Sunday evening brought bad news from good friends -- all of the Harry W. Schwartz Bookstores are closing. This is a crushing loss to the city, hard (if not entirely unexpected) news for friends who work there, and something akin to a death in the family for me personally. Among Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief, I fall somewhere between bargaining and Haagen-Daaz.*
As a teenager, I used to take the city bus to the Harry W. Schwartz Bookstore on Wisconsin Avenue to look at books. That sprawling location seemed to cram the books in, shelve them up to the ceilings, leading the browser around corners and tight doorways, surrounded -- nearly suffocated -- by them all. Unlike the other bookstore I frequented -- the Waldenbooks at the nascent Bay Shore Mall -- this was a place that took books seriously, a place that dared you to reach for the upper shelves. When I started to work seriously at writing short fiction, the downtown Schwartz store was the only place I knew of that sold the journals and "little magazines" that published new short stories. In my senior year of high school, I saved up money to buy a hardcover "Novel and Short Story Writer's Market" from that downtown store. I remember exactly where it was on the shelf, much the way you can recall where a favorite passage from a book falls on a page even if you can't remember the particular page itself.
That downtown store is long gone, but I wanted to tip my hat to it. I have a deeper connection to the corner of Downer and Webster, both as a Schwartz location and in the years before. I intend to write about that corner relatively soon, but feel like I need some processing time and some watching-the-inauguration-with-some-hope-for-the-future time before I can get to it.
(*I totally copped this line from a short story in Lorrie Moore's Birds of America, a book that I almost assuredly bought at the Downer Schwartz.)
I know it's a National Day of Service today -- Martin Luther King Day -- and I wish I'd thought more about that in the last few weeks because it would have been nice to have volunteered for something today. Instead, the Townblog family bought a mini-van. This completes my metamorphosis from the socially awkward and sullen teenager described above into the socially awkward and sullen family man you're faced with here. I went into the cocoon in a stained shirt and saggy trousers and emerged in a silvery-green Toyota Sienna, with room for eight and a six CD changer. (Peer within, however, and you're still liable to see a stained shirt and saggy trousers.)
So, we didn't volunteer today but we did, you know, go shopping. And the dealership can't cash the check until Obama's president, so the national economic uptick that will surely result from our purchase* won't be credited to the guy who, tonight, rests his dumb-ass head on the national pillow for the last time.
*As Al said, politely, at dinner, "Ever spit in Lake Michigan?"
Speaking of which, I'm going to a bar to watch the inauguration with a couple of friends tomorrow morning, and I'm taking along the Obama shot glass I received from the Shens at Christmas. I'll use it to toast the new boss, and I'll use it again when the Marine One helicopter becomes the Nighthawk One helicopter. Hey hey hey, goodbye.
And, as a personal message to the new guy on King's day and on the eve of a new era, here's a picture of two children asleep in their parents' bed:
They have dreams, too.