Returning now too the subject of My Father and the things that he wrote during his relatively brief time on Earth:
One of the most “famous” of my father’s works (which is to say, famous within the family) is the letter that he wrote to the Parker Pen Company while a student at the University of Illinois in the fall of 1940.
The letter was written in 1940, but I don’t have any photos from that era handy, so here’s one from the 1950’s.
December 6, 1940
The Parker pen company
As you can see I am writing a letter to the company that makes (by its own admission) the finest pens in the world – by using a typewriter.
I do this not because I do not have a pen., No, gentlemen right here in my left hand I have a pen. Said pen is called in one of your ads which I just happened to read, quote, a Jewel of Pendulum, unquote. However, if I were to attempt to write this letter with this pen, the pages would be so smudged up with ink that it would be totally impossible for you to read it. But allow me to explain the case a little more fully.
About two years ago (or possibly a few months less) I wandered into a bookstore on our campus – that of the University of Illinois – and purchased a Parker pen. Since this memorable date, I have had nothing but trouble with the amazing instrument.
The trouble, to sum it up briefly, is that this pen leaks – leaks torrentially.
Gentlemen, I did not buy a pump, nor did I intend to purchase a water pistol. What I wanted was a device that would keep the ink inside except when being used for writing. I received no such device. A whole drawer of ink-stained handkerchiefs offer ample proof of this statement. From day to day – for as long as I carried your pen – I roamed the campus, a member of the legion of ink-stained fingers. After a while of course, I became used to my blue fingertips and blue handkerchiefs. However I do not feel that merely acclimating myself to indigo-dyed hands and azure-stained clothing is a proper solution to the problem.
Nevertheless, during all the time that I was going about in my “Deep Purple” condition, I was not idle. Four or five (I don’t recall exactly) times I returned the pan to the bookstore whence it had originally come and asked them if something could not be done. At the bookstore I was met with a barrage of questions mostly pertaining to my knowledge on the correct method to fill a pen. This, even if I did not know then, I most certainly am up on now. Yes, I have well-learned how to be careful and don’t dunk the pen into the well so that the level of the ink is over the pen point etc. etc.
Then the bookstore sent the pen to you. You returned it to me. You returned it to me, I might add, in a very handsome, cellophane wrapper. I paid the nice man at the bookstore thirty-five cents ($0.35) which no doubt covered handling, mailing, and the cost of the cellophane. I took the pen home and again tried to establish a friendship with it. But again it spat ink at me. Thus the ink (which had been wearing off my finger so nicely ever since I had sent the pen to the factory) was again upon my hands.
Now, gentlemen, imagine this process repeated over five times and perhaps you’ll understand why I am writing you this letter. Each time the pen came back with its shining, cellophane wrapper. Each time I lay down $0.35. Frankly, gentlemen, $0.35 is a whale of a lot of cash to put out for cellophane wrapper. For thirty-five cents I can hie me off to the nearest dime store and purchase enough cellophane to make bags for 100 pens. Also after laying out thirty-five cents four or five times I have enough money to start saving for another pen. Or don’t you think so??
The truth of the matter is, gentlemen, that I don’t like Parker pens. I don’t give a hoot if the Army, Navy, and even the Marine and Air Corps think they are the greatest pens in the world. I don’t care if 11 out of every 10 college students swear by them. (Here is one that swears at them.) I don’t care what the devil Robert L. Ripley writes about them. If they’re strong enough to have a herd of wild elephants trample over them, or delicate enough not to scratch silk, I am still unimpressed. That is, they still leak all over my fingers.
The “Jewel of Pendulum” eh? Well, when I want a jewel I shall go to a jewelry store and purchase one. But when I want a pen, I go to a stationary store and ask for a pen. And you can bet that the next time I do it, it won’t be for a Parker
Now to make my place clear. I would gladly return you the pen and would deeply appreciate your making full restitution on it. However, I suppose that this is impossible. Other than this I have very little to suggest. You are not going to suck me in again on that thirty-five-cents-for-a-cellophane-bag stunt. I am wise to that one. But I wish that you would do something along the lines of returning me some cash for my slightly used combination of Parker-pen-and-sieve. If again you cannot do this how about sending me a couple of dozen handkerchiefs and a cake of soap for my hands (soap of course that will remove ink)?
