Monday, November 03, 2008

Encounter With a Hip Person

It has just dawned on me that what I really ought to do is try to hook up with some other people on one of those collaborative blogs that might be able to attract more attention. My problem is that I want to be the star of the operation even more than I want positive (and I am using the term positive pretty liberally) attention, and it does not seem likely I would ever be able to have both. The other problem is that I don't think my writing is complimentary to or compatible with the kind of other writers I would want to work with, if any of these could even really be found and persuaded to team up with me. So it appears my destiny is to remain a solo blogger.

When I first moved to Maine, way back in 1986, it was much less like the rest of the country than it is now. Or at least it seemed that way. Still, there weren't a lot of things like big chain stores or restaurants compared to the mid-Atlantic at that time, and such ones as there were mostly regional, such as Bradlee's or Ames, or Deering Ice Cream, and had a regional feel about them, being rather quiet and dark and gloomy and 15-20 years out of date. The first mall in the whole state had just opened a few months before I arrived and my high school classmates never really acquired the knack of hanging out in it. Portland at that time was near the nadir of a population decline from around 70-75,000 people in the mid-60s to around 61,000 (it has since gone back up again), and as such there had been very little housing construction during the 70s and 80s--easily half the people I went to school with in Portland lived in pre-1960 houses. Likewise our high school, which was built in 1924, and had had over 2,000 students through most of the 50s and 60s, was down to around 1,300 when I was a senior in 1988. Whole staircases and wings of the building, including several with excellent views from and stonework in the windows, were closed off. Naturally all this was stifling to many people, but since none of it was ever really mine I found it for two years to be quite invigorating, even to the point of being unreal; for many aspects of it did seem unreal, as if the past, or at least a good chunk of it, had been preserved in the living present, which seemed an impossibility, or perhaps even wrong. This was how I experienced it anyway. Even the weather, following as it did the pattern of the seasons familiar in countless books and movies and fairy tales, mild idyllic summers, intense autumns, heavy snow and darkness in winter, etc, seemed unreal.

Of course the contrast between these far northern states and the rest of the country, at least as far as shopping opportunities and attitudes towards consumption go, has caught up at least to where the Mid-Atlantic states were in the late 80s, which is plenty bad enough; the attitudes of people in my home region towards most of life now is practically unrecognizable to me and appears to be rather obviously unhealthy in some fundamental way, even when they are indisputably and even wildly successful. Yet they almost strike one as belonging to an entirely other species of being to what I have become, and though I am a fairly hideous being, I do fancy that I resemble a somewhat old-fashioned type of human being. But I am not getting on with the story.

Downtown Brattleboro, I meant to say, still has some of these old time, 70s-80s era Northern New England stores still hanging on, such as closed down long ago in most of the other towns in the region. Sam's Outdoor Outfitters, which is a kind of smaller and more low-key LL Bean where you can buy canoes and rubber overalls to go cranberry bogging in is probably the most well-loved, but Baker's Office Products is my favorite store there. It is the kind of place that has long lines of dim florescent lights on the ceiling, one to two of which is burnt out at any given time, so the dark and gloomy aspect is well covered, especially at this time of year when it is cloudy much of the time to begin with and it is completely dark by 4:30. They have a large greeting card section, as well as a few shelves of knick-knack type things--samples of Vermont Maple Syrup, Red Sox coffee mugs, that type of thing--and of course several aisles of office supplies. They must sell all kinds of computer paraphernalia/accessories there but they must be arranged very inconspicuously, for the overall effect of the store when I walk in is that it is still 1987 and I am back momentarily in the semi-old New England. Really, there is a metal file cabinet, one of those old paper-hacking devices, the thing like a chessboard with a blade attached to the side, stacks of paper, notebooks, sketchbooks, scissors, white-out, etc, but I have no mental vision coming to me of anything computer-related. There is a good magazine rack against the back wall and to the left of that there is a little rise of four or five steps to the back room of the store where they have arts and craft supplies and a decent-sized section of better-quality toys (Playmobil figures, wooden toys, historically respectful action figures, etc). There is a large window at the back of the store, which, the Main Street being built on a hill, has a lovely view from a 3rd or 4th story vantage of the railroad line, the Connecticut River, and the trestle bridge across to New Hampshire. All in all, it is a very swell place, and one I frequently go to with my children.

So to cut this very long story short, one day I had taken a magazine from the rack--there was an article about the 50 greatest/most important Americans under age 40, and you can be sure I was getting depressed because I hadn't made the list--and was hovering in a pleasant spot near the metal filing cabinet under an abnormally bright florescent light reading about these accomplished people when a rather pretty young thing came in--somewhat ridiculously dressed of course, a threadbare purple Indian shawl with a plaid flannel skirt, black-rimmed intellectual's glasses, hair a mix of two colors, neither natural, probably self-cut or cut by an amateur friend, pulled and pinned up rather brusquely--still, with very good skin and features, and such a figure as any wicked poet-professor of the 60s would have known very well what to do with. She must, by my reckoning, have been in the greeting card section. This would not be surprising to me, for despite her somewhat unorthodox look, there was something a little aristocratic about her, or at least old-fashioned, that assured me she was the greeting card type. Suddenly a song came on over the speaker at a seemingly slightly higher volume than whatever had been playing briefly, one that actually sounded like an 80s song, though I was not familiar with it.

"Ohmygod. Is this Peter, Bjorn and John?" (she said).

I looked up from my magazine and took a rapid glance around the store. I was the only other person in the vicinity. But surely she was not really talking to me. Of course not. Fortunately I did not at the time actually know the answer to her question, so I was preserved from earnestly saying something like "Yes!", as if she had actually wanted to know. I merely looked at her, aloof, as if I were taking her measure, you know, and after about 4 seconds, once it was obvious she had not actually been paying any attention to me the whole time, I exhaled very slowly and profoundly and went back to want I had been doing. But I must say, something in the moment when she spoke was very very nice. I liked her.

Social Humiliation of the Week

I have never been much of a coffee drinker, never having learned to make it in such a way that it tastes good to me, and liking little more what is sold in most establishments. Yet as I find myself often falling asleep at work or while driving due to being worn out, apparently by the excessive commonplaceness of my life, I sometimes need to get myself some coffee, or at least something coffeelike. When I was Italy I had enjoyed drinking cappucino for breakfast, so as there was a cappucino machine at the gift shop at my work, I started to get that in the afternoons when my body was trying to tell me I needed a nap. Now there is a college-aged girl who works at this coffee stand who is reasonably cute and lots of perky, and all the shameless washed-up guys my age like to linger around the cash register for a few extra minutes on their breaks and conduct almost embarrassly wooden conversations with this girl so that I do not actually get to talk to her, not that I had any plans to, of course. Her main words to me are "Let me guess. Cappucino!" in a rather sarcastic voice, which indicates to me that I am of course hopelessly predictable. One day, she miraculously not being occupied either with a cell phone call or a lingering and socially maladroit IT employee, and I being more than usually tired and irritable at this perceived teasing, I tried for some reason--the desire to reach out, open my heart to a strange woman, evidently, which is never healthy--to explain that I was falling asleep at my desk and needed caffeine, but didn't like their regular coffee, etc, when this young lady began to laugh at me. "But there is no caffeine in this cappuccino! It's just powdered milk!" "There isn't? Really? But it's always seemed to work." "No, no, there isn't anything in it. You didn't know that?" So while I don't know whether there is really any caffeine in it or not, or if she is just pulling my leg--fun people do that to me all the time--it's all ruined for me now. I can't drink it anymore. I doesn't taste good. I don't believe in its powers.

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