Fifth Ring

he only day I close the store is Thursday night. Friday and Saturday nights when we’re open until midnight and the
most drunken and crazy people are out, Tim closes, and he's a big 6’3” man. This Thursday I stayed open until about 10:20 pm because eight or nine people were browsing around, many of them with books in their hands, not just magazine readers whom I feel no compunction about kicking out at closing time.
After the others had made their purchases, there was just one guy going through drug books (and sticking them back in the stack, out-of-alphabetical order) and a woman sitting in the back corner reading books on Sufism, I announced we were closing and brought in the sandwich board and turned off the neon “Open” sign. The man wandered out and the woman came back up to the religion section and started shelving the books she had been looking at. The door swung open and a middle-aged man in a knit cap and red-and-white windbreaker came in.

Before I could tell him we were closed, he asked where a check-cashing place was. I gave him directions to the Check Mart a few blocks away.

Then he said, “There’s a book in the window of a woman showing her breasts. Do you sell books like that?”

“Yes, we sure do,” I replied, wondering where this was going.

“I’m homeless and you people look down on me, but you sell obscene books like that,” he said. “And you call 911 on me. You’re going to call 911, aren’t you?”

The woman who had been putting the Sufi books away stood hesitantly in the aisle watching the scene. The man hadn’t noticed her.

“I‘m not calling 911,” I said, glad the phone was right there in case I had to. The guy was pretty scary looking. He was big and the counter between us wasn’t very wide. I didn’t want to piss him off.

“You honkies are always acting superior, calling 911.” (He looked white to me.) “I bet you’re going to call 911. I’m going to cash my check. You want to see my check?”

“No, I don’t want to see your check,” I said, but I glanced at it as he put it on the counter. It was from The Salvation Army.

“You want to see my I.D.?”


He pulled out his I.D. And put that on the counter. “Everything I own is in this bag,” he said, indicating a black nylon bag over his shoulder. He went on some more about 911.

“I‘m closing now,” I said, turning to the computer.

The guy started to leave, pausing in the doorway he turned back towards me and said, “I‘m going to buy some dope and screw a woman.” He paused, then added, “Bitch,” and turned right up Pike Street.

The woman who had been silently waiting in the aisle came up to the counter and we looked at each other and shook our heads. I suggested she wait a minute for him to get up the block before she left, then I locked the door behind her.

I wondered what book he had been referring to in the window. I looked. It was a Taschen publication called “Feu d ‘amour” and depicted a waved-hair woman from the Twenties holding a cigarette. Her breasts were indeed bare, but somewhat obscured by smoke and a soft focus. Obscene.—ac

dude-ly guy in big sideburns, baseball cap and carrying a blue ceramic coffee mug came in looking for a book called Primal Scream and was offended when I asked if it was self-help. I asked if perhaps it was a fiction book and he shook his head with vehemence as if my suggestion was ludicrous.
“Well then,” I said, “our books are by category and I’m not sure where to look unless you can tell me a little about the book.”
“I‘m from Portland, I’m not from here,” he said by way of explanation. “I think it should be in the small press section.”—ac

black-clad guy wanted to know if we had a “forensic” section.
“Hmm. We have a Law section and we have a Medical section. Just what kind of books are you looking for?” I asked him.
“Pictures of dead people,” he replied.

I pulled out Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective’s Scrapbook. The black-clad youth already had Death Scenes.

I said, “Well, we have a gross surgery book.”

He was thrilled and took it into a back aisle to browse for twenty minutes, then put it on hold. —ac

guy in a striped shirt and a tie came in carrying a briefcase.
“You look like a solicitor,” I said as he approached the counter.
“Oh, I’m not a solicitor,” he said. “Is the owner or manager here?”

“You‘re not a solicitor?” I asked. “What‘s the really-short, fast version of what you‘re doing then.”

“Are you the manager?” he asked me.

“I‘m the owner.”

“Well, what we’re doing—and I’m not a solicitor because these are on a consignment basis—are these greeting cards for sports fans.” He pulled out a stack of slick ugly Mariners cards.

“Not interested,” I said immediately.

“Not interested?” he could barely contain his disbelief.

“Not a sports fan.”

“You’re not a sports fan, so you won‘t carry these?” He couldn‘t believe it.

“This isn’t a neighborhood of sports fans,” I said and he left clearly dejected.—ac

black man in a baseball cap came up to the counter after browsing a minute or two.
“Have you heard that news story about the bicycle seats?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“I heard some news story about bicycle seats pressing on the male and affecting him,” he said.

“Oh, really? No, I haven’t heard that,” I said. I couldn't tell if he was for real or he just wanted to get vicarious thrills talking about “the male” and “pressing.” He had a faint smile playing about his lips.

