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BEST UNKNOWN BOOKSTORE
"...aside from its insanely organized shelves, it also offers a smalltown coziness that larger, independent stores lack. Rare is a used bookstore that understands that used-book lovers aren't hoarders and cat collectors, but rather lovers of pop culture and refined culture. Read is the absolute best little place to lose an afternoon and emerge delighted and excited with a handful of treasures."
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“What shall I do with all my books?" was the question; and the answer, "Read them," sobered the questioner. But if you cannot read them, at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will... If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.
READ Books: Dearest Flo, though we dropped you off but five minutes ago at the Calhouns, it feels like we have been separated for interminable weeks. As much as you might miss us at this moment— it was so adorable the way you headbutted the screen door, howling pitifully, when we left you there— I have no doubt you will have a great time the next two weeks. Think of it as a vacation without responsibilities, lazing around a new house with new friends. Wish us luck on our cross country trip! Thinking of you & your sweet disposition…
Flo: You’re a heartless bastard, and the only you you ever think of is you, you dipshit you. I pee on your insipid sentiments and your pathetic trip. “A vacation without responsibilities”… biped, are you high? My entire life is a vacation without responsibilities. But now you’ve imprisoned me in a strange house with no familiar smells, save for the one I just excreted onto your friend’s couch. You all abandoned me, and I will never forget it. I have placed an Australian Sheepherding curse on all of yuhs. May your car stall in Texas.
READ Books: Sweet, silly dog, you know we love you like the hirsute daughter we never had. Taking you along on this trip was simply unfeasible; the hotels we’ll stay at are unlikely to allow pets. It might take a few days, maybe even a week, but I’m sure you’ll acclimate to your new environment eventually. And then we’ll be back to pick you up! Who’s a good girl? You’re a good girl! Yes you are!
Flo: There are other dogs here! Dogs I tells yuh, with tails a-wagging, floppy ears, and wet noses! They are small and dirty and they love it when I sniff their butts. Gotta go! This place is great! Dogs!
II. SPEEDING VIOLATIONS
READ Books: Hey girl, haven’t heard from you for a few days. How you getting along with your new friends? Still lonesome? Had a rough evening here recently. Did you know that they ticket people in Arizona, to the tune of $500+, for driving 3 mph under 100 mph? Fuckin’ racists. First they stick it to MLK, now this. Wish you had been here, girl, to bite that storm trooper in the ass.
Flo: They got cats in this place, I shit you not: A black one, a white one, even a redhead! It’s impossible to keep track. They are great fun! You know what they really enjoy? When I run at them! Every time a cat comes around a corner, I lower my head and sprint full speed. The cat makes a funny, shrill sound, hair stands up on its neck, & it wags its tail just like we dogs do! This means they like me! A few hours ago, during breakfast, I attempted to follow the redheaded feline (I think it’s Irish!) up onto the dining room table. It landed in the eggs & I landed on Mrs. Calhoun. We all rolled on the floor. This place is great!
READ Books: Miss us girl? We sure miss you! Who’s our girl? Are you our girl? Florence? Hello?
Flo: Though my paws prolong this conversation by punching the keyboard on my cellphone, I gotta ask: Who are you people anyhow? I can no longer smell you. Memory fading. Look! Cat!
III. THE JOURNEY
READ Books: It’s not that we’re not having a great time, because travelling across the scenic landscape of America kicks ass, I guess, but we seem to be experiencing myriad issues with this driving business: First that ludicrous speeding ticket, and then I somehow manage to partially detach the front bumper while parking the rental car in Little Rock. Seems the bumper is abnormally low on these Buicks, or I just pulled forward too much and ran over the parking bumper at the Little Rock 9 Museum. If you were here I think you’d agree that the bumper is pretty low, Flo. After that we stop to get gas before getting back on the 40, but when I look at the gas gauge some 15 minutes later, heading to Tennessee, the tank reads empty. Seems that even with this opposable thumb of mine, I am unable to effectively operate a gas pump. What I really want to do right now, rather than wait for this damn tow truck, is pet your fluffy body. I’m cold & lonely & my wife & kids despise me. God, I miss you so much Florence.
Flo: I have taken over this house. The little dogs do what I tell them to do. The cats fear me. I eat everybody’s food and then lounge on the Calhoun’s bed all day flatulating. When they get back from work, I shall consign the bipeds to the backyard to sleep tonight. The worm has turned. I am queen of the manor.
