I can tell that the end of the academic quarter looms at Columbus State Community College when I begin logging 12-hour workdays–my usual “day job” at the Industrial Commission, and the 2½ hours I work afterwards at the Discovery Exchange. I wasn’t expecting to be back at the bookstore until Christmas, but I emailed my supervisor there to find out when he wanted me to start, and he asked me if I could start the first week of December. My finances–or the lack thereof–made that an easy decision, quite a no-brainer.
So, starting Monday evening, I have been working at the bookstore, arriving home just before 9, and by then I’m usually so exhausted that I tumble into bed right away… and still don’t feel all that refreshed when the alarm goes off at 6:30 in the morning.
It may some lingering NaNoWriMo mindset. Even though I no longer have to type at breakneck speed to produce writing of questionable–if not outright nonexistent–literary merit, I still feel like I’ve expended an enormous amount of energy during the day, and just the proximity and practicality of sleep is enough of a suggestion that I tumble into bed at an early hour, often times before Susie. (Even when I do stay up late, it is difficult to pinpoint when exactly she falls asleep. She often dozes off reading or writing in her journal, so there’s light coming from under her bedroom door regardless of how late the hour. If I’m passing her room at 2:30 a.m. en route to the bathroom, I’ll see the light, and long ago I came to realize that she’s sound asleep and has no problem sleeping in a brightly lit room.)
Susie and I are at Kafé Kerouac right now, just north of the Ohio State campus. This is a good post-NaNoWriMo location, and a good place to host a write-in next year. Kerouac wrote the version of On the Road that catapulted him to literary fame (and fortune–most of which he drank) in a style that NaNoWriMo writers would make famous over 35 years later. After many false starts, Kerouac wrote On the Road in about three weeks, fueled by amphetamines and black coffee, writing on a long scroll of Teletype paper and getting up from the typewriter only for trips to the bathroom. I am 48 years old now, so I have outlived Kerouac by a year, but I doubt that I would ever have had the spontaneity or the stamina to try such a project in such a radical way. Several years ago, Viking published Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954, and the work notebooks show that the writing of On the Road may have been spontaneous, but the text and the story was quite premeditated.
|The famous scroll manuscript of On the Road.|
This is the calm before the storm at the bookstore. I have spent most of my workdays (-evenings?) re-shelving returns as students return them. There are usually about five of us working on the second floor at night, and as one quarter winds down and the new one has yet to begin, there is not much customer traffic. Sometimes I have to combat boredom, but shelving is a task that I genuinely enjoy. During the lull in activity, when there aren’t even any books that need to be put back, I remind myself about how much I’ll relish moments like that once the onslaught starts again after Christmas.
One of my favorite isolated lines in Stephen King’s The Stand describes one of the heroes, Larry Underwood, tending to his mother when she becomes ill with the flu that eventually kills her and 99.4% of the human race. Before anyone realizes just how deadly this is, he helps settle her in bed, moves the TV to her bedroom, buys her some paperback books at the corner store, and fixes her a small meal. “After that,” says the narrative, “there wasn’t anything to do except get on each other’s nerves.” To a much lesser degree, that’s kind of what we’re like on the second floor when there are no customers and no books to shelve.
The cashiers and customer service people downstairs place returns on a library cart, and when one is full enough, that’s when someone from the second floor (lately, me, but not exclusively) will come down and get it, exchanging it with an empty. Because a loaded cart weighs so much, we take it up in the bookstore’s freight elevator.
One of my coworkers is a young woman from the Republic of Guinea in West Africa, who is taking pre-med classes at Columbus State. She was a little scared when I told her the books had to go up in the freight elevator. (I had seen her wheeling the cart toward the passenger elevator.) Having worked at the Cincinnati post office, I have no fear of freight elevators. The one at the Discovery Exchange could accommodate a small Toyota, but it has a mesh gate that raises and lowers, and the heavy steel external doors smash together with a sound that can make you jump. As she and I waited for it, I’m sure my casual references to the “Elevator of Death” didn’t put her at ease. (I suppose I should never let her see the L.A. Law episode featuring the death of Rosalind Shays.)
When I was 15 and living in Marietta, I helped a friend of mine deliver newspapers in the business district. He had several customers in the Dime Bank Building at Second and Putnam Sts., across from the Washington County Courthouse. The Dime Bank Building had an old, antiquated hand-operated elevator, complete with an old, antiquated elevator operator. You got in, he would slide the accordioned gate shut, flip the lever (I always thought it looked like a ship’s engine order telegraph), and up you would go, watching the floors go by as you rose.
I made an all-too-quick trip to Cincinnati the first weekend of November, while Susie was at a church Coming of Age retreat in the Hocking Hills. One of the people I took to lunch was George Wagner, who managed the apartment building where I lived. George worked part-time as a clerk at Ohio Book Store on Main Street, and he had a healthy fear/respect for its freight elevator. He emphatically stated he was not afraid of the elevator. “I burn incense to it. I pray to it. I recite the 23rd Psalm before I get aboard it. But no, I am not afraid of it!” he told me many times when I lived in Cincinnati.