Hoping to hear from you in the near future, I remain your ink-stained customer,
P. S. Now don’t go blame it on the ink. I’ve even used your Quick (a whole bottle) and found that it leaks out just as well, and stains just as prettily as anything made by your competitors.
Unfortunately, I can’t find anything in the archives that would tell us what the outcome of this particular missive was. There were certainly no ads in the New York newspapers.
But I do recall the family getting a pretty good laugh out of it some decades later:
At some point when I was either in college or shortly thereafter (i.e. sometime in the 1970s) I wrote a letter to (I think) SONY in regards to an issue I was having with one of their audio products. And SONY very graciously sent me a gift to compensate me for my troubles. They sent me a SONY logo-branded …. wait for it…. Parker pen.
Back in the early 1970s I saw a student film called “Hot Dogs for Gauguin,” written and directed by Martin Brest, who went on to have a notable film career. He directed such memorable hits as Midnight Run, Beverly Hills Cop, and The Scent of a Woman before becoming a Hollywood persona-non-grata for directing a fiasco called Gigli in 2003; Marty’s IMDB bio ends there.
Oh, the humanity!
“Hot Dogs for Gauguin” is about a photographer – played by a then-unknown actor named Danny DeVito – who wants to replicate the kind of acclaim that he thinks befell the photographer who shot the Hindenberg disaster (Oh, the humanity!). DeVito’s character figures to achieve similar acclaim by blowing up the Statue of Liberty – and being on-hand to capture the moment with his camera. Suffice it to say it doesn’t end well…
This is a story about my own “Hot Dogs for Gauguin” moment.”
Or maybe it was more of a “Gigli” moment, if not quite on the same scale.
There was a period a couple of years ago when I was making a concerted attempt to market myself as a photographer, in particular of music-related subjects.
With some coaching, I’d set up a program at thejoyofmakingmusic.com (it’s still there) and created a couple of ‘packages’ for shooting stills during studio recording sessions.
Not long after I set all that up I was invited into a studio by an A-List, first-call musician, a side-player to the stars, who was recording her own album for an indie label, and had called on some of the town’s top A-List players in support. I did not know most of the names, nor of the many-arms-lengths lists of credits they all carried. I was a bit of a fish out of water. They all knew each other, and I only barely knew the woman who’d invited me to the session (I’d met her when we worked together on another project).
I will mention just one actual name, because it was the effort to capture his thousand-watt smile that got me in trouble (I think). Read More
As a few friends and followers (fans?) have observed, for the past week I’ve been making a concerted effort to avoid Facebook.
This divergence from my usual routine (a word I use loosely) started last Monday, when I awoke to the news of the massacre in Las Vegas and immediately – impulsively – went to gauge the public reaction on Facebook. I pretty much knew what to expect once I got there: the same righteous indignation I found after the last such event – and the one before that and the one before that etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseaum.
But this time my reaction surprised me. This time, it wasn’t the triggering event that repulsed me so much as the boilerplate reactions that scrolled by on in my “news” feed. This time, something about the futility of the whole experience – not just the event but the predictable responses to it – resonated in a way that was vaguely unfamiliar. I’d seen it all before, but this time I really found myself wondering what was the point of seeing it all again?
That’s when I started “pushing in the stops.” I resolved to get some kind of handle on this digital beast, this virtual narcotic that I puff on like I used to smoke pot all day (from 1969 to 1987).
I started by removing the permanent “pin tab” for Facebook in my laptop browser, then I deleted the Facebook app from my phone.
Removing the pinned browser tab means that Facebook is not lurking in a tab at the top of my browser window when I am trying to do other things on my computer (which is pretty much where I do everything). Removing the permanently pinned tab means that an effort is now required to open Facebook on my laptop. Yes, it’s a minor effort, but it’s more of an effort than simply clicking a tab. Now I actually have to open a new tab and type. But – no surprise here – as soon as I type the letter “f”, the browser auto-fills with “facebook.com” and off I go into the oblivion of the Infinite Random Trivia Generator.
