Friday, November 5, 2010

University Bookstore: An Odd Home by Julie Arndt

I come here every day, except for Fridays, and it's always the same. I walk in the store and the greeter, though she has seen me at least a thousand times by now, still says her usual "Welcome to the Bookstore" to me as if I am a stranger. By now I ignore this and just smile as I stroll past her. I walk through the crowds, past the Supplies and Clothing departments, through General Books, and go to the back hallway so I can clock in for another day of work at the University Bookstore. I have worked there for the entirety of my college career, and as I like money and need it to survive my college years, I just happen to be at work more than I am at home. In fact, the Bookstore has become a second home to me over the years as I have gotten to know the workings of the store and the people that work with me.

The University Bookstore, to many people on campus, can be seen as a space, somewhere to buy textbooks, a game day tee shirt, and even the occasional Clinique product or Vera Bradley bag. To me however, the University Bookstore is a place, an institution that I am attached to; a place where I get to see my friends and hang out, and on occasion, work.

After clocking in for the day, I walk to the clothing computer desk, write down the approximate time that I arrived, and start running around the store trying to get the impossible list of "things to do" accomplished, as there is always some project to complete. The Bookstore and all its happenings have become so familiar to me that it is comforting on some level. Every day is almost always the same. I either fold or hang clothing items, talk to co-workers, and fill and straighten (the clothing motto) the floor so it can look so beautiful that the customers are so inclined to pick up the perfectly folded items and throw them into a pile on the table. At least I have job security. These activities have come to be as common as washing the dishes or taking the garbage out that I do not have to even think about what I am doing anymore. I find that it is nice to be able to do my work and still be able to daydream and converse with others without worry of doing my task wrong. It is also surprisingly soothing to be able to go through the motions of folding, as it leaves the mind open to wonder at the larger aspects of life, such as the reasonings for the necessity of having a dog house shaped like a football helmet or a shirt that has so much glitter on it that even touching it leaves a trail of pixie dust. These motions allow me to get away from the pressures of the college world for awhile. While I am there, I only allow myself to worry about why the shipment of sweatshirts has not come yet, and all the drama that occurs between the employees, which can be quite entertaining at times.

The Bookstore has become my second home. I even have chores that I must do everyday, like going through the returns, checking voicemail, and other tedious tasks that need to be done throughout the day. Though these are not the usual chores that parent's make their children perform, they nonetheless bring a homey feeling to the workplace. My bosses bring in an aspect of home as well. They are all generous and kind, but stern when they have to be. They have become friends to me, but not ones that I can share every detail of my life with. They are more of the parent type within this place. They are there when you need them with sympathetic words and ideas to assist the overwhelming problems in life as parents do. Still, there is a dividing line between the boss and the employee that cannot be breached, which can be seen within the parent-child relationship. They are the foundation of this abnormal home.

Imagine walking into your first day of work, excited at the new surroundings yet nervous of the unknown, and finding the employees dancing around and singing Disney songs. Believe it or not, this is a usual scene in the Clothing Department (though it is not always Disney songs). It is the people of the Bookstore that add a special character to the place. All of them are weird in their own way and that is what makes them so special. Little did I know, I became one of those crazy people. Due to the lack of intellectual stimulation in my line of work, my fellow employees and I cannot help ourselves to some much needed silliness. Having a full class load, working on a Black and Gold Fridays and games days when thousands of people believe that they need that gold teee shirt for the game, and having the pleasure of hearing the same Marching Mizzou c.d. all the way through at least six times in a day can lead to a little stress and annoyance. Sometimes the only way to get all that frustration and stress out is to go a little crazy and just dance it out.

Bachelard states in his writings that "the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace," and this is exactly what the Bookstore does for me (6). I can express my daydreams and my general wonderings to any co-worker without fear of humiliation and they are able to share the same with me. It allows us to be ourselves, which is all one can ask. My co-workers have become my second family. We share our sadness, our frustrations, and triumphs. Over the years they have become my best friends and I am not scared to be myself around them. The Bookstore is a shelter and home which brings us all closer.

The University Bookstore, to many students on campus, is just a space full of comings and goings, nothing to really think about. To me, however, this store is the place where I spend my days. I has taught me that a home can be anywhere that I want it to be. My co-workers have become a family throughout the years, and the store has become the walls that house this family and keep it together. After I leave the University Bookstore when I graduate, it will no longer be the same bookstore as when I left it. The people will change, the atmosphere will change, but the mindless tasks and shell of the store will still be there, though it will just be a commercial space to me then, as my family will have become grown-ups with careers. As Bachelard states in his Poetics of Space, "we are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost" (6). I find this to be true as I think up on the day that I will leave the Bookstore seeking greener pastures, for when I look back on the store and all the memories that I have and will have of it, it will be a place that has made me into a better person (or crazier depending on how you look at it), a place that was a home away from home for many years, and I will think fondly upon the store which caused some stress and frustrations, as a place that holds only good memories.

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