in that
Because I’d dash their heads against the brick
Cook them, and eat them
Even the large ones
Are not that fucking big

The proof
That a man was not given much sense
Is that he can chase the rabbits
So many god-damned times

In Praise of Wandering

Bill Watterson is one of the best cartoonists of all time. I’d say he’s the best. I can’t imagine a better art, better characters, or a better strip than Calvin and Hobbes. It was brilliant when I was a kid and it’s brilliant now. It’s easy to wonder how such a prolific author came up with so much great art in one lifetime.

In the Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book, Watterson speaks about his own creative process, specifically how he came up with ideas for his strip. He wrote:

People always ask how cartoonists come up with ideas, and the answer is so boring that we’re usually tempted to make something sarcastic. The truth is, we hold a blank sheet of paper, stare into space, and let our minds wander. (To the layman, this looks remarkably like goofing off.)

Like most of the work Watterson has produced, there’s a gem in it: goofing off is how creativity works. The really great ideas, the really incredible ones, usually come from the metaphorical gambol. Continue reading

Funny Numbers

10,000 is a funny number.

In most libraries across the country, you’ll find one book that focuses on that number like a hawk. That book, of course, is Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell.

The book describes the success of many people, from the Beatles to Bill Gates. The author attributes their success to mastery over their given craft, and posits that this mastery comes from 10,000 hours of deliberate practice; inborn talent is only allowed to grow if the person commits to practicing that skill in a deliberate way for long periods of time. This is not the only piece of the success puzzle that Gladwell posits, but it is a large one, and one that’s being debated.

What’s implied by this theory is that in order for a person to be a success, they must specialize at an extreme level. They must get really, really good at a single thing.

One of the people who’s put in their 10,000 hours is a comedian named Louis CK. He’s been in the stand-up game for quite awhile now; he has a successful sitcom, stand-up specials, and roles in Hollywood films. By any measure, he’s a great success, a seminal figure in pop culture today. Continue reading

Captain Ellie

When I returned from
The Isle of Celyon
A hell, it burst between my ears
In a Sussex gutter
I resolved to die
To leave this world in gin and tears

God showed me mercy
He showed me love
When he sent her to my side
Cast out from my fellows
But in her warm hands
I found faith, and I found my pride

Captain Ellie, oh! She made me rise!
Rise!
Captain Ellie, oh! She made me rise!

This pain in my heart
It will not subside
Captain Ellie, oh! She made me rise! Continue reading

The Blood Runs Cold (Contains Spoilers)

It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that a man should be killed for so little…

– Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

In Cold Blood is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

I got the audio book from my library yesterday. I am just beginning, but I am already hooked. It’s one of those books you can’t put down.

The story, as you might already know, is about a murder. Specifically, the murder of four people, the four brutal members of the Clutter family in unassuming Holcomb, Kansas.

That is not a spoiler. They tell you right on the cover.

Nobody would ever think of In Cold Blood as a mystery, but that’s really what Capote has crafted here. In a traditional mystery, a reader doesn’t really know if the mystery will be solved, who is going to die, that sort of thing. But In Cold Blood is not that, and never claimed to be that. Instead, Capote is relying on something else.

The suspense that the book created in a single word: why? Continue reading