but some get to live in the big house.
(Oh yes, another potable portion from the novel in progress A Republic of Books, to be found elsewhere on this site.)
A novel is a flimsy currach indeed in which to set out on a journey such as this. The urgency to remain afloat supersedes all else. But a reasonable destination must be chosen and achieved, while most heavy baggage must be left ashore. The number of passengers is necessarily limited, and movement therein is restricted. Nevertheless, we sally forth, if a barging may be called a sally.
Revolutions are not made. They are stumbled upon. Many are attempted. But few revolutionaries avoid the gibbet. One moment the malcontents were arguing among themselves about what sort of association might be allowed with their King, and in the next a courier with news of shots fired at Lexington and Concord arrives. Thence, the ne’er-do-well editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, previously a peace loving chap, has “rejected the hardened, sullen-tempered Pharaoh of England forever.” The point is, no matter all the talk, not one of those true geniuses that fashioned the old Republic we have now lost had imagined a United States of America before April 1775.
I am thinking that the lack of preparation to that end was what saved them. Had they thought too long on the subject they would likely have found room to compromise. At the least, they would have turned on themselves, in an effort to gain the upper hand. Power does that to the mind. For proof, just look at what happened as soon as the steady hand of Washington was off the tiller of that fragile vessel, the first of its kind, and now perhaps the last.
Understand, I am not yet making revolution. Nor am I, as Mr. Paine was when that lost country of our past “was set on fire” about his ears, “a wisher for a reconciliation.” But alike him now, having failed at all my other endeavors, I am finally hoping for that sort of struggle. Against all odds. For my children’s sake, for I myself am lost.
I am already far older than George Washington was when he led that ancient endeavor. As for myself, I’d rather sit on the beach and study the waves, or watch the pale grass bend to an autumn wind in Iowa. Or maybe not. But I am here.
I had arrived at the shop this particular morning to find a now familiar sight. Eggs had been thrown at the window. None had managed to break the glass but this vandalism must have been done late in the night, soon after I had left, because I did not actually notice the mischief until I was inside. The liquid egg had dried to a nice sheen that reflected the morning light nearly as well as the glass itself, giving an appearance you might see in very old windows where the slow flow of the ancient glass has created the streaks. The yellow of the yokes offered an artistic streaking of color, making a crude sort of stained glass.
The oddest thing I thought just then was that perhaps I should take the advice of my accountant and convert the business into a nonprofit corporation, given that no profit was ever likely to be made in any case. That thought was raised again by the egg on the glass, you see. Stained glass being good for churches, which are tax exempt, perhaps it would be fine for me. Yes? That, and the idea to let the rest of working population of Boston pay for the pleasure of my company by covering my share of property taxes. Not ‘A Republic of Books,’ perhaps, but the ‘Wholly Church of a Good Books.’
As I scraped this foolishness off with warm vinegar water and a squeegee, I was thinking that this might in fact be the last time I have to wash egg, or spit, off of this particular glass in any case. Apparently, according to a letter I’d received the day before, I have to replace it with another grade. Though this particular harassment is not the only one. And I don’t mean the egg, but the demand by the City of Boston that I spend more money to meet yet another regulation which is being selectively enforced, when in fact my glass is already better than most other shops on the street, simply because it has actually been replaced more often due to the intellectual shortcomings of unhappy critics over the years. The ubiquitous brick of Beacon Hill easily come to hand when an obdurate statement needs to be made. However, the special problem for me this time is that my insurance will not cover the cost of the upgrade. I had immediately inquired and established that fact.
The irony might be appreciated by some. Our notoriety had greatly helped our bottom line. But there were consequences.
Just as the words ‘Banned in Boston’ used to make a hit out of questionable goods in the theatre—so much so that my hero Mencken, in an effort to boost sales of The American Mercury, once arranged to have himself arrested for selling a single copy of the infamous ‘Hatrack’ issue on Boston Common, in full view of the minions of the Watch and Ward society (that story of small town prostitution and hypocrisy would not merit a yawn today), now the government attack on my little shop has made me something of a local celebrity.
Between commercials for ‘nostrum remedium,’ snake oil pharmacopoeia and other such Kickapoo Joy Juice, I had now been framed editorially on the six o’clock news, along with a child rapist in Somerville and an arsonist in Quincy. For the time being I have to be more careful of what I say aloud in public lest some human wart record the morsel and make a mountain of it. This thought came too late, however, given the foolish comments concerning the subject of abortion that I made to a television reporter the previous afternoon, only minutes after I had returned from the beach.
