Americana Idyll

On Saturday morning I took MJ to the Americana at Brand. It was an act of desperation. I had gift books to buy and, having read yet another New Yorker article about how Amazon is suffocating the publishing industry, wanted to shop at a “brick and mortar” store. It’s sad when Barnes and Noble becomes your best choice for a local Mom and Pop, but in this case there was nothing else nearby. Well, let me be honest. I could have gone to Vroman’s. The truth is, though, that the Americana — its flaws notwithstanding — is an exceptionally child-friendly place. I was on day six of uninterrupted kid duty — Mike had to work extra long hours this week — so I needed things to be as easy as possible. The last time we went to Vroman’s MJ was so overstimulated by the selection there that she ran around like a maniac the whole time. This culminated in her throwing a box of Christmas-themed refrigerator magnets on the floor. They broke. I offered to pay. The clerk accepted. Nine dollars later, I had a broken box of tchotchkes, a resentment against a seventeen-year-old shopgirl, and nothing else I had come for.

So maybe that’s why I went to the Barnes and Noble. I’m not above admitting my pettiness. On the contrary. I am very, very petty. Pettier than you. OK?

Anyway. The gifts aside, I wanted to buy myself a book: the second title in Hilary Mantel’s wonderful Thomas Cromwell series. I had already attempted to get it from the library, but — it being on the New York Times Bestseller list, and all — had learned today that I was number 193 in the queue. A week earlier I had been number 207. At this rate, by my rough calculations, I would be getting the book when Myra-Jean approached puberty. Not only am I petty; I am impatient. My impatience outweighs my parsimoniousness. I would buy the damn thing.

When we walked into B&N, though, and found “Bring Up the Bodies” prominently displayed up front, I was shocked to learn that it was twenty-eight dollars. Yikes! Really? That’s, like, a lot. At that price I may as well just buy a trip to England and tour the Tudor sights in person. I hear the Tower of London is gorgeous in the fall.

I placed “Bodies” back on the shelf. It wasn’t easy, but I told myself not to despair. Perhaps the library queue would speed up once summer was in full swing. Maybe they would buy more copies. (Let them pay $28!) Or maybe the paperback would come out soon. At any rate, it wasn’t going to happen today. That was for sure.

Taking one last, forlorn look at the desired tome — gleaming in its gold embossed dust-jacket — I led MJ upstairs. In moments we had picked out the gift books we needed, paid for them, and left.

For a while we strolled the mall. We were there, right? Myra-Jean danced happily as the lithe strands of the fountain cavorted above her head. We found that there was a farmer’s market. Talk about your cognitive dissonance. Organic produce right in front of the J. Crew. There were some really nice stone fruits.

Finally, we stumbled upon a petting zoo. Jackpot! MJ was beside herself. Five dollars to get in, and presto! Small animal heaven. I’m not sure I can say the same for the eighteen critters — plus a large sheep dog — crammed into the tiny enclosure. Still, they made out OK in the carrot department.

We’d been there for quite a while when I noticed the adjacent pony ride. We’d been so focussed on the bunnies we had failed to see it. MJ loves a good pony ride — the one in Griffith Park is awesome — but this one looked pretty lame. Disconsolate ponies, hot sun, dirt track along Brand. And seven dollars? That’s a quarter of my book!

I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Their business was pretty slow. But suddenly a young woman in her twenties, wearing jeans and a tank top, arrived. She wanted a ride. Paying the seven dollars, she selected a mount, giggled self-consciously, and swung into the saddle. The guy in charge led her and her pony out into the sun. The latter plodded slowly up the avenue. Dead-ending at a no-frills iron gate, they turned to come back. It was then that I noticed that the girl was staring at something in her hand. And staring. And staring. As she got closer it became clear that she was texting. Or watching a video. Or maybe ordering “Bring Up the Bodies” from Amazon. Who knew? Whatever it was, she never stopped once the entire ride.

It was time to leave. A place like this could really make you batty.

With my purchases — edible and otherwise — dangling in plastic bags from my wrists, I led MJ out of the petting zoo. “Bye-bye goats!” we called. “Bye-bye sheep! So long, out-of-context dog!”

Slowly, we retraced our steps through the mall, rode the escalator into the parking structure, and got out of Dodge.

When we arrived home I put Myra-Jean down for a nap. As soon as she was asleep I took out my laptop and looked up the Mantel book on Amazon. Fourteen dollars. I ordered it immediately. With any luck it’ll be here today.

Petty, impatient, parsimonious, and completely unprincipled. But hey, at least I buy organic. Those plums were really good.

And the book? Even tinged with guilt, it’ll be delicious.

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