Chemtrails Over the Country Club
Issue #10: The Convicts
Hi Friends, Happy Sunday!
If you’re a new subscriber, welcome! You might enjoy perusing my small archive of posts, which will get you up to speed. I’ve already written a small novella of words, so maybe it will entertain you as I write my forward.
Today, I’m sharing a rough draft (a VERY rough draft) of a few sections for my next memoir, Library Confidential. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a bit.
This memoir is still way stuck inside of me. At this point, I’m just trying to get thoughts down intuitively, without any clear idea of where it will go in the book. I have no real structure in mind and I’m not even sure I have a narrative arc. But I’ve got words.
So, I’m getting words down as they come to me, and you’re in the front row getting a first ugly look while I go mucking through the swamps of memoir. It’s kind of awkward and maybe a little gross - but I’m pretty sure the path will appear if I just keep doing the dirty work.
And, I don’t even know what I’m thinking, trying to do two books at once, but I’m also sharing a few juicy updates regarding the Papa Project. (I don’t have a real name for it yet.)
Funny enough, I have a fairly clear structure in mind for the Papa Project so it feels easier to stay focused on it. I just have a TON more research to do before I can really synthesize it all into a narrative. You’re definitely getting an inside peek today.
Thanks for being here!
A Librarian’s Library
Every librarian has reading preferences, favorite authors and topics, and a secret superpower or two. I’ve always had favorites in fiction, but it was the library’s non-fiction collection that got me excited. History, culture, cooking, travel, memoir - whatever. It was my thing.
Over the years, patrons would often ask me about my own library at home and what kind of books I liked, which is a totally fair question. My preferences at work shows in my book collection at home.
For instance, I stopped buying hardback and mass-market fiction books for myself altogether. I knew a public library would almost always have access to a copy, and honestly - I need the space in my house. This rule doesn’t apply to my kids, of course - their book collections are up to them, and they’ve got shelves in their rooms.
Back in the 90’s my husband would gift me books all the time and finally, I told him to stop. Ten years into our relationship we were drowning in big, once-read, hardback fiction books that we were hauling from crappy apartment to crappy apartment.
When we first met, he’d buy me all kinds of lingerie, and I told him to stop that, too.
I will pick out my own books and my own underpants, and you just buy me steak dinners, Big Man.
So, I ended up donating pretty much my entire fiction collection. I’m not compelled to own it anymore. I don’t need a wall full of Stephen King books. A hard copy can be had just a couple of miles away at the library, or if I’m desperate - on the Kindle. Which is how I read most newer fiction books these days, anyways.
As a writer of books, I probably shouldn’t admit any of this, but it’s true. I don’t buy many hard copy fiction books anymore.
I’m always a sucker for good non-fiction, though. I just bought a fresh, brand new copy of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, since it is serving as inspiration for Library Confidential.
I lent out my copy years ago which is also something I also don’t do anymore: let people borrow my books. If you borrow a book, you can just keep it. I rarely get borrowed books back, anyways.
I LOVE physical books. I will always, always be a bibliophile. I’m just picky about what stays on my personal shelves, and the clutter of fiction feels like deadweight on top of my brain.
The Friends Bookstore
My little home library is my curiosity library, a writer’s library of strange and wonderful things.
I’ve been building my little library for years, and it’s a mix of reference, classics, field manuals, history - especially Medieval and Arizona history - and…all the other stuff that I find fascinating.
One of my guilty pleasures is collecting old books on alternative thinking, secret histories, hidden knowledge, odd topics, and conspiracy theories. Graham Hancock? Rene Noorbergen? David Willcock? YES. In my collection.
In addition to keeping my eyes open for any new books going out into library circulation on these topics, I made it a regular habit to scour the Friends of the Library Bookstore every few weeks.
When I first started, the Friends area was located in a far corner of the main floor with a few shelves of books and magazines, and an honor-system donation box. We had one older lady and her two volunteers that managed the corner and all the donations.
But a few years later, when I was the adult services and main floor supervisor and was able to help plan the big library remodel, we built a little storefront in the lobby and got them set up properly. We obtained grant funds to build a cafe, and now they make enough in coffee profits and book sales every month to pay salaries to the cafe manager and the bookstore manager, along with a few hourly employees.
