Monday, May 6, 2013
The Bookstore Clerk excerpt by Mykola Dementiuk
Mick reminds us that once upon a time, bookstores were everywhere. They were very numerous in New York City, some neighborhoods even boasting ten or twenty. In Greenwich Village, the East Village, the Upper West Side, and in between, they sometimes stood side by side, and people flocked in to read and buy books. Books were a way of life to many of us, but that’s all gone now. Some claim they‘re “reading” when they read Kindles or Nooks. But is electronic reading the same as reading a real book, holding it, turning its pages, caressing the story word by word, really getting into the grit of the writer’s work? "I think not," says Mick, "we’ve lost some of the wonder that comes from a story on a printed page, giving it up to electronics, the wave of the future, the wave of the NOW! Sadly, I am a Kindle reader, as well."
The Bookstore Clerk by Mykola Dementiuk is a story of a bookstore clerk in the late 1960s, a lover of books; nothing profound or romantic about it, just one guy getting by as best he could. You could say that books saved him.
The Bookstore Clerk
At Doubleday’s I was the first stock boy in that morning; salesgirl Connie let me in, frowning at me as I passed though the revolving doors.
"Good morning,” I said to her.
She sneered at me.
“What’s so good about it?”
We looked at each other but I didn’t say anything and went to the basement stockroom/loading area. The hell with Connie, I thought, she’s a frustrated slut anyway. I shrugged and got her out of my thoughts.
Danny was in right after me, but he kept yawning and could hardly keep his eyes open. I knew that he’d sleep off his hangover as he’d done many times before. He collapsed into a chair and let his head drop forward.
A few times me or Danny, who finally got out of his chair, answered calls for some book that someone wanted and we sent it up on the dumbwaiter. At other times a clerk would come downstairs and get herself a book; it was an easy way to take a break from the selling floor while sneaking in a cigarette.
“You know, I’m going to be a bookstore clerk one day,” I blurted out to Danny when we were alone.
He sneered and made a face.
“What the hell for?” he said, shaking his head. “You ain’t going to get me up there. Nosirree. Anyway, what makes you think they’ll let you up there? You’re a stock boy, accept it.”
I shook my head.
“Mr. Jennings said he was going to help me,” I said, nodding my head but I knew I had already said too much.
“Mr. Jennings? That faggot, he wants only one thing, your dick. What have you got to do with him?” He grinned lecherously. “Or have you two already done it, you pussy?”
The phone rang and I reddened, grabbing it. A bookstore clerk spouted out a title and I went to get it, Danny smiling wickedly after me and shaking his head. When I sent the book upstairs, Danny still was grinning and shaking his head.
“I always knew that you were one of them, a pussy faggot.”
“Fuck you!” I spat out. But then I said, “So what if I am? I don’t want to stay in this grubby old stockroom. You want to call me a faggot for that? Good, that’s what I am, but you’ll be in this stockroom for the rest of your life. Me? I’m going where I belong, up on top.” I folded my arms and stood looking at him.
“Faggot,” he simply repeated, leering at me. “Cocksucking faggot.”
We heard heels on the steps; we both looked, it was Connie.
“Hey Connie, what you think about the new bookstore clerk? He said he’s going to work with you, you ready for another sissy up there?”
Connie scowled, staring at me.
“Stop calling people names. You’ve been warned about that.” She turned to me. “Anyway, all the positions are taken. We don’t need anyone else.”
“He said Mr. Jennings will help him. I wonder what he’s doing for Mr. Jennings,” and he winked at Connie.
I was very red-faced, as Connie shook her head.
“I only said that one day I might. What’s the point of working here in the basement if you can’t move up?”
“That’s right, get yourself an older sugar daddy like Mr. Jennings and bend over. He’ll have you in a nice position, if you know what I mean.”
“Fuck you, you idiot!” I spat.
“Faggot!” Danny responded, sneering at me.
Connie shook her head again and went back upstairs.
