There was the Barnes and Noble in New York City where I used to meet people off Craig’s List. I’d pass them a paper bag containing a pair of my underwear in exchange for $100 bill. I remember feeling like such a badass just rolling in cash like a 19 year old gangster. The types of people I would meet were not the types that you might think — I say that only because they weren’t the types I pictured. They were everyone from a sharply dressed business man to a pot bellied middle aged man to a tiny old man in suspenders. They were all polite, punctual, never haggled me and I never felt uncomfortable in the slightest. I was in the position of power 100% of the time and the men were all timid, almost vulnerable — admitting their “fetish” and quietly seeking out their satisfaction.
There was Lawn Gnome — the used bookstore in downtown Phoenix sitting on an epic side street jam packed with independent businesses. It was a hub for creativity (before it got bought up be developers) and all the cool people hung out down there, including a young hipster couple that interviewed me to be their potential birth doula. He owned the bookstore and she baked at the coffee shop. Freshly married and newly pregnant they were a sweet, naive couple. Based on their wishes and preferences, I encouraged them to consider home birth, but then didn’t hear from them for months and assumed I had pushed too hard. But then, a voicemail. Her voice saying they are having a home birth and want to hire me and sorry for the delay — her mother had died a few weeks ago. It was the most emotion I had felt in the shortest amount of time. Deep satisfaction for them having chosen a home birth and chosen me, and epic fucking sadness for a first time mom losing her mother in the middle of her pregnancy. I sobbed my fucking eyes out for her, for myself not having a mom, and for all of the women since the beginning of fucking time who’ve had to survive that unique type of loss.
There was that dumbass new age psychic bookstore where I spent fifty bucks on a reading from a guy with a lazy eye and a british accent that ended up being complete bullshit. Crystals for this, angel cards for that, all of the sparkly answers to all of your bullshit problems here on these dusty, aged, particle board shelves. Come in and find yourself, they say.
There was the Borders bookstore where I used to be allowed to go by myself as a tween. I’d wander around for an hour, spend six bucks on a sugary non-coffee drink at the coffee shop, and feel like I was an “adult”. This must be what it’s like, I’d think. Freedom, autonomy, interesting people, sugar, choices, information, and an endless soundtrack of muzak.
There was the bookstore in the non-denominational church where I was waiting for my counseling appointment. Most churches offer sliding scale counseling services and I figured one that claimed non denomination might be open minded enough for me. They weren’t, and I wished I could’ve gotten my $35 back out of the “offering envelope”.
There is the tattered copy of Under the Tuscan Sun that I got used at Goodwill. The one that inspired my solo trip to Italy that I dropped in the bathtub right before leaving. I put it out in the sun to dry, and it did, but its pages are forever inflated and it doesn’t lay flat. I have another copy, but I never read that one.
There are the books that are easy to get rid of. And the ones that you never will. The ones you’ll read again and again that feel like they were written just for you, or like you’re the only one in the world who really “gets” them.
I could see the big box bookstores disappearing entirely, but something about used bookstores seem timeless. Find the used bookstore in town and that’s where the cool people are. That’s where the good coffee is. It’s the best free activity in town and the best way to get to know a new city.
P.S. — did you know bookstore was one word? I honestly didn’t until reading this prompt. I also thought bull shit and mother fucker were also two words. But let’s just say that’s endearing, eh?