It was a hot and bright Sunday afternoon. Too hot for that time of year, and much too bright for comfort. Goddamn August weather. August weather always brings me down, but I shoved
that aside and headed out anyway. I thought I'd look around the neighborhood's big chain bookstore first. The day before, on my way to meet Morgan in Manhattan, I saw a book in the window of another shop?something I never knew existed before: Dark Passage, by David Goodis. It was the pulp novel upon which one of my all-time favorite movies was based. For all the times I'd seen the movie, though, I never stopped to notice?I'm such a dummy?that it was based on a Goodis novel. That was very good news. It was a dark and twisted little film?and the novel promised to be even more so.
That's all sort of beside the point, though. I went up to the chain store, and they didn't have it. So I decided to walk a few blocks to the independent store that, annoying and ill-lit and pretentious as it is, has been doing me well lately?their shelves have always given up things I was never able to find at the chain store?Richard Farina's first novel, that Barthelme collection, a few other things. It was worth a shot.
All of this?every bit of it?is a moot point, actually?I can't actually read any of these books I keep picking up?and I wouldn't be able to read this new one either, should I be able to find it?but I just like the idea of having them around, is all. Who knows what'll happen one day? Not that I harbor any real hope; just excuses.
On my way down the street, sweating bad already, all the smoke from my cigarette clinging to my clothes and my damp skin like a swarm of acrid gnats, I passed an enormous white truck making a delivery at a local supermarket. On its side, in tall red letters (which I could read), it announced itself as belonging to: "Golden Fountain Dairies."
I always wonder with delight at things like that?like the Colon Deli down on 6th. Why doesn't anyone ever tell them before it's too late? Why don't the sign painters tell them?
All in all, though, I'm glad they don't. It gives me a chance to use what's left of the eyes for something worthwhile?and that truck kept me going through the heat and the crowds, until I hit the other bookstore that wasn't stocking Dark Passage either.
No big deal. I put the book out of my head and decided to focus on lamps instead. Some months back, the knob that allowed me to turn on the standing lamp in the middle of my apartment got all stripped to hell. Not a big deal, maybe, for most?but in my case, that meant the center of my apartment was eternally cloaked in a thick, impenetrable darkness (to me)?I had to use a flashlight and groping hands to find my way around in there. It was a tremendous pain in the ass. Fighting my natural tendencies toward slothfulness, technical incompetence and a deep-seated fear of such places, I even made a few stops at hardware and housewares stores in the neighborhood, to see about replacing the knob. That, too, was fruitless. I ended up buying flashlight batteries instead. When I decided it was time to screw the knob and just get a whole new lamp, things got tricky, since there was no place in the neighborhood that actually sold lamps.
(As I grow older, my various crises seem to be growing smaller and more mundane. I don't know quite how to take that. I sometimes almost miss the days when I worried about things like "politics" and "religion.")
Then one day I noticed what appeared to be a new lamp store, just a few blocks away. Oh, how my heart leapt!
Well, okay, so it didn't exactly leap, but I did think something along the lines of, "Oh. I should look for a new lamp there," as I was passing one day.
Now, on my way back to the apartment after a luckless search for Dark Passage, I decided to stop into the shop in question, maybe pick up a lamp and be done with all of my sniveling. It took me a moment to find the door (it was at an angle, wouldn't you know)?and then find that the door was open already, before I finally stumbled inside.
They had plenty of lamps?old-fashioned table lamps, desk lamps, newfangled spotlamps. Nothing that I had in mind, exactly, but they sure had plenty of lamps. There was no denying that.
So I shuffled about carefully, so as not to knock anything over (everything seemed awful fancy?too fancy for me, I was beginning to notice), as I waited for some kind salesperson to come up and ask me if I needed help. I was, after all, the only customer in the store at the time, and doing my best to look confused. I do a damn good job of looking confused. I figured that when they did come and ask if I needed help, I would tell them that yes, I did, that I was looking for a "real bright standing lamp." They'd show me something I hadn't noticed before, I'd buy it and we'd both walk away from the experience happy.
But nobody came. Nobody said a word to me. I was still the only customer in the place, and I could hear at least three employees by a counter in the back, muttering to each other, but none of them came to ask if I needed assistance. I looked confused some more, then checked a few prices. I winced.
That's a helluva lot for a fucking lamp, I thought. Still, no one came over. I took a few steps closer to them and waved. One looked up, then looked away. They continued talking among themselves. I never like asking for help, but if it's offered, I'll accept. Sometimes I just have to encourage that offer a little bit.
While I was doing this, I noticed my clothes. Nothing out of the ordinary, I guess, for me?battered hat, wrinkled shirt, stained pants. Pretty shabby, maybe, but Christ, it was hot out. Besides, what I was wearing now was better than the Stalinist t-shirt I was wearing the day before. At least I didn't smell bad. I sniffed to make sure. Still fresh as a daisy. Yet here I was, apparently being snubbed by goddamn store clerks. That hadn't happened in a while.
Once I realized what was going on, a strange thing happened. I didn't find myself filled with righteous indignation over being consciously ignored. Far from it. Instead, I found that I was suddenly near bursting with a kind of old pride. A kind of sick pride I hadn't felt for some time.
It had been a couple years since I'd been snubbed like that?at least by someone of a higher caste. I mean, I'd been snubbed by waitresses and the like, but that's different?that's their job. But it had been too long, too many things had happened, since I'd been followed around a store out of fear that I was going to steal something, or asked to leave the premises quietly, or just plain ignored by someone who was dressed better than I was?because they were dressed better than I was.
Oh, Magoo, I thought to myself as I tried to find the exit, you've done it again!
It was a moot point?I'd never be able to afford one of those things anyway, even if they had what I was looking for. The whole fucking day had been moot?so why was I even bothering?
Still, by the time I'd walked the two blocks back to my apartment, I'd pretty much decided to stop bathing for a few days, and let the stubble grow thicker on my chin. Next weekend, I'd get roaring drunk, pick up a box of Phillie Titans, then go back to the store to see if they have the kind of lamp I'm looking for.