Earlier this week, a woman on Twitter wrote me and asked me to sign and retweet a petition to help save St. Mark’s Bookshop in New York City’s East Village. Their rent, to quote Jimmy McMillan, “ is too damn high.”
She also asked, “Didn’t you and Julie Klausner meet there?” In fact we did meet there, in 1998. I was a senior at NYU living in a dorm across 9th St. from St. Mark’s, where Julie worked. During one of my many visits to the store to browse, I decided to buy a collection of poetry by Wisława Szymborska called View with a Grain of Sand. I brought it up to the cash register and goddamn it; there was an extraordinarily foxy woman working it. Not working the cash register, I mean “working it.” You feel me? Also, yes, she was operating the cash register. She had explosively red hair and dark brown eyes and porcelain skin and an outfit that I certainly can’t remember because it was 13 years ago and I’m a man. But it was probably very cute.
I put the book in front of her and said, “Hello.” (Right? I know…)
Then she said this: “Hi. You wear that sweater very well.” WHAT? What does that even mean? I feel like that’s one of the like, five acceptable ways from the 1940s for a proper lady to tell a gentleman that she’s available for coffee and perhaps pie should it please the gentleman. Whatever it was, it remains one of the sexiest things that’s ever been said to me. We continued to speak and the delicious-looking redheaded book merchant told me I should check out a comedy group called the “Upright Citizens Brigade” perform their improvised show “ASSSSCAT” later that night.
Then, rather than ask her for her rotary phone number, I paid for my little book of poetry and went to a park to read it, LIKE A REAL ASSHOLE.
That year, for some reason, I’d had extraordinarily bad luck with women, which is to say I went 15 months without getting laid. I remember that it was 15 months (the way some psycho sex-accountant Rain Man would) because I was very upset about it and I’d really turned it into a “thing,” which I’m sure women could sense, thus perpetuating the dry spell. Also, at the time, I drank CASES of beer each week, so even in the daytime I was sweaty and red-faced and sometimes smelled like pee. Certain people don’t find that attractive. Regardless, I’ve always enjoyed doing what beautiful women tell me to do, so I went to see the Upright Citizens Brigade that night. I’d never heard of them before that day, but when they were finished with the show, my life had fundamentally changed course. I ached from laughing and rather than put my blown apart head back together, I sifted through its contents on the floor and wondered if I could do what they had just done. I wanted to be like them and I wanted to make people feel the way they had made me feel. The last 13 years of my life have been spent trying to achieve that goal. It is difficult (and unappealing) to imagine my life without that night’s revelation picking me up, fingering me a little bit, and placing me on an entirely new path, which I still walk today.
Julie and I would, thank goodness, cross paths again years later and become friends. But even if we hadn’t, she would remain in my memory the redheaded angel who alerted me to my life’s mission. And I met her at St. Mark’s Bookshop. I believe that a bookstore is holy, even just for its contents. But my story illustrates that St. Mark’s Bookshop may in fact be a place that can induce low-grade miracles, such as directing young morons to their calling. It should remain open so others may experience what I did, all the while doing that most important of human activities, reading. If you’re in New York, please go to St. Mark’s Bookshop and spend some money. I just bought a copy of a new translation of Knut Hamsun’s Mysteries from them over the phone with the help of a woman whose voice was nearly as sexy as Julie’s. Go buy a book from them. It could change your life.
St. Mark’s Bookshop, 31 3rd Avenue, between 8th and 9th Streets.