Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sticking My Head in the Chocolate Fountain: Two Hours at the Bookstore

It turns out, there IS a lifetime limit for time spent in dressing rooms, and I’ve reached it. I’ve logged my allotted hours sitting on tiny slivers of laminate benches, receiving inadvertent treatments of Loser Acupuncture from all the straight pins collecting under my butt. A fair estimate would be that I’ve probably repositioned about a thousand pink junior push-up bras back onto their tiny little hangers, which is a feat of eye-hand coordination that should not be dismissed by those of you so blessed to have never attempted it. Stick a fork in the plastic tag that tracks how many items I’ve schlepped in; I’m done.

So, when Mary’s birthday dawned on a school holiday this year, and she decided on an Uptown shopping day with her sisters, I acquiesced, but with a sinking heart. As the girls discussed their choices of shopping venues (cheap new clothes and cheap old clothes holding equal appeal), my heart sank further. Then I remembered that Uptown had a bookstore, an actual independently owned emporium. Here is what it has: books, lots of them, and a few chairs. Here is what it does not have:  a café, Kenny G muzak, or racks of Kute Kat greeting cards. I felt my gizzards unclench as I bid the girls goodbye and made plans to meet them for lunch in a couple hours.

That’s two hours. Alone. In a Bookstore. I withheld the urge to click my heels up like a leprechaun as I watched them cross the street and head into Everyday People. I was giddy with the thought of Free Time. Let me explain that an ideal 24 hours for me would be 10 hours of sleep, two hours of writing, three hours of exercise and nine hours of reading. An actually day for me does not correspond to this ideal in any way, being mostly filled with pie chart slivers best described as “driving where I don’t want to go, cleaning messes I didn’t make, cooking food I don’t want to eat and shopping for stuff I don’t want.” That last one, shopping, is the worst. If all the retail in the world were vaporized by a crazed anti-mall madman, and we were all reduced to garage sales and farmers' markets, I’d lead a celebratory parade. 

Okay, I take one part of that back.  Bookstores can stay. Especially the one I found myself in on Mary’s birthday. Just deciding where to start took me some time. Dip into my favorite parts of a new classic? Find out what all the fuss was about in the new wunderkind’s novel? Head to the kids’ section and read Betsy-Tacey for a few hours? I collected a few volumes, found a church pew in the back and plunged in. The irony was not lost on me, and the hardness of the seat, certainly at least as uncomfortable as that in the dressing rooms I was avoiding, didn’t bother me one bit. I read all of Michael Pollan’s new book. (It’s short.) I lingered over a giant photography retrospective of Hollywood’s Golden age, and I wanted to slide myself into its black-and-white pages and light Garbo’s cigarette for her. I hopped into a couple anthologies and right back out again. Outside, the snow fell, the cars went by, and countless Visa cards were swiped through countless machines, all over Uptown. Commerce continued, and I remained a dropout. 

Up the street, the girls had already tried on a hundred outfits and taken photos of themselves in 75 of them, all of which had already been posted to Facebook. So much face-making, so many pixels, such a freakin’ waste of energy.

They called my cell and let me know it was time for lunch (I was buying; they remembered me). I carefully replaced all my reading and began to wrap up for the cold trek back across the street to reality. I felt as if I’d finally gotten enough of something that I’d been needing for a very long time. It was like being a glutton who had been given free rein at the midnight buffet. I had not only indulged in the chocolate fountain, I’d stuck my head into it, mouth wide, and I drank my fill.

I didn’t even end up with any straight pins stuck in my loser butt. That’s what I call a good day.

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