Sixth Ring

Aburly guy walking down the sidewalk carrying a Coke can passed the open door, then backed up and came in.
He walked rapidly straight to the back of the store without looking at me. I watched him in the convex mirror as he disappeared down the aisle and turned out-of-sight. He was displaying all signs of bad news: coming into the store on impulse, heading towards the back, not acknowledging me, he didn’t look like he read, and he was carrying that Coke (our customers carry Cafe Paradiso coffee cups).

I picked up my empty coffee cup to take to the back sink and to see what this guy was doing back there. As I approached the “Staff Only” sign that hangs on a string across the hall leading to the bathroom and the office, the guy came out of the bathroom. He stepped up to the string, which was about eye level on him, and we looked at each other across it for a moment.

“Get out,” I commanded.

He ducked under the string and started walking up an aisle towards the front of the store. He turned and said, “I was only using your bathroom,” showing a mouthful of decaying teeth.
Obviously, he was not using our bathroom because he was only in there for a second and he didn’t even shut the door and in any case he went right underneath the “Staff Only” sign to get back there. He was looking for something to steal.

“Get out,” I said again.

“You don’t have to be so rude,” he said. Then he called me an ugly bitch. I told him to get out or I‘d call the police.

“I don’t care what you do,” he said.

We reached the front door and he tried to insult me some more, asking if I was going to get my “girlfriends from next door” (he was referring to The Wildrose, a lesbian bar) to kick him out.

Good idea, I thought.

Several customers were standing around front watching this scene. A hippie guy with a Mexican accent said, “Hey, there’s children in here!”

“Get out!” I said again, pointing out the door. This was a trick I learned from Carlos at Delicious Music, next door, to deal with hostile or crazy people: simple commands.

The guy stepped outside, finally. He spit on the sidewalk.

“Dyke,” was his final word.—ac

Ah, the Day of Love [2-14-98], du Jour l'Amour! Overcast today, so little traffic. Couple of lesbians buying mysteries and Pat Califia. A woman dressed as a man purchased a huge
stack of $3 art books from the Sixties.

Vacuumed for the first time in two months. Fielded a phone call from a woman wanting latex fetish books for her boyfriend. A guy named Michael set a postcard aside on-hold and asked if Pistil would be interested in sponsoring a section of his video show with a "postcard of the day." Yeah, as long as it's not "Goddess Kring"! (a "nude" local access television hostess) The postcard he set aside was one of those "Paris" girls lounging in her underwear with her puppy.

Then this woman came in to tell me she had her photo in the Capitol Hill Times. She is very short and talks a blue streak. I remember her when she first moved here from Brooklyn because she applied for a job at Beyond the Closet, the gay and lesbian bookstore where I used to work and couldn't stop talking about her "career with books" and how she'd be the perfect person for the job. A true New Yorker.

Gawd! I love this job. I'm sure Sean and Amy think I'm a big slouch, but it's hard to get things done when it's busy.—NK

"Could you direct me to your health books?"

Saturday night; I am covering Tim‘s shift. A pretty skanky looking middle-aged man with sunken, unshaven cheeks, baseball cap, wool shirt and a cheap backpack briskly
approaches the counter and tells me he’s got cotton stuck in his right ear. He motions to it with his hand. He asks me to remove it for him. I hesitate for a moment, squinting at the prospect and ask if he hasn’t got a friend who would like to do that.

He says he’s got to get it out now, explaining that he was at the Wildrose, the women’s bar a few doors down. The music was loud, so he stuck this handy cotton ball in his ears and voila, here he is. So for the benefit of humankind I peer down his right ear hole and notice it is dirty. Lots of hairs down there. Doesn’t look very inviting.

I tell him I can’t see a thing, nope, no cotton whatsoever. I know he thinks I am not looking carefully enough, or just don’t want to mess with it so I suggest helpfully and with a straight face that it may just be earwax that he may have compressed to block his hearing. I give him a couple of tips as to how to clear out earwax. He shakes his head as I enumerate my suggestions.

“Well, it’s either I get it out or I call 9-l-l,” he says. He asks me to call.

