Friday, September 30, 2011

My Oh Mylar!

from the bowels of the Booksmith, another installment of life in the Used Book Cellar

Thursday was a quiet, rainy day in the Booksmith, and my colleague Carl found a treasure while digging around in our overstock space: a box of MYLAR! For those that don't know the technical term, you definitely know what Mylar is, I promise. Mylar is the plastic wrap that folds around the dust jacket of a hardcover book. Libraries use it like gangbusters to protect dust jackets for the ages, and now that we've found a grip of it ourselves, we'll be using it to fancy up books in the UBC.

But I thought you didn't buy used hardcovers? you might ask. WELL. That is mostly true. Typically, hardcover books don't fly off our shelves once the paperback is available, so by-and-large we don't buy a large amount. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and in this case, there are exactly three reasons we'll consider buying a hardcover:

1) It's a super-hot title (think, Dance of Dragons by George R. R. Martin) that is only currently available in hardcover, we'll consider it based on condition.

2) It's a classic or super-interesting book--with a dust jacket--that readers might want to have in their collections (think Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë).

3) It's a cookbook or art book, which are frequently printed only in hardcover.

So now, for those rare, interesting, beautiful, unique, quasi-collectible books, we can fancy them up with mylar covers. Carl and I spent the quiet, rainy morning mylar-ing a stack of books, and these treasures now have a new lease on life! They feel nice and new, they're protected from aging (the mylar comes with an acid-free, archival backing) and they are shiny! And whom among us does not love shiny things?!

I've posted a photo of one example, Here is New York by E. B. White. A classic essay on the Big Apple by one of America's treasures was already a cool find, but now it shines like the city herself! But a photograph can't do these books justice, you gotta feel how slick these things are! Come in and check 'em out!

To add a human element to this gripping tale, your used book buyers, Carl and Natasha (that's me!) used some of the excess mylar backing to offer you a chance to get to know us. Following are the transcripts of the question-and-answer session we scrawled Kerouac-style on these fancy scrolls.

Natasha's survey for Carl:
N: What did gas cost when you started at the Booksmith?
C: $2.75
[Carl's been with us since May 2000! --Ed.]

N: Unicorns or zombies?
C: I have nothing funny to say here

N: How do you say "Happy Birthday" in Japanese?
C: Happy Birthday in Japanese

N: Draw a bunny
C: [see image. the bunny is eating a carrot. --Ed.]

N: Can you make a book without using scissors?
C: Yep. Also without hands.
[Carl runs his own literary press! Check out Greying Ghost here! --Ed.]

N: Is there anything you can't do?
C: Lay off the sweets

N: Who would win in a fight: Henry Miller or Norman Mailer?
C: Are they nude? If so, I'd say Kerouac.
[We mylared Mailer today! --Ed.]

N: Any advice for the youth of today?
C: Be kind and rewind. Unless you're using DVDs. In that case, don't scratch 'em up. They're technically not mine.

Carl's survey for Natasha:
C: If Sartre went to an AC/DC show, would he be miserable or relish in the ambiance?
N: He'd stand in the corner derisively. And bum smokes from the roadies.
[Carl likes classic rock and I majored in Philosophy as an undergrad. --Ed.]

C: Do you have Focus on Grammar 4?
N: Yes!
[We got our shipment in! And we carry all kinds of books for Brookline Adult Education. --Ed.]

C: What is it like basking in my Greatness?
N: Every day is like eating marshmallows covered in sprinkles while petting bunnies.
[Fun Fact, my favorite animal is a bunny! --Ed.]

C: What gets your Goat?
N: usually a tin can

C: Have you seen my house keys? I sort of need them.
N: Did you check near the recycling?

C: Philosophy--powerful motivational tool or a bunch of Mumbo-Jumbo?
N: depends on whether it's American or French.

C: Did you take your funny pills today? Cuz you are OD'ing.
N: Today is somehow different? I'm always losin' it...

