Friday, September 24, 2010

Mary O'Donnell In A College Bookstore

Mary O'Donnell In A College Bookstore

I knew who you were
the very moment you stood
before me, because I have
a bit of the ancient heart
by which to know a rose,
& not enough distances
to deny the knowledge.

Now I scribble book titles,
your textbooks, for
whatever your desire,
probably too much a future
you try not to doubt,
& this is my part, although
I look like hell, & I'm
making a mess of it.

I got stoned at lunch,
more so than I wanted,
I'm feeling hassled,
& not a little paranoid,
but doesn't a rose suffer too
with each prick of the thorn?

The day is very long, so
this I say to you,
Mary O'Donnell, with
a wink of my puffy eye:
Please save this receipt.
because you never know
what tomorrow may bring. 
A poem  published in a nice 1979 anthology of Jersey poets.The kind of poem you write, like enough to send out into the world, but don't add to the repertoire. Even in 1979, it was  unusual for me to smoke pot outside home. Perhaps everyone at the Upsala bookstore had doob for lunch that day. I regretted it.

I did a number of  temp stints working at the Upsala College bookstore.  I used the temp job to join WFMU, across the hall from the store, when some connection to the school was required to get a show.

The small academic bookstore environment was alright. But I learned from it how crazy large school stores  are.  There are two major rush periods of about two weeks each at the start of the fall & spring semesters, those are stressful for students & bookstore employees, &  a less intense period for summer sessions. The remainder of the school year, Upsala Bookstore mainly served as a stationary & convenience store. My first manager, Jim Coleman, really enjoyed the slow time. That's when he looked at & ordered tee shirt & coffee mug college logo designs, pens  & notebooks & novelties, candy & lighters.  Book & product sales reps took him to lunch at the Arctic Kitchen. If their expense accounts were fat enough, they treated everyone to lunch. A textbook "buy back" rep  set up a day or two to give students pennies on the dollar for old texts. We packed up & shipped unsold new text returns back to the publshers. By  mid-semester, Jim was chasing procrastinating teachers around the campus to get their orders for the next semester's texts, art supplies, & lab kits. Teachers had to reasonably estimate class sizes. Jim had to determine if the stuff the teachers wanted was even available. A month before new semester the new books began arriving, in a trickle, then a flood. Some of the orders would be shorted. Some teachers underestimated class sizes. Shelves had to be cleared, restocked, labeled so that even idiots could find books. At   some point, the bookstore dropped self-serve on texts, a good idea, & students handed a staffer a book list. Many of the books had to be charged to school accounts, we had to write up the books & supplies using a paper receipt machine. There were long lines of grumpy students dealing with grumpy store employees.

The trend in  college bookstores was toward dept store. You could buy televisions, sneakers,   & hot cheese nachos in them. Many were being franchised to outside companies like  Follett.  They were a nuisance for schools to manage.


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