Tag Archives: gossip

♪ Sometimes People can be Mean ♪

The Health Department came for their 30-days-after-opening inspection yesterday. The gentleman who conducts these visits is a true gentleman, supportive, honest, forthcoming with answers to questions and with information newbies might not even know they need to ask for.

During the course of the visit, he told our chef Kelley there had been “a complaint” that our facility did not have the capacity to undertake all it was doing.

Huh – you’d think we’d have noticed if we were incompetent. Yet even as my dander began to rise, a customer eating in the cafe smiled and said, “Being translated, someone’s pissed off that this place has been such a success from the word go.” Everyone laughed.

And that was that. The health department gentleman investigated and found groundless the “you’re not smart enough to do what you’re doing” complaint, and business went on as usual.

But it really got to Kelley: “Why would someone want to mess with someone else’s livelihood without rhyme or reason? Why would they complain about ‘capacity,’ or are they just being mean? Don’t they understand the consequences for others?”

That’s a good question, and I’m not asking it specifically about us, but about that human proclivity overall to interfere with each other in a negative way–often involving lawyers and state agencies, but also gossip, fists, and sometimes churches. Do people take such negative approaches because they see a need to “protect” others? Because they feel a sense of power they want to exert, or because they feel powerless and want to get to feel powerful? Or just pure flying sparks of human meanness and not enough impulse control?

No one will ever know. I’m reminded of the episode of the old TV sitcom Murphy Brown, some 20 years ago, when she was invited as a guest onto a children’s television program “Mulberry Lane” (yes, it was a send-up of Sesame Street). Her visit went horribly wrong, resulting in the puppets singing a song about mean people, and how you should just get on with your lives and leave them to their sadness.

I sang it for Kelley: Sometimes people can be mean, ’cause they’re jealous or mad or excited. And then we went back to work, living our lives, running the cafe and bookstore, being happy people with successful businesses upstairs and down.

Sometimes people can be mean ♪ Just close your ears and walk away ♪


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Small Town Secrets: an oxymoron

If you want to know what’s going on in a small town, visit the laundromat, the hairdresser, or the bookstore.

Actually, skip the hairdresser; they’re too smart to tell all they know. But in the bookstore, nobody has to speak a word for some cats to slip out of the bag and into the mainstream gossip currents.

The other day someone was trolling our Religion section, and picked up a book by Elaine Pagels. The customer frowned; since Pagels is a scholar first, Christian apologist not at all, we’re used to people in the Bible belt’s buckle sometimes finding fault with her theological standpoints. But this guy was frowning at the inside cover.

“Price not marked?” I smiled, reaching for the volume.

The customer glared at me. “Where’d you get this book?”

“Uhhh, we get most of our books in trade. People bring in books they’re done reading, and swap them for others.”

He turned the glare on the book in his hand. “Hmmph. I gave this to my pastor as a Christmas present three years ago.” His finger traced the inscription inside the book. “To Pastor X, in hopes this will spark some lively sermon topics.”

One could see why the good reverend might have parted with it….

Such “oops” conversations are infrequent, but memorable. The worst “small town bookstore” moment is actually in my book coming out in October, so I’ll leave that one for later; running a close second was the time an older woman came in and browsed–again–religion. (There’s just something about churches and secrets….)

On the “family” shelf sat several books on raising Christian kids, keeping love alive in marriages, etc. The woman’s eyes scanned the shelf, then her hand darted in and plucked out a volume. Opening it, she heaved a sigh, and placed it back on the shelf, opened another nearby, repeated the sigh and replacement.

I was about to offer to help her find whatever she was looking for, but she turned to where I sat at the laptop and said, as if we were continuing a conversation, “I knew they were having trouble. He wouldn’t tell me–my son, I mean–but they’re getting divorced. He’s brought in all their marriage books from when they went to counseling.”

Her face was tight with tears she wouldn’t let out. I put the kettle on.

The funniest secret slip was a few years ago, when a woman browsing cookbooks got excited and called her mother. “There’s a soup cookbook in here that used to belong to Paxton Allgyer,” she said into the cell phone. “What was that stuff she always brought to the church social that everybody liked so much, but she never would give out the recipe? …Seafood bisque?” She turned to the index in the back, searching, then shouted into the phone, “It’s here! Yes! ‘Bye.”

She bought the cookbook with a smirk. I have no idea what happened at the next church social, and I like it that way.

People sometimes ask Jack and me, “What do you need to run a bookstore?”

A sense of humor, a functioning tea kettle, and a large supply of whiteout.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, VA