I have decided to plumb the depths of my ancient Livejournal for magical moments from one of my favorite jobs: working behind the counter at the Bird Watcher’s General Store. We sold birdseed, bird feeders, bird stuffed animals, you name it, we sold it. The following incidents occurred during a typical workday in the Birdstore during the summer and fall after I graduated from college. Here they are, in no particular order:
Today at work I hit the boss in the chest with a stuffed chicken and told him it was the only chick who would ever throw herself at him.
I like work. Except when there are fruit flies everywhere. Yesterday they were even in the microwave. Apparently you can microwave fruit flies and nothing happens to them. That should be the message on one of those “The More You Know” spots on TV.
The following exchange should have gotten me fired anywhere else. (Mike is my boss.)
Erin: ‘Don’t you like the sound my sexy plastic pants make when I walk?’ (they’re board shorts)
Mike: My kid made that noise when he walked for the first five years of his life.
Me: And you’re going to make that noise when you walk for the next twenty.
Mike: I’m going to tear your bones out.
Jill asked her sister to buy her a pair of jeans like the ones I was wearing, and asked me to show her my pants. I started dancing around, indicating my pants and posing. Eventually I started doing the running man and singing, “Jill wants to get in my pants.” A customer with a young daughter noticed her staring at me, and ushered her away with a curt “Come along, honey”.
Other than that, it was a pretty typical day. Except for this exchange:
Jill: “What did that woman say she had in her bush?”
Mike: “A woodcock.”
Jobs I have had since then have certainly had their moments. But nothing beats the Birdstore.
“You should spend a winter here on Cape Cod, sometime,” my coworker Matt tells me with a strange grin. “It’s fun, in a crazy way. It gets so quiet. There’s snow everywhere. You get to the point where all you want to do at night is dress up and have dinner parties at your friends’ houses and drink yourself into oblivion.” This doesn’t sound unappealing. It’s probably something I could get into for awhile. But I’m not sure I trust myself. I was not wired to appreciate alone time; I’m just not used to it. By the time I was four and my parents could begin to think about leaving me to my own devices once in awhile, I was already being shadowed by a little sister who followed me everywhere for the next 13 years of my life. Until graduating from college, I’d never had my own room for any length of time, with a one year exception.
I want very much to be the kind of person who doesn’t mind being alone. Doesn’t even notice it sometimes. The kind of person who sinks back in a leather chair, wiggles their toes in a pair of heavy wool socks and spends the entire evening absorbed in a yellowed book with miniscule type. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s something I could ever manage. Within 15 minutes I’d be up making nachos and flipping around to see what was on VH1.
Growing up in a bustling city, I took for granted from a young age the idea that someone, somewhere nearby, is always awake. Frequently, they are setting off car alarms, kicking over trash cans and yelling down the street in the middle of the night, but at least they are living proof that the world is open 24 hours. Everything doesn’t stop just because most of the shops are closed, the traffic has died down, and the city feels hushed. The validity of this idea was not disputed during my four years at Bard, when whomever was awake always seemed to be out in the hall with a kickball at two am, or in the room above mine, playing Abba at six-thirty in the morning.
Now that the summer tourist season has come and gone on Cape Cod, however, and most of the houses closest to mine are shut down for the Fall, there are many times, late at night, when the windows up and down my road are dark and it feels like I am the only one awake in the world. When you live in a city, no matter what time it is, there is always a 24-hour convenience store clerk a short walk away who will have no choice but to interact with you. Up here, at night, I frequently drive for long periods of time on stretches of dark, lonely road without passing another car.
Matt insists that winter on the Cape is the perfect time to catch up on all of the projects you’d always been meaning to get to, although he warns that “sometimes, you’ll spend an entire day rearranging your living room, and when you leave and come back, it barely looks like you’ve done anything at all.”
“See, I’d never survive,” I tell him. “That’s exactly it. I would start to lose it. I barely made it through a year of living alone in college, and this time I’d probably crack. I’d start folding my underpants into origami swans and storing them in the bathtub. I’d take my vodka martinis with ketchup. One day you’d knock at my door and I’d greet you wearing a giant bread dough penis. ‘Oh, this?’ I’d say. ‘I’ve just been catching up on so many projects this winter. It’s been great.’
“Matt laughs and shakes his head, but I can’t stop thinking about it, long after the discussion has moved on. Sure, in theory, I could spend a winter here. I’m sure that eventually I would discover a rhythm, work out a routine, find things to occupy my time. I could do a lot more reading. Maybe write a few letters. I could explore Cape Cod more fully than I ever have during nearly 10 years of working here during the summer. Meet more local people, spend more time hanging out in coffee shops and taverns in town, learn more about the way things work in East Orleans, MA during the cold, isolated, slow winter months. Freeze my ass off, and follow the course of events in “The Real World: Philadelphia” just a little bit too closely.
Maybe next year.
In many ways, this last summer was a fairly uneventful one for me. I worked two jobs, one a fun, laid-back retail gig, the other a messy, crazed but also fun-when-the-boss- wasn’t-looking and you could sample the ice cream (as in, “What does vanilla taste like again?…Oh. Right.”) position in foodservice. A “Position in Foodservice” is the phrase you use on your resume to describe the kind of job in which you are denounced by angry tourists, sponge up endless trails of spilt ketchup, and come home each night smelling like french fries and questioning your self worth. In any case, this was a typical summer in all respects except for one: It was the summer of Baby Fever. Baby Mania. Baby Envy. Call it what you will, I had it but good.
