Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Tale from an unknown typist

Once in a while I stop by a nearby antique rental shop that is stocked full with all kinds of vintage junk. And in its musty, cavernous basement, among the rotary phones, LPs, radios, and TVs, is a wall of typewriters. I already sifted through most of them awhile back: varying conditions and styles, some just needing a good cleaning and others more in-depth work, and all of them too expensive ($100+) to buy outright.

This time, expecting to find the usual suspects collecting dust, I turned the corner and saw, uncovered in the noir-ish lamplight, a gorgeous 1961 Olympia SM7:

It’s very similar to my other Olympia SM7, just with a different color scheme and a larger typeface. Since it didn’t have a price tag, I took a pic and, expecting the worst, asked the woman at checkout (who wasn’t the usual proprietor) what she wanted for it.

She wanted $30.

Ummm… Sold!

Did she not know how the other typewriters were priced? Was she just happy to sell anything? I knew enough not to ask. When the typewriter gods offer an unconditional gift, accept it and appreciate your good fortune.

But before I bought it, I wanted to do a customary typing test. As I reached into my backpack for scrap paper, I noticed a piece of printer paper in the case beneath the typewriter. Almost a page long, untitled and single-spaced, it was a window into the mind of someone freshly out of a dark time, struggling with some heavy regret.

Was it by the typewriter’s previous owner? A recent store browser? It could have been just a creative writing exercise, but it felt genuine to me.

So before making this typewriter my own, I feel duty-bound to honor this anonymous person’s story by presenting the unedited transcript here. Thanks for typing, whoever you are:

How is it that something so tiny can have so much power, can bring so much happiness yet destruction and deep sadness. What was once an ancient medicine has brought my life, and my body, to its knees. It has healed me none and taken everything from me including my morals and dignity, and on top of all that it stole any happiness that it once gave, which I now see was no more than a false prophet.

The bastard that I speak of has gone by many names and has taken on many names and has gone by many forms. The one that I am most familiar with is Heroin. Maybe you have heard his name before. Odds are you have as he has been creeping his way out of the jungles and mountains around and into our American cities, slowly but masterfully working his way into the outlying suburbs and even further into our countryside.

We are a nation plagued by opioid addiction and at this point no one, no family, has become immune to it. You see this is a problem that does not discriminate. It attacks our mothers, fathers, and children, it attacks the rich and the poor alike and it doesn’t stop until you are dead or until you jump out of the ring with him, making a conscious decision to “give up” because you will never win this fight. He wins every time, leaving you only one choice, to admit defeat and choose to live without him, which really is not giving up, but knowing that you are powerless over him because in the end there is only one choice and that is to choose a life without him, so I am told anyway.

This is all very new to me. It’s taken fifteen years for me to realize that heroin is not my friend, as I had once thought. All those times that I can remember him being there for me, all those times that he had helped me celebrate, all those times that he was there to comfort me, it was all a lie and the bastard was stealing from me the entire time. As I sit here now it seems as plain as day. It seems like the warnings of who I was becoming from all those on the sidelines were right. I’m sitting here a defeated man, pieces shattered far and wide, alone.

I hope in the end for this to be a tale of triumph, but knowing the outline in my head I don’t know how a story of destruction, sickness, and loss can come to have a happy ending. Maybe it could serve as a cautionary tale, maybe I will just serve me the purpose of getting some of these things off my chest and onto paper, maybe this is just another selfish expedition on my part. Whatever it is I believe that it belongs on these pages.

In the new Phish song “More” frontman for the band sings a few lines that go “half of what I say is lies, and it takes so much to keep up this disguise, I see a doorway through the haze and I’m trying to get it”. This verse has spoken to me, as it reminds me of who I’ve become, a look into the mirror if you will.

Recent Views, ctd

More photography here. And on my Instagram.

Pretty cool frost patterns on my car window (I call this one “Frozen Fractals All Around”):

A few shots of my building’s backyard in the snow:

Scraping off the car one morning, the snow shavings fell in a pattern that encircled the car. They contrasted well with the dark asphalt, and sorta looked like the Milky Way:

And a bonus GIF from when I was looking through microfilm at work for a patron. The zooming effect made it look like those whirling newspaper montages in old movies:

The Seventh Seal

Because the only screengrabs of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal I’ve ever seen are of a knight playing chess with Death, I really thought that would be the whole movie. Just a Very Serious Film that would be more film-buff obligation than an enjoyable experience. But wow, am I glad to be mistaken. It’s a profound, disturbing, grotesque, even goofy film, impressively rooted in religious inquiry but humanist at heart.