Not wishing to argue about it I dial them up and he begins to walk out, telling me to send them over to the Wildrose. I tell him to wait a minute, as I’m not going to talk to them. He steps back irritatedly and lowers his attention into the receiver.

Just then a short, somewhat disheveled woman bangs open the front door and yells in a Southern accent “Billy, you take me home right now!”

He glances over and waves her away.

“Right now!” she yells again. He hands me back the phone.

“They don’t do that,” he says, and exits with little-miss-vocal-chords before I can offer more cotton. —sc

"Can I use your bathroom?"

A homeless-looking guy comes in and is hanging around the counter by all the free stuff for a long time. He is apparently fascinated. After a while he asks me for a bag because
he has collected so much free stuff in his arms. I give him one.

I am keeping a pretty close eye on him because there are expensive new books near him on the counter as well as two charity cans with money in them. But in 45 minutes I step away from the counter briefly a few times to check books and the like. He is reading and reading.
He goes over to the magazine rack for awhile and reads there, then goes back to the more interesting free stuff. I step away again and when I come back just a few seconds later he is heading out the door. I walk over to the other side of the counter and sure enough: the Books-to-Prisoners donation can is gone.

Both cans have chains on them but are secured in a makeshift way, with tape and paper clips, the chains are mostly show. I head out after him digging my mace out of my pocket as I run and spot him crossing the street in front of the coffee shop a few doors towards Broadway. I can see the can through the plastic bag he requested. I grab his arm with my left hand and tell him to “give it up” and he manages through some struggling to keep the bag out of my reach.

I decide to walk him up to the store, because I am the only one there, so I just keep pushing him back towards the store, telling him we’ll talk about it there. Finally he twirls around, ripping his shirt in two in the process, as I won’t let go of him, and swings at me with his free hand. I let him have it with the mace.

He yells, “What the fuck?!” and begins to run back across the street, into traffic. I lunge after him letting loose another stream of mace, which I promptly run into as it lingers dissipating in the air.

Neat. So I can’t see a thing and my urge for bad-man-capture has immediately changed to a tearful-blinking-sadness-for-my-own-sorry-state: that of, crying-klutz-with-mace-having-squirted-hastily.

I weave back to the store, stumbling over the chairs in front of Cafe Paradiso and call the cops, bending over and rubbing my stinging head behind the desk as the phone cop quizzes me. A woman wanders up with a couple of magazines and puts them on the counter.

“Crying man, with no shirt holding metal can,” I tell them, “Will you just dispatch a cruiser please?

Of course nothing comes of it. In my maced haze I told them it was the Books-to-Prisoners can. I’ll bet the local constabulary were really anxious to get that back to the rightful owner. I can just see the beat cop when that call came in, sipping his coffee in a large styrofoam cup:
“...oh yeah, and can I get three of those white-powder ones over there, with the colorful-sprinkles-on-top?”—sc

"I need a symbol that means "harmony with the universe."


Last Tuesday I was putting the garbage can on the curb next to a parked City Light truck. One of the workers asked me if I was the owner of the shop and he proceeded to inform me that putting anything on a phone pole violates the anti-postering ordinance, a favorite among artists and musicians locally—prohibiting putting posters on phone poles because this creates an “unsafe condition,” according to the city, for City Light workers who climb poles.
Consequently, this guy informed me, the hook which I embedded about 15 feet up the pole from which I strung some Christmas lights, was illegal and I could be facing a 30-dollar fine.
Feeling weak in the knees, I pinched myself, closed my eyes really tight, thinking maybe I had slipped into the Land o’ Idiots, but when I opened them again, he was still there.

I said, “Oh.”

Mr. City Light worker told me that the only reason he‘s telling me is because he knew a guy who was climbing a pole and he felt some Christmas lights in his back and it startled him so much that he fell and broke his leg.

“Gosh,” I said, and I told him that were such a thing to happen here, I expect I’d have about as much liability as I’d have for the Mad Hatter drowning in his teacup. I asked if that hard hat had ever saved his life.

