Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Miracle

The house we're renting was built in 1928, impressively old by Miami standards.  Some months back, Becky and I decided we should remove the decades of accumulated paint before we chose our own pallet.

Okay, it was my brilliant idea.  Blame me 100%.  But the windowsills are flaking without our help, and previous peeling has obviously been painted over.  None of the doors close because of the accumulated layers.  The crown molding has no detail, and the corners sag with frozen drips.  Apart from the floors - oak in the front rooms, pine in the bedrooms - the house's wood energy is suffocating beneath years of latex and lead.

Little did I know how difficult it would be to remove.  

Five days of work spread over several months later...
Work is nothing without a deadline, so we invited Becky's family for Christmas brunch at our place.  Dylan stayed with his Abuelo and Abuela.  Becky and I could work all night if we wanted.

"So we'll be tired," I said, "so what?"

Well paint-scraping tired is not writing tired, or internet-surfing tired, or drinks-with-friends tired.  It is where-did-that-cut-come-from, aches-in-muscles-and-tendons-you-never-knew-you-had, making-a-fist-hurts-like-hell strung out exhausted, especially after a few hellish weeks of holiday retail.

This hurts.
We worked until three AM Thursday night then popped up at eight Friday morning.  We scraped until we physically and emotionally could scrape no more, until no amount of willpower would force our muscles to obey.  One cabinet is better than nothing.

We hit one cabinet with chalkboard in a can and painted the walls Chianti (Behr S-H-150).  The other cabinet, baseboards, and trim will wait for another day.

Through dividing and conquering, we managed to get the dining room not just presentable but lovely, while picking up paychecks, cleaning, and grocery shopping for the brunch.  We also learned that even exhausted at three am, we're a great team.
Oddly enough, the red is so rich that it makes the last few layers of paint to be scraped look like a deliberate attempt to be distressed and antique-looking.  We were praised to heaven for the look.  It's a nice thought but I doubt we'll go with it, particularly when only one more day of work will give us a finished room.  Well, maybe two days.

Either way, we can't let the paint win.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Noche Buena II: The Quickening

Now I know how Becky felt going up north for Thanksgiving.  There's one picture of me which survives from my first Noche Buena last year, a group shot of the whole Quiroga clan.   Since I tower over everyone else, there's no mistaking the terrified look on my face.

Meeting someone's family for the first time is always nerve-wracking, especially when there's a whole bunch of them presented to you at once.
Terrifying individuals.
Even though there were a slew of folks I didn't know or had only met once, this year I stopped freaking out and felt like part of the family.  

I think Jose's Coquito was only partly responsible.
Pictured: Jose.   Also, Becky's sister in Coquito haze.
We ate delicious food, laughed, and welcomed family from as far away as California.  We enjoyed live music around a fire outside on a night which can only be described as perfect.  No one got too handsy when in his cups.  No one puked or passed out.  Every dish tasted sublime.  Tia New One's homemade pies were like little slices of heaven.  Ninety-something Dora grabbed my face and unleashed a slew of Spanish (I caught "fine gentleman" and figured it all had to be good).  I have no idea why I was so nervous last year.
Not so terrifying individuals
It's tough being away from my family for the holidays, but the Quiroga clan made me feel right at home.  The love of a good woman helps, too.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holidays + Retail Job = Internet Silence

Since returning from Thanksgiving vacation, I've put in more hours at Books & Books than a Malaysian eight-year-old in a sneaker factory.  I took last Sunday off to watch Dylan, and this weekend off to scrape paint in the dining room.  These are not days off in the sense of coffee in one hand, Just Kids in the other, lounging in pajamas while Friends on DVD plays quietly in the background (just writing that sentence made me drool).  I worked like an ox before the goad, I just didn't get a paycheck for my efforts.

Between sixty-hour work weeks, interminable renovations, and Christmas shopping, I've barely been able to get out of bed.  I sleep, dream, and then Dylan rousts Becky and I out of bed.  I set my alarm for five as always, but I was so sleepy I'd turn it off and have no recollection of doing so.

