Yesterday I stop by Spoonbill & Sugarman, an independent bookstore in Williamsburg. I had the idea that I was going to show them the novel I’ve written — a dark tale inspired by real events set in the East Village in the late 1980’s. What better venue could there be for it (except possibly St. Mark’s Books?). The 80’s — crime, drugs, disease — it’s all coming back. As for gentrification, even when you’re paying $1,000 for less than 100 square feet in a share, gentrification is always “the next guy.” While many of the hipsters frequenting Spoonbill will have been much too young to remember the history behind the fiction, some will know abouthe police riots in Tompkins Square, or will have heard of the man with the rooster and the cautionary tale of the young woman whose bones were rendered and served to the homeless in a soup.
I get off at Bedford, a mere four blocks from 102 Bedford Avenue, between N11th and N12th where I used to live once for about nine years. I walk south instead of north and enter the store. I’d visited an independent bookstore down there in the old Downer’s Pharmacy shop once years ago. (No, I’m not so old I remember when it was Downer’s Pharmacy, but I do remember the sign in the window.) That location was now an upscale bistro.
Had I actually been in Spoonbill? Possibly, that day a couple of summers ago, with my in-laws when we’d spotted a group of Hasidic men trying to play baseball in McCarren Park, feeding every stereotype of Jewish non-athleticism in the process.
I walk into a bookshop dazzling in hipster perfection, the platonic ideal of the Williamsburg bookstore.
There I was with a copy of my book in my daypack, prepared with a little spiel and ready to offer my wares. I had practiced talking about my willingness to sell on consignment and/or match Ingram’s price with no delivery fee, my willingness to sign books or have an event. But I could barely do more than pretend to browse. Even as the customers left and it was just me and one guy behind the counter, I was terrified. It was a reptilian, irrational fear.
Will the man behind the counter look at the obvious flaws in the cover? Shout at me: “It’s a POD and you, madam are a FRAUD.” Will he laugh at my little tome and say, “Try selling it on the kindle.”
I was suddenly aware that it was not the too damn high rents that had forced me to leave Williamsburg those many years ago, but my own feeling of inadequacy. The realization that the entire neighborhood had turned into a club, and not only wasn’t I a member, but no one would even discuss the criteria for application much less the secret handshake. There was no refuge from an agoraphobia so pervasive that even my apartment had become part of the marketplace, and I had no choice but to flee.
It was of no importance whether the man behind the counter was a clerk or a proprietor. Whomever he was, I was suddenly aware that he had the power to destroy me with a word. Not even a word, a gesture, a raised eyebrow, even the most minute curling of the lip which I would easily be able to interpret as “Go back to the suburbs, old lady and take this self-published piece of crap with you.”
And so I took my wares and left.