Chamblin Bookmine, Part One of Seven

by Tim Gilmore, 9/14/2015

For years, I stayed away from Chamblin Bookmine. It wasn’t that I wanted to keep distance. I missed it. I missed it viscerally sometimes.

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But after what happened with Manson in His Own Words: The Shocking Confessions of “The Most Dangerous Man Alive,” I was too ashamed to go back.

Even years later, when I’d assumed enough time had passed, Ron would give me a deal on a stack of books for trade-in, standing behind the cash register, with his mussed white hair and thin steel-framed glasses, and he’d joke with Frank, “Uh oh, better look out, he’s doing it to us again.”

In the years in between, I missed the strange steep back staircase that ascended to the dark and cramped second floor, and I missed the incongruous juxtaposition of poetry and horror fiction up there in the dark. I remembered particular purchases, Rimbaud’s Illuminations and Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil on the poetry side, and the cheap 1970s Ballantine paperback of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear on the horror side.

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I missed the front aisles for featured books and new additions, where I bought Allen Ginsberg’s Journals, Early Fifties, Early Sixties and Guillaume Apollinaire’s The Poet Assassinated.

And of course I missed just wandering the aisles, being open to whatever I might find.

Not only was it my own fault, but I was a stupid thief.

I was 16 years old in the fall of 1990, when I walked into Chamblin’s to shoplift Manson in His Own Words. I knew Ron had the book in stock and Ron knew I was coming. I’d called ahead and asked if he had it. He’d said he did and asked if I’d like him to set it aside. I told him not to worry about that.

Half an hour later, I walked into the store with my friend Scott, and Ron greeted us from behind the register. I don’t think I could look him in the eye. Scott and I walked in a straight line to where I knew the True Crime section to be and I quickly found Charles Manson and stuffed him inside my black leather jacket.

Then we walked in as straight a line, just as quickly, back to the front door.

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Ron asked us if we hadn’t, as he knew we had, found the book we wanted, and I denied it. Coming around from behind the register and display case, he walked toward True Crime, ostensibly to show us the book, but obviously to call our bluff.

By the time Scott and I had reached the parking lot and pulled away in my father’s 1984 silver Toyota Van with the blue and green zig-zag stripes on the side of its “Space Cruiser” body, we pretended to be unconcerned, though the book heist had clearly gone horribly awry.

Still, there was a feeling of having gotten away with it, since we’d gotten off the premises, like when two year olds believe you can’t see them if they can’t see you. Just as a toddler might hide by standing right in front of you with his hands over his eyes, we cruised down 103rd Street on the Westside, feeling that since we’d made it this far, we were free.

I felt that if I acted like I didn’t feel like an idiot, and if I pretended I didn’t feel guilty, then my guilt and my idiocy could be kept at a distance, somewhere off behind the oak trees and power lines.

We were five miles away when we came to a stoplight and began to relax. The book was stuffed behind the driver’s seat. The back windows were tinted dark. The engine putted sleepily.

Then there was Ron, sweating and angry, his face not six inches from mine, with only the driver’s-side window between us, and Ron’s fists pounded the plexiglass determinedly. All my guilty stupidity flooded back on me and threatened to explode my head. I could’ve gone into hiding, hidden my face from the world forever.

There was nothing I could do but roll down the window. Ron Chamblin willed it. I did it.

He was angry, but he was in control, and he was going to take back his book.

“Give me my book back, you asshole!” he demanded. I did. I watched him storm back to his van, Manson in His Own Words in hand, the traffic light turned green, and I don’t remember and can’t imagine what I did with my shame that afternoon.

It was the last time I visited Chamblin Bookmine at its second Herschel Street location near the corner on San Juan Avenue. More than five years passed. The Bookmine moved to a much larger location, a former Consumer’s Warehouse across from several marinas that stretched their boat slips out into the Ortega River.

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I figured it was safe to shop the Bookmine again and hoped Ron wouldn’t recognize me. He was always kind to me. Sometimes he made strange and quiet little jokes. Once when I bought an H.P. Lovecraft book, he looked at the writer’s picture on the back, looked up at me, and said, “Was this guy nuts? He looks nuts.”

I said I wasn’t entirely sure, but suspected Lovecraft well could’ve been nuts.

Ron looked me in the eyes for a few seconds, placing me, long enough for me to turn awkwardly away, then he looked back at Lovecraft, handed me my receipt, and said, “I’m pretty sure this guy was nuts.”

cont’d Chamblin’s Uptown