Here Today Gone Tomorrow
In the mid 1990’s I showed a buyer an apartment in a small, unattractive building.
We met in front, near the almost overflowing garbage cans. I unlocked the front door and we climbed the stairs to the fourth floor. The door opened directly into the kitchen, a medium sized room with a worn armchair by the window, white appliances, linoleum floors and a wooden table that was painted yellow. It reminded me of the table in the kitchen of Frieda Kahlo’s blue house. I had gone to Mexico many years ago, to see her Casa Azul. I can still see the easels, the painted body cast, her bed, her long yellow kitchen table. And now here was another kitchen table painted the same happy color, in Spanish Harlem.
“Good vibes here,” my buyer said.
“Yes,” I said.
The bedroom and bathroom were opposite each other down a short hallway to the left of the kitchen. Nothing wrong with either room.
The living room was to the right of the kitchen, and like the other rooms, its large single window overlooked the street. Low buildings, a few skinny trees.
At the far end of the living room an open arch led to a windowless alcove, maybe seven feet by nine feet. A sweet, sweet space. Filled bookcases lined walls on three sides, embraced a twin bed. The book that lay open on the brightly colored bedspread had a cracked spine, and some lines were highlighted in orange.
A room for a lover of books.
My buyer spent about three seconds peering into the alcove. “Huh,” she said, and nodded. She wandered back into the living room and sat on the black leather couch. “Do you think we can stay for a bit?” she asked. “I’m feeling good here.”
“No problem,” I said, and left her to relax into the space. I went back to the books. On some shelves they were alphabetized. On others, they seemed randomly placed.
It has always interested me to see how people arrange their books. I so admire those who alphabetize. I did it once and partially succeeded. But it began to bother me that Joseph Conrad shared a shelf with Lee Child. And what to do with Joan Didion? Mix her novels with the memoirs, or alphabetize her fiction and the non-fiction separately?
It was overwhelming. Now my fiction is a mess of confusion when I look for a particular title. But I do categorize my non-fiction: Anything New York; Autobiography; Biography; Horrible Things That Happen To Some African and Middle Eastern Women Including Princesses; Manmade Disasters With Terrible Consequences; Memoirs; Memoirs of People and their Food; Natural Disasters; Travel Adventure (Especially in Extreme Climates).
I cannot express the pleasure it gives me to know that approximately a third of my shelves have order to them, not so unlike those in the apartment in East Harlem. Every now and again I think of that book-lined alcove in the apartment my buyer purchased. Several weeks after she closed, we met at a pastry shop. She had coffee, I had tea, and to celebrate, each of us ordered a slice of chocolate cake with white icing and a cherry on top.
“You won’t believe how great the place looks,” she said.
“I’m glad you’re pleased,” I said. And just before I took my first bite of cake, she said:
“I ripped out those hideous old bookcases and put my StairMaster in the alcove. Brilliant, huh?”
“And the books?” I asked.
“Oh, I paid some local kids to take them to the library,” she said.
“That was thoughtful,” I said.
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