‘Protect me from another saucy wit!’ Or, The Prison Library courtesy of TWSS.com

[In which the un-PC bandying of words results, as usual, in some delightful and mentally healthful silliness….]

Rape. One of the worst things imaginable.

Rape in prison. One of the most serious correctional management problems of the New Millennium. Prisoner-on-prisoner rape is no joke. Which is why prisoners make rape jokes all the time.

When one prisoner is annoying another by constant verbal baiting, a third prisoner who’s observing will often say to the annoyance: “I’m not pulling him off you.” Meaning, of course, “If he kicks your ass, you deserve it.” It’s a warning to the joker to consider the consequences.


“If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.”

— Chinese Proverb


One of my Lending Library workers cultivates a sexually-charged sense of humor.  Very little can be said in his hearing that he is not compelled to make into a sexual reference. Sexual innuendo is his nature, his creed, perhaps his raison d’etre. He cannot help himself, and wouldn’t even if he could.

Yesterday, one of the Lending Library clerks — a consummate ball-buster who mans the circulation desk — is baiting another clerk who’s trying to get some cataloging work done at the computer. The clerk who’s working is obviously annoyed, and warns the man to cut it out. The ball-buster smiles and continues the unwanted teasing. Two other clerks are observing this from their work desks, one of them being Mr. Innuendo. Observer #1 says to the annoyance:

“I’m not pullin’ him off of you!”

To which Innuendo adds, “And I’m not pullin’ him out of you!”

I say to him: “Don’t you have anything to do?”

He smiles and replies: “I’m doin’ my job! I’m a cunning linguist!”

“Funny, you were hired as a typewriter clerk. But all we get from you is sexual innuendo.”

To which the ball-buster replies, “Yeah, but with him, it’s more like ‘In-your-end, oh!’ ”


I didn’t pull them off of him.

“They even let the Viagra book in!” Or, WORKIN’ FOR THE MAN EVERY NIGHT & DAY

[In which it pays to have a tightly-written Selection Policy & Acquisition Procedure, and preferably in the English language….]

Last Friday afternoon, we arrived in the Lending Library to (6) boxes of books c/o the NE Mobile Book Fair, faithfully delivered by the Property Department to the Library’s reference room. For the next two hours, we checked titles against the packing list, and assigned each item a Dewey number (Yes, we use Dewey, sue us) and a destination (PC Cabinet, Oversize Reference, Self-Help, etc.) 152 books received, along with 21 CDs and 1 DVD. Nothing was lost, nothing was stolen.

And this time out, no material was challenged.

One of my clerks balked at the health book entitled Viagra & the Quest for Potency. “Why would they let this in? Don’t they know we’re not supposed to engage in unauthorized sexual acts?” (Which is true, according to 103 CMR 430, “Disciplinary Proceedings.”)

“I didn’t buy it to encourage sexual acts, you dodo. Men happen to be interested in the drug and what it purports to do.”

“They’re interested in it, all right!”

“You can’t get the drug, so it’s informational only. It’s a reference work, for Pete’s sake.”

“You mean ‘For peter’s sake!’”


There were also more than a few juvenile comments from clerks about the title Great Speeches on Gay Rights. I’ll spare you these, which were mostly directed at each other. Mostly.

The same clerk balked at 63 Documents the Government Doesn’t Want You to Read.


“I can’t believe they let that in here!”

“Why wouldn’t they?”

“Because they’re the Government!”

“I’m the Government, too, and I bought the thing. Besides–Don’t look now– but the Governor signs your paycheck, too.”

“I don’t work for The Man; I work for myself!”

“That reminds me of my favorite Pride and Prejudice line: ‘You think that, Jane, if it gives you comfort.’ “


Surprise is also expressed by the same clerk – a voracious reader and dystopian prophet – over the title The New Jim Crow.

“You can’t tell me they know what this book says & they still let it in! “

“It’s a popular sociological text. What’s the problem?”

