Like a castle crumbled in the dust of war, my favorite bookstore is no more.
Five years ago, give or take, put back one or throw out two, I flung myself into The Barnes and Noble at the juncture of two Los Angeles Boulevards named Pico and Westwood. In my teen years, those double doors opened from a corridor of an outdoor courtyard just above the Disney store looped left of a Tony Roma’s. Onion straw towers. Devoured as our sanctuary soon would be. Like the old man, we saw one day fall down the escalator to the jeers of some and the horror of the quick staff and its helpful hands.
Not long after that day, the doors of our favorite book loft remained bolted behind cheap wood shellacked with pictures promising a whole new Westside World of retail and entertainment. The only thing on my mind was the re-opening of our bookstore. So many traumatic incidents fired through the city already. Let’s not forget the deforestation of literature at the Bookstar on Jefferson– by cheap linen strangulation? Pillow smothering? Or death by potpourri, I do not know. Or the rapid annihilation of the lovely green window-paned Brentano’s in the middle of Century City mall where I read the back covers of suspense novels next to soccer moms and celebrities. Relaxation came to see mom and movie star at home between the shelves without makeup, without care, not because of the novelty but because I felt as many do in his or her local bookstore – intimately at home with words, substance and solace. Then it died. The new store upstairs was not quite the same, but that’s gone now too isn’t it?
But it was all right. I had my castle down the road on Pico and Westwood. Or did I?
At any rate, I recall desperation, the day I saw the old man fall. Idiots abound in this city, so my brother and I stole away from the ill-read peasants of Los Angeles and into our tower of tome and translation.
“See you in twenty minutes.”
“I’ll meet you upstairs.”
I found the old man, smashing his fists against book after book. Words like trash, crap, pedestrian nonsense, flew from his lips. Eventually, he found something that made him smile and as he made his way to the escalator, perhaps to meet with a companion of his own, he tumbled head first down the tower steps. My heart lurched upon the movement and I ran to look over the railing to see his rescue. He was fine, less antagonized than when browsing the titles on display, in fact. “Wonderful staff. But I do miss those corner bookstores they had back in my day.” Rescued that day. But like the fate of the corner bookstores of the past, our tower of tomes and tales of tumult, triumph, and tragedy was not as fortunate.
Who was this masked avenger who forced his hot match into Dickens, Hughes, Tan, Burnett? Oh, right. You. We hopped on the conveyer belt of consumer convenience. Despite the fact that we all know what we love most? A good book. Can this honestly be digitized? Is it really the same? But maybe it’s not all our fault. Most of the Western world would rather watch Paris Hilton parade around in swamp rags and Mario Lopez twirl around with a middle aged choreographer with a dead bird on her head than open a book. I don’t fault you, Mario. You’re keeping it going. Perhaps you’ve got a tumbled tower too.