“Do you have the new book by Tracy Abrams?” The gentleman shouts to me from the doorway of the bookstore/bar. We’re not open all the way quite yet. In the middle of the pandemic a pipe burst back in the cookbook and children’s book section, flooding half the place, and the repairs are just nearing completion. New sheetrock, new floorboards at the back of the store.
It’s been a relief to not have to work shifts in the ever-more bustling town of Hudson, wearing a mask, contending with strangers, searching for familiar locals and friends’ eyes over their masks. Thank God for unemployment, Bandcamp, Joey Ramone tea towels and some gigs, online and now in person. But I have missed my old part-time job.
Tracy Abrams, Tracy Abrams. This name is not familiar to me, but then I’m out of touch. I’ve missed seeing the new releases every week, and customers coming in and asking for a book they’d heard of or read about recently.
I do a quick search after the inventory comes up empty…a basketball player? Does he mean Stacey Abrams? Would it be insulting to correct him? He’s clearly over fifty and there’s no shame in getting these things wrong, right? So many names, so many books.
“That’s who I meant!” he says when I make the suggestion. Book found, sale made. We have to wonder, in between saving democracy in the state of North Carolina (umm…Georgia I correct him gently) how Stacey Abrams found time to write a thriller? Some people are superheroes.
I carry the man’s card and purchase to him at the front door. He waves goodbye, then turns back to shout across the floor: “Do you have a book called “Grilling Vegetables” by (insert author name here)?”
I look it up. Yes, we do, I say. Would you like a copy?
“No – that’s me, I wrote it. Yay!” he claps and waves goodbye again. Ah, authors. I’m back.
I’ve missed the books. I’ve missed the writers – well, most of them. From Dante to Dantiel W. Moniz. I pick up a rag and start making my way around the store, dusting the shelves. In an old building, bookshelves and books get dusty, and thanks to construction from the flood it’s even worse lately. Colson Whitehead. Peter Frampton. I dust my own book.
Two of my co-workers are here. Sara asks to listen to Journey. The first track begins, of course, with rolling piano chords…”Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world” and with the music playing, we’re in our own TV show. A young woman comes to the door and asks for “a fun cookbook, for my cousin who’s getting married today – y’know, just – stuff to cook?” Sara muses what a perfect gift, that cooking together is so sensual and I feel a desperate urge to play the salty veteran – be Flo in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore or Bea Arthur as Maude or Patty or Selma, one of Marge Simpson’s sisters – “You know what they say right?” smoker’s hack – “You start by sinking into his arms (hack) and wind up with your arms in his sink” but I resist.
Soon we switch to rocking country. Lots of George Jones, Alan Jackson. That’s How I Got To Memphis by Tom T. Hall. Things go a little off course when Alabama’s Song of the South comes on – I nearly hurt myself lunging towards the iPhone to forward to the next track. The lyrics are actually pointed and probably more relevant than ever, but in 2021 blasting Song of the South – the title of the controversial Disney film just feels wrong.
It’s not a full bookstore/bar day because the bar for the moment consists of plastic cups of beer or cans of cider handed out onto the sidewalk. We explain to customers over and over again – no, not all the way open yet. Just a few more weeks.
Then the Flag Day parade is coming down the street. It’s a Hudson tradition, maybe an anachronism but along with the fire trucks and tractors there are a few pride and diversity dance troupes. Kamal Johnson, Hudson’s first black mayor, rides by on the back of a sleek orange convertible. A few friends sit out front drinking beer. We never had outdoor seating before – there wasn’t space for the barriers the state used to require. The pandemic made it possible, so that’s good. That’s progress.
I’ve spent years working at this place and it feels like home. When I think of moving on and not working here anymore, I think I would just miss it too much and would end up back here anyways so why pretend to move on? But I don’t want to be that grandfathered-in employee they wish they could put out to pasture but just can’t because I’ve been here so long either. My eyes have gotten worse over the course of the pandemic – so much time looking at a screen – but my fingers still punch in the codes for beer and cider like it was only yesterday I worked my last shift and not fifteen months ago. I still love books and my co-workers and the way the music we play behind the bar turns life into a sweet sitcom in a changing world. I find the old broom and sweep the weathered floorboards I know so well up to the spot where the new boards start.