When I was in college, I won an award for “Excellence in Ancient Greek,” an award, I believe, was given out of pity/awe because I logged the most hours of any student being privately tutored outside of class in an attempt to retain some small amount of that dead language.
All recipients of language awards that year got to attend a dinner with the president of the college (I missed it because my brother was graduating the same weekend and I had to go to North Carolina to sweat outside in the Sun for 4 hours while a bunch of names were read off a list. This is the dumbest part of college and it forced me to miss my big free meal! I’m still mad.)
That summer, I lived in Williamsburg in an apartment with no air conditioning. My professor emailed me asking where he could send my award. I rolled my eyes and sent the address. A few days later, I got my little fancy-lettered certificate that I’d failed to receive at the big dinner. I also found in the envelope a gift certificate to Barnes & Noble for $500.
“Holy shit.” I said out loud to no one.
I assume Bard College expected me to save the card until the fall, and use it at the bookstore on campus for textbooks. But I’m no sucker. I knew from my time working at a Barnes & Noble in Cleveland that Starbucks gift cards don’t work at the Starbucks within B&N because it’s technically owned by the bookstore. But the Barnes & Noble gift cards do. So, essentially, I possessed $500 of free Starbucks.
I spent whole days writing or meeting friends at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. I learned employees will ask you to move from the cafe from time to time (if you sit there for 5 hours) but they’ll never ask you to leave the aisles as long as you don’t fall asleep. I also learned accidentally that, although they guard the doors at the store so you don’t steal anything, no one notices if you read a few books, then when you’re done, throw them in the garbage (I still feel guilty about doing this once but, man, what a thrill. In retrospect, I should I told someone I did it but I was too scared). I saw author talk after author talk, and even had an awkward moment with John Updike before he died. I got stoned and read the first page of as many books as I could in a day. Mostly, I remember the air conditioning. Whew. I’d have paid them just to let me sit there.
I owe a lot more to Community Bookstore and other indie bookstores, but I owe the Union Square Barnes & Noble and Bard College for keeping me sane during the summer of 2007. I never dreamed I’d be signing a book there or at the store in Cleveland where I first learned the joys of bookselling, but here we are.
I want to thank Marni at the Citigroup Barnes & Noble for being excited about this book and the last. I signed some copies there too. She’s worked at that store since it opened! Also, I was happy to see a fellow Bard alum Senia working at Union Square (she took this photo).
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Calling out orders to her crew, Senia cursed as the wind blew in a thick, rolling fog. It was so dense in only a few seconds that she could barely see the helm wheel in front of her as she tried to guide the ship through the suddenly treacherous waters.
There was a shout of “Ship a’hoy” from the crows nest. She cursed again, trying to see as she passed the helm to her first mate and scrambled up top herself.
Not as distant from her ship as she would like was a giant Man O’ War, canons readying as it turned toward her small sloop.