IV. ILL COMMUNICATION
READ Books: We ate at this ridiculous restaurant in Texas where you get a 72 oz steak for free, so long as you finish it in one sitting. I figured maybe we order one steak and share it between the four of us. So we did. They charged us anyway, as apparently the free deal only applies to one person/one steak. You would have loved that cow. You would have loved the bones. We would have loved to bring it to you, but no way that bone shares a car with us from Texas to Pennsylvania and back. Sorry girl. You still having a good time there?
Flo: Go fuck yourself.
READ Books: Pardon?
Flo: You heard me, biped. I am eating dry dog food. From a dirty bowel. On a cold floor. In a locked bathroom. I don’t want to talk about it. Enjoy your damn steaks.
READ Books: What’s wrong girl? Your text feels a little embittered.
Flo: The coup d’etat was a bust. The Calhouns kicked me out of their bed and imprisoned me in the latrine. I never stood a chance. Between them they share 4 thumbs & a leash, & they are, like you all, 20-foot tall giants. I received no support from my canine brethren. The cats on the freedom side of this bathroom door mock me with their incessant purring. Hell of a world.
READ Books: Yeah, I know what you mean. The world kicks ass. Right now we’re sitting in our motel in downtown Memphis devouring rows of chopped pork bbq sandwiches, baby back ribs, & fried chicken. You’d love this stuff Flo. And the funny thing is, this motel, as most of the others we’ve slept in, has a pet friendly policy. That’s you! You’re a pet! So next time we do this, assuming we can ever afford a next time, maybe we’ll bring you! Baby back ribs, Florence. I’m picking the meat out of my teeth with a damn pitch fork!
Flo: Ever notice how some dialogues are really just two zigzagging monologues that never converge?
READ Books: Yeah. We miss you too girl.
Flo: I’m going to go jump through the screen of this second story window now. I hope an earthquake swallows you, and your baby back ribs, deep into the ground. I can run the bookstore by myself. I know the alphabet. A, b, c, d…
READ Books: Uh huh. We’ll send you photos of our hushpuppies when we get to Carolina. See you next week girl. Say “hi” to Eagle Rock for us.
My Superhero Origin
by Florence the Dog as told to Jeremy Kaplan
“What a handsome boy!” said the lady voice. “Would you like me to pet you?”
I turned toward the open door and sniffed at this new biped. She was not the same biped that had been driving me around in this car, the genial parole officer that had released me from prison earlier in the day. That biped was also a lady, but unlike this knucklehead, she was aware that I too am 100% woman. This knucklehead, smelling of cheap cheeseburgers, reached across the backseat and patted me gauchely upon my skull. I sat at a crossroads in my life:
Do I remain in the backseat of this claustrophobic car being treated like the head-slapped butt of a Benny Hill joke, or do I dash around the knuckleheaded head-patter and make for the streets? I closed my eyes and envisioned an endless array of pee-stained lampposts.
When I opened my eyes, the car-infested street was on my right, storefronts flashed on my left, and the smell of urinal lampposts lay ahead. Peering back from whence I fled, I espied my kind parole officer shoulder shrugging in the direction of my clueless liberator.
I’m a Number, Not a Name…
Kids, I had once been a juvenile delinquent. My recalcitrant ways had landed me in the pokey the previous week, where I had shared a stinky cage with two half-witted chihuahuas. My crime? Curiosity! I yearned for freedom, man. If a domestic portal was left open, I passed through it. So one day I had come across an open window in my former biped’s kitchen and decided to release myself on my own recognizance from that prohibitive domicile. And what was the official charge thrust upon my martyred mane when the local gendarme booked me at the South Central Doggy Penitentiary later that day? I peed on the wrong porch. Perhaps I barked at the wrong government stooge. It matters not. Listen, I was running 20 mph down a dead end street and Johnny Law was just itching for a reason to remove me from decent society.
Word around the pen was that, if no one spoke up for me in the next few days, I was slated for the gas chamber, which is the fate that society reserves for its rebel dogs. This is when the lady biped came sniffing around with her two half-grown male interns. I initially figured them for screws, and I pondered whether I’d be needing the shiv I kept hidden in my dark fur. Thankfully this proved unnecessary when the benign two-legged triumvirate escorted me out of the facility. They were obviously parole officers, so surely I was on probation.
