Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Those Lake Wobegone Days

When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to work in a café bookstore. It was poorly stocked and even more poorly managed. The business plan was to offer overpriced coffee drinks and bistro fare in an "intellectual environment" in which the books were little more than props. Since we were in a mall, we were almost entirely bestseller list. The back shelves of the store pathetically attempted to represent everything else worth reading with a chaos of mishelved anthologies and "classics." Picture the average airport bookstore, add a coffee bar, and that was Upstart Crow.

Working there, I learned about Chapter 11. Chapter 11 bankruptcy meant that my supervisors, bitter because they will never get another raise and knowing inventory is going to a liquidator, promoted the "five-finger employee discount." They wanted those shelves empty. Shift by shift, I lifted an entire library. It was one of the best jobs ever.

Every shift at least one customer--generally a silver-haired Sierra Clubber meeting for afternoon tea--would buy a copy of a book called Lake Wobegone Days. "Hilarious!" they'd say, "I've given copies to my entire family!" Intrigued, I stole a copy and read it. Then I took it back to the store. It was too boring to keep, and there were obviously other people out there that would really enjoy it. From what I could tell, nothing ever happened at Lake Wobegonney. It was perhaps the dullest fictional town ever. Or non-fictional. Whatever.

Now I come to an unexpected rite of passage: finding myself enjoying Garrison Keillor. It's easy to think that I'm the same person I've always been, and it's good to have markers that tell me I'm not. Tonight, I'm filled with a distinctly Wobegonish nostalgia that I was incapable of feeling in 1985, and it makes me realize that I have--despite some of my best efforts--changed and softened a little in my life. If that's not worth some praise songs, I don't know what is.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Something about nostalgia, or at any rate Garrison Keillor's ironic-yet-still-emotional nostalgia, is better live, on the radio or in person, than in books. No? Perhaps it's the voice.