(Warning: The only reason this series exists is as an excuse for me to wallow in nostalgia. If that's not your sort of thing, feel free to skip it. The posts will appear on an irregular basis, but they'll all be clearly marked.)
I'm sure the business establishment had an official name written down somewhere, but Livia and I never called it anything except The Old Man's Place. We discovered it in the early years of our marriage. It was a low, rambling, ramshackle white frame building a few blocks from what was then General Dynamics (now Lockheed-Martin) on the western edge of Fort Worth. A hand-lettered sign next to the door read BOOKSTORE – WE READ BOOKS – WE BUY BOOKS – SOMETIMES WE EVEN SELL BOOKS. What it really was, was a junk store, but there were books in there along with everything else under the sun. Oh, my, yes, there were books.
There were several long aisles of rickety wooden shelves in one half of the building, and there were also shelves around the walls. They were filled with paperbacks, sort of arranged by categories but not too carefully. There were also shelves of hardbacks and magazines, and books stacked in the floor, and literally piles of books, most of them covered with a fine layer of dust. A lot of books that were on lower shelves were water damaged, because there had been a flood at some time in the past. Every now and then you'd find one that was in excellent condition, but most of them were beat to hell, nothing more than reading copies. What reading copies they were, though.
Gold Medals. Ace Doubles. Early Avons and Paperback Library books and Graphics and Bantams . . . I carried stacks and stacks up to the front where the owner sat on an old plastic chair by the door. He had a pricing system, I guess, but I never figured out what it was. He would glance at the books as he dropped them one by one into an old grocery sack and say, "That one's a nickel . . . nickel . . . that one's a dime . . ." This would go on for a little while, and then he would just put all the rest of the books in the sack and say, "Gimme seven dollars." Which I did, gladly.
One day I looked around a corner in the store where I'd never looked before, and there was a set of shelves containing issue after issue of MANHUNT, going all the way back to the first issue. It wasn't a complete run or anything, but there were a lot of them, and I toted them up to the front and paid the Old Man ten or twelve dollars for the whole bunch.
The Old Man, whose name was George Snapka, by the way, was a talkative sort, and he liked Livia and me. He was also a reader and fan of mystery fiction, and when he found out that I had written Mike Shayne stories we talked a lot about that. One day he mentioned that he had a lot more books over in the other side of the building but didn't let anybody go over there because there was too much junk in it and it might not be safe. Well, that was all I had to hear, of course. I pestered him into letting me explore that hitherto unexplored territory. There weren't as many books back there as he made it sound like, but I found a number of cardboard boxes full of the same sort of stuff that I'd been buying and took home a few more grocery sacks full of books.
Like I said, the books were dusty, and usually when we'd get them home, I'd get a rag and try to wipe off some of the dust. One of the cats we had then, Patches by name, was fascinated by this and would come up and grab the rag I'd been using out of my hand. Then he'd drop it in the floor, throw himself down on it, and roll around on it like it was covered with catnip instead of book dust. Years later we read that some book dust contains mold spores that can cause a hallucinogenic effect. I don't know if that's true or not, but from then on we always figured that old Patches had been getting high on that book dust.
Lord knows I can.
A few years later the store closed down. George's wife had been in poor health, and we figured he closed it down to take care of her. I thought it might reopen sometime in the future, but it never did. Eventually the city bought the property, and I knew that wasn't going to turn out well.
They torched the place. Literally. Brought out the fire trucks as a precaution and burned it to the ground, then bulldozed and hauled off the rubble that was left. The plan was to build a park there. Never happened. The lot is still sitting there, vacant except for memories.
Of course, all the books I took out of there eventually went up in flames, too, when we had our fire, but that was a lot of years later and while I didn't come close to reading everything I bought there, I read a lot of it and had the pleasure of seeing the books on my shelves. Just thinking about those days and the books I bought there and the visits we had with George puts a smile on my face even now. I know a few of you reading this may have been to that store, and I hope I've stirred up some good memories for you, too.
Joseph Wapner, R. I. P.
53 minutes ago