Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Your Neighborhood Librarian Is Giving you a Long Look

So I'm driving to work, and I go east to go to work, here in Baltimore, and it's kind of different over there. So I'm driving to work, and there's this guy in a van, in a white panel van. Econoline. Driving alongside of me, and he gestures to me to roll down my window. So I roll down my window, and he calls out to me. I'm driving my blue minivan, my Honda Odyssey, total soccer mom minivan.

And he says to me, "You sell this van?" And I, of course, say, "What?" because, you know, people say "What?" when someone says something totally random to them. And he says, "You no want sell this van to me?" and I'm like, "Yeah, no. No. I'll just drive it to work instead."

And you know, he kind of shrugged and smiled at me and kept on going, and took the next right. And I'm driving along, as I was before, but completely baffled. I'm sure I had that look on my face, that baffled look.

Alexander the Great doesn't want
to sell his van either.
You know? What would that... how would that play out? You'd say, "Huh. Sure! I'll sell you my van! How much will you give me for this van? You want to give me five thousand dollars for this van? Eight?" I don't know, I would take eight grand for that van.

What's he going to do? Is he going to shell out a whole shitload of cash? Does he have that kind of roll in his pocket? And then he's going to give me a ride to work? And then take off, like, with my van?

Is it a question of... Where? Else? Could he find a van? I mean, all kinds of places, right? Has he checked the Pennysaver?

It's like you see those hand-lettered magic marker signs on the telephone posts, "WE BUY HOUSES." "WE BUY HOUSES - GOOD PRICES." Who does that work for? You have a house, you've been having trouble selling because it's a rough market, finally you're like, man, I'm under water on this house, I'm going to call the number on that sign. I bet they can help!

Who..? does that? There's got to be someone. There's got to be some percent return on that, some success rate of that kind of advertising, or people wouldn't draw up these little signs and staple them to posts. The investment in tagboard alone! And does this just happen in Baltimore? It can't just be Baltimore.

Although I am beginning to think it's just Baltimore where people beg on the street corner with a bucket and call it fundraising. Not kidding. Not even wearing like a vest, or matching t-shirts - I saw ladies wearing t-shirts that somebody had written on them with marker, the name of a daycare center, and they're walking around with spackle buckets at the intersection just asking for money for this daycare center. What? Isn't your daycare center a business? "We're raising money for the God's Little Superstars Daycare..." Really? Are ya? Cause... I'm a little short today. "I'm raising money for the... librarian lunch fund? That's right." I don't know.

Sure. I'll sell you my van.

Another thing that I think about when I drive back and forth from work - I take like three roads on my commute, it's really simple - and one of those roads is weirdly narrowly lined. The lanes are really really narrow. So you're taking your life in hands shooting the gap between the armored truck on your right and the median. Inches to spare. It's a real... Yaaaa. You pass on the left and you're like "Yaaa-aaa-aaa." That's the sound you make. How am I going to transcribe that?

Anyway that's the sound I make in my mind when I go between the armored truck and the median strip on Erdman Avenue in Baltimore.

And often, even on that particular strip, where people ought to be being super super careful, people are not being super super careful. People are being JACKALS. People are not remembering that the lights are timed the same way every day. You are going to hit that light by the crab shack the same way today as you did yesterday. It is not like we're getting tourists coming down Erdman Avenue at 8am. But they try to zip out in between people and zip back in, and you're like, "You know? This is not L.A. You are not a professional driver. Now is not the moment to take your balls in your teeth and shoot forward like a slippery seed. This is the time to hang back, do your thing, and get to work alive."

And it's those times... like, recently, famously (Facebook famously, not real life famously), I wrote a little poem about a guy - a woman, actually - in a four-door sedan. I was driving along, and here she comes from the other direction, swings around in a tight mid-block U-turn, cuts me off.

I screeched to a halt and as I recovered from my near-aneurysm, I looked inside her automobile. I got a good look at this daredevil. And she didn't even see me. She's not even paying attention. She's talking on her cell phone. She may be getting directions. And maybe the person on the phone is saying, "Hey, you're going the wrong way, the pit beef slash titty bar slash mattress store is back the other way! You should turn around!" But instead of putting the phone down and pulling over and looking around, she's mid-block, and "EEeerrrrrt! There you go. I'm turned around! Which way now?"

She's driving the General Lee out here. Hitting the brakes and twisting the wheel. Is she a cop? No. No.  She's not a cop. But do you know what she is? She's got this bumper sticker, or, what, one of those stickers in the back windshield, it read, "FORGIVEN." And I was like, "'Forgiven,' huh? Who forgave you? Because it sure wasn't me."

So I wrote a little poem, I put it on Facebook, and it went

Talking on your cell phone
While you hang an illegal U
Your license plate reads '4GIVEN'
But not the fuck by me.

In the aftermath of having put that on Facebook it was suggested that I debut that... little piece of... work at the teen open mic night at the library. Thank you Todd, thank you for thinking so highly of my verse. And of course, I am not going to do that. Though actually that last line would work just as well minus the profanity, in fact ending with 4 syllables instead of 6 would give it a certain gritted-teeth punch, but... I like the profanity.

Which made me think about swearing in the car. I try not to swear out loud with the kids in the car, because I try to teach them that swearing is for very important occasions of chagrin or pain or anger. Swearing has its place. I need them to know that swearing has its place.

