The Secret Bookshelf

Before the world turned into a (virtual) “Zombie Apocalypse,” there was a bookshelf. Used and deeply discounted copies of classics like Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and I know Why the Caged Bird Sings competed for literary affection.

The old shelf could be found at New York’s Strand Bookshop. With a sea of beautifully curated book tables, the shelf suffered from anonymity. However, it meant, I could stock up on the classics, without competition.

While braving the bookshop’s tropical heat, in winter, I made a discovery. It was a $3.00 copy of 1984. Elated, I bought the copy. Immediately, I re-read, the George Orwell classic.

Everyday after work, I’d head to Café Grumpy at Grand Central Station, and immersed myself in Orwell’s disturbing Dystopia fantasy. It was a most splendid way to avoid rush hour. I re-read it in three days.

My used copy of “1984” joined other novels for the move to California. The box arrived at my father’s house. He took pictures of the inventory, since I was still wrapping up life in Manhattan. Scrolling through the pictures, 1984 had been missing from the pictures.

“Daddy, where’s my copy of 1984?” I asked.

“I don’t see it, “ he replied.

“Oh my God, please look for it,” I told him.

Nervous, I tried to figure out how my precious $3.00 copy went missing. A few minutes later, my father texted me.

“Is this the stupid book?” he wrote.

1984 had arrived safely, via camera phone evidence. It was now sandwiched between “Giovanni’s Room” and “A Confederacy of Dunces.” No Prozac for me, everything was swell. I looked forward to being reunited with my well-traveled books, in the Gayve (the gay man cave).

Five months later, Trump became President elect. (According to several news sources) 1984 hit the best sellers chart, again. The old cliché rang true, “life imitates art.” The Zombie Apocalypse dawned upon us. My very own Gayve has served as a refuge for art, literature, and cool records.

Advertisements

Harlem

Once my train approached the 125th Street station, my weekend began. Harlem’s vibrant sidewalks sounded like jazz and smelled like lavender. Babbalucci’s Italian restaurant was a Friday night staple.

I had my own special table. The waiters knew my name. A big stack of books and wine would dazzle me, as I awaited the best pizza pie in Manhattan. Halfway into my salami pizza, the phone rang. It was dad, calling from California.

“Anthony, there’s a huge blizzard about to hit the Northeast. Did you go to the grocery store?” he asked, with panic.

“Every snow storm is the blizzard of the century, out here. I’m fine. Nothing will shut down. I love you.” I replied, quite calmly.

After hanging up, I finished my pie. Glowing after a delicious meal, I surveyed the contents of my fridge. Shit, it was just bottled water and whisky. Imagining the mad rush at the local Associates Supermarket, I stayed home. Watching stupid cat videos on YouTube had more appeal.

As food coma and sleep attempted to set. Unfortunately, the screeching sounds of snow trucks kept me from a nighttime slumber. A few hours later, grey skies reflected against my modest studio apartment’s barren walls. Morning had arrived.

“Oh, geez, let’s see what this massive snowstorm looks like, such hype,” I said to myself.

Seventh Avenue disappeared with white powder. The sky mirrored a furious sand storm. My dad might have been right. It was definitely a blizzard. As a brave New Yorker, I put on a pea coat, and headed to Lenox Coffee.

Upon opening my door, the snow had accumulated to unprecedented levels. I walked to the corner deli. To my surprise, it was closed.

Shit, the deli never closes. Whisky for breakfast would be fun. However, solid food sounds even more appetizing. I tested my luck, and decided to proceed to Lenox Coffee.

The brownstone-lined block between Seventh to Lenox Avenue was quite long. Bravely, I made the trek. The snow filled pavement made it an obstacle course. My feet grew tired. Snow blinded my eyes. However, I didn’t want to detour from a beloved Saturday morning ritual.

The block couldn’t have been longer. Like a champion hiker, I survived. Lenox Avenue was a mess. It’s jazz and lavender filled pavement had hit the snooze button. Cars splashed my pea coat with ice particles.

A corner McDonald’s provided the only bit of yellow light. Tired from the blizzard, I took a bold step for foodies, everywhere.

“I’ll take a biscuit breakfast sandwich, hash browns, and black coffee, please.” I said to the McDonald’s cashier.

After receiving my order, I sat down and ate the (surprisingly) scrumptious breakfast. It might not have been Lenox Coffee, but it was quite satisfying. After energizing meal, I crossed the overly long block, again.

Hibernating became quite thrilling. News reports announced the blizzard would become New York City’s second worst in history. Outside my window, people had snow fights and pranced merrily with snowboards. With the excitement, cabin fever eventually set in.

The next morning, New York and I woke up to blue skies. Per usual routine, I buttoned up my pea coat and marched toward Lenox Coffee. The long brownstone block was shoveled and salted. Tenement lined Lenox Avenue dazzled with snow banks.

Without tripping, I finally made it to Lenox Coffee. Harlem was resurrected, and I had survived another New York blizzard (I’ve lived through two of the biggest blizzards, February 2010 & January 2016).

Strolling back to my apartment, I battled for sidewalk space. Later that morning, I texted dad, “that was fun.” Within a few months, I moved to Southern California. These days, I still daydream of blizzards, coffee shops, brownstones, jazz-filled Lenox Avenue, and a mighty pea coat.