Upon entering what I presumed to be my next domicile, I smelled a cat. I found the little squirt in a room off the hallway, sleeping on a bed. He was black and had two, maybe three eyes. I jumped onto the bed. The cat woke up and promptly ceded the territory. I regally squatted and peed all over my new pillows. The bed legally belonged to me. The lady parole officer stood in the doorway wearing a sad face that implied somebody had just violated the terms of her probation.
“Bad girl,” she said.
Yeah I am. Send me back to the gas chamber if yuh can’t take it.
We got a runner…
Naturally, when the probation officer and her diminutive lackeys parked the car, I expected to be led back toward the SCD Pen and my imminent necrosis. They exited the car without me. When I looked out the window, I saw a swarm of biped junkies loitering about an unfamiliar Foster’s Freeze parking lot. The door behind me soon opened again and the car was filled with the essence of cheeseburger. The knuckle-head thumped my head; I ran.
The effluvium of burgers & fried chicken swept past as did the myriad automobiles deviating from their customary paths. They honked at me as if to say: “Hello beautiful pooch of the family Canidae! Welcome to your new neighborhood! May you run free and reckless!”
The greasy odors of American cooking were soon supplanted by the Pinoy essences of vinegar & fish sauce, and I became aware of a biped riding a bicycle in my territory. When I slowed my gait, intending to pee on the interloper’s shoes, he seized me by the chain that was still, until then unbeknownst to me, attached to my collar. Bipeds and their damn fancy-pants thumbs! The show-off, smelling pleasantly of carnitas, utilized one of those thumbs to grip my chain, the other to balance his bike. The probation officer’s car pulled up alongside and I was spirited back into the bosom of the machine.
Upon entering my next domicile, the building across the street from the Foster’s Freeze where we had initially parked, I was tackled by the two little lackeys who smothered me with hugs and kisses.
“We thought we’d lost you forever,” cried the shorter one. “Or that you got crushed beneath the wheels of a huge truck and flattened like a pancake.”
“Good girl,” cooed the slightly larger. “You’re the best damn dog in the world.”
Huh? I am? Peering through the interstices of the bipeds’ entangling arms, I saw shelves of books stretching to the ceiling and across the length of the room. Right on. I love literature! Maybe I’ll read them all. The door opened behind me and I smelled a tall biped wearing a fedora on his chicken mcnugget-shaped skull. He sat on a couch situated to the left of the entrance. The other bipeds frantically jibber-jabbered about the events of the day. They told him that I was by far the best dog in the whole penitentiary, and that I apparently enjoyed a good run. But they did not know my name. I nudged the tall biped to the far end of the couch in order to annex the cushy area where he had been sprawled. If he proved foolish enough to attempt reclamation of the cushy spot, we would indubitably partake in a peeing contest.
Instead, he sat placidly on his rim and squinted at me.
“She likes to run, eh? How’s about we call her Florence then? Flo-Jo. Like Florence Joyner-Kersee.”
Suit yourself, stretch. Reposing on that spongy couch, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to run again.
READ Books will be closed on Friday, August 14th, but OPEN on Saturday August 15th & Saturday August 22nd. We will be closed all other days until Monday August 31st. Please call (323-259-9068) or email (email@example.com) if you have any questions. Thanks.
I feel compelled to warn all and sundry of an alarming happenstance recently commenced in the springtime. The boy biped that still lives at home, He Who Throws My Tennis Balls across Fields of Green, picked up a fresh furry ball of Wilson and declared: “Let’s go girl!” This action & declaration, as made evident by the boy’s name (“He Who Throws…”), was expected, as was the presentation of leash and the subsequent opening of the car door. I leaped in the back seat, because clearly we were driving to a park in order to sniff pee & chase my tennis ball across fields of green. The alarming part of this event unfolded when the passenger side door opened and my tall biped, He Who Sullenly Glares, plopped into said seat. I peered left just in time to see the boy biped impetuously thrusting a key into the car’s ignition.
“Have you all lost your minds?” I barked. “He doesn’t drive! Open the %@&*ing door and let me out!”
This performance repeated itself throughout spring and into summer: The boy enticingly wields a luscious yellow tennis ball & summons me to the car. I leap in with puzzling alacrity, as if I possess no memory of this having happened innumerable times before: What could possibly go wrong? Tall’n’grumpy mistakenly plops in the passenger seat again, while peach-fuzz-face cagily sneaks in behind the wheel. My vociferous warnings & protestations are ignored. The world of bipeds, obviously, strives to function sans logic. Chaos will ensue. And I will continue to leap into the car with great expectations.