The bigger change was deleting the Facebook app altogether from my iPhone. I had come in recent weeks to be painfully aware of the extent that I would punch the blue “f” icon on my iPhone and then just vacantly scroll through whatever the display had to offer. The only way to stop that was to remove the app.
That was Monday. The following Friday was the first day I woke up and did not feel the impulse to start my day perusing Facebook.
One thing that these behavior patterns seem to be telling me is that I am at a vacant place in my life right now. I seem to be seeking some kind of solace and gratification from the other side of this digital mirror.
I know that these habits are not mine alone. As this recent item from Wired observes,
“It’s a dirty digital habit, and it doesn’t make me happy. Maybe you can relate. Studies have repeatedly found that while social media connects us to one another, it also makes us feel bad. And yet, we do it anyway. We do it because we can’t stop.”
43% of smartphone users check their phone within five minutes of waking up.
That presumably includes a very high percentage of Facebook checkers.
Count me in that number.
I suspect the pattern is fairly common: I post something or comment on something somebody else has posted. Then it’s only a couple of minutes – maybe less! – before I return to see if anybody has noticed how witty and profound (or just profane) I have been.
That is a habit not unlike taking a hit of pot, or a swig of whisky – getting the buzz, and then needing another one within minutes. Where alcohol and drugs are concerned, habits like that have finally come to be recognized as symptomatic of a disease. How is it any different with a “virtual drug” like Facebook? Indeed, I have too-often compared the “Facebook Habit” to “the way I felt about Scotch and Vodka in the months before I finally quit drinking…”.
I hope last Monday was the day I finally put the pipe down.
As well as I can tell from inside my own damn head, I’m facing two issues: obsession and dissipation.
The obsession is with the medium itself. I am referring here to that nagging impulse to scroll. To punch an icon and and scroll scroll scroll until… what? Like there is some pot at the end of the rainbow or a rabbit at the bottom of the hole? There is something primal going on here: the relentless need to fill some kind of vacuum, to fill an inner void, like rats in a digital cage poking for pellets. My life feels hollow, let me see if I can fill it up with… Facebook??
The notion is absurd on its face but nevertheless obsessively present. It grabs me all day long. Like when I’m driving, and I come to a stop light. I’ve got a minute, why don’t I punch the phone (which is mounted on my dashboard) and scroll Facebook? Look! Notifications! That will surely give me something that will fill this momentary pause in my info-continuum.
I listen to a lot of podcasts and books when I’m in the car. That might be the best-spent hour of every day (an hour to and from my job). But even with all that meaningful input, when the car comes to a stop, I am instantly possessed with the need to do something else, to find another form of input. To punch and scroll.
Perhaps more important than that finger-to-screen obsession, I think the constant posting and commenting and replying on Facebook has dissipated my creative energy. Instead of thinking my way through to something substantive, I scatter my seed. The Facebook Habit leads to the loss of concentration. The inability to focus. And I don’t think it’s just because my brain is in its seventh decade of continuous operation.
To the contrary, I think the Internet has destroyed my brain. I’ve been online since 1979, but almost constantly since wireless broadband was introduced at the start of this century. That’s 20 years of jumping from one thing to another all day long. As Nicholas Carr wrote in “The Shallows,” the medium has rewired my brain.
So instead of posting pithy links (#TMITM!) and snarky comments on Facebook, I’ve started using a new app called “Day One” – a journaling app suggested by friend Mike Lovett. Mike suggested “keep Day One open on one half of your screen, and when you see something on the web that you want to post on Facebook, or a post on Facebook that you want to comment on, put those links and comments in Day One. At the end of the day (or week), round up the most pertinent and worthy stuff and put it all in a post on your own website.”
Which is exactly what I’ve done here. Much of what I’ve just posted was gathered through the week. Some of it by dictating short snippets to Day One via the app on my Apple Watch – boy, that’s a real game changer!