The Friends group receives hundreds, if not thousands, of book donations from the community every month, and has a constantly turning inventory. In our community - a University town with a lot of transplants and retirees from all over the country - it’s a real bonanza.
It’s a little morbid to say - but when grandma and grandpa come to Arizona to die - library bookstores thrive. We get old books brought in from everywhere.
I can’t quite define what will catch my fancy in the bookstore, but it’s usually small press or local books on Arizona history, Native American history, pretty books with old artwork or illustrations, and miscellaneous stuff related to topics I want to write about - like prostitution in the American West, or viticulture in European monasteries, or The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine, or old cookbooks and how-to survival manuals and gardening books - in case the power and internet ever go out and I’ve got to start raising chickens and other food on my quarter-acre in suburban Phoenix.
One time at the bookstore, I found a beautifully inscribed and autographed copy of a book by Senator Barry Goldwater. He used to be kind of a big deal around here, a huge part of Arizona and United States history. What a cool find. It was only $2. Maybe a mistake? I showed it to the bookstore manager, and she didn’t care. I emailed our history museum about it. They didn’t care either.
But I did, I cared. I think it’s a really cool little artifact. Something for my Arizona collection.
The last time I was at the bookstore, I found a beautifully designed and illustrated book on the firearms of the Old West. I’ve always wanted to write an epic western-style type of woman-based adventure story, and of course that brave and fearless chick will need a gun.
“Look at this amazing book and it’s only a dollar!” I say to myself.
Hook in mouth, my friend. Onto my shelf it goes.
Edible plants of the Southwest? Blacksmithing? Campfire cooking? The Self Sufficient Life and How To Live It?
All in my little home library, awaiting that future character and story.
So, my own personal weird little library of books are on topics that I find fascinating and helpful, but that some people might find strange or even controversial.
Some of the books came to me through pure luck (you might remember the story of Claire, from AMHL, whose esoteric library I inherited), some through the fabulous Friends Bookstore above, others I bought brand new just because they ALWAYS got stolen from the library.
Knowing what I know about working in a library, popular or controversial books walked off all the time. Back in the day it was The Joy of Sex, marijuana or drug books, ALWAYS the astrology and witchcraft books (in Librarian lingo: “The 133’s”), and Judy Blume books. Gosh, I still love Judy Blume. I do have a couple of those in my home library, in homage. Her books changed me.
I always found it ironic that the ASVAB (“Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery”) test prep books would go missing. I thought there was some kind of honor code among soldiers.
Same for the GED books - they’d get checked out once, and gone forever.
If you’re not returning the ASVAB & GED books to your local public library, your chances in life aren’t good, my friends.
For the last six years of my job, I advocated for doing away with overdue fines altogether. Seven months after I left, they adopted it and I think it’s fabulous. Fines should not be a barrier, in my opinion.
When it came to overdue fines - I was a fine-waiving fool. Especially for kids. For as much as I hated to see books checked out and never returned - I hated even more that there were people who were blocked from checking out because their fines were over the $10 limit.
I waived fines all the time, for almost any reason, as long as the patron was reasonable and polite. My goal was to get books into people’s hands. If I have to waive a few bucks or stretch a few rules so they can check out, who cares?
At one point, management imposed a limit on how many fines we could waive as frontline staff, and I completely ignored it when necessary. They never called me on it.
I am not the judge or jury. The fine money doesn’t benefit the library anyways - it goes into the City’s general fund, and the library got screwed in the City budget all the time.
I mean, we were still running Windows XP in the library on more than a hundred public PC’s a full two years after XP was grandfathered. No longer supported with security updates by Microsoft. It was embarrassing.
Especially when City leaders tried to rebrand the City as a “technology hub”. Ok, right. Insert big eye roll from me.
So, screw the fines. If people needed a break, I’d give it to them. It was my fairy godmother superpower at the time.
Bing! Fines gone. As long as you brought back the books. NBD.
But, of course, people wouldn’t bring back books.
