Almost Half My Life

25 years at Barnes & Noble. I did the math, that’s over 5700 shifts! And how can I sum up my time there so far? Thousands of customers, and hundreds of thousands of books. Release parties and power outages and celebrities and hundreds of cups of coffee. And so very many coworkers, many who have become friends.

Highlights?

I got to meet and spend time with Anne Lamott, who wrote Bird By Bird, the first writing book I’d ever read. She is easily one of my favorite authors. She arrived later than expected into Syracuse for the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series and we had her pre-sign some books in her hotel room beforehand. Although exhausted, she was gracious and fun while I held open each title page for her black sharpie signature.

Then there was the time we almost broke William Styron! He was doing a talk and signing and started feeling ill. We had to get him to the employee break room and call 9-1-1. Spoiler alert, he ended up being fine. I had a really great conversation about bookstores with Jean Stapleton when she was in town doing a play at Syracuse Stage. And I got up the nerve once and asked Stephen Stills if he needed help finding anything. He didn’t.

December 23 is one of the busiest days of the year for us at the bookstore. For a few years it was also the day Viggo Mortensen would make an appearance to do some DVD shopping before heading north to spend Christmas with his family. The first time it happened it was 10:50 pm and I was running register to help clear the building for the night. I asked, “Do you have a membership?” and the man gave me his phone number. “Mortensen?” I asked, realizing half a beat afterwards who I was talking to. He just smiled and paid. The next summer I was tracking a lost book for him. I had to ask him to repeat himself several times because he is just as soft spoken as he was as Walker Jerome in A Walk On The Moon, my fave Viggo movie, about the summer of ’69 at a resort in the Catskills. If you enjoyed Dirty Dancing, look it up

Many years ago one of my coworkers had recently retired from Time Magazine and came to work with us to learn how to run a bookstore. Bill Reilly then opened the river’s end bookstore in Oswego. My dad, my friend Katie, and I drove up there one day to help him unload his Ingram Distribution starter shipment and we helped him organize the books on the new empty shelves. 22 years later, that indie bookstore is still thriving and I love to stop in to visit with Bill, who always tells this story at independent bookstore conferences so they don’t think badly about the big box stores. 

Special events and release parties have been really fun. We had several midnight parties for the later books in the Harry Potter Franchise, a cool party when the DVD release of the first Frozen movie came out, and a prom theme for one of the Twilight books (I can’t remember which one). Each of these gatherings were made special by the extra work and fun that the booksellers put into them. From decorations and costumes to endless energy and enthusiasm, these dedicated employees delighted everyone who attended. That’s one of the things I admire most about the people I work with. They want success and put so much work into events like these to make it so.

I am so grateful for the caring supportive environment I have been a part of for 25 years. I love working with the booksellers on my staff. I found out how much when we closed our doors in March and the staff were furloughed for a bit. We have brought back some but not all and it feels incomplete without everyone there, like waiting for my friends to make it to the party. They all bring gifts and talents that make us one of the best retailers in the country and I am blessed. I can’t say here’s to 25 more, but I can say I will be around to sell many more books!!

 

I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying.

10 weeks ago, when quarantine started, I thought I would get so much done. I had reduced hours at work and wasn’t able to be with my family and friends, and there would be time for everything: reading, writing, housework. I would post in my blog and take classes and get that kitchen floor scrubbed. And then it happened. Or more to the point it didn’t happen. I sat around at night weary from the listless days. I binged for hours on Netflix and Hulu and even Youtube. I snacked because I needed comfort food to get me through this trying time. There were no blog posts and even the homework from classes I took to stay motivated was left undone. My house projects just sat there because it didn’t matter anyway, who was coming into my house? No one. I did the bare minimum, dishes and laundry and shopping trips for my mom and my dad, spending much more on groceries than usual because I had to be sure we had enough food to forego extraneous grocery store trips.

10 weeks ago, I had my last normal weekend. It was the weekend before St. Paddy’s Day. The band played a double header. First they played a surprise birthday party for a friend in the afternoon. Then we knew the wave was about to hit us, and that we may be taking a chance, but we went ahead with the gig at The Western Ranch. Eric loaded in all of his own gear (no easy feat for a drummer) so that contact would be minimal. Somehow we knew this would be the last weekend we would be eating out, and sitting with each other, and listening to live music. When we all said goodbye that evening, it was really hard.