Another customer walked in and the guy left, saying, “Nice store.”—ac

T he “Big Baby” is in. This is the guy who wears diapers for fun. He asked to see the Fetish Girls book, but $24.99 was too much for him. Then he asked if we had anything on infantilism.
“No, we don’t,” I said.

“Have you heard of it?” he asked, the same as he did the last time he was here.

“I don’t want to hear about it,” I said, busy stamping green Christmas trees on our all-purpose brown wrapping paper.

“I just asked if you heard about it,” he complained.

He hopefully picked up the magazine Dirt Rag, but it was about mountain bikes, not diapers.—ac

T here‘s an older guy who lives in the neighborhood who likes to dress up in costumes: cop, judo outfit, Superman. He also wears diapers. He asked me once if I knew of any publications for adults who wore
diapers and I had to tell him I didn’t.
He says he‘s not like one of those “Big Babies”; he apparently has a medical condition, not a fetish. He came in today—Halloween—to look at the Bibles because he collects them.

Then he told me a joke: “Do you know what Count Dracula’s favorite drink is? Bloody Mary with real blood. Two parts vodka and one part type O. That’s my type. He‘s not such a bad guy, he just likes to neck a little.”—ac

T wo young women from Newfoundland were just in. One wanted to know where the “Capitol” of Capitol Hill was. Was there a Capitol building? They were disappointed to find out there was not.
They told me their adventures so far: they’ve seen Kurt Cobain’s house and Jimi Hendrix’s grave. When they asked what there was to do around here, I mentioned the pool hall called The Garage and one of them cried, “Oh yeah, isn't that owned by some guy in Pearl Jam?” —ac

guy came in the store, walked to the back corner, then came up to the front. He was chubby with short brown hair and wore a big white sweatshirt. He asked if “David” was working.
I said no one by that name worked here.

He then asked if this was Pistil Books. Yes, it was. He asked if our store used to be located down the street by Edge of the Circle, another local bookstore.

No, I told him. We’ve always been here.

“Are you sure there‘s not a David here?” he asked. He said he wanted to apologize to David because he had tried to rob him last year. [See Pistil Prose #3: The Crime Issue for the complete details.]

“What’s your name?” I asked.

That’s when he said he was Troy Brown.

“You have to leave and don’t come back,” I told him.

“I don’t want to rob you,” he said, holding up his empty hands. “I just want to apologize. That was a real fucked-up part of my life.”

“I don’t care. You can’t come in here,” I said.

“My mother is schizophrenic,” he protested. “I put an ad in The Stranger,” he added on his way out.—ac

middle—aged couple bought a book called Secret Life: Firsthand Accounts of UFO Abductions. Then they went to the magazine rack where the man read out-loud to the woman from an article in a UFO
magazine on an alien embryo discovered in a metal cylinder.—ac

“M y Mom Hit Me and it Felt Like a Kiss,” one of a pair of lesbians looking at magazines read off a zine title. Then she paused. “Oh, that’s 'My Man.' Never mind.”—ac

A n older man with close-cropped hair and immediate bad vibes walked in the door.
“Hi hon,” he said. “I don’t want any of your books. I have something to sell.”

He unzipped his black shoulder bag and pulled out a big red hunk of meat shrink-wrapped onto a foam tray
which he dropped onto the counter with a thud. I don’t eat meat, but I think it was a roast. This was what he was selling.
“No thanks,” I said.

He picked up his meat and put it back in his bag. “I‘m 47-years-old. I’m homeless. I’m a Vietnam vet. And I don’t give a shit,” he concluded and left. —ac

J ust as I’m getting ready to close the door a sudden rush of people comes in. There’s this girl standing by the wooden table with her coat draped over her arm and she's looking at me out of the corner of her eye every
now and then. I saw her doing it and thought she's gonna steal something, she’s just waiting for me to move or look away, so I keep looking at her more intently. She walks over to the counter with a slight stagger and says she needs a book for a long ride home on the bus. I go for the to-be-shelved stack and grab a Virginia Woolf book, To the Lighthouse.
“How about this?” I ask.

She loves Virginia Woolf, she says. That’s when I notice her eyes swimming. She’s plowed.

She’s only got a five dollar bill and it's soaked from her tears. While she‘s putting away her change she gives me a “Why don’t we fuck?” look that I’ve only seen gay guys use. She asks me how a girl could “get to come home with the book guy.” She said she was a long way from home and her friends had dumped her and she didn't know where she was.

“Where were you tonight?” I ask.

She says she was at The Wildrose, the lesbian bar on the corner.

