It was a sunny Fall Saturday and I figured I’d take advantage of the beautiful weather by taking a walk to the Borders book store in my area. Some people on a day like this like to drive up state to go apple picking (don’t have a car and don’t like apples), others like to go to the park to watch the splendor of the foliage as the autumnal leaves change from green to red (color blind with shades of green) but I love going to the book store where I can wonder the aisles seemingly aimlessly until the right book quietly calls out to me, like a drug dealer in a park, except instead of weed or Klonopin, it pushes the wholesome thrill that won’t leave you with bags under your eyes and a hangover during a Wednesday morning conference call. It’s the thrill that is consumed by pre-pubescent children as imagination and adults 27 and over (this number may vary by a year or two) as a way of taking their mind off the monotony of their daily lives.
Reading is fundamental. They weren’t lying to us as kids in those corny 1970s-‘80s TV ads of my childhood. As a child it is fundamental to get lost in the world of books. It builds your imagination, develops the way you think and can also help you forget the fact that the pre-Ritalin, hyper kid in your school impulsively pushed you into a garbage can because he found out the lunch lady was serving meatloaf instead of Stromboli that day. A good book is also an excellent companion piece for the 30-year-old single woman who has to fly to be in the wedding party of the overly-dramatic girl she roomed with in college, but hasn’t seen since. Although for that specific occasion, I recommend also purchasing about four or five mini-bottles of vodka on the flight.
As I stroll through my local Borders looking for a new book, I tend to people-watch like I do when I walk down the street. I have always wanted to meet a woman in a book store and sometimes while I’m walking around I’ll notice an attractive woman and I’ll have the urge to recommend a book. I have often envisioned myself standing near a cross between Kate Winslet in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and Pam from “The Office”. While she glances at the back of David Sedaris’ “Holidays on Ice” I ask her if she’s read “Me Talk Pretty One Day” and she says “of course”, as her eyes light up.
We begin to chat and the conversation switches to John Irving books and I ask her what her favorite novel by him is and before she can answer I say “let me guess, “ A Prayer for Owen Meany.” She then looks me up and down and responds by saying “Yeah, I cried reading that in college.” I tell her that for some reason, women seem to love Owen Meany. She then brushes away a long strand of her auburn hair that is dangling ever so cutely on her eyebrow and says “So, you think you know a lot about women.” To which I quickly respond “Oh, I don’t know anything about women. That’s why I’m at a book store alone on a Saturday afternoon instead of finishing a brunch in the West Village with my girlfriend/fiancé/wife.” We then end up taking a walk where we point out a couple walking awkwardly together while holding hands in the street and laugh at them.
Before we know it, we’re enjoying a lovely brunch somewhere west of Park Avenue, when she tells me how she loves waffles but hates pancakes and I reveal to her that I eat my Cocoa Puffs without milk. “That’s a damn shame. You’re missing out on fully capturing the chocolaty goodness experience, she says before suddenly shouting out “Fuck. Blossom! I totally forgot about her!” To which I reply “Whoa!” in my best Joey Lawrence voice.
As she breaks into an unabashed, adorable giggle that makes me wish I knew more Joey Lawrence sayings she holds up a cell phone photo of her two-year old puggle. She then asks for my number and tells me she has to run because she forgot she has to take Blossom out and doesn’t want to return home to find her sneakers peed on. After I give her my number, she immediately sends me a text back saying “We forgot to exchange names”. “Christopher Moore”, I type in. “You suck. You’re lucky I like dorks,” she types back. She gets up to leave and I sit there and finish my waffle with a goofy grin on my face.
As you can see I have a vivid imagination that tends to over take me when I am alone with my thoughts, but alas my life is not a Nora Ephron movie. I have never been on a date at Katz’ Deli with a woman who showed me how she fakes an orgasm, although I did once get a momentary erection while eating their pastrami sandwich, but that’s because I was drunk and it was damn good pastrami. I have never had an encounter at a book store either, except for today. Today I saw what I can safely assume is the most interesting man in my neighborhood.
He walked through the doors with an elegance rarely seen in an area predominantly known for its abundance of frozen yogurt shops. The man had (I shit you not) white-blond curly hair, a top hat with yellow feathers protruding proudly out, a red velvet coat, black boots and of course he was holding a cane. For a split second, I thought he was either Colonel Sanders’ cooler younger brother or maybe Dan Akroyd from Doctor Detroit. I was looking at the inside flap of “The Life of Pi”, before putting it back like I always do (it’s one of those books that I have almost bought a dozen times), and thinking that no book would call out to me that day. I caught a glimpse of him strutting through the doors and I literally froze with my mouth open.
