BANGOR — If you had to guess how many different 1998 calendars were available this holiday season at Borders Books & Music in Bangor, how many would you say? Fifty or sixty, maybe? As many as two or three hundred?
Try 1,500 — and that’s not even a third of the 5,000 calendar choices nationwide generating $5 billion in annual sales, according to a recent story in The New York Times.
On Thursday, shoppers at Borders and other stores started the year with new calendars, now half-price, their fresh, clean pages still free of the coming year’s debris. What better way to resolve to be more organized? Like a blank slate, a calendar cracked open on New Year’s Day is crammed with possibility.
The possibilities facing a calendar buyer are mind-boggling. There are lots of old standards — Edward Hopper or Elvis, gospel or golden retrievers, the Beatles or the swimsuit models of Sports Illustrated. Others are so odd you wouldn’t believe they existed unless you spent an hour at Borders checking the inventory.
“Of course we didn’t have the one I wanted — I had to order it,” said Greg Westrich, a Borders assistant manager who keeps three calendars at home, two of them featuring cave exploration.
There are plenty of calendars for people with other special interests: iguanas, gargoyles, firefighters, the Brady Bunch, bed-and-breakfasts, birdhouses, pigs, beer. There’s astrology and turtles, gorillas and architecture.
And then there are calendars for the interests you never realized anyone had. Like “Grossology,” a calendar compilation of the nauseating, featuring plastic vomit on its cover. Or the “Heavy Equipment” calendar — 12 months of bulldozers, backhoes and barges. (No kidding.)
Calendars — no matter how bizarre — can’t be returned to their publishers, so moving them out the bookstore door is a high priority. At Borders, the 50 percent markdown happens Dec. 26, bringing most prices under $10. A second discount will be added later this month, said Westrich.
“They start flying after Christmas,” he said. “After the second markdown in January, people start buying a bunch, two or three apiece. It’s not like they can save them to give as gifts next year, so I don’t quite understand it.”
Maine calendars are always favorites. “We can’t keep them in stock,” Westrich said. Several varieties, placed on display as early as September, had sold out by October.
Popular for pre-teen girls was a calendar starring Hanson, the lovable, brotherly band of pop-singing moppets from the heartland.
Also hot, somewhat inexplicably, are Alaska calendars. “There seems to be some kind of synergy between Maine and Alaska,” Westrich said.
No one can predict exactly which calendars will leave the shelves empty by Groundhog Day. At BookMarc’s in downtown Bangor, a Jewish calendar sold well last year but declined in popularity for 1998, said an employee reached by phone after closing time New Year’s Eve.
“Every year it’s just different enough to make me hesitant,” he said.
Calendars produced by the Sierra Club and the Bangor Historical Society were leading choices again this season at BookMarc’s.
Some people use calendars they receive as gifts, or free from their banks, insurance agencies or employers. Office-issued calendars can be dull, but aren’t always. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, St. Joseph Hospital produced a stylish 1998 desk calendar with old photos and historical tidbits.
Facing January without that familiar grid of blank squares, some people go out seeking specific themes to color their year. At Borders, Lyndsey Grinnell of East Machias combed the racks for an angel calendar, “because I believe in them and I believe they’re around us all the time,” she said.
Marcy Webster, visiting Maine from Atlanta, searched for a calendar in book form, preferably with some pictures — something a little more exciting than the plain planner she used last year.
“I take it with me all the time,” she said. “I’m a very organized person, and it’s a good tool.”
Plain business calendars were the rule across the parking lot at the Staples office supply store. One woman stacked large desk-blotter calendars in a shopping cart Thursday.
Others browsed the aislelong display of planners with Velcro flaps or zippered cases. A calendar with a plastic cover could be had for $6 to $13, simulated leather for $50, and the real deal — soft cowhide — for about $80.
A calendar can make you more organized, and, at the same time, strangely dependent on a plastic or leather-bound book stuffed with papers.
Take the true story of a young professional woman from Bangor who found herself organizationally paralyzed for two weeks in 1997 after she drove off with her planner on the roof of her car. When a kind stranger finally called to say he’d found her book, her roommate accidentally erased the message.
Nothing short of panic ensued. “People asked me what I was doing, and I said, `I don’t know until someone calls to tell me I’m not there,”‘ said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.
After what seemed like a lifetime of chaos, the helpful stranger called back. The vital calendar was retrieved, and life resumed its rightful place among the grid of squares.
“It’s kind of scary that we’ve got to the point where we don’t know what we’re doing unless we have a book in front of us,” she said.