Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Leaving Town Tonight

While looking at children’s books at Pegasus bookstore in Oakland, I overheard a peculiar conversation between a very patient clerk and a loud, brash customer.

Not even 5 feet in the door, a young woman with bangs yelled in the direction of the checkout island, “Do you have Islands in the Stream by Hemingway? Can you check for me?” The clerk looked up as she made a beeline to the counter. She was loud and obnoxious, but this behavior was somewhat normal in bookstores. For some odd reason, people like to scream the title of the book they’re looking for, to let everyone know they’re literate in the classics (Hello, everybody. I’m looking for War and Peace - possibly the greatest book ever written!”). I would’ve gone back to perusing books, ignoring her rude behavior, but Islands in the Stream made me think of Dolly and Kenny, so I listened intently.

In a calm voice, the clerk replied, “No, we can’t look it up, but if we had it, it would be over there,” gesturing toward the fiction section.

A few minutes went by as she walked to the section and scoured the shelves. I pictured her, head tilted, straddling the H section.

Out of nowhere she yelled, “It’s not hear. Why doesn’t anybody have it? I guess I’ll have to go to Border’s.” She was having a conversation with herself, asking and then answering her own questions.

Mentioning Border’s was like a threat and it was meant to be. It was like she was saying: “See, people. I tried, I tried to buy independent. I was willing to shop here instead of Amazon, but, once again, you fucked me!” People like this are always insincere in their philanthropy.

Everybody in the store heard her. Like an echo, I stopped, listened and waited to see if the clerk would immediately respond. In a soft yell, he politely said, “We can check to see if our other store has it. Do you want me to do that?”

She appeared from behind the shelves and walked toward the door, passing the clerk without looking at him: “No, I’m leaving town tonight. Thank you.” And she disappeared onto College Avenue.

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