I was in Barnes and Noble the other day looking for something new to read. Bookstores are so desperate these days that they are now begging for money. I bought a cup of black coffee and the barista tried hard to up-sell me on a larger size, a shot of flavor, a bowl of soup. A bowl of soup? No, I’ll just have the coffee that I ordered about an hour ago. She finally relented and handed me my receipt that also included a coupon for cookies.
I spent lots of time in bookstores in my youth. Borders afforded me a sense of freedom. I could ride my bike there, smoke cigarettes by the bucketload on the patio outside its cafe and thumb through photography books that could, by chance, contain a nude (one exposed breast constitute art; two, pornography). I should have used my time there to expand my knowledge and vocabulary, but instead I searched the racks of CDs for music I might like. In those days you had to buy a CD on speck. After plunking down $25, you might discover the album was terrible besides the one or two songs you bought it for in the first place. I once flung a Culture Club CD out the window of my car because I found the songs other than “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” to be so reprehensible. It pains me today to admit I even liked THAT song.
Barnes and Noble does still serve a purpose. I like to buy a cup of coffee and browse for books that I otherwise wouldn’t have thought to buy unless it was right in front of me. My dirty secret is I will usually scan the book’s barcode into Amazon to see if I can get it cheaper online. That is why it seems so silly to go there in the first place. I overheard a lady at the Help Desk who was disappointed because the store didn’t have a book she was looking for.
“When do you think you’ll get more in?” She asked.
Probably in the morning when the milk and eggs are delivered. Madam, online has all the books. Like, every book ever written. She just could not let go of the disappointment that is retail.
I looked through the fiction section for a book written by Raymond Carver. I was supposed to read Cathedral in college and I didn’t because I didn’t read any of the books I was supposed to read in college. I got lots of good grades on papers on books that I never read. Now, I like to read three books at a time: two novels and a collection of short stories. I’ve recently finished two books by David Sedaris. He is both inspiring and deflating because he’s so good. Raymond Carver is supposed to be the greatest contemporary American short story writer…and Barnes and Nobel did not have a copy of his most famous book Cathedral. Not wanting to be the lady at the Help Desk, I moved on from searching for Mr. Carver. I was having trouble with my alphabet anyway.
I decided to kill some time in the magazine section. This is the second most worthless section of the bookstore next to the CDs. They still sell CDs, by the way, in case you were ever at a yard sale and decided to pick something up still capable of playing them. I would like to know who on the planet is buying most of the magazines they carry in this section. Knitters Digest. To each is own, I guess. I decided to look for the literary magazines. I should have mentioned that before I shit all over the knitters. I would like to be published by them someday, so I have to read them. I was flipping through Ploughshares and I noticed two women sitting in the chairs provided by Barnes and Noble so you can read a magazine without buying it. I was not trying to eavesdrop but ABBA was on the loudspeakers and I’d rather listen to myself drown than ABBA.
The women were discussing their amazement that “Typing” is no longer offered in their kids’s school. One of the women mentioned that she flunked “Typing” and had to make it up in summer school. You did? Who was your teacher, Mavis Beacon herself? The conversation was interrupted by a FaceTime call on the mini computer/telephone/calculator/knower of all things, in one of the ladies’s pockets. I realize that the three of us are relics by our very presence in a bookstore in 2019, but reminiscing about “Typing” class is simple ancient foolishness.
When these ladies were children, nothing in the house had a keyboard. If they did have a typewriter, it was covered by a typewriter cozy mom knitted in Home-Ec and they were forbidden to touch it. They did not offer Home-Ec where I went to school, but I think it was a class where girls baked pies while men were lopping off their fingers in Shop.
They don’t teach “Typing” anymore because now children have computers in their cribs. I have friends whose children are three years-old and they can use an iPad better than I can. They can’t read, but they will kick your ass in some Candy Crush while ordering a new season of Bubble Guppies.
“He doesn’t put his fingers in the right place, whatever that is called, but he gets it done incredibly fast,” one of the ladies said about her kid’s typing. Sounds pretty good to me! He doesn’t do it properly because he wasn’t subjected to endless lectures about “correct form,” which obviously effected “whatever it’s called.” Ask “Flunked Typing,” I’m sure she knows the term for proper form since she took the class twice. All these women really want is for their children to have to suffer the same pointless torture that they did when they were in school.
Teachers had a hard enough time convincing me that I needed to read assignments since I was getting A’s and B’s without reading. I realize now that I deprived myself by my laziness. Reading is the most important thing a writer can do next to writing and I am sorry that I neglected it so often in my studies. I can’t imagine how I would act in school today given that the device in my pocket literally contains all the answers. No need to memorize atomic weights since I got them all listed right here in this app. I’m sure they don’t allow kids to use their phones during tests. That has to seem like not being allowed to use your eyes to kids who have had phones and iPads and the internet all their lives.
I know I shouldn’t spend so much time on two nincompoops sitting around a bookstore, but that is the kind of mundane observations that my readers expect. You do your job, I’ll dissect the conversations of ding dong’s who failed “Typing.” Their conversation made me think about my education in a broader sense. The one woman worried because her son didn’t type “the correct way” even though he got the typing done quickly and efficiently. I used to run into this problem with my teachers. If I came up with a different meaning from Voltaire’s Candide, the good teachers would respect my opinion while the bad teachers would talk about “correct” interpretations. Who is to say what is “correct”? Certainly not me.
I moved on from the magazine racks because my coffee had gotten cold and it was time for me to leave. The ladies switched to talking about The Bachelor as I walked away. They knew every detail of that show.
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