Sunday, January 23, 2011


Some time ago I was told that there were more public libraries than McDonald's restaurants in America. The assertion made me feel good about our country, and I've told a lot of other people the same thing without ever taking the time to confirm that it is true. Well, at long last I have done the necessary internet searching, and my optimism was justified. There are, in fact, more libraries. How many more? Read on!

First, the competition. How many McDonald's restaurants are there in the United States? At last count we had 12,804, which is just under half the world's supply. This amounts to 1 store for about every 23,000 Americans.
Note that this is comparable to other uber-popular stores like Starbucks (which has 11,168 locations), and a lot more than the total number of bowling alleys (just over 7,000), or Walmart-owned stores (4,404).

By comparison, how many libraries are there? The American Library Association, whose business it is to know such things, reports a total of 16,671 public library locations (plus over 850 bookmobiles). So there are about 4000 more places that will lend you a book than sell you a Big Mac, and that is a heartening thought. (You can check out to find the ones near you.)

But it gets better. You see, that's just public libraries. Think about the 3,827 college and university libraries, with a combined collection of over 880 million books! And the surely the Library of Congress has to count for more than just one, since its collection alone is more than 24 million materials. And there are a smattering of nearly 10,000 libraries in other categories, such as the ones named after US presidents.

The real weight of our libraries in the United States, though, is the 99,180 academic libraries in the public and private schools. That's right, one hundred thousand libraries, full of books right at the fingertips of our students.

All told, that's 122,101 libraries, one for every 2500 people in the US. Isn't that something to restore faith in our culture? I certainly think so.

(images used without permission)

Monday, January 17, 2011


The phrase "a snowball's chances in hell" is a very problematic metaphor. For one, it depends crucially on one's conception of hell. Someone subscribing to the pit-of-fire image would usually conclude that the snowball wouldn't last a moment, while someone who had read Dante might assume that the snowball could last indefinitely on the frozen lake of the 9th circle.

Then again, if a snowball really were to be punished, I can't think of a more appropriate hell than a lake of brimstone, a limitless expanse of inexpungible flame. But damnation is eternal, so even in such a place would the snowball ever melt away? Or would it be always melting, steaming in the infernal heat, but never truly disappearing--trapped for eternity where it least belongs?

Of course, that begs a host of theological questions, such as whether a snowball can possibly be wicked. To all appearances, snowballs lack free will, and therefore cannot be culpable for what they are formed and used to do. And do snowballs have souls? Is there an eternal essence that lasts beyond the impact or the spring melt? And if so, what does that say about those who make, and throw, these soul-endowed snowballs?

There is no time to really tackle these questions, or to point out the other problems fundamental to the snowball metaphor. Because there is a much more evocative image, with a much more concrete answer:

"What are a fire-imp's chances in a snowball fight?"

Simply put? None.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Hourglass

However many thousand-thousand grains of sand may lie
in glass above as time to come, or beneath as time gone by,
still in this trickling instant only one may tumble past
the narrow neck of now that is the soul of the Hourglass.

This fragile moment funnels the to be into has been
through an is that is too slender for all but the slimmest when.
I wish sometimes, when time is thin, the barrier might collapse
so that the years to love you in might hurry down en masse.

But flowing seconds filter by--some beige, some black, some gold--
enough to run your fingers through; far too many to hold.
And, blessedly, now stems the flow that else would far surpass
the breath and life with which I hold time briefly in my grasp.

Let moments, then, fall one by one until the very last
has tumbled singly, subtly through the soul of the Hourglass.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Raincoat

The front left pocket holds the quiet echoes of
a thousand movie ticket stubs and restaurant receipts,
and several dozen breath-mint wrappers that lend
the crinkling air a scent of hoping-to-be-kissed.
The right contains the warmth of hands held tight,
of jokes retold until they became funny again.
And don't forget the collar's grand collection
of every look--shared or missed; from smiles to glares,
impatient stares, and a wealth of exasperation.
The buttons carry promises, the button-holes wishes,
and the inside zipper is caught in thread
from where plans came loose and unraveled.
That hidden pocket is full of hard days and teary nights,
nights when one or both of us needed a raincoat.
In short, the coat is so heavy with memories that
I dare not hang it up, even for a moment,
lest it break the hook off the wall
and everything in those pockets come tumbling out
onto the floor between us.
So I hold it and give you the best one-armed goodbye
I can manage before handing you the coat
to drape over your elbow. I listen to the door shut,
hoping it will rain.