Colder than yesterday. Three above, which is getting close to the point where I think “I should wear a hat” before I go out to walk the dog in the hard black night. (I didn’t.) There’s an aching vacancy in the air when te weather’s like this - you slam the gate and the sound seems to fly off in all directions, unimpeded. The house next door has no occupants, and hasn’t for a long time; the owners live elsewhere, and have been preparing it for sale or rental for three years. So they don’t know that there’s a problem with their attic ventilation unit. The furnace comes on automatically to keep the house from freezing solid, and this triggers something on the roof that goes around and around. (Sorry for getting technical here.) It has developed a skrich. It skritches like a robot bird singing a song of ones and zeroes to attract another robot bird, in a world in which there are no other robot birds. Every time I got outside I hear it. When the planes have stopped and there’s no dog-collar jingles on the sidewalk or cars or sirens, there’s just . . . the sound of something that's just a bit broken, and relentless.
This is the skritching time.
I shouldn't be too critical of some earnest young person who took a stand in a newspaper article, but then again, why not? When I published something provocative in the StarTribune in college, I was invited to make my case before the City Council, and I got flayed. That was instructive.
So: I went to the Library the other day to take a picture of the Opus Tower for your edification in the Needless Friday Construction series. The library is relatively new, built on the site of a 60s International Style structure that was A) Gold, and B) had a planetarium. The new one was designed by one of my favorite architects, and I'm not crazy about it. Never was. It has an atrium that narrows as it passes between Nicollet and Hennepin, and there's something ancient in the back of your mind that makes you recoil at the sight of a narrowing passage. The concrete pillars are exposed for Honesty; the light wood is nice but bland; there's one old statue that looks out of place.
It's full of books. It's the main library. Most people get books elsewhere, such as the local library, or the vast incorporeal network of information. I haven't had a library card for ten years. My wife gets books from the library all the time, but not downtown. The local branch is cozy and warm, and - here's the thing - there are not men wearing seven layers of odorous clothes watching porn on the computers.
Yes, we are bourgeois, and privilegd. Anyway. This young fellow wrote about the St. Paul library, a recently rehabbed 1914 Renaissance-style building originally named after a famous railroad tycoon, now named for a former mayor.
I walked into the George Latimer Central Library in downtown St. Paul. The satchel I was wearing had my work clothes in it. A man directed his voice at me: “What, you actually come to the library to read books? Who do you think you are, Arthur or something?” I ignored the comment and tried to figure out what made this person ask me such direct questions.
You wonder what this was like before it was edited.
Who’s Arthur? And doesn’t that last sentence seem to say “I ignored the comment and decided to think about the comment.”
I was offended, and apparently he was, too. It is, after all, a library. Or is it?
Yes, it is. I’ve been there. It says “Library” on the building and it’s full of books. When you say “where’s the Library?” in downtown St. Paul, that’s the building people point at.
The library wasn’t just a library, as visibly homeless people with their belongings frequently used it as a place to warm up. Then my sociology degree kicked in. What is the definition of the situation? Perhaps it is foolish to think that a library should be used for reading?
This the point where the reader is supposed to think ah, I do believe we're in for some Swiftian "Modest Proposal" type stuff here, no? I mean, no one references the kicking-in of their sociology degree except to invite mockery about their self-importance.
Ah, yes, the sociological imagination. A big concept for getting in the other person’s shoes. I would like to side with the homeless man against the status quo and brush up against the politics this situation reveals.
No one's stopping you, pal.
Homelessness in St. Paul isn’t new, but what is new is this individual’s boldness. The homeless man’s questions are brilliant. He empowered himself against the bookish nerd with the privilege to leisurely read. This moment by which the homeless man defines the space for him, against reading books, cannot be separated by a Donald Trump presidency, an anti-intellectual event.
You could make the argument that if anyone has the privilege to leisurely read, it’s someone who doesn’t work and spends all day in the library.
The Trump sentence is incoherent.
But the neoliberals are no better, as this situation reveals. As a symbol of neoliberal capitalism, I am what is wrong in the world to him. His observations are correct. I rarely find a person in the literature, sociology, philosophy, arts, history, geography, math, or home decor sections. I do find people sleeping in chairs. I do find people reading the newspapers to get updates on the world. I do see people on Facebook playing pop balloons, and sometimes I see people studying for their careers. The statement “well, it is a library, and it is meant for reading books” is without insight.
So the homeless have recontextualized a public space, and therefore identifying its original purpose is not an insight. Agreed. Calling a Fire station a Fire Station is not an insight.
The homeless man is right to call me out and poke fun at my nerdy glasses. The George Latimer Library is a wasted space benefiting from being called a library and having books. Its primary role serves the interests of society, which are to get people employed. Not that employment is a bad thing. My point is that there is something wrong about the use of space if many of the books are not actually being used for this role. This is a library; there are books; people don’t read most of the books, but we keep them here just in case they need them to waste their time being like Arthur.
Who the hell is Arthur?
