Betty Duffy

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Eulogy for Nothing Important

Ever since I was a little girl, I could get chills from listening to certain librarians and sales people when they spoke in lilting rehearsed voices, while smoothing a page in front of them with a dry palm. If they sucked their teeth or swallowed frequently, so much the better. Without being touched, I felt like I was receiving a fully body massage from their palmy, tactile, dry-mouth demeanor.

Gently lift the book to read. Turn the pictures toward the listeners and oscillate from right to left. Flip through the stack of papers, find a quote. Read it, then pause. Allow the silence to sink in. Words, paper, silence—they’re so titillating.

I just received one of these virtual massages from a La-Z-Boy salesman at the local furniture store. I’d been to the library with a list of titles I needed. Back in elementary school, if I needed a book, Mrs. Maudlin, the school librarian, would have taken me to the card catalog and gently flipped through the cards, sucking her teeth and humming, while I stood by her side shivering in her grace. The utterly un-graceful adolescent at our local library asked, “How do you spell that?” and typed the letters one at a time into the computer. “No—it’s not in here. You wanna fill out a request?” No chills, no books, just meager, improvised service.

So I walked next door to the furniture store, just to see what they were about, and before I know it, I’m in the trance of a paper-rubbing, fabric sampling couch salesman. He has a spiel, used on many a local housewife, taking stock of the number of children in my household, and whether I prefer a classic or modern style. Yes, a fine leather is softer, smoother, feel it. But you’ll pay for it. No worries. I’ll just sit here for an hour or so, and feel the chills while you sell me. Work hard at it. Write down quotes for grade F1 and G1, and embossed leathers, and rub your hand over them as many times as you want. Then go ahead and swallow that saliva, dry your mouth out while I sample the leathers myself.

Not much of a point here. I didn't get my books. I didn't buy a couch. I suppose this post is a eulogy for the card catalog, for story hour, for the trained librarian, and for the back rub, dammit.


Otepoti said...

I read that the French for "window-shopping" is "leche vitrine" (with a grave over the e but I can't do special characters) which actually means "glass licking". Apropos of nothing much.

Those card catalogues were great, weren't they? - the cabinetry alone! I wonder where they all ended up, all those little drawers, and what they're being used for.

Emily said...

Ohhh, this post is making me think of Roz, the former nun DRE, who had such a reassuring shoulder squeeze that made ... you...feel ... very ... special.

Emily said...

p.s. Otepoti, a friend of ours had an old card catalog in her living room that she got at some tag sale. They kept hair stuff, jewelry, matchbox cars, and other sundries in the drawers. Fun!

Betty Duffy said...

Otepoti, I get it--all that smarmy swallowing while shopping--it goes right along with licking windows.

And Roz... I remember Roz. The tastefully tactile person is such a rarity these days. I fear that VIRTUS training is going to make hugging Deacons and shoulder squeezing DREs even more rare. Though the hugging Deacons, I can probably live without.

I, too, have seen ex card catalogs here and there. That one house we almost bought before we found this one had an entire warehouse full of card catalogs, oak file cabinets and barrister bookcases. The guy made a living refurbishing old library furniture and selling it on ebay.