I ask her why, if she was a lesbian, she’d want to come home with me, a man. She whispers to me that she‘s a bisexual, but, “That’s a dirty word around here,” and would I “please” take her home with me.

I decline and she demands to know why, what‘s wrong with her?

Then her friends show up, relieved to have finally found her. When they weren’t looking, she asked me for my address, but I didn't give it to her. I would have given her my phone number, but this was a first for me, and she was a little on the chubby side for my taste and even though attractive otherwise, she kind of smelled like ripe cheese. —tor

S omehow we got a Rush Limbaugh book that even Books-to-Prisoners refused to take to put on their 50-cent cart. Rush`s picture on the dust jacket was all marked up with magic marker horns and mustache
and other improvements. Sean stuck a sign on it proclaiming “We pay you!” and put it in the window.
A big hulking guy came in and lurked around the free stuff while I was talking to a customer. When we stopped talking, the big guy asked what that “We pay you!” sign in the window meant.

“It`s a joke,” I said. He obviously didn`t get it. He was rather poorly dressed and seemingly not too bright. He wanted to take me up on this special offer, so I gave him a quarter and off the big lug went with his new possession. —ac

N ight shift. So a woman came in and asked to hang a flyer for a Fringe Theatre show. I told her to find a space and go ahead. She taped it up and started a conversation with me about how tap water contains all these things that will rot your teeth and basically kill you over the course of seventy years or so. The conversation led to acting and
then from acting to what's going on at the Oddfellows Hall [a local venue for theater] which according to her is evil.
So I asked, “What do you mean, 'evil'? Like the hotel in The Shining, or what?”

“Yes,” she said.

I told her about the classes I take there and how positive things are going on there now. No good, she still insists it's evil. So I started explaining one of my classes to her that had to do with acting and how in this particular class we learned how to move our pelvises more.

“Why don’t you move your pelvis?” she asked.

I said I thought people in general have a stigma about rolling their pelvises. “It’s very sexual,” I added.

She looked at me with a hard stare and asked, “Are you a survivor of childhood sexual abuse?”

“Not that I know of,” I answered.

“Oh, but you wouldn't remember it. It sounds like this problem you have with your pelvis and not moving it is a symptom of repressed childhood sexual abuse.”

“I doubt it,” I said.

She lowered her chin and looked at me with a smile from the top of her eyes like she knew the-real-truth-that-I’m-afraid-to-admit. —tor

A woman who has been holding books and buying them two-at-a-time, on Saturday was sitting reading for a while then got up and walked outside saying, "Excuse me, I'm going to be sick."
She went next door and vomited just inside the garage. After a minute I didn't see her and went out to check on her. The poor woman looked a mess, with spit and vomit on her nice black clogs with zippers. She apologized again, explaining, "I'm pregnant."

I made sure she was feeling better and suggested she clean herself up in the Paradiso restroom, the cafe next door. She smiled and said she would. A few minutes later she came back looking much better.

"I think it was the coffee I had this morning that did it," she said.

"Yeah," I said. "That would work anyone up."—nk

N ight shift. I asked a woman for her I.D., when she wrote a check. She gave me her driver’s license, her concealed weapons permit, and her handgun range punch card from the Mountlake Terrace Gun Range.
The punch holes were the shapes of little hearts.
She also told me that you can choose from a lot of life-sized targets there, including Barney, police officers, and a fat, white-trash man holding a beer can. —tor

middle-aged man came over to the counter and asked if I had heard about the universe.
“What about it?” I asked warily.
He then went on a long explanation about how some scientists a hundred years ago made a “louse” (the singular of “lice,” I take it) out of some water and batteries; they created life.
He used his hands to demonstrate the appearance of a louse, his thumb tucked between two fingers on either side was the head, the fingers the legs. He looked like he was making an elaborate shadow puppet.

And now that we have telescopes, the guy continued, we can see that nebulae look just like the shape of a louse. And the Earth is on a long hair on the back of a louse. He indicated a hair on his wrist.

He then said he was an atheist and asked if I was. —ac

T hat weird, tall guy with the bandanna on his head and the blasting earphones who always makes such a procedure of digging his 50 cents out to pay for the newspaper was standing at the counter as I innocently opened a package that had arrived via UPS. We’ve been getting packages these day from Poetry Festival participants because we
will be running the book table at the event, so that’s what I thought it was when I didn't recognize the return address: EmeraldBay Publishing.
But what I pulled out was not poetry chapbooks, but something called For Play with a big-haired blonde woman featured on the cover licking an equally big cock. The bandanna guy saw this and started going on about how he should be a bookstore so he could get sent stuff like this.

