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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The Snow Was Not What I Envisioned

Yesterday afternoon, a Weather Channel alert about heavy snowfall popped into my email box, forecasting accumulation of three to five inches.  Later reports, both from The Weather Channel and our local meteorologists, made it sound like the snow would begin falling mid-afternoon, and would continue without ceasing for most of the night.  I am always up for a good snowstorm, so my reaction to this was more anticipation than dread or worry.

Hence my disappointment.  My pod is on the 10th floor of the William Green Building, and my window faces west, which means I usually have a front-row seat at any incoming storms.  Yes, there was a time or two when I would look up from the computer monitor and it would be white enough outside that I could not see the main post office or ODOT (the Ohio Department of Transportation) off in the distance.  Most of the time, when it did snow, it was light.

I came home from the Columbus State bookstore tonight (Saturday will be my last day there, at least until spring quarter starts at the end of March), and Steph was watching a DVR recording of today’s Young and the Restless.  At the bottom of the screen were dozens of cancellation notices.  Many school systems (not Columbus) were dismissing kids early, and churches were cancelling evening services and programs, night school classes weren’t meeting.  All this for what can’t even rightly be called a dusting.  The temperature never got above the low 20s today, and I didn’t enjoy the walk on E. 5th Ave. from the Cleveland Ave. bus stop, but this is hardly Storm of the Century.

Even with enough advanced warning, it seems many people downplay the inconvenience of a good snowfall.  I remember the first New England snowstorm I experienced, while I was living in Boston.  I woke up very early on Saturday morning so I could head to Cambridge and typeset The Harbus News, the weekly newspaper of the Harvard Business School.  I had been vaguely aware that snow was falling when I went to bed the night before, but I gasped when I stepped outside and saw there was whiteness as far as the eye can see.  At the time I lived on Commonwealth Ave., just up from the Boston University campus.

The surface lines of the T (Boston’s subway system, short for MBTA–Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) were not running, and I stood there with my jaw dropping open when I saw how careless drivers were being.  Since I’m almost always up for a decent walk, I trudged east toward Kenmore Square, where I could catch the subway.  (That night, after The Harbus was finished, I sat in The Crimson‘s deserted newsroom and typed a letter to my dad.  I remember writing, “It was crazy this morning!  I must have seen a dozen accidents on my way in to work.  You’d think New Englanders would know how to drive in the snow!”)

Hearing the forecasts made me think of a paperback I read in the 1980s.  It was a novel by George Stone called Blizzard, and it was about meteorological warfare.  The tag line was “What if it doesn’t stop?”  A weather-controlling weapon gets loose and a huge snowstorm buries most of the eastern U.S., including New York and Washington, D.C.  The book itself wasn’t all that wonderful, but what was fascinating was how each chapter started with the current time, temperature, snowfall, and forecast.  The first chapters, the weather statistics are relatively benign.  America is hoping for a white Christmas, and it looks like they may get it. The later chapters talk about snowfall of four to eight feet with drifts to 10 stories, and each forecast is the same: “Snow ending tonight.  Clear and cold tomorrow.”

Before Susie got up this morning, I crawled to the laptop and pulled up Channel 10’s Website to see if school was cancelled.  There were cancellations, but they were mostly in Washington County and Athens County, so Susie headed off to catch the school bus while I got back in bed for another hour of sleep.  There was no wind rattling my windows, and there was some additional snow on the ground, but the wetness and the slush from earlier this week was gone.

Last night’s radar on WBNS-TV.

I took a break from typing this, and went to the window and looked out.  All is quiet on the weather front, and it looks like we won’t be buried in any more than an inch–if that–of snow tonight.
Damn!