This guy came into the café looking for Spiro, who had been his best friend for 40 years but was no longer talking to him. He explained this in great detail to the barrista, who said Spiro wouldn’t be in for an hour. The fellow said he’d wait. Then he told his story to a couple other people in about as much detail before he reached me. “D’you know Spiro?” he said,
“Maybe,” I said. Like a lot of people came in named Spiro.
He was about the size of a silo. He’d hired a woodchuck for a beard. He’d rented spades for hands and was missing an eye. He wore a fedora off some scarecrow, an Indian trader’s coat, a vest from a prehistoric pig, an American flag scarf.
“You write all these?” he said to my books.
“Yup,” I said.
“What’s this one about?”
I told him.
He told me about his father’s quadruple by-pass and the 10 years of hell that followed. He told me about being Italian, Irish, Jewish, Cajun… About when his family’d owned half of Contra Costa County. About them killing Indians and buffalo and cows.
“They killed cows?” I said.
He told me about playing harmonica with Elvin Bishop and getting hit in the head by an iron pipe but mot getting hurt because he’d learned how to fall when he’d studied karate with a sumo wrestler at 14. “What’s that one about?” he said.
I told him.
He told me about his years playing center and his deal with the maker of Mick Jagger’s boots and his scourings of flea markets and antiques shows and garage sales with and without Spiro, and how he’d been the biggest estate liquidator in NorCal and wanted to quit but all his friends were of the age where they wanted him to handle theirs. He told me his name was Dane or Great Dane or Real Deal Dane and said he was bi-polar.
We still had four books to go, when he admired my bracelets and asked if I’d trade books for jewelry. My last bi-polar customer had given everyone in the café a Meyer lemon from her tree, bought four of my books, and taken eight from the Free Book shelf. After I’d learned she was bi-polar, I thought of giving back her money. But I never saw her again.
“Which one?” I said.
“All of them,” he said.
Now I was in that café, instead of the other one, because, the day before, another fellow’d wanted two of my books but hadn’t the cash and said, “Will you be here tomorrow?” I was curious about this fellow because, one, he was African-American, and I don’t sell to many African-Americans, and, two, he he’d wanted “The Schiz” and “Most Outrageous,” and it takes a rare sensibility to choose “The Schiz” from my books, and I sell about as many “MO”s as I have African-American buyers because of you know, the subject (“Timely,” this fellow’d said); so I’d said I would.
But he hadn’t shown, and six-in-a-bi-polar’s-hands being worth two in an intriguing bush… “Sure,” I said to Dane.
He said he’d get his stuff from his car.
And the other fellow arrived.
He was a CFO from Cleveland, it turned out, settling in his daughter, who had a full-ride PhD fellowship to UC. I gave him my card, so he could tell me what he thought.
By the time we were done, Dane was sitting curbside, two trays of jewelry before him – and Spiro was sitting near me. “Stay away from that guy, Bob,” he said, when he saw where I was headed.
“But we’re doing business,” I said.
Dane seemed undisturbed that my stock had diminished by a third. I picked a flat-linked titanium-and-brass (or copper) bracelet. I have no idea what he would have sold it for or what he paid for it. But he had no idea what I paid for my books and only some idea for what I sold them. We exchanged cards too.
“Lemme see that,” Spiro said, when I got back. He narrow-eyed it, then nodded like I had been treated fair.