Kelly Murphy Mason,

Kelly Murphy Mason,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Dec. 23 1997 3:30 AM

Kelly Murphy Mason,

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Three Days Till Christmas:
       For breakfast yesterday I had five Rice Krispies treats and a cup of coffee; for lunch, two bags of low-fat pretzels, a Hershey's bar with almonds, and a Diet Pepsi, which I don't even like. Dinner was a slice of cheese pizza and another Diet Pepsi. I cannot recall the last vegetable I ate. Today, however, I will eat like someone with a future. Today I have one, because today is my day off.
       The sad part is how quickly it is parceled out, between trips to the bank and grocery store and post office and some last-minute shopping. I had visions of a long bath, which did not materialize. When I was teen-ager, I swore I'd never live for the weekend. Ah, youth. On the bus I ride to work there is an advertisement for Job Corps. "Life isn't fair," it reads. "Get over it. Get a job." As if nine out of 10 bus passengers hadn't figured that out already.
       I hardly see my boyfriend anymore. When I taught classes at the university, we had time for quick bites. Now he comes to the store during the lunch-hour rush and watches me work the register awhile. I've yet to see him there. I imagine him staying close to the best-seller tables, pretend browsing. Unable to interrupt, he leaves without saying hello. I cannot explain this measure of devotion. It's completely unearned.
       When I help a customer find a $100 reference book, I realize I've covered my keep for two days. Obviously, there are overhead and administrative costs, but I can't account for those. What Christmas does--more than anything else, in its current incarnation--is separate the haves from the have-nots. It's a rotten business, really, commodifying affection. I've never witnessed so many people buying remaindered books in my life.
       My designated section is children's books, and a number of grown-ups ask my gift-giving advice. They generally have a generic child in mind, a nephew or niece. They want to know what sort of book a 12-year-old would like. Clearly, it depends upon the 12-year-old. A 12-year-old could read anything, left to her own devices. When I explain that, customers think I'm being intentionally difficult. One requested recommendations for "a fourth-grader with a sense of humor." That's pretty good, as leads go. I suggested Betty MacDonald and Roald Dahl.
       "Dahl's weird," he replied.
       "That's all right," I assured him. "Kids like weird."
       It's striking how easily adults can regress. Occasionally the section resembles Romper Room on a bad day. Why are they all so helpless? I wonder. Why can't they return a single book or find Dr. Seuss when he stares them in the face? The children are far less needy. They're happy to just browse. Because they're impressionable, I try to keep the animation tie-ins tucked behind something more substantive. I don't want to contribute to the Disney hegemony any more than I have to. Madeline must be better for young minds than a Jessica Rabbit in ethnic dress. Mens sana in corpore sano and all that.

Kelly Murphy Mason is a free-lance writer and teacher in Washington, D.C. She is working as a bookseller for Borders during the holidays.