Tuesday, August 23, 2005

For two weekends every summer, the Desmond Fish library in Garrison, New York has a fundraising book sale. In the cave-like library basement, the treasures are arrayed on tables and on metal shelves, with rare and antique books donated for the sale placed on a special dais. On the Friday night before the first day, the sale is open to "friends of the library" only, and booksellers who have purchased membership line up for an hour outside the back of the library, gazing impatiently at the darkening sky over a wide meadow below the rim of the Hudson Valley. I've visited the sale for several years on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and my favorite part is the very back room, an antechamber where thousands of paperbacks are arrayed on metal shelves. With a keen eye, you can find old Ballantine fantasy paperbacks from the 1960s and 1970s - Mervyn Peake and Clark Ashton Smith books with their unusual painted covers (Rousseau meets Bosch). Last year I was able to buy a copy of Seabury Quinn's Horror Chambers of Jules de Grandin (it's a crime that collections of Jules de Grandin stories are so difficult to come by...more folks need to understand why Newark Bay is the bedeviled, occult nexus of New Jersey). This year's finds were a psychedelic-covered 1971 Avon paperback of Aleister Crowley's Moonchild and a mint VHS copy of the 1962 Hammer film Kiss of the Vampire. The smell of books is a strange intoxicant during the sale, and folks wander about with their cardboard boxes and bags in a kind of slow waltz around the tables, speaking in hushed tones. If you're like me, the tomb-like quiet and the languid movements may focus your attention on the angular shoulder blades of a fortyish Garrison socialite in a black tank top, with thick, dark hair, gleaming earrings, and sparkling eyes, especially if you're clutching a stack of lurid paperbacks penned by jaded occultists. In any case, going to the library sale is like prospecting for precious gems in some abandoned mine, although I fear that mold and moths are beginning to consume the stocks of 30- and 40-year-old gems that I love so much, especially since they were only 75 cent and $1.25 items in their heyday. I will dream of library sales in some desert place, where dry dusty basements will continue for decades to spew forth yellowed but strangely sweet-smelling copies of Lovecraft, Bradbury, and Dunsany.....

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Together, you are the guardians of this treasure-filled tomb, installed at either side of the entrance like caryatids. Watery New York City light, the color of asphalt and concrete, spills in from the street above and illuminates the strands of your tousled black hair. One of you has a mound of satchels and backpacks at your feet. It seems that there are many more bags than there are customers in the store. Perhaps some intrepid souls that ventured into the claustrophobic depths of this comic book shop never made it back out. Or maybe they are offerings left by starry-eyed geek adherents who sleep fitfully with visions of graphic novel-reading goddesses in their misshapen little skulls.

When I approached the counter, hemmed in by stacks of books, I didn't even see the other for a moment, as if she had some type of natural camoflauge. Jet black hair, black mascara, black t-shirt and bone china skin was invisible against a backdrop of black and white art and story panels. Then she looked up and her eyes concentrated and reflected that weak light and it was almost startling, like an image swimming to the surface out of an optical illusion or a fairy glamour momentarily dispelled. Her eyes are bolder than any of the thousands of eyes sketched out with pen, brush or scratchboard on the shelves that encompass her. I hope you both preside forever over that vault of dusty and wondrous things below St. Mark's.