I went to the Dutton's farewell party last night where it felt like visiting a dear friend in hospice. Some books were on the shelves, but the store was diminished and half-dead, and all her friends had gathered around to say goodbye. In the car after I felt heartsick and I was listening to Regina Spektor's song "Ghost of Corporate Future" and the lyric,
"And people make you nervous
You'd think the world is ending,
And everyobdy's features have somehow started blending
And everying is plastic,
And everyone's sarcastic,
And all your food is frozen,
It needs to be defrosted."
And suddenly I burst into tears. I sobbed and bawled and gulped and drove.
I am over-emotional about this, I know. But see, the world used to brim with places like Dutton’s. Growing up in New York in the 70’s, there were still plenty of places like Dutton’s, not just bookstores, but businesses that were as unique as the people who owned them. People who genuinely cared about the customer and the product and not just the bottom line. Places where you could get your dry cleaning, your meat, your shoes repaired and it was part of your authentic life. At Dutton's you were never a "consumer," you were a "reader" a person with value that exceeded your credit limit.
When I moved to L.A. in 1989 I felt lost along the wide, sunny boulevards with their high-end shopping and industry hangouts, Dutton’s felt like home. I could go and sit on the floor and enter that state of suspended animation where I read without direction, flipping through whatever caught my eye, losing an hour or two to curiosity, letting the sun set behind my back.
For a few years I had a standing shrink appointment across the street from Dutton’s in a medical building with outlandish parking fees. I would illegally park in the Dutton’s lot and jaywalk across San Vicente, get my therapy, and then, purged and sick of myself, I would sit in the stacks for a while. I always spent a little money there, if only to justify the parking. I'd buy a book, or a coffee, or a pretty journal. I wasn’t a writer then, just a reader. I spent a lot of time in the children's section, flipping through the bin of picture books arranged like LP's, replaying the hits from my childhood like “Dandylion,” and “Harry the Dirty Dog.” Dutton's felt like a big "You Are Here" arrow, orienting me in my new life.
And then, yeah, I finally became a writer and had my first reading and reception in the courtyard. Thank God, is all I can say. I am proud to say I have read at Dutton’s and played on the stage of CBGB’s had tea at The Plaza, and an ice cream sundae at Schraft’s and grilled cheeses at the Luncheonette next to the Trans Lux movie theater. All those places now dead and buried under Gaps and Banana Republics and Starbucks. How is it possible that here in my early forties I am suffering from premature nostalgia? Is this a midlife crisis, or the end of the world as I knew it?
I spoke with Diane Leslie, last night, that gentlewoman of books. She was, of course, sad and adrift. Diane reminds me of ladies I knew as a kid in New York: kind, cultured, always dignified and nicely turned-out with a silk scarf and a flower in her hair -- of the world and yet, a little apart from it. My mother would love her. I want her to stay at Dutton’s so I can visit her there, hear more of her generous author introductions, anchor me to something I recognize.
They were selling everything: from store signage to the promotional cut-out of Shaquille O’Neal. I covet that little penguin doorstop that holds open the door of the West Building, but the bidding was already up to $300. I am glad the community is helping Doug Dutton recoup some dough, and I really tried to shop for books, but found I had no appetite for picking the bones.
So I left, and got in the car and blubbered like a little girl. I cried for my own little girls who are growing up in a world where these soulful places get taken for their real estate value. This got mixed in with my anxiety over that big Arctic ice shelf that broke off last week, and it's all part of a death spiral we're caught up in and the future feels so murky and scary and now my children will have to finish their growing-up in a dry, Dutton’s-less world. Maybe I am just hormonal and hysterical.
I got home, tear-stained, and my girls ran to me, asking what was wrong. I told them all about it, and they nodded solemnly and hugged me. They tried to cheer me up. "At least we still have Children’s Book World," they said. Yes, we do. For now.
"You'd think the world was ending,
You'd think the world was ending,
You'd think the world was ending right now.
Well maybe you should just drink a lot less coffee,
And never ever watch the ten o'clock news,
Maybe you should kiss someone nice,
Or lick a rock,
The world is everlasting,
Put dirtballs in your pocket,
Put dirtballs in your pocket,
And take off both your shoes.
'Cause people are just people,
people are just people,
People are just people like you."