Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Wild Ride Journal of a Hollywood Bookseller: The Burning Passions of Mickey Tsimmis, 6

by Arnold M. Herr

March 2004:

I was puttering around behind the counter of my bookstore on Fairfax Ave. one afternoon, secretly hoping something would distract me from processing a boxful of unpromising books when the phone rang.  It was Mickey Tsimmis, who wanted to talk about his shifting moods.  He used them to gauge current business trends as they affected him, at any rate.

Mickey:  Right now I’m feeling bleak and somber with incandescent overtones.

Me:  Bleak nuanced with incandescence?

Mickey:  In so many words…

Me:  Not incandescent with somber notes?

Mickey:  More like grimness interlaced with sprightly optimism.

Me:  Well, when you put it like that, I think I can wrap my mind around it.

(I was staring at the box of books on the floor.)  I’d love to chat Mick, but John Kenneth Galbraith calls.

A summer day in 1989:

I saw Jack blunder out of Mickey Tsimmis’s book shop onto Melrose Ave. with a paper sack on his head and his foot in a plastic bucket.  I had gone over to Megalopolis Book Shop for what had become a weekly wallow in the shmutz at Mickey’s when Jack sagged to the sidewalk, exhausted.  I pulled the bag from his head as he rested against a lamppost.  He reached into his pocket, extracted a half-smoked Camel and lit it.

Jack:  Please, go inside and get my backpack before he loses or destroys it.  It’s behind the counter.  I can’t face going back in there right now.

I went inside and found the backpack as Mickey was about to step on it.  I told the Mickster I would be back in a moment and that I was on a mission of mercy, which had more truth to it than I first thought.  Outside, I handed the backpack to Jack.  He reached inside with trembling hands and pulled out a bottle of Gatorade™ which was actually more vodka than Gatorade™ and drank long and deep. 

Jack (regaining composure):  I was only trying to answer the phone – the one near the ceiling.  There was no place to open the ladder so I leaned it against a mountain of boxes and stuff.  Turns out the pile couldn’t support my weight and it all came crashing down.  I got sucked into the whirlpool and must have been floundering around for several minutes before I reached the floor.  It was frightening; everything went dark and I seemed to be spiraling and tumbling downward.  Things were hitting me and the noise was horrendous.  I’m sure I was screaming, but it was probably drowned out in the chaos.  (He took another deep, soul-fortifying pull on the Gatorade bottle).  I never got to the phone and Mickey will probably shit-can me for that and for being plastered on the job. 

Me:  C’mon Jack, I wouldn’t worry about it.  He always hires you back, sometimes within two or three minutes.  Just don’t wander off too far.  Try to have a good day.

Jack:  Thanks, but I’ve made other plans.

I left Jack and stepped inside just in time to see Mickey kill one of those frigate-class cockroaches (a beetle actually) by slapping it flat with his hand.  The bug’s goo shpritzed out from between his fingers and he wiped it on his shirt.

Mickey:  It’s wrong killing living things but it’s kinda fun seeing them splatter in all directions.

Me:  It’s a losing battle Mick, this place is infested with all kinds of vermin.  I.G. Farben couldn’t kill them all and we both know they’re experts at killing things.

Newspaper headline,  Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, July 18, 1987:

Judge Crater Found!

Remains located at used bookshop
In Hollywood

Owner claims he bought them at estate sale in 1960

Mickey Tsimmis, owner and proprietor of Megalopolis Book Shop on Melrose Ave. in Hollywood had been finding and misplacing human bones in his book shop for more than two decades.  He never gave it second thought; just one of those things in the world of used books, he reasoned.  “Neatness and organization were never my strong suits,” he explained.  “I often came across unusual things when I opened boxes that had been sealed and set aside for many years.  Odd bits of doodads and whatnots.  Articles of clothing, all sizes, all colors, all genders, prosthetic devices, bicycle frames, broken toilet seats.  I never throw any of it away.  I tell folks that it’s all going into my hope chest, although what I’m hoping for isn’t exactly clear.  Maybe it’s a hopeless chest.”

Tsimmis rambled on in that manner for most of the afternoon while he was held for questioning at Hollywood Station on Wilcox Ave. 

Judge Joseph Force Crater, a noted jurist in New York City in the 1920s, disappeared August 6, 1930.  He was never found, and foul play was suspected.  After so many years, interest in him fizzled.  But somewhere along the way he became the inspiration for jokes about packrats and their holdings.   If you accumulated lots of things, chances were, you probably owned Judge Crater’s bones.  This was a standard gag until the nearly complete skeleton turned up at Mickey Tsimmis’s store. 

The police were reasonably certain about Tsimmis’s claim of innocence in the disappearance and death of Judge Crater, but they were curious about how the corpse came to be found in Hollywood.  Tsimmis’s Megalopolis Book Shop is almost 3000 miles from the theater district in mid-town Manhattan, where the jurist was last seen.

At this early stage of the investigation, Los Angeles County coroner’s assistant Maury Thanatopsis declined to make a definitive identification of the remains until all the results from the tests are in.  Although the skull was found to be wearing a derby with Judge Crater’s name embossed in gold on the headband, Thanatopsis urged caution.  He also refused to comment on the cigar found clenched in the skull’s teeth.  “I know it’s tempting to want to put ‘case closed’ to this matter of the late Judge Crater, but I think we should wait until the coroner finishes the examination,” said Mr. Thanatopsis. 

Mr. Tsimmis told the police he was rooting around his law book section – “I have more law books than the U. S. Supreme Court,” he claimed proudly.  “I was looking for my past due notice from the phone company.  They were going to cut off my phone service.”  He kept turning up bags and boxes of what appeared to be human remains and, with several other bits and pieces he found over the years and which he had stashed in the rest room, he was able to assemble a nearly complete human skeleton. 

His first thought was that the bones belonged to the deceased from whose family he had bought an enormous collection of miscellaneous books back in 1960.  But that party had been a woman, and the presence of the bowler hat on the skull kicked that notion into a…well, into a tipped hat.

After several hours of questioning, Tsimmis was released.  He had never been a suspect in the death of Judge Crater. 

Outside Hollywood Police Station, Tsimmis seemed very agitated about the bones.  “They’re mine,” he said.  “I want them back.  I think I’ll set them out on display in a corner of the store.  Maybe call it the Judge Crater Reading Room.  That’ll be a nice memorial, don’t you think?”

[Note:  although the photo that accompanied this story is missing, printed below is the caption that appeared under it.]

Caption under photo:  Bookstore owner Mickey Tsimmis (flanked by detectives Hamilton Smegna and Dick Sideways) smiles broadly at all the attention he’s receiving while being led into Hollywood Police Station for questioning.

Editor's Note: Molto Tsouris: My Life With Mickey Tsimmis, will continue after Mr. Herr pieces together more note-scraps kept filed away in empty boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats ("The Breakfast Cereal That Loves You Back!") and Cheez-Its ("Real Cheese Matters." And at Booktryst real cheesy matters a lot, though not as acutely as at the Megalopolis Book Shop, where Mickey Tsimmis liberally cuts the Limburger, daily and often).

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