the guy tending the left half of the theater's bar hadn't seen drive my car yet, but he was very excited about seeing it: "i hadn't heard anything about it until like a day or two ago and suddenly everyone's talking about it. and it's three hours long!" dances with murakami, i said. the guy who sat down at my left had just gotten out of the early screening: "have you seen christopher nolan's tenet,* where half of the action goes forward and half of it goes backward? we're like that, meeting in the middle, with me just coming from the experience you're about to have. i won't say anything to spoil it for you, but i liked it."

i asked him if he'd read the short story the film is based on, or any murakami; he hadn't. "i hear murakami is like japan's philip roth** and john steinbeck and [some other dude i don't remember]," he said. i agreed that he was a beast. i had read a lot of murakami, i said, and i thought of him more like japan's jane austen: his stories combine and recombine constants in a way i found soothing to revisit. mysterious women, cats, whiskey, vinyl, jazz, pasta, disappearances, writers... he'd heard that this was the first murakami work that'd been made into a film, or maybe just that murakami was famously tricky to adapt. i thought that was exciting, i said, like how pynchon's, what was it, inherent vice was an unexpectedly killer movie (that can song!). "oh my god, PTA," and we just sat in the acronym for a minute until the carpet split at a previously-invisible seam and we plunged into the center of the earth, even though joe was sitting on the other side of me and probably only heard a third of the conversation.

*our friend lesley loves helen dewitt's the last samurai harder than most people love most things in this world and found tenet impenetrable. tenet daunts me.

**he was really into philip roth, "but not when the novel is really just him thinking about himself," which – i didn't follow up on that, but if i had been lewis carroll's caterpillar at that moment i would have exhaled a smoke ring in the shape of john updike and it would have galloped around the bar once and disappeared. i still miss smoking.


the spotify station(?) that had been serving up the monster hits of my junior high's harrowing dances, a coincidence i would have died before revealing to my beloved charity bookstore's dewy manager even though he probably guessed as much,* played boyz ii men's "end of the road," because of course it did, and i let a few tears leak out, quick, under my mask like it never happened. "you look like you know a lot about books," said a customer who wanted something she hadn't read in fantasy or horror, and i sent her home with lovely hardcover copies of toby barlow's sharp teeth and babayaga. they had crowned my beleaguered section at the front of the store, where misshelved YA novels and mass-market thrillers kept trailing in like fuckin kudzu, for two months. i took a last, long whiff of the basement, bought a signed first US edition of the satanic verses (john - best wishes for your retirement. write a book... salman r., may 89) that had kicked around the store for years, and took my leave a final time.

a couple of days later i reunited with old friends from my wednesday-afternoon shift who hadn't been back to volunteer since the pandemic began. we gathered for holiday snacks at V's place, a stunning two-thousand-square-foot loft next to the stella mccartney store. she's lived there since the '70s and filled it with massive now-iconic canvases and furniture she picked up from friends and, like, department stores when you could get a frank gehry wiggle chair for a hundred bucks. "my cats loved them," she said, "and when they scratched them it just made them look even better." V lives in the new york apartment you'd expect a donna tartt or hanya yanagihara character to have. she's even got a singed child mannequin holding a heavy velvet drapery open!

when we were all arranged around V's refreshments, i told the story behind the email to the volunteer coordinator on which i'd cc'ed them. management had told E, the art-book expert who'd been the designated guy to get arrested at DC protests for years, that he wouldn't be rehired. they'd declined to hire a volunteer who said that as a staffer she'd be most excited about developing the community around the store. they'd told the current manager not to worry about selling books, and to do his best to pitch the store as an event space for hire; they'd talked about converting shelves into false panels that could slide back to reveal bars and coat checks. (the donation area disappared a year ago; it was distasteful to have it so close to the front door.) since they weren't interested in the hiring conditions the new union set forth, they brought in temps to replace all the volunteers who'd stopped coming back. the last employee we all knew, the one who'd assured me i was making his job easier, left. and i left. being a scab that also kept a zombie bookstore shambling along was too much, at last, for me.

P, the artist with koons cooties, thought i should write a splashy new york cover article revealing all of the sordid politics behind the store's slow, semi-secret death. a petition, there should also be a petition! A, the retired UN guy who lives on roosevelt island and has fabulous stories of drinking obscure national beverages and falling asleep under trees, nodded when i suggested that getting michiko kakutani interested in an RIP-barry-like piece could move hearts and minds. V made more tea and suggested we reconvene in the new year to figure out how we would save our store. saving a beloved neighborhood bookstore and saving a beloved neighborhood "bookstore" are not the same thing. is knowing the difference useful?

V sent around a times photo of a gorgeous library the other day. i'd love to get together again as well, i said.

*the welsh researchers who studied how masking affects facial attractiveness report that the effect isn't about occlusion, but i am unconvinced.



i realized i'd been wearing my underwear inside out.
i microwaved the last of the old coffee and started a new pot.
i misted some trailing plants on top of our new bookshelf.
i emailed a researcher for an article i'm filing next week.
i noticed a bleach(?) stain on the left arm of my sweatshirt.
i took photographs of: mylar 2 and 0 balloons in a tree, spent fireworks, and two plush snowmen taped to a different tree.
i showed up 15 minutes late to a zoom call with friends.
i ate two pieces of aged swiss cheese.
i bought a big brass spoon rest.