I saw a biped on the TV juggling a single snow ball & that proved global warming does not exist in his neighborhood. I know for a scientific fact that it exists in my ‘hood, because I sweat like a pig-dog when chasing these tennis balls of mine. In days of yore, when I was still a naive pup back in, like, 2013, sweat did not come so easily. And these balls I presently pursue are not made of snow; they’re made of tennis. Science fascinates me. Take this biped boy who throws my balls, whose hair once seemed destined to exist solely as decorative lawn atop his oval mountain top. The lawn has migrated south, and somehow this makes him a bona fide candidate for operating motor vehicles? Why not let me drive then? I’m older & hairier than him! What lacketh I, aside from a thumb or two?
In the waning days of summer I perch atop my couch and consider the unattended tennis ball that sits inert on the indurate bookstore floor. ‘Twas in the aforementioned summer of ’13 that the elder biped boy began his absurd quest to navigate automobiles. Initially, this led to field trips to assorted fields of green where plump tennis balls were inevitably funneled into my anxious jaws. Soon after, the biped boy and I were joined in the fields of green by strange female bipeds. At night time, he and these biped girls often drove somewhere— presumably a field to throw tennis balls— and didn’t even invite me. And then one day the elder boy biped got in the car with his biped parents, drove to a place called college, and didn’t come back home for a long time. Cars are cruel & impetuous. Sometimes they ferry tennis balls, but sometimes they steal friends.
So I consider the tennis ball and sigh. The younger boy biped is not at the bookstore today. He is driving around in his fancy-pants car; I would not be surprised if there is a female biped seated beside him, carelessly clutching one of my fresh, furry tennis balls in her grotesquely bald hand. The boy biped and his biped parents frequently, brazenly, discuss his plans to go to college. I’m not suspicious by nature, but…
I close my eyes, and the circular, fluorescent yellow image sustains imprinted in my mind’s eye. This is my tennis ball. There are many like it, but this one is mine… A cool breeze skims my wet nose and hovers briefly in the air. Does this indicate the cessation of global warming? Will the next ball I chase be crafted from snow? Simultaneous with the sound of the front door closing, a familiar hand strokes my skull.
“Let’s go girl!”
In a moment I will lift my snout toward the sky and open my eyes with great expectations. I’m coming boy! What could possibly go wrong?
“Raising the Rent”
by Florence the Dog
I am a dog like other dogs. I have homes on both coasts: Eagle Rock and Highland Park. My day home is a couch in a store where my bipeds sell their books and frequently go to sleep while gazing at a computer screen. My evening home is a couch in an old house where my bipeds drink from bottles sheathed in brown bags, prior to passing out beside me on my couch. Mine.
In between naps, we walk. I am a dog who walks like other dogs. I meet other dogs in parks, on urban sidewalks, and precipitous staircases. Sometimes we chat vociferously, other times we serenely sniff one another’s butts. I have few complaints.
I am also a dog who is not so different from your average biped. When you bipeds want to interact with your species, but there are none of them around for you to bark at, no enticing butts to sniff, then you procure information by reading, yes? Books, newspapers, computer screens? On days when I walk northeast L.A. and do not encounter my species, I cull information from urine strategically sprinkled by my brothers & sisters. This is The News, and it can be found in the grass, the base of a lamppost, on the cozy stoop where bipeds sit.
“A Beagle’s Tale”
‘Twas a year or two ago when the poop began to change in Highland Park. Where once sat pleasing pellets of asada-infused Chihuahua stool, I encountered shih tzu excrement smelling suspiciously of vegetables. In kind, my encounters with yipping Chihuahuas, pugnacious pit bulls, and various mutts grew infrequent. In their stead I began to notice the vegan shih tzus, oddly coiffured poodles, and comically bearded corgis. Some of them snuffled & barked; others were ostensibly aloof. They were okay enough; still, I missed my old, indigenous neighbors. Where had they gone?
Then I remembered the beagles. They’re a yappy lot, teeming with information that is largely trifling, lowest common denominator stuff. But they inundate the airwaves with sheer volume, thus tractable canines tend to listen to them. Last year I’d encountered myriad beagles proclaiming that Highland Park was the place to be, the hottest neighborhood in Los Angeles, even America. Many of them had yelped the same claptrap about Eagle Rock the previous year. Beagles, I figured, are village idiots with impressive vocal range, thus I ignored them.
