Monday, February 25, 2008


His name is Frank, and he's 82. He was one of our favorite customers back when we had our walk-in store. Larry knows him better than I do, since he was a train customer. Many of the train customers were retirees who'd moved here from elsewhere, usually the northeast. Northerners played with toy trains as kids more than southerners seem to have.

So here was this guy in his late 70's, absolutely delighted to find some model railroad items he'd wanted for decades.

We closed the store in 2005, and lost track of a lot of the customers, including Frank. He phoned the other day and left a message, asking help in selling off his collection. Larry called him back.

Frank is now 82. His wife died in 2006. He's moving back up north.

It nearly broke our hearts. It just sucks to see someone who loved these things so much, dealing with loss, divesting himself of the things he loved, going back to where there's family to look after him, winding down his life. "Isn't he keeping any of it?" I asked Larry. "I don't know. He may be moving into a spare room. He may not be able to keep it. I said I'd go over and help him sort and sell it."

So today, Larry visited Frank. Dreading it.

He came home smiling.

Frank isn't moving into a spare room, or into assisted living. A few months ago, on one of his trips back to his hometown, he met an old girlfriend. Hadn't seen her in 62 years. They're moving in together.

I think I'll quit making assumptions.

Friday, February 22, 2008

UPDATE: Typewriter keyboard configurations

The excitement never stops here at the Nostalgic blog!

I knew this was in that garage somewhere. "Smith & Corona" after 1924 (when Smith and Corona merged).

The 5 top row keys perform tab functions; they do not type characters. Numerical keys share the same characters as their counterparts in the 1950-ish machines.

Here, the ? shares the apostrophe key, and above the forward slash, you get a three-fourths fraction character! Wow. Still no plus sign.

Pictures 2 & 3:

Both the Underwood and the Smith Corona date from -- sheesh, am I supposed to know? Late 40's, early 50's? And their keyboards are almost identical. One exception: back space key on the Underwood, right-pointing arrow (Indent? But why have both that and a tab key?) on the S-C.

But both have %, both have (what was that secret formula again?? Never mind) cents characters, and neither has a + . Possibly, one could create a + by using a dash superimposed on an apostrophe?

And that quotation mark (above the 2) must mean that these were high end models, because I remember my mother's typewriter in the 1960's, which required the use of two apostrophes instead.

Guess those fraction characters were important.

(The tag dates from our yard sale in 1999. Everyone who looked at these got my sales-pitch: "You'll be needing that Y2K word processor! Haha!" And every one of them said "Haha!" and then, obviously, didn't buy one.)

This last picture comes from the Sears 1969 catalog, and didn't scan too well, but the basics are that it had a treasure trove of keys! %, fractions, and a + key as well. The cents character might be above the 7. Unless that's some other character I haven't thought of. It's as unreadable in the real-life catalog as it is in the scan.

(Passers-by can find the origin of this discussion in the comments for this nellieblogs entry.)

Isn't she a little beauty!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Til the clouds roll by

FEBRUARY 20, 2008

They said that it would be so overcast that we probably wouldn't get to see it at all, so I was happy to get a few shots before the cloud cover obliterated it.

This was about 8:45 PM Eastern.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cat Geometry 102

After you've mastered Cat Geometry 101 as demonstrated by Fonzie over on Sherwords,

observe Downyflake demonstrating Cat Geometry 102, "Fitting a larger object into a smaller space."

Some days are like that.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Home improvement continues

These shelves come from the store that we had, but closed, a few years ago. Now that we've cleared that nice big space, we can actually use them to organize the business inventory. When somebody buys something, we're now able to, like, find it to send it to them! Hey, we're cutting edge here.

And this emptied out an upstairs bookcase -- which I now get to use! All for me!


Behold the chaos that used to be my reading area. Stacks everywhere, in a disorderly mass, from reference books, to current reading, to "No, we're not selling that, I want it," to "These just arrived and I haven't sorted them yet." Plus magazines, catalogs, CD's, and always a cat.


We moved my chair to the other side of the room and moved the disorderly mass onto shelves. By using the bookcase to partition the room, we solved another problem; now if I have insomnia, I can go out and read without my book light -- which can pretty much light up the whole house like an amusement park -- glaring into the bedroom.

Don't get me started on why the BLEEP they make these stupid book lights so blasted bright, when their whole point is to let one person read while the other's darkness is undisturbed!!?! Just don't get me started.....

Thursday, February 14, 2008

You don't know what we go through

Love 'em or hate 'em, any bookseller who doesn't deal in romances is making a mistake. Romance readers are steady, voracious consumers.

Unfortunately, to sell these books you have to --bleah-- spend time at least skimming them, because readers are very picky about content.

These days there are websites for it, but back in my librarian days we attended seminars about why people read the fiction they read. In normal libraries (ours was not terribly normal) there was a high demand for what the profession calls "readers' advisory" in which, to give an example, somebody who loved Outlander comes in asking for more books like that. You, the Advisor, need to be able to zero in on what the reader means by "books like that": Was it the time travel plot device? the time period, the Scotland setting? Something more difficult to articulate?

Our library almost never got such questions, but the seminars were too much fun to miss. The guy who ran them was a true comedian. He used The Hunt for Red October as an example, and started by summarizing the plot: the Soviets want to conceal the fact that the commander of their high tech sub is trying to defect to the US. Jack Ryan, a mid-level CIA analyst, figures out that this is a defection, but Ryan has to fight his way through the thick-headed upper management and the Joint Chiefs of Staff trying to get somebody to listen, and then has to manage a touchy political situation while playing the cards just right, to keep the Soviets from destroying the prize before the US can gets its hands on it.

