Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rock You Like a Hurricane

Coffee shop in my neighborhood, scroungin' up some bizness before Sandy.


My dad visited. Superstorm Sandy assaulted New York.

Although these two events seem unrelated – save for their chronological overlap – they both have me thinking about New York in relational terms.  That is, when something unfamiliar interacts with the familiar, when the foreign strikes home, I contemplate.

Ever since I returned to the city in August after visiting my parents, I’ve been underwhelmed, though subconsciously so.  The city hasn’t changed, nor has it lost its excitement or luster.  Nor have I gotten bored in daily life.  On the contrary: I began a new job, the “semester” of small groups and daily life started up again. I’m still meeting and befriending new people, growing closer to some, experiencing new events and music and cultures.  But this “daily life” has become integrated into “New York life.” Or, perhaps, “New York life” has become “daily life.”  That  I cannot figure out how best to phrase the sentiment points to the fact that the syntax doesn’t matter: they’re one and the same.

Of course, I’m still new here and will not be considered a New Yorker for many years to come (if ever).  But what the city has lost is the luster of the “new,” the excitement of a thrilling (or terrifying) adventure in my life.  In several ways, this is a blessing: I have multiple communities in which I feel part, I have a job and a daily commute, I have a list of favorite places to recommend to others.  In other ways, this loss is a curse (or, more generously, a disappointment): I’ve already felt somewhat restless, I now have to face the realization that my life here hasn’t turned out exactly how I wanted it to, and I’ve lost my sensitivity to the latent excitement of my environment.  As evidence, I present case study number one: my neglect of this blog, my personal record of my first year in New York. (Hopefully I’ll find the time to write some catch-up, but no promises.)

When my dad visited last week, it was his first visit to the city. Planning our itinerary became less about showing him around the city and more about showing him my life, now enmeshed in this place.  I sought to diversify the experience, to show him touristy New York and personal New York.  We walked around Central Park, but we also walked around my neighborhood.  We greeted the city from the top of the Empire State Building, but we also greeted my friends at a new, local beer hall.  We met with the city as we rode through its underground tunnels and walked its streets, and we fellowshipped with my new-found community.  Of course, his glimpse into my life was fragmented; I don’t normally go to nice Italian restaurants on Friday nights or visit the museum on Sunday mornings (though perhaps I should). But exposing my father – unfamiliar to the city and my daily routine – to the now-familiar aspects of my life was a daunting-yet-intriguing experience, if only for the fact that the juxtaposition exists.
Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry (Pre-Sandy loss of power)

A foggy day in New York-town from the top of the Empire State Building, looking south. No lines!

Autumn in New York.  Central Park 10/27/2012.

The father conquers New York City.

Dead things at the American Museum of Natural History
When Sandy swept through, locking us indoors for a few days, trapping my dad here for a few extra, stressful days, but largely (and thankfully) ignoring my neighborhood, I was once again confronted by the familiar/unfamiliar divide.  Bare fact: a hurricane in New York is unfamiliar (especially because I was not here for Irene – and its pittance – last year). Being cut off from Manhattan for a week (and for the first time since I’ve lived here) left me with nothing but the everyday aspects of my life: my apartment, my friends gathering, a few runs to the park or the library.  Everything was wholly domestic.  At the same time, Sandy wreaked havoc on parts of the city, shutting down power in lower Manhattan (and at my work) in ways that I couldn’t imagine in my safe little Brooklyn nest.  The closest I got to the destruction was volunteering at the shelter in the Park Slope Armory, where nursing homes from the Rockaways evacuated their patients. And even after a few hours there, I was free to go home to my bed, to take a hot shower and curl up under soft downy comfort(er). I followed the news like most people in the country – via newspaper reports and friends’ Facebook feeds (we don’t have TV).  All of this unfamiliar tragedy was happening around me, but it still felt so distant; it was around the corner, yet I was able to distance myself and lose myself in party games, a run, a book (or four), Netflix, and selfish complaints of boredom.


Beginning of Sandy: we ventured out to get lunch at Nero Doro.

Nero Doro

Mid-Sandy: Making cookies (oatmeal chocolate chip)

Mid-Sandy: Roommate Dinner! (+ Dad)

My dad ended up renting a car and driving home, and I could hear the relief in his voice – not because of leaving New York, necessarily, but because of getting home, getting back to the familiar.  And I have to wonder, as I go back to work, as I recommit to classes at the Y, as the MTA resumes subway service, but as Sandy’s complications still trouble millions, will this city actually ever rest in me as familiar?  Does it already?  Or will it keep throwing surprises – good or bad – and shaking me up? My bet is on the surprises.