So I figured if the fucker reports me I’ll have to get a little something on him. Seeing that he is working directly outside the storefront windows, I sat at the front desk, and recorded what he did for the next two hours:
 11:00 – 11:50 Stood over his man hole and bullshitted, mostly with this guy mixing small quantities of cement and lowering them down the hole.
 11:50 He looked at a small rectangilar device that came up from the hole as he ate a pastry, C9 11:55 Makes a phone call on his cell phone.
 12:05 He goes down the hole, comes back up.
 12: 10 Lowers the rectangular device back down.
 12:10 – 12:45 Bullshits, watches window washer working across the street.
 12:45 Meets with supervisor, who goes down the hole.
 12:50 —1:00 Scratches nuts, bullshits.

Maybe I could get a little column in the local alternative paper, Hole Watch. —sc


I am slightly stoned and the first customers to come to the counter on my shift were a middle-aged couple, very cleanly and neatly dressed, but in a casual way. She came up to the counter earlier and asked me if

we had books on yoga sutras. We’ve got a lot of yoga books just now, and I showed her the section. Hubby had a conservative haircut, graying at the edges, and spectacles that rested neatly on his nose. He was wearing one of those Eddie Bauer numbers with the oversize plastic zippers, very Northwest.

So then they’re in front of me like they’re posing for a portrait, all smiles. She was buying two yoga books, one being Ecstasy Through Tantra, which has an Indian god dancing on a big yoni on a glossy black cover and he’s buying an oversize paperback, very clean, on Northwest Indian art that was in the window. I rang it up and it came to $31.00, a good sale. So I gave them the join-the-bookclub rap and they explain they’re from the East Coast. Ah-ha, I nod to myself.

The weird part was when they were collecting the money to pay: he gave some and she gave some and they’re handling it just like it is foreign currency. They spent some three minutes getting each of their dollars and coins inspected, ordered, and collated into a neat little pile, murmuring between themselves the whole time like the apes in Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, compiling exact change, which they push towards me like a toy riverboat. Freaks, in yuppie clothes, on a heavy Prozac buzz, chattering and giggling in their little world. Or maybe it was acid. —sc

"How come this book costs three dollars
 when the cover price is 35 cents?"


It was night shift, about 8. Three youngsters wandered in together. They’re all dressed for the distant suburbs. The first one who came to the counter was a girl, about 18. She asked if we have a bathroom. No, there’s one next door I told her. She had too much eyeliner on and she stood there with her mouth open, like in her

strain to hold her pee she had forgotten to close it.

Her friend, who was beside her, was a skinny short girl with dirty blonde hair and a pinched, mean look. She turned quickly and went over to the tattoo mags, picked up Body Play, an expensive piercing/body modification journal, and began to page through it. The third was a guy with short, curly blonde hair, pretty tall, with an unusually large chest; one of those guys whose upper body is so big you have to suspect that the nutrients feeding that mass must have starved something else. He was wearing an oversize T-shirt with "National Police Academy" over a large Dragnet-style badge printed across his chest. Neat.

They all coalesced around Body Play and began commentary.

“Oh, nice.”

“What’s up with that.” .

“That`s disgusting.”

“Oooh, gross.”

“Dude, check it out.”

“That‘s wacked.”

“What’s up with all the hooks?”

“Oh my god, that’s really disgusting.” etc., etc.

I was thinking about how rude I wanted to be when I asked them to leave, because it’s really a fine line, they’re so pathetic and clueless, maybe I should be sorta kind, when cop boy breaks away from the huddle and starts to read the signs on the aisles indicating what is down them.

He found “mushrooms” and exclaimed “Hyuk, you got a Mushroom section?”

I pointed to it and he studied it for a moment and then asked “Do you know what hallucinogenic mushrooms look like?” I guess he had just read the “aiding and abetting” section in his Pig text.

I told him, I don’t, but that I imagine one of those reference books could tell him, and I pointed again.

He said “yeah, I like to hear those things from people, you know.” I told him I don’t know, and that I usually asked people to leave who ask me questions like that.

He smirked, looked down at the section for a moment, like he didn‘t want to get his fingerprints on it, and wandered down the aisle.

They all slowly made their way out the door, back to the black-hole-of-suburbia in mom’s LTD. —sc