Christmas fever has made Dylan a handful.  The other buyer, Z, has been on his honeymoon, leaving me solo during our busiest time of the year.  I've been sleeping through the time alloted for the one activity which keeps me sane.  We're still living hand to mouth, barely.  The walls of our dining room look like the set of Silent Hill.  MiniMe has fleas. So why am I so happy?  Christmas?  Becky?  All the lights and carols?  Coming home to presents form up north?  Maybe a cocktail of all of those thing, with a fresh pine tree thrown in to stir it.

I'm sorry SwF&F has gotten anemic.  I promise more words in the future.

In the meantime, I'm fine.  Busy, exhausted, and fine.

Love and happy holidays!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My Love / Hate Relationship with Nicholas Sparks

Man unknown, books unread, I’ve hated Nicholas Sparks ever since I read his contribution to a book called The Making of a Bestseller.  I grabbed an Advanced Readers Copy off the freebie shelf because one chapter featured our owner, Mitchell Kaplan.  I was new to Books & Books, and unfamiliar with his cache in the bookselling world.
Anyway, Sparks didn’t set out to be a writer; he set out to be a bestseller.  He researched bestselling novels and determined that there are only three household name authors in any subcategory of fiction.  You might have dozens of mystery authors, but when you’re searching for Medical Thrillers, you’ve got Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen, Michael Crichton, and a bunch of talented midlist folks nipping at their heels.
Sparks wasn’t inspired to write The Notebook, he saw that the sub-genre of romantic fiction was “wide open” and crafted a book whose sole purpose was to make him a bestselling author.
Do I hate him because his formula worked?  For being so unabashedly commercial about an artistic enterprise?  Probably a bit of both, but I also hate him because I work from inspiration, and I labor under the delusion that if I love what I’m writing, enough other people will so that I’ll make a living one day.

Cut to Nicholas Sparks’ signing at Books & Books.   We have bestselling authors all the time, but celebrity authors are rare.   Books-into-box office aside, he'd just made the Forbes list of top ten highest-paid authors.  I suggested we order two thousand copies of Safe Haven.  I was given the irksome directive to "wait and see," as in wait and see how everyone in Miami procrastinates until the last minute so it looks like there's no interest, wait and see if the publisher runs out of books by the time we’re ready to order, wait and see until only ungodly rush charges will get us the books in time.
Mitchell choose a number much lower than my suggestion.  The Marketing and Events Coordinator and I yessir’d him, then we decided on a quantity somewhere in the middle.  
Mitchell was worried about turnout.  To hear Sparks tell it, he’d had a signing at Books & Books in 1996 and spoke to five people.  One of them was Mitchell Kaplan, who stayed the whole night.  Sparks said it was Mitchell’s hospitality which brought him back. 
Hundreds and hundreds of screaming fans lined up around the block later, Becky and I used her Barnes & Noble Club Member discount card to empty their shelves (another Books & Books secret: for successful events we’ve underestimated, B&N becomes our fourth wholesaler!).  Running through the alleys of Coral Gables to avoid the crowds, madly ripping B&N stickers off, Becky toppled to the pavement, losing skin, four bags of books, and the toe off a pair of five-inch heels.  Mitchell drove me to Borders (the fifth wholesaler!) to empty their shelves and come back to the store for more back-alley, sticker-ripping fun. 
We made it by the skin of our teeth - seven copies to spare.  

When I heard he'd left without signing some stock, I ran out and stopped the car Sparks was leaving in to get them signed.  It was a gross intrusion I only had the gall to perform because I’d run all over Miami to get the damned things, and he was going to sign every last one of them.  He handled my intrusion graciously, so I can't hate him any longer.  
I love Nicholas Sparks for the same reason I love Ricky Martin, Tori Spelling, Hillary Duff, and most recently (and especially) George W. Bush.  Whatever I think about their celebrity or their books, they sell.  They sell tons, and we all get to eat that week.
Just don’t ask me to read any of their books.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Job Aint Nothin' But Work, or A Bright and Shining Lie

The other night I was at an upscale Indian restaurant, celebrating the birthday of a close friend.  It was one of those potentially awkward social situations where everyone involved knows one person but not each-other.  Sitting there, merely one beer into it, I pulled out a lie I haven’t used in years.  I loved this lie for many years but I assumed it died with all the idiocy I committed in my twenties.  
Not so much.  I told this table of old friends and new acquaintances I had been accepted to Yale.  

