Biking, Birthdays, and Barnes & Noble

It was the first spring-like day of the year.  I rode my bicycle.

I coasted in the bike lane down Ingersoll.

I stopped at the grocery store to buy a small birthday cake for my mother.  A  “slice” of sheet cake was enormous.  The cupcakes were almost the size of the cake.  The half-cakes had too much frosting.

Hello, world, do we need such huge cupcakes?

cupcake chunky monkey

Could a cupcake get any bigger?

She has a tiny appetite.  The problem is she makes faces at any food bigger than a morsel.  I figured I would buy the slice and tempt her with a small portion.  Of course I would have to use a fork to cut it, since knives are not allowed at the nursing home.

You don’t ask about the rules after a while.  If they’re all on suicide watch, you don’t want to know.

I carried the cake in a huge knapsack.  I didn’t want it to get smooshed in my bike pannier.  I took off happily on my bike again.   It is my primary form of transportation five or six months of the year.

I was halfway to the nursing home when the back tire rumbled.

Flat tire.

I tried to keep going.  Sometimes I can ride on it flat.  No, it was totally deflated.   I parked the bike at a bike rack and hurried to the bus stop.  I had no idea if it was the right bus stop.   It used to be, but the routes have just been revised.  Finally a bus came, though not the one I was waiting for.

“Do you go to…?  And how much is it?”

The bus did, and charged me only 75 cents. And then it was another 10-minute walk.  I was late.   I wanted to jog.  Careful, careful, don’t shake up the cake.

I got there, and, as usual, most of the residents were sitting in their wheelchairs in front of the elevator.   I found my mother sitting in her room with a towel on her head,  just out of the shower.  The blinds were drawn.

“Happy birthday!”

“How old am I?”

I quickly opened the blinds.  We ate cake.

“It’s awfully sweet,” she said.  Nonetheless she ate about one-fourth of it.

The nursing home has taken good care of her, but it is not a nice place.  Her room is tiny and narrow.  There’s barely space for the bed, her chair, and the chest of drawers.  One has to move the walker to scootch the “guest” chair out of the corner over to her tray table.

We ate cake and played cards.

Growing up on a farm, she played gin rummy, whist, bridge with her parents in the evening.  After they moved to town for my grandfather’s business,  she joined many bridge clubs.  When she owned her own house, she often gave bridge parties.  Two or three card tables would be set up in the basement, snacks of nuts and mint, and coffee in the percolator:  she hated to make coffee, because she never knew whether it was good or bad.  She didn’t drink it.

I am bad at cards, but we played for a couple of hours, and she did pretty well until she obviously got tired and couldn’t remember how to play.

Then we put away the cards and turned on the TV.  That’s what it’s for.

No, she hates the news, and it did seem to be about something horrifying in the Middle East, and whatever that dismal show was on Lifetime, I wasn’t going to let her watch it.   Seinfeld, yes.  It’s the one with the cantaloupe and George’s break-up with Marlene.

I guess it was a happy birthday, considering.

I gave the rest of the cake to the nurses.



my bicycle on bridgeOn Saturday I biked to Barnes and Noble.

Another lovely day.  Sun and wind. Well, riding into the west wind was hard.

Barnes and Noble is the last real bookstore.  Our city is big by wide-open-spaces standards, but 12 bookstores have closed since the ’90s.  Two diminutive indies remain, but I cannot support them.  They stock nothing I want, and if I have to order I use Amazon.

Barnes and Noble, the last big chain, is struggling.  I recently read at knowledge@wharton:  “The company said its holiday sales for the nine-week period ending December 29 were $1.2 billion, down 10.9% from a year ago. Same-store sales for the period were down 3.1% due to “lower bookstore traffic.” Nook product sales fell 12.6% from a year ago.”

Some experts suggest B&N needs to hire help that knows books.  They also need to make it a “destination,”  like Starbuck’s.

You would think the closing of Borders would have spurred Barnes and Noble to greater excellence.  Instead, the eight comfortable chairs have been removed and replaced by wooden chairs.  There are no more book groups.  One wall of  literature and science fiction is now devoted to teen lit.  There is no longer a new paperbacks table.

My student, Doug, a bookseller who died of cancer last year, predicted this would happen. “It’s a different culture from Borders.  Barnes and Noble discourages its employees from talking to customers.  And they don’t want people to hang out there.”

Most of the people who work here are nice, but you have to watch out for a few of them.  The new cashier was bitchy to my husband:  she wouldn’t acknowledge him, and just kept chatting on the phone when he asked a question about whether she needed his signature.

And then I looked over and…

If I’m not mistaken, she was the manager several years ago. The store was dreadful then, and improved under the next manager.

She’s a big genre person, and I like genre books, too.

But she’s an enemy of literature.

And now…

She’s ba-a-a-ack.

She must be here to reduce the literature section.

She must be here to close the store.

I hope not.

I hope it’s not she.


7 thoughts on “Biking, Birthdays, and Barnes & Noble

  1. During the two years Izzy learned to be a librarian, she was never assigned a real reading book. So the librarian you go to ask a question of from her generation may be someone never assigned a book to read for real reading during graduate school.


  2. That’s a horrible thing to learn about librarianship! I shouldn’t be surprised. Libraries vary so widely. I guess library school is more about cataloguing and such.

    I’ll pass on your bithday wishes!


  3. If it’s true about librarians it’s also true about teachers. I used to have to fight to get children’s literature included on the primary teachers course at the University where I worked.

    I’m sorry about your Mom, having been there myself, but you gave her a lovely birthday and you’re clearly there for her, which is what really matters.


  4. Alex, sad, but come to think of it I knew lit majors who never read after graduation. Anybody with a B.A. or B.S. can go to library school. I’m sure education is a hodgepodge, too.

    Yes, our moms get old unexpectedly. I still see her younger self when I look at her. I’m somehow surprised she’s not her younger self.


  5. Kat, I had a rather dispirited experience at B&N myself on Sunday. Not enough help, not enough helpful help, and the other spaces in the shopping center that the store is in are vacant which, driving up, gave the whole place an air of failure. There seemed to be a lot of people wandering about though so it is definitely a destination. I don’t know if they were buying anything or not.


  6. You’re right: it is a destination! I’m not quite sure if the Wharton business report was right about that; they’re probably referring to the disappearing comfortable chairs at my store. What I find funny is that after they’ve shrunken the literature section guess where eveyone was? In the literature section.


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