Thanks for reading, kids! Now that you know all about us and our awesome, newly mylared books, stop in and say hi and check out our wares! Or sell us more! Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 AM to 4 PM. Though seriously, we ARE selective about hardcovers. E-mail us questions at

When I Talk About When I Don't Talk About Books

The other day, somebody said to me "By the end of your blog posts, I forget we work in a book store." I can't remember who it was or if they were kidding or not (some booksellers seem to think that it is 'funny' to 'berate' me in order to 'get a rise out of me' but I assure you that that is incorrect, dear reader, that there is nothing funny about being mean to me. Saying I'm pretty and giving me candy, on the other hand, is a totally different matter entirely and I encourage you all to do so), but I kind of took it to be a compliment. This is not the first time I've misinterpreted a would-be insult as a compliment, and by the golden, syrupy grace of God, it won't be the last. I don't know though, what does that mean? It probably means I don't talk about books enough in my entries. I understand that, we're a book store, the blog should probably be about books. But I can't blog about books. I mean I can, and I sometimes do, but what I'm really psyched about is the other stuff.

 I get excited when people are surprised when somebody super-famous comes to the store to do an event for our Writers and Readers series. I love when people come into the store, look around, faintly overwhelmed and ask me, "do you guys have birthday cards?" and I get to say 'Oh sir and/or madam, such cards, such wonders do we have.' and I get to tell them about card and gift, aisle one, on your left. As frustrating as it can be, I really like when somebody comes over to Infosmith with a vague plot outline of a book they just heard about on the radio, and through their memory and my most impressive google skills, we find the book and they leave with it in their hands. 

So if you forget that I'm talking about a book store when I write these blog posts, its probably because sometimes I don't really think about the books very much. I like books, I'm an english major, I'm a writer (whatever the heck that means) but what I do when I work isn't about books, it's more about people. When I'm on my game it is, anyway; I have my bad days, too, where I don't want to deal with your problems and I'm hungry and probably bloated (come on now, it's the internet, I have to be honest) and I just want to go home, but I swear with scouts honor that I will do my very best to hide those facts from you. I want you to be happy, I promise. I like that the store I work in is unique, and I like that it is part of a community. In this economy, we are taking steps in order to branch out, to find other ways to stay afloat, and all the other things that we do at Booksmith are going to help us do just that. All the ephemera that comes out of my internet crazy mouth, that's all equally important. Okay, its mostly all equally important, my tales of ripping up stop signs and going to the MFA with my sister, maybe not so much. I never said I wasn't a package deal.

Also, whoever said that, who I know is going to come up to me tomorrow, wide-eyed and apologetic: don't even think it, I did not write this because I'm mad at you. The deep and profound truth of your words just struck me, that's all. Yes, I DON'T write about books terribly often, and yes, I DO live under a cloud of terror that, someday, one of the managers will discover it's because I can't read. However, until that day comes? I remain, as ever, your humble servant, blog readers. This is thursday, signing off.

But before I do, just to let you know, I was not in the store for an hour on Tuesday before I bought two of these fake, moldable mustaches. If there's any left tomorrow I'm buying more. Just saying, may be the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Okay goodnight.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Destination: Myanmar

About a month ago, my sister and her husband and their (as yet unborn) first child moved to Myanmar (formerly Burma), to teach at an International School. With their limited Internet connection and my nonexistent travel budget, I wondered how we were going to stay connected. I knew that my sister had been reading abou the country to prepare for the move. On her recommendation, I picked up Emma Larkin's Finding George Orwell in Burma, which I found conveniently on hand in our Destination Literature section at Booksmith, along with a surprising number of other books about Burma. I may not have the means to visit my sister, I reasoned, but I could follow her (and, coincidentally, George Orwell) at least as far as these books could take me.

