First Ring

It  was about 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. I was waiting for the phone company to hook up a line in back and so had the window open at the back
of the store, when I heard the distinctive hiss of an aerosol can. Peering carefully out the window, I saw a fellow tagging and another looking out. What a lark.

They looked to be about 16. I noted the clothes of each and slunk up and called 911 telling them all I knew. I could hear them calling code numbers to cars as I held the line. Efficient folks down there at 911. Moments later, the group, five of them, came up the stairs beside the store and were waiting for a couple of minutes at the bicycle rack.

They're all dressed in super-baggy clothes and a couple of them are wearing hooded jackets, other than that they look like perfectly clean-cut youth, just getting out of school, messing around on their way home.

They strolled casually away towards Broadway, the arterial down the street. I stood at the door, just my nose peering past the frame, careful not to be noticed, and watched them walk straight down the street. Just then a bicycle cop rolled up in his little helmet and his short pants cop outfit.

He pulls to a near stop, but still standing on the pedals, with his butt up in the air and hands firmly on the metal handlebars, noticed my view and asked nodding, "That them there?"

He did not even stop rolling as I confirmed his suspicions, then departed quickly. I was feeling a little uneasy at this point, the thrill of the catch having passed, but the scene was certainly getting more interesting. I was shocked at the cop's speedy arrival. Maybe 30 seconds passed, I am still in the doorway and I can see the bike officer has jumped on someone and I can see a few figures running in various directions, one is running full speed diagonally across Broadway and our street, Pike.

Another 30 seconds pass and here comes a cop car from the opposite direction on Pike, on the wrong side of the street and with lights ablaze. Another mount goes by and another cop comes around a corner at full throttle, sirens wailing. I saw at least seven cars responding, streaking past under heavy acceleration, long after the flock of boys were moving as fast as their overpriced "tennies" would carry them.

First I was fearful, then aghast, then overcome with mirth. I came back inside and could not stop giggling. Never have I seen such an overreaction to such a peccadillo of a crime.
About an hour later the same bicycle cop who rolled by initially came back later to inform me that the perpetrators had videotaped their crime for posterity, so chances were good I would not have to trudge down as a witness so the store could be tagged for the next five years in revenge.

He said also that he hates taggers, enunciating the word "hate" with real passion—apparently a view shared by much of the force. So next time we're getting robbed, or I am chasing down some fuck with a book in his pants, when I expect to see an officer in some 45 minutes to an hour, I'll just yell "Taggers, taggers" and watch the sky light on fire.—sc

clean-cut youngster clutching a briefcase and reeking of bad cologne came in asking to "speak to the manager." Sensing an unsolicited sales
talk, I reluctantly admitted that would be me.

He started to tell me about some "free" online listing of merchants he was representing and I interrupted him to say I was busy and could he just leave the information and if we were interested, we'd contact him. Of course this confounded and annoyed him as I was interrupting his hard-memorized spiel and his presentation all lined up in his briefcase.

He kept asking when would be a good time to come back and I told him there was no good time as I tried not to breathe too much Brut, could he just leave the information and get out of my way. He pulled some brightly colored pamphlets from his briefcase, spieling all the while, flustered.

"When can I come back?" he asked.

"Just leave the information and I'll call you if I'm interested," I countered.

"But it's free!" he sputtered. I could see him deciding whether or not to actually leave a brochure or not, as he didn't want to leave one without going on about it. But he left and later as I glanced at what he left I could see a price guide: 6 month listing $45.—ac

"I said we could buy "Oprah's books", not old books!"

clean-cut guy wearing bifocals came in and perused the magazine rack with a faint smile. I noticed he was holding something under his jacket which I couldn't see. After three or four minutes, he turned to me and
asked if I had ever met an Indian person.

I guessed he meant East Indian because I was playing sitar music. I said, yes. He commented how all the ones he'd met were arrogant and stuffy, not worth paying attention to since they were so "stuck-up." I said I thought the Indians I'd met were different, but not arrogant per se. He asked me if I'd change the music because, "This music always makes me think of incoming."

He said he'd been in Vietnam and this music always reminding him of being in a foxhole. I said I'd change the music if he liked, and asked what he'd like to hear. He said I should put on some American music, like Elvis. I found my Beatles tape and put it on. He smiled and said that was better. I even think he shook his hips a little.

"Now this music I can relate to," he said. I mentioned that the Beatles were English, but he said that was okay. After two or three songs he looked at me and said "All my friends think of incoming, too, when they hear this music."—tor

A couple of punks came in last night, about 9 p.m., one of whom was in about a week ago looking for bird books—I think he swiped one. So this eve they were carrying a large stuffed plastic bag, which they agreeably checked at the counter.

I was working on the computer in back with no

customers in the store, so I was not happy to have to sit at the counter and watch these guys finger through the mags and music section, hunched over in their huge coats.

