Jim Muckle

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I found, after the divorce, in the aisles of Crown Books contentment.

It wasn’t in a book, or in another person, and it was quite by accident, yet there it was, and I had to acknowledge it because it was true.

I was content while sweeping up trash with my little broom and folding dustpan that had a long wooden handle on it.

As I strolled through the aisles, sweeping, I answered the customers’ questions about where books were, or if I had any recommendations for a gift for an uncle or aunt or parent or child.

And I think they sensed my contentment, for I was no threat to them; not trying to sell anything, or push the product. After all I was sweeping up trash; a lowly clerk paid eight dollars an hour, but a content lowly clerk.

They didn’t know anything about me. They just saw a middle aged guy sweeping up cups and scraps of paper and other debris, a tag on my shirt pocket that read Crown Books, and below that Jim.

They didn’t know about the assistant manageress who breathed fire when she spoke to me. They didn’t know I had day traded myself into anxiety and sleepless nights, been forced to sell our home after my wife announced she wanted a divorce, and then watched as my children walked out of the house with their little packs on into the world of the man she had fallen in love with.

No, they didn’t know because at that moment I was content, pleased to be answering their questions, satisfied that I was tidying up the aisles and away from the cash register, away from the fire breather, and for a few moments free of myself.

I mentioned to the young ambitious manager of the store how I had found contentment in the aisles, how simple it really was after all to be, dare I say it, happy. After all the years of day trading stocks, teaching thousands of students English at the middle and high school level in America, and overseas in international schools; after all the chasing around from Paris to Spain, through the Middle East and Far East; after all the women, I had found genuine contentment sweeping the aisles at Crown Books.

He wasn’t impressed.

His look was somewhat indecipherable. A mixture of curiosity and dismay, with a shard of disdain.

I journeyed out into my aisles at every opportunity I could, looking at the titles of books, chatting with customers when they asked me a question, broom and dustpan in hand, seeking my contentment, and peace.

And then Crown Books announced it was going bankrupt.

The employees began fleeing the sinking ship scurrying about looking for a new position aboard another, more prosperous vessel. The fire breather was one of the first to scurry down the lines and onto the dock and into a warehouse full of grain, bless her heart.

Books began to disappear from the shelves having been transported to other stores that would close a few months later than ours. Sale signs appeared first 25% off, then a week later 50%.

The remaining crew began to dress more casually, in cut-offs and tee-shirts.

I remained to the last day sweeping my aisles, clinging to my contentment, clinging to those last moments as I had also done with my crumbling marriage, even after I knew it was finished, done, over.

But hope lives on.

There were rumors that another company might buy out Crown and reopen the doors.

But it was not to be.

We do not like change, we humans, unless it brings good news.

And it did.

Soon, sometime after the unforeseen collapse of Crown, sometime after I made my last unprofitable day trade, I was asked if I would be interested in managing the apartment complex where I had moved myself and my children.

And it was there, after being taught countless repair jobs by the owner, that I discovered contentment again refurbishing the apartments after tenants’ moved out. It was there in the midst of the work of painting, cleaning, mowing and repairing that I lost myself again, was free of myself again, and discovered I was for a few moments each day, content.

Oh, the worry still comes on a daily basis. There’s always the unexpected kidney stone, car repair, the death of a friend, the emergency of a daughter, parent, owner or tenant.

You know the drill.

But in the midst of all this, to balance it, there is my broom and dustpan, a larger one now, that once again accompany me around the complex early in the morning while the sun just begins to shine and the mocking bird begins his repertoire.

Jim Muckle is the author of The Property Manager, How to Find Jobs Teaching Overseas, Teaching in Japan, Teaching in Saudi Arabia, The Class Act Reading Game, and The Stay At Home Dad. To see the contents of these booklets please visit his web site at Booklets From Jim Muckle @


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