Let’s call this Part 2 of my Bookstore adventure. Good ethnographic fieldnotes can be converted from a few jottings to thousands of words. Here are two scenes that I managed to pull out of a handful of note pages.
The first begins the way most events on a college campus begin, with a quiet moment broken by a loud and enthusiastic, “Yo! Dude!”
If you recall from my last post, I was nestled into comfy armchair, observing studying students on the second floor of the University bookstore. While not technically a library, that area of the store still had a weighted air that demanded all beings whisper and shuffle, lest they incur the wrath of the studiers. Absorbed as I was in a recent embarrassing encounter with a budding theoretical physics student, I failed to register the arrival of other patrons.
The upper level of the store was really an upper loft, with the center cut out to reveal the floor below. Iron and wood railings ringed the edge, and the study tables were pushed up against them. From a table seat, you could look out over the drop. My chair faced the railings, but was set back closer to the book stacks. From my sightline, I could see the pair of escalators that were the only way to come and go from the second floor. The Up escalator was just to my right, letting off beside the table where Gray Shirt studied. The shout had come from someone coming up, but at that angle I couldn’t yet see them.
“Dude!” An answering call came from farther right, on another side of the loft square, where school and art supplies were shelved. My first impression of this speaker, a young male, was tan. Not in skin tone, but in clothing. His hat was tan. His jacket was a matching tan. His shoes, pants, and even backpack all closely matched shades of the same. It was kind of impressive, actually, that he had gone through so much trouble. It would have been fantastic desert camouflage. I had the notion that if he lay on the brown carpet, he would go unnoticed by most. Dark hair stuck out from his cap, and his pale face was rounded by extra weight.
With a flourish, he pointed a finger at his still-unseen “dude,” a wide grin splitting his face. That’s when the hat appeared. It was like a chick-flick moment, where the girl gets her first up-close glimpse at the male lead she’d be chasing for the rest of the film. Bit by bit, the “dude” was revealed, as the escalator slowly raised him to floor level. As I said, first came the hat.
Orange. Orange was my first thought, and I realized my observations had diminished to a pre-school level. But, wow, was that hat glowing. Short cropped black hair could be seen where the flat-brim trendy headpiece ended. A young, African-American male smiled beneath it, face smooth and eyes bright. He turned his head to keep Tan in sight, and Tan took to walking closer. As Orange Hat rose, more of him was revealed. A dark brown jacket, covered in zippers. A red-orange shirt. An apple-red backpack. His lower half appeared, clothed in the brightest red color-dyed jeans I’d ever seen, and my roommate’s a hipster.
Nothing compared to the socks, though.
“Man, what you doing here?” Tan asked.
“Hey, hey! Supplies….”
They’re voices were distant as I openly, unabashedly stared at the socks. Calf-high, they matched the bright red of the jeans, but what shocked were the orange and yellow palm-trees that decorated his ankles. The colors were neon, and seemed to flash under the yellowing overhead lights. The socks ended in cherry-red slip on shoes, that looked like a knock-off version of Toms.
Tan and Red-Orange gave each other the slap-back man hug, and wandered deeper into the supply isles. Several more “Man’s” and “Dude’s” rang out before they took their leave. Their outfits descended as shockingly as they had come, but slowly becoming “normal” as less and less was seen. It goes to show that all cultures can find a place in a bookstore.
Have you ever waited in an airport, in those chairs just outside the gate? There’s a certain look about the people there. Expectant, nervous, bored, everyone ready to spring up and hustle on the plane at a moments notice. That was the man who sat in the armchair pair beside mine.
Mostly, it was the rolling luggage that aided the impression, but it was also his energy. Middle-aged, with a beer gut stretching out a button-up, and a pair of ill-fitted kakis that bunched, the man was either a professor or extremely lost. Dark rimmed glasses perched on a broad nose, the kind of glasses that have a string around them so they can hang on your neck. If he did wear the glasses necklace, I imagined they bounced against the prominent pocket protector. Two pens were clipped to it. The shirt itself was red and white pinstriped.
While I critically assessed his outfit, the man’s focus was on his E-Reader. I couldn’t be sure of which one, specifically, but it looked like a Kindle. The tablet was set on his leg, one hand holding it at an angle. The other leg was in constant motion, bouncing up and down, shaking, fidgeting, until I wanted to jump up and shout, “Stop twitching and move!” I refrained, and found myself wondering just what this guy was waiting for.
It was too late for classes, the latest ones mid-session. If he were a professor, he probably should have been heading home instead of loitering in a bookstore, flipping through an e-book. That was something he could do at home. His movements made him seem nervous or impatient, but his expression was serene. His lined features had the slack look of someone absorbed in reading, not tight and unfocused like I had expected.
Then there was the luggage. I’d seen a few professors, mostly women, dragging them around. Classes require lots of storage space for papers, assignments, and all manner of supplies, but this was much bigger than normal for such a use. An average eight year old could have fit in that suitcase.
What he was waiting for was, apparently, 7:30 p.m.
Suitcase man rose, along with several studiers, clicked off the e-reader, dropped the glasses around his neck (they totally clicked against his pocket) and jauntily rolled his way to the escalator. He took no books. He didn’t stop at the registers. With a polite, “Night!” to one of the employees, the man rolled out into the dark.