I know that life happens. Backpacks get stolen, people move, get sick, go to the hospital, books get lost in the car, get returned to the wrong library, or a Chai Soy Latte gets spilled on them. We were in a large, multicultural suburban community - and new users sometimes didn’t fully understand “the deal”. I’d like to think most of our losses were unintentional.
I’d like to think.
But there was a certain type of patron who would come in with an agenda. They’d have a list and would purposefully check out certain books on certain topics with the specific intention of never returning them. That was the worst.
Other people just used razor blades to cut out pictures, or sharpies to black out words. Pretty much just as bad.
The last couple of years I was working we were dealing with a lady who was removing all the books with references to homosexuality and transgenderism from the teen collection - which is quite a few, these days. She had some kind of list from her church.
It was so tiresome and disappointing, the guerilla censorship and losses. A good portion of our book budget was spent for replacements. I mean, it’s one thing to replace old or well-worn copies, that’s just part of collection development and maintenance. But to continuously replace Love Signs by Linda Goodman? One of the most classic books ever written on astrology? It was a bummer. Luckily, I had my own copy of Love Signs, inherited from Claire.
No good karma ever comes from a stolen library book.
Chemtrails & Convicts
When I was still a new reference librarian back in 2004, I had three different patrons ask for the same weird and obscure book all within a few weeks of each other.
After the third request, it felt a little cosmic, like a serious moment of woo-woo-deja-vu, so I bought the book outright and at full price for my home collection.
The requests rolled in for years for this book after those first three patrons and it was a book that we could not keep from being stolen - so we eventually stopped buying it, I’m embarrassed to say. But, hey, it’s a tough call.
Now, the thing that got my attention about this book was that the first three patrons who asked me for it were all African-American men in their 20’s who had been incarcerated. They came in about two weeks apart.
My hours on desk varied every week, depending on a variety of factors and it struck me funny that they all got me - and not one of the other eight librarians I worked with on a rotating basis.
And here’s the weird thing: all three of them were really fresh out of prison. They told me this right up front, like they thought I should know. Maybe I just have an understanding, non-judgy face.
They’d heard about this book while they were incarcerated as a word of mouth kind of thing. The book was “supposed to explain everything about everything and what’s going down”, they said, almost verbatim.
They all had such similar stories.
Huh. Now I’m really curious about this book.
Three different guys, similar demographic, age, similar life experience, similar story - asking for the same book while I happened to be working out on the floor.
Obviously, it still sticks with me.
You’d be surprised at how many former convicts head straight for the library after they get out. I always thought it was great. Welcome back.
Everyone gets a second chance at the library, really.
My observations over the years were that the ex-felons were usually super-polite and grateful for the help and for the conversation, whether it be about books, or job applications, or computer classes or whatever.
(I don’t care where you came from or what you did - just return the daggone books.)
Anyways, I remember the first guy explaining this obscure book to me so well. I was honestly surprised and intrigued with him talking so openly and freely about the New World Order and other “crazy” topics. UFO’s, Chemtrails, secret societies?
One of the best parts of the job was talking to people about topics they were interested in, even if they were a little “out there”. I always learned something.
You know me, I love the woo-woo stuff. And I heard it all over the years.
And yes, sometimes it would dawn on me that the person I was speaking with was simply batshit crazy. I’d just go on helping them like I didn’t notice, and I’d manage the situation without submitting to or empowering the madness.
All I can say is that I had an invisible weirdo shield that would automatically go up around me when I detected the cray-cray.
But these guys who were just out of prison weren’t crazy. They weren’t that at all. They were just curious. They wanted answers as to why the system seemed rigged against them.
Of course, we didn’t have the book - it had been stolen for the umpteenth time, and my collection manager rolled her eyes when I asked about reordering it again. She’d been on the job 25 years and was way more cynical than I was at that point.
Lord, how things changed.
“Have them do an Inter-library loan request!” she said to me, which was bunk. ILL’s scared most people away, because, you know, there was paperwork, a process, and a waiting period. It was futile anyways, the book got stolen everywhere - any library we requested it from would have the same dilemma.
