Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Haunted Bookshop

Dear Blog Readers,

With trembling fingers I type these words, a vain attempt at leaving some record of what has transpired in the last hour. The bookstore has become a terrifying prison, and all signs indicate escape is impossible -- for I have become my own incarcerator! What did I do? What law did I break, what suffering did I cause, that I should be forced to live such monstrous events, descend into what can only be madness, and live out my final moments writing words that won’t be read – a letter from the very depths of Hell itself.

This morning nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and, like any reasonable person, I would have scoffed to hear but half the things that this letter will have you believe. At 10:00, as usual, I removed the sturdy padlock on the steel security gate that protects O’Gara and Wilson from after-hours undesirables. How was I to know that the least desirable things can slip between bars and under doors, hide between books and even in dark crevices of your own brain! Like the coin of Janus, I weep and laugh at this tragic irony, and so, perhaps, will you. For today was the day for blog-writing, and I was particularly excited to write something frightening, in anticipation of Halloween. (One can only suppose that the persistence of this gruesome pagan holiday, a ghastly carnival, with ritual indulgence of appetite, deception and disguise, the corruption of youth and inculcation of spirit-fears, can only be accounted for by supposing that the otherworldly denizens to whom it does homage must really exist. And indeed, dear Lord forgive me, they do, and are far beyond the pen of Dante himself to describe, or Duhrer to depict.)

After setting down my bag, and, in cruel anticipation of things to come, procuring a two volume set of Greek tragedies for later purchase, I began the serious work of coming up with a topic for the blog. Supernatural or horror – well, certainly, but what books did we have, amenable to being weaved into a coherent narrative? It was deathly cold as I wandered the aisles looking for inspiration, and I took this to mean that our broken furnace still hadn’t been fixed. Had I known then what I do know, ah! That feeble hypothesis would have trembled at the truth, at the yet-concealed evil spirit sucking the life-force out of the very air, quivering with desire to feed on my soul. Perhaps my subconscious sensed it when I decided on the first blog book. This week’s Affordable and Interesting: a terrifying illustrated version of Dracula ($7.50).

. .

As I thumbed approvingly through its pages, pausing longer at the darkest, most evil drawings, a tremendous crash rang out behind me. I turned immediately to check on the situation at the front of the store. Though I was undeniably alone, the collection of Egyptian metal plates was scattered everywhere, and the largest piece, a bronze table-top, had landed in middle of the display window, crushing a number of books and knocking others over. This shocking discovery occupied my immediate attention for quite some time, and so it was only later, as I tried to clean things up and sort out a reasonable explanation, that I noticed the windows were completely dark. I couldn’t see outside. Even the glass in the door was dark, but I could dimly make out the shadow of the steel security gate, which had somehow been pulled shut and secured with the padlock. I called out a number of times, but no one answered. Calm down, Alan, I told myself over and over again. Just calm down, think rationally about all the evidence. But calming down was extremely difficult, especially when the books began to fall off the shelves. First two or three in philosophy, then an artbook, then something from political science in the back. Suddenly there were hundreds flying through the air, some very near my head, like horrible leather-winged bats. I received several serious paper-cuts on my face, and dropped down huddled on the floor, with my hands behind my head to protect my neck from the sharp hardback corners. Only moments later the lights snapped off, and everything went silent and still. At this point I am entirely crippled with fear, begging for mercy from some power that had obviously decided to ignore me completely. A dim light showed from the first aisle, where we keep the occult books. Like a madman compelled by some force he doesn’t understand, I moved slowly towards the glow, which seemed to be coming from behind the books themselves. Upon close inspection I realized the light was coming from the books themselves! Three, to be exact, and with a stroke of irony let me make them this week’s Collectible, though woe betide their future collector! The paper spine label reads “The Proceedings of the ASPR”.


I began reading a volume at random, which according to the note in the back was unavailable at any other bookstore.

Quickly I found that ASPR stands for the American Society for Psychical Research, and this particular volume concerned their research into something called the Margery Mediumship. You can imagine my horror when a high, thin voice began to wail softly, ‘Margery. Margery dear, is that you?’ I wheeled around -- nothing. ‘Now turn off the lights, Margery, there’s a good girl. You know how I don’t like the lights Margery, I really don’t like them.’ The voice sounded unhappy, and I dropped the glowing book on the floor, backing slowly away. ‘Margery. Turn it off, Margery, turn it off, off, off!!! It’s killing me Margery, do you want me to die, Margery, because I know you don’t want to die, turn it off, off, off!’ The book became blindingly bright, and I must admit that I passed out from fear. When I awoke, the books were still strewn about the store, but the lights were on. The secondary store computer was also on, though I hadn’t touched it yet, and a CD was playing old blues music. Slowly I stood up and began walking to the front of the store. After only a few steps my right foot slipped out from under me, and I fell, scraping my head badly on an old vintage typewriter behind me. At my feet was a pool of blood, far more than could possibly have come from my injury. A drop fell in the pool. Then another. I looked up, and saw a thin red stream oozing out of the heating vent.