“Yeah well, it may be popular but it slams the government. Either they haven’t heard of it, or this is a mistake.”

“You must not know this but, by policy, the DOC can’t exclude political opinions that are critical of the government. Even if the Bundle Room officer read the thing and disagrees with it, it has to come in. And are you forgetting that we got this for one of the law clerks a few months ago through ILL?”

“I remember. I assumed they missed it because of normal DOC incompetence!”


HEALTH IS WEALTH: Or, “I can make Curry Chicken with Rice & Beans better’n anybody in here!”

[In which the Library does its humble part for Health Awareness Month, remembering to change the genuine HP color Inkjet cartridge several times in the process….]

At Norfolk, April has been designated as Health Awareness Month. The Library has been directed to participate by creating a display of health material and health-related posters. We also have contributed 30 health-related DVDS/videos  to the Library cable channel, one health-related film per day for the entire month.

We created the display yesterday evening between 6PM-8:30PM, using 50 books, eight ready-made posters, and 12 health-related  internet images found using Google Images. That’s where the color Inkjet cartridges come in. Well, it takes a lot of ink to create these images, especially when you use Paint to print out nine, 12, or 16 8.5″ x 11″ pages which you then have to trim and tape together to make a decent-sized poster.  The Microsoft Paint program is useful when you need to print out multi-page poster-size images, and we use this each month when it comes time to change the theme in our display cases.

This became one of our centerpieces:

We created (6) displays: Laughter is the Best Medicine,; Sneezes Spread Diseases; Health Around the World; AIDS/HIV Awareness; Men’s Health; and Mental Health Awareness.

These display cases are in the hallway leading past the Lending Library and continuing on to the staircase that takes you to the second floor School Department.

Approximately 300 people will pass these cases in the course of a week. Few will stop and look at what my clerks have created.

But I’ve noticed that the ones who will are also the ones who will stop in the Library and give compliments. Last night, about 5 minutes after we completed the displays, 15 minute movement period was called, and the inmates who were attending classes upstairs were released. One of them came into the Lending Library and said “Bill! Who put that nice display together in the hallway?” I pointed to one of my clerks, the man who creates the displays each month. “Well I just wanted to tell you how nice it makes the hallway look.” We thanked the guy, and he went away.

Years ago, I used to say this was a thankless job. Then, I learned to pay attention to the “Thank-you’s.”

One new aspect of Health Awareness Month for this year is that the Administration is holding a recipe contest. One of my clerks, a latino from Philadelphia, and a cook on the streets, feels more than up to the challenge. “Give me the ingredients I need, and I’ll win that contest hands-down,” he boasts with a smile. “Nothing better than a plate of rice and beans on a cold Spring day. And it’s healthy eating, too.”

A cook-off in jail. This is how corrections chooses to emphasize health awareness in 2012. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Be well.







[In which we are reminded that jailhouse humor is beastly, cruel, disgusting, foul, inhuman, sick, wicked, and deranged. All at the same time….]

There are some topics about which one should never, ever joke.

This blog post discusses such a topic.

If you’re a healthy, normal person, or are easily offended, close your browser and go read a book.

For once, I am being serious. Please. For your own sake.

You cannot say you were not warned.

*                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

Recently I visited the Walpole Public Library. They had leftovers from their Friends of the Library sale, and we were invited to take what we wanted for our Lending Library.

From the 150 books we chose, one of them — LIFE Laughs Last — held our special attention. Specifically, a B&W photograph appearing on page 156, taken in a San Francisco court room somewhere in the 1960s. Obviously, they posed for this. What’s not so obvious is WHY. Even now, I find it almost impossible to imagine what gave these adults the idea to stage this. It’s WEIRD.

Upon seeing the photo, I chuckled and promptly showed it to one of my cynical Lending Library clerks. He laughed out loud and said: “Teddy’s accuser!”

‘Teddy’ (not his real name) has a disturbingly dark, sardonic outlook on life. Teddy holds nothing sacred. Teddy makes fun of everyone and everything. In particular, Teddy cracks jokes about topics which no tasteful, intelligent, well-bred, sane man would ever think to joke about.

Once the other clerks caught on about the Life photo, this is what they did with it:


This photo was taped to one side of our book binding cabinet.

The next day, our Superintendent comes through the libraries leading a tour of approximately 15 people. It isn’t until hours after he’s gone that I realize that this “in-joke” was visible where he might have noticed. The fact that he did NOT notice bode well for all concerned. The man has a great sense of humor but, had he seen the posting, his professional sensibilities would have impelled him to object.

You may be asking yourself: Schmuck! Didn’t it occur to you that Administration might see this thing? Yes, it did. But Management only occasionally visit the libraries. Of course, life being the Obstinate Cuss that it is, it took less than one solar day for Management to make a walk-through, and it had to be the Superintendent, a man for whom I hold the utmost respect. Thankfully, his attention was on his tour group and not on appropriate and professional Department of Correction office decor.

Which made the joke even funnier. It’s like suppressed laughter in church. You’re not supposed to laugh, but you do, which makes you laugh more.

But I took the thing down. No sense tempting fate ad infinitum. I’m foolish, yes, but NOT fool-hardy. I’m told by folks who love words that there’s a significant difference. Being too lazy to look it up, I choose to believe them.

Jailhouse humor: You either get it, or you don’t.

“HURRY UP AND WAIT!” Or, The best-laid plans of Librarians and Men

[In which we collectively witness the gears of the Machine grind, mesh, and grind again, and always slowly…Ever so slowly….]

State workers, man. From east to west and from age to age, you gotta admit — they’re consistent.

Back in August, I submitted a purchase request through my boss and then through her boss to buy $1,500 worth of books from the Shire Book Shop in Franklin, MA. August is over three months in the past.

A few days ago, I receive an email entitled ‘SHIRE’ from our Steward, notifying me that the Shire money had been approved. This is happy news because in our Department, purchases over $1,000 must first be approved by the prison Superintendent and then by the Commissioner of Correction. As you might imagine, this process takes several weeks to play out.

Picking up the phone, I call to the clerks within shouting distance, “Hey, we’re going to the Shire!” General cheers from their various stations. Library clerks are happy at the prospect of new books. So are library patrons. So is the Librarian.

I phone the Steward to ask when I can pick up the check. She says:

“I lied to you. The request hasn’t been approved yet.”

“Whaddaya mean?”

“I found it on my desk and thought that the Commissioner had approved it. But only the Superintendent has said ‘Yes.’ I forgot to send it downtown.”

“I see. Well, please do so. I started this in August, hoping to make the purchase by Thanksgiving.”

And that was that. Notice the Steward never offers an apology. I’m thinking that an apology was appropriate, for I was led to believe that all we’ve been waiting for was the decision of the Commissioner. Turns out he hasn’t even seen the request yet and doesn’t even know that it exists.

This is particularly annoying for another reason. In October, after not hearing anything for two months, I called the Steward to see where the request was in the process. I discovered that although she received the Superintendent’s approval, she hadn’t filled out the paper work that needed to go to the Commissioner’s office. In fact, she started doing so while she had me on the phone.

Ave Maria!


For the past five years, it’s tradition that I complete a major book purchase by Thanksgiving. This year, the Commissioner may not make a decision until after the New Year.

It’s typical. And it figures. But just because I expect it doesn’t lessen my frustration. Nor for my clerks, a few of whom have little to do until a donation or a book purchase arrives for them to classify, catalog, stamp, enter into the computer, fashion with a Mylar dust jacket cover, and place out on the shelves. One of the pragmatic uses of a prison library is a little game called Keep Library Clerks Busy. The greatest enemy to prison peace and good order is boredom. Inmates are proud of their library work and enthusiastic about getting a load of fresh reading material out to the population. It stinks to have to disappoint them. Not that they’re not used to disappointment. And not that they should be coddled. But they need gainful, interesting employment. Book buys help fill the bill.