I estimated the chances of one of them spending any money—the antithesis of punk culture—as being about as likely as the Queen of England moshing. But of course it is the height of retail rudeness to assume that a person is just going to loiter based only on what they look like. Just then, the guy going through the mags informs the guy going through music that the publication Live Wild or Die has printed some of his artwork. They both excitedly examine the pages in question while I lurk behind a copy of Z Magazine, thinking, "Ah-ha, now they'll have to buy something."

After a few minutes the artist puts back the magazine and says, "Wow, that's great. They should send me a free copy."

After they left I could still detect that peculiarly foul murky odor people have who have not bathed in awhile.—sc

N ew Year's Day. Another year of retail hell! Big, stupid long-haired guy is sitting on the stool in front of drugs/Loompanics reading. He asked for The Anarchist Cookbook, not that he wants to buy it, mind you. (Lesson:
Do not leave the stool in front of drugs/Loompanics.)

I told him he could special order it, but of course he doesn't want to pay for it. He just wants to sit and read it. I hate him. I am annoyed at being stuck behind the counter where I can watch him when I was in the middle of redoing the window.

When he came in, he said to no one in particular, "They don't do piercings!" I think he was referring to the tattoo shop. Later he brought up Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and asked if it came out before the movie. His nice girlfriend bought two health books.—ac

An  old man who could barely speak English wanted to know if we had any children's books by "Lewis." This being a fairly vague question, I asked if he meant C.S. Lewis. He didn't understand my question and just repeated that he wanted children's books by "Lewis" and spelled out the name.

I showed him some of the Narnia books and it turned out these were the ones he was after, though it took him a while to understand that they were a part of a series. He said he was learning English.

Then he said there was a book in the window he wanted to see. I thought it might be one of the Lewis Carroll books, after all he was after children's books. But no, he wanted to see, Cunt, by Inga Muscio. (He pronounced it perfectly.) I got the book out of the window for him and hoped I wouldn't have to explain what it meant. He looked at it briefly, but as there were no pictures I don't think he was all that interested.—ac

girl buying an independent film making book asks if we take checks or credit cards. I say, "Both," and she pulls out a crumpled check imprinted with cartoon characters from her wallet. I'm dubious as she fills it out,
for the check is crumpled and worn to the point of disintegration.

She asks if I want to see I.D. and I do. But as it turns out, the check is number 221 from Bennington, VT. Not even a street address, just "Bennington, VT." Needless to say, I did not accept it. She pays with her credit card. Bennington is home to Bennington College, that little artsy fartsy college Brett Easton Ellis writes about with pill-popping co-eds.

Apparently he went there. The check-writing girl was dressed all in plaids and wool cap, as if she's been hiking in the Vermont woods.—ac

hate it when people talk on their cell phones in the store or when they come in with their Walkman earphones blasting so loudly that I have to listen to it too. This morning someone came in with Walkman
blaring and hovered around the free stuff a while. We had the lovely Black Cat Orchestra playing on our stereo, and the din of this person's scratchy, tinny headphone noise was especially irritating and loud. She came up to the counter and put a Stranger down, then looked at me expectantly.

"It's free," I said.

Still she stood there, a young black woman, a teenager, with blonde hair. Then she asked to borrow the scissors. I gave them to her and she started to go on about how "I believe if you're really good at something, like Michael Jordan, you will be a success, blah, blah, blah..."

I had absolutely no interest in talking about Michael Jordan or in that bullshit "success, attitude, excellence" philosophy and/or jargon found most often in bad pop psych books or motivational seminars. Oh, and on those posters with the jet fighters they had at the vocational school I used to work at. I ignored her and tried to run a credit card mail order sale, but for some reason, the phone line was dead.

I messed with the phone and the credit card machine, still ignoring the continuing-to-jabber teenager.

"You'll see me on T.V. someday. You'll see me on T.V. someday," she insisted.

'Honey, I don't watch T.V.,' I was thinking. 'Why won't she leave? She's not buying anything.'

"Is your phone not working?" she asked now. "Do you have a jack? If you have a small screwdriver, there's a blue wire and a black wire you turn clockwise."

"It's okay now," I lied and headed to the back of the store to make myself coffee.

The girl stood at the counter and slowly made her way to the front door, still she kept talking to me for the next five minutes until she was finally out the door. "You have a good day," she said.

She had left The Stranger on the counter. She had cut out an ad from the Bulletin Board on the back: "Women's Voice, Women's Spirit. Workshops for young women on personal discovery. Great opportunity!"—ac

"So—How much are the Hardbacks??"

gentleman with a Charlie Chaplin/Hitler mustache came in with a purple heavy-polyester-knit sweater slung over his shoulder. He was looking for books on Psychology. After looking in that section for ten
minutes, he started to walk out and made some vague comment about not finding books of the same theme.

From his mode of speech I sussed he was from another country. Then he asked for directions for Volunteer Park, a notorious hang-out. Could he be looking for books on Gay Psychology? Maybe, but I didn't think of it at the time. —NK

guy came in and asked where science fiction was and then if it's alphabetized by author. I always wonder about people who ask this question after they've been looking at the section for five minutes.
Can't they tell?