So after the third guy came in fresh from the state penn in Florence asking for this book, I knew I had to buy a copy of it just for myself, because I was so curious about what was in it.
Well, it turns out, it’s the mother of all conspiracy books. The Grand Poo-Bah.
Behold a Pale Horse, by William Cooper.
Now, much of the book is really hard to understand and hard to comprehend. I’m a relatively bright person, and some of it is beyond me. There is no real narrative, but a lot of information. Sometimes it feels like you’re literally reading the diary of a madman. (Cue up Ozzy Osborne, please.)
But, but, but…
When you read the book, and about William Cooper and his other work, and some of the stuff he put together, and how and where he died, and you’re a history buff and have studied the Kennedy assassinations, and you grew up watching In Search Of…, and you remember Iran-Contra, and your teenage years were obsessed with Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime, and your BFF’s dad was a bigwig in the Air Force and scared you with some shit about Roswell & Wright-Patterson AFB, and you live through 9/11 and the implications of the USA PATRIOT act, and then the Iraq War on false yellowcake promises, and you listened to Art Bell on Coast to Coast late at night on those long desert drives between LA and Phoenix and then you live through a couple of years like we’ve just had, and then you peruse this book again?
Holy cow. WTF. Huh. I guess anything is possible.
Now, do I think everything in this book is true and factual? No. God, I hope not. I don’t think so.
Do I think this guy was crazy? Also, No. I hope not. I don’t think so. But…maybe?
I prefer to exist in a world where two opposite things can be true at the same time. We are complex beings. Not everything fits into a neat little box. People can be crazy and tell the truth. People can be sane and tell a lie. All we can rely on is our experience and common sense.
There are a few things in the book that are quite prescient 30 years on now since it’s publication. It makes the author seem much less Crazy Train than when I first read it, that’s for sure. (Again with Ozzy, sorry.)
Some of the ideas and references in this book are already part of popular culture by this time - he mentions Holy Blood, Holy Grail (another book I adore) which was pinched and adapted by Dan Brown for the DaVinci Code, for instance.
Perspective, age, experience and common sense do matter when evaluating information, and just like stories - human nature has patterns. For whatever reasons - I’m hyper-aware of patterns. My brain plugs into seemingly disparate things all the time that turn out to have real connections.
And some of the things I thought true of our world 20 years ago are no longer true. I constantly adjust my reality based on the patterns I’m perceiving. I try to stay flexible so that I’m not missing the bigger picture because of my own biases or programming.
Like any good book should do, this book makes you stop and think about your biases and programming. It makes you evaluate reality from a different perspective. Some books entertain us, some books involve a bit of bewilderment. This is one of those books.
It’s a strange book, that’s for sure. I’m not even recommending it here. Most ‘normie’ people will think I’m crazy for even talking about it. Which, of course, doesn’t bother me at all. I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin.
Unlike Stephen King, I don’t have any faith that any library will ever be able to keep this book on its shelf. That’s why I have a hard copy.
I paid full price, gladly, many years ago, not very long after those curious and polite ex-convicts came looking for some answers at the library. They engaged me in deep conversation and expanded my reality about books - and about convicts, for that matter.
And one thing I learned for sure after being a librarian for so many years:
People and books are always sent to me for a reason.
So, the other thing I’m actively working on is the Papa Project - a little side project that bloomed right in front of me and that I can’t leave unwritten.
You can read about it’s genesis here, a couple of issues back.
The more I uncover, the more I am amazed by this man, my grandfather.
He was born as Giacomo Baptista Bonfiglio in the mountains above Palermo in a small village called San Giuseppe Jato, on February 27, 1892 - 130 years ago this week. Happy Birthday, Papa.
I found his original, handwritten birth record from the commune - now digitized by the Mormon Church. It boggles the mind how much work they’ve done, sending an army of archivists to photograph and digitize civil records all over the world.
It also boggles my mind that I’m only one person away from two centuries ago.
I’ve been able to connect with my two living uncles, Virgil and Johnny, and they sounded so great, and are doing well and going strong despite being in their mid-80’s. Both of them told me so much about Papa, confirmed dates, places, names, they shared with me some personal stories - some poignant, others painful. It’s really helping me form the narrative around Papa’s life.
