Barnes & Noble: (Astor Place, 1995)

Five days until Christmas and I’m holding a tray of hard candies standing at the entrance of Barnes and Noble. I feel like Judge Reinhold’s character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but without the pirate hat. Recent college grad from an elite northeastern school, with a phony smile and wrinkled khakis. They wear scarves, leather jackets, sweaters with reindeer, most ignore me. I prefer shelving books, hidden in the Poetry section, where I can find Marianne Moore for an NYU coed. But they hired me for the holiday season, so I’m standing here, an exposed, breathing ornament, placed at the front of the store. A couple days earlier they had me doing bag check. Better than candy, I got to sit. Men and women hand me their Jansport backpacks and Esprit tote bags, I pass them a plastic number. A middle-aged man gives me his backpack, he’s maybe fifty, George Costanza bald, with a red Polo jacket and matching Polo glasses. “Give me that back,” he says to me with a sneer. I hand over his bag and he removes his wallet, looks at me directly, “you people are the thieves.” Three days before Christmas and I’m the candyman again, grinning like a dope, when I see her, Claire Danes. Her hand reaches out for a piece of the crinkly wrapped candy, she knows I recognize her, knows I’m a writer, an artist, like her. She smiles, I smile. Then she walks away, leaving me alone with my peppermint, listening to the instrumental version of Last Christmas by Wham.

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