A Project Named Desire

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I'm not sure who decided that the Blue household consists of young, upwardly-mobile, wealthy Republicans, but apparently we've gotten on some sort of list. The evidence? Every month we are inundated with magazines like "Housetrends" "Best" and "Cincinnati Gentleman" (now apparently reborn as "Cincinnati Profile"). These slick rags appear as regularly as cicadas in our mailboxes, informing us on such important topics as where to go to purchase a computerized programmable shower system, and the importance of using only synthetic motor oil in one's pricey German vehicles. Since we can't figure out why we get these magazines, or how to stop them, they usually end up in the recycle bin or as craft-fodder for LB. I will occasionally read them with the sense that somehow an intelligence document from the other side has accidentally ended up in my possession. If I am ever in the market for a $5,000 table lamp, now I know where to go! All in all, harmless (if somewhat over-the-top).

But this month's edition of "Cincinnati Profile" published an article that was so terrible that I felt something needed to be said. The headline reads "The Streetcar Debate", which makes one believe that, perhaps, the article will engage in a spirited treatment of the merits of Cincinnati's long-running public transportation debate. Instead, the article is a borderline-racist, overtly conservative/Republican/elitist rant masquerading as journalism. I was looking for Sean Hannity to weigh in. Apparently the "profile" part of the new name for this rag means "we have profiled your zip code and figure that you must be a white Republican".

I will admit that I am woefully uneducated about the streetcar issue. While I tend to turn a skeptical eye toward any project that uses "Cincinnati City Council" and "88 million dollars" in the same sentence, I find it ludicrous that a city of over two million people (yes, that many people live here) has such an underfunded, underutilized, and, well, unsexy public transportation system. The fact that I can't get from the number one center of commerce (downtown) to the number two (uptown) directly and cheaply is ridiculous. And it is past time that we enable those who don't drive to experience all there is to offer in both areas. What many outsiders don't realize is that Cincinnati's urban core is flourishing. My love for downtown and uptown Cincinnati is a post for another time, but suffice it to say, both residential population growth and business presence has only increased in the last few years, offering services and jobs unavailable elsewhere in the city.

Apparently no one at "Cincinnati Profile" got that message. Here are two actual quotes from the piece:

"All that stands between the two neighborhoods is Over-the-Rhine, where the mood is post-Apocalypse, rundown abandoned buildings, high crime and unemployment, a neighborhood where a flat tire can become an adventure that doesn't end well".

"Street corners along 12th Street, Elm and Race were packed with African Americans who did not appear to be members of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber".

The article gives lots of print space to members of various parties opposed to the streetcar while not bothering to interview anyone in favor of the proposal other than City Manager Milton Dohoney, himself a member of the city government and not necessarily a streetcar expert. One of the most-quoted opponents is Dr. Brad Wenstrup, whose credentials are apparently that he is a Republican planning to run for Mayor, and a podiatrist. It took me approximately 0.075 seconds to google "cincinnati streetcar" to find this site, this site, and this site, all of which could have provided some balance to the article. But that assumes that "Cincinnati Profile" intended to practice actual journalism. I believe that gives more credit to this conservative rag disguised as a "lifestyle" magazine. I'm ashamed to believe that simply based on our address, there are those who believe that I support this shoddy, racist, agenda-driven crap.

So listen up, "Cincinnati Profile", you can go ahead and cross this liberal, Democratic, public-transportation using (yes we do!), downtown-shopping family off of your distribution list. And in the process you might save a tree or two. Ha! Gotcha!!

Customers of the Week - Roundup Part One

Monday, June 8, 2009

The end of an era is quickly approaching...I am leaving the bookstore. However, much like the Mafia and the Marine Corps, you're never really gone when you leave. In fact, one of my co-workers told me "you know we'll call you every weekend to see if you can work, right?" Which is okay. But faced with a crushing load of teaching this summer and periods of outright panic as I try to prepare, I just couldn't stretch myself thin enough to cover everything. Even though working here is hardly "work", in that I mainly talk to people about books and drink coffee, it's still 15 hours of my week that, right now, I need to devote to other things. I'm sad to be leaving, but I'm looking forward to having my weekends back to spend with Lil Blue enjoying all the fun places we bought family passes for and never use.

In honor of my last week of work, I'm devoting this post and the next to a round-up of recent Customers of the Week (in no particular order):

Young Opera Lover: this one just happened yesterday so its fresh in my mind. A young African-American kid (maybe 10 years old) came in to pick up his specially-ordered original cast recording of Carmen Jones. We got to talking when he saw an ad for the local opera company. "I'm so excited that Carmen is coming this summer! I can't wait to see it!" he exclaimed. When I asked him about his interest in opera, he talked about how it was so exciting and how seeing and listening to opera was his favorite thing to do. At a time when arts organizations are seeing revenues in free-fall and aging fans and contributors slowly falling off, the idea that a young child would be so thrilled by what is, let's admit it, an art form that appeals mainly to much older and more Caucasian afiocionados is exciting. I hope that the Cincinnati Opera realizes they have the opportunity to reach *all* people, even the young and non-white. Because if they don't appreciate that opportunity and leverage it for the future, we might not have publicly supported opera for long.

