Excerpt of The Poet's Funeral by John M. Daniel
(Page 3 of 10)
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He shrugged. "Plenty of books on the lower shelves," he
"Can I see your guitar?" I asked.
I held out my hands. "I play a bit myself," I said. "Lemme see your
He gave me a quizzical smile and held out the pantomimed
instrument. I took it carefully, looked it over, and said, "If you don't mind,
I'll play a few tunes while you go get me a stepping stool."
The dude nodded and grinned. "Whatever, my man. Oh I got an open tuning on that. If you want to change
it, feel free."
Bobbing his mop, he shuffled off to the back of the store. He
returned a few minutes later with a small stepladder. I thanked
him as we made the exchange.
I poked around in that store for two hours, moving my stool
from aisle to aisle, picking up a few books and then putting them
back, reminding myself I had enough books in my life, and then, mis-shelved in the European History section, on a top shelf,
I came across a copy of Jack Kerouac's first book, Lost in the Old
Country, a self-published collection of poems, which Jack had
inscribed to Allen Ginsberg, with the title poem hand-written
by Jack on the front flyleaf.
Lawrence Holgerson had told me about this Holy Grail of a
book. Ginsberg himself was offering a small fortune to anyone
who could find it. Holgerson was prepared to match his offer. I put the book back
in its hiding place, went up to the front
counter, and asked the young man if I could speak with the
owner of the store.
"Go right ahead," he told me with a bow.
"You own this business?"
"It owns me."
"How much you want for it? The business, I mean, including all the
He named a figure that was slightly less than I had in my bank
account and in the world, and I got out my checkbook.
That was the beginning of Guy Mallon Books. I did all the
necessary things: business license, DBA, State Board of Equalization,
bank account, liability insurance, Chamber of Commerce,
Better Business Bureau. I paid for a month's rent at the Schooner
Inn. I was set: thirty-five years old and in business for myself. I was lonely, but
I knew that in time I'd make friends. I was also
horny, but that was nothing new. Most important, I was in
business, and I was glad to have a permanent home for my first
editions, which had spent too much time in a trailer.
I auctioned off the Kerouac autograph quicklyHolgerson
outbid Ginsbergbefore I got too fond of it, and I was funded.
Then I started cataloging my collection and bought a year's worth
of ads in Antiquarian Bookman.
The front room was full of the previous owner's inventory,
the usual second-hand bookstore staples, mostly crap, and the
back room had my trailerful of poetry firsts. Over the next three
years I improved the front room until it could pay for itselfthe
rent and my one employee, who dusted the shelves and ran the
And she, my employee, who joined me in early 1980, was
the second great find of my life in the book business.
She walked in off the street one bright, warm winter day, this
knockout lovely young Asian-American woman (actually, we
said "Oriental" back then). She was short (not as short as me,
but who is?), and she wore sandals and cut-offs and a UCSB tee
shirt, and her hair fl owed like black liquid satin over her forehead,
beside her cheeks, around her shoulders, and down her back.
She flashed me a sassy smile and told me she had come to pick
up some books for her boss, Arthur Summers.
Arthur Summers. By that time he was one of my Arthur Summers. By that time he
was one of my best customers. He was also a former Yale Younger Poet (that
would have been decades ago) and the Chairman of the English
Department at UCSB and had won the Bollinger Prize earlier
that year. And, knowing of his reputation as an aging Lord
Byron and having enjoyed the steamy sensuality of his verse, I was not surprised to learn that he had an assistant as lovely and
lively as Heidi Yamada.
From The Poet's Funeral by James M Daniel. Copyright © 2005 by James M. Daniel. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means without the prior written permission of both the copy right owner and the publisher of this book.