Ah, well! This Thanksgiving, instead of showing gratitude for our bounty and the beneficence of the Commonwealth, we’ll give thanks that the prison still has a library that the inmates use constantly and do not take for granted.

Lemons into lemonade. And we have professional incompetence to thank for it!

“I never know what’s going on,” said Charlie Brown: Or, LIBRARIANSHIP FOR THE WALKING DEAD

[In which Your Beleaguered Instructor engages his library staff and discovers an April Fool….]

Today we took down the April books and posters out of the three hallway display cabinets. Later on, the 37 books will need to be checked in and re-shelved.

In the center cabinet, we secured a lovely 3-foot poster that I found online, with the Hirschfeld caricatures of WC Fields, Groucho Marx, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin.  No one taking the time to glance toward this side of the hallway could possibly miss seeing this poster and the images of the comedians depicted on it.

Keep in mind: this display has been in the cabinets for a full five weeks. The three display windows are large, taking up three-quarters of a 20-foot hallway wall. As a library clerk, to have visited the library five days a week for five consecutive weeks, AND to have missed seeing this large poster as the centerpiece of this very colorful display, you’d need to be aggressively brain-dead oblivious to your surroundings. Also consider that there is nothing but brick wall on the opposite side of the hallway; in other words, nothing there to distract your attention from the colorful, easy-to-see books and posters in this 15-foot display.

Back in my Lending Library office, I happen to unfurl the Comedians poster. My ILL clerk ‘Narc,’ while sitting at his work desk, sees this unfurled poster, and his eyes light up. “Hey!” he smiles, “WC Fields!”

Understand further: Narc is a comedian aficionado. He follows comedians. He reads about comedians. He talks about comedians. He even alerts me when a comedian dies, because he collects their obituaries out of the daily newspaper. And he has a well-developed sense of humor which he unabashedly displays during the work day. He has, however, built, from the ground up, a reputation for not being aware of his surroundings; at times, aggressively unaware. You might even categorize it as brain-dead oblivious.


I say again: the library display is fifteen feet long, behind clear Plexiglas, quite colorful, sporting a three-foot poster of comedians, and has been displayed for 35 consecutive days for all to see.

Understand something else: Although this man’s eyesight is a step above total blindness, he has been blessed with corrective lenses, the strength and thickness of which permits him to discern the black heads on the face of the Man In The Moon. In a fog. Through city lights. At night. In a pelting rain.

Imagine my disbelief and confusion when I realize that during those 35 days, this man managed never to turn his head once to the left while walking down the hallway and into the Lending Library, nor did he turn his head to the right while walking down that 30-foot hallway on his way out of the building. Not once. He may as well have been a myopic plow-horse with blinders on.

I say to him: “Do you mean you didn’t see this poster in the display case?”

“What display case?”

“The display case that’s had this poster in it for the last five weeks.”



“I never think to look there.”

“What do you look at when you’re walking down the hallway?”

“My feet.”

“What’s so fascinating about your feet?”

“I just don’t look around, that’s all. Jeesh, what did I do, commit a crime? You can’t send me to jail, I’m already there!”

I am frightened by this man. I am frightened for this man. I would pray for him, but God Himself probably would reject the entreaty as a damnable waste of His time.

I do not know this. It’s just a feeling I have.

“I’m so glad we had this time together” Or, EASY COME, EASY GO

[In which your Beleaguered Instructor admits to breaking correction’s Cardinal Rule, and pays dearly for it straight through the heart….]

Today, a clerk tells me that Bob Merkin has finally left Norfolk; a shiver goes through me, and I instantly miss him.

I wish I had the writing skills to tell you exactly why. The only thing I can think to say is , when a prisoner that you’ve enjoyed as a human being leaves, it’s like having a friend die.

