Gold Fools

Stephen Osborne

What do they call the person who attaches the bar code to the cover? A bar-code operator? An adherent? A polecat? A varmint? An unlikely ampersand? How much more reader rage is generated by a well-placed bar code than by, say, going to the library week after week and never finding Part IV of Vanity Fair on the video shelf, even though Parts V and VI are always in? A hundred percent more? A hundred and thirty-seven percent more? What do you call someone who hogs a single Part of a miniseries? Does it ease the pain to know that the fine for overdue videos is a dollar a day? Do bar-code attachers get paid more than a dollar a day, and if so, why? Must bar-code attachers undergo extensive training or are they born with the ability to fasten bar codes right smack-dab on top of the best bits of the cover? What do bar-code operators do in their spare time, when they’re not tearing wings off flies? Can they be found tastelessly drinking Manhattans, poolside? Is satisfaction in bar-code attachment achieved in the moment of placement, in the precise instant of adherence, or does it come later, in the aesthetic afterglow? In a rush of dopamine highs and serotonin lows? Do bar-code attachers have quotas? How many instances of reader rage are they required to generate every hour? Is that why uniformed guards are stationed so near the New Arrivals shelf? Is it true that Gilbert Sorrentino has written a brilliant novel called Gold Fools (Green Integer), a story of grizzly prospectors and leathery cowpokes, entirely in questions? Would an unhindered glimpse of the left eye and cheek of Gilbert Sorrentino, whose face, whose mug, whose smiler, whose visage bears the disfigurement visited on it by the bar-code operator at the Vancouver Public Library (surely a wretched being filled with self-loathing, self-hatred and self-denial), reveal a tear, a duelling scar, an authorial gleam?

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Stephen Osborne

Stephen Osborne is a co-founder and contributing publisher of Geist. He is the award-winning writer of Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World and dozens of shorter works, many of which can be read at


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