Two nights ago I saw my favorite bookseller sitting beside his folding table on West 19th Street so I crossed the street and went to visit him. Finding him sitting there always makes me happy, and very often he has a book that I want on his table. He never charges too much, and while Chelsea used to have lots of second-hand bookshops, his little table set up on the sidewalk is now the only second-hand bookshop left in the entire neighborhood. He always has good stuff and he puts thought into what he chooses to bring out, and he’s usually read the books himself.
Once when he saw me coming he pulled from his bag a collection of Charles Bukowski poems called The People Look Like Flowers At Last, and said, “I don’t know if you’ve got this or not but I saved it just in case.” It was one I didn’t have, and before he handed it to me he said, “Look what I found in it.” He opened the book and looked through it. “Oh, man,” he said, “I hope it didn’t fall out.” But suddenly there it was, a perfect four-leaf clover pressed between pages 226 and 227. We talked about Buk for a while, and I told him how years ago when Buk died I shocked myself by crying when I read his obituary, and he said, “Some people want to say Bukowski was a pervert, but I’ve heard he was a very nice person.”
When I saw him two nights ago, I bought a Joyce Carol Oates novel called Cybele in a Black Sparrow Press edition for four dollars. “I haven’t read that one,” he said, “but it’s such a nice copy.”
On my shelves I have many good books that came off his little folding table on the street. I looked at some of them today, books that I remember buying from him that I haven’t given away, and these are just a few: Loading Mercury With a Pitchfork by Richard Brautigan, The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Down and Out in Paris and London by Orwell, Robert Hughes’s essays on art and artists, Nothing If Not Critical, The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy, Blues For Mister Charlie by James Baldwin, William Carlos Williams’s In the American Grain, The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers, Five Plays by Ed Bullins, A Religious Orgy in Tennessee by H.L. Mencken, Gary Giddin’s essays on jazz, Riding on a Blue Note, and Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown.
In one of my notebook diaries from last year I found this little note I’d written to myself:
Have J. book man’s two little poetry books here on the bed. Reading Ferlinghetti’s poems about razor blades and moldy mattresses reminds me of my little freak accident short story. I remember the bathroom in Grampa’s house in Montana, and the little slot in the wall for spent razorblades. Grampy called his razor and brush his ‘shavin’ equipment.’ Decades of spent razorblades went into that slot, down into the wall somewhere. My little story imagined the old house lifted by a tornado, and the decades’ worth of razorblades riding a twister, and some unlucky but not very nice person getting in the way of it and ending up just filled with razorblades.
I usually keep a little notebook handy so I can jot things down when they fly into my head, and I always like finding them later when I browse in my scribbles:
I’m in bed wondering the same thing as last night; what Honeykitty would think of Edith Massey if she could have met her. I think Edith would have liked Honey. Today on Sixth Avenue I looked into the wholesale florist and saw one of the kittens go to her mama and get a kiss. That flowershop cat is a good mother.
Those two notes made me realize that the two things that make me the happiest out in the city streets are my bookseller and the flower district kitties. At least twice a week I go up and visit the cats in their shops, usually after hours. Rats like flower bulbs, so all the flower businesses employ cats who spend their lives in those storefront jungles. They like to lie in the windows to watch the world go by, and some of them patrol the streets at certain times of the day, and you might see them working the cellars, too. They’re rough trade cats, very different in every way from my own kitty Honey who lives a life of comfort and privilege in my old tenement house, and I love all of them.
I’ve taken Honey up there on my shoulder to let her look in at the cats in the wholesale place, but it’s as if she just doesn’t see them. She'd much rather look into someone’s living room or a barbershop.
When the last bunch of Sixth Avenue kittens reached legal age in one of the wholesalers, I found out that all but two who were staying on had gotten jobs in various florists all around the city. The florists want them because they come already knowing every trick of the trade. The two who stayed were replacing two older flowercats who went to have their retirement somewhere in New Jersey.
The other night I stopped to look at one of the flowercats snoozing in the window on Sixth Avenue. I’ve known this one his whole life, ever since he was one of a litter of gray and white kittens piled into a cardboard box in the very same window, ten years ago. Usually he ignores me when I stop, but on this particular evening I guess he decided there was nothing better to see, so he acknowledged me. I was glad that he did, and he even had a pleasant expression on his face. I took his picture, and the little moment left me feeling happy all night.
July 8, 2016
Copyright Romy Ashby