Working With Sociopaths

And not as a therapist or prison guard. What is it about book selling that brings out some of the most bizarre people around? Within all the stores I’ve worked, there have been several inmates also considered employees.

After shifting career gears in the early 90s, from jewelry making to part time corporation mumbo jumbo, a bookstore opened across the street from my apartment. Not the best location, since this was Astoria, not Manhattan, and on a side street, even if near the end. And not an area concerned with reading, unless in Greek. The owners quickly agreed with my notion, and moved to the soon to be gentrified Broadway, a long block away. Before knowing a thing about the couple who owned the store, I volunteered to help them out when they needed someone to fill in for them–no employees, only themselves, or actually, him, as she was only interested in the money, or lack thereof the store generated. This I ascertained  later. I worked a couple of hours sometimes, for a payment of books. Yes, once a bookseller, always a bookseller! 

They were not a congenial duo. He married her for the money flow into the business, and she married him for a green card. While in their sight, all tight smiles appeared on their faces. If turned away, they started bickering, he claiming she cared more for her pantyhose eating cat than for him, and she accusing him of imbecility. Still, I continued with various working hours, I really wanted books and my current income was not conducive to buying any. Before I could finally realize to run for cover, they were at war. And did I mention they lived in my apartment building? I would be assaulted by screaming broken English and nasty biting insults as I walked down the hall, luckily, I was up 5 floors from the constant bru-haha.

One night a pounding on our door led to the wife arms akimbo marching into our apartment demanding we call the police. Her claim: he assaulted her by pushing her out the door of her own apartment, and she wanted him arrested for battery. Usually of the ‘I am woman hear me roar’ mindset, I was reluctant to dial, I just didn’t believe her. She looked her usual agitated angry self, nothing broken or bruised, and honestly, I wanted to push her to various precipices numerous times myself. But I offered to go down to her apartment and get some of her stuff, and try to reason with the husband to get out and let her go back in. Bob, all sympathetic to a woman in distress, wanted to pummel the guy, metaphorically of course. I don’t think Bob ever used his fist for fighting, it wasn’t his nature. When confronted by the husband I sternly advised him to get out, she wanted the police, and how could you push her violently out the door? He asked if she had disclosed the teeny fact that she had seconds before poured scalding soup down his front pants. Oh, this was just the perfect spot I wanted to be in–between crazy and crazier, with little squirming room.

Eventually, he did leave, they divorced, the store was sold and, sigh, the damsel roped in Bob. And that is a whole nother kettle of crazy.

I’ve described the trolls from Lorry’s and to a degree the owner himself, but there were a plethera or other loonies that came and went, One guy kept offering me coke, not the kind in a can or bottle. Remember, this was the drug of choice back in the late 70s early 80s, but I suppose I was still living in the drug free 50s 0f  my imagination, because I was not really interested in his wares. Nevertheless, he persisted until he left the job, I don’t think he went voluntarily. My pal Lou, the underground bookman wasn’t really screwed on too tight, but in a benign way.  He was curmudgeonly, and happiest alone in the near dark. His world below the store in the tunnels of books was his alone, no one particularly wanted to work anywhere near dirt, damp, and possible rodents. Although a real loner, he was also a sweet man, who loved unicorns and political pamphlets. He read voraciously, seemed to know the most arcane things, and was loyal to the nth degree. He had been known to walk off a job if he felt the owners had fired someone unfairly. He would come back, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, but in the end, one time was too much for him, and he never went back to Lorry’s. I found him again working, of course, underground, well, an small underground store in Grand Central Station. It was an annex to the larger independent bookstore above–one of the few stores left around. He ruled the world there. I believe he was the only employee for that store. I doubt if it were open during the weekend, no commuters, which is what his clientele consisted of. He had seasoned regulars stop by for a chat and purchase, and he delighted in the role, which made me think he may not have been so much a loner, as a man who couldn’t stand being around the other idiots in the store–including the trolls and owner. He had unicorns up all over the place, next to political buttons and quotes.

I lost track of him for some time after I no longer was in his area of town, and when a call came at night, the police inquiring if we had known a Lou, Bob and I were stunned. Apparently Lou was living alone in his apartment in the Bronx and had passed away, without anyone to know or care that he had. The police had found an old address book with Bob’s number in it, we being the only ones the police could call. No relatives, other more recent friends were listed. Bob in particular was greatly upset and wanted to know what would happen to Lou if no family member claimed his body. The answer was unacceptable to Bob–Potter’s Field–which is on a creepy island near the city. So he contacted a Jewish group and was going to pay for Lou’s burial himself, making sure a rabbi was there. However, the group wanted to bury him themselves, in an appropriate cemetery. Bob and the caring organization said farewell to Lou, I didn’t go–it was on Staten Island, and I hate funerals. A unique man, Lou. And forever remembered by me as the one who taught me first about loving to sell books.

I find there are too many bizarros to include in one post, so I’ll have to entitle this, Working with Sociopaths, Part One, and the next article, Working with Sociopaths, The Sequel.

10 thoughts on “Working With Sociopaths”

  1. A fascinating glimpse into your life! I really enjoy your writing: style and content and perspectives all come together to give us a dynamic picture of life in and about NYC.
    That’s a good question about book-selling ( why does it attract bizarre types) and I suppose it’s unanswerable but isn’t it entertaining to speculate? Perhaps the wierdos are folks who fell into the job but I’d rather imagine seamier and less benign scenarios…

    And at the end of this post I sure felt sad about Lou (and for all those who become the unknown), but I’m glad that the police found you and Bob and that he was provided with a funeral.