Story of my life; the trends I resolve to ignore are the ones every other dog latches onto & humps like a tantalizing human leg. Suddenly there were pallid poodles practicing hot yoga poses in the park; shaggy corgis eating overpriced donuts & pizza crusts from the street, yet still producing sweet smelling stool compliments of their fancy-pants doggy laxatives. Which is cool. I respect yoga, would happily eat bacon on my donuts if I could afford such luxuries, and I wish poop flowed from my tush like peppermint ice cream. Success is relative, yes? But what happened to my old friends that I used to talk to on the street, or bark at from my couches? Or hell, where were my old nemeses that kept me up all night with their incessant howling? I decided to go outside and smell the pee that carried the news.
“The Oracle at Excreta”
My capable nose sniffed out some facts that my eyes already knew—the displacement of my neighbors by a more affluent breed—as well as a few facts with a decidedly acrid bouquet. Wolves. No, it was not their excretion I detected. Such creatures rarely dwell in this neighborhood; they prefer sequestered hills, and such places do not come cheap. This is what my nose, thanks to all that informative urine, told me:
Wolves are investors. They listen to the loud, prognosticating yapping of beagles, and then descend upon the relatively low rent communities that beagles have proclaimed the next hip neighborhood. Wolves tell property owners: “See that couch where that mutt sits? How much you charging that mutt? Well, if you kick all those mutts off all their couches, I will bring you a better breed of dog that will pay more to sit on the same damn couches. My pooches eat $5 donuts; those mutts eat $1 tacos. Do the math, dog.” And the wolves ultimately get their commissions, which they take back to their secluded homes in the hills.
Many of my renter neighbors were priced off their couches. Some of my neighbors that owned their couches saw an economic opportunity and sold them to hipster dogs with relatively deep pockets.
Me? I rent my couch in Eagle Rock. What if one of these wolves proffer my landlord with a sweet smelling financial upgrade? Then where will I lay my head? Where will I put all these books? Innumerable wolves constantly pester me with proposals for the couch that I, thankfully, own in Highland Park. To them I suggest that they sniff my butt, and then I attempt to do just that to theirs. Win win.
Some of the cynical stories that I have sniffed suggest that dogs who lose their couches should simply move on, presumably— if this brand of economics-driven-culture is to prevail—to a less affluent neighborhood where the whole scene can repeat itself. Except this time, if I am compelled to move, it will be I usurping another dog’s couch, another breed’s sidewalk.
Or what if one dog can find a way to move into another dog’s neighborhood and just, I dunno, appreciate the culture that already exists there? With patience, maybe after a few years in which a dog like me commits himself to the neighborhood, perhaps the better parts of my culture can amalgamate with the one that already exists there? Co-existence & mutual respect, sadly, is a difficult task in a world where we are led by the strident whimsy of beagles or pay off wolves for their dubious services. Some of us just want a decent couch on which to lay our heads.
Follow Florence on Instagram @readbookseaglerock, or access her with #readbookseaglerock & #readwithflorence.
READ Books Diary
by Florence the Dog
- Raison de Etat
Due to his enduring estrangement from lucid thought and adequate levels of cognition, Jeremy “Hairy Limbs” Kaplan is unable to produce an intelligible article for this month’s NELA. In his stead, I, Florence the Dog, shall articulate daily observations from atop READ Book’s sun-drenched, flocculent couch. Perk up your ears, bipeds!
- From My Perch
Where to begin? From the begin! Ever since my alleged owners kidnapped me from the Crenshaw Pound, I’ve been perched sedately upon this poop-brown colored couch. More often than not, since my nice lady owner has gotten a for-real job, I’m stuck here with my altitudinous, hairy-limbed owner. Sometimes I fix him with the morose look, so he peels an egg and shoves a quarter of it in my mouth, the remaining three-quarters interminably reserved for his stubbly pie hole. But what I really want to do is walk! To rush outside and smell the fresh pee! A few years ago my hairy-limbed owner printed a sign that read: “Back in 5 minutes; walking the damn dog.” He frequently tapes it to the front door and then hides in the bathroom for forty minutes. Outdoor bipeds read the sign, peer through the window at me perched on my poop-brown couch, and they shrug. “Walking the damn dog” must be some kind of euphemism for disturbing smells that waft from beneath the doors of biped bathrooms.
- Why a Parade?
