My husband and I are standing in line at Blockbuster in a city very far from where the bookstore is located (yes, we do occasionally support chains when it’s necessary, as in this case, where we just had to watch a film we couldn’t find anywhere else, )* when an elderly woman approaches me from behind, carrying a tattered copy of Joyce Tenneson: A Life in Photography 1968-2008 (sold at Blockbuster for $9.99, I might add. Explain that to me.) She stops only a few inches behind me, extends the book to me and says, to me, “You should carry this.”
Slightly put off by the “should” in the sentence, I nonetheless take the book, assuming it’s too heavy for her and she needs me to carry it while in line, which, of course, I’m happy to do. I smile, take the book, say something really eloquent, like, “Sure,” and continue standing there without another word. My husband pokes me in the arm because, well, because she’s looking at me funny. Frustrated, actually.
She figures out I’m confused. “I mean you should get it for the bookstore!”
I had never before spoken to or seen this woman, who, it turns out, is a regular customer at Portrait and has spotted me on several occasions without my noticing. With no greeting and no introduction, standing in a place which is pretty close to the exact polar opposite of our store in every way, she expected me to just know what she meant and was herself confused when she found I did not. We laughed. It seemed funny at the time.
But I keep replaying the scene in my head. Was it just a passing, odd event or something more complex as well? She clearly wasn’t trying to be provocative or obtuse in any way. She came up to me as if we were at the bookstore, I in my official capacity as book alphabetizer, she in hers as browser. She had seen me a handful of times, running in and out of the store, so that I suspect to her my entire existence — what I look, sound, move like — were inextricably linked with the bookstore. Seeing me subconsciously erased her real environment, momentarily sending her to the only environment I could possibly be found in, the bookstore.
I wonder how many other things, which we aren’t awake to, our perception distorts in so substantial a way. One example for me is that a great many things I read about in novels end up in my memory bank, impostors parading around pretending to be my own memories. I’m able to recognize these after some analysis, but that isn’t always the case. What are some of the ways your mind makes you want to buy it a leash?
*The film was “Bronson” and it was exceptionally good.
Posted by Aida
Tenneson’s collection is actually a book we’ve carried and really love. Here are a few other coffee table books currently awaiting your coffee tables at Portrait:
Click on book covers for more information.