Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Book Store Up For Adoption

Now that I have a job, the process of letting the book store go has ramped up in urgency. I don't know my start date yet, don't even have the formal offer where human resources will presumably draw up a salary and benefits package and I will either accept or negotiate. At least, I assume that's what will happen based on tidbits I've been able to gather from others who have gone through a similar process (and some sheer conjecture). This is unmapped territory for me, as it is my first non-military job as an adult. One thing I've learned during my Navy years about the government bureaucracy bus is that the wheels turn slowly, and sometimes it stops in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. But, I do know that I will be starting a new job, most likely before the planned end of my old one.

So, now that the end is in sight, the need to marry the good books up with good owners has become increasingly pressing. I have no compunction about the only so-so books that make up half my stock. They can go wherever, and I couldn't care less. But the good ones, I consider it my job to find them homes. One of my book club members came in yesterday and said her mother was looking for some specific children's books, and I just about fell all over myself trying to cajole her to tell her mother about two of my favorites. I just can't imagine shipping Giraffes Can't Dance and The Two Bobbies back to the cold, impersonal distribution warehouse. Some kid HERE needs those books! They need to be handled, read, loved, drooled on. So I've adopted something of a used car salesman tactic of shamelessly promoting my personal favorites. So what if he came in for a vampire novel? Surely he has a niece who is starting school next month and will need to have Splat the Cat read to her to help calm her fears. Splat the Cat, by the way, has a mouse for a best friend, which I find very cool. That babygrandmama who came in for a couple of classics? Please, take this interactive Dog book. One of the pull tabs makes a dog lift his leg and pee, for God's sake! Don't even get me started on the art section and cook books.

In the last few days, I've been trying to come up with ways to get people to come down and let me do a psychic reading of their literary tastes and pair them up with books that they need. This may or may not involve a Vulcan mindmeld, and I am only half-kidding. A regular customer suggested that I run a book adoption promotion yesterday. If the animal shelters can do it, why not? Anybody out there have any other ideas?

Ideally, someone from the community would make me an offer on the whole store--inventory, fixtures and all--take it out to the main street and reopen. They'd have to take their lumps for a year or two, but I believe they'd then move on to firmer ground. I think this idea can make it under that scenario, and I do believe Petersburg needs a book store. The combination of main street visibility, historical tourism, a pedestrian friendly downtown and the BRAC influx would eventually stabilize the money in-money out ratio. I just don't have it in me to start over like that. But if anyone out there knows someone interested in that scenario, I'd love to talk with them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Job Hunting

It may be that looking for a new job is the most humbling thing I've ever done. I used to think that I was pretty darned employable: by virtue of prior military experience, what I flatter myself to think has been excellent performance in a wide array of assignments, current location in a military town, veteran's preference, yada yada yada. That was before the wheels fell off the juggernaut of the American Speculation Machine and Starbucks started requiring a Master's Degree to serve espresso drinks.

So it is in this oppressive economic climate that I have toiled over my qualifications and sweated out dozens of cover letters. I've rewritten my resume no less than 100 times, each time in response to a specific set of job requirements. I've carefully culled key phrases from the announcement, dissected the description to the point of splitting atoms, stuffed the application with all the position specific phraseology that's fit to print. For all this, I've only made it through the Army's Resumix computerized system one time, and I have yet to hear from the hiring official for an interview. It occurred to me the other day, after the umpteenth electronic rejection, that the federal job hiring process is vaguely reminiscent of calling Verizon customer service (i.e. I experienced in each repeated failures to find a way to interact with a human). Say two for new hires. I'm sorry, I didn't understand you. Transferring to main menu. Say two for new hires. I'm sorry, you're not qualified for that menu option. Please call again when you have your doctorate.

I've had some limited success with state job applications. I made it to the interview level for two jobs, only to hear a week later that the jobs are now subject to a temporary hiring freeze that may or may not last the rest of the fiscal year. So it's back to the drawing board. The good news is that, now that my job search is out of the closet, I've had multiple offers to help. It looks like I'm gonna need it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Book Pairer

Today I started the process of sending books back to my distributor. Because I'll be open for almost six more weeks, I still hold out hope for many of the books finding a home here in the community. So these were mostly titles I had multiple copies of, or books that I felt there was insufficient interest in to justify keeping around. It's not like I haven't gone through these exact motions before--culling the herd is a necessary and vital part of keeping a bookstore relevant. This was, however, the first time I'd boxed up a couple of cartons of books with no intention of replacing them on the shelves. And it may be that there are many things more forlorn than a stack of paperbacks whose covers have been stripped waiting to go to book heaven, but I'm hard pressed to think of them right now. There they sit, starkly naked reminders of my inability to pair them with a suitable reader. Failure written all over them, in so many words.

In some sense, I don't feel as if I've failed the community or even myself because this endeavor won't last, but that we have collectively failed the books and the ideas they represent. I know that sounds melodramatically moonbeam-ish, but I've spent most of the day today walking through the shelves as I culled books to send back, making mental notes of my favorites. And every time I come across a book that made me think a little longer and harder about what it means to be human, or helped me understand someone different from me, or transported me to another place or time, I feel the little pang of goodbye. These books, the good ones at least, have souls. As one of my older customers tells me every time he comes in, they're old friends. The Watsons Go To Birmingham is a little sassy, "Seriously? Couldn't you have done a little better by us?" To Kill a Mockingbird cajoles sweetly, "Come on, I've got something important to say and I'm relying on you to get me to the person I need to say it to." The Road, in typical minimalist fashion, grumps, "I trusted you" and lapses back into terse silence.

A very sweet regular customer came in yesterday and thanked me for giving her Garth Stein's The Art Of Racing In the Rain. She and her family had been here a few months ago and had been distraught because they had just put the family dog to sleep. She needed the book, I had the book, so I gave it to her and told her to read it when she felt able and bring it back when she was done. The book's narrator is a whip-smart, witty, wise-souled mutt named Enzo who believes that, once he's learned all there is to learn as a dog, he will be reincarnated as a man. It's a very sweet, well-written story that deals very sensitively with what it means to be human and to have a soul. Anyway, the lady came back yesterday to tell me the rest of HER story. She, herself, had been going into the hospital the next day for treatment of a very serious condition--this on the heels of the poor dead dog. It was almost too much for the family to take. She told me she had been overwhelmed by the simple act of me giving her the book. And I thought, maybe that was why I opened the bookstore in the first place. Maybe it wasn't to build a creative community gathering place or champion literacy or fulfill a childhood dream. Maybe it was because this woman would need this book on this particular spring day, and I needed to be here to pair her up with it. Several months of hard work, a fair amount of stress, a few tears and a couple of buckets of sweat in return for being able to be in the right place at the right time. I think that's a pretty good trade.