Large, corporate superstores can provide just the right amount of surreality to intensify one’s daily existence. The trick to not getting completely pissed off by the hypocrisy, crass commercialism, and rampant capitalist dis-ease spreading through society—encouraged by these so-called “superstores” is to adopt an absurdist sense of humor about it all. Humor is a great subversive method that, when wielded with accuracy, can cut right through the façade like a superheated light saber. I had the strange experience of working in such an environment for a good part of the last year. I worked at a bookstore chain in a congested commercial section of Tucson.
One of my favorite memories from the Bookshop—notable not only for the people involved, but for its sheer surrealistic quality—comes from a chance meeting during the Winter holidays. I was dulled almost into a stupor—catatonic not only from the usual holiday music drivel that repeated and repeated and repeated for several weeks, but from the general boredom of my position at the shop. As I manned my podium—scanning the cameras for teenagers slipping comic books down their pants or housewives pinching decks of tarot cards—elbows barely propping me up and trying not to nod off, a recognizable face behind a mile-long white beard meandered past me and out the glass doors.
I froze. One of my least favorite character traits is my shyness, and I’ve learned to detest that familiar sense of panic that rises inside me when I contemplate approaching someone to initiate a conversation. This self-loathing stems from years of watching opportunities walk right past me and out the door, just like this one. My standard response is to give in to the panic and chastise myself for hours afterwards. I’d actually rather guilt myself into shameful regret than have to face the terror of instigating an interaction. This day I stood for a few moments in immediate recognition of my arrested desire to say hello to this person, going through the whole spectrum of inner turmoil in a matter of seconds; at this age I’ve learned to recognize my hesitations almost instantly. I turned to look out the doors, expecting to see just the retreating backside of my opportunity off in the distance. My hands clenched and my shoulders stiffened with exhilaration as I realized he was still right behind me. As I looked through the glass wall and noticed what he and his friend appeared to investigate in the entrance vestibule, I was shot with an arrow of confidence. I needed to do this.
Very assertively I pushed open the doors of the shop, stepped into the vestibule, and offered my hand to the stranger. He and his friend gave me a quizzical look, and I introduced myself.
“Olivier Mosset! Hello, my name is FMR, and you came and spoke to my grad class with Dr. B last year at the University of Arizona. Nice to see you again,” and I offered him a big smile.
He seemed hesitant to shake my hand at first, jutting forward at the end of an arm wielded by a semi-deranged girl. Well, that’s how I felt, anyway. After I got the mouthful of introduction out in an articulate fashion, he visibly relaxed and smiled. Yes, he remembered coming to visit us—yes, he took my hand.
This famous Swiss modernist painter, one who belonged to a group of artists in France during the 1960s that is written about in history books. This famous Swiss painter who happened to settle in Tucson, Arizona, and who I happened to recognize. He shook my hand after I introduced myself. Then, naturally, things got a little weird.
“We were just looking at these interesting Christmas trees,” his thick French accent tempered by a Southwest slow drawl.
His hips jutted forward, hands deep in the pockets of his worn blue jeans. He wore well-broken cowboy boots and a western shirt tucked into a waistband defined by a thick leather strap—accented admirably with a proud western buckle. His friend was a generation younger, a handsome guy with short hair and a mild air of art-world hipness. We were probably both Mosset groupies.
I glanced over at the objects of scrutiny featured in the vestibule and decided now was the time to declare my theory on the holiday decorations the Bookshop retailed this season. There had been, in the previous weeks, many comments by shocked customers, which gave me an abundance of time to come up with my brilliant theory on the neon pink and sparkly purple trees—born from hours of boredom that tend to inspire wild daydreams.
“Yeah!” I was excited to voice my theory aloud to a genuinely eccentric artist who I felt, intuitively, might share my overall wacked-out view of life. Perhaps he will get the joke… I hoped.
“So I have a theory: I think some Muslims and Jews got together, went to a rave, dropped some acid or x or something, and came up with these decorations in an effort to undermine Christianity,” I was met with two shocked faces.
After a small pause and no visible physical reaction whatsoever, “Well, I hadn’t really thought of that reading.” A small smile crossed Mosset’s face and he looked back at the trees.
“No, really! Did you guys see the glitter Jesuses and glitter Virgin Marys inside? I’m telling you.”
I turned to look at his friend and found him much more on my mental page. His face was beaming, lined with veins, and he looked on the verge of cracking into hysterics.
“I think they’re doing a good job of that themselves,” he quipped—referring, I assumed, to the public embarrassments suffered by the Catholic Church in recent years.
“Yeah, that’s true.”
After another short pause, during which they probably both wondered whether they would be subjected to more of my outlandish—and not quite politically correct—theories, the three of us smiled at each other, and then said goodbye. They parted the outside doors, hopefully amused. Not only did I manage to summon the courage to say hello to a total stranger, but I’ll bet he remembers me, too.
© FMR 3/4/2011
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we were born naked onto the page of existence; with nothing but the pen of our soul to write ourselves into eternal ecstasy ~ DreamingBear Baraka Kanaan
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