© January 23, 2014
I fall off of ladders. Not exactly a talent. More like a heroin addiction. I want to stop, but it is so hard.
The following story is completely true. Except for the parts that aren’t. You figure it out.
This is a story about one of those times, in this instance, yesterday. The words following are evidence of my continued survival. I could say that I’d tell you about this situation step-by-step, but no one likes a smart ass punster, right?
It must be that when the Universe was formed, out of the swirling mist came a category of Lesser Gods. Gods not involved with wind, rain and fire. Not about mortality and fate, nor destiny or love. No, these unglorified deities were, for example the God of Lost Keys, or the God of Dogs Eating Homework, or perhaps the Flat Tire God.
An unknowing person who inadvertently antagonizes one of these Lesser Gods might suffer the consequences of their tiny area of responsibility. Because of my continued intersection with two of these Gods, The Ladder God and the Old Magazine God, I have come to imagine that once upon a time they were married. Must have been a messy divorce because my life seems to be caught up in their unending antagonism with each other. I think that the Ladder God is out to get me, and the Old Magazine God catches me every time. So far. Perhaps I’m just a chip in their ongoing conflict.
I would like to make a burnt offering to the Old Magazine God, but a guy in my line of work who’s surrounded daily by thousands of old magazines and newspapers, well…that doesn’t seem like it would improve my luck much. Fate seems to have already left me to the mercies of the two gods mentioned above, so my tempting fate with a little fire might be a case of irrational beliefs falling on deaf ears. That also assumes Gods have ears.
This is what happened: I received a call from a Canadian movie company that needed an original vintage magazine to serve as a prop in order to recreate a 1955 newsstand. Yes, I was surprised as well, but evidently Canada does have movie theaters. However there is a reserved area for culturally sophisticated Moose to come in and watch the better films.
I responded, since I happen to speak Canadian, that I had perhaps 20-25 different types of 1955 magazines. The nice young lady, Harriet, who called me—and all the young ladies from Canada are nice, of course—was delighted and told me she’d report that interesting fact back to her supervisor after I told her that in America, most newsstands carried more than one magazine. I also told her that among the handful of remaining old magazine stores left in North America, it was probable that I was the only one left who actually ran newsstands for twenty years. I thought her company might want hire me as a consultant. It was a faint hope, though.
The particular magazine which Harriet wanted to know about right away was a 1955 Cosmopolitan. In 1955, Cosmopolitan was a very different, very conservative sort of magazine, where all the ladies, inside and out, kept all their clothes on, and the very idea that there would be a story inside suggesting how to, uh, create more people in fifty different ways would have been, well, inconceivable. Sorry about that.
I pulled my eight-foot ladder over to the area where my fashion magazines were, tilted it so I could safely climb up upon it, and began searching among the piles on the top shelf to see if I had what Harriet wanted. All the while, I was talking to Harriet about things, small talk, whatever, when I suddenly realized that the very large blades of the fan hanging on the ceiling which was there to economically circulate the store’s air, were about to decapitate me.
I was momentarily shaken and ducked to avoided that from happening, when the magazine pile I was holding with my left hand to balance myself, quickly slid away from me, and then, since I wasn’t actually holding onto the ladder itself because I was holding the cell phone in my right hand, I began to fall off of the ladder from pretty high up, in slow motion. It was eerie watching the piles of magazines passing by as I fell below each shelf. At this same time, I lost my grip on my tiny little cell phone, which disappeared. Below me were masses of posters in stiff cardboard sleeves to make it possible for a customer to see them. I landed among them, the many of them, seemingly cushioning my fragile body from shattering on the cold tile floor.
Ok, I SAY that the posters maybe, possibly, caught me. But really, I know it was the Old Magazine God catching me in his/her invisible muscular arms just out of spite (lovingly) in order to frustrate the evil designs of the spawn-of-the-devil Ladder God, always looking to take me out of the big picture.
So there I lay, enmeshed in paper posters and old magazines above me, below me and on every side, intact once again. I CURSED the cruel Ladder God. Was there no end to his pursuit of me?
I also realized that my sole contact with the world outside of my store, my tiny cell phone with over one hundred phone numbers on it, was lost amid the carnage. I wondered what Harriet must have heard as I went crashing down. I was hoping she didn’t assume this was just another case of random American violence and she’d have to find another old magazine guy. I wanted to quickly reassure her that I was still functioning and still hoped to make a sale to her that evening. Except, I was having trouble locating the tile floor, so I could stand up and reassemble my merchandise, and search for that phone, too.
But with my long experience in falling off of ladders, I was not at all intimidated by the incident. I stood up, neatly rearranged everything the way it was before, picked up about 100 fallen old magazines—not the ideal way to protect them, by the way—and put them back where they previously were. Then I put some empty cardboard boxes aside in a back room that had fallen off of the top shelf to just get them out of the way, and I moved all the posters around me to clear a space and search for that missing phone.
