outwait outrun outwit


an archive of pleasures, wounds, sublimations
& other curiosities :: profile

02.19.06, sunday afternoon

THAT SAID, . . .


CERTAIN DIVE BARS IN OAKLAND, for palpably dark, neon-illuminated interiors. A single pinball machine glows against the farthest wall, while denizens swirl around you with as much solidity as a dream, friend, foe, or beloved.

A FEW PUBS ALONG THE COAST OF WESTERN IRELAND, those dimly lit narrow black lacquered cubbyholes full of low lilting tones. Local ancestors peer out from photographs, at once stern and kind. An intimidating and even suspicious atmosphere, best visited in winter.

A PARTICULAR SPECIES OF BAR IN BARCELONA. Fist-thick ropes of sausage hang hooked below bottles of a fierce light that comes in many colors. Antique men in black leather jackets order liqueur-spiked coffee and cigarette smoke clings to every breathing thing, clothes, hair, skin. Months later, you recall this dusty black perfume, the scent of a peculiar melancholy, the constant third companion as you sipped tiny cold glass after glass of vino tinto and snagged yet another sardine-wrapped olive from a glinty white dish.


DUBLIN’S BOOKSTANDS, found in a plaza or tucked inside a market amid displays of fruits and shoes, where the poetry and histories of the world are sold for a euro or a dear price, depending on the rarity of its bindings or contents. Their tweed-attired sellers keep not so jealous an eye on their wares; they rarely hover or require more than you have. The shelves of city’s thrift stores are generally rampant with spectacular fiction; would Dublin rank high on a poll of the most bibliophiles per capita? or rather, a city whose denizens are quick to cast off a book as if just dead weight in a suitcase?

TWO BOOKSHOPS FROM MY CHILDHOOD, located in an arid backwater of long endless streets, strip malls, and palm trees, which never, of course, bore fruit. The first one primarily stocked sci-fi and romance books, and from my mother’s donut shop, I’d tote a white paper bag of donuts past the wolves of El Cajon Blvd., to barter them for books with a little chubby Jewish lady whose frizzy head was perpetually tucked in one medieval bodice-ripper or another. Years later, the woman smiled politely as she rung up my purchase; I was as invisible as just another tourist to the city with “the best weather in the nation.” . . . The other one may have ceased to exist since downtown's "rehabilitation" (or, rather, gentrification). It lingers in memory, despite my one visit, unlit, decor-less, with three or four labyrinthine floors stocked with mostly modernist texts, the kind of books found in certain Californian municipal libraries whose collections were mostly acquired in the 60s or 70s (and which, to me, contained clues to my own neo-colonial, post-genocide First World germination).

ANY BOOKSHOP IN BARCELONA. The newer ones have diverse collections bound in beautifully designed covers—elegant, graphic, unsentimental, the city embodied for a glance. The others belong to an altogether different class, where rusting silverware, mediocre landscapes, and arcane religious memorabilia are also sold. Via an open entryway or grease-stained windows, sunlight sifts past dynasties of dust, to illuminate magic mirrors, weary furniture from this or that century, even a strange architectural note, such as a decrepit staircase leading nowhere. The light blindly roves over musty Babelian piles of literary cast-offs, old comic books, poetry gazettes, religious texts concerning this or that saint, bound maps of the city, etc. Altogether these items embody a furtive, incomplete catalogue of the city’s past, memories, dreams, hopes--every subterranean gesture or emotion that has struggled for its expression despite the laws and fashions of each passing era.


AND THERE IS THAT ODIOUS BRAND OF BAR OR BOOKSHOP that can be found in any part of the Western world, easily navigable and at times brightly, blindingly lit. Despite efficiency, supreme organization, and the happy-to-serve-you attitude of its keepers, this place is hopeless. In this bar or bookshop, every (fashionable, current, insipid) drink or book is available to sate every curiosity, but not your longing, that singular, nag-tongued, haunting thing that is your other, your unnamed friend, foe and lover. In this brand of place, you don’t have to quest, to inquire, to dawdle, to be teased, to discern. No longer local, patron, traveler, refuge-seeker, a detective whose client is his private desires, you are only a consumer, any consumer, whose power rests in the number of euros or bucks that pack his wallet. Assiduously avoid this brand of bar or bookshop.


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