Friends of the Library Booksale

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” - Lemony Snicket Each May and October, a phenomenal transformation occurs. Over four weeks, a giant warehouse  filled to overflowing with more than 250,000 volumes of books, magazines, DVDs, puzzles, and games, is emptied by booklovers across Tompkins County and beyond. It's the Friends of the Library Booksale, one of my top three favorite things about Ithaca. I have attended and bought books at every sale (and numerous times throughout the sale) for at least ten years, though I skipped one or two during Covid.  It's an event that reinvigorates my hope for the world. Aisle after aisle of books of every genre you can think of, and many you can't, all donated with the sole purpose of passing on entertainment and education, as well as raising money for the TC Public Library. In this modern world of digital media, virtual reality, social technology (all of which have their costs and benefits) I remain astounded that I

As Good as it Gets

"This is as good as it gets," says the grocery store check out man. I had innocently asked him how he's doing today as he swipes my items one by one across the scanner. 

He smiles as he says it, but there's ironic glint in his eyes as well. In that brief second before I respond, the phrase lodges in my brain and I wondered what it actually means. There I am, another day in line at the grocery, wearing a mask, hoping to avoid the virus that has caused so much suffering over the past two years. Working too hard at my job, while taking care of my family, squeezing in entertainment, volunteer work, and a new side gig as best I can. Recovering from two weeks sick in bed with a throat abscess, which was awful enough on its own, but it forced Rob and me to cancel our first vacay together in 16 years. And most challenging of all, struggling to find a publisher for my memoir, querying for 18 months, with no leads and no luck. Watching other writers take leaps and bounds into success, while I wobble in my writing. If this is as good as it gets, then I definitely want a new measuring stick.

The grocery man grabs my attention back from my pity party. 

"Wanna hear a joke?" he asks, double checking the weight of my broccoli. I nod. "What's the difference between a buxom lobster and the NY Port Authority?"

"I have no clue."

"One's a busty crustacean. The other's a crusty bus station." Despite the mask, I can see his smile. 

I laugh out loud. I hadn't heard that one before and tell him I like it. 

He's at least 65 years old, thin grey hair on top, wearing all black. He glances past me, assessing the line of shoppers growing. Why is this elder working as a cashier? Does he want to be there? Does he need the paycheck in these unstable times? Why isn't he wearing a business suit and getting ready to retire from a high paying career he'd built for himself? Is this as good as it gets for him?

"You want this apple juice in a bag?" 

I shake my head no.

"Whaddya call a Frenchman wearing sandals?" 

"Don't know."

"Felipe flop," he says as he bags my cereal boxes.

I laugh again. "I'll have to remember that one, though I'm no good at jokes," I say. 

"We all have something we're good at, don't we." He says it as a statement, rather than a question. I wonder what this man's skill is. What is mine? 

"I suppose," I say. "But it's not always what you want to be good at, is it?"

"True. But we find our way, don't we?" He scans the last few items. "Why do they call seagulls seagulls?"

I've heard this one before but can't quite place it. "Because if they flew over the land, they'd be landgulls," I say. 

"Close," the man replies. "If they flew over the bay, they'd be baygulls." 

He tells me my total, much more than I'd intended to spend, and I slide my card into the machine. I thank him for the jokes and the service. As I walk away, I hear him greeting the next customer. I'm smiling. This elder grocery store man has taken one of the most mundane acts of modern daily life and turned it into a simple, happy moment. I had been fully present the entire time. Not thinking about my troubles, or the next errand on the list, or how I'm going to deal with my angst.

I've had moments much more thrilling, fun, and powerful, moments more sorrowful, painful, and boring than this one. Life doesn't give you the highs without the lows. But the grocery store man reminded me that somewhere in between the striving, the holding on, the falling in love, the hopelessness, and the success, there are other moments to sink into. Other moments equally worthwhile, equally good, if you pause to experience them.

This act, buying food for my family, is something I have the privilege and ability to do each week. It's mundane, but it doesn't have to be. And I'm pretty sure this is as good as it gets.