Here you have to picture our seminar leader assuming a posture and a voice like Jack Benny:

"Now," he said, feigning puzzlement, "why do you suppose that white, middle management males went crazy for this book?"

It was the delivery. You had to be there. The room cracked up.

The seminars naturally focused on the kind of reader response to fiction that librarians could actually help them satisfy. We're talking what's called "genre" fiction. Romance, mysteries, technothrillers, fantasy, sci fi, etc.

Most fiction genres (I'm not so sure about romance, but that may be my prejudice) can produce something innovative and mind-expanding. "Formulaic" is only a subset of "genre fiction." And some very intelligent readers use genre fiction to take much-needed mental R&R, so we learned long ago that we couldn't make assumptions about the readers. We did find that when people seek a semi-meditative, emotional auto-pilot type of reading experience, they're more inclined to ask for book suggestions than when they're looking for a mind-challenge.

Advising them meant getting enough information out of them to identify the attraction a book held, and that's not so easy when the attraction is on a more emotional and less cognitive level. Romance readers are very specific as to the plot and character components they like. Sometimes the time period or setting will get the customer a big enough stack of books to send her home happy, but often it's a more subtle factor. She might like poor-plucky-orphan-girl stories no matter the setting, or arranged-marriage-turns-into-true-love plots.

So a book is set in the American West? Not enough info! You need to identify the sub-genres. Does the woman tame the most powerful authority figure in town? Or is it an outlaw bad-boy she overwhelms with her charms? Hey, a reader who craves outlaws isn't going to be terribly interested in our schoolmarm thawing out the cold local sheriff.

Time travel romance is the hot "new" thing in a series of historical romance sub-genres that feed the urge to escape the bonds of "civilized" society : a way out of one's Dilbertian cubicle is supernatural transport to a wilder, more primitive era.

If the whole idea behind this level of pleasure-reading is to bypass conscious thought and go directly to Primal Urge Central, that explains why romances tend toward types in their elements and, whether they're sexually explicit or not, toward those things innocuously called traditional values.

For a seller, this means skimming some of the worst stuff on earth. An inconvenient husband is always an SOB but, even to someone we'd call an abuser in real modern life, marriage is sacred in these novels. So he must change radically into a tender appreciative mate, or die or, in one case, turn out to be gay. That book's POV made gay orientation a synonym for villainy. If you want sympathy for a character forced into a societal role that he can't fill, you won't get it in a bodice-ripper.

Categorizing romances: it's not a pretty job, but somebody has to do it!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Undisciplined writing

Back when I was the Town Librarian, that apparently credentialed me as being knowledgeable about books (nothing could be less true) so the features editor asked me to write book reviews for the local paper. It wasn't usually much fun. The paper understandably wanted a focus on books of local or southern interest, whether they interested me or not. But once in awhile somebody would write, oh, say, a lesbian comic novel with a South Carolina setting. Cackling softly, I'd put it on my list.

I still had to write in a demure professional manner. And it was very valuable experience. I challenged myself to tighten and polish my prose to a point that would force the editor to print every word I turned in. I succeeded only occasionally (OK, like, twice, all right?!), but I felt triumphant when I did, and learned a lot about fine tuning my work.

But I always wanted to indulge in the total lack of self-discipline that I've found blogging. In later entries, I might investigate this issue more.

This is a review I wrote in 1991. You can blow up the picture and read the review if you like, but it's a basic, conventional review, written for the sensibilities of a community so concerned about Good Taste that a group made a formal complaint about the spine labels on the library books; they were not precisely aligned so that you could gaze down a row and see an even white line.

(Click if you'd like to enlarge)

There are 3 things you can't do in a nice polite local paper feature. Well, probably more than 3, but I ran into 3 when I wrote this review.

1. You can't giggle like a 12-year-old over a dumb sex joke.
2. You can't digress at all, much less outrageously, and
3. you really shouldn't diss a classic too often. Choose your battles.

So because it's my blog and I'm no longer reigned in by an editor, here's what else I really wanted to say about The Revolution of Little Girls, by Blanche McCrary Boyd: This book had me literally sliding out of my chair with tears in my eyes, laughing.

Generally, it's a well-done fictional journey through reconnecting with buried memories of abuse. The funny passages that don't quite work are still not insensitive, just a little implausible, so the integrity of using humor in an abuse-memory plot remains intact. To take a comic approach to such a subject is risky and, remarkably, Boyd pulls it off and manages to be both moving and wickedly funny.

The episode that had me howling depicts the kids in the English class getting out of control, as the tension drains off following a confrontation between the teacher and another student. It all happens during a read-through of Our Town. So, OK, you'd maybe have to find Our Town as irritating as I do to find the passage so uproarious.

The novel's heroine, Ellen, forms a slightly obscene misinterpretation of a scene in Our Town. The scene in which Mrs. Gibbs bids her husband to come out to the garden and smell her heliotrope. Ellen collapses in hysterics. So did I.

Our Town is admittedly one skillful piece of work. You have to admire any writer who can take a view of both life and afterlife that makes Pet Sematary look warm and fuzzy, and snuggle it down into such a deceptively wholesome hometowny play that schools produce it on a regular basis. So when somebody like Boyd mocks it so well, I just kind of fall in love with her.

Anyway, I liked the book.