The Bookseller

February 4, 2010
By , Bradford, PA
It’s strange when other people start to recognize your face. I go to the Post office sometimes in the old, dusty town where I live. There can hardly be a thousand people living here, but the Post Office is always full of people. People mailing not just letters, but packages, packages that need to be expressed, shipped overnight, hurry, hurry, this one’s an emergency. I wonder what all these people from an old dusty town have to mail in a time when people have no money, no things. Denzel Washington even called it “the real America”. I feel that the clock is ticking in this place, packed with the desperation of people trying to drop off pieces of themselves, wrapped up in the mad rush to leave, to go elsewhere.

I myself am in a hurry; I make a b-line through the people and packages so that I can get to the flat boxes and package the book I am sending to a customer I don’t know. I ram into a dusty-feeling jacket covering the protruding belly of a man who was trying to get out of the way. “Sorry,” I say, a little carelessly, ambivalent about whether I am sorry for the man or for his protruding belly. When I get in line, there are only a few people left. Both clerks finish with their customers at the same time, but a funny-looking clerk with a dark gray ponytail and bristly, wrinkled face beckons me over rather earnestly.

I walk over and hand him my package. He makes a joke that I don’t understand. I’m not really in the mood for joking, and I don’t hear him anyway. He drops the attempt but seems to be here both to mail my package and to get a reaction out of me. “Bookseller417?” he reads from the package questioningly. “It’s my name,” I explain, “online”, clarifying myself in case he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t actually know my name: it isn’t on the package. At that moment I feel uncomfortable, thinking that this strange, hastily bestowed name belonging to some disappearing cyber world domain had crossed over into this primitive, real existence. It had become my introduction to a human being whose face I could see and who could see mine. In the act of touching a few keys, I had christened myself, with certain permanence that I didn’t yet understand even as I spoke it aloud.

“See you next time,” he says, and I am chilled by his words. He’d seen me many times before, but he had never said that. I feel that I have made an acquaintance with a stolen identity. The clerk across the counter just winks at me like he had gotten my number anyways. But he is right: I would be here again. Or more correctly, bookseller417 would be here again.

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