I like office supply stores. Staples, Office Max, FedEx: I love them. It’s not because of anything else other than the way they smell.
I’m not a particularly organized person in the sense that I love to put things in plastic containers on my desk. Pens in a pen, notebooks in a nook, papers in a pile: things just go in places I think they go, not in some item I bought from a store. I don’t need a store for containers to tell me where to put things. They just get put.
I love office supply stores because of their smell. It’s printer supplies. It’s folders folded. It’s notecards stacked and packaged. It’s book bags in a row near poster boards and Post-it notes and school year calendars. It all smells like paper. The reams waft and follow me around, a chemical smell reminding me that I need to tidy up and follow a sheet of paper that tells me what to get. It’s the opening of automatic doors. It’s a plastic binder. It’s a paper clip.
It’s Ms. Ramsden. She’s my mother’s friend. She might be a lesbian. She might be native American. She has thick salt and pepper hair. She’s tan and wrinkled and she takes us to a repurposed Golden Corral that is now a store only for teachers. It smells the same. I touch stickers. I want to buy all the bulletin board trim. I want the pencils. I want to get the shaped erasers. I want more pencil cases than I have erasers.
I’m with my dad and we’re looking at a sheet of paper that explains what you need to start the school year. My brothers are nearby and my dad is stressed and we’re in a Wal-Mart and he’s cursing at the empty spot where three-for-a-dollar binders are. I want the purple book cover but he insists on getting the dark green one. I want to look at back-to-school clothing not at Wal-Mart but we’re here and it’s cheap so we’ll look here. I buy oversized jeans and Little Debbie’s. I don’t think they are not cool (I like them, actually.): I just know there are better things.
I’m an assistant and it’s 2AM in Hollywood and I am trying to print an 8’10” photo on glossy paper fifty times for a shoot at 7AM and no one has responded to my call except for this FedEx Kinko’s on Vine but they cannot do what I need them to do until 9AM when a technician gets in and I’m stressed and I start calling supermarkets to see if they will make high gloss copies for me. I smell greeting cards as I talk on the phone.
I’m excited and bored and walking on Sunset Blvd after I quit my job. I’m in a Staples and there is paper all around me. I stop and I fan a notebook at my nose. I grab another and another and I quickly forget why I am there. I just want to smell these paper things, these former trees, these chemical products that make me feel like I am going back to school and that I need to look my coolest because everyone will judge me and I want them to know that my soul is that of a cool person from not where they are from. I’m an outsider just visiting. None of the things in this Staples will serve that purpose but I’m a senior and I will have to make this work and I do make this work. I know this because I live in Hollywood now and I think of them every day and how I made it even though I haven’t.
I’m at a desk and I’m in my mid-to-late-twenties. I have a Sharpie and a stack of notecards and I’m dizzy from writing with marker all hot afternoon and I think about being in Mrs. Weaver’s class in Texas in the 5th grade and having to pull a card from the Conduct Board—a decorative behavioral marker made from construction paper mounted to a bulletin board on the right wall of the classroom—to indicate that I have been too loud. It’s the Hullaballoo Card. I learn what “hullaballoo” means that day and I love that word. Later I quote lines from the movie Clueless with a boy on the playground before I leave him to play with my friends, a group of hispanic girls. One of them—Naomi—later claims that I tried to touch her boobs during recess. I am called into the principal’s office and I cry and cry and cry because I didn’t touch Noami: she is my friend. I would never touch a girl or anyone. I don’t even know what boobs are or, more importantly, why boobs are to be touched. We were just playing on the slide. Why is everyone so angry? I don’t talk to her again until my mother forces me to attend her communion reception at another church in town, where we sit in the vestibule for the entire ceremony with Naomi’s mother. The two of them repeatedly apologize and don’t apologize to each other. They both swear to allow me and Naomi to see each other again but we never do. I don’t talk to Naomi again. My mother tells me to “not trust girls.” I don’t.
I look down at my phone and I see a list. Small notebook, push pins, a bulletin board. I’m trying to write a book and I need something to map out my characters in order to be a writer. That’s what they do. I think about teachers and I think about first days and I get disappointed that there isn’t a perennial revealing yourself to a class. I smell a ream of paper and I turn to my boyfriend. “I love the smell of office supply stores,” I tell him. He makes fun of me and tells me need to leave this Staples before he dies but I make sure to walk down every aisle and check out the book bags and touch the poster boards and visit the candy I will never buy. I want to leave and I don’t and I wonder what is that smell. A small tan woman and two little boys walk toward the book bags and I want to know what their list of back to school shit says. I watch them as they try on book bags and the mother pats them away and says they are too expensive. One of them kind of cries and I wonder what he would think of a line of clothing from Staples. I walk into a new aisle and I look at tiny, index card sized notebooks that can fit in your pocket.
Office supply stores smell great.