I couldn’t tell you why. I have always more or less liked children, although during the last few years of college, it’s been mostly for their novelty. I didn’t see very many of them around Bard’s campus (and I’m sure there’s a good reason for that), so when I did, there was usually a little jolt of surprise as I remember that they exist. It’s a pleasant jolt, but it’s not by any means a jolt of longing. But this last summer, something within me clicked, or snapped, or kicked in, because everywhere I looked, I saw people walking around with their kids and I stretched my hands out feebly, trembling with jealousy. It was amazing, how abruptly the feeling arrived, considering its tenacity. It unnerved me completely. I felt as if, all of a sudden, I was the target of an insidious and diabolical advertising campaign, designed and launched by the most cruel and heartless executive of all, Nature. All around me, mothers cavorted with their babies, as slogans flashed beneath them. “You Got the Right One, Baby”, they said. And, “Enjoy BABY!” and sometimes “Baby: It’s the other Baby meat.” I don’t know how I withstood it.
I also wonder how long this obsession would have kept up under less fortunate circumstances. As it is, I am relieved but slightly sheepish to report that my baby craving vanished entirely once I was in the prolonged company of actual children. My brother Sam and his family came out to visit for a week near the summer’s end, bringing with them Sammy, age 4, and Natalie, who toddled. The kids were sweet and well behaved and said the darndest things; I on the other hand, disappointed myself by falling far short of my goal of being known and recognized far and wide as “The Cool Aunt”. Damn it, I wanted to be the Cool Aunt. Instead I was Aunt Molly, who stealthily polished off the mac-and-cheese at dinner even though she suspected it was for the kids, who probably weren’t too big on lobster salad rolls. So I like both. Is that a crime? Aunt Molly told Sammy that she couldn’t take him down into the cold, dark garage to get some toys one evening because there were bats there. No, they weren’t mean bats. But they probably would be if you woke them up.
Instead of Aunt Mode, I found myself back in the familiar territory known as Big Sister Mode. It is a mode in which you press your advantages. When your sibling is seventeen years younger than you, however, that is really easy to do, and also makes you a bad person. I was never a predatory sort of big sister, mind you. My tyranny never went further than the occasional clumsy manipulation, usually something along the lines of, “Let’s have a race to see who can finish her cookie first. Go! Ok, you win. Hey, look how much cookie I still have. Ha, ha.” Etc. Repeat as necessary until either your sibling’s memory or her motor skills are sufficiently developed to render the game ineffectual or dangerous. In any event, yeah. I discovered that for me, a baby was a bad idea not for the usual reasons, but because I would probably end up competing with it, the consequences of which are too dire to even imagine.
We made almost enough during last month’s Yard Sale to pay for the cost of the therapy sessions I will need to fully recover from having that Yard Sale. There is something about digging old junk out of the closet and scattering it across the driveway that causes one’s dignity to evaporate swifter than the morning dew off an old coffee maker that is missing a sieve but still works fine; only $2.
Several times during the course of the sale I attempted to disguise myself as a customer, a mere browser; wandering aimlessly among stacks of water stained self-help books, pausing every once in awhile to inspect a plastic baggie full of mismatched Mr. Potato Head parts, and shaking my head in feigned disgust as I stood over a pile of gnawed wooden children’s puzzles. This little charade was generally ruined by a poor, unsuspecting customer whose examination of an electronic chessboard would prompt me to sidle up to him, lean over his shoulder and hiss something along the lines of, “Still works. Only $4. Not bad, huh?”
It didn’t take me long to discover that, as far as my junk was concerned, my system of values did not match that of my neighbors. “What do you mean, $35 is too much for an old wooden rocking-horse with matted gray dreadlocks? I rode that rocking horse when I was five years old! I was so innocent then, so sweet. Look at me now!” I’d yell, backing a hapless stranger up against his parked car. Of course, at the other end were the sad souls who were willing to pay top dollar for what was, in my opinion clearly junk. “Can you believe the woman who paid $5 for the mute, one-eyed Furby?” I whispered to my sister. “I didn’t even want to take her money, frankly. How can she live, knowing she could have used that $5 to feed a hungry child, or adopt a highway, or at least buy a sieveless coffee-maker?”
Oh the highs, the lows, the insane roller coaster of ecstasy, grief and vanity that is the hallmark of The Yard Sale. One moment you’re on top of the world, having gotten rid of those bath towels monogrammed with the initials P.U. to the tune of $6; the next minute you’re bartering with a woman who refuses to part with more than fifteen cents for a toy umbrella. “But the asking price is only twenty-five cents,” you say. “Can’t you go the extra ten cents?” Evidently there are those who do not feel they have truly gotten a Yard Sale bargain unless they can make a purchase for less than the cost of the gasoline it took them to back their car onto your lawn.
The strangest part about this particular yard sale was its utter failure to dampen my enthusiasm toward frequenting the yard sales of others. Really, you never know what you’re going to find. And then there’s always the chance that maybe I can buy back some of the things that I got rid of in the heat of the moment at my own yard sale and perhaps shouldn’t have sold. After all, most yard sales are probably made up largely of items purchased long ago at other yard sales. It’s a beautiful cycle. I should have charged more for that rocking horse.