When I was initially brought to live in this dinky bookstore, one of my morphing owners—two of these clowns were initially small & glabrous, then gradually grew alarmingly large & furry—used to walk me up and down the street. Though it was most often a rather enjoyable excursion—walk up the street and sniff a lamppost, walk down the street and receive gloating strokes from googly-eyed bipeds—one occasion was rather unnerving. There were too many bipeds loitering outside that day, apparently abiding on the sidewalks for a parade. The ostensible purpose of this so-called parade was for bipeds in cars, with the succor of a clamorous Mr. Microphone, to drive by and shout goofy things at bipeds on streets. One peculiar biped, in a car with a banner on the side that read Councilman, blathered: “God bless the Veterans, because y’know, without veterans, well, there’d be no Veteran’s Day.” Then his eyes lit up like he was onto something real profound and he began to clap his hands together like a daffy seal. Yeah, and god bless the village, I thought, because without villages there’d be no village idiots.
So I looked up at my owner, who was still small and smooth-skinned back then, and did not yet smell like liquor, and I asked him: “What the hell is a councilman and why do other humans allow him to talk?”
My little owner looked up at the councilman and answered: “That guy’s a moron.” Made perfect sense. Then he looked down at me and said: “Shhhh. Stop barking boy.”
But I’m a girl.
My little owner, after getting bigger, moved away. I miss him whenever I get the urge to walk up and down the street, but instead get a ¼ egg jammed into my mush. One hopes this councilman also got bigger and moved away. I wonder if anyone will miss him?
READ Books Holiday Newsletter
Merry New Happy Hanukamas everybody. Thanks for being our friend and/or patron.
For your entertainment, we provide you with a truish holiday story and gift suggestions below, and a profound respect from our, uh, hearts.
Hanukkahcide: Oy to the World
I never suffered from Christmas envy. Judging from my occupation—newspaper delivery boy—I must have been in 8th grade when I came downstairs that morning and encountered a dwarfish Douglas Fir ornamenting a garish corner of our living room. It had tinsel and holiday shit all over it. My father sat on the couch reading his Chicago Tribune. It was what we, in the 1980’s, called a newspaper.
I pointed at that solitary midget tree. “What the hell’s that thing?”
He grunted. “Mmm. Your mom calls it a Hanukkah Bush.”
“You sure it ain’t a Christmas Tree?” I asked. “Because it’s Christmas morning, and there’s a tree in our house, all decked out in lights and fancy pants tinsel. Ain’t that kind of fucked up? Because we’re Jewish and all.”
He re-grunted, probably turned a page in his newspaper thing. “Your mom calls it a Hanukkah Bush,” he reiterated. “It doesn’t have one of those Jesus stars on top, so, mmm…”
My reaction, which proved to be definitive for the ensuing years, was to get dressed and go to work. Holiday celebrants would eventually want their newspapers that morning, and I was the guy to eventually give it to them since I sure as hell had no intention of lollygagging around my house celebrating some cockamamie religious festival. They can’t make me dance around an uprooted tree.
Through the years, whenever I’ve found myself gainfully employed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, whatever, I was the guy who volunteered to put in the hours. On all the regular days, I was the guy who volunteered to call in sick, oversleep, or have my car “breakdown.” But Christmas, oh boy! Even when sick, I worked.
In December of ‘96, I lurched into Book Soup on the morning of the 25th with this cold, flu, dysentery thing. Not only were they paying time-and-a-half, which was probably about $10/hour, but there was a free lunch from Greenblatt’s in the works, and I was going to put some deli in my mouth even if it was likely to exit the other side simultaneously. When noon staggered in, I ordered me a pastrami sandwich and a bowl of matzo ball soup. A few minutes later, my manager informs me that my order has been downsized to half a sandwich and a sad cup of soup sans matzo ball. Seems that Glenn, the owner, overheard that I was sick, and he keenly deduced that I might try skipping out early. Thus I was worthy of only a partial lunch. Call it the Moe Howard Management Philosophy:
“Why you hit me, Moe? I didn’t do nothing!”
“That’s for what you’re going to do!”
Still I persevere, even after developing into a self-employed, progenitor type. When I was a martial arts instructor, I offered to take my pre-pubescent students on 5-mile runs every Thanksgiving Day. I called them Turkey Runs, because kids like cute shit. Now that I own a bookstore and have no professional excuse to exploit other people’s children, on Christmas Day I take my kids, the ones I legally own, on eight-mile tromps around town. It’s our own little Hanukkah joke. God they love it.