His face was weathered like he had spent his life working the winters as a deckhand on an Alaskan fishing boat. As he walked by I spun my body around without thought and as amazed as I was at this pimp out of Savannah’s water, I was more amazed that nobody else turned around and looked. I mean the store wasn’t packed and I know New Yorkers are conditioned to walk by homeless schizophrenics cursing at their imaginary enemies, but we were not in the street, we were in a book store and this man was no ordinary New York freak. He was unique.
The man was a living, breathing Foghorn Leghorn and I immediately felt like I had stepped into the pages of one of the many novels that adorned the shelves of the store. I just had to play Harriet the Spy (I probably shouldn’t know that reference, but it fits) and glimpse at someone who was so good at standing out in a city where standing out is hard to do. I imagined him going to a Starbucks and tapping his cane on the counter while asking for a mint julep, until the girl behind the counter turns around and in a routine manner offers him the choice of their seasonal Pumpkin Spice Latte.
“You sure are a pretty young thang. Missy, Why I do believe you have the most exquisite set of ta-ta’s I’ve seen in all my years of purchasing percolated potions from pleasant young princesses. Well, north of Kentucky that is.” “I’m in the pleasing business myself” he boasts as he touches the brim of his hat. She then looks him up and down and then up and down again and asks him if he would like some whip cream, before motioning to the barista. “The whip cream is on me, she says, while proudly sticking out her chin and adjusting her cleavage.” “Much obliged. I believe in rewarding kindness but I don’t believe in giving anything away for free. Here’s my card, in case you are looking for work with a little more perks,” he says, before leaving his card on the counter, taking his Pumpkin Spice Latte in one hand and his pimp cane in the other. While smiling the smile of the mostly innocent she thanks him for the offer and tells him “I actually get pretty good benefits here.” As he uses his cane to push the door open she looks at the card which reads:
Phinneus J. Whoopee. Purveyor of Poonani
Connoisseur of Cunnilingus
917-You Cumm (917- 908-2866)
He strutted down the aisles like a determined predator, slowly and confidently, as if his presence alone might scare his prey into giving up its location. Unlike my haphazard way of letting my new soft-covered friend find me, he looked like he didn’t want to be friends with his book. He looked like he wanted to own it; to take it back to his home, handcuff it to the bed and dominate it. I tried to be inconspicuous while following a man who obviously didn’t know the meaning of the word. So I stopped by the $8.99 CD section and skimmed through the lonely selection of CD’s by random artists that are no longer culturally relevant and pretended to look at one as I saw him tap his cane gently on the shelves as he walked with his chest, on the hunt for the object of his desire.
I admired his sense of purpose in knowing exactly what he wanted, although I do enjoy my process of wandering around the store in a carefree manner, gazing at the book shelves, until a book hones in on me. It's like the surrounding books are blurry and this one is perfectly clear, prompting me to pick up a story that I’m going to get lost in. Possibly, it might revolve around the mind of a unique child like in “A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” or exist in the world of Christopher Moore, where fuckups can become heroes and where an emperor can rule a city and eat out of the trash.
I could not help but stare at him as he discarded each aisle in the store with each tap of his cane and I only looked down to notice I was holding a CD titled Mama’s Big Ones: The Best of Mama Cass, which made me think that Borders should just leave these island of misfit CD’s in a bin upon exiting the store, kind of like when my childhood dentist would have a box of random trinkets for the kids to grab after an exam.
He stopped as confidently as he seemed to be moving and I could tell he had honed in on his plunder. I walked over to the New Non-Fiction section to get a peek at the booty he seemed to be taking for his own. He was standing in the adjacent Fiction section and I imagined him regaling his bitches as he tucked them into bed at the end of a long night of whoring with passages from “In Cold Blood” or “Tropic of Cancer”. I looked over to see what he had chosen and my mouth was once again left open as I gripped a book that was in front of me and processed the fact that he was skimming through “The Secret Life of Bees”.
The jar of honey sat on a windowsill on the cover of “The Secret Life of Bees” and an image of his wife gazing out the window as he read the heartbreaking story of sisterhood to his daughters on a porch swing filled my head as my perception of this man’s lascivious life shattered like Dakota Fanning’s heart after her daddy told her she was broken (saw the film, but never could bring myself to buy the book.) In my head, I actually said to myself the clichéd phrase "I guess you can’t tell a book by its cover."
The most interesting man in my neighborhood then awoke from the spell the book had over him and noticed me. He looked me up and down, checked out my Gap sweater and jeans, my Costco jacket, my awkward grin and then looked me up and down again and gazed at the book I was gripping tightly. I glanced down and realized I was holding Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue”. He shook his head at me as if I was Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh’s preppy love child and walked up to pay for his book. As I put the book back where it belonged, alongside “Eat This, Not That!”, I noticed the most interesting man in my neighborhood approach the cute, young redhead cashier. He placed his regal cane against the checkout counter, tipped his top hat with the yellow feathers proudly protruding out and took out his card.