I actually relish the swing between familiar and unfamiliar, the forced re-examination of my life here, which I never want to become ordinary.  I want to be gently shaken and encouraged to look around, to be conscious as I walk through daily life, and I want "daily life" to be challenged - and I want to constantly challenge it.  

I just hope that whatever it is that makes me conscious the next time around can be a little gentler to the city than Sandy. 


Post-Sandy: People blatantly disregarding the "Park Closed" sign at Prospect Park

Post-Sandy: Have a seat amidst the fall foliage at Fort Greene Park



Friday, October 26, 2012

On New York: Notes to a First-Time Tourist (named Dad)




The thing about New York is…well, there are many things about New York.  There are the touristy things, which you’ll see soon enough.  There are the foodie things, which hopefully you’ll get to sample.  There are the special event and celebrity and glamorous and gritty and mysterious things.  There are the city stereotypes, the very rich and the very poor things.  There is the New York of history and the New York of the movies.  But amidst it all, there is the New York of the everyday.

My everyday consists of my apartment on Fulton Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.  I’m fairly certain that you will hate where I live.  You will see the trash, the dirt, the poverty.  You will hear the profanity on every block and feel the social threat of being the racial minority. You will see the shops after shops of cheap shoes and poorly organized trinkets, clusters of men sitting outside them at all times, sharing gossip in languages you cannot understand. You will see the racks of poorly made clothing for sale and peek inside of countless bodegas that smell like cat food, and you will wonder what shady business keeps them all open.

You’ll see the woman on the corner of Fulton and Nostrand, right at the entrance to the Manhattan-bound A train, who holds a crude cross fashioned out of cheap pipe and sings the handful of simplistic hymns that she knows, constant and loyal to her post despite being unable to carry any kind of tune and despite the people streaming past without a glance in her direction.  You will see the homeless man who sits in his wheelchair outside the McDonald’s every morning, boom box resting on the remaining stumps of his legs as he opens the door for everyone and rattles his plastic SuperSize cup of change (a relic now).

When we reach the door to my apartment, you will cringe, partly because you dislike my location and partly because the 24-hour halal restaurant contains a buffet of food that looks wholly unappetizing and smells even worse.  You’ll need to hold your breath as we enter the stairwell, and don’t look too closely at the layer of dirt in this hallway. You’ll feel a little better once we get to my room, once you see the personal effects of your little girl, once you see how even in this place that seems so foreign, so different from the places you’ve moved her into before, she’s managed to make it her own and to spread her personality throughout the room.  Of course, then you’ll get a whiff of the restaurant directly below you, and you’ll become aware of just how loud the street is and how pervasive the bass beat is from the passing cars.

But I urge you to consider the neighborhood and where I live.  Consider that it may not be my first choice, but this is what my salary permits – and barely that.  Rest assured that at least it’s a busy street, and there is almost always someone milling about, and the light is constant.  Consider that it’s probably good for you to experience being a minority, to get out of your comfort zone a bit.  Because what it really does is confront you, showing you what “comfortable” means to you and how your assumptions can sometimes be almost as dangerous as the perceived threat.  Consider also that this neighborhood does have a tumultuous history, but at least it has a history, a character, something identifiable and devoid of the blandness of suburbia. Consider also the beautiful brownstones and the unique architecture that peeks out from the corners, above empty lots filled with refuse, beyond the boarded up windows, and amidst disrepair.  Consider it.

Accept the fact that you can’t be a germophobe and be in New York.  You can’t think what substances might cling to the subway poles that you grip as you lose your balance, or you’ll never get anywhere.  Accept that nearly every block below Central Park will be filled with storefronts and bodegas and commercialism.  But don’t forget to look up. Take a step back and look above street level to see the city soaring above you, to feel awed by the incredible amount of possibility behind so many windows and so much unique architecture.  Enjoy how different each neighborhood of the city is, how you can move seamlessly from corporate to cultured America with just a few steps or a subway stop.