Once I’ve assembled a post for CohesionArts.com (like this one), my WordPress installation automatically posts a link to my Facebook Profile and Page. Hence the notion of “lobbing it over the wall into Facebookistan.
Otherwise, during uring the day, I have made a concerted effort to limit myself to the occasional “guerrilla strike” into the forbidden zone. Like this afternoon – while I was in a parking lot – I got an email notifying me that my sister had mentioned me in a comment. So I opened Facebook on my iPad to see what the comment was. I clicked “like” on the comment. Then I went to the grocery store.
I don’t think that I can escape Facebookistan altogether, any more than I expect that I will ever get my “old brain” back. But I do think that I have to make a concerted effort to figure out how this “new brain” works for me, and I’m not going to do that by impulsively, relentlessly, scrolling through the Infinite Random Trivia Generator.
I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learned so well in my youth
I think I’m returning to those days
When I was young enough to know the truth
Now there are no games to only pass the time
No more electric trains, no more trees to climb
Thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can play the game of life to win
–– Carol King
Harvey, Arthur, and the 736 Berkshire
For Christmas in 1955, my father bought, set up and gave to my older brother an elaborate set of Lionel trains, tracks, and accessories. In our family photo albums, there is just one photo of Harvey operating the trains, my brother Arthur looking on in gleeful fascination as the cast iron 736 Berkshire electric locomotive “steams” by; Just out of the frame, circles of chemical-pellet induced smoke are puffing out of its little smokestack.
In the 1950s, Lionel trains were the quintessential under-the-tree expression of America’s post-war prosperity. The Lionel Corporation had found a way to flourish during the war, by retooling their assembly lines to manufacture servo motors for military equipment instead of electric motors for toy trains. Once the war ended, the company repurposed those servo motors in the first post-war generation of its marquee product.
Our family was sufficiently prosperous (the family business produced ceramic household tile at a plant in Keyport, New Jersey) that our parents could afford to give their kids the very best: that Berkshire locomotive with its smoke puffing stack and whistling coal car was top-of-the-line, but that was just the start of the layout. Arrayed within the circle of tracks were equally high-end accessories:
– A cattle loader with a vibrating surface that propelled little rubber “cattle” into a plastic cattle car;
– A milk car with a solenoid-powered mechanism that ejected little metal milk cans onto a little metal platform. The milk cans were cleverly made with a tiny magnet underneath so that they would stick to the metal platform when they came flying out of the milk car and not fall over;
– The log loader that carried wooden dowels up a conveyor belt and dumped them on to the waiting “log car” below;
– A light tower with a red-and-blue beacon that rotated just from the heat rising from the little lightbulb within;
There were several crossing gates and switch tracks to reroute the train from one circuit to another. It was all very elegant – lavish, even – and no doubt very costly, but the Schatzkin family could easily afford it.
All of this mid-century amusement was mounted atop an 8×8 foot table that was actually two standard 4×8 plywood sheets to which my father – an amateur carpenter of sorts who kept an extensive wood shop in our basement – had added a strip of smooth molding around the edges and then clipped the two sheets together with brass hooks. The whole assembly lay atop two folding aluminum tables which were also de-riguer household items in the 50s.
Engineer Arthur at the throttle
For that Christmas, the trains were set up in a (more typical 50s) wood-paneled room behind the living room that was called “the playroom.” There is only one other photo of the trains in our family albums; In it you can see 7-year-old Arthur gingerly pushing the throttle forward on the state-of-the-art transformer. You can also see some of the accessories that came with the trains.
After Christmas, the trains were taken down and reassembled in the basement. I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about them after that. What do you want from me, I was only five years old and this was all more than 60 years ago…
But I do remember that one morning in 1956 or ’57, the whole set up just disappeared.
In later years, our mother would occasionally tell the story of what happened to the electric trains.
One night, the story goes, my parents went to a dinner party at the home of the Connie and George Selby (their their actual name was Seligman but at some point in the 50s they Anglicized it to “Selby” – my parents suspected they wanted a name that didn’t sound so… well… Jewish).