Myanmar proves a fascinating country to read about. Soon after Burma became independent from the British in 1948, a dictator sealed the country off in order to promote Burmese Socialism. The country became poor, isolated, and its people neglected. Larkin reports that some Burmese refer to Orwell as "the prophet," and consider his novels Animal Farm and 1984 to be just as much about their country as his first novel, Burmese Days, which takes place during the last days of British rule (Orwell served with the Imperial Police).

I've discovered several other novels set in Burma during this time, including Daniel Mason's Piano Tuner, in which a taciturn piano teacher must travel through Burmese jungle on a commisson from the British War Office to tune a piano. Amitav Ghosh's Glass Palace, also set during the British invasion of the 1880s, follows a poor boy who befriends a woman in the court of the exiled royal family.

Reading these novels becomes even more exciting in light of the changes that have been taking place in the country over the past few years. Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi was recently released from a house arrest that was inflicted by the military junta in 1989. The letters of this extraordinary human rights activist, who left her family to return to Burma and fight for democracy there, are available for order.

With so many vivid descriptions, historical explorations, and compelling anecdotes told by extraordinary guides, I feel not only better connected to my sister's experience, but to the world of many others I would not have otherwise encountered. Feeling disconnected? Find more engaging reads from around the world in our Destination Literature section, located between aisles two and three at Booksmith.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Where Wisdom is Found

Thus commencing weekly tales from the depths of the Booksmith: the Used Book Cellar.

Last week, your faithful used book buyers acquired several titles (as per usual), but the following particularly peculiar finds illustrate the many forms in which wisdom passes our desk.

Dancing with Dragons; Invoke their Ageless Wisdom and Power - for devotees of House Targaryen, or simply those with fire in their bellies, I present to you D. J. Conway's TIMELESS, CLASSIC work of dragon-wisdom. Available now for $8 is a singular volume containing all kinds of stories, rituals and tips on harnessing the dragon energy within you. But that's enough from me, allow the jacket copy to speak for itself: "Call on dragons to brighten your day-to-day life and to solve problems that require timeless wisdom." A great gift for the dragon fanatic in your life, or a charming addition to the library of any academic acquiring the vast wisdom of our realm.

On to Exhibit 2, a young customer (with the assistance of her mother) has outgrown her Dr. Seuss collection and we have benefited. An entire library of Seuss: Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, even the rarer I Wish That I Had Duck Feet can all be found in the UBC now, in great condition, priced at $5 each. The first stop of wisdom for most beings of this world, Dr. Seuss can never be underestimated. Ten Apples Up On Top, a CLASSIC, EPIC tale of perseverance and life-balance should never be forgotten. When any of us feels we have too many apples on top, and that "Our apples all/are going to drop," it serves well to remember that with the help of friends we can have "Ten apples/on us all!/What fun!/We will not/let them fall."

Finally, the UBC has also recently acquired 11 volumes of Will Durant's EPIC, EXHAUSTIVE Story of Civilization, a series of thousand-page (each!) tomes that cover the gamut of world history and culture in stunning hardcovers complete with bold dust jackets. Each volume is priced at $10.50. For all the wisdom contained herein, that's quite the bargain. Randomly opening to page 414 in Volume 1 ('Our Oriental Heritage,') Durant offers a valuable insight on the distinction between the foundations of Hinduism and Christianity: "It is an abstruse heaven, however, that Yajnavalkya [of The Upanishads] promises the devotee, for in it there will be no individual consciousness, there will only be absorption into Being, the reunion of the temporarily separated part with the whole. [...] Such a theory of life and death will not please Western man, whose religion is permeated with individualism as are his political and economic institutions."

No matter your age or interest, the UBC can satisfy the endless quest for wisdom, and on a budget, too. And if you need to make room for all this wisdom in your collection, we buy used books Wednesday through Saturday, 10 A.M. - 4 P.M. E-mail us at for more.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Last Tuesday I Gave Myself a Sugar Coma With Candy Corn, I'm An Adult, Read My Blog Post!