Who the hell thinks that the primary role of a library is to get people employed? Libraries should be emptied out and turned into homeless shelters because the homeless people who spend their day in the library aren’t reading books? If you opened up the Institute of Arts to anyone who wanted to sleep in the galleries, eventually you’d be able to say “this is a wasted space benefitting from being called a museum and having art. The homeless people are not looking at art. Ergo it should not be a museum.”
Remember: sociology degree.
I think since the city of St. Paul chooses to build a soccer stadium instead of a place for the homeless to catch their breath, it would be perfectly reasonable and practical for me to go to the library and start dumping the books into bins while saying, “Bring in the beds! Let them sleep! Build a kitchen, let them eat!” Isn’t that really what this man’s questions are about?
Key line at the end:
What will it be, leaders of the Twin Cities? It’s obvious to me where the interests of Minnesota are. Words are not action, but I’m just a dishwasher.
Well, I was just a waiter when I wrote my piece for the Strib. It gets better, as they say. But this Modest Proposal isn't particularly absurd. If you did empty out the downtown libraries, fill them with cots and cafeterias, most of the day loiterers would be fine with that - as long as you kept the internet going.
The larger point, I think, is this: we're done building big libraries.
Not all the art is on the walls. Some of it is enormous, and sits in the elevator lobby, biding its time until it explodes and covers everyone with mind-control spores:
Quick, Mr. Scott, beam it into space!
That was close. Now, back to the art on the wall: yes, it's that guy.
If you can identify this, you have basic cultural literacy.
This looks familiar.
I don't know if I've done this before and forgot, or did the pictures so long ago I've been paging through them for a year and think I did them. The style of the filters, the typeface at the bottom of the picture - it's all c. 2015.
Does it matter? What if the city's different now? What if a tornado took it? What if the reality I'm showing you is anything but?
DEEP, MAN. Okay, here are the pictures.
This bank's officers and tellers have been controlled by a green brain that appeared 17 years ago, and has directed their every thought ever since:
For some reason I gave this the Faded 70s picture treatment, which I don't like. The actual 70s were not faded. That's not what things looked like. The earth didn't pass through the tail of some strange comet that desaturized everything and boosted yellows.
You didn't like that 70s bank? Don't worry, we have another:
It's as if reality was so horrible for a few years that they made the windows impossibly narrow to keep the sights and sounds of carnage and despair from dispiriting the employees.
The theater, of course - complete with off-center marquee.
Once it had quite a presence. The marquee is all that's left. More interior shots here.
Wonder who that was? No, not Ray.
The McCasland name would be famed later in the petroloeum field- it's Mack Energy now.
I'll bet the storefronts are original - the Teens and Twenties loved the black tile.
Of course, so did the Thirties and Forties.
On the left: the head of angry, famished life form based on construction equiptment. Wander into the shadows, and be consumed.
In the middle: the sign on the metal grill says ABSTRACTS. If I had to guess, I'd say it was a Fine Dining restaurant - the window is covered up, but it's not boarded up. A close-up view shows a wall of decorative concrete blocks on silver poles over a planter, which says early 70s swank.
I found a historical society document for Duncan that suggests they concentrate on the residential districts, as there's just not much left of downtown to make for a Historical Area.
You can see their point.
It looks as if Mr. Buck is leaning to the side so you can see his name. Get out of the way! Hmph - trees downtown. Whoever thought of such a thing.
You'll have to wait until winter to get the full name.The 2008 version is helpful, even though the resolution's crap: W. L. Buckholte.
It's important to remember these things, and who these people were.
Wish I could tell you more.
A nice little piece of rusticated commercial space; no doubt a bank.
If I seem a bit bored with Duncan, it might because Duncan seems a bit bored with itself.
You know, if I saved these in January 2015, I should see if the Streetview cameras have been back since I snapped these.
Well, what do you know: they have. I took some more grabs.
Downtowns of a certain size put a lot of hope in these places - antiques! Cafe! Candle shops! After a few years it's cluttered and musty and the radio's playing the 70s channel and you find something from your childhood in the back and it feels sad and the only people in the cafe are old men with VFW caps. Which is fine; they need a place to go. But if you've been to one of these you've been to a hundred, and the mood is always the same.
An auto dealership? Whatever it was . . .
. . . it's not that now.
Hey, found another bank! The curse of any town: a boom in the 70s.
Can't tell what this is - no signage, as far as I can see - but again, something that ugly has to be a public building, the shape suggests a library.
Windows would just be distracting.
Finally: this is interesting, believe it or not. It really is. First: the angled brick on the left - pure late 50s / early 60s design, a bit of modernism to jolt the straight lines of the street.
Then the inevitable Buckaroo Revival on Books Calore. But what did it used to be?
The address comes back as a movie theater. The Trail. If it looks too small, well, look next door: I think that might have been the anctual theater, and this was the entrance / office. It's windowless and substantial.
If I'm right, then you just learned something you'd never know if you drove through town.
They all have stories and names, mysteries and hidden pasts. Every single one.
If that's not enough old roadside lamentations, why, it's Motel Thursday. Have at it, and I'll see you here and there.