by Arnold M. Herr
April, several years ago:
It had been raining a lot lately in Southern California and as I sat staring out the window of my used bookshop on Fairfax Ave., my mind logically turned to thoughts of neoprene tubing.
I was remembering how, maybe about 20 or 25 years earlier at Mickey Tsimmis’s bookshop, rain clouds always brought a sense of doom to Mickey and his underpaid staff (myself among them). His store leaked, and it leaked badly. My present building was leaking too that somber, drizzly day, but I suffered only the loss of three or four technical books by Ansel Adams on his Zone theory of printing photographs. I stood them up in a corner and fanned the pages, allowing them to dry off before tossing them onto my buck-a-book cart that I would roll outside if the damn rain would ever let up.
However, at Mickey’s sieve-like emporium, the rain would come rushing in by the bucketful, especially in the area housing his expensive art books. A sensible person would have moved them to a drier spot, but the Mickster thought that at some point the leaks might just fix themselves. Yeah, sure. The leaking had begun with a small dribble at the place where the brick wall met the ceiling, and over time it grew to a colossal waterfall cascading Lipton-tea-colored rainwater down the wall and onto the bookcases and the books themselves. Gallons of Henry’s tar-like roof sealer did no good; we could never find precisely where the water was entering the building. So when Mickey complained to the landlord that maintaining the roof was the owner’s responsibility, he was threatened with eviction. Mickey backed off. Hence, the neoprene tubing.
See, at first we would place plastic tubs on the tops of the bookcases to catch the water, but they quickly filled and we had to scurry up the ladders and gently lower them without any water slopping over the sides, and then empty them outside the door. Not an easy thing to do when you’re perched up there, trying to keep from laughing as Mickey stood down below bellowing meaningless instructions. Much of the water ended up on Mickey. Then, one of us came up with the idea of using tubing to channel the water into a container on the floor. I punched a small hole ¾” from the top of each tub, inserted the end of a neoprene tube into the hole and sealed it with caulking material. Then, as the water neared the tops of the tubs, it drained into the tubes and down into a 55-gallon drum on the floor at the base of the bookcase. Simplicity itself. Until one tried to move the full drum. Or even a half-full drum. Three underpaid employees and a barking dog couldn’t get it to budge. This called for some refinement. We decided to snake all six neoprene lines under the front door, down the ramp and onto the sidewalk. It worked. We congratulated ourselves.
To finish the job, I neatly dressed the tubes by gathering and duct taping them together and then fastened them to the side of the bookcase. This worked well until a short time later when Mickey walked by, and having forgotten what purpose they served, yanked on them, causing several of tubs to tip and fall on him from the top of the bookcase.
Moral: nothing is completely foolproof.
As I sat pondering these historical events in my bookshop, my sister noticed that my mood seemed to match the gloomy weather, so she suggested I walk down to Canter’s Deli for a corned beef sandwich.
Me: Nah, that wasn’t the quick fix I was looking for.
Sharon: Then why don’t you go visit Mickey Tsimmis? That always makes you deliriously happy.
She was being ironic. But she was also right in her suggestion: no matter how badly things were going for me, I knew that they were worse for Mickey. Nothing like a dose of schadenfreude to perk one up. I needed a touch of madness to set things right; something to stir up the poozle.
It was the right thing to do. The moment I walked into his bookstore I saw Mickey stumbling around, knocking over boxes and tripping on the masses of debris littering the place. When he turned to face me, I saw some sort of hairy growth covering his right eye.
Me: Mick, what happened?
Mickey: Whaddya mean?
Me: When did you last trim your right eyebrow?
Mickey: I’m wearing an eyepatch. Gives me a raffish look, don’t you think? I look like John Ford, huh?
Me: You look like a horse’s patootie. Also, it’s kinda big for an eyepatch. And it’s lopsided.
Mickey: Actually it’s a merkin. Used to belong to Tempest Storm.
Me: She of the shaved beaver?
Mickey: Except when she needed some pubic hair on a moment’s notice.
Me: You sure it’s hers?
Mickey: Yeah. Here, look.
He handed it to me. I looked at the verso side. Yup, it was the real article. The label proved it: Custom-made for Tempest Storm by the Glerkin Merkin Werken, Paterson, New Jersey.
Mickey: It’s a very intimate thing. I always liked Tempest Storm. I used to whack…
Me: Uh Mick…
Mickey: I like to keep things like this near.
Me: Where do you keep it when it’s not on your face? Wait! Never mind. I don’t need to know.
Mickey: Good, because I’m not gonna tell you.
Me: I wonder whose pubic hair they used to make it?
Mickey: Hers of course. It came with a certificate of authenticity. You’ll also note that it’s reddish in color. She had reddish hair.
Me: Looks more auburn to me.
Mickey: No, it’s reddish. A darkish reddish, but reddish nonetheless.
Me: I dunno, Mick…
Mickey: Let’s get someone else to verify it. Oh madam…
He turned to a woman standing nearby looking at a Dr. Joyce Brothers book. She wasn’t a customer yet; her purse was still closed. She turned to face us.
Mickey: Does this look reddish or auburn to you?
Woman: What the hell is that? It looks like pubic hair to me.
Mickey was now gently stroking his cheek with it, his eyes half-closed, a smile on his dribbling lips.
Me (helpfully): Tempest Storm’s pubic hair.
Mickey (eyes now fully closed): It’s so soft.
Woman: You’re a fuckin’ degenerate!
She bopped him on the head with the Joyce Brothers book and strode out of the store. Mickey staggered back into a revolving rack of bodice-ripper paperbacks. He dropped the merkin but I caught it before it landed on the filthy floor. He rubbed the top of his head; a knot was growing there.
Me: Are you OK?
Mickey: Yeah, but I’d be a lot happier if she had bought that book.
Me: Consider yourself lucky. She could have smacked you with Kraft-Ebbing. Then where’d you be?
Mickey: Happier if she bought the damned thing.
Next: Episode 2, in which the Boston Red Sox are confused with an Indian tribe, Velma appears, and where good taste goes to die.