  2. Nancy, you are a peach, and I bet a fabtastic librarian, oh that I lived near you! What mischief we could come up with!
    Thanks again for stopping by–you always add something informative and interesting, as well as much needed humor, lol.

  3. Yes, I doubt that many of us books sellers wouldn’t agree that we are another in an eccentric bunch of individuals. Ours is a business that is often all absorbing and many of us stake every fibre of our beings into this humbling business where everything you learn and everything you do – is never enough.

    But without us – there wouldn’t be a books business.

    We are a funny bunch, it is true, and deserve to be laughed at when discussed by worthy people to small groups. But somehow this forum does not seem an appropriate place to regale the innocents who have never had your access to the heroes who trusted and hoped that one day you might become a worthy comrade in the trenches of the books business.

    Humility is a rare commodity and most rare in people who aspire to work as a clerk in a books shop.
    After working three months in the business many employees, who at first believed they were possessed of superior intelligence, somehow believe they have made the leap to genius – in spite of the fact that almost everyone who came through the doors during those three months taught them something.

    Perhaps a read of Ishmael by Daniel Quinn is overdue.

    • George, you live in a different dimension of the book business than I. In all the bookstores I’ve worked over all the years that I’ve worked, no one had such a lofty view of their jobs. We all love the printed word. Most of us took the selling of such seriously, but never never ourselves.

      The concept that to discuss characters within this business, and yes, for all the ideals and sentiments, the bottom line is making money, which is why so few independent bookstores exist today, is somehow ego driven or sacrilegious is to my way of thinking, absurd.
      “who hoped that one day you might become a worthy comrade in the trenches of the books business?”
      Pretty language aside, that’s quite an insult. LOL. (when did selling books become a war zone?)

      There are various and sundry characters in every business that are bizarre. Are the other areas of commercialism allowed to laugh at themselves, or is it just booksellers that are restricted?

      And although I have great respect for the bookseller, I’m sorry, we don’t cure cancer, stop wars, or send people to the moon. We do help customers to find something that may entertain, enliven, educate their lives, and that’s no small task. We seep ourselves in a world of pretend, when around fiction, or in a time warp, when around history, etc etc.. And the book world can become just that, another world, if one takes the job or as Oprah would say, “passion” of the business to an extreme.

      Lou took his world to an extreme, and paid for it by shutting himself away from people who could enjoy his company, his intellect, his learned knowledge. He lived for his own twilight world within a narrow place, and when that place disappeared, so did he.

      His body wasn’t found for months upon months. No one knew he had died, no one was close enough to him to miss his presence. I adored Lou, but no one knew him. He was a bookman to the end. And if that’s “a worthy comrade” then I am not aspiring to the label.

      “Humility is a rare commodity and most rare in people who aspire to work as a clerk in a bookshop?”

      First off, the term “clerk” should put all egos in their place immediately. That may be an acceptable description for wherever you live, but in the US that’s a denigrating word. The word has long left the lexicon here.

      Bookseller is the title, and it’s neither egotistical or filled with humility. It is a just description.

      And, you know, how long have you been doing this? How many changes in the book business have you seen? And you espouse these flowering sentiments? I’ve had bookseller owners who have used arson for gain, cheated the tax people, slept with their workers, insulted authors to the point an author wouldn’t return, lied to my face, talked trash about co-workers behind their backs, reveled in their sex lives deliberately in front of me, and much more I can’t write about anywhere, it’s too darn bizarre.

      Yep, your world is another dimension of life. Perhaps if you feel “innocents” (whatever that means) are being harmfully regaled, you should write your lofty and positive views of the bookpeople you have known, just to balance my ego driven treason within the high moral fiber of clerking books?

      PS–apparently you never read my other articles about Lou–they are admiring love notes about a great bookseller.

    • Oh, George, you should have read more of Diane’s articles before making any assumptions! I believe you could benefit from some humility yourself. Why do you assume any readers here are “…innocents…” without “…access to the heroes…”?

      • I appreciate that you find something to appreciate in her but I thought I was very temperate in my remarks – I guess humility is hard to find when you are outraged.

        As I said, I admit I am happy to be one of the eccentrics who found his calling. It is not unusual to be misunderstood when you devote yourself to achieving something your heart and soul convince you is worthwhile.

        I wish all people were so fortunate … but some people just can’t get used to being laughed at …

          • Being considered “different”, for whatever reason, isolates you and sets you apart from the crowd (which is always led by the drumbeat of its lowest common denominator).

            If you are not strong enough in your determination or your belief the jeers can crush you and make you strive to “fit in”.

            Most of us are struggling so hard to understand ourselves we don’t have the time or the faculties to grasp that people develop as many shades of grey – the less they can be determined to be predominantly black or white makes them susceptible to being seen as bizarros and lower objects to ridicule.

            I object! … but have sometimes sucked into the vortex created by such thinking during idle chatter – it is harder to be sucked in when you see it in print.

        • George, I had a high on the mountain response to you, but on further consideration, I think it’s pointless to continue a dialog. You have your rock solid opinions about what you believe to be true, and they will not be ‘tempered’ with reason or reality. I really do hope that the 5 stores continue to thrive and you enjoy a long lovely life selling books. And I mean it. Independent bookstores are a necessity, even if the person running them an I disagree about how things should be done.

          • I agree (while joining you in biting my tongue)… and I think this blog with its many serious followers and contributors still has the ability to be a positive force for the books business.

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