Let me explain, I’m not a liar.  I don’t do it comfortably, often, or well, except in print.  But when I choose a lie, it usually involves my past, and I tell it over and over until I need to remind myself it's a lie.  The truth is I didn’t want to go to college.  I was an artist.  What lame-ass artist needs college?  My guidance counselor pointed to my SAT score, my ACT score, and my academic record.  She told me I could go anywhere I wanted.
“You could get into Yale with these scores,” she said.

Somehow, this led to me telling people I was offered a full scholarship to Yale and turned it down.  The only college that offered me a free ride was the Rochester Institute of Technology.  I turned it down.  Artist, remember?  Plus, I was young enough to believe that free rides lurked around every corner.  

Throughout my twenties, I painted, I wrote, I dabbled in theater.  I worked a series of jobs which were beneath my intellectual capacity, if not my station in life.  I didn’t drink.  I dabbled in pot and mushrooms, tried coke a couple of times, and dropped a lot of acid.  And I told people I turned my back on Yale.  The lie proved that I once had potential and a fine mind, that someone important had looked at me and said, “Yes.”  

Looking back, it's obvious I wasn’t proud of how I chose to live.  Dusting the lie off after so many years must mean that again, I’m not proud of my life.  I want more than just putting a roof over my head.  I turned away from all the stupid things I’ve done, but it’s time to do something, to stop defining myself by what I’ve overcome and become.  

Because I toiled well in lowly positions, I was rewarded with toil in management positions.  I gave more hours to Starbucks and Borders than anyone should give to any job and didn't get much back besides money (and not much of that).  So I dropped out.  I quit being a manager.  I decided to toil on writing until the time my art was recognized.
Unfortunately, in the weeks leading up to the birthday dinner, I was working sixty and seventy-hour weeks.  This doesn’t make me that unusual in the working world, but I’m not some financal wizard or medical guru or any other job which might have a monitorial or altruistic payoff.  I work in a bookstore.  An independent bookstore, so good on me, but I'm two missed paychecks away from homelessness.  

That’s all business is - busy-ness.  It puts a roof over your head and food on your table, but it probably has little to do with the work God put you here to do.  I’ve been so busy lately I’ve lost that perspective.

Looking around the dinner table at the Guidance Counselor, the teachers, the independent film producer, and the musician, I saw people who are doing what they want to do... and I brought up SAT scores.  I can’t blame the beer and I can’t say it flowed naturally from the conversation; I engineered a topic so I could plant my favorite lie.    

It came from feelings of inadequacy, from letting myself drift rather than taking the oars, from letting my life live me.  

Despite what you hear, people can change.  It’s just more work beyond that first choice than most can face.  I need to choose not to be a workaholic and a perfectionist on a daily basis.  Any financial analyst will tell you two things; make your money work for you and pay yourself first.  My art isn’t working for me yet, unless it’s the satisfaction I feel in crafting something new, but I can certainly pay myself first.  I can take the time to work for myself before I work for anyone else, to be my best and brightest self at home rather than sparkling for strangers.

Someday instead of my job, my work will pay the bills.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stop Trying to Make Quirk Happen

I read an Advanced Readers Copy of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story.  In one scene the protagonist is insulting her future husband.  He smiled at first but as she really lays into him, his drunken mirth fades.  According to page 112 of the ARC, “The grin on his face was still there but it was getting smaller, fading until it was little more than a quirk and one shallow dimple.”  

