Postcard from New York: Book Store Blues and Noirs
Schillinger, Liesl, The Independent (London, England)
The old woman sits in the easy chair, chin slumped in sleep, the picture of repose. Only on closer inspection does it become clear: she is not sleeping, she is dead. By the door, a man who recently made an inconspicuous entrance now succumbs to helpless convulsions. In the bathroom, junkies shoot up. In an aisle, a man lies face down, immobile. He, unlike the woman in the chair, will get up again - he is not dead, only resting.
Are these victims and suspects at a murder site, you may ask, or perhaps the clientele of one of New York's more popular police stations? Far from it: incredible though it sounds, they are actual patrons of Manhattan's trendy book superstores, spotted by our book store-employee spies, who bemoan both the difficulty of distinguishing between potentially distressing clients and the harmless throng of desirably grunge-dressed loungers, and the awkwardness of compelling the doubtful guests to leave when their eccentricities (dying, getting violently ill, doing drugs, camping) have made their presence unwelcome. Police escorts are sometimes necessary. It's easy to understand the allure the book stores hold for some marginalised New Yorkers. In addition to being clean, well-lit places, far safer than the average public shelter, they lull with their fragrant cappuccino stands, their protecting walls of books and cosy reading nooks, cuddled among overstuffed armchairs and occasional tables. For savvy derelicts and aged loners, they offer a home away from the homeless.
While the book store lonely hearts and desperadoes are mostly oblivious to the text-crazed shoppers that dart among them, hell-bent for copies of Arundhati Roy or the latest thriller, the reading public at some point detected the evocative stragglers on their peripheral vision and wanted to know more. Sensitised by Pulp Fiction, and enured to ubiquitous city film crews, at first they thought that the people they were seeing were extras who had been hired by local Tarantino-wannabe film-makers. When they noticed there were no cameras, they decided instead that they must be actors hired by subtle and ambitious book publicists to present tableaux vivants of characters from gritty American classics to boost sales. …