You Get Credit for the Covers

Theen’s flickr

After a week or so, I was able to rip them off without wincing. Somehow it had become my weekly task, that summer after I graduated college, to destroy books so that the tobacco-slash-magazine shop I worked in could get credit for not selling the unwanted volumes.

They weren’t ancient classics like The Aeneid or Oedipus Rex; they weren’t even modern classics like The Moviegoer or Wuthering Heights. But it still hurt to rip the faces from the books of mystery and adventure and forbidden love. And the dragons. My weakness, and my consistent reward for my dirty, destructive work each week, was a coverless copy of any book I chose, and I always chose the fantastical world of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern.

In that in-between summer, before I had a plan, before I had a future, I escaped to a world I had first known many years before. It felt familiar and safe and young and carefree. So, while others chose gossip magazines (the porn was off-limits) or bodice-ripping novels to gobble during that summer, I worked my way through Moreta’s adventures in time travel and the cultural hierarchy of Dragonriders and Harpers and Lord Holders.  After four years of sanctified canons, my mind mellowed and roamed with the pleasure of easy reading.

Relaxed as I was, I finally noticed the people around me. As a college student, I had never really lived in this town; I had lived near it, around it. Now, selling sweet-smelling tobacco from wooden barrels, I met pipe-smokers and blunt-rollers who shared spots for swimming and hiking that the locals kept for themselves. I watched middle-aged women play fifty dollars worth of scratch cards, rejoicing in the five dollars they won back. I cocked an eyebrow and half-smiled as I slid magazines named Rear View, Barely Legal, and Hustler into plain paper bags for the same customers, week after week.

With my friends off starting internships and taking European vacations before Life dragged them down, I made coffee dates at the State Street Diner with the people from the shop. And I babysat the kids of the Scratch Card Ladies while they took off for a night of friends and beer at The Chanticleer. I even worked a food booth for one of the Hustler regulars to make some extra cash. They were all such interesting people, and they seemed to like me, too.  “You’re not what I expected from South Hill,” one of the middle-aged mothers told me. She lived close to The Dugout, and she was used to college students puking on her steps every Tuesday night. Dimies (ten tiny cups of beer for a dollar!) was the most popular night of the week back then.

By the time mid-August arrived, I had gotten the call from residence life at the SUNY nearby that made graduate school affordable, and my immediate plans were set. When I quit my job at the tobacco-slash-magazine shop, the casual good-byes hurt no less than ripping off those first few book covers.


This has been a Yeah Write work-in-progress. I’m hanging out over there, and I’d love to hear what you liked and what you think needs some work. I’m thinking I may split this into two, or even three, different stories in the end.

About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. Do The Most Good.
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17 Responses to You Get Credit for the Covers

  1. johar1 says:

    You dragged me into this one with ease. I want to know more about this young woman. I could smell her tabacco smelling hair after her shift and wonder if she liked that or had interesting rituals to get rid of the smell. More please.

  2. I like this a lot, particularly because I think you describe an unusual job and then tie it to your journey. You might be able to expand it even further (outside of the 500 word constraints) and develop it into a series about the different characters. Is there a name for a longer work that is composed of a series of separate events tied together with a unifying theme (like “Huck Finn”)? These are times I wish I hadn’t dropped out of my AP English class in a hissy-fit protest. The point is that this could be that type of piece and I would definitely read it.

    • I think I was already heading into that territory with the middle-aged mamas. Although, the men who bought the mags are more interesting to me. Always the same titles, just different weeks. And those were the tame mags! 🙂 Thanks so much for the comments.

  3. Kerstin says:

    I love this post. Love how descriptive it is, takes me straight there.
    There were (and there are still) many shops like that in Germany, but not here in cow town where we live now. Maybe it’s making me a little melancholic because it reminds me of my teenager years 🙂
    (“Cocked an eyebrow” – did people do that before 50 Shades?)

    • I’ve been cocking an eyebrow since the late ’70s. 🙂 It did remind me of shops in Germany, actually! I think that’s one of the reasons I applied there. That, and it was walking distance from my boyfriend’s apartment.

  4. dberonilla says:

    I don’t think I have anything valuable to add for suggestions, but I just wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed reading.
    It was effortless to read and filled with great lines that I enjoyed as much as I enjoy eating a chocolate and discover it’s filled with a delicious, unexpected filling.
    One of my favorites was “After four years of sanctified canons, my mind mellowed and roamed with the pleasure of easy reading.”
    I like that.

  5. mamamzungu says:

    I really love this post. You nailed it. That mixing of socio-economic subcultures in America is always so intriguing and, like others who have commented, your writing makes me want to read more. You made the shop a beacon of harmless hedonism, so different from the college world you left. This was my favorite post this week!

    • It was amazing to me how few college kids came into the store. And you’re right, it was a totally different experience from what I had just left. I can still smell the sweet tobacco twenty years later.

  6. want2bwriter says:

    Great story, you really told it well. It flowed beautifully. I could see myself there with you, reading those fantasy novels with the smell of sweet tobacco wafting in the breeze. You nailed the metaphor at the end.

    Nicely done!

    Michael A. Walker
    Defying Procrastination

  7. sisterhoodofthesensiblemoms says:

    This piece was such an enjoyable read. I love the characters that were touched on so briefly. How interesting it would be to know more about them. I was physically wincing at the thought of destroying books, though. No matter the title, it just seems murderous. Ellen

  8. Jane says:

    So, once again, I’m wandering into one of your yeah write pieces. I just wanted to say I’m sure it would be interesting expanded, but I also think it’s lovely as is. I love it when something I read starts somewhere and then comes back around. (Oh, and I worked at a bookstore, too. So painful!)

    • Thank you so much, Jane! I want to come back to some of the people mentioned, but it would be creating total fiction – and that’s an entirely different jump for this memory. Thanks for the encouragement!

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