Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Old school

This time of year, the shelves of Papeterie Zoubris are crammed with school supplies stacked as high as the towers of lemons at Fruiterie Mile End.

The stacks include fifteen thousand back-to-school scribblers that Jimmy Zoubris says he'll sell in the next few weeks.

I want one. I want them all. I feel the nostalgic pull of back-to-school Septembers. Fall doesn't offer the same kind of brand new beginning anymore, but at least there's still the fresh promise of an untouched notebook.

At Zoubris, alongside the piles of books and packs of pens, there are relics from another time. Racks of old transfer lettering to press onto paper, yellowing boxes of Ko-Rec-Type ribbon, and manual typewriters in a display case.

When I went away to university my parents gave me a new typewriter. It was an Olympia Report Electronic. Black and sleek it weighed as much as 10 laptops and purred when I turned it on. Its most amazing feature was a "correct" button that would lift errors off the page, collecting them on a spool of sticky white tape. If only all my mistakes could be so neatly gathered up and contained. Maybe I could find a spool of that correcto-tape at Zoubris.

There used to be more strange old things there. It was a sort of stationery museum. A friend of mine used to spend ages perusing boxes of archaic items such as assorted paper price tags on strings.

Jimmy Zoubris says now that the store occupies less space than it used to, they don't have room for much old stock, although he still likes to buy what he can at going-out-of business sales.

I say I miss seeing the older stuff on the shelves and Demetra Zoubris says: "You should see the basement!"

"You can't go in there" Jimmy says, reading my mind.

So I imagine it, a dim cave-like cellar packed with old ledgers, stacks of carbon papers, purple mimeograph ink and vintage Liquid Paper. There are floppy disks and dot matrix printer ribbons and the tiny doughnuts of reinforcements for looseleaf holes. It's a time capsule of all those little things we don't need anymore, things we barely noticed at the time, now obsolete.

my other story on Zoubris: