Today is Syttende Mai – the 17th of May, also known as Grunnlovsdagen (The Constitution Day) or Norwegian Constitution Day. I don’t live in Norway and none of my family comes from there, but I do live in Ballard and this place is lousy with Norwegians. As a result, there’s a big neighborhood parade full of local high school marching bands, Norwegian dignitaries, and Seattleites with names like Bjorn and Rolf.
The staging area for the parade is just outside my front door. It’s a beautiful day and something in me loves a display of civic pride, even though the cacophony of several marching bands at once sounds like an orchestra warming up in Hell.
Before the parade and its pre-ceremony, I walked down to the farmers market for potatoes (which will be dressed with carrots and peas in a lemon-tarragon-shallot butter later this week) and as an afterthought walked into my neighborhood bookstore.
Here’s the thing about walking into the neighborhood bookstore – I shouldn’t have done it. I wasn’t going to do it. I didn’t need to do it because two days ago, six of the books on my waitlist with the Seattle Public Library were released as downloadable at the same time. Clearly, I have enough to read and only 21 days in which to read it all (currently reading M.R. Carey’s “The Girl With All the Gifts,” which I emphatically recommend if you want a zombie story that isn’t at all like a typical zombie story, and after that will be Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant,” and after that will be whatever I think I can finish the most quickly). I didn’t need more books.
But this has never stopped me before, and there is something about the loose brick floor in this particular bookstore that lulls me into a kind of complacency. Before I know it, I’m picking up several $15 volumes and not being as discerning as I could be when putting some of them back down (mostly because I’m trying to make room for something else I just picked up). In fairness to myself, I did want to pick up some books for my nephews – “Howl’s Moving Castle” for the 8-year-old and a PNW-specific “Arrow to Alaska” for the 7-or-so-month-old – and since it is a lovely independent bookstore on what must be a high-rent block, I figured I’d support them a little more with a few items for myself.
Because this bookstore is pretty small, it’s easy to bump into people browsing in entirely different sections from you. As an example (ahem, entire point of this entry), I was browsing in fantasy when I overheard a woman – blond, bored, wealthy-looking – who was standing by the magazines. Next to her was a stroller, one of those high-tech, all-terrain, $600 jobs for babies who wear twill and shit, and in that stroller was a baby wearing twill and shit who was screaming because it had dropped its new, still-in-the-package toy on the ground. A toy the woman was not picking up. A toy the woman didn’t even acknowledge, just as she didn’t acknowledge her baby, who, like I said, was screaming.
I may not like babies who wear twill and shit but I dislike screaming even more, so I bent down, picked up the toy, and gave it back to the baby. This was noticed by its mother, although I wasn’t thanked or even acknowledged by anything but a blank stare. Satisfied, the baby went quiet, which allowed the woman to have a conversation with her other son, the maybe 9-year-old crouching next to her and drinking out of a Starbucks cup.
“But I really want this book,” he said, holding up an age-appropriate scifi novel (with chapters!) for her to see.
“Well, you’ll have to pay for it with your own money,” she said dismissively, continuing to look at the magazines.
Her son sighed and was quiet.
She continued, “You can pay me back when we get home, but you’d better decide how bad you want it, because it’s coming out of your money. So you better want it really, really bad.”
“I do want it,” he said, “but then I won’t have money for anything else.”
“Well, then I guess you shouldn’t get it,” she snapped. “Put it back.”
Can I just.
I know I don’t have kids, and I know I don’t know this woman’s background, and I know I don’t know what other things her kid has asked to buy recently. But…come on, lady. It’s a book. A book that looks like it might be at least a little bit challenging, and your kid wants to read it, and maybe don’t be such a fucking asshole to him about it and buy him the fucking book. If you can buy him Starbucks, you can buy him a book. Or at least suggest that you walk one block over to the library to see if they have that book in stock. Of all the things you could possibly encourage your child to be – good with money, quiet in public, not some vapid yoga-pantsed snob reading InStyle magazine – a reader is not the absolute worst. You were dismissive and mean and ignorant in front of a stranger today, and I hope you remember that. I know your kid will. So it had better have been worth it. You better have wanted that really, really bad.