When we've had conversations about this, my younger child will always bring up, "LIKE if you drop a pickle jar on your finger, then that would be the right time to swear." And I'm always like, "HEY goddamnit, when I dropped the pickle jar on my finger, did I swear? NO. I was SILENT." In fact, I crumpled to the floor - in silence - cradling my hand, my mouth went... you can't see me, but I'm going "ow ow ow." SILENTLY. The boys came up to me and patted me in concern. They were toddlers at the time, really small, and the older one looks in my face, and he says, "Are you saying 'Ow'?" And I kind of nodded, with the tears rolling down my face. I did not swear.

Although Ezra is right, that is an appropriate time for swearing.

That was back when I was really good about not swearing, because they would pick up on like any random sound that they liked. The word "fuckers" had a brief run.

Hey, jackhole, your light's turned green. Well done, sir!

This is why I use a voice recorder and don't try to TYPE while I'm driving. Texting dickhead.

Where was I? I was talking about swearing.

So now, in the car - I drive a Prius now, we bought a Prius. Very happy with the Prius. And I feel like we now have sort of a third-party mediator in the car with us. Referee, if you will. When somebody does something like I'm about to do to this pickup truck - "Sorrrryyy!" - when somebody does something like that to me, I feel like, hm you know that Prius navigator voice? That lady? With the sliiiight North Carolina accent? Is saying, just like in The Blues Brothers, when the whole Chicago police force, all the Illinois state troopers, are chasing down Jake and Elwood, and they keep cutting back to this dispatcher, this old white guy dispatcher, he looks a little like Skipper on Gilligan's Island, they used basically the same character later on Hill Street Blues, and he's on the old-fashioned radio giving updates, you know, "Calling all cars, calling all cars" and at one point he says, "Use of unnecessary violence in apprehension of the Blues brothers... has been approved."

There's no clip of that, but enjoy this:

Henry Gibson, amIrite? Hee hee. Chicago looks like shit in this entire movie, by the way. I have ridiculous nostalgia for the realities of 1970's cities. Those images explain so much of the conservative Right.

But it's that flat bureaucratic tone - getting back to the dispatcher - that the voice in my Prius recalls.

Honey... don't. I'm right in front of you. Don't cut me off... from the right lane... for no reason.

So I feel like the Prius, in some situations, would say, "Regarding..." and I think I can do this accent, "Regarding... the Escalade on your right rear bumper... use of profanity... has been approved."

I gotta use Audacity to clip that for you, because I just did that really good. [Now that I'm transcribing it, actually no. I'll spare you my impression of my Prius.]

What is an Azera? I have never seen that model of car before. It looks like everything else, and I think it's a Hyundai, but Azera? Do I really watch so little TV that new models of cars can come and go without me even noticing? Because believe me, I am in a part of town where you do not necessarily see the newest models coming out of Japan and Korea.

Wow! Escalade on my right rear bumper, you just ran that fuckin red light behind me! Jeez. Where are her eyes? Nooo, she's not looking ahead either.

People are always talking about how the book is in danger, and that movies, and TV, and ebooks - oh, woe, the ereaders! - are endangering the book. You know what is endangering the book? As well as all of us? The cell phone. The smartphone is endangering the book. Because it used to be, if you were waiting at the pharmacy, if you were taking the bus to work, if you were driving in your car (ha ha that's a joke), you brought along a book.

Aaaaa! Jeez! I wish that she would stop texting because she is RIGHT behind me. And she just zoomed up on my bumper because I had to stop. I didn't think she was going to notice that I was stopped.

There we go, somebody across the way has had just the accident that I just avoided. Ohhhh! Here she comes, up alongside... and STOPS right in my blind spot. And then takes a right into a shopping center. Was there any reason you had to hotfoot it up there just so you could get to the Giant one second earlier? Wuhhhh. Harrowing.

And let me tell you, boys and girls, all this time that I've been talking? My eyes have been on the road. On The Road. I firmly believe in voice recorders. And now I forget what I was talking about.

Oh yeah! What's going to endanger The Book, oh you gotta capitalize it nowadays, the tragic, tragic, endangered, sensory dimensional entity that is The Book? It's the smartphone, because you gotta go to the doctor's office? yeah you could pick up like Golf Digest in the waiting room, but if you're thinking ahead, you'll have brought your most recent cowboy romance novel. Your Every Thug Has a Woman Who Loves Him. Which - I gotta read. I gotta do a comparison between Every Thug Has a Woman Who Loves Him and like Every Cowboy Has a Woman Who Loves Him, and, you know, Every Werewolf Has a Woman Who Loves Him.

"If there's a smile on my face
It's only there 'cause I shot my cousin."

Cause, you gotta wonder, are they the same book on the inside? And I kind of suspect not. I kind of suspect that the thug ones have a whole lot more violence - violence and beejays - and that the cowboy ones are inexplicably gentle. Like the cowboy, not only does he ride a horse and wear a hat, but he delivers calves in a rainstorm and then shelters them under his manly duster as he rides back to the barn leading the mother cow.

That's what I think, I think the cowboys are all like Ryan Gosling, and the thugs are all like Tony Yayo. What does that say about different kinds of women and their differing romantic ideals? There's room for us all.

But if you have your phone, even though you're reading about the manliest man - or werewolf or whatever - in his half-open shirt, when that phone chimes, you'll pull it out and check your email. You'll text your carpool partner back. You'll check in on your Tiny Town and totally get distracted from your book.

Which - I just finished this funny sci-fi novel (Year One), I'm reading nothing but funny sci-fi this summer, and in this book, the rest of the universe, who are of course way more advanced that we are, have some stake in keeping us from becoming more advanced. And I won't ruin the punchline on page 342, but it could easily be replaced with the invention of the iPhone. That's all I'm saying.

Anyway. Here I am pulling in to the library. This is me. Your Neighborhood Librarian. Getting to work in one piece.

Signing off. And punching in. Drive safe, friends.