Above all, accept – and learn to enjoy – the fact that New York is a place of confrontation.  There will be a time when the train is running behind and the crowd around you grows, then moves as one mass toward the opening doors once the train finally comes.  You’ll be forced to pack in with these strangers, and all you can do is pray they don’t smell.

But some will.  Some will wear insane outfits, but more will look just like you.  Some will be fashionable, and others simply comfortable.  Some will talk loudly, brashly, offensively, but most will be silent, lost in their own worlds.  Some will beg, some will perform, some will leave you questioning their sanity, but most will ignore you.  Some are incredibly beautiful, some are frightfully disheveled and worn, but most are unremarkable at first glance.

You will see these people on the subway, on the street, on any path you take.  You will see men in perfectly tailored suits and women in heels so high they can barely walk. You will see youth on skateboards cutting you off, and you will see people crouched against walls, clutching a cardboard sign and begging for aid.  You will see gay couples, drag queens, PDA of all kinds.  You will see people young and in love, groups of friends going out for the weekend and laughing merrily, other tourists enjoying the city.  You will see homeless men and women sleeping on the train and on subway benches.  You will be confronted by mixed emotions with all of these – with fear or disgust fighting madly with compassion and the desire to give a few dollars.  And eventually you’ll realize that you’ve walked past a sleeping bundle of human without thinking anything at all. In this you will also be confronted.

Above all, the everyday of New York can confront who you are – who you thought you were and who you might be in such a vivid metropolitan context.  You may like it, and you very well may not.  But this is what I want you to realize about this urban everyday more than anything else: I want you to be amazed by both the good and the bad.  By the extremes of poverty and pain you might see and by the heights of culture and wealth that you’ll glimpse.  I want you to be amazed by the stories of New York, by the realization that behind whatever rich, poor, beautiful, haggard, joyous, pained, laughing, crying, black, white, clean, dirty, old, young, contemplative, confrontational face you see is a story, a life you know nothing about.  There are millions of them here, constantly bumping into each other and changing in imperceptible ways, always adapting to the other stories they encounter or the circumstances the city may throw at them.

The particulars of your trip here, the tourist spots and the good food you’ll encounter, will create a story of your own.  They’ll come as they may.  But I hope that you’ll take a second even to leave your eyes open wide, to try to see and love some of this everyday New York.

(But you can also like the Empire State Building, too.)


Monday, July 30, 2012

Toddler Transit Tales: Encounters with Kids in the Subway



New York is such a “young adult city” that I’m often taken aback when I encounter the very young or the very elderly in Manhattan.  People come to begin careers and businesses, to compile university degrees, and to share apartments with other single strangers–all activities typically associated with your 20s and 30s. 

Little kids usually stand out most on the subway.  Everybody notices the gigantic stroller fighting for space in the crowded car; more than once I’ve had to shove my hand in the closing doors in order to get on the train, which almost left me because I waited so long for a parent to wrestle their child-supporting megabus onto the platform.  Or kids are particularly oblivious to the implicit “let there be silenced (or no more than hushed tones) on the morning commute” law. 

Three particular observations stand out to me:

When I was traveling through the tunnels of the Upper West Side, a very clean-cut man (jeans slim but not tight, button-down crisp but untucked for a weekend look) got on with his daughter, her 4-year-old head springy with thin blonde pigtails.  He sat her on his lap and gave her an iPhone, on which she began to play a Mickey Mouse cartoon.  Seated next to her was the most adorable, cherubim-faced little black girl about the same age, her head clicking with multi-colored barrettes at the end of her braids. When the blonde girl’s cartoon began playing loudly enough for the entire train to look, her neighbor craned her little neck to get a look, not saying a word but innocently trying to share in some good Disney fun.  The dad tilted his daughter’s hands so that both girls could see the screen, explaining, “Let’s share with this girl so she can see Mickey, too.”  Unsurprisingly, the blonde pigtails shook ferociously: “No!”  Thus ensued a temper tantrum.  As the father tried to calmly explain why sharing is a virtue and then quietly asking if his daughter understood why he was going to turn the cartoon off, her protests grew louder and more shrill, her actions stronger and more combative as she tried to squirm off his lap and back into the bag that held the confiscated iPhone.  All the while, the adorable girl who had – in some sense – begun the upset by trying to see what shenanigans Mickey and Donald were getting into just sat and watched the unfolding scene.  Her complete quietness, her inescapable innocence, and her wide-eyed stare at this father trying to quell his daughter’s tantrum revealed that she found this event far more entertaining than the cartoon would have been.

