Saturday, October 24, 2009

National security level is metallic green with hand-stitching and bamboo detail

You know that I have always valued the safety of my colleagues and customers. And when I worked at a prestigious national laboratory, I took my job as the safety officer for my group seriously.

When I became the division environment, safety, and health officer, however, I was thrust into the rarefied world of Bureaucracy Safety, which bears no resemblance to reality as most of us experience it. That the Manhattan Project scientists did not have a formal safety program and relied on common sense had no bearing on present-day operations at the prestigious laboratory. It was enough to know back in 1944 that if you put your lips on a sphere of plutonium, you were asking for trouble, and if you were carrying the business end of a bomb, you'd go carefully with it if you loved your arms and legs.

As the division environmental officer, for example, I attended meeting after meeting on how our administrative operation could reduce its carbon footprint. The meetings were always held downtown, which necessitated using a vehicle, and we had reams of paper to read, reams of paper to write our environmental plans on, reams of paper with notes about our reams of paper. We had to explain in great detail why our administrative operations did not use solvents for removing aircraft hydraulic fluid. Irony was lost on the leaders of the meetings.

We had safety procedures for every imaginable operation. Need to change out the carboy in the water cooler? We had a procedure. Need to insert earplugs when the custodian was vacuuming? We had a procedure ("Do not insert the earplugs into your nostrils."). Need to dispose of a blade used to cut foam core? We had a procedure. Need to use some correction fluid? We had a procedure and a material safety data sheet. No trivial, everyday, ordinary act was so insignificant that the Powers That Be could not throw common sense out the window and create a thorough, detailed, multi-page procedure for doing it in a vain attempt to protect us from ourselves. Naturally, the people actually doing the jobs resented the procedures, and human nature being what it is, they looked for loopholes.

It put me in mind of when I was the municipal judge in Maxwell and had to enforce an ordinance that forbade tying your horse to anything that the horse could nibble on. "No horse shall be tethered, tied, fastened, bound, or trussed to any bush, shrub, tree, sapling, or sprout in such a way that the horse may feed on, eat, masticate, manducate, nibble, or chew on said bush, shrub, tree, sapling, or sprout." So if a person were hauled into municipal court because he tied up his horse at the mercantile and it ate the lilacs out front, he could get off without a fine because he could say he "lashed" his horse to the lilac, and it was "noshing" on the leaves. So the village council would revise the ordinance to include lashing and noshing and hoped that no one would "hitch" a horse in such a way that the horse could "munch." Things could get out of hand pretty quickly.

But I digress. After the attacks of September 11, the prestigious national laboratory instituted a policy to ensure that all bags, briefcases, luggage, purses, backpacks, and lunch buckets were affixed with ID tags with the owner's name and phone number on them. See, in addition to hating freedom, terrorists do not tag their bags. The bomb boys were afterwards regularly dispatched to "disrupt" somebody's untagged lunch bucket. (And yet when the casing of Fat Man was on a flat bed truck in our parking lot, did it turn anyone's head? Nooo-oooo-ooo.)

We had to evacuate a month or so ago because the County guys who were working on the roof of the museum next door had left an untagged cooler in front of the building. The street was cordoned off, the cops told us to evacuate the store, and the bomb boys were called. We were very excited about the prospect of watching them blow up--er, disrupt--the cooler, even though several people were hollering at the cops, "It's the County guys' soda! They're still on the roof. Ask 'em!" After standing out on the sidewalk for 45 minutes or so and explaining to our bemused visitors about laboratory safety, we were allowed to resume business. The bomb boys never showed, much to the disappointment of those of us who were anticipating an appearance by the little bomb-disrupting robot.

On Columbus Day, one of the folks from the museum next door came cantering into the store and said that they had a suspicious package and were evacuating the building. I asked what the package was. He replied, "It's a green purse in the ladies' room! You should evacuate!" I told him that purses left in restrooms aren't really so uncommon and that I'd evacuate when the cops or bomb boys told us to, but in the meantime, I wasn't closing because some visitor left her purse in the john.

Again the cops cordoned off the streets. Again the bomb boys didn't show. The museum guy came in to ask whether we knew the phone numbers of the museum director and safety guy, because nobody knew how to get hold of them. Meanwhile, the cops apparently opened the purse, found the owner's cell phone, called her husband, and made the world safe for democracy.

