Then what happened?

“Looks like you found what you were looking for.”

He gave a sheepish grin. “Could be,” he said, dropping his books on the front counter.

It was Friday evening and not very busy. We stay open later on Friday nights, ‘til 8:30 or 9. On this particular Friday, there were only 2 or 3 customers, beside us, in the shop.

“Can I ask a favor of you?” He had leaned over the counter and dropped his voice. No one was going to overhear us. Still, he wanted to be sure that this conversation stayed between us.

“Well, of course.”

I leaned over the counter too. It gave the impression that we were being conspiratorial; really I was just trying to hear him better.

“I just moved to town about a month ago, and I don’t really know anyone in York.”

I nodded, knowingly.

“There’s a girl in here that I find very attractive. When she comes up to the counter with her books, would you give her a note from me?”

I straightened up and looked at him over the top of my glasses, in silence, for a second. He seemed to be mid-20s; clean cut. More importantly, he had brought Arthur Conan Doyle up to the counter…a sure mark of someone with potential.

“Um, I’m not quite sure who you mean.”

“She’s the one with the long, dark hair and the white blouse.”

I knew who he meant. This guy had good taste.

“Well, you can leave her a note yourself, sir. This stack of books here is her pile.”

I handed him a note pad and a pen and stepped away, finding something to keep myself busy. When he was done, he read the note over and nodded to himself and slipped it into the stack. He let out a long, slow breath and settled up. I wished him luck as he was walking out the door. He didn’t look back.

I confess that I snuck a quick look. It suggested that if she was comfortable, she should text him. He left a name and a number.

About 10 or 15 minutes later, she came up to the counter and I noticed that there was no ring on her finger. So I told her that she had an admirer and he had left a note for her.

She smiled. “Really?”

“Yes. Really.”

She read the note and, still smiling, folded it and put it in her purse. I noticed that her eyebrows gave a little bounce. She then paid me for her books and walked out into the night.

I really wonder what happened next.

Give Me A Book That Will Change My Life

“Give me a book,” he said, “that will change my life.”

He was a student at one of the local colleges, in his junior year (that’s a guess). I’m not sure of his major, although he did tend to gravitate to the psychology and philosophy shelves. He’d been in the shop before. Not really a regular, but I do remember seeing him once or twice.

And today he seemed to be on a bit of a mission.

“I need to get motivated. What I am doing now isn’t working, and I need to find something else that will move me into a different direction.”

“So give me a book that will change my life.”

That’s asking rather a lot from a book. But he was serious, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Maybe I should have handed him a treatise on differing philosophic or theological world-views. Maybe I should have given him something on Einstein or Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Or The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran; that’s a big one. Or just told him to read almost anything by Shakespeare. But I didn’t.

Nor did I ask him a lot of questions; maybe I should have. Instead, a vision of another college junior looking to change directions flashed into my head.

Suddenly it was 1975 again. That was my third year in a little private college, and perhaps the most confusing year of my life. Many of the universal truths that I had simply accepted up to that point somehow had dissipated. Unfortunately, nothing had as yet appeared to take their place.

So I was looking for a change of direction at that point, too. It wasn’t a panic thing, but it was certainly a quest.

But not a quest for someone else’s answers. I was looking for my own. I didn’t want anyone to tell me what to think or what to do, and I honestly didn’t want to know what someone else had come up with. This was something I really wanted to figure it out myself.

And it all revolved around a simple, yet somehow eloquent, question: “Huh?” That pretty much fit every situation where I found myself.

So, I will admit: I was projecting my own quest upon this earnest young man. For all I know, he just wanted instructions for a better way to do his laundry. That’s not what he got.

Instead, we went to the Science Fiction section and I handed him a book that I wish someone had handed to me.
reality
Good science fiction starts with an absurd premise (obviously, we cannot travel between the stars). But if you accept that premise, everything that happens afterward flows naturally (if we could travel between the stars…what would we find? Who would we find?).

What is important about science fiction is not the story. Rather, what is important is the very act of accepting the absurd, for this act of acceptance requires a profound suspense of disbelief.

More than that, it requires non-linear thinking. Thoughts and ideas and concepts racing between stars or bouncing off, and perhaps breaking, the boundaries of space and time. New concepts of what is, and is not, and what could be, real. New constructs; new ways of evaluating our own space and time.