There are some family stories about Papa that I’ve wanted to confirm but so far, I can’t quite prove.
For instance, I was told he came over from Sicily at the age of 13 with all three brothers (read this post, too, for some background), however, the documentation shows that he came over officially at 18, and had no brothers on the ship. They were already here.
Other stories I’ve heard over the years I’ve been able to confirm with some rather surprising evidence, but now I think those stories or rumors were purposefully watered down for polite society, family honor, and/or protection.
One of those stories is this:
My mom has told me for years that Papa had gotten into a fight along a bridge in Lorain, Ohio. He was defending his brother Tony from a robbery, and when he punched the man threatening Tony, the man fell down, “broke his neck” as my mom says, and died instantly. Papa wasn’t charged for the death because it was considered self-defense.
Here is what I’ve uncovered:
Papa had a hotel and restaurant, The New Delmont Hotel, along the big Erie Street bridge - the only bridge at the time in downtown Lorain - from 1921-1924. (What happened in 1924 is a WHOLE different section of the book). I have the surviving hotel register, and his directory listing in the Lorain City Directory, as James B. Bon, proprietor. He’d already gone through the process of changing his name, and was a naturalized citizen, officially, in late 1924. I have that paperwork, as well.
But - I can’t find any evidence of a death, or news reports of a robbery attempt or self-defense in Lorain involving my grandfather or great-uncle Tony. Papa appears to be an upstanding member of the Lorain business community.
However, what I DID find was this:
With a clue from my uncle Johnny a couple of months ago, I looked in Marion.
From the Marion Ohio Star, Saturday, August 22, 1914:
(The newspaper is wrong, though. In 1914 Papa was 22, and Tony was 30.)
The Bonfiglio brothers, my Papa and great-uncle Tony, claimed self-defense. Their fruit store had been robbed just the night before. They were sure the man they shot was the person responsible.
The newspaper laid it all out over the coming months, and described varying eyewitness accounts. The worst of it said that Papa held the man’s arms behind the man’s back while Tony shot him in the head. The least damning was that the man was threatening them and reached for a gun, and that Papa and Tony were defending themselves.
The man did die of a neck wound - a bullet hole 5” deep. It was the only murder in Marion that year.
A crowd of angry people surrounded their store that Friday afternoon, calling for a lynching, according to the newspaper. There is a shocking history of Sicilians being lynched in the US. It’s actually the basis for the observance of Columbus Day. I had no idea.
And Marion had a reputation for violence among Sicilians. If you’re interested, I’m going to link to this article again about the Black Hand Society in Ohio. And this one. Fascinating early mob history. Personally, I think the guy they shot was trying to extort them, but I can’t prove it yet. Just a hunch.
Papa and Tony both stood trial - The Marion County Clerk of Courts was most helpful in getting me the trial records. They were sentenced to Shawshank for a period of time, Papa for manslaughter, Tony for murder with intent.
I have both of their prison photos and booking records. Papa was listed at 5’ ⅛” tall and 117 lbs. He looks like a 12-year old kid. Tony looks like a cross between John Travolta and Ronnie James Dio.
I’m waiting on their official prison transcripts to find out how long they served.
By 1917, Papa was waiting tables in a restaurant and had registered for the draft for World War I in Ashland, Ohio.
And there you have it, friends. It’s as far as I can go this time.
Papa was a convict. A Sicilian immigrant in 1911 and three years later, a convicted felon.
I guess I have a soft spot for those convicts.
Curiosity, good books, and hard work can turn your life around. Papa sure did with his.
I mean - I wouldn’t be here if not for the hard, amazing life he lived, the opportunities he had, the second chances, the big gambles. His fighting spirit. His will to survive. His drive to be better. To become educated, respectable, independent.
We all deserve second chances, and Papa had a few of them, actually.
Giacomo. James. Papa.
What a force of nature.
This big, big story about this tiny, little man has been waiting for me for my entire life. I’m convinced that Papa has chosen me to tell it.
I’ll share more as it develops.