Wednesday, February 1, 2012

About face

January has long been looked at as a time of renewal.  Since the days of Romulus the month itself has been named for the god Janus;
(from Wikipedia, that glorious melting pot of  fact and/or opinion...)
"As a god of motion he looks after passages, causes the startings of actions, presides on all beginnings and since movement and change are bivalent, he has a double nature, symbolised in his two headed image.  He has under his tutelage the stepping in and out of the door of homes."

Such was the case at Penguin Hall as well.  Boxes came and went, small piles emerged bearing the device "Save for Rummage Sale at the Lodge" and at the Hall the general perception was one of transition.  Mrs. Hall stood surveying the damage in her robot pajama pants, brooding as she sipped her favorite Nicaraguan coffee.  She longed to be done with it all, but temptation dogged her every step.

Disrupting and dislodging books from their cozy digs on the shelves was always a dangerous proposition, for it meant revealing lost treasures to daylight and Mrs. Hall's easily distracted mind.  For every shelf packed up, there were two piled next to Mrs. Hall's easy chair, with the well-intentioned promise to peruse them, just once more quickly, before consigning them to a box.  She picked up a large paperback, and even before that little voice in the back of her head could say, "No!  No, don't do it- put it down quick!" she had opened the first page and was lost.  A fog of reverie filled the family room and as she slid into her chair, time was sliding back to the 70s, when she worked for that great Chicago booksellers chain, Kroch's and Brentano's.  It was a time when the old green and white "L" trains rattled along the tracks over Wabash Avenue.  Mrs. Hall would watch a parade of literary luminaries pass through the doors of the flagship store at 29 S. Wabash and then make the rounds about town, including a pitstop on "The Cromie Circle"* and then (if they had time...) maybe, make a stop and sign books at Marshall Field's bookstore, on the third floor.
Within the family of employees of Kroch's, and there was a time when Mr. Kroch actually regarded them as family, there circulated a company newsletter, and as Mrs. Hall recalled, one of them described the trials of assembling so many of the authors together for such an autograph party.  She recalled how disgusted she was that she had to work that day and had to settle for a copy merely signed by seven of the twenty six contributors of "Done in a Day."
 Those were the days, she thought.  The days before discount leviathans bloodied the Magnificent Mile with the ruins of countless small personal bookstores, such as Stuart Brent and Kroch's.  K&B's held on bravely for a while; ads featuring Studs Terkel recommending the virtues of personal service over savings popped up in the press, ("Look honey, let's shop for books where Studs does!") but it was widely regarded as a death rattle, and the inevitable soon came to pass.  

Mrs. Hall sighed and closed the book with a smile.  Looking up, she realized the sky was darkening and several hours had passed.  It's a good thing we started this early, she admitted reluctantly.  As she picked up her cup and resigned herself to making plans for dinner, another cover caught her eye.  "Ooh, maybe I'll find something good to eat in here!"

*For a brief time, when Mrs. Hall worked at the store in the old Randhurst Shopping Mall in Mt. Prospect, she was friends with Rick Cromie, who happened to be the manager there.  His father was Bob Cromie, of "The Cromie Circle", and a wonderful eulogy to Bob and his devotion to the Chicago literary scene can be found here.

No comments:

Tell your friends!