Another day, I was on a moderately busy train – it wasn’t empty, but almost everyone had a seat. A couple got on with their very chatty toddler in a stroller – again in pigtails.  The mother sat, facing her daughter towards the seats, including the abandoned one next to her.  Since children seem universally incapable of moderating their voices, this girl, Clea, started bellowing.
“Mama, tell me a story!”
“What kind of story do you want to hear?”
“I dunno.  Talk about a princess.  That can be her throne!”  She pointed towards the empty seat next to her mother.  She continued babbling, essentially telling her own story by instructing her mother to piece together elements of all the fairy tales she’d heard.
The train doors opened, and new passengers embarked.  A woman sat down in the empty seat.
The look on Clea’s face was priceless.  This woman's choice to sit down in that seat was an abomination.  Clea yelled in outrage, “Mama! Mama! That woman sat on my story!”


Last week, on the F train, I stood facing the bench, holding on to the ceiling bar.  I had been absorbed by the novel I was reading and had about 15 pages left in the tale of 1898 Alabama gang wars, in which literal and metaphorical backstabbing happens between reeking, ruthless sharecroppers, and gruesome accounts of buckshot entering and leaving bloody bodies are told in every chapter.  After a few minutes, I noticed the face of the little girl (about 8 years old) on the bench below me, shyly peering up at my opened book cover, trying to get a glimpse of the title and perhaps even the back cover summary.  I felt a little shameful since the blurb mentioned murderers and prostitutes, and the title of the book contained the word “Hell.”  (I’m such a bad influence). When the girl noticed me looking at her, she quickly turned her head, whispering in the ear of her grandmother, who also sent a glance in my direction.  At the next stop, the little girl climbed on her grandmother’s lap.  The kind woman said, “Please sit down!  She told me, ‘Grandma, can I sit on your lap so the lady can sit down?’”  Although she was too shy to talk to me, the sweet girl gave me a vigorous good-bye wave when they departed at York St., as if we were old friends.  The encounter made my day; the only downside was that my anxiousness to make up the time lost in conversing with the grandmother caused me to throw myself into the last few page of the hell book...and miss my stop.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

You Know You're in New York When...

A picnic read is a classic work on the psychological impact of colonialism on marginalized peoples. And the picnic is held in a park whose existence is partially indebted to Whitman, one of the greatest American poets. Cultural and literary connectivity, indeed.

Apologies for the poor photo quality;
my iPhone contract is up this month - hopefully better pictures to come soon

The event: free music in Fort Greene Park.

Monday, July 23, 2012

McNally Jackson



Housed in SoHo among the trendy shops and upscale retail, the cast-iron architecture and the bricked streets, the people who have much more money than I have and...the people who have even more money than they have – there lies a bookstore.

You can only overprice books so much; thus, McNally Jackson is a great attraction for me in this neighborhood, because it's affordable but mostly because of its books (obviously). 

Perks:

Great displays, often on wonderful display pieces (such as old desks, antiquated typewriters, and vintage bicycles). 

 


 Interesting featured collections, not just the bestsellers, arranged by an aesthetically-minded eye with a little wit.

Plenty of stationery (one of my loves/great vices).  I almost bought the $20 elephant notecards because...who doesn’t love elephants?  Seriously.  And receiving a handwritten letter on crafted elephant stationery?  You know you want it.

Journals
Manhattan

Engaging events.  The store seems very pro-active about local Manhattan writers, sponsoring talks and hosting events with authors and panels. Their books clubs are also specific and tailored (International Literature, Essay Book Club, etc.).

While no warehouse, the selection here is pretty impressive, and it achieves a nice balance between fiction and non-fiction, books and periodicals.  I walked out with an (overpriced) artsy periodical called Kinfolk, which is a magazine dedicated to entertaining, produced in a simplistic layout with beautiful photography dedicated to my favorite thing – community.  It feeds my love of dinner parties with friends despite my lack of space, money, and, well, enough friends interested in that sort of thing. (I also purchased a tote.  You really can’t have enough totes in the city.)




Perhaps the most unique feature is the Espresso Book Machine, which allows you to self-publish books or print from the public domain. This is dedication to the written word, old and new.


