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Friday, March 23, 2012

Don’t Turn That Page!

Working in Coffeehouses Dept., Part Three. Jean Shepherd, best known for books like In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash (from which the movie “A Christmas Story” was drawn), Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, The Ferrari in the Bedroom, and others, told the story on his long-running radio show about looking in bookstores to see where copies of his stuff were displayed.

The temptation, of course, was to improve upon it. If they were on a lower shelf, he’d move them up. If they were displayed spine out, he’d give them a quarter turn so the cover faced front.

What was unpleasant was to be lurking by the shelf when a customer stopped to peruse titles . . . and didn’t select one of his. Even worse was to see someone pick up one of his books – then put it back and move on. “What could I say?” he wondered.

I sympathize with his pain. As noted previously, I put in a lot of coffeehouse time. I get more work done in what’s a less-distracting environment than my office at home, with the never-ending chores of organizing my shit beckoning far more appealingly than finishing a writing job ever does.

But coffeehouses are big Metroland distribution points, and even as I write this, I can see someone two tables away beginning to flip through a copy. Stopping two pages in . . . of course. Tom Tomorrow. Maybe even the column by Jo Page. Nope. Too fast. Next page. Paul Rapp, who’s always entertaining – but no. The flipping continues. Sorry, Paul. And right past the opinion piece and on to the lead feature, with colorful photos of Romney and Obama facing one another across the pages . . . which isn’t enough to capture this reader’s interest.

No doubt because my page is next. Yes! With a photo of a pair of sushi chefs at work – how can this not be appealing? The flipping fingers move towards the next recto page but pause, pause . . . and then flip onward. Hey! Come on! What do I have to do to get you to read the thing? Where are you going?

Movie reviews? Not really. Concert or record reviews? Uh-uh. So where are your attention-deficit fingers taking you? As if I couldn’t guess. Dan Savage. Of course. Why the hell didn’t you flip from the back of the magazine if you already knew where you were headed?

I suppose that’s at least better than what I witnessed at the adjacent table a couple of days ago. A middle-aged couple took their seats, and as she went off to order coffee (nice division of labor, buddy), he grabbed a copy of Metroland and leafed on through, barely pausing at the page where my restaurant review awaited. When she returned, he tossed it her way, saying, “Here, you can have it. I just read through it and there’s nothing worth reading in there.”

Look. I don’t ask you to enjoy it. Just have a little consideration. If you’re looking through Metroland and you see a middle-aged, white-haired fat guy pretending not to look at you from a nearby table, could you at least pretend to read the restaurant review? You’ll make the poor guy incredibly happy.

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