Yes, yes YES! You’re not supposed to get that close with inmates, and I understand why. But the truth is that it sometimes happens, you know that it’s happening, and you allow it to happen because you know what this individual brings to your work life. You never forget that the guy is a prisoner, but you always thank him for what he brings to the work place, and try to never miss an opportunity to make him feel appreciated. Inmates like him–no, PEOPLE like him—come once in a blue moon. For every thousand inmates you have a Bob Merkin and as there are only 12,000 inmates in this system you get the idea. I know I can’t replace him. And of course that’s what makes him special.

goodbye miss you

We worked side-by-side, both figuratively and literally. He was like a second staff member in the Library. Inmates do not like being thought of in that way, and I understand why. But there it is. If he had been a Department employee, he could not have helped me more. He literally re-invented the legal copy clerk position.

I’ve had copy clerks before, many of them. All they did was show up for work and push the Big Green Button. Bob just didn’t copy legal papers. Robb knew court rules off the top of his head which came in handy when determining how many of what kind of legal document or submission needed to be copied. Sometimes inmates ask for too many; other times, they ask for too little. Bob had no problem with keeping inmates honest. I think this was because he knew that the copy procedure—though nowhere near the free-for-all it used to be—actually worked, and he wanted to support that procedure.

His knowledge of court submissions rivaled that of any jailhouse lawyer, and this was something I didn’t know when I hired him. His familiarity with Massachusetts judges, of inmates’ individual filings, and of the court rules governing both federal and state submissions brought a new dimension to the legal copy clerk job. It never occurred to me when hiring for a copy clerk that I should be looking for an inmate with extensive familiarity with court rules. I have learned a great deal more about civil and criminal court submissions from working with him, and I am grateful.


He has this youthful appearance to his face, even though he’s in his early 40’s, and an easy smile that when it comes –and it comes frequently—makes your burdens a little lighter each time. He also has a sense of humor that allows my own humor to flourish, which makes it easy to be around him. He permitted us to joke about ethnicity and race and—since he is a black man—is refreshing and liberating. Especially to someone like me whose humor was weaned on Don Rickles and Andrew Dice Clay and the attack humor they were best known for. He is by no means politically correct, and anti-PC humor is particularly welcome and useful in a prison setting.

His humor style flew in the face of the regulations and policies in place warning us all that we’re not allowed to offend each other. Rob understands that life is offensive, and prison is offensive, and the Entitlement Attitude is offensive, and crime and the criminal mentality is offensive, and stupidity is offensive, and incivility is offensive. These personality traits manifest themselves in the daily lives of prisoners and prison employees, and Bob knows that it’s better to laugh at those traits than to punch the empty heads of the people exhibiting them….Together we made fun of all these things, and I cherished the freedom to do so with this man who is never afraid to thumb his nose at the cultural Thought Police. His attitude is: “You’re full of shit; I know you’re full of shit, and I’m going to laugh at just how full of shit you are. Excuse me? You say I’m not allowed to do that? Aw, HELL no. My Grandma raised me better than that.”


We also talk about other things that matter, like our families and raising children and keeping a wife happy and what to say when a loved one of a friend passes on and how to control your anger when dealing grudgingly with fools and making fun of fellow clerks and their peccadilloes, and how The System sometime hurts people, and how manipulating certain inmates are.

Bob knows how helpful certain staff can be even though they may be unpopular and have a certain negative reputation. In fact, I emailed my boss’s boss to tell her his good opinion of her, and how helpful he always found her to be even though it’s generally believed that she’s unhelpful. This employee wears her heart on her sleeve, and was appreciative of the man’s comments, as I knew she would be. Prison employees rarely hear inmate praise, which is why I was happy to pass his words on to her.


His words made her day, and he made that happen because he was comfortable enough to share his opinion with me. His courage to voice true feelings for a staff member who is generally seen as unhelpful is one of the reasons I am fascinated by this man. He knows what he knows, and he’s not afraid to tell others about it, even if it doesn’t jibe with the conventional inmate wisdom. Bob is savvy enough to know that the conventional wisdom is often wrong. And that, Dear Hearts, is true wisdom.