The next most notable feature of McNally Jackson is its organization.  The fiction section is organized by nation.  Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this.  On one hand, I appreciate that such organization is a statement and a stand against a certain canonization, against subsuming books as radically different and dependent on their geographical and sociocultural histories as, say, Pride & Prejudice and Midnight’s Children under one lump, overgeneralized category of “Literature.” On the other hand, separating them might also imply a more nationalistic imperative that ignores the connections and interplay between literary styles and histories that I find most intriguing.  On that same hand, some people might not know better and look for Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go in Japanese fiction. (To this statement, I imagine some of my more elitist friends (read: a part of me) to remark that if said people don't know that Ishiguro is British (Remains of the Day is about the fall of the British aristocratic system, for Pete's sake), they don't deserve to read his books...).


Of course, that’s where the staff comes into play.  Plenty of staff members were stationed throughout the store.  Though I didn’t interact with them, judging by their inviting (and plenteous) staff picks, I assume that they’re helpful, at least in terms of content knowledge.

A café thankfully invites you to join coffee (and/or tea) with book reading because, clearly, it’s a necessary relationship in our culture.  Or really, the relationship is between the coffee shop and reading because it has become the (admittedly cliché) locale of discussions about ideas (admittedly not a cliché that I mind much).

Detriments:

BUSY, busy, busy.  Granted, I was there on a Sunday afternoon, so the situation may be different during the week.  But the mass of people makes me anxious, especially in a bookstore.  If I feel as though I am in everyone’s way, I am going to feel uncomfortable browsing – which, by definition, is a leisurely activity not to be rushed.

The business adds to the atmosphere of “trendy” that is inherent in SoHo; for an independent bookstore, wherein we often seek universal ideas and classic thought, this is not a positive association.

Although using one customer as a representative of the clientele is a gross exaggeration and obviously a poor measure of a business...you can’t help but associate the patron with the store when you overhear a conversation (well, monologue) of an “intellectual” guy trying to impress a girl with his profundity.  He leaned on the wooden wall announcing some national literary section, his arm at the level of the girl’s head as he tried to adopt a casual manner and spoke:

“I can never be greater than New York.  One can be great but not greater than the town he comes from because is only one...New York is such a fucking panopticon.”

Yeah. That happened.

While I loved the selection and would have browsed more if I had the time, the bustle of the store (and that guy) were off-putting, though not enough for me to give it another try sometime soon (?).


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Singin' and Dancin' in the New York Rain


Rain, rain, go away. You’re much needed in this national drought, if only to offer brief respite from the incredible heat.  But you make pedestrian transit nearly impossible—or, at the very least, incredibly frustrating.

A New York pedestrian with an umbrella actually develops quicker reflexes, ducking through and around other pedestrians, umbrellas, awnings, and food carts—Frogger style. To find the minute opening between other umbrellas and their slow-moving owners is an involved undertaking, and weaving through the sidewalks can actually become a delicate dance of graceful(less) sliding, jumping, and quick-stepping.  This is a dance with a prop, of course, which the dancer must learn to collapse-and-reopen effortlessly and quickly to skirt through small gaps in the pedestrian wall and under/around scaffolding.  With this umbrella, the dancer must also institute a constant up-down motion, above the heads of the unfortunates without umbrellas (or with height challenges), under the umbrellas of tall pedestrians or those who decide that the gargantuan span of a golf umbrella was a wise choice on the crowded sidewalk.


Of course, if a pedestrian is lucky enough to be caught without an umbrella (such as yours truly during the storm sneak-attack on Wednesday night), the event of walking (such an easy, taken-for-granted prospect on dry days), becomes less of a dance and more of a survival strategy.  First: which subway route to take?  Go one way, and the walk to the station is shorter, but go the longer route, and you get the benefit of more awnings.  Decisions. 

Once the unfortunate, umbrella-deprived pedestrian (let’s call her Leah – for kicks and giggles, of course) decides which path to take (the longer walk with more awnings and fewer train transfers, incidentally), she obviously wants to move more quickly, to walk faster despite the treadless flats she wears, to get to the subway.  This may not limit rain exposure, but it definitely lessens the time spent uncomfortably in the elements.  However, as if people walking slowly in groups two or three (or four?!)-abreast was not already a frustration, they now increase their girth by walking abreast with umbrellas.  The indecency! On top of this, many pedestrians passing by refuse to offer the courtesy of lifting their umbrellas,  resulting in swipes of the umbrella edge across Leah’s shoulder, collisions with her head, and several occasions of increased wetness from the rain streaming off of the umbrella.  Furthermore, the trains seem to run with increasing delays when it rains, even when most of the route (and all of Leah’s) is underground, which is baffling. 

