He shrugged. "Plenty of books on the lower shelves," he informed me.
"Can I see your guitar?" I asked.
I held out my hands. "I play a bit myself," I said. "Lemme see your axe."
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 inventory."
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 cash register.
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.
Yes, the 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.
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