A Saturday for the Books

Day One of spring quarter 2011 at Columbus State is Monday.  Usually, the Discovery Exchange closes at 2 p.m. on Saturday, but today it remained open until 4.  And yours truly was there from start to finish.

The alarm is never a pleasant sound to me, even less so on a day when I usually sleep late.  For one vain moment, I hoped that I just forgotten to disable the alarm when I went to bed last night, but as I reached to shut it off, reality returned to me.  This was a day I was working at the Columbus State bookstore, an eight-hour shift (8 a.m.-4 p.m.).

When I worked for the Cincinnati post office, I thought that it was a unique job; it was the only job I ever had where I switched back and forth between blue- and white-collar tasks so many times in a single shift.  Sorting letters was clerical (and, in fact, my title was “casual clerk” or “rescue clerk”), whereas tending letter-sorting machines was definitely labor-intensive work.  Sorting second- and third-class mail was quite aerobic.  I wasn’t putting letters into pigeonholes or casing them, I was throwing bundles of magazines or flyers into canvas hampers (like the ones hospitals use to collect soiled linen).

I wouldn’t have thought this possible when it came to bookstore work.  I was wrong.  A co-worker and I spent the first two hours of the work day bagging prepaid Web orders, so they would be ready when people came to pick them up.  I ate a nutritional breakfast of Diet Pepsi and M&Ms during this task.  The work was somewhat repetitive, but not as mind-numbing as an assembly-line job, where you can effectively zone out while your hands fit Part A into Slot B repetitively for years on end.  Bagging prepaid orders meant checking to make sure all the books before you matched the list, putting the books in the transparent bag, sealing it with a tape gun, and taping the recipient’s name and address on a hanging tag, visible when the cashier checks the shelf for it.

After that came the more physically demanding part of the job.  Many wooden pallets groaned under the weight of cartons of unpacked books.  Once I knew which books went on the shelves, and which were going back to the publishers and/or distributors, my task was set for the rest of the day.  I unloaded books at a rather brisk pace, stacked them on V-shaped dollies, and began filling gaps on the shelves with them.  I was never able to establish any real rhythm, which would have made the task go more smoothly, because I constantly had to stop what I was doing to answer customers’ questions.  (My new pet peeve is when they lead off with “Can I ask you a question?”  I used all my self-restraint–and for me, self-restraint happens about as often as Halley’s Comet–to keep from saying, “As long as it isn’t that one.”)

The Discovery Exchange, Columbus State Community College’s
bookstore, 283 Cleveland Ave.  Also accessible on the Web
at http://www.cscc.bkstr.com/.

Very few books are on the Discovery Exchange’s first floor.  There is a magazine rack in the small convenience store in the rear of the first floor (it’s much like any other convenience store, except that they don’t sell alcohol or cigarettes), but most of the books are on the second floor.  Because of the nature of the business, over 90% are textbooks, but on the other side of the second floor is a modest selection of leisure-reading.  The first floor features most of the “spirit gear”–Columbus State apparel, license-plate frames, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, etc.  The front windows advertise the variety of things available, besides books, such as clothing, graduation announcements, coffee, gifts, and others (I meant to jot down the list today, but reached into the breast pocket of my shirt only to find I left this morning minus my notebook).

As I wait for my post-work bus, and see the items advertised on the front window, I think of a small convenience store I went to when I lived on Commonwealth Ave. in Boston.  It wasn’t part of a chain, like 7-Eleven or The Store 24, so the owner could be creative with his signage.  I wish I had taken a picture of the sign, but I will remember it as long as I live.  When I rode toward my apartment at night, it would be over the front entrance, promising

MILK  PAPERS  BREAD
FRIENDS  GIFTS  ETERNAL LIFE

Any competitor had his work cut out for him!
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