As an ARC, it’s uncorrected.  I assumed Stephen King really meant to write “smirk.”  If not, more power to him.  "Frumious" didn't exist until Lewis Carroll used it to describe a Bandersnatch.  Quirk, for an odd grin, a knowing smirk, or a small, weird smile , is brilliant nonsense that still gets the point across.  The guy in King's scene is dying emotionally so maybe quirk doesn't work for this particular sentence, but it should be filed for later use. 

Then again, on page 350 of the ARC of Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, (and be on the lookout for this distopyan young adult novel in February; it will be big, and deservedly so), we have: “One side of Alex’s mouth quirks up into a smile, but the rest of his face remains stony.”

On page 98 of the Vintage edition of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, there’s: “His eyes strayed a second from mine, and his mouth quirked a little.  I knew his secretary had winked at him.”  

I keep reading that word; I do not think it means what I think it means.  

Searching online for a definition of quirk reveals "oddity, a strange attitude or habit," "an unpredictable act or event," or (and here's the one that's news to me) "twist or curve abruptly."  

I should have looked it up after seeing it used a second time, but I couldn't let go of the idea of making quirk happen the way I wanted it to, as in, "You wipe that quirk off your face young man, or you're going to get it."  

I never quite trusted him, because he always wore a quirk.

Blake thought his quirk was charming so he used it often - upon meeting new people, trying to chat up women in crowded bars, passing through a crowd of unsavory types - but he didn't realize the expression creeped people out.

It seems quirk as a twist is always used to describe lips, and I have to guess that's because of its proximity to smirk.  I'd put dollars to Voodoo Donuts that the reason floundering became a synonym for foundering is because people unfamiliar with the right word heard others using it and thought, fish?  I guess if you pulled a flounder out of the water, it would flop around a lot.  Yeah, floundering.  That makes sense.  Eventually it just kind of caught on, the way chomping at the bit is becoming acceptable for champing at the bit.

Conversate on that for a minute.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving, how I love you, and how sad when it all comes to an end.  This year my nephew Jason couldn't make it, but my brother and sister-in-law did.  

We had nineteen kinds of dessert. 

Aunt Val's neighbor had the night off from his job as a prison guard and brought his wife over to Thursday's bonfire.   

My cousin Margaret brought her significant other, Justin. 

My nephew Steven brought his significant other, Reina.

And of course, Clan Curtis / DeSocio / Jacobs finally met Becky, AKA Cleopatra, AKA the Girl with the Pigeon Tattoo.

We drove, and despite car games, awesome sing-alongs, and a two-hour side swipe at Savannah, it's not an experience I care to repeat any time soon.  Particularly the part where we couldn't find a cheap hotel.

We started pulling over in Virginia, going into hotels and seeing what a night cost.  We took turns to stay awake, all the way to Pennsylvania.  Past two am, unable to drive another foot, we reclined the seats and proceeded to sleep in the car.  It was 30-degrees outside.  Those $50 nights at the Loews Becky's sister hooks us up with have us spoiled.  

We're already saving our pennies so we can fly up next year with Dylan, so imagine him photoshopped into these photos.

My sister Cass, her son Johnny, and my sister-in-law Kim

My cousin Shannon and his wife Christina, with my Mom

The group, minus Kim (behind the camera) and Aunt Val (in the kitchen)

My brother AJ, Me, Becky, and my sister Cass

Me, Becky, and Shannon & Christina's daughter Sophia, pre-snowball fight

In the meantime, I'm hoping my family will visit us so they can get to know her better. 

The Turkey Bowl was two-hand touch with just a few guys.  I lost most of Friday to a Labatt Blue hangover, so we missed driving to the Rez.  Becky didn't get to eat any apple pie the whole time.  On the way back, route 95 was choked with bumper-to-bumper traffic from Pennsylvania to Virginia.  I kept saving it for later, so my one serving of corn chowder went bad on the drive back home.  Heartbreaking.

The beauty of being with family is not that the good outweighs the bad, it's that the bad is a mild afterthought.  

Here's to another great year.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Daytona is Racist

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so I thought I'd post pictures of a real Indian.  Or half of one.  

On our recent trip to SIBA.  Becky and I passed that bastion of Native Kitsch: the smoke shop.

