Aug 4, 2004

The First Vice

A stack there of prayer books and old family bibles and theology in the antique shop on the main street side street closed with boards crossing the window where we looked through into the dark. Prayer books, we said, tantalized, grinning tantalized.

There was an organ in there, three pianos and assorted old furniture, tools and shelves of glass. And books. We wanted the prayer books and the theology books. Scatted there were Graham Greene novels and the works of Conrad and histories of the Irish revolutions, as buried in a field. Closed, the sign said, and then later: Call Michael and later Auction.

We went that Saturday, the old man sitting downstairs a little quiet and little sad talking about sicknesses and surgeries with the dealers muttering price sheets and the wrinkled wearing-barn-boots men hooking thumbs into pockets. The auctioneer stood on his stool, boot heels knocking for luck, shouting old-fashioned help-your-neighbor capitalism in a performance half revival, half rock, readjusting his mesh-backed ball cap, sweating on the brow and asking does he hear hundred fifty. I signed my name for a number 83 remembering back the way the mountains looked when an auctioneer’s daughter wore sunglasses and that auctions are about not making eye contact.

So, he asked me when it was over, you wanna start a bookstore.
Shee-it, I said, it might be the only thing I know how to do.

The books are spread now like continents drifting on carpet, stacked thigh high, shoulder if you’re short, ink seeping into the aging-paper air of Apt. C rear. One thousand, we say. Give or take a few hundred.

Two shelves and two and a half truck loads of books for $45: decades of novels re-read some and some forgotten, travel guides to South America, libraries of priests and pastors, sex education and financial advice in a serial of modern updates, sorority handbooks from Amherst, Latin primers and three copies of How to be a Mortician.

I piled them up to my chin, moving them from basement to truck, truck to apartment while friends laughed loving our intoxication and the neighborhood children sat watching on the slide graffitied Hey Buddie!, watching us white and this the greenest of bookmobiles, and dared each other to go, take a book. Then coming, they carried a few, climbed into the truck and told us their names, careful not to stand on the books, taking cookbooks for their mothers. Ooooooooo, said the other children, walking around into our alley, gonna teeeeeelllll but the kids pointed out the bibles, the Why Jesus Came (for Children) we’d given then, said we were nothing but ghetto scholastics, bachelor monks working out our salvation where sweat swirled with book rot on our chins. A few, the jaunty-walking Anthony Thomas and the speech-impeded Megan, ventured inside to return telling of the St. Michael on the wall, the Madonna with naked angels and the bull fighter in red, yellow and orange, to read Suess’s Oh! The Places You’ll Go and ask if they could take it home. A first grader in need of a hair cut tucked Sex and the Contemporary Christian under his arm until I made him admit he didn’t know if he was a contemporary Christian and told him that, actually, I needed that book.

Our friends came over every night for a week – ticketless circus featuring freaks without a Ferris wheels – sitting on the floor where the books towering teetered, inhaled, and smiled. They read Highway Blonde, The Black Cloud, The Other Woman, and Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to New York, quoted Methodist advice from ’57 (try sleeping on your back) and the biography of Padre Pio.

He read the bible in German. I read the mass in Latin.

Im Unfange war das Wort, he said. Und das Wort, war bei Gott, und Gott war das Wort.

Itta missa est, I said. Deo gratias.