Two quotes stood out from Antonius Block (played gracefully by a young Max von Sydow), a disillusioned knight returning home from the Crusades to plague-ridden Denmark. His wager with Death—being spared if he wins—sets him apart as a determined, sensitive, and thoughtful seeker. So his wrestling with God is keenly felt:

“Is it so terribly inconceivable to comprehend God with one’s senses? Why does he hide in a cloud of half-promises and unseen miracles? How can we believe in the faithful when we lack faith? What will happen to us who want to believe, but can not? What about those who neither want to nor can believe? Why can’t I kill God in me? Why does He live on in me in a humiliating way—despite my wanting to evict Him from my heart? Why is He, despite all, a mocking reality I can’t be rid of?”

Yet later, while enjoying a moment of solace amidst the chaos of his journey, he practices a Middle Ages form of mindfulness and calls out his gratitude:

“I shall remember this hour of peace: the strawberries, the bowl of milk, your faces in the dusk. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lute. I shall remember our words, and shall bear this memory between my hands as carefully as a bowl of fresh milk. And this will be a sign, and a great content.”

This is only the third Ingmar Bergman film I’ve seen after Winter Light and Wild Strawberries. My regard for Bergman has shot up based on the caliber of these three alone. God bless Kanopy (free with a library card) for making it available. Looking forward to discovering more.

Paper Only! No TVs

This sign is posted in the parking lot outside my work. Why “NO TV’s”? A while ago someone left an old TV next to what they thought was a dumpster for trash but is actually a dumpster for paper recycling. But only people who had seen the TV there before it got picked up will understand the odd specificity of the sign.

It’s still a great sign without that context, because paper is the far superior technology.

New words for obscure sorrows

I love learning new words. (And writing them down.) All the better when they are invented words. John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a collection of words Koenig has created—inspired by real etymology—for specific emotions that don’t have precise English words to describe them. Tell me you haven’t felt every one of these:

Sonder: (n) The realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own

Opia: (n) The ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable

Monachopsis: (n) The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.

Énouement: (n) The bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.

Vellichor: (n) The strange wistfulness of used bookshops.

Rubatosis: (n) The unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat.

Kenopsia: (n) The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.

Mauerbauertraurigkeit: (n) The inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like.

Jouska: (n) A hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head.

Chrysalism: (n) the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm.

Vemödalen: (n) The frustration of photographic something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist.

Anecdoche: (n) A conversation in which everyone is talking, but nobody is listening

Ellipsism: (n) A sadness that you’ll never be able to know how history will turn out.

Kuebiko: (n) A state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence.

Lachesism: (n) The desire to be struck by disaster – to survive a plane crash, or to lose everything in a fire.

Exulansis: (n) The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.

Adronitis: (n) Frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone.

Rückkehrunruhe: (n) The feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness.

Nodus Tollens: (n) The realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore.

Onism: (n) The frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time.

Liberosis: (n) The desire to care less about things.

Altschmerz: (n) Weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had – the same boring flaws and anxieties that you’ve been gnawing on for years.

Occhiolism: (n) The awareness of the smallness of your perspective.

(via Tyler Cowen)

Chad’s Christmastime chronicles, 2018

My season of celebrating Christmas has begun. This year I thought it would be fun to document exactly how I usually get into the spirit of the season, through music, movies, and rituals. I’ll update this post as I go.

Friday, November 23

  • Listened: Season’s Greetings by Perry Como, Christmas Party by She & Him, Bing Crosby Sings Christmas Songs by Bing Crosby, At Christmas by James Taylor

Saturday, November 24

  • Listened: Let It Snow, Baby… Let It Reindeer by Relient K, Christmas Songs by Jars of Clay, A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra by Frank Sinatra, Christmas radio
  • Watched: Grumpy Old Men
  • Did: put up decorations at my parents’ place

Sunday, November 25

  • Listened: Christmas with the Rat Pack, Songs for Christmas by Sufjan Stevens, Under the Mistletoe by Justin Bieber, Christmas radio
  • Watched: Elf (first 30 minutes)
  • Did: put up decorations in our apartment

