By Dr. Chako © 2006
There is a feeling I get walking into a Barnes & Noble that is indescribable, but I'll try. Smells have always triggered strong memories for me, and the smell of fresh books makes me eager with anticipation and fills me with thoughts of my youth, a youth spent curled up under the covers reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I remember thinking Yossarian was just about the funniest name on the planet.
The faint smell of Starbucks threatens to usurp the paper smell, but it doesn't quite make it. Even more prevalent than the smell, though, is the appearance of the store itself. You can't quite miss it walking up to the storefront. They are all the same - dark oak doors, small foyers (with shiny-covered books on both sides, to get you coming and going) and big green signs. I'm sure someone was paid a bundle to research exactly what color inspires would-be book shoppers to reach for their wallet.
It's hot here in Alaska. Fairbanks has the widest temperature swings in the world – from minus 66 to almost 100 degrees. It's at the upper register now, and I'm sweating. In the store. I walk past the Poker section (it has its own section now?) and head straight to Fiction. The store is busy tonight. This might be unusual for somewhere like San Antonio, but here in Fairbanks, it's almost 11 P.M. and there isn't much else open.
I'm walking down the first aisle and I hit the "B's" right off. Brown (Dan and Dale) on the top shelf, Bellow (ugly cover art) just to the left, and on the bottom, Bukowski. I grab the first Bukowski I see (Pulp) and start leafing through the pages. Dedicated to Bad Writing. I like it already.
Female voice. It comes from over my shoulder. It has an almost lyrical twist and it ends sharply with a nasal punch that is surely meant to be heard, but is also quite genuine. I can hear the "h" in "hmmm" just as easily as I can hear the period at the end.
I look up over my shoulder and catch a glimpse of chestnut hair and a leopard tattoo on her right arm. I give her my best one-eyebrow-up look, yet she is already moving down the aisle, perhaps embarrassed by the audible hmmm-ing. Maybe it was louder than she intended. It lasted only an instant. I try to remove it from my mind (unsuccessfully) as I move on to Confessions of a Dirty Old Man. I must remember to thank the Doctor for the recommendation. Alas, it's not what I came for tonight.
Instead, I grab my intended purchase and head for the counter, daydreaming (of the hmmm?) and reading the back cover until it's my turn in line. When I glance up, I see Leopard Lady behind the counter.
"Stephen King?" she asks. It is certainly a genuine question, but it comes out accusingly. As if I've done something wrong.
"Excuse me?" I reply, a bit defensive.
"I'm sorry. I just..." She looks down at the register.
"Wait. You just what?" I ask.
"It's just... I saw you looking at the Bukowski."
"Yes. And...?" Now my curiosity is piqued.
"Well," she replied, "I guess I had bigger hopes for you."
The young woman behind the counter suddenly comes into sharper focus. The leopard tattoo covers both arms and runs across her neck, disappearing provocatively below her tank top. A thin string necklace covers part of the tattoo and holds jade shark teeth that seem to point to her chest, where I can clearly make out the outline of nipple rings. She has large brown eyes with huge eyelashes and a crazy overbite that impedes the line of her otherwise exotic features.
After I leave the store, I will come up with several clever retorts: "Yeah. I get that a lot," or... "I was going to get the Bukowski, but I didn't want to seem pretentious."
Instead, I just smile. I realize that she is giving me the head-down, eyes-up stare. I've come to recognize this as the I'd-like-you-to-keep-talking-to-me look. It is inviting, but a bit overdone. It is clearly something she's worked on (probably to detract attention from the massive overbite), but it comes across as too needy.
Bad thoughts come unbidden.
In my warped mind, I hear her saying, "Why don't you wait for me? My shift is almost done and I can shuck some mean corn with these chompers."
"Want to see me core an apple through a knot hole?"
"Did you ever play the Rabbit and the Carrot?"
I start to giggle.
"What?" she smiles, somewhat unsure.
"Nothing," I quickly reply. "I was just thinking about a quote from one of Bukowski's books."
"The one about boring people?" she asks. "Boring damned people. All over the earth. Propagating more boring damned people. What a horror show."
Leopard Lady sure knows her Bukowski. Must be from working in a bookstore.
"Actually, it's the one about sex." I say, foolishly hoping she wouldn't get it.
There it is again, only this time, it has a distinctly different tune. Curt, almost dismissive.
"That will be $14.99 for your King," she huffs.
I pay the money and walk out, all the while suppressing my giggle and thinking of Bukowski.
"Sex is interesting, but it's not totally important. I mean it's not even as important (physically) as excretion. A man can go seventy years without a piece of ass, but he can die in a week without a bowel movement."
I walk out into the near-midnight sun and at least have the decency to wait until the car door is closed before laughing out loud.
Dr. Chako is a U.S Army physician. He can usually be found driving to work with the top down at 5 am or slinging cards at the Muckleshoot at 5 pm.