I don’t mean slowing down when it comes to writing the blog–Lord knows I have done too much of that in the last year or so. I mean that my days are finally not as hectic as they have been for much of the last month, which means I have time for more walking, writing, blogging, and doing nothing.
Mainly, this is because the fall semester rush at the Columbus State bookstore has ended until after the first of the year. I worked from the third week of August until the Thursday after Labor Day, and the work varied from dull days with very few customers, to the inevitable scenario that plays out on the first day of class: A student has a 6 p.m. night class, and shows up at the bookstore at 5:55 to see what books they need. And are pissed off when we’re out of them.
Susie collected her first real paycheck on the 30th of August. She signed up for direct deposit, but the first paycheck is always paper, so we went to the Cashier’s Office and picked it up. I asked if she was sure she wanted to cash it, instead of framing or mounting it. Yes, she wanted to cash it. I did take a picture of it to send to Steph before we went to the credit union.
I love the bookstore job, but I’m also thankful I don’t have it all year. I realize that I’m a bit too misanthropic for a regular customer service job (one of the reasons I decided, after many years of considering it, that I would not be a good pastor). I realized this when I jumped at the chance to stay at the bookstore two hours after closing time, so I could shelve the buybacks in peace. There wasn’t total silence–the night supervisor took advantage of the lack of customers by cranking up Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on his computer.
Susie learned the joys of six- and seven-hour workdays, working in the retail part of the bookstore. She and I both have the default job title “cashier,” but neither one of us got close to a cash register. While I stocked books, Susie folded shirts, put merchandise on shelves, priced items, and helped customers. The first day, she came home looking utterly exhausted. I pretty much said, “Welcome to the world of work,” and thought that Upton Sinclair was writing a book about the Discovery Exchange that very minute.
Susie had to work until 10 p.m. several nights, and when she was impatient waiting for the bus, she ended up taking a taxi home. I think it was then that she understood one of Archie Bunker’s common complaints: “Jeez! Earnin’ a living is costing me money!” My job at the bookstore ended on the 10th, and hers on the 11th, so she’s back to pounding the
pavement Internet in search of sustained remunerative employment once again.
This has also been a recent time of going back to earlier habits and circumstances. Currently, I am typing this at Ohio State’s William Oxley Thompson Library, partially because this is one of my sanctuaries here in Columbus, and also because my laptop is currently under the knife. The fan either needs to be repaired or replaced. I dropped it off Friday afternoon, and am still awaiting word on the cost. So, when I had the sudden urge to blog today, I came here.
The absence of the laptop has had a positive effect. I took my Royal Skylark portable manual typewriter out of mothballs, set it on the desk, and have written 11 pages (a Prologue and part of Chapter I) of the novel I began for NaNoWriMo in 2013 and have not touched since November 30 of that year. Susie is not used to the sound of a typewriter in the house, it’s been so long since I’ve used one. I grew up hearing it, and was typing almost before I knew how to write with a pencil. I’m hoping that I can keep the momentum going, even after the laptop comes back.
One of my favorite episodes of Lou Grant, “Blackout,” features a reporter who refuses to start using the then-new VDTs installed in the newsroom. He is shown industriously writing on a portable typewriter, and Lou berates him for using “that relic,” and asks him when he is going to start using a VDT (visual display terminal, considered futuristic in the late 1970s). Later on, I came to be quite offended by the reporter’s reply, “I’m a writer, not a typesetter.” Of course, later in the episode, when power goes out in much of Los Angeles, he is the only one who is still able to work.
Despite the very discursive way this blog has read since day one, spontaneous prose has never been something I’ve done. One of the things I’ve “reverted” back to is setting up camp in a fast food restaurant for hours on end, subsisting on free refills of soda and tea. This was my practice in the mid-1990s, when I lived on W. McMillan St. in Cincinnati, and I spent many of my waking hours at the Subway across the street from my apartment building, with my diary or several books on the bright yellow table in front of me.
Susie and I are doing the same thing at the McDonald’s on N. High St., by the OSU campus. She’ll be there with her laptop and her ear buds, and at some point in the evening I’ll join her, again with my knapsack, books, and diary.
The major difference between my Subway experience and my current one with the Golden Arches is that they don’t allow us to run tabs. (“He’s our Norm Peterson,” the people behind the counter said of me.)
Since bringing the typewriter out of retirement, I’ve been thinking–for the first time in over 30 years–of a guy who habituated Harvard Square in 1982 and 1983, when I was typesetting The Harvard Crimson. He would come by with a bridge table, an IBM Selectric typewriter, and a big stack of white typing paper. He would plug the electric typewriter into a public outlet, roll in a sheet of paper, and begin typing whatever came to his mind. Once he finished a double-spaced page, he would hang it with Scotch tape to the front of the table, so that people walking by could see whatever he had on his mind. Sometimes he would let other people take turns at the keyboard. (I seem to recall doing it only once, writing about my Crimson supervisor’s constant threats to quit unless we ditched the computerized typesetting and cold type and returned to flatbed presses and Linotype machines.)
I have contemplated doing this at McDonald’s. I would be far from the most bizarre character that comes in there, especially in the night hours. When Susie and I are there after midnight, which often happens on Friday and Saturday nights, the managers are grateful for at least two people who aren’t panhandling or sleeping. Many LGBT (including several trans and genderfluid) teenagers congregate there. They’ll usually take up a whole table playing Magic the Gathering, and this McDonald’s has been popular because of its proximity to Star House, a shelter in Weinland Park many of them call home. (Susie and I seem to have taken a trans teenager under our wing. They met when this person saw the bisexual pride sticker on Susie’s laptop lid and mistook it for a trans pride flag.)
Susie has threatened to pretend she doesn’t know me if I start bringing the typewriter in and cranking up to full speed, hanging the finished pages out for all to see, but I think she’ll get over it. Harlan Ellison wrote one short story, “Hitler Painted Roses,” live on the air during the Pacifica Radio show Hour 25, and he wrote at least one other story in the display window of a bookstore. I should probably promise her that I won’t imitate the late Stephen J. Cannell whenever I finish writing.
Just realized another reason why I love working on my typewriter. Just now, I clicked the wrong tab by mistake and thought I had lost all my writing since I sat down and began typing this entry.
Much to my (and your) relief, all is here, all is well.