I wrote that Daytona is the town that time forgot, and its smoke shop sported the widest variety of Indian busts and statues I've ever seen.

There are only two shots because Becky felt nervous about going inside and flicking pictures of me looking pissed.  She would have done it if I asked, but I didn't want to make her uncomfortable.

Shame on you, Daytona.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Falling in Love with a Six Year Old

The first time Dylan and I shared the day alone, we biked around our new neighborhood looking for a park Becky and I had passed some months before.  Dylan and I looked for it using the time-tested directions of "somewhere around here."  Just when we were about to give up and head back home, Dylan looked up and said, "What's that sign?"  Turned out to be a playground sign.

Not much of a park, though.  Huge banyans, benches, and much-trodden grass.  A park for romance, not play.  Still, we spent a few hours making up games and had a blast.

Sunday, on our second day alone together, I discover it wasn't so much of a blast.  Biking toward Salvatore Park, Dylan calls over his shoulder, "That last park wasn't any fun, right?"


I politely disagree.  

"But it was just a field."

"I thought we had a good time making our own fun," I say.

"I like playgrounds with lots of stuff to do."

Salvatore Park makes his jaw drop to his chest.  Tennis courts filled with couples and families to watch, monkey bars, swing sets, running paths, hopscotch, fake animals to climb, and a field thrown in for good measure.  Families play everywhere.  I get to make awkward small talk with the parents; "Look, our children are talking.  Let's you and I talk.  Actuary?  That's what you do, really?  I like your Polo shirt.  Excuse me while I elbow myself in the chin."    

Dylan meets neighborhood children.  We snack.  We pretend he's a dog and we drive around the park searching for his lost puppies.  I hold him while he flips over the parallel bars, does a handstand, and crosses the monkey bars.   We race laps around the park.  We see a couple of high school boys doing backflips off the wall.  The one named Andres is trying to teach the other student how to do acrobatic stunts out doors, but children keep pestering Andres to do tricks for them instead.  

"Can you jump over those bars without touching them?"  "Can you jump from that railing to the top of the swingset?"  "Can you do a back flip off of the monkey bars?"

Andres teaches Dylan to do a somersault without bumping his head.   

I also learn a valuable lesson: don't tell the child his father is on the way.  Until you actually see his father pull up, there's always the chance he'll bail at the last minute.

Never having kids in my life, I had a vague notion of what makes them so great.  They look at the world with (childlike) wonder, they're not jaded, they're always ready to have fun and try new things.  Guess what?  Not so much.  Dylan still believes in Santa Claus, but when I tell him that Indians are cleaners, booksellers, and dentists, he doesn't believe me.  Even at six years old, Dylan can wake up on the wrong side of the bed, his first words of the day being, "I want you to leave me alone."  Getting Dylan to try a new food is like getting the Pope to okay birth control.  He'll whine about anything and everything for sympathy, to shirk responsibility, and to stay up one second longer.  

It's not what I expected at all.  I love him because when we pass surveyors X's on the sidewalk, he jumps off his bike so we can dig for treasure.  I love him because he wakes up at midnight and thinks his giant, stuffed Very Hungry Caterpillar is a pit pull and he needs me to show him everything is okay and tuck him back in.  I love him because he forgives easily.  I love him because he loves hugs.  I love him because he believes in the Sleep Fairy, dances to Michael Jackson, and his favorite color is pink.

"Aaron, you watch me when my Mom doesn't watch me and when my Dad doesn't watch me.  Are you my family?"

I'm not sure how to respond, because  I ask him what he thinks.

"Your last name is Curtis.  You're not my family.  You have to be a King, or Quiroga."

Ouch, again.

"Okay, Dylan."

"Except from now on, there are three names in my family.  You have to be Curtis, King, or Quiroga."

I can definitely live with that.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Living el Libro Loca

In 2007, I worked the Bill Clinton signing at Books & Books.  
My Forrest Gump impression.
The crowd of hundreds was calm, respectful, and orderly.  