Anti-Twilight Girl: This little girl was about ten years old and asked me for recommendations for new summer reading. After I recommended four books* we got to talking about how she had read the Twilight series and didn't like it. I was instantly intrigued, because she was obviously a good reader, and a young girl who doesn't want to jump into Twilight and become Bella is pretty rare. "Well", she said, "I thought Bella was kind of dumb. She didn't really *do* anything and all she did was whine". Hurray!

Mrs. P: This lady is a very good, regular customer who always purchases an enormous stack of (mostly) literature and non-fiction. She started talking to me and a co-worker last week. As it turns out, she had been a professor in Atlanta during the era of the civil rights movement. She taught literature and was constantly running into trouble with the powers that be (were) at her institution as she attempted to modernize the literature curriculum.

My next post (which will be in August at the rate I'm going lately...) will continue the round-up of the suprising, funny, and intriguing people who come through the doors at an independent bookstore.

* Meet the Austins, The Lightening Thief, The Dark is Rising, Found

UPDATE: How cool is this!! No sooner had I published this post, when a lady came in to look for opera CD's. In the course of our conversation she mentioned that she is the president of the Cincinnati Opera. I told her about the kid who was in yesterday. Luckily we had his name and phone number still around because he had ordered a CD. Long story short, she said she'd make sure that he got a signed poster from Carmen, and got to come back and meet the cast!

Hello, computer...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

So, long time, no blog? Its been a crazy few months around here. I started a new job! I'm teaching Anatomy & Physiology at a local community college. That means that now in addition to Customers of the Week, be on the look out for occasional Students of the Week! I'm having a blast and I'm lucky to have some smart, motivated, amazing students and co-workers.

That's where I've been...but I've vowed to start regular updates again soon. Check back for updates on 1) teaching 2) retail shenanigans 3) Lil' Blue and 4) etc.


A Brief History of the Blue Crayon

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sometimes you do something on a whim, only to discover it's significance after the fact. Take this image that I created at www.worldle.net. It scans your blog and creates a word cloud based on the number of times each word appears in your blog. I guess it shows what's been on my mind lately (click on the image to see it clearer):

Wordle: stellab

Customer of the Week

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

This week we finally had a clear winner. Some weeks there are customers are who are so absurd or hilarious that I nominate them just for breaking up the monotony. But this week's winner was just a super-cool person who deserves the dubious honor of being the Blue Crayon COTW simply for being an interesting person.

For some reason I'm getting a lot of hours scheduled at our information desk. I'm choosing to be flattered that the powers that be have such confidence in my knowledge of our inventory, and in my ability to google a book title while looking like I'm doing intense bookseller-jitsu. Or else they realize that the longer I am stuck behind a register, the more likely it is that someone will end up in tears. You be the judge.

An older lady approached the information desk and I instantly braced myself. But! This lady asked if we had a copy of Philosophy for Dummies in stock. Which we actually did, and which was actually a bargain book that we found right away (triple score!) While a different bookseller offered to fetch the copy of the book I chatted with the lady. She said she needed the book because she liked to take college classes for fun, and this semester it was philosophy and "who can keep all that stuff straight?"

Right off the bat, I was impressed. Because...how cool! I hope that when I'm a little old retired lady, I'll still be taking college classes for fun. And instead of taking the community learning classes about retirement planning with all the other old ladies, she took real classes with tests and everything. And apparently, half the fun for her was going out with the other girls in the class. To review: little old lady, going out with college kids. So instantly, an image of her little gray curls kicking back a jello shot. And then she said that she also volunteers twice a week with a local Montessori elementary school. And we talked about Montessori education and parenting philosophies, something that is very much on my mind as Mr Blue and I need to start working on a preschool game plan for Lil Blue.

I thought about her a lot after she left. I don't know anything about her life - maybe she's a rich widow, maybe she worked hard and is wealthy in her own right. Or maybe she's living on a comfortable fixed income and just chooses to splurge on education. No one needs to learn about Kant and Heidegger this late in their life. But this lady is seeking out knowledge for its own sake (or for the sake of finding out where the good parties are...) And she's not just enriching herself, she's paying it forward by working with children. Hopefully they will learn from her the same thing that I have realized as an adult - even if we work our whole lives, we can barely scratch the surface of all there is to know. But we should never stop trying.

