The diaries of Arnon Grunberg (2)

Arnon’s favorite place in New York City was a little book shop down at the corner of Court Street and De Graw. The shop was literally stacked with books and unlike most bookshops whose display of books consisted of neatly ordered rows of books, fit on the shelves so precisely that only someone with a total lack of understanding for the nature of books would order them this way, books here where crammed into boxes and shelves that were barely built to hold that many. A love for books and an appreciation for their true value only shows in such manner where the owner clutches on to their possession. The sheer number of books made one feel being at a graveyard of thoughts and ideas, piling one upon the other, indifferent of their importance in active life.

“Homosexuality with the Greeks,” “Miffy Counting Book,” “On Writing Well,” “1990 Edition Writer’s Resources,” “The Bulgarian Czars,” a purple and red colored basketball. The door would marginally be able to open in the morning, boxes had to be moved before closing the door at night. No two people could fit in the same aisle, and if two persons would meet here, one was forced to walk back his trail to allow himself in the first place to continue his way. Children you wouldn’t find here, books were piled too high for children to go through them. The air was so sour and musty that children are instinctively avoiding from entering.

Billions of thoughts that influenced once their times, lay here unemployed and retired, forgotten and desolate until a young unwritten mind with a tick for an oddity would stumble on them in a lost moment of gold digging, and would uncover what was entrusted during months of festidious labor but was forgotten so easily. Thousands of books whose age of years could hardly be measured anymore, unforgettable classics who kept people’s hopes and dreams alive, who inspurred the creations of a lifetime, lay here within the reach for anyone with a dollar to spare. Knowledge is power wrote Francis Bacon in his Advancement of Learning, and here lay some of the cheapest power one could buy in town. Four dollars for “Origin of Species,” two dollars for a course in “Literary Chinese,” two dollars for “Oblomow,” three for “The Works of John Milton.”

The part of Brooklyn between 9th and Atlantic Street was a lively mix of original low end neighborhood stores, like Chinese laundromats, corner grocery stores and fried chicken fast food, and trendy artistic interior shops and restaurants. The neighborhood was changing, students and artists, a working middle class yearning for taste and entertainment, was slowly pushing old low class out. And although you wished to feel sympathy for the original inhabitants, you couldn’t help thinking the neighborhood was improving, as they were leaving, when seeing the deprived state of their old homes.

This is what life is all about: you owe nothing in life, you hope for better, then life’s fortune turns on you, life improves, yes it does, and you know just enough to realize, you cannot afford it.

Thursday, 28 October 2004
“Please mister, can you spare some change for a homeless man? I turn my eyes the other way, while I search for my wallet. If I don’t have less than a dollar I won’t spend it on him, and to prevent disappointing him, I avoid his eye contact and thus his expectation. As I have a dollar, I stop and turn to give it to him. Is it complete randomness by which a drifter is blessed with an action of mercy or is it the frankness of tone with which he asks for change? Beggars are both more common as more polite in the States, I wonder why. I walk on to a small Italian restaurant, have a medium sized pizza with extra toppings and two Peroni beers. The price of commodities is the oddest thing in the world, two dollars for a man’s lifework, 20 dollars for a day’s meal, one dollar for a man’s mercy.”

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