This morning I went to the farmer’s market down at Union Square, because it is Saturday. I wore two masks like I still do even outside and probably always will. I went fairly early to avoid crowds and walked across 19thStreet to Broadway. And as I always do when I pass the corner where my favorite bookseller always sat, I wondered about him because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him. He isn’t young and I don’t think his was the easiest of lives, although he always seemed perfectly content with it, and he’d done and seen a lot in his years from what I got from our long, ongoing conversation. Now I worry about him. I think of him all the time, when I go out walking and pass his spot, and at night when I look for something good to read in bed from my bookshelves. 

So many of the really good books I have I got from him, and when he’d make his weekly trips to New Jersey, where he had a few sure-thing kind of thrift stores and library sales where he could buy books cheaply, he kept an eye out for things he thought I would like. Sometimes he’d reach into his bag and pull out something that he’d saved for me and he never charged more than a few bucks for anything. One day when I stopped at his spot, he was reading a book called The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems by Diane Wakoski, published in 1971. He told me he thought I might like it. “She’s pretty good,” he said. “She writes all about motorcycles and these biker guys she gets involved with, but none of it what you’d expect.” One of the poems was called, “WHAT I WANT IN A HUSBAND BESIDES A MUSTACHE.” I bought The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems and I asked him if he wanted to finish the book first, I could get it later, but he said he’d already read them all and he was just reading them again. That was I don’t know how many years ago now. My bookseller himself has a mustache and a beard, which over the long time I’ve known him went from silvery to snowy.


For years—at least fifteen—I’ve stopped to talk with him on his corner, and he almost always has something I want. He reads all of his own books, too, and he’s great for knowing all kinds of interesting things about writers and literary characters and musicians, and just the world in general. At the same time he’s such an understated guy, just a real sweetheart of a person, always curious and bright. He makes his living selling books out on the street and lives in an SRO somewhere. And I don’t know a single person in common with him. That’s what happens in New York. Sometimes in recent years I would think, maybe I should give him my phone number, just in case something happens. What that something might be I didn’t know, of course, and then I would forget to do it, so I didn’t. And I haven’t seen him since just before all hell broke loose. 


Today I passed by his spot on my way back from the farmer’s market with a bag of potatoes, a bunch of swiss chard, and three big winter carrots. The farmer who sold me the carrots was talking to another lady at his stand when I stopped, and warning her that if she didn’t buy the three carrots sitting there that she’d be sorry because there were none left after these three. She told him that she had other places to get carrots, and he said, “You’re cheating on me with other carrots.” The lady had a mask on, and while she was looking at his produce, all the squash and Pennsylvania turnips, et cetera, she was doodling on an iPad. They were both of them unpleasant somehow, but I did buy the three carrots, and on my way home I thought of my bookseller, as I always do, and now I always wonder for all the obvious reasons. Had I seen him, I would have offered him a carrot, and he would have said, “Yeah, okay, I’ll take one, thanks.”


I found the book of motorcycle betrayal poems when I got home and opened it up at random. On the page Diane Wakoski wrote about the kind of man she likes; one who reads, paints, drinks bourbon, rides a motorcycle, has a big dog, has good manners, and can earn a good living, and if anyone felt like sending in an application, she wrote:


Include a photo of your mustache.

I have not yet finished my document 

describing the exact kinds of mustaches I prefer.

But that is an area of connoisseurship

to me.

Believe me,

there are some mustaches

that just wouldn’t qualify.

I am known for my 



She wrote that fifty years ago, but she was plenty young then. I hope she’s still going. My bookseller has a great mustache, one I think would qualify. 


Later I went over to 8thAvenue to the florist where there are two cats I’m friendly with. One of them was out, Sammykitty, and he hurried over to bang his head against my shins the way he likes to do, and then on 6thAvenue in one of the florists there I saw another kitty I’ve known all his life, snoozing in the window the way he always does. The sky was very blue and full of birds, the Empire State Building looked fine standing in her spot. I saw all kinds of normal looking things out there, but nothing truly feels normal. This would be something I would have said to my bookseller. I can imagine telling him about wondering about an older guy, seventy-ish, who I haven’t seen around and miss, and hope that I will, and he’d probably say, “Yeah, I hope so too.”


Sammykitty on 8th Avenue





1 comment:

  1. People who are recalled so lovingly never really vanish: they just move on to other temporal neighborhoods, but live on vividly in your words, thoughts, and love. Your writing is so very reassuring.