There’s plenty of talk right now about eras ending, what with the presidential inauguration a day away – and there will continue to be plenty of talk about it. Eras are constantly ending while new ones start up. What we’re left with is an ongoing flux by which all life ebbs and flows. Someone’s dying right now, someone’s being born – something ends and something starts and there’s not too much of a use hanging on to what was.
Still it is our nature to hang on.
I hang on to eras. I know I do. I tuck physical and mental pictures away. Then I go back, not to see what’s changed but to remember what hasn’t. This makes everything a static moment resting on a continuum that, no matter how fluid, is actually frozen. Locked. The young man aging before you is still the boy heading off somewhere.
I’m writing from this place today because I’ve just learned that Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, a Milwaukee, Wis. landmark for 82-years, is closing its doors. All four locations (at one point there’d been five) will be gone as of March 31st.
I’m saddened by this. Troubled. Bothered. Annoyed. Pissed off. All of those things. Why? For any number of reasons. On a topical, tangible level, because they’ve always been independent, that means there will soon be one less independent out there. Also, we’re talking about books here. Call me a throwback, but even as my reading habits tend to wax and wane, I’ll take sitting in a room filled with books any day of the week over just about anything else.
Mostly I’m bothered because I’m still in that bookstore. Back in 2001, at a time when I’d gotten about as far away from writing and literature as I’ve ever been, Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops saved my life. They hired me as a bookseller not because I had any retail experience – I didn’t – but because I loved books. My interview with Amie, the manager at the time, was 45-minutes of talking about our favorite writers. Then I jumped at the chance to make minimum wage for eight-months because I got to talk books, stock books, smell books and buy books for an amazing discount. A few years earlier I’d been a janitor in the same bar where I drank – my paycheck went right back to the company store, so to say. Now I was turning a fat chunk of my thin check back to Harry W. Schwartz each month and loving every hardcover I carried home. On my last day of work, as Courtney and I prepared to move to Portland, Amie presented me with a $100 gift certificate to use at Powell’s. Why? Because we are all book people, a collection of failed or failing writers, PhD candidates in stasis, old activists, young activists, book worms and book snobs. Even when we hated our jobs – and of course we did at times – we loved talking books.
Yes, things change, eras end and new things rise from the ashes. It’s an easier proposition to accept when there’s no connection calling you back. In this case, with the news still fresh, even 1500 miles away in Portland, I’m not ready to accept that this one is over. Not yet.