We were sent three copies of this high-quality publication, the letter from the publisher stating, “Please put these on your shelf and see how they move. If it’s anything like other stores in your area, they will be gone soon.” What 'it's' is referring to, I’m not sure. —ac

his guy walked in and looked around for a while, his head slightly in front of his body. He made his way over to the Gay section and after a bit he called out to me for help: He’s going to teach a class on “being gay”
and didn't know the first thing about it. In his words, he “needed a crash course.”
I pointed out The Joy of Gay Sex, telling him it’s got a lot of info and drawings and will suit his needs. Again he said he “didn't know anything about it.” I told him he won‘t have a problem with the class; the book is pretty straightforward.

Then he started building his story up a bit: he said he has friends who are gay and have oral sex. They tell him he really should try it if he’s going to teach a class, ‘cause that’s the only way he’s really going to know. He added that he would try it, or at least it’s crossed-his-mind, but he was into satisfying women, and did black women come in the store?

I said, “yes, sometimes.”

I walked away from him and in a few minutes he began again with, “I would try it if I had the chance...blah, blah, blah.”

So I told him to walk the streets around here on Friday or Saturday night and hit a few of the bars and ask, maybe someone will let him suck them off. He sounded interested, and then commented how he might have trouble since his dick is 10 l/2 inches long and that might be a problem for the guys.

I told him he should try nonetheless. He asked me where he should go and added again that he’d never-done-that-before and stated once more the size of his dick—10 l/2 inches. If I didn't believe it, he could prove it.

I said I really didn't care and he looked at me and said, “Just tell me one thing, are you straight?”

“Yeah, I‘m straight.”

“Oh,” he said, and made his way toward the door and out, with the stupid grin a con-artist gets when his spiel flops and he has to keep his self-respect. —tor

"Are you buying?"

woman came in pushing a baby carriage and trailed by two little girls, about five-years-old wearing sunglasses and leis. I let the girls use the bathroom after one of them asked very politely (which is usually off-
limits to customers as it is our storeroom, kitchen sink and none too clean). I generally make an exception for kids. Later when I went back to the bathroom, the toilet seat had been carefully covered in toilet paper—apparently they had been taught to do this. One of them brought up a penny she had found on the floor.
The mother was kind of spooky with her whisper-y voice and Nike 'swoosh' T-shirt. She was looking for Shirley Jackson books—who wrote “The Lottery”, as well as, books about her family life, a creepy mixture of a witch hunt and child rearing. The mother put a couple of books on hold, saying she’d be back later that afternoon.

Sure enough, a couple of hours later, the entourage stopped outside the store and the mother left the kids outside on the sidewalk, sitting down with their KFC meals. She came in to pick up her books on hold and became fascinated by the Edward Gorey books (”A is for Amy who fell down the stairs.”) on display on the counter, carefully writing down the titles on a slip of paper.

Later this obnoxious book scout who’s come in before trying to sell junk books, came in again. He’s got a blonde ponytail and a big mouth, about 45.

“You don’t want Rod McKuen?” —ac

told a couple of AT&T representatives in white shirts, ties, and crew cuts that I was “not interested” in whatever they were hawking. These sales guys are always hostile when you don’t let them give you their spiel, but they act polite
“You have a nice day,” they say, glaring.
Later on, after they must have made a circuit of the neighborhood, they were drawn back into the store by a book in the window, Special Cases, with a photo of the skeleton of a hydro-cephalic child on the cover. —ac

N on book-related questions I have been asked today:
1 “Is it safe to drink water in here?”

2 “Is there a Saturday market on Capitol Hill?”

3 “Isn't there some sort of Saturday market type thing on Capitol Hill?”

4 “What time is it?”

5 “Is there a word for putting designs on wood?”

6 “Where is there a pay phone near here? I was told there was one in Cafe Paradiso, but
I didn’t see it.”

7 “How do I test the engine compression in my 1969 Toyota Corona station wagon?” (While handing me a guide on Toyota truck engines and expecting me to look it up for him.)

8 “Do you have the number for Twice Sold Tales [another local used bookstore]? I‘m at a pay phone and there’s no phone book and I don’t want to call Information?”

9 “Do you have a bathroom I can use?”

10 “Can I use your bathroom?”

11 “Where is The Edge of the Circle [a local pagan bookstore]?”

12 “Is Dr. Larry there?” (wrong number)

13 “Can I have change for a dollar?”

14 “Can you call Triple-A? I’ve locked my keys in my car.”

15 “Where are the record stores?”

16 “Is Karen Thompson there? She called Triple-A from this number and we’re waiting around the corner.”

17 “Is it true that the Sunday paper comes out on Friday? Somebody told me
that.” —tor