I had once remarked to Richard, a wine merchant, that he was fortunate to have a ready-made niche audience about his books. “Not so ‘niche,’” he said. Each book sold in six figures. Now he stood beside my table adding that he had landed a column in a trade magazine which gave him more readers than that. He also worked in the marathon he’d run and property he was developing in Oakland before noticing my books and sign.
He said he’d like to read one but he already had so much on his plate.
I said I understood.
Oh well, he said, and handed me two fives.
The next day he e-mailed that his wife was half-way through and enjoying “Cheesesteak.”
One woman wore a navy blue hijab above a black aba. Her face was expressionless, her eyelids low. Maybe from sub-Sahara Africa, I thought. The other woman was Caucasian. Her hijab was red. They may have been classmates or members of the same community or sect, or the second woman may have been an attendant accompanying the first, and her red hijab may have been a hoodie.
This thought was suggested after the first woman picked up a “Cheesesteak,” thumbed through it, laughing loud enough to be heard through the café, and then picked up a “Schiz,” thumbed through it, and flung it down forcefully and angrily.
“Elizabeth,” the second woman said, “the man is trying to sell his books.”
Before they left, Elizabeth set her fortunately-empty coffee cup upside down on the table.
I had known two Leons and one Venezualan and a couple financial planners but never anyone who was all three until the plump fellow in the multi-colored, horizontally-striped wool sweater slumped like he had no spine into a chair at the next table. I’d seen him around since his silver hair and been glossy black. He began the conversation by asking if I had written my books. When I said I had, he said he had written one of poetry himself.
When he picked me up “Cheesesteak,” he told me about visiting his brother in Philly who’d lived there before moving to Florida. When he picked up “Most Outrageous,” he asked if he was supposed to know who Chester the Molester was. When he picked up “The Schiz,” he asked if “Pulp Fiction” was a black comedy too.
I tried to remember “Pulp Fiction.”
“Two guys shoot these people,” he said.
“I shoot some people,” I said. “So mayber.” Then I asked if he wanted to read his poetry at the café where I run a series.
“They’re in Spanish,” he said.
“Hmmm. Might work.”
“I read once San Francisco. It brought me girlfriends. You know, poetry, Spanish, romance.”
“Pablo Neruda,” I said.
“Neruda had girlfriends all over the world. I only need one or two.”
He told me read John Grisham and David Balducci but only remainders. “I am always one behind, but I always have a new one. And if they write 30 books, att $30 each, and I pay $5, think what I can do with the money I saved. That’s the financial planning speaking.”
I told him if he brought a copy of his poetry, I would trade him.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ve been coming here from time to time for 25 years, and this is the first time I’ve talked to anyone.”
In other news…
Since I was paid partly in copies for my contribution to “Comic Aht?” I display them on my table too. A repeat customer was the first to pick one up, so I gave it to her. I’m still awaiting a reaction.
My mini-essay “Why” was declared “charming” by a reader of “FOM.”
A psychologist/friend in San Francisco wrote of “I Will Keep You Alive,” “Glows and enlightens… shining with wit, intellect, love, and insigjt.”
He has recommended it to patients.