And it is precisely non-linear thinking that my young customer was seeking (although he may not have realized it). I wasn’t about to give him a new direction; he probably would have rejected, wisely, anything along those lines that I had suggested. Instead, I was going to give him a new way of finding his own direction.

I handed him Time Enough For Love by Robert A. Heinlein.

Heinlein was probably the best of those who have written in this genre, and this was (in my opinion) his best work. (I won’t tell you the plot. But I will say that if you don’t know it, I envy you for what you have yet to discover.)

If all goes well, he may have just spent the best $3.50 of his life.

On the other hand, he no longer has the change he needs to do his laundry. Either way, his life just changed.

That’s my job.

Good Girl Art

I will confess to being a fan of Good Girl Art (sometimes shortened, simply, to “GGA”). My guess is that many men would make a similar confession if pressed.

YorkPaintGood Girl Art is actually a thing; I am not making this up. It is a genre that was first identified and described (and, yes, exploited by) The American Comic Book Company in the mid-1970s.

The American Comic Book Company was an outfit based in Los Angeles that catered to collectors. It was not a publisher; it was, rather, a retailer and a dealer in comic books and items of popular culture. As such, the company was just slightly ahead of the times. When they came into being, in 1969, comics and popular culture were just coming into their own as a distinct and serious area of collecting.

The art itself, depending upon how you fussy you want to be about descriptions of content and which media could (or could not) be employed, had been published since somewhere around the time of World War I.

pulps Good Girl Art, generally speaking, has nothing to do with the morals of the young lady in question. Often the opposite is the case, or at least is implied to be the case.

In the days of film noir, our heroine would have been called a gun moll.

“She was the kind of a dame that would make a bishop kick out a stained glass window” (to quote Raymond Chandler). Her attire, if it wasn’t ripped and/or falling off, would be tight and would hide little. And she was often in rather fantastic circumstances such as being attacked by an outer space monster, or shooting it out with the bad guys as she sat her bucking horse, or just being mean and sultry while she looked at you over the barrel of the gun she held in her hand.

Author Richard Lupoff, writing in The Great American Paperback: An Illustrated Tribute to Legends of the Book  codified a definition: “A cover illustration depicting an attractive young woman, usually in skimpy or form-fitting clothing, and designed for erotic stimulation. The term does not apply to the morality of the ‘good girl’, who is often a gun moll, tough cookie or wicked temptress.”

You get the idea.

David Alexander, one of the two founders of The American Comic Book Company, coined the term in one of the company mail-order catalogues. He was speaking of pulp magazines and comic books at the time. The term stuck.

It has since been expanded to include the pin-up girls of World War II, paperback book cover art from the 1950s and 1960s, calendars of the 1950s and a host of items that are real close to the line of appropriate.

We get examples of it in the shop at least weekly, usually in the form of paperback cover art. And that gave me an idea.

bimboThe York Book and Paper Fair is coming next week, and it has been my task to do some promotion. I decided that it would be pretty neat to incorporate GGA into our efforts.

bookmarkedSo, using books from our inventory, along with plenty of Photoshop image enhancing, I’ve created a series of facetious books. They are rather silly. I don’t think they actually cross the line, although some of them do get a little close. satanThey exaggerate a little and poke some fun at the stereotype of the stodgy book collector.

All of which is a very long way of inviting you to join us this weekend for the York Book and Paper Fair. It takes place on Saturday (April 4) and runs from 9 am until 4 pm at the Wyndham Garden hotel on Loucks Road.

More information, along with links to a discount coupon, is on facebook.

floozie

I hope you can join us! Maybe, just maybe, you’ll snag some GGA for your collection. (Your opportunities with a “Book Fair Floozie”…well, that’s up to you.)

 

Is My Wife There?

***RING***

I’m at the back of the shop working with a customer. Naturally. Just about as far from the phone as I can be while still being in the shop. I make my excuses and start moving toward the desk.

***RING***

I’m rounding the corner now, moving past the Science Fiction and Horror sections, and I pick up the pace. I don’t like to run in here (me running isn’t a pretty sight, and I am not in great shape), but I know that I only get four rings before the call goes into the answering machine, and most folks hang up rather than leave a message.

***RING***

Now I break into what passes for “sprinting” on my part. I fly past the vintage paperbacks (OK…”fly” is also a relative term), up past the cash register and get to the desk just as…

***RING***

“This is the York Emporium.”

