How You Watch The Rest Of The World From A Window While You Finish The Hat.

Some times, when I look at the books that get donated to our charity used-book store here on the north shore of Long Island, I wonder why such a thing was ever published in the first place:

Well, color me stupid.

This is a first edition copy of a book that was re-issued in 2014 by NYRB Classics (that is, the hoity-toity New York Review Books). This book got a review on NPR (the same people who did a review of my first book in 2009 and saved my career) and here’s the last paragraph:

In many ways, On Being Blue is less a book to read than an experience to be had. It’s essentially a rant, a riff, poetry, music, art, all of that. But it isn’t apologetics. There’s no scientific argument, no clear-cut hypothesis to be found. It’s not a treatise on the nature of man and his place in the universe. Gass is more interested in getting across a passion for language, and the way the words look and sound on the page. Blue is life and love, it becomes quite easy to believe. But wait for it, because in the end, “everything is gray.”

Oh, sure, this is a book beloved by the intelligentsia, but lordy, if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a rant, a riff, poetry, music, art, all of that in book form. This book sounds tedious, and I have enough problems of my own, thank you, to have time for deep thoughts about the color blue.

We also got this:

It’s a big, coffee table-sized book and inside were pages and pages of wonderful illustrations:


In my favorite book about being a used-book seller, The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, Bythell noted that books about trains — even vintage train schedules — sell very well in his store. Well, sure, I thought to myself, But Shaun’s in Scotland where transpotting is a national sport, but will this sell here on the north shore of Long Island?

I priced it at $2.00 and it sold in an hour.

This looked like a dreary children’s book with a message about life, and I loathe “message” books . . .

. . . but it was redeemed by this on the inside free end paper:

I wish I knew who this nephew was, so I could call him and tell him to treasure this note from his aunt.

Moving on: The only thing worse than actually being IN the Peace Corps. . .

. . . would be reading a book ABOUT the Peace Corps.

I flipped through this book and a chapter describing the application process caught my eye. I remember my application process, back in 1980, and my hour-long interview, and how ernest I was about doing my part to bring about world peace. I cringe to think that I was ever that naive.

In the 1960s, an applicant needed EIGHT references to attest to their worthiness to being Peace Corps Volunteers. “Generally,” the author notes, “they [the references] tend to be candid and reliable evaluations.”

Here’s a sample of what people had to say about possible future Peace Corps Volunteers:

“About emotion, he can take it or leave it.”

“If dropped into an alien culture, he [the applicant] would be accepted by the culture rather than eaten.”

“I have seen her react favorably when her hand was mashed in a car door.”

“Even patrolmen that have arrested him in the past years stated they liked him.”

Note to RPCV Steve: Did you know that Morocco was in the region that the Peace Corps called NANSEA? It’s the most diverse PC region, covering Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, and Ceylon. What say you and me go back in time and volunteer for Afghanistan? Or Iran. Cool, huh?

Moving on. . .

I got complete bound copies of Gourmet Magazine for all of 1972, 1973, and 1974.

I thought they might have some interesting travel journalism in there along with icky recipes but they don’t, and there’s hardly any color photography (food magazines have come a loooong way since the ’70s). I don’t have any hopes that we have a customer for these, but I’ll give them a chance on our Odds and Ends shelf.

For the past two years, one of our most loyal customers buys coffee table art and photography books from us for his collage art, a hobby of his in retirement. Last Sunday he had an exhibit of his works at a library far up on the north shore of Long Island and I went to see it.

This one is called “Trinity”.

Each piece is a 12-inch x 12-inch square, the same size as an LP cover. That’s a shape that we Baby Boomers are very conversant with, and I think it’s a smart choice.

Title: “Once Upon a Time there Was a Hat”. I asked, but No, it wasn’t about Sondheim.

I was pleasantly surprised that his work (he had about 30 on view) were so formally composed because that’s not what I expect from collage but then, he has always struck me as a linear-thinking kind of guy. I think he might have been a math teacher, or an engineer.

Title: “Doubt”.

I do like his work, but I think they would benefit from better titles. Something a little enigmatic, or hintingly narrative, or in juxtaposition, if you know what I mean.

He called this one, “There Goes The Neighborhood”.

Take this one, above. I like it a lot. the use of that copper-colored sky is very effective, and I like the coyote looking over his shoulder, and I even don’t mind the old people (altho, for the record, I’d rather not look at old people in art).

But wouldn’t it be a better piece if it had a different title? Like, for a random example, “A Slow Walk in the Forever Fields”?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

I happened to see the artist again at the bookstore today when he came in to look at the books I’ve been putting aside form all Summer. He sold two pieces on opening day of the exhibit, and he’s gotten calls about several others. (He bought 4 of the 5 books I’d set aside for him.)

I didn’t buy one of his work because they are outside my collecting parameters. I collect thrift shop art, and I’ve got some beauts.

This hangs above our fireplace in the living room. I got it 15 years ago. It’s large, 32 inches x 44 inches, and I think it’s the most wonderful painting in the world:

This was the first piece of thrift shop art that I ever bought, about 20 years ago, before I got married:

This is 16 x 20 inches.

My heart pounded with joy when I came across these two, together, waiting for ME to give them a good home:

Each is also 16 x 20 inches.

I love it that the person who did these paint-by-numbers pictures signed them.

Last week I was in our local Salvation Army thrift shop and I came across a canvas (16 x 20 inches) that I tried not to buy, because, well, look at it, but in the end I couldn’t leave the store without it:

And now I love it, and spend about fifteen minutes a day looking at it, happy that its weird exuberance and hauntingly inept draftsmanship are MINE. I have half a mind to call this one, On Being Blue.