It’s been a long 10 weeks but I have made it through relatively unscathed. I was able to keep working, albeit at reduced hours. It’s been kinda exciting actually, getting ready to open our doors again to an entirely redesigned bookstore. I can say this because the younger stronger members of our staff have been doing all the hard labor! My parents live locally, so I have been able to see them at a distance and make sure they have whatever they need to be more comfortable during their own quarantine. I have been able to wave hello to friends when dropping off or picking things up. My life hasn’t really been disrupted, but I am sad about cancelled vacations and parties that have also been cancelled for everyone else.

I miss the hugs. And the gatherings. And live music. But I hesitate to say I miss my freedom. I think that is a loaded word right now and the truth is that I do have freedom. And I choose to wear my mask and limit my errands. And make do with what I have without shopping for things I may not need. Those who talk about having their freedoms taken away perplex me. How is wearing a mask to keep people safe different from wearing a seat belt to keep safe? Why is it someone’s constitutional right to have a haircut or a manicure? I am as shaggy and gray as everyone else. But that means we are all in the same boat. Yes, I am speaking from a place of privilege because I have a paycheck coming in and am able to pay my bills. I get that. I know there is a lot of suffering out there, people not getting paid and losing their small businesses. But I just can’t seem to equate that with the loss of life we have suffered in this country, 100,000+ to date. And I can’t ignore the stories out of the hospitals and COVID units, people unable to breathe and in great pain.

For 10 weeks I have pushed down my sadness and despair. I have used food and alcohol and Netflix to distract me from my feelings. Then today I saw a car parade from a local elementary school staff on Facebook. One of many that have been posted during the COVID crisis. I don’t know why this one struck me. But as I watched the video made by that birthday friend I haven’t seen since my last normal day, seeing car after decorated car drive by her house, hearing her say, “I have to go get my glasses, I just can’t stop crying,” I started to sob. Crying for all the schoolkids that couldn’t go to school and see their friends and teachers,  those juniors and seniors who now have to reimagine what their futures will look like, those families that cannot see and hug each other, those people who lost loved ones to this illness and those who will continue to suffer as we go along in June and July, people suffering for the poor decisions made by others. All I can hope for is that those that I love stay safe and healthy. And that we can find a vaccine so then the world can be safe and healthy. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Photo credit: selfie taken of my mask by my mom, Carole Horan. It was made from material left over from a dress she made me when I was just a wee one.

I’ve Never Been To Spain, But I’ve Been To Barcelona (New York)

We pulled the car off on the side of the road and waited for a few more to pass, then I jumped in front of the road sign that read ‘Napoli’. “Hurry up! There are more coming!” I yelled as Diego tried to snap a pic with my phone. Before we got back on the road I consulted the map. “So where to next? If we go toward the lake we will hit Sunset Beach by 3.”

Did you know there are over 100 cities and towns in New York State named after famous places? Diego and I set out to visit all of them a couple of years ago. It started out innocently enough. We were driving around one day and somehow got on the topic of how many places in Upstate New York were named after other places and we decided we had to check them out for ourselves. In an earlier blog I wrote about how this kid had me on a whirlwind 24 hour tour of New Jersey so we could visit his two favorite restaurants, Cheeburger Cheeburger and Quaker Steak and Lube (the locations in our area had shut down, so he was jonesin’.)

https://imwiththebandwives.com/2015/09/03/jersey-shore-and-more/

So, we went old school and bought a New York State road atlas, started plotting out prospective trips by highlighting all the names we recognized, then began plotting them all on grids by geographic location The harder part was finding time to do all this exploring, with Diego still in high school, and, well, retail.

