Snow place like home…

Back when I was young and adventurous, and open to the idea of working in far-flung places, I wrangled a job interview with a radio station in Buffalo, New York. At the time, I had never been to the northeast, but figured I could find it on a map.

On another job interview, I’d been flown up to Kansas City to meet face-to-face, but I understood completely when the folks in Buffalo asked that I first complete a telephone interview. It’s a lot longer flight to Buffalo than Kansas City. Pricier ticket.

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So, after getting the introductions and explanations out of the way, the news director began the job interview. The first question put to me?

“What sort of vehicle do you drive?

Huh? My vehicle? That was certainly out of left field – or so I thought. Nothing about my experience or training. Just the vehicle question that had made me pause.

“A Monte Carlo,” I replied – which was the truth. I was trying to figure out some relevant angle, and wondered if I should bring up the fact that I had broken the oil pan on it while navigating a rocky trail in the Kiamichi Mountains attempting to reach a plane crash. No time for that.

“What do you drive in the winter?” he was already asking.

“A Monte Carlo,” I repeated.

“Oh, that won’t do,” he said, in a tone that sounded a little condescending.

“Won’t do?”

“No way. You know the kind of winters we have here, I’m guessing.” (I didn’t. I was young, living in Oklahoma, and happy to own a sort-of-still-new Monte Carlo.) He continued before I could stick my foot in my mouth. “Everyone on the staff has a four-wheel drive vehicle of some kind,” he added. “It’s the only way to get around.”

Now, I had witnessed snow before. But, in truth, most of the deep, heavy snow accumulations that I had seen in my life had been – on television. Maybe a scene or two in the movies. James Bond skiing off that Austrian cliff in The Spy Who Loved Me. A lot of snow there.

I was naïve enough to never consider that the geography of the job would present its own set of special requirements. And Monte Carlos did not fit the bill. By the time he finished outlining for me the amounts of snow encountered during a typical Buffalo winter, I had no desire to work there. I had no desire to even be flown up for another interview.

Thanking him for his time, I bade him goodbye and couldn’t resist mentioning how I enjoyed playing outdoors on Christmas Day with my newly-opened presents. Indian summers and all that.

Over the years I’ve heard plenty of complaints from folks about the humid summers we experience in our part of the world. Give me humidity over snowdrifts any day.

Just seeing the mountains of collected white on the recent news reminded me how close I’d come to making a big bad life choice. I owe that fellow a debt for starting that interview the way he did, so many years ago.

Otherwise, I might just now be starting to thaw out.

Chilly this afternoon in the Rose District, and a little breezy. Temperature? Sixties. Balmy by comparision, so…

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St. Broken Arrow OK!

Bubbling under the Hot 100…

We love our lists here in America. Top 20 football teams. The Billboard Hot 100. Letterman’s Top Ten. Lists everywhere. You can even find the Book of Lists, original and international versions.

Some lists are strictly fact. Most NFL passing touchdowns: Peyton Manning. Some lists are strictly subjective. Rolling Stone Magazines’ Greatest 500 Albums of All Time: #1, The Beatles, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (I personally have no severe objection to that one, although I would have several others in close contention on my list. There are plenty of people, no doubt, that would not have Sgt Pepper’s in their Top 10, and that’s my point exactly.)

There are a couple of titles missing over in the American and English literature section, and my unfortunately-mental inventory system could not produce which ones to reorder. Easy enough to figure out, I guessed. Just print out a list of the Top 100 novels of all time. Bound to be on that list.

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Two lists popped up on the Random House site, at the top of the Google search. They offer “The Board’s List” and “The Reader’s List.” As I read down the columns they both seemed more and more like a complete joke. Apparently great writing only came about after 1900.

Looking down the list, I cannot find a single author on the Random House “board’s list” who died before 1900. (I don’t know if “The Board” signifies ‘Editorial Board,’ ‘Board of Directors,” or ‘Board Books.’) I’ve read some pretty engaging novels from the 18th and 19th centuries. You may have heard of a title or two from then as well: Three Musketeers, Oliver Twist, Les Miserable, for example.

The board selects James Joyce’s Ulysses as the best novel ever, followed by The Great Gatsby, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. James Joyce holds two of the top three places. I’m not disputing Joyce as a great writer. But two of the top three? Of all time? Really?

The reader’s list has Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead as the top two of all time. Since paper was invented. She has to be the best writer ever then, by default. Readers, are you sure about that? Certainly they both deserve places on the list, and maybe plenty of votes – but numbers one and two? I don’t know. Maybe the reader’s selection for the third best novel of all time soured my opinion.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could take along the Random House reader’s top three books to tide you over until your rescue, you’d get the box set from Ayn Rand – and for your third volume?

L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth.

That’s right. A science fiction alien-invasion title beats out Animal Farm, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies (oh, I could just keep typing and typing on this sentence…)

Truly?

Since Mr Hubbard landed three titles in the top ten, I’m guessing that the list is a little skewed. In fact, Canadian “urban fantasy” writer Charles de Lint landed six titles in the reader’s Best 100 Novels of all time. I wonder if Mr de Lint himself might be a little embarrassed by that, however flattering. Without question, his fan base is a force to be reckoned with.

As for our literature section, I highlighted in yellow each title on Random House’s two lists that was absent from the inventory. I’m confident that most of these won’t be ordered in the near future. Catch-22 and the Grapes of Wrath ought to be in stock, and will be again next delivery. I’m sold out of Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, but haven’t had a request for it in some time. I’ll keep an eye out for that one.

As for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? That’s a skipper, even at #73 on the RH reader’s list. It may be an occasional seller, and it had its day (or week). But a book called Oliver Twist by an author that did not get a single one of his fifteen novels on either list – outsells Zen by a margin of ten to one. And that’s just the Dover Thrift edition. As a work in the public domain, any publisher can release its own version. Add together all the different copies from various publishers and Oliver Twist sales beat Zen’s – like a drum.

My guess is, Random House doesn’t publish any titles by Charles Dickens. And that’s likely why his name is absent from two separate lists containing 100 great novels.

From the results of my Google search, I could probably produce a lengthy list of various “Top 100” novels of all time. And each one would probably have a different winner. I’ll make a list of reasons why. (Or not.)

Real classics? We’ve got ‘em (amongst plenty of other books)!

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St. Broken Arrow OK!

Read a good phone book lately?

The pages are yellow, but they aren’t the Yellow Pages. This little pamphlet is the entire telephone book, Broken Arrow, 1930. It’s small enough to read the entire thing. And I’ve done it.

Twice.

People ask all the time, “What used to be in this building?” I only knew for certain who was here just before the bookshelves were moved in. In fact, if you visit Main Street on Google Earth, you’ll still see the Francy Law Firm lettering on the black awning. (They need to update our Rose District!)

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In 1930, our location was home to J. L. Greene Mercantile Company. You could reach Mr. Greene at his store by dialing 329. That isn’t the prefix or area code. That’s the whole phone number. 329.

The “operator” era, when a live person spoke to anyone who lifted the handset from the phone cradle, had ended for Broken Arrow – but apparently only recently. Page two of the little phone book describes in detail the methods and actions required to place a call.

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“Remove the receiver from the receiver hook,” it says. “Place it to your ear and listen for the ‘DIAL TONE.’ When heard, proceed.”

Those homes equipped with a telephone in an outlying area still had to rely on a phone operator. “Dial number ‘8,’ instructs the General Information Section on how to call rural subscribers. “The rural operator will answer you by saying ‘OPERATOR.’ Give her the rural number desired and your call will be completed.”

Not a word about voice mail.

When Mr. Greene died suddenly in 1947, Greene Mercantile became a Broken Arrow footnote and the building was given over to other purposes. A couple of customers have told me that a fellow named Sy ran a recreational hall in the location sometime after that, with billiard tables and such.

Another visitor to the shop told me she had been born upstairs, next door. I certainly wasn’t in a position to doubt her story, but the old phone book has verified that two doctors maintained a “surgery” above what is now Glamour Gowns & More.

Dr. W. Mark Cooper kept his office at 124-A Main (above the gown shop, dial 5026), and could have walked to work from his home at 226 East Dallas (dial 215). Dr. Onis Franklin, a Tennessee native, lived down the block from Dr. Cooper, and the two shared the “surgery” upstairs at Main and Commercial. No doubt the good Doctor Franklin was in attendance at the birth of the woman sharing her story with me.

Barnsdall Refining resided where the little park is now at Main and Broadway. You could pick up your nails and such at Akers Hardware, 116 S. Main, dial 5046. Next door was OK Seed and Feed Store at 114, now home to Southern Magnolia. Oklahoma Natural Gas and Public Service Company kept offices mid-block, where 1907 Boutique and Star Jewelers are now located.

It’s surprising to see how much competition there was in such close proximity. Several lumber companies, mercantiles, general stores, and druggists were within a few doors of each other. Broken Arrow, small as it was at the time, had at least three funeral homes (all with display advertising) and all three operated ambulance services. Instead of 911, you’d dial 224 (Broken Arrow Funeral Home), 271 (Barth Funeral Home), or 211 (Kennedy Funeral Service).

Mr. Barth also had a mercantile on Main Street, to tide him over during the public’s healthy times.

I used to be a member of a car club and I’m pretty sure our membership directory was about the same thickness as the Oklahoma Telephone Company’s 1930 Broken Arrow phone book.

It’s no stretch when I admit to you that I’ve enjoyed reading this little historical artifact a lot more than any other telephone directory I’ve ever owned. Makes me want to pop down to McKee Cafe (223 S Main, dial 342) for a tall tasty sarsaparilla with a dash of cherry.

Come visit! (or dial 918. Plus 258. And don’t forget the 3301!)

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St. Broken Arrow OK!