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Finding Hank

February 10, 2009

While I am a man of curious and mismatched habits, I have one addiction I feel safe in divulging in what may be considered excessive detail. I love used book stores. I love book stores, for that matter – but there is something about a used book store that is fundamentally more humanitarian than a regular bookstore. New books have all the excitement and feel of new life. The pages aren’t dog-eared, the margins aren’t scribbled in. They haven’t been sat on, stuffed in the bottom of a bag, or left out in the rain. There are no coffee or food stains. New books are pristine and they have that New Book Smell that, if I could find in scented candle, I would burn it continuously. And I really don’t like smelly candles.

Living where I live, the best used bookstore around is Bookmans Media Exchange. [Consider this an official plug. Don’t judge me. I’m hoping for some free store credit.] I usually go to the one in Mesa because it’s close to home. Bookman’s sells books, magazines, comics, CDs, DVDs, 331/3 vinyl (and sometimes 45s), laser discs, CASSETTES (for those of you who remember them) and VCR tapes. Whatever your geek obsession is, they have it, even those role playing games we all played in junior high (D&D as well as AD&D), If it’s media they have it – including such hard to find things as old school Atari, Sega, and Nintendo games. They take all of these things in trade and will give you cash (usually not very much) or (more importantly) STORE CREDIT. I have (as I have mentioned in previous installments) gone about the process of trading in some of my old books – the ones I either don’t read, don’t like, or wish I hadn’t bought – and while I was intending to go through this process to thin the herd of books that follow me from place to place, I usually end up buying more. In my defense, though, I only buy books when I find specific ones that interest me or are by authors whose work I know I will want to read a year from now.

There are always certain books and certain writers I look for. There are certain writers that I never expect to find in the stacks of a used book store – even one as well organized as Bookman’s – so when I find any one of them, I get giddy. Yes. Giddy. Very little makes me giddy. I’m allowed one thing. And in this case I was especially excited… because as I was trolling the poetry section, which is usually populated by those poets people are forced to read in school and then promptly forget (whether they deserve it or not) I happened upon SIFTING THROUGH THE MADNESS FOR THE WORD, THE LINE, THE WAY, by Charles Bukowski.

I never see Buk’s books on the shelf of a used book store. Never. Shakespeare? Tons. Browning? A landfill full. Yeats? There isn’t a barge big enough for it all. Milton? If there was a hell, his would be the dusty shelf of a used bookstore. Rita Dove? If you know who she is, you deserve to have your library card revoked for life. But BUKOWSKI? Forget about it. His readers are dedicated assholes who horde his stuff with a passion and greed rarely seen outside of Wall Street or Washington D.C. The collection in question was published after his death in 1994. The volume was in surprisingly good condition. This led me to a couple different conclusions: 1) either somebody bought it thinking all he wrote about was drinking and fucking and was disappointed to find out that even raving lunatics have depth, or 2) somebody sold it for beer money. I preferred the latter, as I suspect Hank would, too.

Even though I was actually hunting another writer, I grabbed SIFTING without a second thought. I looked around to make sure it wasn’t some trap and to make sure there wasn’t some rube hiding behind the shelf waiting to accost me for my uncanonical tastes. To be a reader of Bukowski is to understand that no matter how many times you try and explain yourself, no uptight academe will understand you. Most likely, they will smirk in a condescending way and go on, safe in the knowledge that they are better read and, therefore, better than you. Fuck those idiots. Let them read Thomas Wolfe. Let them read Rita Dove. For that matter, let them read Billy Collins. They deserve what they get.

When I thought it was safe, I made my way up to the register. I had Buk, along with a few other books (Thurber) two CDs (Mahler’s 4th and Beethoven’s 5th), and a movie (CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND). The line was long. It was Saturday, it was crowded, and the bookstore seemed a bit understaffed. When I finally got to an open register, I was greeted by a friendly blonde with cute freckles wearing a pink sweater. She smiled. I smiled, which is always hit or miss with new people. She scanned my books. When she got to SIFTING, she smiled a wide smile and said, “It’s rare to find Hank here.”

I liked the way she said “Hank.” Like she knew him personally – thought she looked too young to have known him while he was writing WOMEN. “I know,” I answered. “I was surprised. He’s never here.”

“Hmmm,” she mused. “I know. I usually manage to grab his stuff when it’s here.”

I liked her. She was friendly, and anybody who reads Bukowski is somebody worth knowing. But I kept my eye on her. Even friendly blonde women who work in used book stores can nab a book when you’re not paying attention. She went to go hunt the discs for the empty cases I’d picked out. I got out my wallet. I almost had enough store credit from my recent trade-ins to cover the cost of what I intended to buy. I only needed to cover the tax. But when I opened my wallet to get out my debit card, it wasn’t there. SHIT! “What the fuck??” I muttered, maybe a little too loud. The blonde looked back at me. “Nothing,” I said. Then I looked at the register. “Listen,” I said, “Is that the total I owe?”

“That’s what I’ve rung up so far,” she answered. She smiled. “Don’t worry. I can put the disks back if I need to.” “Ok.” I looked through my wallet. The debit card wasn’t there. I thought of the last time I’d seen it. Melissa and I had been out of town. I hadn’t seen the card, really, since I paid for the room the night before we flew back to Arizona. Did I leave it in Tennessee? Did I lose it on the plane? Did some tricky bastard pick it out of my wallet while I was guarding my contraband copy of Bukowski? In was going through my list of buys. What could I give up? I could give up the movie. I could probably even give up Beethoven. I had three different Thurber books. I could ditch two of them if I really had to.

She came back. I was about to tell her to take some of the purchases off, but she finished scanning everything. The total was a buck and some change over what I had in store credit. I handed her the credit slip, preparing to explain the situation. She hit a few keys on the register. It dinged and the drawer popped open. “There,” she said. “You got it just right.” She smiled.

“Thanks,” I said. “Take it easy.”

“Take it easy,” She smiled.

I took my purchases, including Hank, and left the store.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan permalink
    February 10, 2009 9:39 pm

    Beautiful– I can nearly smell the mustiness on a sun-baked afternoon.

    You would love the Strand. The website looks a little glitzy, but inside the shelves run floor to ceiling and the aisles are narrow and dusty– especially in the basement and in the first-floor stacks. And there are racks of $1.00 books all along the sidewalk outside.

    • February 11, 2009 2:31 pm

      I love dollar book bins… sometimes Changing Hands, the indie bookstore I like to go to here, has books set out on tables and on roll away shelves out in front of the store for dirt cheap like that…

  2. Matt Brown permalink
    February 11, 2009 8:47 am

    Relish that place, man. The used book stores around here are all closing or selling only via the out of print section. It’s hard for a small businesses keep paying for retail space when you can submit a list of ISBNs to a website and unbox them from the basement only when one sells.

    • February 11, 2009 2:37 pm

      Sad but true, man. If there’s any justice to this situation, the big chain brick and mortar stores are having troubles, too. Not much consolation… but maybe it will spur people to think of better options…. like Kaldi’s on Main street… coffeeshop/bar/bookstores. What a wonderful thought….

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