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.