Nine months ago, I saw the Lauren Conrad signing.  The crowd of hundreds screamed like she was the fifth Beatle (although I doubt most of them were alive when John Lennon got shot) but they never got out of hand.  

This week I worked Ricky Martin, and I'm glad I survived.

The guys are having a beard contest; I'm losing.
PS: That's Becky's chin growing from Ricky's neck.
We should have known there'd be problems Friday afternoon.  After months of assurances that he would stay until every last person had a book signed, his people told us we'd get two hours with Ricky Martin's bon bon.

When the crowd gathered Saturday, having over a thousand books suddenly looked sparse (although we haven't sold a thousand books at single-title event since Bill Clinton's My Life).  Ricky Martin's people probably saved us from running out.  We had plenty of stock, but we had to cut people off because of the time limit.  

After months of telling and tweeting "come one, come all," folks didn't react well to hearing that we couldn't sell any more vouchers to get in the signing line.  Never mind that you could have bought a voucher weeks ago, I drove all this way to see Ricky Martin and I'm seeing Ricky Dancing-in-the-Goddamned-Rain Martin.

One woman couldn't get over the fact that our website hadn't been updated to reflect the sold-out status.  After some back-and-forth, she and Becky started to get into it.  And by get into it, I mean shout.  Using the customer service axiom which has served me for decades - namely that an irate customer will spew venom all over the first employee who helps them but be sweet as pie to the second - I asked if I could be of some assistance.

After some back-and-forth, I started to get into it with the customer as well.  And by get into it, I mean yelling.  You have to be a certain kind of bitter to bring seasoned professionals like Becky and myself to the boiling point; this woman was that kind of bitter with a side of cuntface.  

I passed her along to Cristina, our Marketing and Events Coordinator, thinking that surely the woman would be mollified by speaking to the person who put the whole event together.  Instead, Cristina and the customer got into it.  In Spanish.

The woman refused to leave, preferring to pepper abuse on Becky and I while we helped customers who had paid long in advance.  

"You can't update your website?" the woman railed.  

"No, we can't," Becky said.  

"So you sell out of books, and you don't put it online?  You don't care about your customers.  That's what you're saying?  Books & Books doesn't care about their customers."

"Lady, do you see this crowd?"  Becky gestured to the throng of people wrapped around the block, hindering traffic, standing on the window sills, trampling our flower beds to get a glimpse of their idol (who hadn't even arrived).  "When are we supposed to update the website?"

"Oh, please.  You don't have someone who takes care of that for you?  Books & Books?  Please."

"Wow, I'm glad you think so highly of us," I said.  "We have two people in charge of our website.  One of them is over there."  I pointed to Debra, co-Marketing and Events Coordinator Pluperfect, making sure boxes of Me and Yo were flapped to the signing page so folks wouldn't be delayed picking up their books en route to Ricky.  "The other one is over there."  I pointed to Noah, receiving dude Bar None, manning the front gate.  "That's it.  That's all we got."

For all the impact it made on her behavior, I might as well have given a two-year-old directions on baking chocolate cake.  

Ricky of Ricky's Bakery, the best Cuban bakery in Miami, with a Ricky Martin cake
This woman - one of several who pushed her way inside with the media to take pictures on her camera phone and got irate when asked to leave - will have to represent the whole of folks who would have been controllable only with a timely elbow to the jaw.  This post has got to end at some point.

Ricky Martin gave us over four hours, taking two breaks (during one, he peed into a bottle because the men's room was unreachable; email your Ebay jokes to; the best one will win something special).  For the most part, everyone was happy.  With so few staff members helping a crowd of thousands, this is something of a miracle.  He was amazing, upbeat and friendly the entire time.  Also, a gorgeous-looking guy.

One thing about the crowd irked me.  Seventy percent of this crowd was too busy trying to come up with the perfect Facebook update to even realize where they were.  That's no way to live.  I had to practically push people to the signing table because they were too busy memorializing the moment to actually meet him.  They'd hang back,  ignoring his greeting while trying to get the perfect shot.  If you want pictures, Google him; you'll find millions.  Instead of focusing on what you'll say about it later, why not be fully present and engaged while you talk with this man you adore?  

