Wednesday, May 10, 2006

View From the Table

I am an outlier amongst my own gender.

A bookstore-aholic, I often find solace in the bookstores amongst the book and magazine racks and the cafes. Once inside, like a lion scoping its prey, my focus is automatic and efficient, stratigically directed to those areas of the store that give me instant gratification. Gods forbid anyone who is in my way.

I head first to the science magazine section and peruse my favored magazines, New Scientist, SEED and American Scientist. Scanning the covers, one or two seem to magically appear in one hand before I move on. The first two are unquestionably worth perusing, even though I subscribe to the first. Odd that; the current issue adorns the store racks sometimes days before mine arrives in my departmental mail box.

Next, on to the motorcycle magazines. This is a hunting activity for they are rarely grouped by category of bikes or riding. Considering the variety of publication releases, from monthly, bimonthly to quarterly, finding good reading material has become a game of hide-and-seek and "What's on the stand today?" or "Where the hell is it now?". This time, I chose a British bike rag on the advice of a fellow adventure rider:

"If you really want to learn about the bike world, read the European rags. Bikes and riding are a way of life there. Here, bikes are recreation and show."

He's right. The real 'meat' of riding motorcycles is in Europe and Asia. Bikes and scooters are often the sole transportation of many people there. Riding for sport and pleasure is a close second. It's a very different perspective and grasp of being mobile there. It makes me wish I could live and move amongst them.

After plucking one, two motocycle magazines, I turn on my heel and head out of the magazine racks, glancing at the woodworking and homebuilding rags. Ah, the latest issue of Fine Homebuilding. Instantly plucking that issue, I round the corner and head into the cafe. Nodding a "Hello" at the clerk behind the counter and finding a table near the windows, I stack the magazines in the order of interest for the evening: homebuilding at the bottom, two science rags, a Texas riding issue, and the British bike rag on top. After spending an entire day entrenched in science, including reading papers on the train home, I crave a brief respite.

Returning to my table with a sandwich and a tall ice tea, I eat slowly and look around me. Two tables are occupied by women: two girls of college freshman age at one, two middle-aged women at the other. The two younger girls are chit chatting, leafing through celebrity rags with pictures of glamor men and women adorning the slick colored pages. They appear to be critiquing them judging from their fingers pointing at the figures on pages. I reminds me of the plastic paper people with stick-on and take-off clothes that kids play with.

The two older women are reading Cosmos, Home Journal and Good Housekeeping. Pages filled with "How to lose that fat butt in 6 days" or "How to keep the sex alive in your marriage", interspersed with magical decorations for home, husband and family. Here, cut this out and hang it on your wall and your life will be fulfilled and happy. All this interspersed with an hour-long discussion on what color to paint the dining room, who to hire to mow the lawn, and "Oh, by the way, did you hear about Isabel......"

I can't help but notice that I'm shaking my head, not understanding how such things can captivate their attention and time and grateful that my life is empty of similar occupations that could be better utilized contemplating Stephen Hawking's recent proclamation of multi-universes and reality existing in the eye's of the beholder. Or the many roads I want to travel on my bike.

I look down at my own table and I see magazines that reflect a very different pool of interest and past time than these other women. And I wonder how I ended up so different from others of my own gender. Yet quite satisfied with who I am.

In the line to pay, an older black man behind me strikes up a conversation:

"You know, in a moment, this moment will be gone. Forever gone."

After a moment's thought, I reply "Yes, but then there will be a new moment to replace the one that is gone."

[nodding] "Mmhmm.... That is right. And then another moment will replace that one, too."

"Yes, and then another and another. And all those moments replaced will be memories."

"Yessah, and some of those memories may stay, some may be lost. "

"Very true.
And new ones will appear to replace those lost."

"Mmmhmm. Now I wonder if you will remember this conversation after several moments."

Smiling broadly, I reply, "Yes, sir. I will remember this conversation in several moments and for many more after that. And remember this: 'No matter where you go, there you are'."

"Hmm... yes, I like that. Well, young lady, you have
yourself a good evening. Yes, I like that...."

Now where else can you go and talk metaphysics to strangers but in a bookstore?


  1. I share your level of interest in the lives of celebrities. Apparently there are two female celebrities, "Heather" and some other whose name I forget, scrapping over some famous guy. I think there is a marriage involved at some point. But these people are plastered all over the covers of People, Us, The National Enquirer, and their ilk. I have no idea why. Who cares? Are the lives of these strangers a distraction from the mag readers' even more tawdry and pathetic lives? Is it an exploitation of the feminine tendancy to nurture and form societies? Whatever the phenomenon is, it is certainly commercial.

    Although this level of interest in the triviial seems to be very common in females, I don't think it's an unavoidable part of femininity. Nor do I think that the interests indicated by your magazine choices are mutually exclusive with femininity. One can own a motorcycle and a dress.

    I had quite a little discussion of the subject all typed up, but the subject is rife with toe-stomping peril, so I'll leave it at that.

    It's interesting how we can have discussions with perfect strangers that are nevertheless memorable. Maybe they were memorable because with a stranger, you could just go where the flow took you, with no history or preconceptions and with no consequences. Maybe they were memorable because you were surprised at the treasure that just popped up out of nowhere. Or both.

  2. Not at all. I have such conversations with strangers all the time, at least here in Texas. Compared to many other areas of the country, people are more friendly here, willing to talk about various subjects, and to complete strangers. I had an interesting discussion on relativity and physics with a clerk at a Barne's & Noble's cafe once.

    Regarding celebrity fixation in this country, I have a hypothesis. Many countries have their queens, kings, prime ministers, royal families, etc. They are the object of attention by the people and often set status quo standards as well as political matters. Here, our 'royal family' is Hollywood. If you compare the status quo patterns of the UK and the US, you may see the similarities. I am not sure why societies tend to have this need for such 'leaders', but the pattern is fairly consistant. Perhaps it is the 'sheep' mentality.

    As far as my own gender identity, I don't conform to the standard boxes and cross the boundaries all over. I'm just as comfortable in a nice dress as I am jeans, toolbelt, boots or on a motorcycle. I am who I am. (sung to the tune of Popeye)

  3. "I yam wot I yam!"

    I actually bugged my mom to serve spinach because of Popeye. I like spinach to this day, though I can't squeeze it out of the can like he did, and have no idea how to keep a can tucked under my shirt. I iike how he mutters to himself.

    I think it's cool that you respect no standard boxes. Freedom! Be whatever shape of peg you want to be, and who cares what shape the holes are.

    You speak of a trait that my mother has, I have, and my sons have. Maybe it's a meme. But we will strike up conversations with anybody we come across. In a little kid, that's an incredibly charming thing. (But my 11-year-old is a charmer, anyway). It based on the tacit assumption that everybody is friendly. It's almost always true, or we are fortunate that any exceptions are polite enough to fake it. It can be interesting and rewarding. I had a cool discussion of physics with a waitress once, prompted by her technique of getting ketchup out of a bottle.