Without preamble, (but perhaps having spoken to Ardis first while awaiting my arrival) the reporter had asked me in sympathetic tones for an example of the sort of thing that was getting me in so much trouble. The sudden camera light from the skeletal stand had washed everything else from my mind, I suppose. Naturally, I picked that most difficult of topics, not a safe subject like censorship, with which most of the TV audience, already hooked on the phony wrestling of Celebrity Wife-swap, or American Ninja Warriors would agree, but abortion—here in Boston, where this proscribed, codified and politically sanctified infanticide was a holy sacrament of the elites in their continuing efforts as dutiful followers of the secularly sainted Margaret Sanger to reduce the population of inferior races.
The reporter herself was aghast. How could I possibly object to a woman’s right to her own body?
“I have no objection to that at all,” I said. “She can tattoo it, enlarge it, reduce it, botox it, pierce it, intoxicate it, drug it, abuse it, or use it in any way she sees fit.”
“But you said you oppose abortion.”
“What about the infant girl’s right to hers,” I asked.
“A fetus has no rights.”
“You mean an unborn child. I don’t remember that restriction being in the constitution. But a woman is responsible for the child she has created, especially so long as that child is dependent on her.”
The dialog was not as simple as this, but the mind of the interviewer had immediately led her to a fairly constant string of cliche ad hominem attacks so I shortened it considerably for my own use by editorial prerogative.
Even knowing it was a useless and emotion verbal wrestling match I could not win—on the basis of my gender alone, reason having been bifurcated thus—and that the sound bite that would be used, or patched together in this case, would not connect with the intellect of anyone silly enough to be listening to this particular communications school graduate with an ample bust as I tried to explain. Every sentence with a clause had been interrupted with a new question needing an additional answer, such as “Few aborted children are the product of rape.” “Pregnancy is not a disease. It is a natural biological result of having sex.” That sort of thing.
According to a now former customer who called and gave me an animated report on the two minute segment that aired a few hours later, I had been made into a villain for my vain attempt to defend the right of a woman to be responsible for her own actions and avoid punishing an innocent child for her own profligacy—a villain indeed, who hated women and would not pay my taxes to boot. Evidently, reactions to this had been strong enough to warrant repeating the report at 11 PM. Deirdre called to tell me about the second showing.
I did not watch, but evidently, the subject of books never came up. And they even managed to avoid the name of the shop.
But we were in the midst of interesting times.
Concerning revolution, a revolt by slaves looking for a new master does not have a better outcome. And this was the very point I attempted to make with Evelyn Wright, a friend of Stella’s, later that very morning. She is clearly very bright and, I think, given Stella’s testimony, well intentioned. But Ms. Wright is nonetheless a product of a ‘progressive’ public educational system that was turning out bigots and fascists faster than learned reason or the common sense of experience could accommodate. In her frame of min—as she had been carefully taught in school, and on television, and through the lyrics of her music—everyone was now necessarily judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. That is, all whites were guilty of the actions of their great-grandfathers, whether they had been potato farmers in Ireland or rag dealers in Minsk. Original sin had now been reborn, without the sacraments. And I, particularly, was suspect because, as Stella’s ‘boss,’ I’d apparently exerted some terrible influence over her.
Born at the same hospital, and raised in the same Roxbury neighborhood, Evelyn and Stella had been near-sisters. They had gone to the same schools. Each had made their way, against many odds, to Northeastern University. Now it appeared, suddenly, that Stella had become very disagreeable company. My name had been used in arguments. Evelyn had finally come around to see the source of this trouble. Importantly, and not by accident, Stella herself was not in the shop on that particular day.
This young women, large headed and carrying the formidable shoulders of someone from Chicago rather than Boston, had circled the counter several times before stationing herself before me. I already knew that, unlike Stella, whose focus at Northeastern was a business degree, Evelyn was majoring in Health Management. Not medicine, or medical practice, or nursing, but the far more lucrative and fast-growing field of managing the welfare of nurses, doctors, and patients. She was a smart cookie.
With no other customer in evidence, she begins, “I hear you’re against Obama Care.”
This statement was made even before she introduced herself, so I thought from the first that she might benefit from an additional college course in more effective communication. Still, I also and immediately knew then just who she was. Stella had mentioned her often enough.
“I am against any government appropriation of individual human responsibility.” Those were approximately my first words in return. And I added, “who are you?”
“That’s none of your business.”
It was still morning and I was hunker down there at the front counter of the store, having been just previously perturbed over other matters, and in the midst of writing something about eggs and glass for my new effort at blogging. Thus, I was already full of vinegar.
“You’re right about that. But I already know now that you’re rude, so I’ll take that into consideration.”
“What do you have against Obama?”
“Other than his being a profoundly ignorant, smug and small minded but glib racist, with megalomaniacal tendencies, and one who projects his own hatreds on others and happens to currently hold the absolutely corrupting power of the Presidency in his incompetent hands, nothing.”
