Nothing left

April 06,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I ran to the video store on Saturday afternoon, on my way home from some last-minute Easter errands. As an aside, the marketing world really punishes those parents (like me) who wait until the day before Easter to buy baskets--I couldn't believe how empty the shelves at our local mega store were, and a few of us parents--the procrastinators, or the too-busy, or those of us who had kids home for Spring Break all last week and, therefore, couldn't go shopping alone at all, wandered in dismay among the empty shelves. "I can't believe there's NOTHING left," one mom said miserably, as she clutched a crumpled red basket shaped like Elmo's head. After I left the store, I stopped at Blockbuster to pick up this film. The guy at the counter tried to talk me into buying a candy-and-popcorn deal. I thought about Easter, and the chocolate and candy about to rain down on us. Manna from heaven, for my kids. "No thanks," I told him. "We're about to get a ton of chocolate tomorrow." He sighed. "I know," he said. "I'm just trying to do my part to make a few extra dollars for Blockbuster." "Is the store in trouble?" I asked, feeling guilty about not buying the candy-and-popcorn deal. "The whole COUNTRY is in trouble," he said. But, he told me, the video chain is in BIG trouble. People don't realize, he said, that routing so much business to the internet everywhere is harming communities; taking away the small stores that give people jobs, and add life and color to communities everywhere. I never would have considered Blockbuster a "small community store" but I realized that it is. We rent all our movies there, and I know the clerks by name, and even if I get frustrated when they don't have lesser-known films available for rental, I still like to go there. Maybe it's not quite the same, but browsing through a video store is becoming one of those pastimes threatened by obsolescence, like music-store shopping, and even bookstore browsing. Several weeks ago I gave my students a one-panel cartoon to look at. It showed a man stopped in front of a store window. On the window was a sign that read, "Books on Paper!" in large letters. It took my students a few moments to think about the meaning of the cartoon, but one by one they got it. Of course! Books on paper might someday be a rarity--one sad day, way, way, way into the future (way into, hopefully), you might have to travel far and wide for the chance to touch a book, to leaf through its pages, to walk out of a bookstore with that thrilling feeling you get when you have a new book to read. "What do you think about that?" I asked my students. Some shrugged. Many said they didn't read much anyway, so it didn't matter to them. A few looked thoughtful. "That would be a really sad thing to happen," one said. Really tragic. Really sad. Really unthinkable but also, really real. ********** As a humorous aside, when I was home telling Scott about the Blockbuster exchange, L. overheard. "Pretty soon no one will have to leave their home for anything except to go to work," I ranted to Scott. "We'll just punch buttons and do our living all online." L. perked up with interest. "Really?" There was a decided gleam in his eye, a flicker of excitement on his lips. I knew this would appeal to my reclusive, computer-loving son, and I could see the wheels turning in his head as he thought about the possibilities of this. Imagine never leaving your house! Ordering everything online! Living through the internet! In your pajamas, too! "It wouldn't be a good thing," I told him, perhaps too hastily, but I don't think he was convinced. Not yet, at least.