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It was a tiring day in the book mines. Kevin Maroney an old customer was down from New York where he writes games. Since he felt heíd get more from me than booksellers back home he brought fifteen boxes of books.
Sorting the wheat from the chaff is the first step. After twenty years at it Iím the scythe moves quickly. Flip past Alan Derwshowitz to grab 70s Pelican sociology and psychology. Figuring out how much to pay can be worrisome. I donít want to cheat Kevin or myself. My instinct for which old paperbacks will be worth a few dollars isnít bad. Fiction is tougher. Many a novel hits the bargain tables at Barnes & Noble. Online dealers may be disposing of them for a buck. That fate is more common than becoming a rarity. It took about two hours. Eight minutes a box is a bit slow but I was chewing the fat with Kevin while I worked.
Paul showed up a few hours later. He was getting rid of his art books. The books had to go to make space for the doodads he bought at Kirkland's a mall chain retailing tasteless chintz. Kirklandís and a forgotten junque shop it absorbed is where heís worked since he got out of college.
I wrote about Paul along time ago. Iíve known him since he was a kid, barely a teenager, twenty years. Nowadays he gives me the heebee jeebies.
Eight or so years ago Paul had a breakdown. He hallucinated that he about to marry Dean Cain. He was briefly locked up in a local loony bin (Iím sure psychiatrists have kinder words for it). A batch of pills later they let him out.
Paul came out. When he told me naturally I let him know I was queer as well. He didnít feel guilty. He seemed to think being gay was as wholesome as apple pie.
He started making weekly visits to a local gay bar. But he never went home with anybody. