Monday, June 4, 2012

The Schmooze


For the longest time in your developing years, the term ”working the room” meant something your father did, strolling about as though sampling a smorgasbord, stopping to exchange a comment or greeting, sometimes scanning the room to see if your mother were there and wishing to be at her side, or possibly seeking a television set, were there some baseball or basketball game in progress.  He came naturally by the ability to own wherever he was, in ways actors spent years achieving.  He was not the actor type or personality, rather a man who was noticed without trying to be noticed.

Your mother once explained how his activity working the room could be expressed in one word.  “Your father is a schmoozer,” she said.  “Wherever he is, he schmoozes.”

To your growing satisfaction, the more you saw similarities between your father and you, the more you became aware of your interests turning toward the schmooze.

You certainly work rooms now, but the rooms you worked with the same ease, yes, even nonchalance your father exhibited as he schmoozed, were the used bookstores proliferating throughout the magnificent smorgasbord known generically as Los Angeles.

As you would come to a recall of names and faces and, indeed, the titles of stories those names and faces had written, you had a sense of recall as you ranged through such places as the Hollywood Book Store, near the corner of La Brea and Hollywood Boulevard, the third floor of the fabled Pickwick Books farther east on Hollywood, and the remarkable Acres of Books in Long Beach.  There were, of course, others.  Your instincts for finding them were of a piece with some of your chums who had no trouble finding girlfriends.  They brought girlfriends home, you brought second- and third-hand books, in some cases, retired library books home.

Nothing in these paragraphs should be construed to mean you were not interested in a girlfriend; that activity was a major focus but not as major as the belief you kept to yourself that somewhere in one of those book stores was a book which, upon reading it, you would become transformed from the writer you were becoming to the writer you wished to be, sparing you the years of jobs so boring that you went about as though in enough of a fog to convince you that perhaps you lacked the basic intelligence to become the writer you wished.

Any number of writers, including the calm-on-the-surface Millars, Maggie and Ken, seething with their own Canadian angst, admitted to you that they were not the writers they wished to be either, that in fact being the writer of one’s wishes is some kind of mythic japery.
Evolution unravels about you.  The Olivetti portable typewriter on which you produced thirty or so novels evolved to a pernicious electric typewriter whose Mylar tape spools were forever unraveling before your eyes.  Early-generation computers evolved into more useful ones and your own output evolved, perhaps in spite of itself, perhaps because you so stubbornly threw yourself into the narrative process.

Bookstores and the publishers you once knew are in violent evolutionary ooze.  You are aware of two local used bookstores, although the closer of the two is steadily introducing new books into the shelves and the one you sometimes visit in Goleta seems on some level to be inhospitable even in the face of an accommodating staff.  Wait, there is yet another, almost in walking distance, on Anacapa Street.

You have not purchased any book from such used bookstores in ages although with some regularity, perhaps a once a week regularity, you buy used books from Amazon.  Some of these purchases are the equivalent of working the room in the sense that you recall their author or their title, whether at home or somewhere in between, using your home computer or your iPhone to order it from Amazon.

Disclosure:  Even as you typed these previous paragraphs, you recalled Fast One by Paul Cain, which you interrupted your writing here to order.  Just your luck that you have yet to read Outsider in Amsterdam by Janwillem Van de Wettering, which arrived this morning, and which you have fallen on ahead of As I Lay Dying, which arrived Friday.  How are you going to square your slowness with Selected Short Stories by John O’Hara, which may well arrive tomorrow.

Working the room electronically is not as satisfying as working the room in a used bookstore.  The sense of the schmooze is absent, the smell of all those mildewed pre-acid-free paper a non-issue, the gallery-like appearance of all those massmarket paperback covers reminiscent of a pop culture art show.

In its way, buying used books on line is too easy.  The quirky small store, with its competing smells of stale beer, old paper, and rancid wrapping papers from delicatessens and hamburger stands, guarded over by cranky, six-toed cats and misanthropic proprietors are gone now, subsumed by the big box store that is Amazon, where there is hardly a thing that is not for sale, where there is no chance for the schmooze except of course for the schmooze in your head, which is, after all, what being a writer is about.


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