The other people in the store are old. We're old. I tell my students that it will be fun, that it makes for a great date, that they can get coffee.
The massive center of the store is filled with the non-books, the electronic devices in their various incarnations, with all of the accessories and the carrybags that go with them. I have such a device, but not the one this store sells, and I don't even use that device. My students, who we all thought would abandon books in favor of these devices, didn't, but that didn't send them to the bookstore looking for more actual books. I did.
There are plenty of staff in the store, manning the large information stations, but not the checkout areas. We try to avoid them, but they call to us, seeking to find ways that they can help us to find what we're looking for, but like my students, we are looking for nothing.
My students must browse the stacks and find ten books they want to read. Some of them will pretend, and do it online. I don't have ten books that I want to read; the imminent death of the bookstore has made me shy away from them the way people try to avoid visiting the sick in the hospital.
All of America, it seems, is reading the same five or six books, Young Adult series and soft-core pornography and historical retellings by talk show hosts who continue to reveal their ignorance in nightly ways. I have read none of those books, but I know enough of them to see their various permutations and spin-off scattered throughout the store. There are entire aisles, entire areas of the sprawling stores that one wonders if anyone has been in all month.
Nothing is where it was the last time I was in the store. Well, some of it is, but not the sections where I decide to look because it is Christmas and a functional book still makes a nice gift. The novels have crept close to the coffee, the cookbooks have been banished over near the self-help. In the music section, with its pristine offerings of books and movies, two saleswomen talk to each other to pass the time.
The Internet became the bookstore, and then the Internet bookstore became a much large everything store. The real bookstore has become the library, there if we might need it, what we really want not there. The library has become the resource center, there when we rarely need it.
A mother and her teenage daughter cut through the store as the straightest path to their car. An older couple looks lost, and only looks older because we forget how old we are, both couples trying to capture an old habit. No one is hanging out.
At the checkout, the young woman tries again to get me to buy the store card that my wife failed to buy when she bought her magazine. When she sees I'm buying a cookbook, she tells me that anyone who buys a cookbook gets a half-price deal on a large boxed cookbook behind her. I decline; she resigns herself.
Tomorrow, the store will open again, this time without me, without you, without my students.