But we found a sliver of time and we set out Easter Sunday with a basket full of jelly beans and peeps and chocolate bunnies, towards the farthermost western part of the state, Buffalo. We got to the New York-Pennsylvania border of the Thruway and exited to head south, and came across Dunkirk. I didn’t even realize it should be on the list but Diego mentioned the famous WWII battle and how the movie had just come out. So there it was, our first checkmark. We hit several others places before ending up in Jamestown, birthplace of Lucille Ball (Diego claims not to know who she was, but he also says that about the Beatles so I just don’t know.) Most of the towns were shut down because of the holiday, which was too bad because there were some great BBQ places we might have enjoyed. We drove through Barcelona, Salamanca (where a college roommate spent a semester), Westfield (Massachusetts, where I worked for two years after grad school), Portland, Panama, Ashville, Sunset Beach (North Carolina, where I used to go on spring break with Diego’s family years ago), Napoli, and Cuba.

Then there was our trip on Veteran’s Day weekend. By this time Diego had turned 16 and had his permit so I let him drive for the whole trip, though all sorts of terrain: highway, dirt roads full of potholes, country routes, and city streets. It was only a day trip but we still managed to get to several places: Mexico, Texas, Phoenix, Peru, Memphis, Jordan, Belgium, Liverpool, Palermo, and of course Syracuse. We also took a detour to Rainbow Shores, a hotel where my dad and I lived one summer while I was in college, in an apartment over the laundry room. It’s right on Lake Ontario, with the most gorgeous vista every single morning, rain or shine. He indulged me while we walked around the abandoned grounds and I showed him the apartment where we lived, and the cabins where we vacationed during subsequent summers.

Future trip plans got derailed as Diego’s permit became a driver’s license and high school shenanigans became more fun than road trips with Aunt Buddy.  So as you may have guessed, we have not hit all the places, or even the top 100.  We hit 21 during 2017. 2018 was a wash and now next week the kid is leaving for college. At dinner tonight we talked about taking a day trip sometime this fall where we can hit some of the places in the Eastern part of the state, near where he is attending school. We will be lucky if we hit another 10. The good news is that he and I love to spend time together and don’t mind driving for hours as long as there’s a hotel with good cable at the end of the day, and perhaps a fun restaurant. He’s already trying to figure out how to fit another Quaker Steak and Lube visit in.

My Writing Declaration of Independence

My talent and this blog have been lying dormant for some time now. As always, there is no excuse. I have been letting life wash over me instead of controlling the flow. I say I want to have a writing practice, and produce work, and I know many ways it can be done. Motivation and inspiration comes in many forms. Today it comes from my dear friend and writing mentor, who after years of teaching about writing practices has created one for herself and it has been transformative. I want to be just like her.

How not to have a regular writing practice: Continue reading “My Writing Declaration of Independence”

Snow Day

Snow day! And what did I end up doing?? Poring through old high school yearbooks, having reconnected with an old friend from a high school play on Facebook and feeling nostalgic. We never used to close the bookstore, but in this day and age of fiscal responsibility we have to weigh the sales with the payroll and the safety of our staff, so with the text “We are closing. Enjoy the day!”, I was gifted a day off. The entire day was looming in front of me and there was so much I could be doing, behind in my writing and blog posting, reading, guitar practice, and housecleaning. So instead there I was, with three bound volumes of Talons (we were the Fowler Falcons) to flip through.

Continue reading “Snow Day”

Who Stole My Thunder?

There’s no picture of me in my huntress costume from my high school musical, but if you want to know what I looked like, just think Wilma Flintstone’s dress in a green jungle print (and with bigger boobs, it was way before my surgery).  “Who Stole My Thunder?” was an original musical about Roman mythology penned by my tenth grade English teacher. I reconnected with the guy who played Neptune, God of the Sea, last night on Facebook and it got me thinking about it.

It’s been 40 years so the storyline is a little fuzzy but it was something about how someone steals someone else’s thunderbolt, the gods get angry, and wackiness ensues.

Continue reading “Who Stole My Thunder?”