By her facial reaction, this appeared to strike her as a series of epithets.
“You’re the racist. You’re a bigot. You don’t like Obama because he’s a black man.”
“You are entitled to your opinion, just as I am to mine. But you came in here looking for trouble. I don’t know why. Could you enlighten me?”
“I wanted to see the beast! I wanted to look at the honkie filling Stella’s ear with all that shit.”
“You are Evelyn!”
“You don’t know me!”
“Stella told me yesterday when she came in that she was upset because you’d been yelling at her. You’re roommates. That must make it kinda tough on her given your manners.”
“She doesn’t get her shit straight, she won’t have one much longer. But that’s none of your business.”
“You’re wrong. Stella is a friend of mine. That makes it my business.”
“You are no friend of hers. You’re her white boss.”
“She works for me, true. And I’m lucky to be able to pay cheaply for the privilege of knowing her.”
The conversation was not going in a direction Evelyn wanted. She shook it off with a non-sequitur.
“The Massa just lookin’ for his opportunity.”
She over articulated the word ‘opportunity’ in a clearly derisive way to match her dialectical pejorative for a slave owner.
“I think Stella works here because she likes it.”
“Stella works here because she’s looking for a new massa. But the revolution is coming. And we will be coming for you!”
Now, as I’ve said, I’m never sure what I say is ever listened to. That’s why I tend to repeat myself. But clearly, Stella had absorbed enough to cause quite a lot of friction at home.
“You know, a revolt by slaves looking for a new master does not have a better outcome.”
“Who you calling a slave?”
“I think you need to listen a little more and talk less.”
“You are telling me to shut up.”
“I’m suggesting that your expressed ignorance is making you look stupid.”
“You’re calling me stupid.”
“I’m saying it’s better to shut up and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. You clearly need a better grasp of language, because you’re missing the meaning of much of what you hear. Maybe you should take a course in basic communication at Northeastern while you have the chance.”
“You’ll see about that!”
And she was gone. The whole exchange was less than four minutes.
I went back to my blog.
So here I was, in the midst of this abject failure to accomplish the basic goals in life that I had set for myself, and yet enjoying more attention that I ever have before. The shop has had sales lately that match its prime years in the 1980s and 90s—that is, in terms of cash alone. Books cost more now. We actually sold a larger quantity of books back then. But still, the city inspectors will not easily back down from their demands that we enlarge the width of the doors, both front and rear, so as to better accommodate wheelchairs, though no one has ever complained to me before. Nor would they negotiate their command to widen the aisles, which would necessarily reduce the number of shelves and thus the number of books I could put out for the public. Nor to reduce the height of the shelving which they deemed ‘hazardous.’ No particular code was mentioned. And their demand that an assessment be made on the load bearing strength of the floor beams is enough, by itself, to break us. Engineers do not come cheap and my emphasis on history and literature meant that I had no ready friends over at MIT.
Additionally, more displays of books will not be permitted on the sidewalk outside, in as much as they pose a hazard to passersby—after more than thirty years of displaying dollar books there to attract attention with nothing worse happening than the theft of the books. Now I have been notified separately that the window glass, already a safety glass, is not of the correct kind—being ruled unsafe if shattered due to it’s large size. The estimated cost from the glass company for the now appropriate safety-glass, to replace the perfectly good safety-glass that is there already, will run at least $4000. I sent back a copy of the original insurance company approval for the current glass, but I suspect that will not be sufficient.
There was no doubting that a war had begun.
And then, this very same morning, as I looked hopelessly at my notes concerning the estimate from the glass company, a publisher called me about one of the unpublished novels she had found on my website. She would like me to send her a copy for further consideration and possible publication. Given all else, I was simply not in the mood for that. My hands still smelled of vinegar. I told her, if she liked it so much, she ought to order a copy from Amazon. It was only $16.95.
So here I am. But not for much longer. I will go down to City hall and perhaps be able to get a temporary waiver on some of those issues, but there is no chance in hell of getting all the alterations done. And Margaret will not help me pay for them. In a flash, she can have some fancy chain-store boutique with a foreign tax address in here paying twice what I do (and half the taxes) and they’ll be happy to pay for their own renovation costs as well.
Still and yet, it is strange to me that there does seem to be a great number of people around who’ll pay a hundred bucks for a pair of jeans. (I remind you, jeans made by our new order of slave children in Bangladesh or China or some place of the kind, for less that the cost of a latte at the coffee emporium of choice—where the entry is emblazoned with posters railing against various forms of injustice.)
Self-pity is not in order. I had had plenty of time for that as I doused the egg splatter and scraped the window area several times with the warm water and vinegar.