George Sr. went by the nickname of “Dink,” so – dumb as it sounds – we’ll just call him that. Dink and Connie had a son, George Jr., who was Arthur’s age. They also had an elaborate Lionel train set in their basement. I have some vague memories of seeing the Seligman/Selby’s trains, and of being envious of how much more intricate their layout was compared to ours. There were multiple trains navigating through realistic scenery, the tracks rising and falling through multiple levels on plastic trestles. Maybe this is how the Jews kept up with the Joneses in mid-50s surbubia – with dueling Lionel train sets; the gentile neighbors who lived on either side of our house all had Lionel trains, too.
The way my mother told the story, they were George Jr.’s trains but… Dink didn’t really let his son play with them. Dink ran the show and George Jr. was pretty much relegated to watching the trains go by.
The spectacle of a 30-something-year-old man commandeering his nine year old son’s electric trains was enough to send my father into a fit of pique.
And so, the story goes, my father came home that night so incensed that he went straight into the basement and dismantled the entire Lionel layout that he had set up for Arthur, and stuffed everything – the locomotive, the coal car, the milk car, the cattle car, the transformer and all the accessories – into a cabinet. The next morning he announced that “if you want to play with the trains, you’ll have to put them back together yourself…”
Which my brother never did.
The Lionels stayed dismantled and stashed in the cabinet in the basement where my father put them for several years.
They still hadn’t come out of those cabinets when Harvey died in the fall of 1958. He was 37. Arthur was 10. I was 7. Our little sister was 4-1/2.
Fast forward with me now, all the way to 1959:
ca. 1960, photo by Monroe Edelstein
I’m in the third grade and for some reason that I will never recall I went down to the basement and got my father’s Lionel trains out of the cabinet where he had left them. Without any instruction or coaching I put the tracks together and connected all the wires and for the first time in years the Monmouth Avenue Railroad was running again. Hey, look, there’ the old 736 Berkshire, and the milk car and the cattle car and the log loader, and the crossing gates, and the little blue plastic man popping out of his miniature green-and-red gate house, swinging his little plastic lantern…
After that, the trains became “my thing” until we moved from Rumson to Maplewood in the spring of 1962. Before that move, my mother hired a noted photographer to come to our house to make portraits of the family. The photographer asked what I was interested in and I showed him the trains in the basement. He posed me with that cast iron locomotive.
I told my therapist parts of this story last week.
We talk a lot about my father.
More than anything my father longed for a creative life. Like me, he was a writer and a photographer, but he spent his (short) career making tile for kitchens and bathrooms. He was never published – unless you count the time that a letter he wrote to Macy’s was used for an ad in the New York Herald Tribune – but I’ve got a trove of his comic short stories in my basement that are still funny.
Almost 60 years after he departed from this planet, I still wonder how my life might have been different if he’d stuck around – at least long enough to see that <I> was the one who was destined to play with his electric trains.
I think he would have approved. And we would have had something to bond over, at least for a few years.
My mother often said of my father that “you were just getting to an age where he could do things with you…” when cancer dispatched his 37-year-old soul. I have only a handful of actual memories of him. One, in particular:
It’s October, 1955. I’m four, not quite five years old. The Russians have just beaten the US into space with the launch of Sputnik, Earth’s first man-made moon. One cold autumn night, my father took me – just me – out to the nearby high school football field to see if we could spot Sputnik wandering among the stars. We never did see the satellite, but the moment left an impression that remains vivid to this day. Now every time I look up at the stars… I’m back on that football field with my father.
I wish he could have been around for the moon landing in 1969. I think we might have watched it together. Oh, sure, there was a lot of other stuff going on at the time; I shudder to think what he, a World War II veteran, would have thought of his sons’ resistance to the draft and the war in Vietnam. And then I think: Maybe it is fitting that only the good die young. That way we never have pictures of them as angry, bitter old men yelling at us from the other side of the “generation gap.”
And I remember when I showed my mother my first personal computer in 1979. As I showed her how I could enter text and then wipe it off the screen with a single press of the “delete” key, she said, “your father would have loved this…” Really. He was what we now call a gadget freak. From Lionel trains to computers… we would have had that much in common.
I have been struggling of late with the whole idea of… approval. Of claiming and manifesting my creative instincts. And trying to not feel undeservedly pretentious about saying even that.
Creative types. We’re wired differently. And we go through life seeking validation and approval from – ironically – the more conventionally wired. I have spent my entire life doubting my creative instincts, even when they are clearly manifest. Like every writer (?) I finish one thing and wonder if there’s anything left. It hasn’t helped that my greatest success as a writer was followed by my most disappointing failure. Is it any wonder that infinite doubt ensues?
There was an odd little series on Netflix this year called “The OA” that, among other things, addressed the theme of the “invisible self.” In an early episode, the principle character, a young woman named Prairie, cautions a companion to be gentle with his own inner forces:
“You don’t want to go there,” Prairie cautions, “until your invisible self is more developed anyway. You know, your longing, things you tell no one else about?”
All this business about my father and his electric trains came up when I was telling my therapist that lately I, too have been feeling… invisible. It seems at times that I am just unwilling or unable to inhabit my own soul. Like there is some creature inside me that I am the only one who can see – and not altogether clearly at that. And that the people around me – even the people closest to me – want to reflect back on me… not my invisible self, but theirs.
And the soul recedes.
I realize it’s mostly pointless at this point in my life, but still I can’t help but wonder: If my father had been around to see me set up and run those electric trains…. would he have approved? Would he have seen a reflection of himself, and in that reflection beamed back a glimpse of the invisible me? Maybe that glimpse, however brief and fleeting, might have provided enough recognition and approval that I wouldn’t still be longing for it 60 years later. His validation in that moment could have left a lasting impression, much like that cold night when a young father and his little boy scanned the heavens for a dot of light drifting among the stars.
When my family moved in the spring of 1962, the trains were dismantled again and packed into a box. Never mind that I didn’t get to pack the box; I was at summer camp when the family moved – but hat’s whole other story.
Once I arrived at the new house, I don’t think I ever took the trains out of the box. By then my interests had shifted: I wanted slot cars, and my parents – that would be my mother and her new husband, aka my stepfather – told me I couldn’t have both. We sold the Lionels to a family from Newark for all of $75.
I’m sorry, Daddy. I don’t have your Lionels any more. But I still wish you had been around when I started playing with them.
I will do the things
All the things
that need the doing
the plant watering
the bird-feeder filling
the cat-box cleaning
the dish-washer emptying
the trash taking out
the compost dumping
the laundry washing
the run to the recycle center
all those tedious chores
that must be done
so that the plants don’t die
and the cats aren’t crapping
in a litter box
already filled with
their own crap.
Today is my Saturday
Today is the day I get to do
whatever I want
including the nothing
if that’s what I feel like doing
or not doing.
I’ll write a silly poem or two
I’ll surf the Interwebs
and post inane things on The Facebook
so that all my friends will think
that I am witty and profound.
I’ll make a few phone calls
send a few emails.
mess about with
my new computer.
I will try to
all pretense of “purpose”
long enough to let
because “random” is where
the creative things happen.
So that’s what I’m going to do today.
I will do the things,
like go to the store
and stock the fridge
so that the day after tomorrow
I don’t starve.
This is 17 month old Juniper Rae, Ann’s first and quite possibly her only-ever grandchild. She is the primary reason why Ann decided to pull up stakes and move to Portland back in July.
Sunday night, we all – Ann and I, eldest son James, younger son Robert, Rob’s wife Melissa and Juniper – all tuned into the professional verbal wrestling match aka “The Presidential Debate” btw Hillary and Drumpf.
Her parents don’t let Juniper have a lot of screen time, and she doesn’t see much TeeVee, so this was an exception. But as you can tell from her expression, even a 1-year-old can look at Trump and wonder whatthefuck just came out of his incoherent noise hole.
Oh, and I have to put a dollar in the “swear jar” for saying “fuck.” Actually, I put in two dollars. Figured I may as well pay in advance for the next one…
She was 17 years old and was fading fast… last time I took her to the vet they told me there was a 70% likelihood she was suffering from liver cancer. It was pretty much downhill from there, and I finally put her down about two weeks ago.
