I want to reveal a secret I've kept until now. It was a Tuesday. Makes no difference. I got a call from my cousin early in the morning, before the sun. He explained he was driving home from a bar and had taken pictures of a car and tree twisted up like a pretzel. Looks like nobody lived. That’s not my bag I told him. Have fun. I was awake so I slipped out of bed, made some coffee, sat at the computer and listened to the radiator boil. Checked some emails. Read a couple rejections. They were generic, which is standard these days. Thanks for considering So-n-So Agency, good luck in the future. A day earlier I returned from an independent book fair with at least fifty of my own books, none of which I was able to sell or give away. But not for the lack of trying. Turns out there was a large fee just to participate and a small fee to register, which sounded like the same thing though I could handle neither. I had to buy the books and pay for gas, counting on the profits to get home. Sometimes you have to take things you can’t pay for. That’s a different story. A judge will hear my side of it soon.
After coffee I dressed and packed my books in a canvas messenger bag. I removed a mahogany stained board from the bookshelf. Stacked Cain, Hammett and Chandler on the floor by the piano. Juggled what to call my cardboard sign– Barnes and Mobile or Random Cart. The sun was just coming up when I left the building. My super was bundled up under a scarf, hosing at puke on the front door. The hookers were tired, looking for that last Benjamin. I went to the hardware store on the avenue but it was closed, opened at seven in forty-five minutes. Had my pick of seats at the diner next door, ate bacon and eggs, drank more coffee. Someone left behind a New York Post. Still hungry. A little nervous. Swallowed a grilled cheese with mash potatoes and gravy. More coffee. A columnist in the Post argued with himself about the correlation between illegal drugs and welfare. There was a similar correlation between golf and extramarital sex. That’s also a different story. When the hardware store opened I used a credit card to buy a small shopping cart. The urban kind an old lady might use for groceries.
I set up on the corner of 4th street and Washington Square Park, counting on foot traffic, including students and academics, as well an eclectic mix of junkies, hobos and tourists. I removed all my items from the cart and placed them on the sidewalk, trying to avoid gum and urine and a colony of aunts devouring an apple core. A man with an enthusiast’s camera stopped and waited to see what would result from the pieces I was assembling. The cart served as a platform for the mahogany shelf, which served as a table or display for my books. I unfolded the sign, revealing the title of my exhibit. “Barnes and Mobile, how clever,” the man with the camera said. “I bet you’ll get a lot of attention like that. Much success.” I hoped this stranger’s prediction was accurate. He disappeared into the park soon after taking a photo of me, brick wall as backdrop.
In the next hour only one man in a long coat stopped to look over my books. He had a spider tattooed on the web of his thumb and the many piercings in his ears had long closed up, leaving a deformity of pinched skin. He barely acknowledged me before opening a book. “I found a mistake,” he said. I acted surprised. I had also served as the editor. “Right here.” He pointed to a sentence, one I recognized, where I spelled ‘form’ instead of ‘from’. He closed the book and said, “You wrote this? You can’t have mistakes man. I’m a book seller down the street. I sell Hemingway and Burroughs and shit like that. No mistakes there. You can’t make mistakes. Why would someone read your books when they got mistakes instead of Hemingway books that got no mistakes?” I had no clear answer, besides, he was interfering with any chance I might have to make a buck. He shrugged off a request for his departure and kicked over my display, warning this turf was taken and he’s the only one gonna sell books around here.
Defeated, I collected my goods like a magician exposed and found a different spot on the opposite edge of the park. This corner was designated for chess players and others hoping to catch a nap on a chess table. I erected my display, repeating the same motions. Made sure it was sturdy– no one was kicking nothing this time. Within minutes familiar eyes behind Windsor glasses passed, stopped, then returned in rewind. “Brian,” he suggested. I recognized him of course. He was the most advanced member of a writer’s workshop I belonged to almost ten years previous, until he’d been accepted into Iowa’s creative writing graduate program. Everyone expected great things from him, though beneath their admiration there was terrible envy. I was indifferent. It seemed graduate schools treated writing as a craft while I hoped to be more of an entertainer. And here we are. “What are you doing?” he asked. I explained I was selling my own books and things were going well and why not after all New York is great and blah blah blah aint life swell. He said something about Holden Caulfield and Henry James, told me he was teaching short story writing at NYU, editing anthologies, and I should stop in sometime, meet his students, explain to them the Ups and Downs. I acknowledged I was unfamiliar with the Ups but the Downs I had covered. He congratulated me on my ambition and went his way, a wise old shoulder bag bouncing against his corduroy hip.
Afternoon clouds bullied the sun into a dark corner forcing the temperature to drop. A saxophone player joined me at one point and jazzed his version of Bird’s Autumn, eventually attracting his own revelers who soon noticed my books nearby. It was at this point, despite the sax’s sad croon and the day’s cold gray, several passersby began to show an interest in Barnes and Mobile. I explained my situation to curious nods. About the same time the sax began muffling the bops of Bird’s Solar, two uniformed police appeared, one finishing a hotdog the other a slice of pizza. “Can’t be here,” the one with the hotdog told me. “Not allowed.” I asked why not but the saxophone new the deal, packed up his gig, gone. “Against the law,” the pizza cop said. “Sorry. Gotta pick it up and go now.” I let out a sigh of discontent. “Hey,” the hotdog cop said, “Don’t catch a tude with us, get ya-self a permit.” I asked how I could go about that and he went on about Borough Hall and applications and waiting for the mail. They watched me dissemble the display and gather my things, ignoring a fight on the corner between two taxis, agreed that was Traffic’s problem. “You write these books?” The pizza cop asked. I admitted I was responsible for anything written within the 400 pages. The mistakes too. “How much you selling them for?” I told him ten bucks. He thought that was a lot. I forced the books into my messenger bag. People passing seemed more interested now that police were present. That gave me an idea I’d use in the future. But that’s a different story. I gave the cops a book each, thanked them, pushed my cart to the subway and went home.