Friday, March 25, 2016

Of Lips and Levis or How the Book Was Way Better Than the Movie

A little over two decades and a thousand years ago I took some time between being a dumb teenager and being a slightly less dumb twenty-somethinger. One station of my rumschpringe involved a small video rental in Hanau, Germany. It was located near a US army base and exclusively carried VHS tapes formatted for American video machines. I worked there, for cash, for a solid three to four weeks.

Hang on, this is going nowhere, I promise!

The ground floor had the standard – if spare – selection of movies: comedies, drama, etc. I don’t remember a lot about it but I don’t think there was a new releases section and the movies in stock on that floor rarely saw any action. The real business was upstairs, the porn section. It was packed tightly with, very possibly, every porn video available at that time.

I had one coworker who was really neither much of a worker or a co. I’m almost convinced her name was Ziva. Like the owner, she was Israeli – not Jewish, she often reminded me. Also, like the owner, she lived in the Israeli – not Jewish, she insisted that I understand – section of Franfurt. It was never clear to me how she commuted to the store in Hanau. She would simply be there when a moment before she hadn’t been. Later, she would unhappen just as mysteriously. Come to think of it, I don’t remember her being anywhere but at the cash register, languidly checking out soldiers as they slid in and out with their porny treasures.

Yeah, I heard it. I’m not changing it.

She was short and impossibly thin. Her features were a collection of angles, all of which pointed and seemed to slide to her perpetually pursed lips. Before each enunciation, of which there were very few, she would slowly kiss with the quietest of smacks what I can only assume was an invisible fairy always floating just in front of her, ready for its next blessing. It was easy to focus on that mouth when dealing with her. Besides being directed to do so by the rest of her face, it was better than looking in her black eyes. She had the second deadest pair of eyes I have ever encountered. To look at them for any longer than just a glance was to feel the room grow colder by at least three degrees.

During the first shift I worked with her, she stood silent, leaning, watching as the owner showed me around the shop and explained my duties. It was impossible to tell if she were studying us to establish the best, most silent ways to end our lives or deciding which one of us she would fuck and whether or not the Amaretto would be flaming or just wet as she poured over slithering body parts.

As soon as the boss left, she took my attention with an okay. [nyoekyay] She explained to me in exhaustive details how I, as an American could go into the PX on base and buy American Levis while she as an Israeli – not Jewish – immigrant to German economy could not. She went on to explain that the American Levis in the PX were far less expensive than the Levis she bought in German shops. She told me how she and her friends would all like me to buy them the American Levis and they would be glad to pay me…

She was very thorough and mistaken. I didn’t actually have the credentials to make purchases at the PX. I’m lucky I didn’t. I can be breath-takingly na├»ve at times. I believed that she just really wanted the American Levis. It dawned on me years later that she was proposing something of a US army enabled smuggling ring. She never really understood, or perhaps chose not to accept the knowledge that, I could not help her. Her greetings for me, if we were alone, was always, Nyoekyay, I’m wondering, the Levis?

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that little shop. It jumped into my brain today when I saw this meme on Facebook today. That movie and this shop are locked together in my head.


There was a single screen in the store. It was an old TV hung on the wall with a VCR opposite the cash register on which employees could watch any non-porn video in the store. I was there alone one morning and popped in The Breakfast Club. It was a slow morning and I was soon engrossed in the movie. It was during one of the snottier, self-confession scenes that the owner arrived. He stood, blocking my view of the screen and spent several moments watching the bawling teens.

Finally, he turned and fixed the deadest eyes I have ever seen on me. “Are you a fucking psychologist?” [skeeyiekeeawlajust]

He punched the TV off. I’m not sure if he hit a button or if he and the TV simply had an understanding. I just know the TV was punched and the images and sounds stopped.

He turned and vaguely waved in my direction. “File that.”


I brought a book in with me for my next shift. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Delicate Books

Do you have delicate books? I imagine you do. I'm not talking about precious, first editions or beloved writings that have nourished. I'm talking specifically about brittle tomes that have sat on your shelves for years, maybe decades, without being touched. They have yellowing dust jackets with that curious linen covered cardboard hard cover. They are fourth, fifth, whatever printings of classics that you picked up at a library sell off, yard sale, used shop years ago when, upon seeing you said to yourself, yes, for $1.50 I really should own a disintegrating copy of the Federalist Papers.

You do. We all do.

I have several. There are books on my shelf that I'm constantly pulling to remind myself of the distance between basil plants I should arrange in my garden, to remember that Kennedy-Lincoln parallel thing, to remind myself in which play Shakespeare coined the borrower-be thing. Those books get action.

But those other books, the delicate ones, stand true, untouched and gathering dust. I have Schlesinger's Roosevelt series, sure. But, do I touch it? No. I used to yank out that curiously mesmerizing Timetables of History all the time and then Google happened and now it stands, untouched, waiting. Becoming delicate.

Tonight I was looking for a book I know I have somewhere – still haven't found it – and came across a couple of others that grabbed me. The Robe by Douglas and 84, Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff have just been sitting there, waiting. Why do I have The Robe? I have no idea. I don't know what it's about, I have no memory of it being being recommended. I think an old college buddy might have once mentioned a movie called The Robe but that can't be why I have this book. 84, of course, is a delightful movie. If you can watch that film and not fall in love with Anne Bancroft then you and I have nothing more to say to each other. But, how did I find this book and, more importantly, why haven't I read it are questions for which I have no answer.

Both books have grown delicate. The Robe is in very bad shape. The binding is pulling loose and the spine is impossibly stiff. I'm gently working it back and forth. Fortunately, my hands are big enough that I can wrap my palm about the length of the edge. I can roll it softly and gingerly open the pages. Soon I'll open it about 20 degrees and let the pages break apart from the fused block they've become, starting at the center, of course. In a bit I'll be able to let them cascade back and forth as individuals. Finally, still gently rolling, I'll crawl to the front and find out what the hell this book is that I've guarded for so many years.

After that, I may actually read 84. We'll see.