His political opinions of prison and prisoners are aligned with mine, and it’s refreshing to hear him unabashedly voice it in the company of other inmates. His social views are decidedly conservative in many respects, which is a refreshing change from the liberal rants you usually receive from the incarcerated. And if inmates screw up, he unflinchingly and unhesitatingly condemns them in the presence of other inmates, which is a kind of intellectual courage and honesty you do not often see displayed.

And although this behavior can sometimes be used by manipulative inmates to secure the confidence of the on-site employee supervisor so that they won’t be scrutinized as closely as other clerks, such was not the case with this individual. I say this with confidence because we worked side-by-side for nearly three years, and in that time a man will surely pull the covers off of a manipulative personality if he possesses one. This man is what-you-see-is-what-you-get. This man learned a lot about himself in his incarcerated time (15 years), and isn’t about to let the vagaries of prison and criminals deter him from losing the self-knowledge he painfully gained through soul-searching, prison programs, and learning about his anger issues.

anger issues all day long

We both have anger issues, and here I feel closest to him, because I know that this is a fellow traveler who understands my own cross, and is quick to forgive my transgressions against him because he recognizes the signs. I am grateful to him for this. It taught me to be more forgiving of those who have a similar burden, and not just in inmates but in staff as well. Anger is an unresolved issue for many prison employees. It helps to be able to share it with someone who’s been there/ done that. I will miss his support and encouragement.

Another fascinating and sad aspect of Robb’s incarceration is that his own father is imprisoned with him. In fact, he didn’t really know his Dad until the older man was transferred to Norfolk. So we got to talk about that aspect of his life, and what it was like to catch up with a father whom for years had been an absent, unknown quantity. He was happy to have the opportunity to get to know his Dad.


Bob is that rare prisoner who has learned to own his crime and feel true regret for what it has done to others. Of course he’s sorry that jail happened to him, but he has learned to be sorry for his victim. He is very lucky that his victim did not die. He has contacted his victim, and his victim has forgiven him, something that Bob counts as a daily blessing. This forgiveness helps him to continue his self-discovery which served to make him a better, rehabilitated human being. He shows insight into his criminal thinking, and takes the hard steps to try to leave it behind.

Bob has several step-children and a loving wife waiting for him. His family has stuck with him through it all, which will forever amaze me about women and children and their resiliency in the face of incarceration. They visit him often, accept his collect calls each week, and send him packages and letters. And not just his own family, but his extended family; he talks of his Aunts and his brother and his nephews & nieces. Unlike the majority of inmates, Bob’s bridges were never burned. His family awaits him. Because of them, he will never return.

I am a better man for the blessing of knowing Bob Merkin. I will never see him again, which is painful to write. I will try to remember that smile, because it’s an uplifting smile, and I will be happy knowing that he’s now sharing it with the people he loves, and who love him.



Today I was invited to Walpole Public Library to pick n’ choose through library sale leftovers. They’re weeding like mad because they need to transfer their collection in December to their newly-built library just down the street.

Interesting side note: the town of Walpole repeatedly voted down the construction of a new library. Finally it was put through on a third referendum, passing by a 20-vote margin. Actually, the previous referendums failed by the same ultra-slim margin (Walpole has 31,000 residents), which I think emboldened those who supported the idea of a new public library in the town. The current building was built 100 years ago and, while it has strengths, they’re overshadowed by mildew, terrible parking, and poor visibility in the community.

I spent four hours in a basement storage room going through items which have been donated to the sale of the Friends of the Walpole Library. I end up packing and setting aside eight boxes of hardcover fiction/non-fiction. Also, with the help of Reference Librarian Warren Smith, I am able to pack about 150 educational video tapes. These tapes will see library use, and will also be used on the prison’s education video channel.

Always, always, always, there is that cultural technological lag between what happens in the free world and prisons. This is quite necessary for the security and orderly running of these institutions. Inmates are frequently caught with cell phones now, and have crashed computer networks in the law library and other areas.

