Friday, May 27, 2005

Today a German man with white hair, glasses and a soft voice came into the shop after reading about us on a website about Brooklyn neighborhoods. He told me that he had visited used bookstores all over the world but that our bookstore, Freebird Books & Goods was the nicest used bookstore he had ever seen.

Earlier in the day a location scout and his manager visited Freebird in consideration of using our store as the central location of a TV pilot. I don't know if they'll choose our store but they complimented us on the space and bought the autobiography of movie director, John Houseman.

Every day customers come in and tell us what an amazing collection of books we have. Every week customers come into Freebird with boxes of books for trade. These books are generally of a high quality of literature and are in good condition. These are the books that are the first to leave our shelves.


There are days that I come to work with Cooper, my fourteen month old son, pull his toys stuffed into a cardboard box out from behind the sink and hold my breath praying that the toys offer him distraction from the books lining the shelves and piled high in corners. Three hours later his dad picks him up and I pick up the blankets, bitten books, balls, triangles, circles and squares, the train and the blue giraffe. I pick up the plastic golf club and the cardboard tube. I seal up my son's dirty diapers in a plastic bag, put away the wipes, put the garbage bags that my son likes to empty back in the garbage can and place the glass bowl back under the sink. I pick up an ice cream stick or my keys up off the floor. I put a sci-fi book which spilled off the top the top of a pile back in its place. I wash the spoons and the table and the area around where Cooper had his lunch. I make sure that there are no toys left out on the poorly paved sidewalk in front of the store. I smoke a cigarette. I rarely cry but sometimes I think about it. Then I come inside, and my bookstore, our bookstore - Samantha's and mine - is back and I have four or five hours to do my job.

My job is entering numbers from the check book into our accounting program, putting away and pricing books, making sure that the gaps in Fiction are replaced by other books lying horizontal on the shelf. I sweep, wash the tables, check the kids area, enter names signed on our mailing list into our computer, I send out emails about our events to patrons and professional listings. I try to train my non-photographic memory to remember what we have on the shelf. Sometimes I stand in front of a shelf, stare at the colored spines and think how attractive our shelves are and how warm they look decorated with our wealth of inexpensive yet valuable merchandise. Other times I sit up front by the window and read or watch the sunset. There are extraordinary sunsets that linger over the skyline of Manhattan. These colors, like swirly popsicles, melt over the cranes and packing containers (stacked like books) on our side of Brooklyn, out our window, across from the island of the big city.

Not all days at Freebird are so quiet or serene. On some days and nights and always on weekends we attract the bustle of restaurant goers, night and day walkers, book shoppers and browsers. We serve up beer and wine at readings and cook up corn dogs. We play the song "Freebird" loud on the night of our one year anniversary and cheer when a name is pulled from a jar as the winner of our book raffle. We applaud our friends who share their ideas i.e. the Freebird Book Mobile (a work in progress) and I hope that our noise we are making doesn't wake up the neighbor’s baby upstairs.

My little baby who is not such a little baby anymore but is a bigger baby in different ways can also make a good deal of noise. Last week he threw a temper tantrum while customers were sitting at our round table by the window, reading and again I thought about crying. But after Cooper’s dad picked him up, I picked up after Cooper and had a smoke. I was happy to get the phone call saying that Cooper had eaten all of his spaghetti and avocado and that he was in a very good mood. I gave a customer his five dollars and two cents change and thanked him for buying one of my favorite books, The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

Tonight there is no sunset - just deep dark clouds moving dramatically over the city. The clouds are novelistic and for that I appreciate them. I am hoping, however, for some hot sunny days like the day that I lay up on the roof of Samantha's rental apartment two years ago in July dreaming of what we might do with our lives and what it might be like to choose a path that would ground us beneath our cloudless sky. I was working on a short story, getting black tar from her roof on the pages that I tried to rescue from the wind by trapping them under my bare feet. And Samantha, with just the few words, "let's open a used bookstore" took hold of my restless spirit. The skyline, the packing containers, the popsicle sunsets, the novelistic clouds and Freebird would become constants in my life. One month later I was surprised to find I was pregnant. It was as if my thirty-five year old body knew that I was ready to settle down.

The name “Freebird” Sam and I had previously associated with the song by Leonard Skynard about a man’s inability to stay with one woman. But as Nietzsche said “freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves.” The name “Freebird” took on it’s own meaning for me. There were to be no more pages of half-written stories floating off the roof tops of buildings. Certainly there would be stories. Already there is the story of Samantha and Rachel who for the first time in their life opened a business. They created perfect store filled with books that they could call their own. And one year and four months later on one cloudy day, a soft-spoken German man came into their bookstore and said out of all the used bookstores in the world there was no other as nice as Freebird Books & Goods. Unlike my other stories, the beginning of this one is sound and true.