There was once a used bookstore just off of the Marion bypass. It was located in a little cul-de-sac, beyond a gravel parking lot, catty-corner with another shop I can’t quite remember. The bookstore was called Redbeard’s books. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would, thirty years later, use a digital publishing platform on something called the “Internet” to sell books by an author named Redbeard. But, I couldn’t have foreseen that at the time.
It was the typical, cramped little place, and very dim inside. Back then, my mother use to wait patiently while I combed video shops (those carried videocassette tapes, which are now essentially museum relics. Back in those days, there were specialty shops on every corner, catering to your particular taste in VHS.) and little junky bookshops. Often, she just sat in the car. Thank God for the patience of mothers.
All I remember of it, from thirty years on, is that the screen door opened up on to two rooms, one where a sort of fat hippie sat behind a desk or counter, surrounded by books…this room leading to two additional rooms, one with heaving shelves of books, and a smaller room with a sort of bin in the center, with books and comics stacked flat. At least, this is how I remember it.
My single purchase at this establishment was a graphic novel adaptation of the movie Bladerunner. A sequel has just been released the month I am writing this; which is a nice coincidence, but has nothing to do with this story.
The other book, Deviant by Harold Scechter, was a true crime biography of Ed Gein. I didn’t know it then, but I would go on to write about Ed Gein myself in three separate books. The Deviant book had grainy, black-and-white crime scene photos that made me feel rather sick. I put the book down as if the vibes from it could poison the soul. Maybe it could, and did. I turned to the comics because they cheered me. It was very dim in that store.
The store was the downstairs of a two-story house, bright white with a cracked pavement walkway around the side to the porch. Well-kept, which was what made the single, cryptic word of graffiti that had been spray painted on the side so perplexing. Around town, I, as many others, had seen such cryptic phrases as “eat shit,” and the even more utterly incomprehensible “1,2,3 CAT!” painted in dripping, horror movie letters on various alley walls and abandoned office buildings. But, “If”? If…what, pray tell? What the hell was the meaning behind this inscrutable expression? And, why was it allowed to drip there, day after day, on that clean white house wall, without anyone ever bothering to paint over it?
That it was the first thing you saw on the way to a bookstore, one brimming full of fantasy and science fiction books, comics, role playing games…maybe it was a challenge to wonder? To fantasize. To dream. It has always struck me that that might be what the mysterious “If” was meant to convey; a sense of plunging headlong into a world that challenged you to ask, “What…if?” What if dragons really slept on piles of gold, in lonely dungeons? What if spaceships flew through the galaxy, hopping from star to star, with alien minds aboard? What if? “Ask yourself,” it seemed to be saying.
“If” is the title of a poem by Rudyard Kipling. It ends with the line, “You’ll be a man, my son.” When I first saw the ambiguous “If” as it had been put upon the clean white wall by some rascally, unknown intellect, (trying to communicate, SOMETHING to the unwary observer), I was not yet, legally, a man. I was probably nine years away from that particular malady.
Rudyard Kipling is considered “politically incorrect” in the year 2017,BTW.
“If” was the name of a science fiction magazine edited by Frederick Pohl. That, in this context, seems appropriate.
“If” is the title of a British art house film, rather obscure, starring Malcolm McDowell, who played H.G. Wells in the movie Time After Time. The film “If…” concerns a British schoolboy who perpetrates a shooting massacre. Today, we live in a world that is rotten with massacres, both shooting and otherwise. Especially at schools. But, in 1987, not so much.
There are other “Ifs”. Silent films. Bad Novels. Forgotten popular songs.
IF I had known, in 1987, how much pain was in store for me in life, I might have decided to freeze time in that bookstore, like something from a bad sci fi paperback.
IF I had known what the world of 2017 would be like, what MY world would be like, thirty years ago, I would have chose to stop the clock. I’d be in that damn bookstore forever, and Mom would be waiting patiently out in the car, for eternity.
If wishes were fishes, boys and girls.