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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Remembering the Night on the Christmas Set

“The Christmas Set” is a poem I wrote several years ago.  It still remains unpublished, and I may post it to Scribd if I can ever find a copy of it.  (One of my Facebook friends actually thinks I keep my notebooks, papers, and manuscripts in logical order.  How naïve is that?)  I wrote it to describe the last Christmas my mother, father, and I spent together.  This was in 1973, when I was 10.

I called it “The Christmas Set” because we were play-acting, and we were performing for an audience.  Our family custom had been to open gifts on Christmas Eve, because on Christmas morning when I was eight, I couldn’t restrain my enthusiasm and woke my parents at 4:30 a.m. to open presents.

The year of “The Christmas Set,” my parents had been at each other’s throats for most of the day, and this was so customary that I could usually pick up the latest issue of Mad, put a record (usually Dave Brubeck or the Beatles) on my mono phonograph, and retreat to my bedroom.  When I was younger, the sound would terrify me, and I was come into the room, tearful and white-faced.

One of my gifts that year was a new cassette recorder, a Superscope with a condenser microphone.  I was enthralled by this, because I did not know that you could record without having to hold a mike in your hand.  When my parents finally laid off the high-volume bickering long enough for us to gather around the tree, the tape recorder was in a big box marked PAUL–OPEN THIS FIRST!!  I did, and my mother’s plan was to christen it with a taped letter to her father (my grandfather) in Florida.  So, once the tape was rolling, we were a page straight out of Norman Rockwell, laughing and joking as we opened presents, including the clay ashtray I made for my mother and the paperweight I made for my dad (a painted rock with a velvet pad glued to the underside).  I remember getting three blank cassettes, a bust of Abraham Lincoln, the 1974 Information Please Almanac, and my first diary.  Mother pleasantly talked about how we were going to the midnight service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Dad talked about how our paperboy’s Irish setter had chased me when we stopped by his house to deliver his gift, and I talked about the Christmas program at school.  (We did not mention that when I came home from school, Mother was on her way to the hospital by ambulance after taking an overdose of pills with liquor.)

Mease Manor in Dunedin, Fla.  This is where my
maternal grandfather and his wife lived when
we mailed him the tape of our performance of
a lifetime–pretending to be a happy family.

I knew the tape in the machine was only 30 minutes per side, but I never wanted it to end, because once someone pushed the STOP button, the happy family, and all the shalom bayit, would be gone like a soap bubble.

Tonight, I did more in the way of Christmas activities than I have since the shopping season began.  (A caveat here: In my eyes, it is still Friday night, although my Emerson Research digital clock shows 2:34 a.m., Saturday morning, December 18.  I haven’t been to bed, and it’s still dark outside, so it’s Friday night.)  This was the end of school until after the first of the year, so Susie remained “sick” today, mainly because Dominion had early dismissal.  After work, I took the bus up to Walgreen near Graceland Shopping Center so I could pick up a photo print I had ordered online.  At Steph’s suggestion, I stopped in Dollar General and bought a three-foot artificial tree, a little taller than the scraggly little twig in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and brought it home.  I know it doesn’t compare to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s father going out in the Big Woods near Pepin, Wisconsin and felling the family tree.

We’re going to decorate it sometime tomorrow–when, I don’t know.  I’m going to a Qabalistic Christmas Ritual tomorrow afternoon at the Masonic temple in Westerville with my friend Steve.  (Once a typesetter, always a typesetter–I love spelling the word this way because it’s one of the few times I can use a Q without a U immediately after it.)  Later in the evening, I may be going to a concert at The Dude Locker on Hudson St.

I can heave a sigh of relief and say the Christmas shopping is over and done with, and I did not have to dive into the mosh pit that began in the stores on Black Friday and will continue until well past midnight Christmas morning.  After dinner, Steph and I exiled Susie to her bedroom, pulled up Amazon.com on Steph’s laptop, and bought Susie’s gifts online.  They will be arriving from different places, and I hope that all of them are in our mailbox by Christmas Eve.  If not, Susie will have something to look forward to in the days between Christmas and New Year’s.  After Steph went upstairs, I went online and ordered her gift, and now I am crossing my fingers and hoping it arrives by the 24th.  (When I worked at the Cincinnati post office, the December slogan was “We deliver for Yule.”  I hope that’s still true.  More importantly, I hope they deliver by Yule!)