So after I concluded this morning’s post, I got myself civilized and headed out. My first stop was for brunch, at the famous Katz’s Delicatessen. In keeping with my own taste and the recommendation of a former student, I went with a corned beef sandwich and an order of latkes. The sandwich was fattier than I’m used to, but the flavor was terrific, and the latkes were delicious as well. I apparently timed my visit nicely as well, as by the time I finished, there was quite a line, but I hadn’t needed to wait at all.
Next, I caught the subway to Union Square, and found my way to another bullet point on my list: The Strand Bookstore. The store claims “18 Miles of Books,” and I have no reason to doubt it — the store has four floors, each of which is essentially a labyrinth of floor-to-ceiling shelving. The aisles are both narrow and crowded, so I wouldn’t recommend it for claustrophobes, but if you can’t find something to take home, you just aren’t trying.
On a lark, I decided to go to the top floor, the store’s rare book room. Of course, I knew the books up there would be far beyond my wallet’s capacity, but what the heck, right?
Wrong. In fact, I saw a first edition of Harlan Ellison’s Slippage, his final original collection. In further fact, it was the limited edition with slipcase and extra material not available in the trade edition. In further further fact, it was a numbered, signed copy of said edition.
For forty bucks. “That’s not an outrageous price for a souvenir,” I thought. “You’re rationalizing,” I thought. “Yeah. So?” I thought. And that’s how I became the owner of a signed, numbered, limited first edition of the final collection from one of my favorite writers.
But my adventure wasn’t over. At the same table at which I found the Ellison, there was a copy of In Sunlight or In Shadow, which contains my story “Office at Night.” I noticed they wanted eighty bucks for that one, and that it had a “Signed Copy” label on it. I opened it up, and indeed, it was a signed copy, autographed by many of the contributors. But well, not all of them.
Call it chutzpah if you must, but I carried the book to the cash register. I pointed at the list of writers on the cover. “That’s me,” I said. I showed them my driver’s license and college ID to prove that I was indeed the Warren Moore named on the cover. “Now I see that this copy is signed by quite a few of the contributors. Would you like me to sign it as well?”
The sales clerks spoke to their manager, explaining the situation. And so now the Strand’s copy of LB’s first art-themed antho has one signature more than it did this morning. It’s probably still eighty bucks, though. I don’t think my signature actually lowered the value.
After additional browsing, I made my way to a Starbucks for a frappuccino and some people watching. I sat by a window, and watched the world pass by for a while. There must have been a school in the area, because around 3:30, little globs of teenagers began to drift by. I also saw a fair amount of stroller-pushing women, the kids typically cocooned like mummies in quilted down sarcophagi. From time to time, women would pass by, round white patches on the shoulders of their coats. The patches had red lettering around the circumference and some sort of design at the center, and they reminded me of the patch I got for completing the mile swim at Scout Camp one year.
I wondered a little bit about them. Was there some sort of neighborhood ladies’ group turned militant? But I was on one side of the window, and they were on the other, and I wasn’t going to give up my seat to run outside and investigate and make myself an obvious weirdo. Some mysteries, I thought, must remain unsolved.
After a while, I wandered around Union Square a bit more, and then it was time to find my way to the Mysterious Bookshop. A subway ride deposited me by City Hall, within sight of the Brooklyn Bridge. I was several blocks from the bridge, but even from there, I think I got a sense of what Hart Crane had been so excited about. A short walk got me into the Village, and a couple of blocks later, I had reached my destination.
Along the way, though, I was entranced by a store window, of a sort one tends not to find in Mondoville. The store was the Fountain Pen Hospital, and the window featured an array of gorgeous writing utensils, lit with the kind of attention normally reserved for fine jewelry. And it made sense — in their own way, these pens were works of art. We’re not talking the purple Pilot ballpoints I use for grading, here.
Fortunately, the shop had closed a few minutes before I got there. I can justify spending forty bucks for an autographed hardback book, but with my handwriting, I’ll never be able to rationalize a pen like the ones on offer there. So after a bit, I moved on, and a few doors later, I reached my destination.
Observation: I feel taller in New York City than I do back in Mondoville. At 6′ 4″, I’m pretty tall by non-basketball standards anyway, but the greater diversity here makes for diversity in size as well. I’m not Gulliver in Lilliput by any means, but it’s easier to see over crowds, and well. . . it’s noticeable.
I was the first of tonight’s crew to make it to the event — again, not surprisingly, given my chronic earliness. But the folks at the Mysterious know their stuff. A few seconds after I walked in, the store’s manager said, “You’re Warren, right?” He found a spot to stash my coat and bag, and I settled onto a couch to read a collection of Bill Pronzini shorts.
Within a couple of minutes, though, early arrivals began to trickle in, and a couple of them recognized me. One of them was my Twitter buddy ScottO, who happened to be in town on a business meeting, and he was kind enough to spend part of the evening with me. Another fellow recognized me from my visit a few years ago(!), and my friends Thomas Pluck and Jeff Wong showed up as well. The other authors showed up with plenty of time to spare as the staff set up seating, drinks, and such. LB got there, and shortly afterward, his daughters Jill and Amy showed up for the festivities.
There was a good crowd on hand — few to no empty seats, and some standees too. LB emceed the event, introducing the other three of us (Jerome Charyn, Janice Eidus, and Your Genial Host) in alphabetical order. Each of us talked a little bit about the relationship between the paintings we chose and our stories, and we read a few pages each. I guess I did well; several folks asked if I had done a lot of these readings, saying I really made the piece come alive. I thanked them, but said that it seems to have been a talent I inherited from my dad, and that it came in handy as part of my day gig.
Finally, LB wrapped things up and it was time for the signing, both for the people in attendance and the folks who had ordered copies in advance. All told, I probably signed my name a hundred times or so; if you were number 98, I apologize — my hand was getting kind of stiff, and as I said earlier, my handwriting isn’t too great anyway.
We were getting ready to head out, and Jill put her coat on. I saw the patch on the sleeve. “I’ve been seeing those all day,” I said. “What are they for?”
“Oh, it’s just the brand label for the coat,” she said. Don’t know why that hadn’t occurred to me. Mystery solved.
After everyone was satisfied, LB, Amy, Jill, Marc (Jill’s partner in business and life), and I went to a restaurant a few doors down from the Mysterious.
In the Life, Boswell tells the story of Johnson complaining about a dinner he had attended. “It was a good enough dinner,” Johnson said, “but it was not a dinner to ask a man to.” Johnson would have approved of this one. I had wild boar cannelloni with a chestnut sauce, and house-made lemonade. A fine meal indeed, and Marc and Jill were gracious enough to pick up the tab. From there, I made my way back here to the hotel.
It’s been another good day, and it reminded me of one of my visions for the new year. I contributed an autograph to a rare book, I hung out at a Manhattan coffee shop, and I shared a bill with several important authors at the most famous bookstore in my field. If you were there, or if you couldn’t make it but ordered a signed copy of the book, thanks for your part in it all. Yes, I’m Madge and Warren’s boy in the big city, but you know what? I’m also a writer, and I guess I’ve earned my trip here. That’s a nice feeling.