“The problem, Horatio,” as Shakespeare once wrote, “Is not so much in our stars as in our owls.” (It was one of his rough drafts; he rewrote it for the play.)
It is a clear manifestation of the power of the word. I had only to MENTION–just once, in passing, s a mere matter of jocularity–that someone had threatened me with a stuffed owl when somebody else drops off a stuffed owl. May I make it clear that we do not specifically solicit stuffed owls? I have nothing in particular against stuffed owls–they remind me of one of my favorite poems–but they seem to be bad for morale. When other Book Fair workers are setting up sets of World Book or cartons The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and I walk out carrying a stuffed owl, I hear grumbles.
It’s a plush owl. You pull a string in the back and it talks. I like it, and I think a customer will like it as well. But I get all manner of advice from experts who tell me straight out, “This is a Book Fair.”
“I guessed that when I saw the poster,” I reply.
“So why the owls? Why the records? Why the little crochet hula dancers? Why the posters?”
“Because people pay money for them,” says I.
“People pay for coffee, too, and you don’t sell that. Yo don’t even let customers bring it in.”
“Well, people won’t pay much for owls–or books either–once somebody’s spilled coffee on them.”
“People would pay money for doughnuts, which you can’t spill, and you don’t sell those.”
“You’ve never watched me eat a jelly doughnut, oh owl expert. And actually we did sell fresh baked cookies one year at the Very Merry Bazaar. And we had a popcorn wagon for a couple….”
“This isn’t Petticoat Junction, Uncle Joe: you’re not sidetracking me with bucolic anecdotes from the last century. You run a BOOK Fair: there’s no room for stuffed owls.”
It is at this point that I begin to mutter “Who stuffed that owl?” to myself, in private revenge on all the experts who want me to make more money by putting less out for sale. But you cannot rid yourself of constructive criticism so easily.
“Aren’t you one of the people who came ‘round just last week to ask me what I was going to sell when the Kindle and Nook and Noodle made books obsolete?”
“It’s a Book Fair,” comes the reply. But there is a note of doubt in it at last.
“I’m sure that somebody even now is coming up with an app where you pull a string to make a digital plush owl speak. And the selfie has taken the place once occupied in our culture by the postcard. But if the book is doomed, it may well be our reputation for selling stuffed owls and postcards and warthog tusks that will see us to our next thirtieth anniversary.”
I usually get a sniff in response. “It’s a Book Fair, not an owl fair.”
“Then quit ‘owling about it,” sez I, and they scamper away, leaving me to forge a few more Shakespeare documents. Those are just in case our owl sideline doesn’t work out.