Encounters in a Bookstore #600: Farewell Summer by Liz Mathews

At the bookstore where I work, the summer of 2012 has been the summer of farewells. Though it’s generally a happy thing when people move on from that place, these times around the goodbyes were more…apparent.

First there was Tim, who had not been with us long but decided that his lit agency internship-turned-job was going to be plenty to get by, part-time job be damned. Happily, Tim has no fear of meeting up with those of us still employed in selling of books. His new gig really isn’t so different, all things considered.

Then there was Emily, who had also been with us a short time, while simultaneously pursuing an MFA in writing. She left us for the Strand, where there are miles of books—I understand they’ve placed her in the basement. But she is like Tim, and still likes to have a good time, and even sometimes with us, regardless of our competing employers.

Next was Page, and at the near same time, T. Neither had a farewell party, and neither said much about how they were leaving—Page to another large bookstore of the same name but different location, and T to take care of a small child and hang out at playgrounds all day (not so creepy as it sounds). One manager lamented this double-loss, “But you two actually do work! You can’t both leave!” But they could. And did. Yet, for so many of us, working at that particular bookstore is a binding experience. A month will not go by without all meeting up at least twice.

Along with some regular employees (regular, but also extraordinary, of course), we also lost a manager to better opportunity. Howard is now traveling way up north in Manhattan, but will also always be one of us. If farewell parties are any indication of esteem and friendship, I think it’s appropriate to note that Howard’s lasted from 5pm on a Sunday to nearly 5am that Monday. It also included a green velvet Hulk cake. Kapow! Of goodbye.

Probably the most drawn out farewell was Bob. Bob. Bob in the basement, who kept his store phone on vibrate, and might or might not answer when a customer was on the line in search of a book. Bob, who would often comment in half-flattering, half-unnerving ways when I wore cowboy boots. Bob, who hosted a picnic for all the store employees every summer—the Bobnic, or Bobpalooza, or Bobfest, it was called. Bob, who was actually quite ill, and who we visited in the hospital across the street from the store. Bob, who I think very few of us were able to say goodbye to at the same time he was saying it to us. Bob, who passed away on July 17 of this year.

There were several other goodbyes this summer, this grouping is not all-inclusive. But these are the farewells that come back to the rest of us, and this was particularly apparent just last week, when we threw a Memorial Bobnic. Not only was it graced by current employees, and the ones who had just left us, but by so many of the people that have put in time in the store. We grilled burgers and drank beer from plastic cups and talked about the same old stories we all always talk about. And for those of us who might believe in a great hereafter, and/or in the power of memories, even Bob was right there with the rest of us.

Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.