Just before Christmas, I was in a store that had an exclamation point at the end of its name.
I don’t remember exactly what it was called, but it was something like, “The Dude Abides!” or “Billie Jean is not my lover!” You know, the sort of thing that sounds really catchy and fun when you’re drunk, but just stupid when sober. This particular store, which was antique, almost professorial in sentiment, specialized in vinyl and used books, which is to say, it was a museum to the owner’s OCD.
You know what I mean.
Although I love these shops— in the same sort of way that I love some “quirky” French films— I have to admit to suffering an acute kind of self-consciousness whenever I’m inside of one.
My therapist calls it “A Very Serious Neurotic Disorder,” but whatever. He’s a know-nothing jerk with very poor prescription skills, so I don’t put too much stock in what he says or the notes he sends my employers.
At any rate, I always feel tense in these places, like I’m being watched and then judged on the basis of my taste. Surely they know that I’m flipping through “The Art of the Tweet,” by Brett Favre for fun, right?
This uncertainty makes me edgy, and placed in such a situation I vacillate between paranoid defensiveness and an over-eager need to please. Dr. Useless refers to it as “cycling,” whatever that might mean.
The truth is that I only went into the place because I was cold, not because I wanted the approval of strangers. But still, once inside I instinctively I began to sort through their offerings in an overtly conspicuous manner, hoping to showcase my powerful intellect and sophisticated taste.
Well, as it turned out I was the only person in the store but for the two people working there.
One of them was an older man around 50 who looked, inevitably it would seem, like Paul Giamatti. He wore a tweed jacket, had a rust-colored goatee and the imperious manner of a jazz pedant, somebody firm in the belief that music’s first order of business is to be “intelligent.”
He kept looking over at me, his nose twitching as if he’s caught the scent of prey. The last thing I wanted was have him see me looking at a copy of “Miles Ahead,” or something, and him rush over smelling of desperation, Drum tobacco and old mail from England, to tell me which drummer played on which track.
I pretended that I wasn’t interested in the records.
The other person working in the store, presumably the “book person,” was a sullen, 20ish lesbian with jet-black rockabilly hair and an inked arm. She monitored me from a disdainful distance, giving little of herself away, even after I picked up a book on roller derby.
After about 10 minutes of casting her sidelong glances to see how she was responding to what I was inspecting—
A neutral kind of scowl.
Stuff White People Like?
A withering scowl.
—I decided to buy a collection of Vice Magazine’s Dos and Don’ts.
The book, by the way, is lacerating, consistently hilarious and kind of sexy. But in spite of how much I like it, and what a great gift I thought it would make (it did not), I was really looking forward to seeing if my choice would meet with the approval of the scowling Ghost World cashier. Even more than that, though, I wanted to get the opportunity to tell her that I used to drink with the dude that started the magazine, and that he used to regularly, by which I mean repetitively, tell me in an eight Guinness and two whiskey slur, ” Yer the only guy that looks good in a shitty suit, ya know that? You make stains look good, ya know?”
With this, I was sure I would win her approval.
She would probably give me the book for free and tell all her friends about my cool Blog.
This did not happen.
She talked on the phone about some aspect of the world she hated, using the phrase, “as always, he’s being a fussy bitch,” without giving me even a glimpse during my purchase transaction. I felt a little bit demoralized, but then, displayed behind the cash I saw Nick Cave’s most recent novel The Death of Bunny Munro.
Nick Cave is my hero.
He’s like the Bible, only if the Bible were a particularly evil and passionate brand of Rock & Roll.
I asked to see the book and immediately got something approaching a look of respect. She hung up the phone, handed me the book and actually spoke, albeit quickly and without kindness.
“It’s amazing, even better than his first novel.”
I haven’t read either of his books, but I didn’t want to let this moment slip away and so I told her that I had listened to portions of the book— read and scored by Nick Cave—online.
“I can send you the link if you like,” I said, “just give me your email address.”
She lost her shit.
“What, you don’t think I can find it on my own? Yeah, I bet it would be real complicated, wouldn’t it? I would have to use, Oh, what is it you call it, The Google? And what, you think it’s cool to come in here, a place that preserves music and literature in it’s purest form and then tell us how to steal it?!”
“Well, I didn’t mean it quite like that,” I said.
“And I saw you staring over at me ever since you came in, I know what you’re thinking! You think it would be cool to screw a lesbian and then tell all your buddies about it, don’t you? “
I thought for a moment about how to answer this, but did not speak quickly enough.
She screamed. “And just because you’re rich you think you can do this, don’t you!? Oh, I fucking hate people like you!!”
This upset me.
“Rich?! Are you kidding me? I’m in a used bookstore trying to get warm! Does that sound like something a rich person would do?!”
“You disgust me,” she hissed.
“Nick Cave would hate you,” I hissed back.
The jazz pedant hurried over.
“This isn’t cool,” he hushed, ” we have customers!” He waved his arms around, gesturing at his empty store.
“No, you don’t,” I said.
“Well, we should, and it’s Christmas, ” he sputtered, ” show some respect.”
I hung my head, but the woman behind the cash did not, “Oh, right! You want me to celebrate the product of Mary’s rape by Roman soldiers! Christmas is bullshit, and I will never glorify women’s lack of reproductive rights, even in biblical times! Jesus is the ultimate symbol of patriarchy!”
“Birdie, tone it down!” the record guy said, his eyes and face now exhausted.
It was then that I realized that they were actually father and daughter and I was overcome with sympathy for them. As I didn’t want to make matters any worse for their lives of torment, I left while they bickered, their voices becoming thin in the winter air as I walked away, the book that I forgot to pay for tucked absently beneath my arm.