“Yeah. Hi. Is this a used book store?”

“Yes, sir.”

“On West Market Street?”

“Yep.”

“Do you have romance novels in there?”

“Uh…well, yes we do.”

“Is my wife in there?”

Suddenly I know how every bartender in the world feels when they get a call from someone’s wife.

“Well, uh, she may have been. Can you describe her?”

He does. And, yes, she was here. She had just left. Now what do I do?

This is a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, I don’t want to be caught in a lie. On the other hand, it certainly wouldn’t be stellar customer service to be the cause of a customer (a paying customer, I might add) catching the ire of a husband. As a general rule, I try to stay on the good side of husbands. So…..I vamp.

“Well, yes she was here. And I’ve got to say that she really felt good about herself, sir. She bought a couple of books, but they are on sale this week and she saved about 35%. She only spent about 6-bucks. She said her husband would be proud of her because that was a lot less than she had spent last time and that she was going to bring him in before the end of the sale.”

“Oh! OK. Well…good. Thank you.”

“Bye.”

Maybe I should start asking folks if they need me to supply alibis. This could be a new profit center.

The Treasure Chest

I was on my knees this past Tuesday afternoon, painting (and cursing) an old bookcase that obstinately refused to be anything close to useful. I happened to glance up and saw her standing there, silently, watching me.

“He’s gone.”

The shop was closed. It always is on Tuesdays. But I had left the front door unlocked, because you never know who is going to wander in. Obviously, today was her day. She had let herself in and found me there, paint-spattered, on my knees and gently damning this inoffensive piece of furniture.

“Sunday afternoon. He died in his sleep.”

I let out a groan and got to my feet. I didn’t really know what to say.

They were an older couple (“older” being a relative term as I close in on that realm myself); maybe mid-80s. I don’t think I ever got their names. But they had been coming into the shop on a more-or-less regular basis for two or three years now. I’d see them every month or two.

It was always he who bought the books. He’d walk around and look in several areas, but he would always find his way to the same spot; the same books. He would delve into our Treasure Chest.

The Treasure Chest is really just an old trunk that I found in one of the storage rooms shortly after we took over the place. The handles are missing. What hardware that is left on it is rusted. It certainly doesn’t lock ,and it really is pretty well beat up. Its glory days are long past.

For the first year or two we were operating the store, I would drag it around, trying to find a spot where it might fit. But nothing seemed to work. It wasn’t tall enough to be a display stand. It was too rickety for a table of any sort. And while it did have a certain texture and charm (as in, “I’ll-bet-that-was–really-something-in- its-day” way), it was now, simply, in the way.

Until, that is, we re-worked our paperback fiction area two years ago. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, there was a spot. And! There was a function: older, series paperbacks. They were the sort of paperbacks that few wanted; that wouldn’t command high dollars, or any dollars at all actually. But we had a lot of them left over from the previous owners.chest

Don Pendelton’s The Executioner series (more than 700 individual titles so far), Able Team, Phoenix Force and Stoney Man. Also the Nick Carter—Killmaster series (250+ titles) and the like. The main characters are all clean cut, square-jawed and handy with both guns and women. Mostly women. The books all contain plenty of bad guys, too. But they’re pretty disposable.

We probably had two hundred, or more, of these books when we took over. So we tossed them all into that old trunk and slapped a sign on it, dubbing it our “Treasure Chest.” All books found therein are 50¢.

We don’t sell a lot out of it, perhaps $5 or $6 a month on average. But its fun, and it fills a niche. And it doesn’t eat much, so we keep it.

I wiped the paint from my hands and took a step closer to her, preparing to give her a hug. But she wasn’t interested in that. In fact, she wasn’t interested in me, or what I had to say, at all.

“The last group of books that he got here are still in the bag. They’re on his night stand,” she said.

I just stood there and looked at her. I still hadn’t said anything.

“I want to go to the Treasure Chest,” she said. “I want to visit with him there for a minute.”

She didn’t ask permission. She didn’t say another word. She just went back to the Treasure Chest and spent some quality time there. I don’t think she was interested in the books.

A little earlier tonight as I walked past, I noticed that our Treasure Chest is starting to look a little empty. And that’s not right.

I need to start looking for more of The Executioner.

It’s important.