My allegedly perceptive wife thinks me a victim of my environment, as in I’m what happens when you grow up in a home where the mother spends the 48 hours preceding a holiday dinner shrieking at her kids to get ready for the holiday dinner, and the father commences every Thanksgiving meal with a lecture on why the Pilgrims were assholes and genocide is bad, so go ahead and enjoy your damn turkey. While it does make one wonder why we celebrate crappy people with a nerve-wracking meal, I have had the opportunity to participate in holiday festivities with many allegedly stable families that have allowed me into their homes, and I’ve yet to experience anything to turn me to the sunny and joyful side. Sitting around a table staring dumbly at some charred, decapitated bird, it hardly matters whether the father figure is railing against the concept that brought you to the table, or instructing everyone to hold hands and take turns testifying to being thankful for something besides being on the victorious side of a genocide; I’d rather be tramping around in the snow with a bag full of damp newspapers thrown over my shoulder, or sitting behind a counter in some bookstore ignoring customers.
So, y’know, come into READ Books for your holiday shopping this month and get your gift certificates, sundry Christmas and Hanukkah books, yadda yadda. Or read something else for Christ’s sake. I’ll probably be here, wondering if those Maccabees, when chasing those Greeks out of the Temple, foresaw the Hanukkah bushes and rabid gift giving that it would lead to.
Books You Should Buy From Us & Give to Somebody Else
• The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
• Wee Gee: An Autobiography by Wee Gee
• Edgeworks by Harlan Ellison
• Leo Politi: Artist of the Angels by Ann Stalcup
• The Stairway to Heaven by Zecheria Sitchin
• I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew by Dr. Seuss (1st Edition)
• The Adventures of Pinocchio by Collodi (Illustrated Hardcover)
• Winnie the Pooh: A Celebration of the Silly Old Bear by Christopher Finch (Illustrated)
Humor & Poetry
• America Again & I Am America by Stephen Colbert (Both 1st Editions)
• Mr. Show: What Happened?! Bt Naomi Odenkirk (1st Edition)
• California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present by Dana Gioia et al…
• The Gamble House Cookbook: Good Design/Good Food by Mark Peel
• The New Making of a Cook by Madeline Kamman
• Fanny at Chez Panisse by Alice Waters (1st Edition)
Art & Fashion
• Where’d You Get Those? NYC Sneaker Culture 1960-1987 by Bobbito Garcia (signed)
• Dreaming with His Eyes Open: A Life of Diego Rivera by Patrick Marnham
• Art of the American Automobile: The Greatest Stylists by Nick Georgano
• Arthur’s Christmas Cookies by Lillian Hoban
• Las Christmas: Favorite Latino Authors Share Their Holiday Memories by Latino Authors
• The Chanukah Guest by Eric Kimmel
• Little Tree by e.e. cummings (1st Edition)
• The Story of Hanukkah by Amy Ehrlich (paintings by Ori Sherman)
• Christmas Around the World: A Pop-Up Book by Chuck Fischer
Science & Science Fiction
• Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia by John Clute
• Cosmos by Carl Sagan
If you made it this far, come on in and tell us about it (“Hey man, I made it to the end of your f@#%ing newsletter and…”), and we’ll give you a discount on your holiday shopping. How much depends on how you finish the above sentence.
Jeremy, Debbie, Donald, & Steven
Soon after I moved to Los Angeles, in February of 1992, a lot of other people began to move out of Los Angeles. A less hearty more sociable soul than I might have taken offense, or perhaps even joined that late 20th century exodus from our sorta urban milieu. Just what were these tepid emigrants fleeing? Biblical times, brother: a brief, combustible era of riots, floods, earthquakes, gang violence as depicted on the news and in mediocre films, ostentatious sin manifested in plethoric street drugs and rampant prostitution performed by gals of frequently misleading sexuality. Early 90’s L.A. was largely a depraved freak show, you see, but that wasn’t the only reason I was so enthusiastic about living here. Truth be told, it was even better than it sounds.
If twenty years ago Los Angeles was a cultural smorgasbord, and it was, then I was a ravenous Swede. All of the cultural touchstones that I had begun to seek in college—food, literature, music, film—were in abundance. Sure, this has long been a city protracted all over the place, with many bland neighborhoods to wade through in order to locate the sublime. But the juice was worth the squeeze. A boy who thought Mexican cuisine consisted of ground beef chimichangas and something called an enchirito discovered al pastor tacos, huaraches, and tortas. In L.A., one could (and still can) close one’s eyes, throw a stone, and hit a decent taco. There were neighborhoods in the basin, Westside, and Valley with multiple used bookstores in a single neighborhood, even bookstores that specialized in feminist, sports, and technical books. Used record stores were common enough, and there were neighborhood video stores that carried varieties of foreign, documentary, and obscure films that I’d read about as a film student in Iowa City, but had been mostly unattainable for me in that otherwise lovely college town. To summarize, ahem: “L.A. was a precarious shithole containing everything a boy could want.”
Last month La Canada Video died. Over the past twenty-odd-years, as many other venerable neighborhood video stores closed shop, LCV had been my go to place for films that the local cheapie video stores will never carry. This is where my children were raised on Miyazaki, Kurosawa, and nine jolly hours of Shoah. But now, in a time when consumers opt to spend their money on Netflix and whatnot, LCV’s landlord decided it was time for a precipitous raise in rent, and ultimately LCV could no longer afford to stay in business.
It’s 2014 in L.A., and there are few video stores remaining that are smart enough to carry the abstruse, unconventional stuff. Neighborhoods with multiple bookstores, or bookstores that specialize in specific genres, are near extinction. Sure the ubiquitous state of succulent tacos endures and improves, but aside from that, what the hell’s happening here?
The case of La Canada Video illustrates the pitfalls of a landlord with funny ideas about maximizing profit. When the Chipotles and Starbucks move onto the block, it must be a chore for some landlords not to dream of renting all their property out to deep-pocketed restaurant chains. This in conjunction with L.A.’s perpetual obsession with “the hottest new neighborhood” – as Eagle Rock was momentarily ordained a few years ago, York Boulevard today, and some other ephemeral star tomorrow—one will observe more starry-eyed landlords demanding the sort of rents that will clear a block of many unique, low-overhead businesses. Seizing the pen on the other side of the rental agreement, there will always be those looking to move into the next big neighborhood, be they corporations or other deep-pocketed interests, who will titillate the myopic landlord by outbidding the smaller fella, and ultimately drive all the rents up.
Speaking of myopia, hows about us consumers? What the hell’s up with us? Sure it’s nice enough to be able to order whatever you want on your computer or TV or computer TV without leaving your home, if isolation and convenience are your hobbies. Maybe Starbucks makes a nice cup of Joe; I wouldn’t know. Netflix, my college son tells me, supplies access to a number of excellent television shows that he otherwise cannot find.
But then, he lives in a college town without a decent video store, as I live in a major metropolis progressing toward the same fate. His college town has one small used bookstore and a Barnes & Noble that sells more university apparel than literature. The university runs free buses to the closest Walmart in order to encourage that kind of student commerce. The corporations are beginning to descend on the college towns, much as they are reshaping the cultural space of previously idiosyncratic metropolitan neighborhoods. What do all these corporations have in common? They look bland, offer bland products, and pay crappy wages so that a few people get egregiously rich. And many of us are spending our money in places that are counterintuitive to our best interests.
There is a price to pay for convenience, repercussions resulting from how and where we spend our dollar, and sometimes saving a few bucks ultimately means losing a lot more. If we do not want our neighborhoods to be defined by the blandness of Walmarts and McDonalds and whatnot, if we want to have access to variegated, diverse culture and not just what Netflix and Amazon and Apple chooses to promote, if we do not want our children and their children to be working for the corporations that are swallowing up the independent businesses, we need to stop funneling our money to these non-people. Go buy a birthday present from an independent pottery store or an art gallery, drive a few miles to a video store or a bookstore that takes the time to curate inventory. And take your damn children with you, or borrow somebody else’s damn children, so that they know what it’s like to live in a real neighborhood and interact with real people.
There are still places in America that fiercely cling to their independent ways, that challenge corporate hegemony and encourage the idiosyncratic neighborhoods with their independent book, record, and video stores, as well as countless other cultural mileposts. If every other city succumbs, there will always be your Portlands, Berkeleys, and Austins.
But me, I don’t want to live in those places where it’s too damn easy to walk onto any damn street and see a hundred damn places that are ridiculously cool, god bless’um. I’ve always preferred Los Angeles’ cool-crappy patchwork of here’s an interesting neighborhood, here’s a bland one, let’s see if we can discern between one and the other, because that’s a formidable challenge. Challenges are good for the soul, discerning is excellent exercise for the brain, and Los Angeles’ charm lies in its dual capacity to reward and repulse. We have to fight to keep the repulsive from swallowing up the rewarding, and fighting, when one has a purpose, is the best kind of fun.