Thankfully, the powers that be at Books & Books decided to make this one-book, one-ticket so we could make some money off the crowds for once.  Hey, you're excited you got to see Ricky.  I don't blame you.

I'm excited I got a paycheck this week.  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Getting Dumber All the Time

In books and stories, characters are always trying to remember someone’s name.  I’ve used it myself.  It adds that dose of realism, and it’s an instantly recognizable situation.  What’s her name? the narrator wonders.  Donna?  Diana?  Turns out to be Deena.  So close.
Truthfully, in real life it happens more like that Seinfeld episode.  

Jerry: What was her husband's name, again?  Chip?  Kip?  Skip?

Elaine: Todd.

Jerry: Oh, right.

I'm going to go ahead and blame Todd.  Todd is Chip or Skip because Todd is boring.  It’s especially confusing in a room full of people you’re meeting for the first time, all the names and faces blend together.  Shouldn't Todd help you out by distinguishing himself in some way?  

It’s not just me.  No one remembers anyone’s name.  I refuse to believe we’re too self-centered to learn a new name and face.  No, it’s something else.  

I work with women in their fifties and sixties at Books & Books who count out the cash drawers from memory.  They struggle with all the computer stuff the teens and twenty-somethings pick up like breathing, but they count change and bills without moving their lips.  Meanwhile, take away a twenty-something’s pen, paper, and calculator while she counts a drawer and watch calamity ensue.
I think the Big Bang was a mass of everything, not just matter but all the intelligence, creativity, and abstract thought that would ever be, from the beginning of everything until the end of the whole mess.  With each progressive generation, it gets diluted.  Want proof?  Read a book from just thirty years ago.  There’s a command of language, a manner of expression which even our most lauded young writers lack. 

Some would argue that’s the modern style, stripped down, bare bones, minimal prose.  They’ll tell you that all the fancy words and flowery sentences in the world don’t necessarily translate to emotional power.  To which I say. . . Billy MadisonBlack Eyed PeasGovernor Schwarzenegger.  The Da Vinci Code, train wreck television, and Hot Chicks with Douche Bags.  
As long as the right people keep making money off of stupidity and ignorance, our culture will continue to manufacture idiocy.  As long as we have cell phone coverage, cars, internet access, and televisions, no one will care.  Devices will keep us entertained every second of every day.  We will eliminate boredom and original thought.

But don’t worry about it.  We’ll be too busy watching YouTube videos of celebrity meltdowns on our IPhones to care.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

That Sounded Better in My Head

For a certain type of person, our first thought is rarely our best thought.  Not every writer is Truman Capote or Oscar Wilde, quick with a quip or comeback, irreverent yet touching toast at the ready.  The less quick-witted writers among us put perfect reposts to put into our character's mouths, but in real life we're lacking the spark.

          Them: Honestly, you looked a little nervous during that reading.
          Me: So's your mom.
          Them: Huh?

          Them: I really didn't care for the last book you recommended me.
          Me: That's what she said.
          Them: Is that a joke?
          Me: No, it wasn't.  Because that wouldn't be funny at all.  I was just... 
                 emphasizing that you said it.

So now you know my secret; if it can't be filled with "so's your mother" or "that's what she said," I've got nothing.  Ironically, I've used two examples of things no one's ever told me in real life.  But they're the only scenarios I could envision on short notice.  

The speed of Becky's mind is one of the things I love about her, like when Hilldawg held up her arm and said, "Do you know how I got this bruise?" and Becky came back with her boyfriend's name without missing a beat.  It's a kind of conversational magic, one I seldom have.

In fact, I've felt quick-witted once in my life.  It was 1995.  The Disney movie Pocahontas (subtitle: Let's Destroy Truth and Fun*) had just been released.  A group of us sat around discussing the lyrics to Colors of the Wind, and my friend Kerry turned to me.