If only Leah had been prepared—with an umbrella, yes—but more importantly, at home, curled up with a good book to listen to the thunder. THEN we can say, “come again another day.” 

Rainy Day family in Bed-Stuy

Westsider Books



A simple green awning poking out on the sunny Sunday sidewalk proclaiming BOOKS.  Sold. That’s all it takes to get me to visit, and that’s all it took to get me to drag a fellow bibliophile to Westsider Books to investigate its wares and its worth.  And what we found was enough to make us return the following Sunday.

Small and unassuming, the store is meant for browsing and for getting lost.  The somewhat dusty air seems to be infused with magical particles that immediately make you forget what you were searching for – which is good, because agendas are obviously discouraged. Like any good used book store (and this one claims to be the last on the Upper West Side), shopping here is an exercise in acceptance: what you will find may surprise you, and you may run across the perfect book or edition that you didn’t even know you were looking for.


It’s the kind of place where great treasures can be found, but only with great commitment.  The rows of books are two-deep and often have books placed horizontally on top of the rows, maximizing space in a small area, as any good New York establishment must. The open layout of the tiny store allows books to soar toward the ceiling, charmingly requiring a ladder and reminding me why I loved Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as a kid – because of the library; say what you want about his temper, Beast had mad reading skills.



Of course, the browsing culture of a used bookstore does not mean that specific books are impossible to find. I asked the gray, frizzled old man working the register (the owner, I would venture to guess) for a specific play, and he replied, “Drama is all the way in the back.  The top rows are theatre criticism, the bottom ones are Shakespeare. What you’re looking for is in the middle, probably the second shelf of that section.”  An invaluable resource, this guy.  Someone who knows his store and his collection in a way that reveals his deep involvement with it; he’s here all the time, and I got the sense that he would be the type of guy to whom you’d like to be known as a “regular.”


Most of the books run $6-$8 (excepting the outside bargain section, where most titles are $1, unless otherwise marked, prompting patrons to load up on armfuls of useless texts that will lie unread until the new owners decide to trade them in–probably to the same store, perpetuating the sad, circular life of the used book).  The main, bottom level of the store amazingly crams most sections you would want or think of in its shelves: New York, philosophy, literary biography, literature, Judaica, drama, philosophy, erotica, sci-fi, travel essays, young adult, and plenty more. The upstairs level (the stairs themselves lined with VHS tapes and books, enough to constitute a floor - or at least a section - on their own) held a worthwhile collection of rare books and editions, as well as some eclectic pieces such as a french horn hanging above an illustrated edition of Alice in Wonderland (fitting).

 How does Westsider Books fare according to my Outstanding Independent Bookstore criteria?  First, a few caveats: the store obviously had to deal with space issues, so my desire for reading nooks needs to be reevaluated in terms of importance and plausibility.  Also, it’s a used bookstore, so the merchandise is largely dependent on what people trade in and what is available; creative displays are difficult to conceive with a limited supply of copies and an uncertain inventory. Admittedly, the store seems to lack circulation of titles. My return to Westsider, however, proves that it left a positive impression.  Although the tight quarters can make for uncomfortably close browsing when even a few strange patrons are in the store, I like the “hiddenness” of it–the books behind books and the necessity to ascend the ladder to even browse it all.  The dustiness of it fits the quiet, settled quality of the Upper West Side, yet it also breaks the mold in the sense that it lacks polish. It has eccentric decor and bookish quotes, which add charm, as well as selections of records and old movies. But any bookstore whose checkout is overlooked by a stuffed raven named Sheryl gets my vote on quirky character alone.

"It's the books you don't buy that break your heart."  So says Sheryl [Nevermore].

New editions...
The King wants you to buy a postcard.

Perhaps the greatest measure of success for any bookstore is whether or not its customers leave with books.  On both occasions I have made purchases.  My most recent visit left me in possession of a copy of José Saramago’s Blindness, primarily because the inside cover cradles an inscription.  The book was given as a gift to “someone who has led me in my blindness.”  Such personalization and personality are the hallmarks of a solid used bookstore (even if it's still no McKay).