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  shelley jackson  

DAY 6 (Berkeley: Moe's Books)

When I wake up in Berkeley the next day, the van has a flat tire. How lucky that it didn't happen on the road! But I don't feel lucky. I feel sorry for myself. I change the tire in the street and drive on the spare to John the mechanic, who finds a large nail stuck in the tender spot between the treads. I think of the soft spot between the pads on a dog's paw, where burrs catch. John, it turns out, is an aspiring writer of spy thrillers. He is studying up on CIA operations and conspiracy theories. He says it's scary. He says, "I don't spit on the sidewalk anymore, because the CIA scoop it up and get your DNA!" He promises to buy my book. I promise to buy his book, when it is published. (His name: John Benjamin Topa. Watch for it.) I try to shake his hand, but he turns it over to show me how grimey it is. Instead I shake his scaly wrist.

Our first Bay Area reading is at Moe's, which may be the best used bookstore in the world. The tiny women's bookstore my family ran when I was little was less than a block away, on the edge of People's Park, so I grew up in the orbit of Moe's, and of Moe himself (a minor planet, prone to alarming eruptions and eructations, with its own atmosphere of cigar smoke and indescribable staleness). My book, in Moe's, looks both more and less real to me. I realize I will only feel thoroughly published when I see my book used, I want all the stigmata of the used book; I want to be foxed, cocked, dog-eared. I want to be shop-worn, yellowed, water-damaged, mildewed, underlined. I want to be ex-lib!

I have a Moe's trade slip for $198 I have been saving for a year. I buy:

Oulipo Laboratory
Naked Lunch, Burroughs (in hardcover)
The Blue Lantern and Life of Insects by Victor Pelevin
The Magnetic Fields by Breton and Soupault
The Chandler Apartments by Owen Hill
End of the Game 1st ed by Cortazar
Sarah by JT Leroy
My Little Blue Dress by Bruno Maddox
McSweeney's 6

The chairs are lined up down an aisle two by two as if for a game of choo-choo train. My parents are there, my uncle is there, my mom's friend from college is there. There is a woman who says she knew me in Yugoslavia, when I was five! My ex-boss and ex-coworker and ex-girlfriend and her ex-girlfriend are there. Kelly persuades me to read the first half of Egg. I realize after I have started that this means I will be discussing masturbation in front of my parents. Afterwards, in what I hope is an unrelated fact, my ex-girlfriend says that partway through the reading, my nipples got hard. At another point, she says, my uncle snored. Alison, my ex-coworker, says she sat in front of a guy in sandals whose feet smelled. Oh, the melancholy of anatomy.

I go out to dinner at Chez Panisse with all the exes. Kate my ex-boss, owner of Phoenix and Dog-Eared Books, is wearing what I call her woolen crown, a mysterious tubular green hat. We eat and drink amazing things. There is an earthquake. None of us notice.


DAY 7 (San Francisco: City Lights)

I go to San Francisco to visit the store I used to manage, Phoenix Books. There is new art on the wall and my book is on a little pedestal by the cash register. I wish I still worked there. I take a picture of Alison with a Happy Apple. She is obsessed with Happy Apples. At Phoenix I buy Reluctant Gravities by Rosmarie Waldrop and Encyclopaedica Anatomica (pictures of wax anatomical models). When I last saw Alison she was great of belly and less than a week later a little person came out of her. Today I meet this person, whose name is Henry.

Then I pick up Kelly and we drive to the edge of creation to visit the Musee Mecanique, a collection of antique coin-operated wonders-musical stuffed monkeys that work their instruments with a manic, almost sexual fervor, rickety fortune-telling automata, can-can dancing marionettes, peep shows, model trains, miniature ballroom dancers that balk and wheel and spin, acrobats, fire fighters. I have a story called Musee Mecanique inspired by this place. The museum was scheduled to close this year but outcry saved it, though it has not yet found a new home. I have unreasonable fantasies of buying it, installing it in a Airstream trailer, and touring the country with it.

The little figures are cute, I suppose, but they are also macabre, like tiny dead bodies brought laboriously to life. They jerk into motion with a sort of fatalistic enthusiasm, and their movements are like a sketch of something half-remembered from a life left behind a long time ago. As it happens, many of the mechanical wonders are also about death. There is a French Revolution (guillotining) and and English Execution (hanging) and a churchyard with spooky thing s that rise up out of graves. There is a mechanical nightmare, The Drunkard's Dream, in which dragons incline their heads in a doorway and a skull comes up through the floor. There is a Wild West scene with a skeleton cow and a tattered covered wagon that does nothing but jiggle (the shreds twitch in an invisible wind).

A magic typewriter tells our fortunes. Mine says, "you are apt to be very intelligent, evenly balanced and have a happy optimistic quality of thought." (Later, I read this to my boyfriend and he laughs.) Then we put our hands into the Mouth Of Truth. First it says, "Taaake your haaand out of my mooouth." Then it emits a slip of paper. I read it. It says, "You are sometimes tiresome, over insistent and demanding." It says, "You find it difficult to cope with nervous tension." Also, "Your health problems are due to nerves." Furthermore, "You often feel uncomfortable with people and don't know how to cultivate friendhips or lasting relationships." I am a little taken aback.

I do some fancy driving to get to City Lights, careening through Chinatown. I read the Phlegm appendices. Kelly reads from Shoe and Marriage. The City Lights audience is great, and a girl asks if I will spit in her book. (It does not occur to me that she may be a CIA agent with designs on my DNA.) I write her name and lick it. It smears. She seems happy. Meanwhile, a girl is showing Kelly a rust-colored splotch in her book that looks like house paint, saying, "I was reading it on a bus, and a bum who was standing next to me dropped blood on it. That was when I knew it was going to be a good book." I am so, so envious.

At City Lights I buy:
Miserable Miracle, by Henri Michaux
Selected Declarations of Dependence, by Harry Mathews;
Split Infinites, by Rosmarie Waldrop.

The basement at City Lights used to be a gambling hall and hooch joint and its brick walls are painted with admonitions, bits of which can still be seen in the gaps between the bookcases; one says something like Born in Sin, Die in Iniquity. There is a door labelled, THIS IS THE DOOR. "Want to see the shrine?" Peter asks. Of course we do, though we don't know what it is. Peter jimmies a locked door and takes us behind the walls to see the shrine. Famous writers have added tokens to this strange confection of trinkets which includes a Visible Man and a sign reading Danger: Poet. We follow suit: I leave the ring I got from a mechanical baker in the Musee Mecanique. Kelly leaves a fortune that says, "leave your oldest coin with a friend," and her oldest coin. I fit my ring on the right hand of the Visible Man. We are married now; I am Mrs Visible.

Then I get an email from a friend saying, "I love the Visible Shelley on your website."

"Shelley Visible," I correct him.


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