The great thing about being scared is that it doesn't change. Times do, certainly. My generation is completely different than my sisters', separated by only six years but to look at pictures of me when I was 12 and Emma when she was in her preteen years, you can see how the '90s formed me (overalls, fleece, awkward accessories) and she remained relatively unscathed. She never really went through an awkward stage, mine last until I was about 17, and depending on who you ask, might still be ongoing.  Even a period of time as short as 6 years can take two groups of people and make them drastically different.

Kids definitely seem to get more cool and less susceptible as time goes by, but I think that most of it is just hoopla and bravado. Everybody wants to be cool, nobody wants to be the scaredy cat. I recently watched "Insidious" with my roommate, which is basically your standard movie plotline about a haunted house (/person) , but because of some of its effects and unusual turns, we were absolutely terrified. We had all the lights on in the apartment, and I didn't get a good nights sleep for two days afterwards. Things kept falling over in my room and I was certain it was the very horrifying phantom-menace looking demon that terrorizes the characters in the movie, come to steal my soul down to hell. I was surprised because I am no stranger to horror movies. In high school I got so mad that my friends thought "The Grudge" was a scarier movie than "The Ring" that I watched both of them back to back and took notes, compiling a system of checks and balances to rate the movies by. Yeah. I really did that. I told you, awkward stage until 17, possibly until 23, jury is still out. I really like overalls, you guys. Getting scared is still something a lot of us seem to enjoy, whether or not we're cool enough to admit we are scared. 

Whether you're having a wholesome bobbing-for-apples, three-people-dressed-as-the-blue-power-ranger, black-and-orange-wrapped-peanut-flavored-mystery-candy kind of party or a brain shots kind of party, or maybe you're a sad loser taking notes on Hollywood movies alone in your room to prove your 'friends' wrong,  feast your eyes on all the sweet halloween goodies we have in stock for you this year. Way more than previous years, if you ask me, although that could also be our fancy new tables at the front of the store that present festivities like a magnificent cake. Particularly cool are all our spider-themed jewelry, the singing ghost key chains, and the stuffed puppies dressed in costumes that bark when you squeeze them. We also have these skeleton aprons for sale, which I think about buying every time we get them in until I realize that I don't have time in my life for aprons. 

Everyone knows Halloween is the best holiday because you get to eat candy and wear a costume, essentially the two greatest activities that humanity has to offer. If you need any kind of party favors, you know where to go. Remember to stay safe, and if you're throwing a Halloween party and are interested in having a bookseller/english student dressed as Agent Mulder for the 3rd year in a row drink all your booze, you know who to call, and it ain't Ghostbusters. 

The truth is out there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Count off to 4 and you're ready for more

We have so many new titles coming in right now that we've had to completely re-arrange some of our shelves and overstocks just to fit it all in the store.  What are some of the hot new children's titles?  Well, for that, I'll have to make you wait for our children's newsletter, soon to come.

Well, okay, I will share one growing area with you.  Our early readers.  Penguin Books has released a ton of leveled readers from levels 1 to 4, all snug within a new sleek rack.  What I love about this new rack of ours is that it explains the differences between each level:
  • Level 1, the emergent reader: uses simple vocabulary, word repetition, picture clues, predictable stories, and familiar themes.
  • Level 2, the progressing reader: uses longer sentences, simple dialogue, pictures with context, in-depth plot, and a little more variety in subject matter.
  • Level 3, the transitional reader: uses multisyllable and compound words, more dialogue, different points of view, more complex stories, and an even greater range of genres.
  • Level 4, the fluent reader: use more advanced vocabulary, detailed text, complex sentences, very in-depth plots, and a wide variety of genres.
  • Where's level 5?  We'll, at this point we encourage young readers to try early chapter books -- because they are ready!
Aren't you glad the people writing and plublishing these know what they are doing?  You may find some of them uninteresting.  Others may surprise you in their hilarious stories.  But that's beside the point.  All books are tools in some way.  (How can one not argue that reading is foundational element in life, no matter your path.)  Leveled books didn't really exist when I was growing up, which often made reading a huge guessing game.  The beauty of these is that they help build confident readers by giving them just enough of a challege to keep learning new words, grammar, and story comprehension.  Being a kid can be frustrating enough, right?  Remember when you began reading; it was hard right?  Level by level is the way to go!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Destination: Portugal