"What does 'have you ever heard the wolf cry at the blue corn moon' even mean?  Come on, you're Native American."

"I don't know," I said.  "What does 'when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that's amore" mean?  You're Italian, don't you know?"

Maybe you had to be there.

I also felt very writerly once.  Not in the sense of crafting a piece, or reading in front of folks, but in that Capote-at-a-party way.  A group of friends were enjoying a Thanksgiving potluck dinner at an apartment on Miami Beach.   We went around the table telling what we were thankful for in the past year.  

I'd visited upstate New York over the summer and swum in Lake Ontario.  After ten years of Miami's ocean the cold was overwhelming, but the fact that I had to kick four times as hard as I was used to just to stay afloat helped me keep warm.  Come to find out, the salt in saltwater makes it much easier to stay afloat.  I knew there was a metaphor in there about life, and friendship.  I kept in the back of my mind, intending to write it down at some point.

When I opened my mouth to give thanks, that's what came out.  Since I was making it up as I spoke, the story came across as extemporaneous and sincere.  I ended by saying I was thankful for my friends, the salt that makes it easier to swim the waters of life.  Since it was a speech it lasted as long as it took to hear it, leaving an impression of love and warmth instead of mere words which could be studied to death.

Writing is what gets me out of bed in the morning, but there something to be said for the ephemery of speech. 

* All Disney animals talk. Except in Pocohontas.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Books & Books: A For Profit Business

Customers really don't understand the book business at all (given the upheavals it has gone through in just a few years, and continues to go through, some of us working here don't get it either).  As a customer, I don't really need to know the behind-the-scenes machinations which bring me an espresso to enjoy a caffeine jolt.  Still, I know every time Aaron buys espresso at Starbucks, and Dick buys latte at Seattle's Best, and Harry buys  whole bean at Dunkin' Donuts, there's not a big mountain of coffee somewhere with an office on top of it, gathering the funds and redistributing them to the coffee business as a whole. 

Because I understand these businesses are in competition, I'd never go to a tasting at Pasion del Cielo with a pound of Starbucks, or sit down to read at Cafe Demitrio with a mug of Anniversary Blend.  Who would?  People who believe there is a Book Fairy orbiting the globe, gathering book money wherever it's spent and sprinkling it over booksellers everywhere, that's who.

Before I tell this galling story, I'd like to acknowledge that I've used the words "business" and "competition."  I'm saving posts about the skewed playing field the A-word enjoys for a later date, so let's set all that aside to talk about the Book Fairy.

There isn't one.

One thing Books & Books has always wanted, and has been asked to start a time or two, is a reading group for young adults.  With YA the one part of the bookselling world which is still exploding, this wish / request seems more important than ever.  So when we were approached to host a YA book club, we said yowza.  

After a month of preparation, including a lot of back-and-forth with the Igirl running the club (and the Igirl mom) during our hectic book fair season, we were ready.  The turn out was excellent.  The decorate-your-own cupcakes portion of the proceedings was a huge success.  They chose one of the three recommended titles to discuss for next month's meeting.  You could cut the book excitement with a knife.     

Then our children's manager watched in horror as Igirl told the group they could check the book out at the library, or buy it on Amazon.

Are you kidding me?  Have you been calling or emailing Amazon four times a week for the last month about this event?  Did Amazon suggest the titles you were choosing from?  Did Amazon spend an hour-and-a-half making the bookmarks you snatched up?  Did Amazon get up at eight in the morning (on a Sunday) to bake the cupcakes you wolfed down?  Did Amazon clean up the mess you left?  You know what, Igrrrlz, if you love Amazon so much, have Amazon a clear one of their rooms and set up chairs for your next meeting.  Oh, that's right - YOU CAN'T.

Guess what?  The money you spend on Amazon doesn't go to the Book Fairy and then back to Books & Books, it goes to Seattle.  Meanwhile,  your community in general and Books & Books in particular both languish.  You've used us to play host, cost us time and money, and used our store to advertise on online retailer which really doesn't need the extra exposure.

Don't be surprised to find us less hospitable in the future.