The two ladies on the left side of the table appeared hollow or rather bored to the point of emptiness. If you drilled a hole in their forehead and sent a stiff breeze through the cavity, cobwebs and dust bunnies would explode from their ears like party favors. The eyes betrayed them. Not their voices, full of professionalism and interest, gleefully reading their typed questionnaires. Or their fingers, quickly taking note of my responses enthusiastically given or my aphorisms, recited with honesty and respect for my past students. Continue reading
In these times of financial difficulties (i.e. “Hey! Where’d all my money go?”), lifestyle changes are expected. Many of my cousins upon graduating high school have shied away from out-of-state education, investing in used cars, gas stations and morning commutes from home; others have ignored the traditional college altogether, seeking apprenticeships in trade schools, community colleges, or donning their suits or aprons in the work force. In the Murphey house, with several of the siblings already in college, expenses have been tight: fewer meals outside the house, more carpooling, and no unauthorized visits to the bookstore . . . unless somehow linked to another far-more-necessary errand such as picking up the kids from practice or restocking our dwindling supply of breath mints. You know . . . essential stuff.
Yet even my weekly rations of manga and short-story anthologies must be curbed. Barnes and Nobel employees find me staring longingly at the latest Bestsellers like a twelve-year old at a pet store. No one seems to mind me petting the spines, but when I start chatting up the authors many of whom have been dead for centuries, someone typically comes and asks me to leave. This never halts my conversations but out in the parking lot, people seem to mind less.
As with most problems, money is the issue. Therefore, in order to satisfy my bibliomania I’ve curtailed other less-necessary addictions like eating (half-portions), gaming (goodbye WoW), and education (graduated . . . finally). One final expense remains: raspberry iced tea.
No force on earth, save its total destruction (thus rendering this whole argument moot), can sate my hourly need for half-way decent tea. Other men have their Starbucks and Bud Light; I have my Lipton. I cannot change this. What I can do is try to cut down on the cost of my caffeine, thus saving capital for more pressing addictions: books and comics.
Thus I put my college math to work for me. Borders like many cafés offers refills on a few of their beverages for a discounted price (50 cents or so, not including tax). Therefore my $2.40 iced tea with a refill actually decreases to about a buck and half. As the number of refills gradually increases – assuming of course the serendipitous occasion of finding myself at the bookstore all day – the average cost per cup will decrease to about fifty cents. My costly obsession with caffeinated beverages might actually provide a useful everyday application to my high school calculus and save me money in the process. A rare treat indeed!
After all, apart from simple arithmetic and remembering how to spell ‘cat,’ how often can we honestly admit using those high school factoids oh so necessary for our mid-terms and pre-lunch pop quizzes? Without the aid of Wikipedia, the name of the 30th president, conversion of meters to inches, and forty or so state capitals are long forgotten, buried under years of academic trivia, for use only during reruns of Jeopardy or boring parties. Thus, it’s a real pleasure when I can apply these archaic mental-nuggets for use in my daily life.
Back to the calculus. Stopping at a red light I formulated the following equation:
(2.40 + x(.50)) / (1+x) x = being the # of refills consumed
Naturally the more I drink, the less spent per cup, offering more capital to invest in novels, Japanese comics, and the like.
Last Tuesday gave me the chance to test my theory. The boys’ graduation practice ran a little longer and so I found myself with another hour at Borders to snoop through the shelves and tempt myself to some new fiction. I managed to refill my cup three times, and as you can see from the graph, decreased the cost of my drink to nearly a buck. With each delicious sip, I managed to steal the wealth of corporate America through some legal loophole. I felt empowered, heroic like that weary young man, who upon returning from war and torture abroad built his keep among the trees, thieving spoils from the wealthy and distributing it to the destitute. The Robin Hood of book buyers.
Yet all great ideas have their flaws. Mine revealed itself half-way through my third cup while gazing at a polar bear peeking from the cover of a travel anthology. My body twitched. My breathing faltered. I tried desperately not to think of flowing water, but row after row displayed rushing rapids, majestic waterfalls, and winding Amazonian rivers. Instinctively my feet rushed me to the bathroom until my brain kicked in, reminding me of my half-filled cup, my sole source for more tea and economic superiority.
Alone without a Wingman, my options were limited. Cutting my losses did not seem feasible; I had at least two more cups of tea left in me and another half-hour before I needed to don my chauffeur’s cap again. Carrying the cup inside the restroom likewise proved unsavory. Most bathrooms – public or otherwise – possess an unsanitary aura, a gastronomic No Man’s Land, at least for items which you might like to stick into your mouth minutes afterwards. Crossing the lavatory threshold drink in hand to me is akin to washing the cup with toilet water.
Few other choices remained. Relinquishing my plastic chalice on the small table set aside for unpaid merchandise, I went about my business quickly, aware that some conscientious employee might toss my cup. Or worse, defilement. Literary souls inevitably breed oddity; it’s what makes us so interesting . . . and dangerous. Immediately I checked the remaining dredges of iced tea for tampering: any unnoticed fingerprint marks, lipstick, or powdery residue – I imagine passing out among the audiobooks only to wake hours later in tub of ice with only one kidney. Finding no traces, I returned to my browsing and another refill.
An hour and a half later, my cup full once again with tea, three books in hand, I strode to the counter for check out, confident that I had saved myself ten dollars at least of valuable income. In celebration I added another ten-dollar manga volume to my arm.
Arriving at the counter, I smiled at the cashier, dropping my pile before her, half-wondering if she would be interested in the results of my little science project.
“Hey Miss, did you know that I reduced the cost of six iced teas to nearly fifty-cents per glass. Whatcha think about that?” Her eyes glisten. Her cheeks blush. Her hands grab hold of my shirt. As our bodies disappear beneath the counter, the remaining customers shout in unison, “Get a room!”
I set the books too close to the sub-counter magnet, which triggered several loud beeps somewhere near the register; the cashier stepped on something near the floor silencing the alarm. Several armed guards and German shepherds shuffle away, disappointed. Meanwhile she stared at my pile and counted.
“You know,” she said, “if you pick up one more book you can get one of these free.”
“Buy four get the fifth free,” she said pointing to the various cardboard signs stapled to the shelves around the store.
I affected some surprise at this, having spent nearly two hours at the bookstore without noticing the words ‘free’ and ‘books’ together. Then with a quick look at the clock, I took off again towards the children’s lit. Ten minutes. If I grab another eight dollar book (the price of my less-expensive purchase), I’ll have essentially just robbed the store. When people think of me, the word ‘badass’ rarely comes to mind. Nonetheless, I felt like buying a belt-chain and not recycling my old Snapple bottles. That’s right, tossing ‘em in with the plastic bags and used iTunes gift cards. Hardcore . . . Desperate times, they can bring out the worst in all of us.