The Best Was the “Young” Part

Yesterday I went to the Strand with a college friend who was visiting from out of town. The big-box used bookstore was as crowded as possible for any Saturday that’s not leading up to Christmas. First we checked out all the Simon + Schusters, Penguins, Vintages, and New York Reviews of Books laid out on tables, and then we headed deep into the stacks of the poetry section. It was there that a heavyset middle-aged guy with his hands full of books smiled at me and said hello. I thought he was just trying to get to know me in some way that I didn’t really care to be known, so I just smiled and got back to the task of trying to find some Seamus Heaney there. It was only later, when we had to pry ourselves out of Poetry and he said “young men!” that I realized he thought we were both clerks there, ready to help him find whatever we was looking for. I suppose I would have helped anyway, but we were already making good progress in getting through the crowds and heading for the exit.


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One Response to “The Best Was the “Young” Part”

  1. czar Says:

    Ah, the Strand. I’m not sure how long you’ve been in or around New York, but as a teenager I was a denizen of the three or four huge used bookstores that used to be on Fourth Avenue, between about 10th and 13th Streets, if memory serves (the mid-70s). These places were cavernous, and by no means fancy, well-lighted, well-organized, or crowded. If you were looking, as I was at the time, for Philip Wylie fiction, you’d go to the Ws under fiction and hope for some vague attempt at alphabetization. Then after looking at the first row of books on the shelves, you’d pull all those off and look at the entire row of books lurking behind that row. And sometimes there’d be a third row. I guess it’s not really even correct to call them “shelves.” They were more like stacked pallets.

    And I remember, also about 1976, going to J&R Records on Park Row when it was (a) just a record store and (b) in the basement of one of the many storefronts it now occupies under its various guises. I was doing my usual Saturday walk up from the Staten Island Ferry, passing Ann Street in the process. I had about $80 in my pocket from a recent birthday windfall and saved-up allowance money, and I was on my way to J&R to blow it all on jazz albums (@ $3.99 per). I dropped into this small used book and antique store on Ann Street that caught my eye that day (I think there was a brothel upstairs), where in the window they had an autographed copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass for $75. I thought about it for about 5 minutes, and with the lack of wisdom of youth, went around the block to purchase the coveted vinyl. Big mistake.

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