“Fuck you, you motherfucker!” I spat at him.
It was 5:30 in the afternoon, near closing time anyway.
Miss Terri, a short-haired, neck-tied woman in a masculine suit, stood reading some papers in the outer office. She glanced at me as I stepped out of the elevator. In her manly clothes and appearance, she made it evident that she was a bitter, unfriendly lesbian. I always dreaded running into her. She was known facetiously and quietly as “Mrs. Doubleday,” though no one dared say it aloud. She looked at me, shaking her head and sneering.
“Good,” she said to the secretary. “Just get rid of those commas.” The secretary made a disappointed face as Miss Terri turned to me and said, “come this way.” I followed her into an office overlooking Fifth Avenue.
“You wear T-shirts to work,” she said sternly, “with dungarees?”
“For downstairs I do, they all wear them. I hardly ever come upstairs, unless I have to take something up.”
“What makes you think you’ll fit in? Do you have dress clothes, like a suit and tie, so you can look presentable?”
“Yes ma’am, they’ll be ready when I need them. I can be ready in a few days, just give the word,” and I smiled at her.
Her face remained immobile, looking at the papers on her desk.
“You worked for a short time at Scribner’s and Brentano’s, is that right?”
“Stop with the ma’ams!” she flared, “Just say yes or no!”
I nodded, very uneasy.
“Yes, but I’ve been here a year and a few months. I can do a very good job, I know I can. I just need a break.”
She glanced again at the paper.
“We don’t have anything right now. The economy is sluggish. But when it picks up we’ll call you. Oh, how much do you make, $1.25 an hour?” she looked at her paper. “You’re overdue for a raise, $1.30 an hour.” She wrote something down. “Thank you for stopping by. Good day.”
I was stunned. Mr. Jennings’s confidence that I could do well meant nothing to her. I looked at her, stood up and staggered from her office. I saw Connie talking with the secretary. She looked at me, smirked, and went into Miss Terri’s office.
“Stinkin’ bitch!” I muttered as I waited for the elevator doors to shut; the secretary looked up at me.
As I got out of the elevator, I saw that Mr. Jennings was waiting for me in the basement. He saw my downcast appearance. I heard Danny laughing across the room.
“Come with me,” said Timmy. He led me out of Doubleday’s and across the street to the outer waterfall lobby of 666 Fifth Avenue. It had the exclusive restaurant Top of the Sixes, with its panoramic views of New York. I stood downcast at the waterfall.
“I didn’t get it,” I sulked, shrugging like it didn’t mean anything, “The bookseller’s job, I mean.”
But Timmy shook his head, as if he knew differently.
“For now you didn’t get it, but this afternoon I have a meeting with Mr. Simmons, one of Doubleday’s top publishing people. We’ll be discussing just that, the operation and staffing of the bookstore. Don’t be upset, a good word from him will put it motion. Things are spinning right now as we speak.”
“But Miss Terri won’t let it happen. I just saw Connie going in her office. She’ll also tell her she’s against it.”
“Oh bosh, of course they’re against it. Those two lesbian creeps are always against what a man comes up with.”
I looked at him.
“Connie’s a lesbian? I didn’t know.”
“Uh huh, and she’s Terri’s lover. They live together. Down in Greenwich Village.”
“Wow, so why are they against us?” I lowered my voice, looking around at people walking by the waterfall. “Queers and lesbians who like each other just like they do?”
He sighed and rubbed his face.
“If I knew that, the world would be a better place, wouldn’t it? But that’s the way things stand between us; nothing’s any different than it ever was. You just have to stand up and fight, not let them get away with even the slightest bit, because they’ll only take and take until there’s nothing left.” He sighed again. “Let’s go back. Face the monsters, because we’re better than them.” He put his arm around my shoulder. “We’ll know for certain by this afternoon.”
I looked up at him. God, I wished we weren’t with so many people on crowded 5th Avenue. I would have kissed him. I nodded and we started across the busy, traffic-filled avenue.
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