Fill In the Blanks | Newberry

Fill In the Blanks

In our last thrilling episode we dealt with a question no one ever bothered to ask me. I’d like to mention a philosophical question which has popped up from time to time, namely “Is there any feature of the Book Fair which is so infinitely unimportant that you won’t whine about it?”

First, I am grateful to these people because it is obvious that they read me regularly. Second, I would say to them, “Remember, Puff Pastry, if it weren’t for whining, there would be no newspaper columnists, no editorials, and no blues music.”

But on to the business of the day. I’m not WHINING or COMPLAINING or even VENTING today. I’m just making an OBSERVATION. There’s a difference. I was thinking about how this human race of which we are most of us a part varies from specimen to specimen and how, when you get down to the infinitely unimportant, it is interesting to note the variations. In short, I seek to draw large conclusions from tiny details.

Also known as “You guys sure make out receipts funny”.

Yes, in honor of the approaching Tax Day, let’s take a look at the folks who fill in receipts. The fun starts at the very top. The number of people who apologize to me because they have written their name ABOVE the line that says “Name” instead of below it is matched only by the number of people who expostulate on realizing they have written their name BELOW the line when they should have written it above. There are loads of things, Spinach Pie, that make me cuss you once you’re out of earshot, but this isn’t one of them. These are not computer-read forms; we can figure out by looking at it that your name is not 221B Baker Street, whether you wrote that on the second or third line.

Hey, and not that I have better things to do than watch you write a receipt, but you don’t really need to write “Chicago, IL” if you live there; we’ll take that for granted unless you write something else. Some people do leave this blank, while others write “Chgo”. I like it. It’s quick and it’s simple. I may make mental notes about those who abbreviate a seven-letter word with a four-letter one, but I like it anyhow. I also liked the man who had hurt his hand and asked me to fill out the receipt, and could not be happy with “Chicago 60610” on the last line. “Would you please write in Illinois?” he pleaded. I understood. He didn’t want to be mixed up with, say, someone in Chicago, California, which also uses the 60611 Zip Code.

Now, what’s really a joy is the Brief Description of Donation section. I glory in the light-hearted attitude of the people who write just “Books”. This is a receipt unassailable in court, should the IRS turn mean: no nasty details to be contradicted. At the other end of the spectrum, I see computer printouts running to fifty pages, listing title, author, subject, publisher, date, whether it’s a hardcover, whether it has a jacket, whether it is signed, the original purchase price, and observations on its place in the history of literature. I used to try to get the Bibliographers at the Newberry to make these works of art part of the collection, but they never did. I put it down to professional jealousy.

Between come the people who put down the number of hardcovers and the number of paperbacks (our recommended method), the people who put down a number of small books, medium books, and large books (not bad either), and people who split them up between old books and new books. And the people who divide things into books, journals, and videos. (No one gives us magazines; they always give us “journals”.) And the people who classify them by subject on the receipt. (What do they claim, do you suppose, for philosophy books as opposed to history books?) And let’s mention the people who leave that section blank. Maybe you’re going to fill in “Two Gutenberg Bibles, autographed” when you get home but remember, Tuna Casserole, our file copy will be blank.

And then there are the people who say “What shall I write?” I like these people. They show proper deference to my greater experience in these things and don’t go on about whining..

Of course, then there are the people who ask “What value should I write down for these?” That’s a Whole Nother Blog. 

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