Bang! Bang! Bang! The vent shuddered three times. ‘Mother,’ called a voice. ‘Mother, are you still there?’ The banging again. ‘Help me, please,’ said the voice. ‘Someone please help me.” And still again the banging! Numbly, I went to get one of the tall, rickety wooden ladders for accessing higher shelves. My mind was concocting all sorts of ridiculous stories: perhaps a young girl was stuck in the vent by her mother. That would explain things, I thought. She needs to be rescued. Sure, just rescue the girl, it's probably Margery. How was I to know that I was the one who needed rescuing!? I climbed the ladder, and the banging ceased. ‘Mother?’ ‘MOTHER!’ The voice went from feminine whisper to guttural snarl, and from the vent burst the cause of my eventual madness, the beast of darkness behind the blood and voices. The only way to save me from it, I fear, is by reading this week’s Favorite, the unnassuming sllsk red;las nl;aksh;ll;lk


Sarah discovered Alan dead, slumped at the computer, when she came in for work at three. No signs of violence or struggle, and no customers in the store. Nothing had happened to the books or the window display, and the four volumes mentioned in his blog were found piled neatly on the front desk. Next to them was the padlock. There was, unfortunately, no sign of this week’s Favorite, though customers are welcome to search for it. The photos were added later, in homage to Alan’s first two selections. Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Elect O'Gara and Wilson! We Exist!

Dear Readers,

After the slew of e-mail responses (no, really, 1 comment definitely counts as a ‘slew’) I’m changing the topic of conversation to something a little more controversial: politics. Fear not – this blog takes no sides. Or rather, I’m so amused by the ridiculous rhetoric of our candidates and this media circus of an election, that there’s really no time to take sides. Let’s start with the fact that these guys both sound like robots – boring, boring robots programmed to be as inoffensive as possible. See, there’s no real way to be sure what either candidate actually thinks – they’re both paralyzed by the desire to get elected, which restricts them to platitudes, tautologies, and catch phrases. These, of course, are decided upon by handlers, advisors, and strategists, a horde of game-players that use each candidate as a loudspeaker for their calculated nonsense.

Let’s take a great platitude: “Absolutely, I believe in America.” My goodness! Do you really? What exactly would it mean to not believe in America? America is not Bigfoot, or a fairy, last I checked. The tautologies are slightly longer, disguised by length to mask their utter meaninglessness: “Certainly, the economy falls and rises, but American workers continue working, and markets will be controlled by factors that we are responsible for. As Americans, and as people, we participate in this country, and as president I’ll work for the country, to make sure that justice is justice.” How illuminating! I was under the impression that the economy only rose, Americans were not by definition people, and the president worked for General Electric.

And don’t even get me started on the catch phrases! Holy-moly, if I hear Obama mention McCain’s statement about the “fundamentals of the economy,” or McCain bring up “earmarks,” I’m going to, well, actually, I’m going to do what we should all do. Head down to O’Gara and Wilson, where numerous books can help you free yourself from the haze that inevitably envelops all who pay attention to political discourse.

Take the economy, for example. If Nobel Prize winning economists disagree about what’s going on and how to address, why do we listen to the same tired lines from these Senators who are drastically unqualified to explain such issues? Truth is, no one really knows what’s going on. And that’s why I recommend this week’s Favorite, The Folklore of Capitalism, written by Thurman W. Arnold in 1937.

Arnold was a trust-busting lawyer who also fought for taxation by private organization. But it’s his phenomenal sense of humor and disdain for empty discourse that blows me away. Take the subheading of Chapter Three, “in which it is explained how the great sciences of law and economics and the little imaginary people (!!) who are supposed to be guided by these sciences affect the daily lives of those who make, distribute, and consume our goods.” (My italics and exclamation points of joy.) Or this eerily relevant heading on corporations: “In which is explained the doctrine of vicarious atonement through which the debts of an industrial corporation are forgiven.” Best of all, check out his analysis of the word ‘justice’: “Since justice is a nice word, we refuse to apply it to people who are struggling for things we do not like. The pacifist will refuse to admit that any war can be a war for justice. The born fighter will say that men who refuse to fight for justice do not really care for justice at all… these arguments never get anywhere in persuading the other side. However, they perform a real function in bolstering up the morale of the side on which they are used. The trick is to find a pair of polar words, in which the nice word justifies your own position and the bad word is applied to the other fellow.” Thurman W. Arnold for president, I say! Vote Arnold! $7.50 for this vintage book chosen by H.L. Mencken as one of the three best books he read in 1936.

Hopefully all this has started you thinking about elections in general. Perhaps the last “wartime” election, or current candidates constant references to the war on terror have you bristling at the way politicians use fear and national turmoil to further their own political ends. Rest assured, little has changed. In this weeks Affordable and Interesting selection, John C. Waugh narrates the greatest wartime election of all in 1864.

Reelecting Lincoln: The Battle For the 1864 Presidency is filled with illuminating anecdotes and quotes. Take this effort at bipartisan dialogue: “Now that the election is over, may not all, having a common interest, re-unite in a common effort, to save our common country? For my own part I have striven, and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom…May I ask those who have not differed with me, to join with me, in this same spirit towards those who have?” Nice, Abe. You decide the proportions, dear blog reader: tautologies ( %), platitudes ( %), catch-phrases ( %). Not much has changed, it seems, except Lincoln did it all a good bit more eloquently. For a mere $4.50, you can check it out yourself.

So let’s go back even further. This week’s Collectible is a leather bound Easton Press edition of The Prince, by Machiavelli.

Leather bound, silk page marker, and gilt decorations, all for $35. Let’s see what he has to say about how princes (and presidents) should conduct themselves: “Every one understands how praiseworthy it is in a Prince to keep faith, and to live uprightly and not craftily. Nevertheless, we see from what has taken place in our own days that Princes who have set little store by their word, but have known how to overreach men by their cunning, have accomplished great things, and in the end got the better of those who trusted to honest dealing. Be it known, then, that there are two ways of contending, one in accordance with the laws, the other by force; the first of which is proper to men, the second to beasts. But since the first method is often ineffectual, it becomes necessary to resort to the second.”

Looks like politicians may have been doing their reading after all. From O’Gara and Wilson, this is Alan, over and out.