Cautionary Tales of Double-Aught-Seven for the Aspiring Entrepreneur
So a wise guy walks into the bookstore last week & asks me how long we’ve existed. Flipping through the calendar of my mind, I informed the both of us that, holy shit, READ Books is about to celebrate its 9th anniversary. Was I surprised how long it’s been, or how not longer it hasn’t been? Seems like yesterday when I’d been father to two grade school punks alphabetizing our shelves for free; also seems like I’ve been malingering in this here bookstore my whole damn life. My boys are now surly college punks demanding wages (damn unions!), and I was still malingering at the front desk, attempting to subpoena mental images of early 2007, when the wise guy interrupted my reverie with the funniest request.
“Can I buy this book?” he asked.
Well this, I thought, is an image missing from the archives of READ Books’ first few months of business. In February 2007, most of those storming our tiny castle manifested scant interest in literature, and the voices encountered on the other end of the phone were usually soliciting. This is apparently a common thing amongst new businesses: Most humans initially aware of your existence will have cash flow ideas that are in direct opposition to yours. Por ejemplo:
Donna Priddy is a piece of crap whose job accommodates her like a stinky toilet bowl; she is the sales rep who introduced READ Books to the perverted world of credit card companies. Her primary accomplishment was to sign us up for some cockamamie gift card program that she’d promised not to sign us up for, thus sticking us with two years of excess paperwork & useless gift cards we’d never use, plus all the appended costs, plus monthly fees that increased whenever the hell they said they did. DPriddy was also adept at not returning phone calls or letters, though no more so than her supervisors. We eventually weaned ourselves off credit card companies & their machines & thrown in with Square.
In our incipiency, we were visited by the publisher of a local newspapery-like publication with initials that are, befittingly, a synonym for malarkey. For several months we took out ads with this fella whom I refer to as Professor Syntax because all of the sentences that he types are grammatically funny. Even funnier than that last one I typed! Mid-2007 Professor S came by & we declined to take out an ad. Accidentally (one presumes) speaking his alleged thoughts out loud, Professor S duly noted that the distance between our books and the ceiling might be in violation of fire codes. He responded to my quizzical expression by coughing out a hunk of phlegm and saying: “Not that I’d report you.” A week later a rather reluctant fire marshal appeared in our store for the purpose of inspecting the distance between books & ceiling. It was his disinterested opinion that we might spread our books out less vertically & more horizontally, so I moved a pile of books from up high onto the floor spot once reserved for Professor Syntax’s B.S. “newspaper.”
In daylight, Heavy Metal Joe was a disarmingly sweet guy sporting long black locks beneath a KISS cap, a black eye or two, and an obstinate hangover that caused his leathery face to cringe at 30w light bulbs. By night he was an annoying lush ostensibly in search of a third black eye. Daylight HM Joe used to visit READ Books in order to sell us his rock & roll books as he had no other source of income.
One Friday evening circa 2007, several hours after I’d purchased a signed Paul McCartney Rolling Stone from him, HM Joe staggered up beside me at the farmer’s market, poked me in the chest, and growled: “Hasvinifuh seknir fleginblerk.” He then fell down without being hit, crawled across Merton Avenue, reassumed a shaky biped stance, and repeated the scene with a young hummus vender who gave HM Joe a free pita chip & sent him on his way. When he visited me the next week, his sole memory of that evening was beginning it with lots of money & ending it without. On any given day, Heavy Metal Joe was the nicest guy I’ve ever met, and I hope he is alive & residing in a helpful institution.
My point is one day I bought some books from HM Joe & gave him back several I did not want. Next day this little old lady donning a jumbo straw Coolie hat on her noggin came in the store & tried to sell me the same books I’d returned to Joe. Next time I saw Joe, he told me he had taken those books to the Eagle Rock library & donated them. The library, apparently, set them in their own donation box where that enterprising old lady, now known as The Librarian, found them.
The Librarian, a habitué of both the library & St. Dominic’s free lunch fare, would periodically show up with more library rejects she’d try to sell. After a few months of no luck, she stopped bringing me books & began taking them off the sales cart in front of our store. Several times I gaped at her thru the window as she shoveled books into her shopping cart & gaped back thru the window at the gaping Jew whose books she had abducted, before bolting south down Eagle Rock Blvd with one hand steering her somewhat heavier cart, and the other balancing the straw hat on her somewhat tinier head.
This was a quandary; in a moment of weakness, I once promised the Lord that, aside from mom, I’d never again chase or wrestle any old ladies. Furthermore, it is READ Books’ policy to let all lit-loving homeless persons have sale books gratis. It’s just that they always ask first. Hi, how much for this book? Hi yourself, you can have it for free. Thank you bye! No, thank you bye! This one just shoveled & ran.
One day after work I went to Occidental to run up & down stairs. Passing a very large house on Campus Road, a veritable mansion by my piss-ant standards, I espied The Librarian entering that manor without, like, knocking on the door. I approached a young laborer engaged in yard work & asked him if the manor was his. He looked at me like I was nuts. I asked him if it belonged to the straw-hatted lady who’d just passed thru the entrance. Yeah, he nodded, that’s the ticket. I stood on her capacious front lawn for a few minutes, stretching & shit, until she came back out, at which time I approached her and said: “Next time you steal books from the cart in front of my store, lady, I shall break my pact with God.” And she has never taken another book from my cart, as she could see that I was a most serious man.