Odd What Work Will Inspire

By “work” I mean my moonlighting at Columbus State’s Discovery Exchange this evening.  (Since this was a cost-savings day, the Industrial Commission was closed, and I slept until mid-morning, venturing out for a beard trim, and trips to Subway, the post office, and Kroger.)  Work at Columbus State’s bookstore began at 5:30, and I walked the nearly two miles from Weinland Park there.  The temperature has been above 40 degrees today, so I was quite comfortable in a hoodie for this walk.


The flow of customers is starting to pick up, and I understand it’ll be sheer chaos come Monday, the first day of classes for the winter quarter.  I’m finding Columbus State’s students to be much more likable than many of the students I met during my many seasonal stints at DuBois Book Store.  I think the difference is that the community college student has already experienced some responsibility and motivation in life.  Many of them are continuing their educations after raising children, many are taking night school or online classes while working 40 hours per week, and many are trying to get their GEDs.

My experience with students at the University of Cincinnati (and I played this observation to death, and not at all flatteringly, in my still-unpublished novella The Textbook Diaries) was that many of them were kids who enrolled in college because they learned that getting a job at Keller’s IGA or joining the Army actually involved work.  There was a bumper sticker popular at O.U. that said “College is a four-year party with a $20 thousand cover charge.”  There were more students living off campus than on, mostly with their parents.  It was easy to tell that some of them were just marking time before going to work for the family business.

It wasn’t until I worked at DuBois that I began to understand the meaning of the phrase “a sense of entitlement.”  When working customer service on the floor, I lost track of how many times someone would come in, thrust his/her class schedule into my face, and say, “Find my books for me.”  After the second or third time this happened, I politely but firmly explained how the shelves were laid out, where the course guides were located, and how to read the shelf cards to determine the required books for the courses.

While there were few customers on the second floor, in the textbook area, I took a cart loaded with buybacks so I could re-shelve them.  The books were on the cart in a pile, not organized in any way at all.  I took a pack of security strips (silver peel-off strips that resemble the gold strip that used to unwrap the cellophane on cigarette packs) and put them on the books, in inconspicuous places.  Then I’d walk around the textbook area and re-shelve the books in their proper places.  (Some were easier than others; the packets of software were the worst.  Some of the other buybacks were for popular subjects, so I’d walk by a shelf and see it crammed with the identical title, and I’d place it there.)

Once work ended and I came home, I had some chicken soup, and then came to the laptop and resumed the book cataloging project I started the other day and blogged about earlier this week.  I managed to do all the books in a milk crate, plus some of the volumes stacked outside it, and set aside three books that had no Library of Congress call numbers.  (Susie was in the other room working on her blog, and didn’t pay attention to her dad’s latest madness.  She’s long since gotten used to it.)

I don’t know whether I’ll buy a few rolls of the little library stickers and then try to organize all this once this endeavor is finished, but it is fun (mostly) to look at what I have and type it into the database.  Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library to Congress to replace the Library of Congress’ holdings.  (Most of the original Library of Congress was destroyed when the British burned Washington in 1814.  Jefferson was drowning in red ink–something he and I share, besides being Unitarian–and sold his personal library to pay off some of his many debts.  In reality, he used it to start a new collection of books.)  Jefferson’s intention was to organize his books based on Lord Bacon’s hierarchy of science, but he ended up shelving them by size.  (For more information, click here.)

Here is just a little of what I’m working with here:

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Christmas Eve 2010

Christmas Eve is the second day of my four-day hiatus from work.  (I took yesterday off, a “cost-savings day” decreed from on high, one of the 10 unpaid days dictated by our latest contract.  Having to take yesterday off so angered me that I could only sleep until 10:45 a.m.!)

Susie has already opened one of her gifts–the Super Mario Galaxy game for the Wii.  She’s christened it already, and plans to play it while waiting for Steph and me to wake up tomorrow morning.  (It wasn’t even my intention for her to open this gift.  When I handed her the package, I thought it was another gift, which she will open in the morning.  I ordered online from Amazon.com, and the gifts have been coming from Amazon, as well as distributors all over the country.  There is one present still at large, but we’ll be okay if it arrives before January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas.)

She and I went to the 5 p.m. Christmas Eve service at First UU this evening.  (There’s a later service, but we wanted to be home for a delicious ham, sweet potato, and green bean dinner.  Midnight Christmas services are definitely the creation of celibate clergy!)  Susie gave her friend a poster of Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd and gave a younger friend a journal and a set of pens.

I remember one Christmas Eve during my bachelorhood where I saw something that was rather poignant.  I was living in Cincinnati, and Christmas Eve was my one night off from the post office.  (I didn’t make any effort to make the trip to Marietta, because I had no desire to see my stepmother or -sisters, plus I had to be back on the West End toting barge and lifting mail on Christmas Night around 9 p.m.  Why didn’t I head to Athens to see my mother?  For the same reason John McCain doesn’t send Christmas cards to his captors at the Hanoi Hilton.)  I decided to explore the bars in Clifton, my neighborhood and still favorite Cincinnati neighborhood.

One of the bars I habituated was the Submarine Galley, located on the south end of Short Vine.  The beer was cheap and the jukebox had a very good selection.  (Also, I had been around a few galleys in my typesetting days.)  I went inside and the atmosphere was more somber than a Good Friday vigil.  The lights were turned down low, and the jukebox was dark.  The bartender had a boom box sitting on the shelf with all the liquor bottles, and it was playing Christmas carols.  There were only a dozen or so people in the bar, and they all looked like they were in there alone.  There was very little eye contact, and everybody seemed to be intently studying the drinks in front of them.  My mood was already low enough, and I didn’t want it dragged down any further.  (Irish wakes are much more cheerful, and those usually occur with an open casket in the room!)

I didn’t even stay for one drink, but went instead to Cory’s, a jazz bar a few blocks south (George Thorogood filmed the “I Drink Alone” video there), and enjoyed a wonderful performance by nonagenarian James “Pigmeat” Jarrett, a jazz pianist who had performed with Duke Ellington.  Some other friends of mine, who were far from, or estranged from, their families, were there, and we ended up closing the place up and having an after-hours party at their apartment in that warren of streets south of West McMillan.

I spent part of yesterday indulging myself.  My supervisor gave me a $25 Wal-Mart gift card.  Wal-Mart is not one of my favorite places, even less so during the Christmas holidays, but I went south to Great Southern and braved the hoards of shoppers.  My purchases were pretty utilitarian–blank DVDs and CDs, mostly.  I was proud to get a two-disk copy of Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal for $5 (I’ve never seen the second movie).  I considered buying a diver’s watch, but decided not to because the dial was as big around as a silver dollar and the case weighed about a ton.  I can’t swim a stroke, so don’t ask me the appeal of a diver’s watch!

Yesterday, I also ran a more essential errand.  I must truly be drifting into insanity, because I will be taking a temporary evenings-and-weekends job at the Discovery Exchange, which is the bookstore at Columbus State Community College.  I will be helping with the rush period, before the winter quarter begins on January 3.  I applied online early in November, and had almost forgotten about it before the bookstore manager called me and asked me to come in after work last week for an interview.  After she recommended me for hire, I filled out information online about my last few addresses (I had to plow through the last few volumes of diaries to get the dates I lived at certain places), my criminal background if any, etc.  Yesterday, I stopped by the Human Resources office and filled out a W-2, signed up for SERS (School Employees Retirement System), and completed an online I-9 (an Employment Eligibility Form).  The Department of Xenophobia Homeland Security, via the Ohio Department of Public Safety, provided an amusing two-page Terrorist Exclusion List, and I had to indicate whether I was a member of any of them.  (If I was, would I admit it on a form when applying for a job?  If I did, I doubt that the Keystone Kops in Homeland Security would bother to follow it up.)  It was gratifying to see Kahane Chai, the Kach Party, and the Real IRA on the list, since the conventional wisdom seems to be that terrorism is the sole province of the Islamic world.

Discovery Exchange, Columbus State Community
College (283 Cleveland Ave.)

I’ll be starting at the Discovery Exchange Monday night after work, I believe.  After I gave the H.R. office all my information, they submitted it online, and there was a notice in my email when I got back from Wal-Mart saying my new employee Novell account is open.  I sent an email to my supervisor-to-be asking where and when to report to work.  She apparently didn’t get the message, and the bookstore was closed today, so I anticipate a phone call from her Monday morning.  I’m going to work at the Industrial Commission Monday morning planning to race-walk the eight-tenths of a mile to the bookstore.

One of my few completed writing projects is a novella called The Textbook Diaries, which I based on my experiences working at Du Bois Book Store in Cincinnati.  I worked there at the beginning and conclusion of almost every academic quarter at the University of Cincinnati for most of the time I lived in the Queen City, sometimes when I was otherwise unemployed, sometimes when I was also working at the Cincinnati post office.  I met quite a few characters, made a few friends, and had a variety of bizarre experiences during these stints, and had enough to create a manuscript.  (Charles Bukowski had already skewered one of my other employers, the U.S. Postal Service, so I figured I had textbook stores to myself.)  I took some dramatic liberties with my life and situation, rearranged some incidents, and embellished others.  I flatter myself by saying the finished product is what George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying would look like written by Bukowski.

Here is part of the first page of the manuscript, resurrected from the still-unsorted boxes of my writings and notebooks.  (This will be your chance to see it before you have to pay admission to see it under glass.☺)

When I learned I was getting the job at the Discovery Exchange, I emailed my friend Robert in Silver Spring, and the title of the email was “Son of Textbook Diaries,” since I may have more material by the time my job ends.  (I remember a New Yorker cartoon I hung over my desk when I was a teenager.  It showed a woman and her friend looking through a doorway, where one of the women’s husband is sitting at a desk, industriously at work on a typewriter.  The wife says, “Harvey fictionalizes my every word and deed.”  Maybe that’s what I should do at this job!)

It’s after 11 p.m., and it will be Christmas in about 45 minutes.  I’ve been to two Christmas services this season, one more than usual.  Both of them, the Qabalah celebration and the one tonight, made me think of a quotation from a Unitarian Universalist minister, the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, whom I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in person here in Columbus.  Long before I met him, I was familiar with his words.  A friend from several UU youth conferences would always sign off her letters with his words, words with which I will conclude this entry tonight.

May we dedicate ourselves to the proposition that beneath all our diversity and behind all our differences there is a unity which makes us one and binds us forever together in spite of time, and death, and the space between the stars.  Let us pause in silent witness to that Unity.