Monday, November 26

  • Listened: Songs for the Season by Ingrid Michaelson, Christmas is Here! by Pentatonix
  • Watched: A Charlie Brown Christmas, remainder of Elf
  • Did: enjoyed the first Chicagoland blizzard of the season, first ceremonial snow-scraping of the cars

Tuesday, November 27

  • Listened: Christmas Portrait by The Carpenters, Snow Globe by Matt Wertz, Come On, Ring Those Bells by Evie, The Hotel Café Presents Winter Songs

Wednesday, November 28

  • Listened: “All I Need Is Love” by Cee-Lo Green & The Muppets, Light of the Stable by Emmylou Harris, Merry Christmas Good Night by Morning And Night Collective.
  • Watched: Holiday Inn

Thursday, November 29

  • Listened: Blood Oranges in the Snow by Over the Rhine,  Merry Christmas Good Night by the Morning And Night Collective
  • Watched: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Friday, November 30

  • Listened: Christmas with Johnny Cash by Johnny Cash, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas by Ella Fitzgerald

Sunday, December 2

  • Listened: Christmas Favorites by Nat King Cole

Tuesday, December 4

  • Watched: The Family Stone

Friday, December 7

  • Listened: Home for Christmas by Hall & Oates, Songs for the Season by Ingrid Michaelson

Sunday, December 9

  • Listened: Jingle All the Way by Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Advent Christmas EP by Future of Forestry, “Mittens” by Carly Rae Jepsen, Stan Boreson Fractures Christmas by Stan Boreson

Monday, December 10

  • Listened: Advent Christmas EP Vol. 2 by Future of Forestry

Thursday, December 13

  • Listened: Christmas Collection, Volume One by Sleeping At Last

Friday, December 14

  • Listened: Oh For Joy by David Crowder Band, Pretty Paper by Willie Nelson

Sunday, December 16

  • Listened: Christmas Party by She & Him, Snowfall by Tony Bennett, Songs for the Season by Ingrid Michaelson, The Songs The Season Brings by Beta Radio, Ultimate Christmas Collection by The Jackson 5

Big Mouth of Little Lies

My wife and I recently binged season 2 of Big Mouth and season 1 of Big Little Lies, and I noticed a key bit of thematic overlap between the two.

Big Mouth, Netflix’s obscene, irreverent, gut-bustingly funny cartoon about kids going through puberty, introduced the Shame Wizard character in season 2. Voiced by a slithery David Thewlis, he creeps among the kids whispering shame-inducing accusations and judgments. He even has a (NSFW) song:

Oh, I hate to be a bummer
But, my dear, I’ve got your number
And I’ll whisper it forever in your ear
Bringing the shame, shame
You’ve got no one but yourself to blame
You thought no one was watching
But I’m right here in your brain

It takes a while for each of the kids to realize that they aren’t the Wizard’s only victim. Each had separately internalized the shame and let it negatively influence their self-image and behavior.

The Shame Wizard would have fit well in Big Little Lies, the HBO series based on Liane Moriarty’s excellent book. Wealthy parents with kids in a public school deal with an accusation of bullying as they struggle with the ripple effects of domestic violence, infidelity, divorce, and trauma. What’s kept hidden from others by kids and adults, lovers and friends, because of their own version of the Shame Wizard really propels the story.

When things finally get out in the open in the final episode is when many of the characters finally experience freedom—even if, like a bandage being ripped off, it hurts like hell getting there.

Refer Madness: Always on call

Refer Madness spotlights strange, intriguing, or otherwise noteworthy stories from the library reference desk.

You know how doctors are always on call? Someone has a heart attack on an airplane or chokes at a restaurant, and doctors, nurses, or other care providers jump to the rescue, even if they are off the clock. Even medical students count: I witnessed a friend dash to the aid of a woman who injured herself while dancing during a wedding reception.

Professionals never know when they will be called to duty, librarians included. We might not be setting broken bones or taking vitals, but we info-slingers have a knack for finding opportunities to serve random reference needs.

One day, I was chatting with a neighbor in my apartment building’s laundry room. He’s a counselor, and he had just read about a theory that he wanted to learn more about. Google wasn’t offering much of any depth. He didn’t work for or attend a university, so he didn’t have access to specialized journals and databases. Amid the thrum of tumbling clothes, I told him I would help him check with our local public library to see what they had access to.