Staff Picks - January 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul"
Franz Kafka

Those of you who aren't living in the Midwest (hi, Hawaii readers! I see you!) may not have heard that we're currently experiencing record cold t
emperatures. Yesterday forecast fox gave up and simply listed the temperature as "N/A" with a picture of a thermometer and an icicle. While I can safely say that I'm pretty much over winter by now, even I have to admit there are some things to enjoy about this season. There are all the cliches about how clean the city looks covered in snow, the joys of ice skating, hot chocolate, scarves and winter coats. My favorite thing about winter is how quiet it is. When I get home from work and pull into my driveway, I love just standing there for a minute, looking out at the valley and listening to ... nothing. There's a particular kind of quiet that you get when everything is covered in snow that I just love.

Apparently snow and ice
also are conducive to creativity, because this edition of Staff Picks is all about great things that come from icy, snowy places.

e Girl With the Dragon Tattoo : Stieg Larssen. This is one of those books that also comes with an interesting story. The author, a Swedish journalist who wrote about the neo-Nazi movement, died unexpectedly shortly after delivering three manuscripts to his agent. The publisher was then left with the unenviable task of promoting a first-time author's work when the author himself was unable to do any press, book tours, etc. Luckily for us, the publisher believed in his work enough to promote it heavily in Europe. In the US, tireless booksellers hand-sold it, it gradually became more and more popular, and the rest is history.

The bo
ok itself is a complex inter-weaving of several mysteries taking place over a span of 40 years. The protagonist, a crusading journalist (get it?) is thrown into solving a classic closed-room murder that took place nearly half a century ago. While he is attempting to solve this old mystery, several new mysteries start swirling around him in the present. He eventually hooks up (both literally and figuratively) with the titular girl with the dragon tattoo, who becomes a strange, sort-of ally, critical to solving all of the mysteries. With several different plotlines, two main characters, and scores of secondary characters, its easy to see how the novel could collapse under it's own weight. Luckily, Larssen has the chops to pull it off. I'm looking forward to reading his two remaining books when they become available.

I've been on a bit of a Scandinavian authors kick lately. On my to-be-read pile are
Last Rituals: An Icelandic Novel of of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft, and Modern Murder by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Which is a lot of letters to fit on the cover of a book. Also, Redbreast by Norwegian Jo Nesbo (who
has a new book out called Nemesis, which has gotten some great reviews)

Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
: Sigur Ros Icelandic band Sigur Ros is one of those groups that I was aware of for awhile before really listening. Apparently this album is one of their most accessible, so maybe thats what finally got me to check them out. iTunes loves to recommend Sigur Ros to me, so much so that I finally broke down and gave a listen just to get them to leave me alone. Surprisingly, the music has really grown on me. Its lyrical and strange and very, very well crafted.

Na Na Ni: Fredrik Thanks to NPR for cluing me into this Swedish band. While I'm generally sceptical of bands where every member goes by a single name, I was hooked by how pretty the songs are. I'm a sucker for the first cut, Black Fur, which has an Arcade Fire-like, early U2-esque, soaring, orchestral feel.

LUSH Snow Showers Shower Jelly: Apparently this one was a winter-only product so you'll have to wait until next year to experience it's orangy, clovey, moisturizing goodness. However, I recommend anything you can get your hands on from LUSH, because they are magicians. They are constantly rotating their stock of hand-made glycerin soaps, so don't get too attached to a particular scent. Their Honey Waffle soap is the only thing I've found that doesn't aggravate Lil Blue's eczema. And I treat myself to their liquid body washes and it makes the whole second floor smell like a spa. Awesomeness.

Of course all of these things can be enjoyed more fully when accompanied by an Irish Coffee. Slainte!

Customer of the Week

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This one is short and sweet. I love it when little kids come up to buy things. Especially when they are paying with what is obviously allowance money or lemonade stand money. They take it *so* seriously, with the counting and the price-checking. The savvier ones know to ask me how much it costs with tax so that they make sure they stay within budget. It makes me happy to think how much more special those books or toys are when they're paid for with money their owner has earned.

This week I had two little ones (boy and girl) who were each buying a toy with what their mom informed me was a combination of Christmas money and allowance. The little girl put her toy on the counter. Her mom helped her count out the correct amount, then pushed it over to me, prompting an outraged shout from the girl. "What are you doing?!?" she wailed. "Why are you giving away my money?!?!"

"Remember, we talked about how you would pick out a toy, and then pay for it with your money" her mom replied.
"But that's MY money!!"
"Well, you don't get to keep it and get a toy. To get the toy you have to give up your money"
"But its my money!"
"That's how it works, honey"
"... grumble grumble grumble..."

This exchange made me smile because it reminded me of something I frequently forget. Everything a child does is being done for the first time. I don't doubt that this mom and her daughter talked about how the little girl would pay for her toy. I just don't think it occurred to mom that her daughter didn't know what "pay" really meant.

I felt like telling her "Just wait until you get your first job and see how much money disappears for taxes. Because I very clearly remember proudly opening my first paycheck, only to look at the "Net Pay" box and wail "But that's MY money!!!"