The bookstore was an unchartered trove of literature, old and new. From classics to contemporary picks, books were piled on tables, filed in a maze of shelves, and stuffed into enough nooks and crannies to humble the good people at Thomas’s English Muffins.
The ceilings were low– or maybe not. Maybe the aisles were so narrow and the lighting so deliciously dim it just gave the appearance of low ceilings. In any case, it provided this independent gem with the illusion that you had to stoop down and study its spread. Like a literary hobbit hole– in a good way. It was a space so intimate you couldn’t simply walk across it. You had to amble. Drift. Stroll. There were several hundred books in their collection. Some tattered, some gleaming. Some ragged, some whose covers had not yet been cracked. But all of them riches, just waiting for me, you, the reader, to excavate.
This was my first sales call. I hoped that since, “WE BUY BOOKS” flashed in big red letters on their website, they might consider buying one or two copies of mine. But I had brought four, just in case.
The woman at the front desk wore orange eyeshadow that matched her curly orange hair. It’s shade was vibrant enough to be named after that quality. Something like, “Bold!” Or maybe, “Orange You Glad I’m Orange, Orange.”
How spunky, I thought. I flashed her a winning smile and my book cover, and she smiled back and called for the owner.
Things are going my way, I thought.
I surveyed their nonfiction titles while I waited. Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell and David Sedaris’s When You Are Engulfed In Flames were displayed at the front of the table.
Imagine if I’m grouped between those two bestsellers? My book will hobnob it with the leading funny men of irreverent titles. And you know what? Maybe, just maybe, it can hold its own.
The owner emerged from the back. He was tall and slim and wore perfectly round glasses with wire frames. He looked like a librarian or an academic. A bibliophile in his natural habitat.
I swallowed down a dry heave and rattled off a brief pitch. “I’m an author in the area for the weekend yadda yadda… My book came out in September yadda yadda… Collection of humor essays yadda yadda yadda.”
I pulled a copy of I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean from my purse and presented it, my greatest achievement, to this fellow lover of words. He accepted it with both hands and peered at the cover from over his glasses.
His nose wrinkled. He held the book out as far from his body as his arms would allow. He smacked his lips together the way you might after waking from a nap to find a horribly sour taste in your mouth. He shook his head. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The man would not stop shaking his head.
Before he said a word, it was painfully clear: not only would he not buy my book, he would not abide my book. But then he did say a word. One word, over and over again.
“No,” he said, and continued to shake his head. “No, no, no, no, no.”
I don’t know what it was about my book cover that he so adamantly objected to that a single “No,” wouldn’t have sufficed. The female figure crossing her legs? The word “pee”? Whatever it was, it caused this man an endless amount of disappointment and disgust. It was an insult to his predilection, his profession, and his very existence.
“No, no, no,” he said, and thrust the book back at me.
I thought of how, while packing, I’d turned to Phil and said, “How many copies of my book should I bring? Two? Three? Three is probably good. You know what, I better bring four.” I thought about how I’d carefully wrapped the copies in thick paper and stored them in my suitcase. I thought about how I’d dragged them across five states, only to arrive at this very moment.
I needed to get the hell out of that store. A store that felt like a literary hobbit hole– and not in a good way.
This place resembled a book lover’s indigestion. It was a space so stuffed with garbage, it would curl a hoarder’s lip. It was a dusty cave carved into civilization, and then stuffed with that civilization’s crap. It was a bad neighborhood’s tag sale, held in the basement of the shadiest guy on the block.
I needed to get away from the store owner that looked like a cornstalk after midnight and his assistant who was made up for a 1980’s prom.
“I totally get it,” I said to the owner, as if all along I’d expected him to despise the very notion of my publication. I shoved my book back in my purse beside its three equally revolting siblings and rushed out.
I’m not embarrassed to say that my eyes watered because, after that encounter, I’m not embarrassed of very much.
But the tears soon receded. It was a blue skyed afternoon. A 50 degree day in the middle of January. It was so warm, I unbuttoned my peacoat.
Hey, I thought. At least I didn’t pack five books.