January 30, 2011
Dear Fred, Dearest Nancy,
If, as the kids say, modern life is war—and I believe it is—then I no longer wish to be employed at The Strand Bookstore. To put it another way, more responsive to Fred’s upbringing then Nancy’s Go Go 70’s background; Maggie’s Farm—I no longer wish to work it. In fact, I wish to so terminate my relationship with Maggie’s Farm that I no longer understand the reference.
The reasons for my self-termination are plenty fold. Firstly, I do not enjoy going to work. On time or at all. But especially on time. My tardiness should never have been an issue, and certainly not one that was brought to my attention. Working at a book store shouldn’t be a popularity contest. This isn’t one of those offices where cupcakes are currency, and awkwardness—true and painful awkwardness—is mined for humor by the British. This is a bookstore. Or at least, that’s what it says on the sign outside. Now, after three-and-a-half years spent shelving the likes of Reckless Sunbeams: Finding a Life Through Love, I have my doubts.
And let me just tell you, when management told me to stop drinking on the job, a part of my childhood was stripped away. My father worked in construction or finance or was a tenured professor and all I’ve ever wanted was a job I could be drunk at. And, for the record, I NEVER drank on the job. I was, in fact, always still drunk from the night before. There’s a big difference between Old Granddad between the stacks and having spent the morning re-enacting the McCarthy-era education reel “Star Nosed Mole Vs. The San Andreas Fault” with an NYU mod whom one picked up at Morrissey Night. You would think that upper management, with their highly developed sense of smell and ingrained inclinations, would know where on the alcohol timetable a person was. My drinking on the job would be like cavemen fighting the dinosaurs— fun but unnecessary.
I don’t want to waste your time with the usual complaints about the quality of the books that I shelved, day after day, in the unchanging weather of the basement. My mother birthed me with a certain expectation of disappointment, but she’d have to lower the bar considerably before I added literary criticism to the pyramid of disenchantment that I’ve managed to build for her. If anything, my work at The Strand has made me more sympathetic to authors. Or at least more suspicious of those who think funning on them is the same as speaking truth to power. The literary world is innocent. Jews without any real ability need to do something and there will always be someone writing short stories with titles that are longer than absolutely necessary. The author of “Marc Almond Wears a Wristwatch (Because He Wants to Know What Time It Is)” is neither Prime Minister Botha nor the Coca Cola Corporation, and I won’t act like he/she is. Having said that, I’ll be glad to go back to reading magazines exclusively on the subway. I don’t like the way that people take a book in hand as some sort of signifying badge of membership in an elite. You don’t see people with bikes exchanging smug looks with other people with bikes. Well, ok, you do. But I don’t like that either.
When I was twenty-five I swore that I would never be the cool guy in his thirties at the bookstore, playing in a semi-popular band, sleeping with 21-year-olds. That would make me a failure. My success is that I am in a truly unpopular band and I sleep almost exclusively with girls in the 23–26 range. I am all too aware, as I had it pointed out to me by Samantha at the registers, that men who are self-deprecating while slyly bragging about fucking younger women are truly despicable. We fit somewhere on the social hierarchy above pedophiles and below male models. With the film actors who talk about how doing blockbusters allows them to do smaller fare, like saying that slitting open the bellies of baby ducks for cash allows them to buy platinum collars and bells for the neighborhood strays. Thank you for that, Samantha. Thank you.
I think it’s important to not be delusional about the sort of man or woman you’ve grown up to be, but you also have to avoid being a bore or—worse—clever. If you have to be that anarchist who hangs himself in the backyard of the bar, first set down a tarp or some sort of throw rug. There’s always a cleaning crew, and, if you have one essential goal in life, it should be to make their lives no more difficult than absolutely necessary. I suspect that my behavior at work is making other people’s lives exactly that, and I am not without a conscience.
There are those who will tell you that the doing of the work is almost as important as the quality of the work. That effort and striving, just trying, defines one’s character. I don’t take issue with these people’s standards. And, while I prefer to stay in bed until well after three in the afternoon, I’m not opposed to hard work, especially theoretical hard work, of an academic nature, performed by other people. I’m just saying that a lot of the author/prisoners that these people advocate for go on to kill again upon their release. But do I digress? I do. I’m sorry Fred. I’m sorry Nancy.
But who will apologize to me, for the digressions that have been foisted upon me and my plans? When is my Off Topic Day Parade, with politicians glad-handing babies and homosexuals protesting on the side lines? I know that I’m not the only one who once had perfectly fantastic reasons for moving to the city. The majority of my co-workers, if the break room chit chat is any indication, moved here for the mediocre Thai food and the plentiful artistic forums to express their first-world hassles as some sort of Gaza level tragedy. For myself, I moved here for the poetry, the hard drugs, and the roving gangs of loose and insecure publicists. If, while describing the dry, defensive, overeducated-Berkshires-by-way-of-Athens, Ohio detritus of my existence, I have seemed flip or even—ha—resigned, it’s because working in a bookstore for so long has numbed me to dramatic possibility. This, I think you’ll agree, must change.
Goodbye dear sweet bosses. You’ve been really okay. Tell the gang that I love them and the union that I think it’s cute the way it fumbles at the lock to the door to dignity. Tell Matt on the third floor that I hate every shirt, ironic and non, that he’s ever worn. And, most importantly, please tell Samantha (who I suspect is really named Becky) at the registers that I burn for her. Tell her that I burn to be the sexual stopgap between her MFA and her assistant editorial-ship at n+1, that I yearn to be the bad actor sweating over her shuddering whiteness, and if she ever changes her mind about that oft offered, never accepted, drink after work that I am, now and forever, “after work”.
Would you do that for me, Fred? Nancy? Thank you. You’re mensches.
I Will See You Around,
Zachary H. Lipez