Saturday, November 2, 2013

A revelation at The Sagging Shelf - Gloria and TRM on the town

In the unlikely event that Gloria or The Reading Man ever viewed life as a competition, they had long since abandoned any inclination to participate in such folly.  They had each separately and unbeknownst to the other, for you will recall they only recently met, grown into the perfectly suited belief that the voyage of their days was intended to be, in the words of the old song, "...a slow boat to China."* 
With occasional and momentary bouts of internal debate, they chose to avoid struggle, expectation and the resulting disappointment, hurry, the need to be right, residing in any moment other than this one, being unforgiving with others and themselves, feeling anything other than a piece (a valuable, necessary piece) of a much greater whole, resentment and jealousy in any form, melancholy that lingered, and fault-finding.  They were not exceptional creatures.   They were ordinary, with the essential difference of being mostly peaceful and appreciative.  They were not perfect, for there is no such thing.  They were humans who had managed, mostly, to keep humanness from spoiling their days.  To learn these lessons had taken each of them a lifetime and it seemed time well spent.

Reaching San Luis after the blissful quiet and dappled sun of their drive, Robert and Gloria prepared a list - written, with pencil, on the back of an envelope from her purse - of what each wanted to see, do or achieve that day.  Mr. Apotienne was most keen to spend time at The Sagging Shelf, the wryly named used bookstore, and to accompany Gloria on her flea market expedition.  As she sought the china, linens and silverware which enhanced the charm of her shop, he was open to anything that might cross his path.  Though he seldom wore them anymore, he did appreciate a swell vintage necktie, the definition of vintage remaining unspecific.

Playing hostess to an out-of-towner, Gloria insisted on the bookstore first.  Its inventory, and undisputedly sagging shelves, nearly overwhelmed The veteran Reading Man. At first it seemed a hopeless jumble of genres with no hint of order immediately observable.  Closer investigation revealed a unique arrangement which, once described by Dan, the owner, actually made sense.

As his self-labeled secret had been much on his mind, Mr. Apotienne was alert to how children's books were displayed.  Why he had decided that his authorship many years earlier of a book for young readers could be considered a secret since the discussion of it had never come up can be attributed to his over-developed sense of extreme honesty.  Fortunately that particular virtue was generally dormant, honesty partnering with diplomacy on most occasions.  We have seen how he gets.

He was not surprised to find a lone copy of his one book right at eye-level in the first place he looked.  It was dedicated to the then-young daughter of his son's friends, a girl in whom he had seen such brilliant otherness, a rare light he hoped would never fade.  "Maura's Magic" had been published decades earlier.  He felt he'd done his best to paint with words the child's distinct gifts.  He drew on a memory of reading W. H. Hudson's "Green Mansions" as a teen.  Rima the Bird Girl remained with him since.  Sales had been predictable, boosted by a praise-filled review - to his own amazement and that of almost everyone he knew - in The New Yorker.  Because of its brevity, he memorized it, not so much by intention but from frequent readings. He was deeply pleased.

Gloria walked up as he opened the book, noting that it was not one he had autographed at any of his rare signings.  She saw at once his name as author and only looked the question at him, not saying anything.  "I can quote the review," he told her.  "I won't do the whole thing."

"The tale is slight, but it is written in a language of such memorable tranquility ('One night, when the washing wind had died and the warm damp from the bendy river settled over the place and the fireflies sat so still in the air that you could catch one in your hand, Little Sara tasted her summer mouth and decided that she would like a glass of lemonade') that it is hoped Mr. Apotienne will be prolific and that his next work will again be embellished by the dreamy, misty, silky drawings of J. R."

"And you've kept this a secret for how long?" Gloria finally asked.  "Forever," he told her.  "For no real reason."
Frank Loesser's daughter, Susan Loesser, authored a biography of her father, A Most Remarkable Fella (1993), in which she writes:
"I'd like to get you on a slow boat to China" was a well-known phrase among poker players, referring to a person who lost steadily and handsomely. My father turned it into a romantic song, placing the title in the mainstream of catch-phrases in 1947.
The idea being that a "slow boat to China" was the longest trip one could imagine. Loesser moved the phrase to a more romantic setting, yet it eventually entered general parlance to mean anything that takes an extremely long time.


Erin in Morro Bay said...

I will get me directly to The
Sagging Shelf in the fondest hope that "Maura's Magic" is still there. What a tantalizing excerpt in the review - you realize we must have more!

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - The Reading Man bought the copy he found but I'm sure Dan will locate another for you without delay. (the review is borrowed from a real one within my family...shhhh) There will be more, just never quite sure more 'what.' xo

Anonymous said...

I'm hooked.
Going back to read the rest.

love you.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Denise - Thank you. I smiled for hours after your comment I hope you enjoy. There is a post, I can send you the link, in which I have all the post links in order. These people, as I have probably said too often, talk to me before I fall asleep. xo

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