It was just that simple. Simple for me, anyway, but not for my neighbor. Familiarity bias makes it easy for librarians to forget that most people do not know everything the library offers, or even think of the library as a potential remedy for a problem. This can limit our fellow citizens’ information epiphanies.

I recently attended a seminar, and while grazing the snack table for coffee and a bagel (the Official Refreshments™ of seminars everywhere), I struck up a conversation with another attendee. He was a newly hired city planner in charge of reaching out to local businesses, and the task was overwhelming him because he was new to the area. I knew that his library was likely to be subscribed to ReferenceUSA or something similar, so I told him how he could use an e-reference tool like this for his project, without costing the city extra money.

Again, this public library pitch required hardly any effort in the moment, but it will likely pay dividends in the future. The actual work lies in the preparation, before the opportunity to share presents itself. The more knowledgeable you are about what libraries offer—and not just your library—the better equipped you will be to save the day. A friend is in the market for a new car? Consumer Reports online. Need a template for a new lease? EBSCO’s Legal Information Reference Center. Want a software refresher before a job interview? Lynda.com.

Whether the unsuspecting patron actually uses the resource is out of your control. But it’s exciting to consider what planting that seed could lead to: maybe that person’s first library visit in years, or a card renewal, or excitement about e-books and museum passes. Or maybe even a word-of-mouth recommendation to a friend, which starts the cycle anew.

I wonder how the woman at the wedding reception would have fared had my friend not been there. Since the spirit of the celebration rendered most of the other guests unhelpful (and telling her to check out MedlinePlus didn’t seem useful in that moment), she no doubt would have been worse off without a professional’s help. Luckily she only ended up suffering a swollen ankle and a bruised ego, but my friend didn’t know that when he jumped to her aid. He just wanted to help.

Gary Rydstrom on Rear Window’s ingenious sound design

Northwestern’s Block Museum hosted a screening of Rear Window that was introduced by Gary Rydstrom, Oscar-winning sound designer for Saving Private Ryan, Titanic, Jurassic Park, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and many other movies you love. Though I didn’t stay for the movie (I’ve already seen it on the big screen), I was eager to hear Rydstrom’s perspective on one of my all-time favorites.

He included this great quote from John Fawell’s Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film:

Rear Window is so highly charged with a sense of the significance of the hidden, with the mystery of the barely glimpsed and distantly heard, that it is difficult not to carry this same sense of mystery back to our own world. Hitchcock’s cinema leaves us with a more highly charged sense of the mystery of the world. We notice certain things more after a Hitchcock film—a glass of milk, a woman’s handbag. Mundane items buzz with a mystery they did not have before. Hitchcock tends to invest us with his manifold neuroses. He makes us more wary of, and therefore more alive to, the world. Rear Window specifically heightens our attention to the barely glimpsed sights and distant sounds of our own neighborhood. It makes us more sensitive to the mystery of hidden lives, to the mysterious presence of loneliness and alienation in our own world.

Other notes from his brief talk:

  • He saw Rear Window on TV in 1971 as a 12 year old; turned him on to movies and sound design
  • His goal was to marry Grace Kelly (ditto)
  • We tend to think movie sound should be loud and dramatic; Rear Window‘s wasn’t, yet still an ingenious use of sound to this day
  • Film was a counter to criticisms of Hitchcock that his films were cold and clinical
  • The film’s hero is Lisa Fremont
  • Stewart’s Jeffries a criticism of the American male
  • Murder mystery was in service to the love story
  • Voyeurism generally has a reputation as a sickness, but this shows an upside
  • Diegetic music throughout (pianist, radio) comments on and contrasts with the action
  • Distance/echo of music around the apartment complex indicative of neighborly distance and alienation; also technically hard to do in 1954
  • Sound design changes once Thorwald appears
  • Pianist’s “Lisa” theme develops during movie along with the story

A new typist in the family

Since I don’t have a Hermes Baby, our now un-Disneyfied toy typewriter will have to do as a stand-in. Excited for when baby’s hands will be strong enough to type. Perhaps I should start typing close to the womb so he can get used to the sound, and then maybe the clacking will be soothing to him. A man can dream…

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