Bibliophile essay contest – Entrant #1

from Dan McNay:

Cary Beckham’s Bookshop And Why I loved It.

It was the desk. An antique dark brown student desk, that Cary had bought at an antique auction. It was slanted so you couldn’t lay anything on it to stay. It was too low for the stool behind it where I sat so it was impossible to write on. And you couldn’t prop your feet up. It couldn’t be used for display. Yet I sat behind it for a good year pretending it was the official counter for the bookstore. I sat there and read and read and read, in between customers; and after I had alphabetized the entire stock in the store, within their subject category of course. It was a rare and used bookstore in the Irish Channel in New Orleans. For St. Patrick’s Day, I found all the green books in the store and displayed them in the front window. For Valentine’s Day, it was all the red books. Cary brought me business cards that had my name on them as the Manager. Cary brought me cookies and milk in the afternoon. We played classical guitar music on the stereo all day long. And… it was the partial set of Balzac that I carried home one night, it was the used paperback copy of “Omensetter’s Luck” by Gass, it was “The Alexandra Quartet”, it was Stephen Jones’ “Drifting” which I still have thirty years later and has spawned a entire bookshelf of personal narratives about river travel, it was a signed first edition of Faulkner I couldn’t afford and “The Haunted Bookshop.” It was James Agee. And it was the old men that would meet in the store and chat in English which would slide into Spanish which would slide into French. It was having tea with Lamont who wrote like Thomas Wolfe then. It was Jan who came to steal my glasses to get them repaired while I sat there blind for two hours. It was Ralph that came to discuss how much money I needed to live on if I agreed to ghostwrite Hazel Guggenheim’s autobiography. It was the feather duster and the dusty stacks of books in attics at estate sales. It was the sun in the window and the Cuban sandwiches I would make a dash for across the street. It was the little worn rose colored copy of “Evangeline” that no one else in the world cared about. It was fun.

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