Autumn has made its rainy debut, and many of us at Booksmith are returning from summer vacations and adjusting our thoughts to study or holiday prep (yes, it begins...). Dana sighs with relief as time-off requests trickle and slow. We are settling in again. But just because summer freedoms are over does not mean your travels must come to an end. Personally, I've been to Lisbon several times over the past few years, without ever leaving U.S. soil (or putting in for vacation).

There is a Spain/Portugal/Morocco Let's Go guide book sitting on my nightstand. Don't worry, Dana--my budget won't allow me to take off anytime soon. The travel guide was simply the natural culmination to a series of other books that graced my nightstand before it--namely, the literature of Portugal.

My obsession with Lisbon began with Jose Saramago's The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, which begins, "Here where the earth ends and the sea begins..." For those of you who do not assign much literary merit to travel guides, I actually learned from reading a guidebook that the original referent of this lovely line was actually Portugal's famous 16th century poet Luís Vaz de Camões, who referred to Portugal as a country "where land ends and sea begins." I think it was the very topography of the place, situated at the tip of Europe on the edge of the Iberian Peninsula, that first sparked my imaginary journeys to Portugal. In another of Saramago's books, The Stone Raft, the tip of the peninsula breaks off and the entire nation goes drifting across the ocean.

I read Saramago's Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis because I read Fernando Pessoa's Book of Disquiet. Pessoa, one of Portugal's most esteemed poets, actually had several identities--at least 72, by his translator, Richard Zenith's, count. These personas were more than just pennames--Pessoa's term was heteronym--one of them wrote Pessoa's only lover letters that rivaled his own. Pessoa's heteronym Bernando Soares narrates his Book of Disquiet, a poetic series of journal entries reflecting on, among other things, the role of art in daily life.

Pessoa, along with another heteronym of his, Ricardo Reis, are the main characters in Saramago's novel, the premise of which is that characters live nine months after the death of their authors and sometimes conduct ghostly conversations with them as they wander the streets of Lisbon, talking about, among other things, the role of art in daily life.

One of the best things about reading geographically (a practice encouraged by our Destination Literature section, shelved according to the Atlas) is discovering the themes that emerge between authors writing out of a shared landscape or culture. More ghostly, melancholic conversations about art and life can be overheard on the streets of Lisbon in John Berger's novel Here is Where We Meet as well as Cees Nooteboom's The Following Story. Both authors, like Saramago, blur the boundaries between the living and the dead, creating a mystical melancholy atmosphere that hovers over the tip of the Iberian Peninsula.

In Here is Where We Meet Berger's narrator discovers his deceased mother on a park bench in Lisbon, and sits down to chat. "The dead don't stay where they are buried," she tells him. Sound familiar? In The Following Story Nooteboom's Herman Mussert goes to bed a teacher in Amsterdam and wakes up in Lisbon with a pocket full of Portuguese currency. Like Bernando Soares, Mussert's journey is an attempt to escape his mundane existence (he teaches Latin and Greek) through a transformative journey that carries him, and the reader, beyond life and death, land and sea.

It is hard to draw conclusions about a place the very boundary of which is defined by the shifting tide, but the shared motifs between these books is hard to miss. In the least, each seems to shimmer with the charm of pavement after an autumn rain shower, glistening with fallen leaves. Read them for yourself--it is certainly the season for it. When Ricardo Reis arrives in Lisbon by boat, the city is shrouded in a rainstorm.