Oh, I searched. The mouse-sized little thing could be anywhere, but it was nowhere. I tried calling my cell phone number from my other store-only phone, but not a sound came from anywhere in the shelves filled with 1,000 old magazines. I crawled on the floor with a flashlight to see if the little sucker slid down between the slick posters and under the narrow space underneath my shelves. No luck. I was concerned that since I hadn’t hung up the phone on my end, and maybe neither had bewildered Harriet in Canada, that I would be unable to call myself, the most common way to locate a lost cell phone, unless one dropped it into the Grand Canyon.
I found my AT & T phone bill, called customer service to see if they could hang up my phone for me, but I ended up repeatedly talking to people who all told me that they could do nothing for me because my phone was too primitive, but was I happy with their services in every other way? Would I be willing to take a short survey about that? I was polite, but my heart wasn’t in it. Damned stupid phone company.
I called back, determined to seek out the Joan of Arc of cell phone service, who would go above and beyond the company script. Found her. Really. She said that because I was getting several ringing tones on my end and not getting my answering message immediately, the phone was in fact, hung up. I blessed her. But where was the phantom phone? If it was ringing, why couldn’t I hear it, even it were under some old magazines or between my posters?
While all this was happening, a large shaggy-haired man walked into my store, wearing construction type clothes. He was, he said, a repeat customer and searching for old Cadillac posters. In my frustration, I quickly told him what my situation was, and that those posters, if I still had them, were probably in my $5.00 closeout room, and could he please look for them by himself since he said he already knew where they might be? He smiled, said no problem, and squeezed through my many posters to get to that back room.
I sat there in my cramped cleared area on the store’s cold tile floor, despairing of locating my little phone and its storehouse of phone numbers not recorded elsewhere. I had exhausted every possibility I could think of and come up with nothing. I meditated on this for a little while.
Then, with no other good idea to pursue, I called the cell phone’s number again. I felt ridiculous. I pressed my store phone’s buttons, yet again. I waited. Nothing.
Then there was a sound from the back room from that shaggy guy looking for some old Cadillac posters. He yelled to me, about 70 feet away from him, that there was a phone ringing back where he was. I looked up at him from my nest on the floor and yelled back that that was impossible, that I had no phone back there. He said ok. He thought I might want to know, that’s all. Doggedly, ignoring his odd report of a ringing phone, I robotically dialed my number again. He yelled, at exactly the right time, that the phone back there was ringing again. The Magazine God, impatient with me at that point, kicked me in the ass to get me off of the floor and to rush to see what was what.
I ran back there and the phone was still ringing. I went right to the sound. It was my phone, alright. But, where?
Then I figured it out. The tiny phone had fallen from my hand, as I was falling, and into one of those two boxes where one box was nesting inside of the other, which I had moved into that back room to create some more space to hunt for my phone. The phone was, seemingly impossible if you think about it, underneath the smaller box and totally out of sight. And sound too, considering the distance.
If there were some Olympic event for deliberately tossing antique cell phones into two nesting cardboard boxes, with the goal of the cell phone ending up invisibly nestled under the bottom of the smaller box, I very much doubt the incident could ever be duplicated. Unless the Olympic judges agreed to let the competing athletes simultaneously fall off of eight-foot tall ladders, then, well, no problem, right?
I retrieved my little phone, kissed it, thanked the Old Magazine God and also his Boss, saw that the shaggy guy had located several posters and I called to him saying, that today, those posters were free! He smiled. As he was leaving, since I was leaving too, I noticed his distinctive sideburns and suddenly remembered from talking to him when he was previously in my store that besides his being in construction, he was also…an Elvis impersonator! How much weirder can this story be?
What happens with the, I assume, lovely Harriet far away in Canada and her movie company remains to be seen. As far as I was concerned, the evil Ladder God had been thwarted once again and would likely retreat into his celestial cave to sulk…until the next time.
Then I was thinking.
Maybe, if Harriet agrees with this idea, I could go up to Canada and watch movies snuggled between the Moose. I think the savage Ladder God would never be able to find me there. Not with the Old Magazine God running interference for me.
Bob Katzman’s other life, when not writing here:
www.oldzines.com — 100,000 magazines back to 1576 for birthdays, etc in Downtown Skokie,Il 50,000 posters @ $10 ea. One of 4 remaining stores in the USA, and very cool to see
www.Differentslants.com — My non-fiction story site. I’m a Chicago writer with 5 books in print and over 6,000 sold. No charge and I get hired by organizations to read my stories and poetry. Currently seeking representation.
www.FightingWordsPubco.com — My book site shows all my book covers. Click on the covers and you can read the reviews.
Robert M. Katzman (Bob)
The Magazine Museum
(847) 677-9444 4906 Oakton St.
M-F 10–5 Weekends 10–2