There is an ISBN god after all

The next morning I woke and did a few things around the house, like clean it…thereby removing a direct health threat to the city.  Then I decided it was time to address the ISBN issue and prepared to head out to the agency.  Just to amuse myself, I actually called the place to see if they would pick up and field my questions on the phone, but it just rang endlessly.  Everything was as good as it could be in the best of all possible worlds, as they say.

         So, I wandered up to the metro to go over to the offices. Madrid was beginning to come back to life little by little from the lull of August vacation time.  It had been a long month because Aug. 1 came on a Monday, so you were able to tack on the weekend before if you wanted.  And it’s not over for some.  If you use up 21 of your 22 vacation days and take off Thursday and Friday of this week, you can turn a measly little month into a 37-day break…with one to spare between now and December.  It’s the beauty of living inEurope.

       There was movement on the public transport system but it wasn’t swamped.  That meant for easy riding.  The Madrid metro is one of the best subway systems in the world.  I won’t go into details because I have got that lined up for some idea down the road.  Lately it has decided to offer added services like TV screens on the tracks between lines that distract the traveler with news reports, for the most part.  This looks like an import from the U.S. where you can watch the tube even in grocery store lines.  But who cares.  I don’t necessarily find this to be such a bad thing, since commuting can be such a drag and it’s nice to have a break from staring catatonically at the tiled wall on the other side of the tracks.    What are we supposed to do otherwise…think? 

        I got off at the metro station Guszmán el Bueno and walked over to a little known street called Santiago Rusiñol which would probably never be visited by my persona if it weren’t for this place.  But its location did help me understand why, on the website, they rather politely ask academics and scholars to stop sending their books and articles to them for an ISBN if they had no intention of selling them.  The agency is just a stone’s throw away from Universidad Complutense de Madrid, this city’s largest public university with some 50 million students enrolled.  I don’t have the exact figure, but you get what I mean.  Suffice it to say that a lot of professors are bogging down a service meant for greedy profit-seeking writers like me…and I kind of resent that.

       In any event, after a little searching, the building is set back from the street somewhat, I came to the place.  Security was available but not tight.  The metal detector was there for symbolic reasons as it was not on, and the guard was talking to the woman at the desk.  This was a book agency, after all.  

       Once I got the guard’s attention, I asked him where the offices were.  He looked at me, then upwards, then put his finger to his mouth in pensive pause and replied after about seven seconds, “It’s the first door on the left.”  

         I’m really hoping it was his first day because otherwise I can’t quite explain his reaction. 

        Since I didn’t believe him, I decisively took the first door on the right and, as a result, broke into the cleaning staff’s closet.  That’s when I gave the guard a chance to think the same about me.  He approached with a shake of the head (the kind that suggested I needed to be heavily medicated) and repeated which way I was supposed to go.  I looked across the hall and saw there were two doors, neither of which said anything about the ISBN.  So I chose one just to see what would happen, but determined not to resort to the guard’s help.

        Well, there I was in a big open office, full of office workers, doing lots of office working stuff.  I entered sheepishly as not to disturb anyone, but it was pointless because it was clear from the very beginning that I had picked the wrong entrance.  All twelve people at their desks raised their heads and stared at me in silence.  Incomprehensible silence…the way my daughters’ guinea pigs gaze at me when I speak to them. 

       The last and only time I had captured the attention of an entire room of strangers just by appearing was when my friend Mateo and I waltzed into an all-black latenight bar in a basically all-black neighborhood of Washington,D.C. twenty-five years ago.  That wasn’t a common thing to do back then; and the clientele’s reaction proved our point.  But we had no choice.  We had drunk all the beer available in the predominately white bars and weren’t finished with the night yet.  So there you have it.  Even the guy at the door suggested we move somewhere else…like Wales.  But we insisted, got in, had a few beers, a good time and left…and we certainly gave everyone there something to talk about for the next couple of days.

      Something to that effect happened yesterday.  Except this time they were all librarians (or looked like them) and I wasn’t looking for beer.  Librarians tend to be very orderly people, and it was obvious I had breached the harmony of their world.

      I said good morning and told them the purpose of my visit.  A young woman from her desk nicely called back, “Oh, you must go to the desk.  It’s to your left.”

        The desk was visible to me.  It was a large and long wooden U-shaped piece designed to provide service to the customer.  That was me.  But I had inadvertently slipped behind the lines and was on the other side.  “Oh.  I see.  Excuse me.  See you in a second.”

        I literally had to walk out the door (didn’t look up in case the guard was looking in my direction) and entered the one next to it.  It was the same room with the same librarians, but this time I was on the proper side.  The workers had gone back to their screens satisfied I had returned to my place and everything was as good as it could be in the best of all possible worlds.

        I approached the desk and the same young woman assisted me.  She was very pleasant and helpful.  She managed to answer all my questions including the one about the fees, which was the biggest surprise of all.  “They haven’t published them yet.  Probably in September.  So the service is still free, and you still have a few days.”  It was August 29th

       Unbelievable.  Bowker and friends were laughing at writers and publishers acroos the ocean all the way to the bank, and Spain still had a heart for the impoverished artist like me.  In ten minutes I was out the door and racing home, trying to beat the deadline. 

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