He came up to the counter with a couple of science fiction paperbacks and Noam Chomsky's Culture of Terrorism. "It's so nice to find a normal bookstore!" he proclaimed.

"And we qualify?"

"Well, no offense if you're gay," he said, "but I'm not. And so many bookstores around here are gay and I just want to get something to read without getting into any issues."—ac

The woman who used to scout the free rack nearly every day, a tiny old woman who must weigh about 65 pounds, always overdressed and wearing a beige overcoat with the hood up, just came in and actually spoke directly to me. I doubt if I have made eye contact with her before, she conducts herself with great deference but is persistent
as well. I think previously I had only heard her mumble things about the Lesbian Resource Center's newspaper on the free rack. So she came to the counter today and asking for a copy of On the Beach by Shute.

Her face was mole-like, with very white flaccid wrinkles gathering at her jaw line, a tight scarf wrapped around her head underneath her hood. Shute was not on the shelves—one of those so-common books we never buy it. But way up in overstock, gathering a fine layers of dust on the top edge, I found an old paperback.

I gave it to her and she bent over it, flipping through the browned pages. She came back up to the counter and in her hesitant high-pitched voice showed me two books she wanted to trade for it: a Garfield comic and Menstruation and Menopause in trade size paperback.

No money, no bookee; Shute. She thanked me profusely, took her throw-aways, and put them neatly in her bag. Exited right. I figured she does pretty well on the free rack.—sc

Y oung guy with knapsack, knit cap, came in and said he's trying to find a story. It has to do with a guy who meets death who tells him his days are numbered, so the guy runs and hides in the mountains to escape his fate.
There he runs into death again and jokes with him. The story has some kind of trick to it, the young man can't remember what. Also, he's not sure if he read it or dreamed it.—ac

grunge couple with dyed black hair are walking around, both picking their teeth with toothpicks. Neither of them has acknowledged me in any way. If I find a toothpick on the floor (and I've found them in the
past), I'm gonna be pissed. I just vacuumed this morning. I'll know its theirs.—ac

D eadbeat Communists: This guy in a fatigue green cap with a big red star on the front, long black hair, and loose fitting jeans is on the floor over by the window display reading a book. Hardly anyone comes in; he
stays over there reading that book some 45 minutes. Eventually I ask him if that's a new book or a used one. He tells me it is new without looking up.

I say, "Well, I ask that people not just read new books in the store because soon they become shopworn and can no longer be sold as new books."

He rolls his eyes, gets up and puts the book back, saying nothing. He stands and looks at lesbian mags for a while, hands in his pockets, then turns abruptly and heads for the door. When he gets his hand on the handle, I say, "Thank you," cheerily.

He mutters something.

Were there bookstores under Mao where you could just go in and bend up the new stuff while hanging out on the floor as long as you wanted?—sc

Later that day...
"Say, How do I get to Renton?"

just got called an anti-male gay bitch by a friend of Nemo's whom I then threw out. (Nemo is a local poet.) Nemo saw the Mouse Tales book about Disney World/Land in the window and wanted to trade this book he
just bought for fifteen dollars straight across for it. While I was irritably (I admit it) explaining to Nemo, with whom I've never been able to have a rational conversation, that I wasn't trading my book for his book, his friend was mumbling about how businesses like this were going to get closed down.

That's when I told him to leave and he called me an anti-male gay bitch. Nemo, meanwhile, kept mumbling about how he wrote for The Stranger when it was 16 pages and The Rocket and he'll come buy this book when he gets his paycheck from Rolling Stone.—ac

Young guy, 25ish, black curly hair, wearing a T-shirt with alien heads on it with a target superimposed over them stepped to the counter and apologized for being groggy because he just got off a flight. He had a book published, he explained, warming up to the subject, and was told we
might be just the place to carry it. He began to describe the plot as I stared blankly at him.

I asked if it was a self-published work. He said, "Yes, but its got an ISBN. I bought ten of them, so I'll probably publish someone else's work."

He said the main character, the protagonist, I guess, was a cyborg, and I might even get a visit from him. I said I'd wear my anti-gravity suit for the occasion. His eyes gleamed with interest and he described most of the components of Mr. Cyborg's suit, right down to the rubber boots. The book was available from a company called Fringewear, where he published the first chapter of his book, which was actually an assignment for his astronomy class, and he's already sold thirty copies!

He said in an aside that he is actually the cyborg and he'd be glad to sell his book out front, in his jumpsuit. I told him that wouldn't work for us because of liability issues around the uneven sidewalk.

When I brought out the Pistil journal to start getting his visit down on paper and to encourage his departure, he was happy to see the implicit camaraderie we shared. He bought a used Bukowski because he wanted to use his style in his next work. I read a few pages of his efforts. Surprise, its awful.—sc