Send In The Clown

Jim. A 92 year old man who lived a full and blessed life. I spent a couple of hours today listening to the stories of how he lived and my heart was full, and breaking. Full because it was evident that he touched so many lives, and breaking because my friend was mourning the passing of his Pop. The priest gave a wonderful homily about sunrises and sunsets and birth and death and about Jim going home. No matter what your thoughts about religion and life and the afterlife, it was a wonderful celebration. From the a cappella opening song “How Can I Keep From Singing”, chosen because Jim spent a lot of time his last couple of years singing out at the home, often at the top of his lungs, to the moving eulogy given by his son John, whose stories captured his essence perfectly.

Continue reading “Send In The Clown”

Remembering Dan

Raking leaves under a fall of snowflakes is status quo for me at the Great Camp Sagamore volunteer work weekends, whether it be May or October. It may seem extreme, but it is the mountains, after all. What a curious place, Great Camp Sagamore, existing in another time. No riding mowers or leaf blowers for this clean up crew, just rakes and shovels and tarps that had been previously been used for raven mitigation. That was a whole separate job that I was not willing to volunteer for (although Dana did!) that involved raven shit being cleaned off roofs. I get enough shit at work. I am Queen Pee after all.  Leaves piled on tarps are transported to a secluded section of woods and unceremoniously dumped onto other huge piles of leaves. And so it goes, every other season, fall and then spring and then fall again. No matter what the season, and what the weather, you could always find Dan wearing his trademark shorts.

Continue reading “Remembering Dan”

To Summarize…

You haven’t heard from me in a couple of weeks because Shameless. I spent the last couple of weeks with the Gallaghers. slipping deeper and deeper into their dysfunctional chaotic lives. And what happened to the promises made at the beginning of the month to match NaNoWriMo commitments from previous years, to post a blog a day during the month of November? Sadly, it seemed to go the way of all the ones made in years past. Another pre-Christmas retail season had me working extra hours and limping home, reaching into the medicine cabinet for copious amounts of Advil. And then hours of keeping up with the drug and sex-fueled Chicago family who just can’t seem to keep themselves out of jail. Go Figure.

A total of 12 blogs, all written in the first two weeks of the month, is still more writing than I think I accomplished in past Novembers. It was a strong start.  What did I learn during this latest attempt? That maybe November is not the best month for me. I will be gentle with myself, continue to blog at a pace more suited for my #retaillife, and bring you quality writing as often as I am able. Thanks for your continued support. And if I end up in jail in Chicago because of those crazy Gallaghers, I will let you know where to send the bail money!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Piles of boxes stacked taller than me, slivers of space to squeeze through to get to the back door where the UPS truck is waiting to load in 200 more packages. Books as far as the eye can see on every counter and spilled over onto the boxes. Sound like an episode of “Hoarders?” It’s the stockroom at Barnes & Noble, where booksellers now have to try and get the product out on the floor and in the hands of customers in the less than 6 weeks until Christmas.

It’s the same scene every year. Our back room is really too small to handle all the boxes delivered on a daily basis during the season and we have gotten pretty creative about how to maneuver, but it’s a tight fit for a few weeks and it is really stressful to try and scrape enough personnel together to take care of it all. Always too much to do and not enough time to get it done. But then we do. We will get it all out and spend the next several weeks delighting customers with all the gift ideas we have, then clean up the glitter and snowflakes and start the ‘new year new you’ theme, and then comes Valentine’s Day, and the year will continue. The circle of retail life.

The next six weeks will be a blur. I will put my heart and soul and extra hours in to make sure the store is ready for all those people looking to create an amazing holiday. I’ll make my special meatballs and bring in treats and try to keep everyone in the holiday spirit, and when they are not I quote my dad to them, who is fond of saying, “Ho ho ho your ass!” By New Year’s Eve I’ll bone tired, but also happy we made it through another holiday.

Why take the time to share all of this? To ask that every time you are out shopping, trying to make the perfect holiday for your family and loved ones, remember to thank a retail worker who spent the previous evening stocking the shelves. When you stop to eat somewhere because you are exhausted from holiday planning and you can’t even, give an extra smile and maybe a larger tip to your waitress who works so hard so you don’t have to.  Instead of cursing DPW workers who plow snow into your driveway, say a thank you that the roads are clear and salted. So many people toil every day in service so others can go on doing for their family and friends. Make sure to let them know how grateful you are. I know I am. Happy Holidays!