And that brings us full circle, Dear Readers, for this week.

Have a splendid weekend, everyone. October is the Coyote Month, and this year the trickster has impeachment on his mind!



A college professor put this sign up on his office door as a warning to his students:

It made me think of this guy:


But let’s not let that be the last word, not when there’s this:


13 Comments, RSS

  1. Megan

    Oh that brightened my day. I think that tabby in the last photo is mine! I just have one question… isn’t the incumbent president better than the vice president becoming president, he scares me more.

  2. That last picture just made me laugh. Thank you so much! Now that is stupid! But still doesn’t outdo #45. Can we just obliterate that number for our numbering sequence and go on to #46. You certainly have some entertainment in that book store.

  3. Kirra

    That train book is great! I’m not surprised it got taken in an hour, train fans are everywhere. The collages are nice but I agree about the titles. Unfortunately I can’t really think of anything interesting to use instead.

    Thanks for sharing your thrift store art, they are all nice. I’ve never thought of looking there for art but our walls are already full, so we shouldn’t buy anything else.

    Good luck America, hope you get to impeach your president!

  4. Casey

    Dibs on that lost tabby, if no one comes to claim him.

    I like your title better on that last collage. Your customer’s work is very nice but I agree that he needs to spend more time thinking about his titles. “Doubt”? “There Goes The Neighborhood”? I’m not feeling it. At least he didn’t commit the ultimate artist’s sin and call them “Untitled”. When I’m in a museum and I see a painting called “Untitled” I get the urge to slash it. I mean, I’m offended. Take a moment from your busy artist life and give the thing a title.

    I can shop for weeks and months at my local thrift shop and I will never find such treasures, you have the “eye”. Those paint by numbers pictures are priceless. I tried to paint by number when I was about 12 and I had no patience for it so I admire anyone who can stick with it.

  5. I hadn’t heard that about the NANSEA region, at least not that I remember. I think by the time I was in the PC (early ’90s) it may have been classified differently? That is an intriguing bit of info, though!

    That PC book you have looks VERY tedious, but there are some good ones out there. Before I signed up I read one called “Under the Neem Tree” about a PCV in Mauritania in the ’80s that I liked a lot, and also one by a PCV in Ecuador (I think) in the ’60s. (Can’t remember the title.) And a novel by Fletcher Knebel that was almost as old as the Peace Corps itself, called “The Zinzin Road.” Since then PC books have proliferated like mad. A newer one I read that I liked was “Nine Hills to Nambonkaha.”

    I hope that mountain lion bit that guy.

  6. Oh, and I forgot to say, you have some FAB thrift store art! I love that painting you got at the Salvation Army. People really do have unusual visions, even if their execution is a little off. 🙂

  7. I think whomever found the cat in Santa Rosa now has one. Although that face sure looked a bit like a big-cat cub. The fact that anyone would put a stray cat in a bath blows my mind. I wouldn’t put Lizzie in one unless I had full body armor.

    I rather liked the title “There Goes the Neighborhood” and all of your customer’s work. It has a dark feeling to it but is quite well done and interesting. And I loved your blue painting.

    I think I am with Megan on the VP becoming president. He scares me more, too, in a lot of ways. He reminds me of an albino devil with that pale glazed-over eye look. There’s a song in The King and I where Anna tells off the King (I think in her imagination) that I need to find. It could be for Himself.

    On another note, the Stromness Rock is leaving Lansing this weekend. On to Coopersville!

  8. Well, I’m leaning toward Megan on the VP. He’s like a scary albino devil in lamb’s clothing. Smile, look benign with that glassy eyed look but I don’t trust him as far as I can spit. Although, man — that would be a tough choice to make. Love to get them both out.

    Upon multiple views of that last cat photo — well, all I can say is this woman is either a cat whisperer, crazy or a very good photoshopper. I thought it looked like a baby big-cat cub of some sort. Putting a stray in a bath is akin to asking for mutilation (especially with claws!). Lizzie would have to be an awful mess for me to even try with her and we’ve bonded over time. I have a feeling that woman now has a cat.

    On an unrelated note, the Stromness Rock is packed and off to the post office this weekend! Photos will be forthcoming!

  9. Rachel

    Oh, how I wish the “tabby” post wasn’t a joke….just so funny and amazing, if it were true. Thanks for sharing….made my day.

  10. Lolo

    “weird exuberance and hauntingly inept draftsmanship” …

    …that’s a perfect description of that picture. Now, please, what did you title it?

  11. All your stories about the undesirable donated books that people dump in your store are sad. But I just read a happy story about a book at a donated book sale. In a FaceBook post by Hillary Clinton, she told how she went back to the library of her childhood: “I was absolutely delighted to come face-to-face with one of my old Nancy Drew mysteries—The Hidden Window Mystery—while in my hometown of Park Ridge, Illinois last week. It had been donated to my old school’s used book sale, and enjoyed by another local family, the Machons, who noticed that I’d signed my name on the inside cover.” (link here: )

    Good luck to your bookstore that you will have an equally happy story!

    best… mae at

  12. CarolG

    Enigmatic collages…the hat made me think of Magritt of course. Quite visually strong IMHO. What’s the artist’s name?
    I think i would love working in a used book shop..I went to one in Saint Cloud on Saturday to pick up a book I’d bought online and impulsively checked ‘pickup free’ instead of shipping. They serve tea at Les Bookies. Fortunately everyone knew of it (and spoke English) since i got out on the wrong side of the train station.
    Your latest thrift shop acquisition has a hint of David hockney no? Lovely.

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