Cleaning Up

Well, we found out how many people it takes to pack up a bookstore in under 24 hours. The fire was Thursday evening, serious packing started at about 3pm on Friday, and by 2pm on Saturday the owner and I had locked up the empty store. There’s still things there that have to be counted and inventoried for loss, but everything that could possibly be salvaged–around 14 tons of books, shelves, furniture, counters, even Shirley the plastic penguin–is gone. Oh, the espresso machine and pump is still there; a servicing by regular company should clean both of those. Also, I’ll be taking the plants and seeing if I can’t rehabilitate them.

But, yeah. The darling Scupperlout came out and worked her buns off, the owner’s husband is a Mason so plenty of his buddies came by and worked their buns off, and a group of very nice boys from Servicemaster came out. They had no buns to work off–I wanted to feed them, they were all the rangy type. I settled for giving them doughnuts. BUT, they worked hard and in about 24 hours, the entire place was stripped.

“It’s kind of terrifying,” the owner said to me as we headed for our cars in the parking lot, breathing deep.

“At least we know now what happens after a fire. It’s all material,” I replied.

I think she probably wanted to hit me before she saw my tired grin and realized I was messing with her.

The most annoying thing was the vultures and lookie-lous. People would just wander in past the yellow fire tape. “Oh, are you guys closed?” I mean, there’s no electricity. The place is being torn apart. There are signs up front saying “THERE WAS A FIRE. DON’T COME IN.” But in they came. Oh, and people trying to take stuff from the pile out back while the Servicemaster guys were loading. What is wrong with people? Jeez.

Anyway, I’ve been smelling smoke since, even though I immediately washed up when I got home and got what I’d been wearing into the laundry posthaste. It’s weird that smoke-reek lingers so long; we kept having to bug people to take breaks and stand outside to clear themselves out. (My snot’s been gray all weekend. Yeah, TMI. I know.)

It’s weird, but I was too busy to even realize the emotional impact until the Servicemaster guys were carrying out the very last pile of stuff–water heater for the espresso machine, whiteboard I use for my writing classes, miscellaneous things–and I suddenly felt like crying. The store’s been a Safe Place and a home away from home for years now. It’s where I go to give good news and celebrate, and where I go when I don’t want to go home but I need to sit and collect myself in a friendly environment. The books in there are all friends, and I know every inch of the place. To see it all empty and dark because the power’s off, ceiling tiles crumbling onto the floor, everything reeking of fire and the carpeting swelling from water still seeping through, already looking sad and abandoned…that was rough.

Still is.

I don’t know what’s going to happen yet. So much depends on the insurance and if there’s a viable way to get the shop up and running again. The owner and I are already talking about the reshelving party–beer, pizza, and a whole ton of people to get the cleaned and revivified books back up on the shelves. “Careful,” I warned her. “I’m hell on wheels when it comes to inventory, reshelving, the whole deal.”

“You be bad cop,” she said with a grin. “I’ll be good cop.”

Which is pretty much the way it works out anyway. At least some things are eternal.

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