Booksmith welcomes the newest member to the Portugal section of Destination Literature: António Lobo Antunes' The Splendor of Portugal , recently published by Dalkey Archive. The book is narrated by a matriarch and her three grown children who have lost the family plantation in the Angolan War of Independence. The novel has only just arrived, so I haven't read this one for myself, but other readers are saying Splendor of Portugal is what would Faulkner might have written, had Faulkner been Portuguese.

My most recent trip to Lisbon was taken through Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Letter to a Hostage. This is a pretty little blue volume published by Pushkin Press--it's not much thicker than a letter; if you put a stamp on it you could post it. Saint-Exupéry writes of Portugal in 1940, when his own native France was a hostage and invasion was imminent in Lisbon.

As he passed through the city on his way to the States, Saint-Exupéry writes that "every town at night appeared like dying embers." And this is how the literature of Portugal calls to me from bookstore shelves--as tiny forgotten chinks of light in a darkening night. "Portugal talked of arts with desperate confidence," Saint-Exupéry writes, "Lacking an army...she had raised...all her sentinels of stone: poets, explorers, conquerors...Who would dare to crush her in her inheritance of so great a past?"

This inheritance, I have discovered, is still very much there for the taking--in fact, the treasure can sit as near as your nightstand, after a trip to your local independent bookstore. You don't have to be someone who reads travel guides in order to fall asleep at night to enjoy the fantastic selection of international titles in the Destination Literature section of our store.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kids, we need your help!

We tell you our favorites day in and day out, but we would like to hear your children's!  Soon we will be starting up a children's newsletter focusing on upcoming events, new releases, and musing of the children's section.  We're looking for kids of all ages to write to us and tell us what their favorite book is and why. (Make sure to provide us with first names and ages as well. Send in your entries to  We look forward to hearing about what is on your shelves, whether it is a new release or an older classic!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The rain it raineth every day, upon the just and unjust fellah, but more upon the just, because, the unjust has the justs' umbrella.

Well friends, I don't know about you but I'm damp. Its been piddlin' up a storm in Boston this past week, mother nature's definitive way of letting us know that summer is over, so quit your smiling already. We've begun to rearrange the store for the upcoming holiday season, big changes coming your way. If you were in the store today at all you probably noticed the higher incidence of drills, disarray, dudes standin' around lookin' serious. I myself was utilized at one point to measure the infosmith's new designated area for the ambulatory ease of people over 5'5". This is not the first time I have wondered if they keep me on at Booksmith simply for my height. "Zoe, can you reach that for me?" is something I hear often. For those of you that have never seen me, I am 11 feet tall and have long, knobbly gargoyle fingers that I use to punch open soda pop cans.

So changes in the store are occurring, and in addition to that I went back to school this week. I'm taking four classes, two of which are English classes; one is about Shakespeare's early work, and the other is about narrative in novel and film. For the latter, I'm going to be reading this doozey right from the off:

I suspect that it'll inspire me but also drive completely batpoop bonkers at the same time. From what I can tell, Time's Arrow is a narrative told backwards, so it begins with the end and ends with the beginning, if you catch my drift. We'll be comparing it to the movie "Memento", which makes sense, all that experimenting with event sequence and whatnot. We also have some dumb textbook to read from, snore. You guys should see the textbook I had to buy for the Shakespeare class, its easily 20 pounds, its the Riverside Complete Shakespeare. It looks very uncomfortable to read and I haven't yet figured out if we'll be expected to bring it into class every day, three times a week. However, I am impressed by whoever designed the cover art; renderings of Shakespeare always freak me out, he's always painted with a pointy chin and beady little rat eyes, but the blue and pink used on the cover was unexpected and pleasant.

This is a terrible picture, you can't see the colors at all, but I couldn't find a better one online. TRUST ME, that is a sassy pink on the bottom there. Shakespeare would totally have approved, he was a sassy dude.