3D_ScreamAn important distinction: we’re not talking about a technological disparity based on economics, the kind you may find between affluent and destitute communities. Rather, the focus must be on the clientele and where they are physically situated in life. We are not serving the general public, we’re not serving children, and we are not serving the corporate world or Academia. We’re serving social deviants in a prison. These are people who Society has agreed live life the wrong way. Technology in the hands of many of these folks is a dangerous thing, especially in the context of a medium- or maximum-security prison.

What you have to remember about corrections is that you must not offer technology or services simply because you can, or because it’s the latest thing – you offer a service in a certain medium based upon the security concerns of the prison and of the Department. Security is serious business in a prison. Security trumps everything. And so it should.

As 2012 looms large–and while the free world discards their DVDs in favor of 3D Blu-Ray technology–we are excited to be getting 150 video tapes for the correctional Library.

This donation is particularly timely, because the Administration recently approved the design and installation of a prison-wide DVD/video system operated from our School building (it used to be operated from the Gym, of all places, but has been transferred to us). The Superintendent has given the Library its own VHS channel, so now we need to feed the monster week in and week out.

The inmates will be clamoring for us to buy and borrow videos, and that can be a Jurassic pain in the ass. Seldom content with being gifted with something new and useful or diverting, inmates are always pushing. Prison administrators have to reign in this behavior, just as a parent would check a teenage driver drunk with his new-found autonomy. That’s why you must be circumspect before saying “Yes,” forever weighing the apparent benefits with the agenda behind the request.

Well, inmates always have an agenda. This is because many prisoners who participate in jailhouse politics are controlling personalities. They manipulated people on the Outside, got caught, and continue their manipulating ways Inside. Manipulators are tiresome people, and must be checked often.

We are, however, grateful. And my classifier, cataloger, and bibliopegist now have something to keep them busy for the next several days.

“We’re at the mercy of a madman!” Or: LOOK BEFORE YOU BLEAT

This afternoon I’m in the Lending Library with two of my clerks, deliberating on whether to switch Biography with the books on the Fiction Wall. The idea is to consolidate the fiction, which at present is shelved in various sections. If we moved the Biography to the Fiction Wall, and moved those books to the shelves vacated by Biography, all would be well. That way, instead of Bio being nestled between World History and Westerns, it would become the starting point for the nonfiction Dewey books which, of course, makes perfect sense.

Bu Life being what it is, such a move wouldn’t happen that cleanly. Some other books in other sections would need to be moved to make it work properly. We have to do some measuring—without a tape measure, I must add– and we have to do some math involving square feet and foot-space.

Before the calculations commence, I’m still agonizing about what to do. At first I tell them that I think it won’t work; then I decide to do the calculations to see if it will.


After I change my mind for the third time, one of the clerks–who is a movie buff AND a dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon–shouts out loudly enough for the officers down the hall to hear:


Prick. The worst part of it is, I couldn’t stop laughing at that. For weeks afterward. In my car, in the shower, dressing for work, or going to sleep at night. There it was, resounding in my mind’s eye and ear.

The truth often hurts. But if your mind is open wide enough to accept some instructive self-deprecation, your ‘pain’ can be funny, too.

“I am a cunning linguist!” Or — WORDS MEAN THINGS

Tonight in the lending library we were discussing our Wednesday plan for processing the books I purchased last week from New England Mobile Book Fair. One clerk said he’d go up to the 2nd-floor balcony at 1PM and bring down one of the four boxes from that purchase that’re temporarily stored there.

Because I have a librarian’s meeting next door at the infamous Walpole State Prison, I reminded him of this by saying that I wouldn’t be in until 6PM because “I have to do Walpole.”

Instantly, another clerk chimes in: “Wow, that’s a lot of guys.”

Nothing like setting yourself up. “I have to do Walpole.” Right off the turnip truck.

I’m glad I surround myself with literate people who have a vulgar turn of mind. The fun we have….