Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Slightly Used, but in Remarkable Shape

On this eve of Thanksgiving, which is one of your favorite holidays, you find yourself in the neighborhood of Cafe Luna on Lillie Avenue in beautiful downtown Summerland, thinking perhaps to settle in with a latte and some quality time with a lined note pad prior to taking Sally a scant mile beyond to the place in the road where Greenwell Avenue bends in an arc dissecting a gentle declivity and a long row of avocado groves.

You are scarcely through the second sip of latte served up by Janette, her hair out of its tight, customary, work-a-day bun and dangling in reflection of its owner about to have a day off, when the proprietor, Dan Van Hurtem, appears, sees your coffee, gets one of his own, then sits to join you.  The conversation quickly moves to the area in Los Angeles bordered by Hollywood Boulevard at the east-west vectors, and La Brea (the tar) Avenue drawing its user from the northern extremity up in the hills well across the sprawl that is LA to the ocean along the beach cities.

In that particular Hollywood Blvd.-La Brea Ave. area, you spent considerable hours developing a habit that remains with you to this day--browsing--seriously browsing--the bowels and innards of used book stores.  We are not talking mere garage-sale displays of crumpled Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy and Louis L'Amour novels, nor indeed the thrift shop room, filled to massive overflow with long forgotten editions of Reader's Digest Condensed books, but the more edgy and quirky independent bookstores in and about L.A., to which you were drawn as a moth by flame and a teen-ager to a pool hall from the one used bookstore from which your addiction grew, in large measure because of the owner of the Hollywood Boulevard Book Store, who always, by the way, wore a blue suit, a solid-colored red tie, and, of course, his horn-rimmed reading glasses, the lenses of which were just less thick than the bottoms of Coca-Cola bottles.

Here was not only heaven in the abundance of books you could then afford, but one of the earliest mentoring forces in what you hoped would become your writing life.  You knew you were in the right place when you saw the young man you considered to be the best writer in your creative writing class. Age being what it was, you would never extend friendly gestures to one another, but he did nod at you in a way that you thought conveyed some respect beyond mere recognition.

The proprietor had already elicited from you the fact that you wished somehow through living, writing, and reading to transform the play dough that was you into a Writer.  From time to time he would suggest books to you, but equally important on some of your check-out, he'd ask you how you could read such things as those and hope to become a writer, at which point he would sweep your choices off the counter, then lurch through the shelves, pulling out collections of short stories by the Russians, philosophy from the Germans, plays from the Greeks, and, sparingly, an occasional contemporary novel, all of which he'd push at you and tell you to stop screwing around, get out of his goddamned store, already, and make something of yourself.  On such outbursts, he would steadfastly refuse to accept money from you.

You do not know if you have, on this Thanksgiving eve, made anything at all of yourself or if you have approximated what Proprietor had in mind when he told you to make something of yourself.  You see yourself differently now across that wide swath of time, yet much of you has remained.  Some male pattern baldness has worked at your hairline much the same way erosion has worked at the Hollywood Hills.  You weigh relatively the same, would be recognizable to anyone who knew you BT, which of course means back then.

You do know that there was indeed a time when you passed many an hour at a pool hall on Santa Monica Boulevard and for a time during your first job as an editor, investigating the physical properties of billiard, snooker, and pool tables, even to the point of having your own custom-made cue, but that brought you neither the results not the sense of growth that browsing used book stores produced.  There have been times when you have in a sense met yourself in used book stores, one in particular, Bart's in downtown Ojai, California, where there were several copies of books you had written.  Katie, a lady friend who lived in Ojai, even bought you a copy of an anthology in which you had a short story about an android who enjoyed eating first editions of books.

The eve of Thanksgiving part of the theme here relates to The Proprietor and to the hours you have spent browsing used book stores.  Never mind the new book stores, such as Chaucer's Books just off State Street and Las Positas, in the Loreto Shopping Center; that is another matter altogether.  What ever you have made or unmade of yourself has been made or unmade in some principal way in used book stores, browsing, searching for the literary equivalent of the philosopher's stone, looking for the one book that would so inspire you that you would write the one book that would make you a better writer and a better person.  Even more than with girls, with used book stores, you realized such vital truths as the fact that

You were looking for answers and what you found instead was taste and a modicum of you, with the covers only slightly foxed, the spine still in good shape, the pages not too badly marked up, the texts something you could chose to learn from if you wished.

For this, the eve of Thanksgiving.

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