Draining the Oasis

Friday, December 29th, 2006, 2:48 pm

Like Mr. Speaker, I started and abandoned several “Year in Review” posts. I canned them because

  • I didn’t want to write them, and
  • You don’t want to read them

It’s been an eventful year for me, and for a change some of those events were actually great. I look back to where I was at this point last year, and I never could’ve imagined I’d be where I am now. Sitting in sweatpants in front of a computer. Well, I guess I could’ve imagined that part. Some very sad things have happened recently, and during the last twelve months some crazy stuff has gone down. That’s life. But I’ve been most fortunate this year, and I’m thankful for that.

I dragged myself home after volleyball (and a few beers) last night and decided to play a little poker before hitting the sack. I sat at a table with two of the tastiest, flakiest fish I’ve seen in many a moon. It takes some doing to blow $70 at a $1/2 table in ten minutes, but these guys pulled it off. I got a bit less than my fair share, and when they left I figured I’d play another orbit and go to sleep.

It was after 1AM so I surfed over to the Post-Gazette website to see what was shaking in the ‘Burgh. I read a few articles until I saw the headline for Tony Norman’s column: “Closing the Book on Barnes & Noble“. I’d been at a Barnes & Noble that very afternoon, which is unusual for me these days. I live close to a Borders and I practically live in the place. But I got a gift card for Christmas and spent an hour at the BN in Fox Chapel.

It wasn’t that Barnes & Noble Norman was referring to. It was to my sorrow to read that the Downtown Barnes and Noble is closing it’s doors. I spent many, many, many happy hours there. Well, not happy. I don’t think I was every happy those days. I had a job I absolutely hated. And I didn’t think that I would ever have a job that I didn’t hate. I’d just gotten out of grad school and it looked as though it had all been a total waste of time. I was depressed and frustrated and miserable. Snappy dresser though.

At least three times a week I would walk from the US Steel Building down to Smithfield Street and Barnes & Noble. And nourish my soul. All those books. Shelves and shelves of books. The fact that I hadn’t written any of these books of course added to my frustration, as did the fact that I’d never had a job that used my writing skills. But, hey, I couldn’t hold a grudge. Loved those books too much. Loved some of them so much I had to take them home with me.

Going there was almost like attending church. It wasn’t a madhouse. People were usually dressed fairly well. There was soft music piped in. The second I walked in I felt invigorated. It gave me hope that there was more to life than sitting in a box and pressing buttons. The high would stay with me even after I got back to my desk. For a few minutes, anyway.

That bookstore is actually where the seed of my future poker blogging was…planted. What a lazy sentence. Anyway, one afternoon I was wondering through the stacks and came across a book that I now acknowledge as one of the most influential of my life–Poker Nation by Andy Bellin. I came across it right after it was published in March 2002, and I stood in the aisle and read about a quarter of it right there. The next day I gobbled a sandwich at my desk and spent my entire lunch hour in a comfortable chair with Bellin’s book. Finished it before I left (though I have bought a copy since then, Mr. Bellin).

And I was hooked. I didn’t start this blog or play my first hand of online poker for nearly two years after that. I guess it’s true that tiny pebbles make big waves. I think back to that miserable time in my life, and now, four years later, I’m writing about poker for a living. It’s a strange world.

It’s depressing that a big chain bookstore couldn’t survive Downtown. Doesn’t speak much for the revitalization we’ve been hearing about for…ever. But the Barnes & Noble did have a nice little run. Twelve years, I remember when it opened. Can’t believe all that time has passed.

I thought about running Downtown today to walk around the Barnes & Noble one last time. But when I read Norman’s column he said that the place is pretty much stripped bare, tables piled with half-price books instead of all those inviting shelves laden with literary treasures. It closes for good tomorrow. I think I’d prefer to remember that place as it once was, when it served as an inspiration. And sometimes a lifeboat. I am very sad to know I’ll never go there again.

Permanent link to this post.

Leave a Reply