Aside from all that, I think my palate grew up a bit in the past few months, I've started relating to tea in a deep and meaningful way that I never have before. This morning I made a pot of Jasmine and sat in bed listening to a combination of the rain outside and Fleetwood Mac coming from my computer. Guys, alls I need is a dream journal, some birkenstocks, some loud clunky, jewelry and a degree in art education. This is happening. This is the future.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thanks for moving in.

It's September 2nd.
Sore feet and aching backs dragging themselves into the store. College kids (oh i'm so close, so close, if only this were tomorrow i could be walking through this door alone.) with parents at their shoulder (oh we're so close, i can't believe it, should i be feeling better than this? worse? what has all this been for?) trailed by bored little brothers and sisters (they said we're getting ice cream next. if we spend more than two minutes in here, i'm going to scream.) dragged into town to help get the oscillating fan out of the rental and into the dorm. Eager, resigned, dogged.

Welcome to Boston, everyone.
When the freshness of your corporate-owned campus bookstore and its in-house satellites of Starbooks cafe and SuperSnips salon begins to get a bit stale, remember that we are here, mid-semester or winter-break, a T ride away. And know that most of us were out there doing the apartment shuffle just like you. Because that is the price you pay for staying past graduation. You dance the double-parkin' dosey doe with the returning students until the day when you intentionally break your lease and take a two-thousand dollar loss just to jump to the rare and glorious lease that starts on the first of February.

Now that I'm off the September lease leash, I can love this time of year without reservation. It's my twelfth here at Booksmith, which means that it's been twelve years since my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Scene Design for Theatre meant anything to anyone but me. Doesn't matter. I just really like all the new September faces. I hope you all become regulars, and I hope you remember that we are the premier supplier of fine art supplies outside of Central Square. Tell your friends.

How I Got Home From My Vacation: A Hero's Journey

Imagine, if you will, me, your faithful Thursday blogger, groggy and exhausted, staring heavenward into the fluorescent lights of the LAX airport so as not to dislodge any more welling tears from my eyes besides the wayward droplets already streaming through the foundation on my cheeks. Trying to get home from my week long vacation in LA, (it was awesome, thanks for asking) I'm in a line of about 10 people that have all just been told that their 1:30 pm flights to Philadelphia have been canceled; due to Irene, nobody is going to be flying into Philadelphia today. Kaitlyn (friend since squalling infancy, in it for the long haul) and I have been standing at the desk for about 15 minutes now as a very professional US Airways clerk maintains a deeply impressive calm as airports across the country close their runways left and right, and more and more angry, hungry, unwashed masses swarm at her gates, boarding passes held high clasped in sweating, clenched fingers. We're all tense; its Sunday, august 28th, and Kaitlyn and I have already had our connecting flight from Philly to Boston canceled at about 2 am that morning. The plan now is to get as close to Boston as possible and take a bus, train, car, another plane, we don't know. I make a joke to Kaitlyn about renting a burro and leading her into Boston, Mary and Joseph style. My own laughter at my own joke makes me start to cry in an obvious way, so I excuse myself to the ladies room.

When I get back, puffy, red faced, we book a flight from LAX to Charlotte, North Carolina leaving at 10:30 pm, and a connecting flight to Chicago that will land around 9 AM. Chicago is as close as US Airways can get us, and its still 17 hours and change away, but at this point, getting out of LA is our primary goal. The next step is to whittle away at the hours separating us from our flight. If you've never spent the day at the airport, let me tell you, it's a surreal in-between experience, the way I always imagined the anti-gravity room in Ender's Game must have felt like. You can attempt resistance, try to create a forward propulsion for yourself, but you'll just end up spiralling, wandering around a children's toy store and stroking the fur of a plush Spongebob Squarepants doll like some kind of feral wolf-child, just for the tactile comfort it provides you. My advice: take a nap, sprawled across two or three of those uncomfortable airport chairs with one foot on your baggage, then find a bar. Gin, if you can afford it. Just gin, gin, gin, 'till your breath reeks of juniper and suddenly, magically, everything starts to seem just fine.

