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There's No Place Like Home

by Stephen Lautens

August 6, 1999

I love books. I love getting them. I love giving them. I've even tried writing them.

It should come as no surprise that I also love bookstores. I can spend hours going through new releases and bargain bins. Church book sales are a specialty. At ten cents each, I usually come home with an armful.

So with trillions of books under a single roof you'd think I'd love those new mega-bookstores. Not quite. It's more of a love / hate relationship. I love the books ­ I hate the environment.

Since all my readers (the faithful ones anyway) are well read, not to mention tall and good looking, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

As part of their new image, these mega-bookstores want to make you feel at home. So they install cappuccino bars and put couches all over the place. I feel like I should be wandering around in my housecoat and slippers.

I know people who take their kids there instead of daycare, or spend every lunch hour sitting on a couch ­ latte in hand - trying to finish off the latest "Where's Waldo" book without actually buying it.

It's all part of the new marketing trend to treat everywhere like it's your home.

An airline is selling seats for two that are actually fold-out beds. They're for people who want to "cuddle" during those long transatlantic flights. The privacy you get comes from a thin curtain, and a promise from the other passengers not to peek.

The last time I took a flight I was wedged in so tight I couldn't get up to use the bathroom, let alone "cuddle". But that doesn't change the fact that some things are best left to be done at home.

No one has a private life anymore because all the things we used to do at home are portable now.

We take our phones wherever we go, and feel compelled to answer them whenever and wherever they ring. The conversations you hear standing in the bank line are enough to curl your toes.

I've yet to hear anyone say: "I can't talk now, I'm in public." They will happily yak on about their prostate, bankruptcy, divorce or boyfriend's criminal proceedings as if you weren't standing two feet from them. It's strange seeing a lover's quarrel with only one person standing there.

A van passed me on the highway last weekend. I had to look twice. The kid in the back seat was watching television. Not a little portable ­ the car company installs a TV as a built-in feature, complete with a VCR.

Sure, it would have spared my brother, sister and me from a lot of back seat poundings, but we would have missed out on seeing the world go by when we came up for air.

We're becoming snails. We try to take our homes with us wherever we go. People carry large water bottles around with them everywhere, like we live in a desert. They have Walkmans to bring their music, laptops for their work and computer games for the kids.

Now every place and every thing has to offer us all the comforts of home.

No wonder we spend so little time there anymore.


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