Gathering at Powell’s Bookstore

24 March, 2001

Audrey Thompson

Kaarin and Chuck

This is a story about spending an afternoon together as a family. Over dinner on Friday night, we talked about what we wanted to do today. Everyone wanted to do different things in the morning, so Chuck and Kaarin suggested that we meet up in the Powell’s coffee shop in the afternoon. That way, we could get the other stuff done first and still have plenty of time left to spend together before Phyl and Rick’s wedding. Ivan and I walked around the Portland State University campus, checked out the campus bookstore, and had lunch at a pub. Since we’d already spent three hours at Powell’s yesterday afternoon, in addition to the hour and a half at the campus bookstore this morning, we by now had several bags of new books at the hotel; nevertheless, when we arrived at Powell’s a minute or so before two o’clock and found no one waiting in the coffee shop, Ivan peeled off in search of more books. I hung around the mystery section, looking for the newest Pamela Thomas-Graham book and hovering near the aisle that leads to the coffee shop, so that I’d know when Chuck, Kaarin, Barb, Joe, Tom, and Annika got there. I wasn’t worried about not hearing them arrive. I knew that if even two of them passed near me, I would hear them, because we are a chatty bunch and usually we do not chat in dulcet tones. Just in case, though, I kept looking up. I found my book almost immediately and went back to the coffee shop with it to wait for everyone. Kaarin was already there; I hadn’t heard her arrive because she was alone. She is not noisy like everyone else, but this is a moot point, because there was no one else.

We got some tea and cookies and sat down; a few minutes later, Joe and the kids came rushing in. They said hi and then took off again at a clip to look for books for the kids. Barb was trying to sell some used books to Powell’s, Joe said; she would be in after a while.

“Where’s Chuck?” I asked Kaarin.

“He had a list of about ten books he had to look for,” explained Kaarin. “I said, ’Don’t you want to spend time with them? They won’t be here that long,’ but he said he would just be a minute; he needed these books. He always has a list. He’s very efficient.”

Kaarin and I had been talking for about twenty minutes when Ivan came in with a stack of books; you can bring books into the coffee shop to look them over before you pay for them. He sat down with his six or seven books and began going through them. Before long he realized that it was a mistake to get Divine Victim in paperback; he left again to exchange the paperback for the hardback.

Another fifteen minutes passed. Kaarin and I continued to chat and to guard Ivan’s stack for him. Eventually, Chuck joined us, sitting down with a pile of about eight books. He said hello to us, joked for a minute, then struck up a conversation with an older woman who was sitting at the other end of our table. Kaarin and I went back to our conversation. There was a man at our end of the table, but he was reading. Five minutes later, he left. Instantly, Barb and the kids arrived to take his place and the two on either side of it. They sat down in mid-chat. Tom told us all about The Robe. “It’s one of his favorite books,” said Barb. “It is my favorite book,” said Tom.

We talked about that for a while, then the woman at the other end of the table left and Chuck started skimming through the science fiction and children’s books in his stack to see what he needed and what he didn’t. Ivan arrived with more mystery and science fiction novels and began reading them. Kaarin left to find some gardening and travel and foreign language books. I talked with Barb, Tom, and Annika for about fifteen minutes, and then Joe came in. Chuck left. After a while, Ivan and Joe left together, to find a fantasy book that they had decided someone needed. Then Barb left. It was only a few minutes before Joe and Ivan came back with the book that they thought someone else might need. They talked for a few minutes, then started to read the books they’d collected. After some time, Chuck returned and started to read through the newest additions to his stack. The kids and I continued talking, mostly about a story that Tom was writing. By the end of the first chapter, the hero has only made it as far as the door of his hotel room, having got stuck in the elevator along the way. The story is set in the distant future, and the hero is on his way into space, but he is having all the same trouble with cars, elevators, and human nature that we have today. It is not an encouraging story in that regard. Also, I was troubled by the fact that we would still have elevators to get stuck in, in the future. It seemed to me that this was something that should have been dealt with.

We were still arguing over how much progress could be expected in a mere millennium or so, when Kaarin came back with a small stack of books. Joe left in search of another book he had thought of. Behind us, through the window, we saw Barb struggling along the sidewalk with a very large stack of books. Kaarin looked through her book possibilities. Annika and Tom and I continued talking. Tom offered to read The Robe aloud. I politely declined. Annika offered to read her book aloud, or The Robe, either one. I again declined. Ivan left. Joe returned. Then Ivan returned, and after a while Barb came back too. Chuck left. By 4:30, I needed to use the bathroom, so I got up. Everyone else did too. Most of them headed to the front of the store.

When I got back, they were milling around the cashiers, deciding where to go next. Most of them agreed that the only really possible thing was to go get tiny sticker-photos made featuring themselves. Everyone but Ivan and me vanished out the front door, calling out instructions or filling in the remnants of a conversation with Ivan or me as they left. Ivan and I went to find a bakery so we could take a dessert to the wedding.

“Ivan,” I said, “when my family decided to meet at Powell’s coffee shop, did you think that ’meet’ just referred to being in the same block of buildings? Or all being at the same table?”

“I didn’t have any trouble with it,” said Ivan. Then, to distance himself from the whole thing, he added, “I’m used to them.”

But he is one of them.

Powell’s Coffee Shop

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