We landed in Chicago around 9 AM, Saturday, August 29th, right on schedule. From there we took a shuttle bus to Alamo car rentals, and rented a boxy, early-model black PT Cruiser that was promptly named "Rosie O'Donnell" for reasons I can't remember now. We immediately start driving, blasting through Chicago, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and finally, we're in New York when Kaitlyn's parents call at around 7 PM and tell us that there are road closures, and that we shouldn't try for the straight overnight boom to Boston the way we had originally planned. A little defeated but mostly oily and exhausted, we book a room at a Hampton Inn, buy some Margaritaville Lemonades and Miller High Life tallboys at a nearby Walmart Superstore, and watch TV until Kaitlyn falls asleep with National Treasure 3 or something equally inane starring whats-his-name projecting fluttering light across her closed eyelids. I turn off the tv and sink into a quiet cave of soft, white hotel linens and I don't stir until 8 AM the next day.

We are back on the road by 10 AM, where we cook along at a good pace until about 1:50 PM, when we follow signs forcing us off of I-90, which is closed for a few exits because of flooding and other damage. We are taken through Johnstown, New York, which, it turns out, is a pretty rural part of New York. We hit traffic, oh, such traffic do we hit. We hit epic poetry traffic. We hit traffic that the movie "Traffic" should have been based upon. If Odysseus had found himself in this kind of bumper to bumper line up, he would have instantly thrown in the toga. Or maybe he would have done what we did: cry. We cry. We cry and cry and cry, and then I have a panic attack, and then Kaitlyn calls her mom and we cry more. We are crying because we can't get home, no matter how hard we try and it just seems like we never will, we will never get out of these back roads and we'll never feel the tepid, stale air of Allston ruffle our lashes again, not even once more. As you all already know, I am not licensed to drive, nor am I insured, nor am I insured to drive the rental car we are in, so it's totally up to Kaitlyn to drive the entire 900-odd miles between Chicago and Boston. My role is purely that of encouragement, support, rearranging beverages in the cup holders according to necessity, and half-assed navigator. I perform these with a stalwart heroism, but when Kaitlyn grips the wheel and starts yelling obscenities through her tears, it is all I can do to look out the window and not think about how we are doomed forever to trees, and cars, and the little hick towns we pass through where citizens sit out on their lawns in deck chairs taking digital camera pictures of the traffic because this is the most exciting thing to happen on their street since the street itself was cobbled.

Finally, around 8 or 8:30 PM, we reach an intersection and some blessed modernity; stores, a fire station, a Wendy's. We get to use an actual bathroom, porcelain and everything. When we get back in the car and back on the road, we rejoin I-90 and it is a ghost road, just our lone car, passing orange safety lights and the dark outlines of trees. When we get into Massachusetts I try to take a picture of the border sign, but the reflection of my fingers from the inside of the window shield turns the photo ugly, blends two separate images into something bizarre. We pull into a large, dark parking lot and take a power nap; half an hour of quiet time, to try and fool our bodies and minds into thinking we've actually had some legitimate sleep. We recline the front seats into an almost-horizontal position and ignore the adjacent highway. When I open my eyes next I notice the cars on either side of us are doing the exact same thing. It's weirdly intimate, napping with strangers. Kaitlyn and I get back on the road, where we play 20 questions for the next two hours just to stay awake. We play until I can't remember names anymore, and I'm curled up in the passenger's seat with my chin on my knees trying to remember if Meg Ryan has done any movies in the past five years. We pull up in front of my apartment at 2:30 AM, Monday, August 30th, my key works in the door and there is mail crammed inside the small vertical mailbox my roommate and I share. Bills, and something from school, something from Fedex. I get upstairs and my room is a mess, clothes everywhere, dishes abandoned. Proof of my sloth. It looks like a goddamn hurricane hit it.