The museum visitors spent the whole time in the store, and we did land-office business for about an hour and a half.
Have you tagged your evening bag, m'dear?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Our invisible books are so popular that we've been out of them for a week.

Saturday afternoon near closing time a visitor was wandering around in the graphic novels. I asked, "May I help you find something?"

She said, "I had a book on the history of Los Alamos, but I lost it. Do you have any books on Los Alamos?" I led her over to the atomic history section, which has garnered much praise from historians and scientists as one of the most extensive and complete collections on the topic in the country.

She stared at it moodily. "Is this all you have?" our visitor asked.

I told her, "No store can carry every single book that's ever been printed, but perhaps I can make a suggestion."

"Well, I had this book on the history of Los Alamos. Do you have any books on the history of Los Alamos."

I made a sweeping gesture. She was unimpressed. "Don't you have any books you don't have?"

I mulled that one over for a few seconds, and figured that trying to make sense of it would require some cold rags for the back of my neck. "Do you know the title or the author?"

"Well, it had the word history in the title, I think. And maybe the. Like The History of Los Alamos or something like that. You know the one?"

"I'm sorry, but I need more information than that."

She began to talk to me very slowly and loudly to make sure that I understood her. "I. WANT. A. BOOK. ABOUT. THE. HISTORY. OF. LOS. ALAMOS. AND. THE. HISTORY. OF. THE. SCIENTISTS! IT'S. A. BOOK. THAT. I. LOST. DO. YOU. KNOW. THE. ONE. I'M. TALKING. ABOUT?"

So I went back to the cash register and pulled up the inventory of books about Los Alamos with the word history in the title. Lots of books. I named the top five or so, but nothing rang a bell with her. "No," she said, "I think the book may have had the word Los Alamos in the title. Or maybe not. It was all about the history of Los Alamos and the history of the scientists, I know that for sure. Do you have any books on the history of the scientists?"

Another sweeping gesture at the biographies. "Do you remember the author?" I asked.

"No. But I think the book was about this big a-square," she said, holding out a copy of Standing by and Making Do so I could calibrate her request. "Do you have any books about this big a-square? About the history of Los Alamos? It had the history of the scientists, too, I'm pretty sure."

When in doubt, go to the cash register and check the inventory. "The closest I can come right now is Jon Hunner's Inventing Los Alamos. But we're out of stock right now."

"Oh, that's wonderful! Where is it?"

"Out of stock. I'd be pleased to order it for you."

"Is it about this big a-square?"

"Yes. It has a bluish-green cover."

"No, no, this book had a different color, I think. Or maybe not. Are you sure you don't have any books you don't have?"
No, this isn't the book I want. It's not this big a-square.

Friday, October 9, 2009

lagniappe, n. lăn'yəp: an extra or unexpected gift or benefit

Last week I ordered a random original comic strip art from one of my faves, Barkeater Lake. It came yesterday.

And I got a lagniappe: enclosed in the package was a free pair of Toby, Robot Satan, socks, size men's 10-13. I can wear them on those cold winter nights.

Monday, October 5, 2009

And I'm still not finished

Here are some images of the facelift of my home office. Fortunately, I don't have a "before" picture, because I would have sunk through the floor with embarrassment.

First I packed up everything in the office and staged it in the living room.

When the bookcases were empty, I cleaned them and staged them in the carport so that Fernando from Mountain School could come get them in his truck. Bookcases are a hot commodity in the public schools, and Fernando told me later that they disappeared immediately from his truck and then reappeared in the classrooms.

Here is the almost-empty room. The walls were off-white, and the ceiling was sort of beige.

I chose Valspar's "Ice Storm" for the ceiling and walls and "Capri Coast" for the accent walls. (I fixed the "holidays," so there's complete coverage.)

I think this is a more accurate representation of the colors.

I chose rustic Mexican iron for the closets and cupboards.

Here are two full bookcases. I put the inscribed books from various signings up on the top because I probably won't read them any time soon. Harry Potter is up there, too, because he takes up a lot of room, and I don't reread those frequently.

Years ago I picked up a cute iron bird in Madrid. It's made of pieces of farm implements. The rustic Mexican lamp has a "piña" design. The little cupboard is made from salvaged teak from the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

Here is my bespoke rustic desk.

I also have kinetic sculpture in the room.