And no, I did not put it all over Facebook etc., but this is my personal space on the web so I’m mentioning it here.
Ann found her at the gas station down the street not long after we moved into our house in 1999. Seems oddly apropos that she’d leave us about the same time as my wife (who moved to Portland, Oregon back in July).
I’m a ‘cat person,’ and Rags was ‘my’ cat. I named her for ‘Rags The Tiger,’ a character in the first animated cartoon series on television, “Crusader Rabbit” – which was created by Jay Ward and was something of a prototype for “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” You have to be old (i.e. my age, 65) to remember “Crusader Rabbit.”
Rags was a cranky, whiny cat. She’d cry for some attention, but when I picked her up to pet her, she’d lie in my arms for about 30 seconds and then start whining again. Hissing was a pretty regular part of her repertoire, too.
I took some photos of her about a year ago… I guess I knew then that she wasn’t going to be with us much longer. It wasn’t until I looked at these photos, just before I took her to the vet, that I realized what a beautiful cat she was.
Just more evidence that everything is permanent only so long as it lasts.
This is a story about how being a jerk can actually pay off.
I went to the Container Store in the Green Hills Mall yesterday because it is Nashville’s only retail source for Moleskine notebooks. While I generally avoid having/doing anything quite so trendy, I had decided Moleskines are as good a bound journal as any, so I went to get one.
I walked into the Container Store and my first impulse was to find an employee and ask “where are the Molekines?”
Good luck with that…
There was not an employee anywhere to be found in the vicinity of the entrance, or on the whole upper floor. I could tell just by looking around the first floor (which is relatively small area compared to the rest of the store which is the floor below) that the Moleskine display was not going to be on that floor, so I took the escalator down to the main floor.
The escalator opens to a large open area in the center of the main floor. There are cashier counters in the center of area. But, again, there was not a sole to be found – except for some other customers who seemed equally baffled at their inability to find any personnel to help them.
I felt like I’d stepped into some television show where only the employees had been swept up in the Rapture. I figured the next scene would be customers helping themselves and just walking out of the store…
Just in case I was wrong about that, and being the incorrigibly obnoxious person that I often default to, I just shouted, quite loudly and to nobody in particular,
“DOES ANYBODY WORK HERE?!?!”
And of course, at just that instant a young man appeared from amid the the aisles and stacks in a regulation black t-shirt – rather shocked that anybody would actually conduct themselves that way, and equally embarrassed that a customer had found it so difficult to get help that he seemingly had no recourse but to ask for it at the top of his lungs.
Quickly and efficiently, the young man asked what I needed and directed to the Moleskine display. After a few minutes of deliberation I decided which notebook I was going to buy. The task was made slightly more difficult than it needed to be because all of the products on display were hermetically sealed in plastic wrap, making it impossible to see what the pages inside actually looked like. But I managed to figure it out.
Ah, retail… This is why I buy almost everything except groceries from Amazon.
I made my selection and rode the escalator back to the upper floor to the only cashier that was open and waited my turn in line (another one of my least favorite features of bricks-and-mortar shopping). The couple I’d seen downstairs that was as perplexed for help as I was in front of me. They paid for their stuff – a variety of big plastic containers – and then it was my turn.
I put the Moleskine down on the counter and reached for my wallet. I had my credit card out and was all set to pay my $20 for the notebook…
…when the young man who had magically appeared downstairs when I started yelling like a crazy person magically appeared again, behind the counter. He waved off the cashier, then picked the Moleskine off the counter and handed it to me and said “we’re good…” – in other words, giving me the notebook and not charging me for it.
I certainly didn’t see that coming.
I was sufficiently surprised that I did not fully register what else he said. He might have said “I hope you have a better experience the next time you’re in the store.”
Or he might have said “Please don’t ever come back…”
In some kind of bemused shock, I ambled out of the Container Store with a free Moleskine notebook, wondering how exactly being such a jerk had produced such a seemingly worthwhile result.
And figuring that I would tell the story and end it with the hashtag