Two for the Show

Well, yes, actually, if you’d like to know, I am enjoying my little bit of celebrity. For those of you who have not been getting up early enough in the morning, a 30-second commercial for the Book Fair is running on the Channel 7 morning news. It’s an excerpt from a longer film available on YouTube, but these thirty seconds include one customer’s take on the event, and then a few seconds of the manager himself. Three people so far have mentioned spotting me on the tube, and I have sort of blushed, and shuffled my feet, and murmured something like, “What the heck is someone as old as you doing awake at that hour?”

Some people handle fame better than others.

The big show, however, is the one that starts a week from tomorrow, and we are just now getting the props in place and blocking out the scenes of action. It may never look like it, but a lot of thought has gone into making enough room for people to stand, squat, or crawl around the displays to look at our beautiful, beautiful wares. We have tried to angle it so you go no more than 22 feet without a place to change aisles, and we work hard to eliminate dead end aisles. (We can’t eliminate all of them: Mr. Cobb was not thinking of the Book Fair when he designed the building back in the 1890s.)

Similarly, we work on getting enough light in so customers can read the spines of the books. This is another thing we can’t get right every time, because the sun won’t always cooperate. We have nothing against cloudy weather—anything to keep the heat index below 120—but when the sun isn’t shining into Room 6, there are invariably dead spots. Some people do bring pocket flashlights, and one man wore a sort of plastic miner’s helmet with a light on the front. There’s a joker in every crowd.

There is a wheelchair entrance on the north side of the building (that’s the back: you come in through the glass doors) and we also try to keep the aisles wide enough for wheelchair access. The great test of aisle width came a couple of years ago when a man collapsed in the Paperback Literature section. (I stress that it was Paperback Literature so you don’t come back with “Aha! Saw the prices, right?” I know you too well, limpet crumpet.)

An ambulance was called, and orange cones were placed around his body until the paramedics could arrive. This is because, to the everlasting amazement of our security and facilities staff, customers were stepping over the unconscious man to look at the books. Didn’t surprise me. As I say, I know you too well.

I started to shift a few boxes, but I stopped. Either the ambulance people could wheel their gurney up the aisle or they couldn’t. As it turned out, they could: the aisles were just wide enough for them to hurry in, collect the unconscious booklover, and take him out to be resuscitated.

He spent the night in the hospital, but he recovered. Some people were amazed that the first thing he did was call the Newberry to ask what had happened to the books he’d picked out when he collapsed. I wasn’t amazed. I know. I know.

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