Sometime just before Christmas I went to a small bookstore in a small town near my own.
It is a lovely independent bookstore. The staff are very personable and very friendly. It fits perfectly into the town which it is sandwiched.
When I visit a bookstore, I canvas. Moving swiftly and eagerly upon each whim. From fiction, to non-fiction, to spirituality (Sort of a Buddha buff), to the graphic novels, to the essays, to the poetry, and back again. Voracity at its textbook finest. Widely read, thinly spread.
Alas, I approached the counter with my armful of books and a note from the bank.
While ringing up my pile of purchases, the incredibly nice lady asked if I needed anything gift wrapped.
I said, “Oh, no, I don’t. I’m being selfish today.”
Not necessarily Carlin at Madison Square Garden, but a lovely situational quip, I thought. Not to sound the ram’s horn of originality, but I imagine not many have thought to say such a thing when asked about wrapping.
The two clerks did not laugh. They were silent. Then they looked at each other. Their faces betrayed surprise and, or possibly, shock.
She made no response, but went back to the business and discussion that mark the closing of a transaction.
As though my joke had been cut for time. Probably by, it would seem, the network censors.
I think about that at least once week. I don’t know why.
The thoughts are never sadness or shame. Merely confusion.
Why would that remark ellicit such a response?
I’ve been in several times since. I’ve corresponded with the same lady via email about certain orders, making sure my collections of Krazy Kat arrived unharmed and that my Aristophanes was ready to be picked up. If I’m remembered at all, nothing from the past is ever mentioned.
I was in a couple of weeks ago to pick up Jen Spyra’s new book “Big Time”. (Consider this your official, glowing recommendation.) While there I found Roz Chast’s memoir. I am physically incapable of leaving a bookstore with a single volume.
Mid-perusal, the lady we’ve been discussing was conversing with two young women who had come in to browse. Locals, it seems, who were known. At least one was known. To the other, the lady asked how classes were going and when she would be returning to campus. The young woman responded, “Um, I’m 32.” *
“Oh….. I’m sorry.” said the lady, “When you’re 62, these things happen more often.” Probably true.
I don’t look upon this as karmic. There’s nothing to be karmic for.
But it does go to show you: we can all say stupid things when surrounded by an emporium of knowledge.
*- I am also 32, and after seeing the young woman who was easily mistaken for a college student I did indeed feel shame. However, we can talk about what a no-account bastard natural selection is another day.