My Foolish Sentiment
I enjoyed a lonesome Saturday night.
I drove to Orland Park to shop for books at the Borders, which is closing along with all other Borders stores that haven’t already closed. Literature was fifty percent off. First I picked up a copy of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead. It was Mailer’s first novel, published when he was twenty-six years old. It was my sole intention for going, to buy a book by Mailer. Getting what I wanted, I figured that I’d indulge, and take advantage of a crumbling nationwide institution where I’ve shopped since I was a kid.
The shelves were awfully disorganized, having lost the “Alphabetical by Author” convenience. There was a paperback lying face-down at the bottom of a stack of books that appeared to have been tossed in haste and desperation that they would all disappear. Cockroach by a man named Rawi Hage. It caught my attention, looking as if it had been tripped by a bestseller that was more popular than itself. Some hollow-themed ghostwritten account of a-whole-lot-of-nothing had extended a footnote, tripping this more obscure work right upon its face. And several other novels I’d never heard of followed and piled atop this copy of Cockroach. So I lifted it from the stack of fallen literature and had a look at it. A young male writer who had written an émigré tale. It reminded me of a novel that I had read earlier this year: Open City by Teju Cole. It seems that immigrant fiction is the happening thing nowadays, especially among young, male writers. Granted that Teju Cole was born in America, raised in Nigeria, and wrote a novel about an African roaming the streets of New York City. I set Cockroach back on the shelf, face-down, but at the top of the pile of books. “Where are the young, male, American writers?” I wondered. I’m no literary xenophobe, but the new talent in American fiction seems to be an export. Where are the American men who are young and writing and getting published? I sought out for a guy that my coworker Larry had told me about, Philipp Meyer, but in the madness that had become of the book shelves, I found Gary Shteyngart, a writer that I’ve been meaning to read for a long while, but he didn’t fit the description of what I was looking for. Shteyngart is from Russia, originally.
Somehow I found a novel titled The Marrowbone Marble Company by a West Virginia born writer named Glenn Taylor. The book is not about him or based on his life, but he was the type of writer I was searching for. Plus, he lives in Chicago and I got a first edition. Before standing in line that was so long it could’ve been Christmas Eve, I took that book Cockroach, too.
The cashier, Anthony, made time for quick small talk while peeling off the store price tags. I told him that he didn’t have to do that, but he said that he had to. I wanted to keep the Borders price tags on the books, especially the first edition, for the sake of foolish sentiment, I guess. Anthony asked me what the novel by Mailer was about. I described the back of the book cover as if I had known long before showing up and reading only minutes earlier, and followed with, “and I have to read the book to find out the rest.” Anthony the cashier, making light in the midst of his soon approaching unemployment, said that he has yet to read Mailer. “Me too,” I said, “and I’ve been meaning to read him.” I added that I’m a fan of Philip Roth. “I like the narcissists,” I said. We offered one another the typical cashier-customer farewells, and as I walked away, Anthony shouted to me, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Keep it narcissistic, sir!”
“Very well,” I said, laughing. They rang in my ears all through the night, like the last words of a good friend before he is hanged by the powers of circumstances and those powers that are greater than ourselves in life. I went to the cigar lounge afterwards to enjoy a long smoke while working on some writing. I found myself writing what that cashier said to me as I left Borders for the last time.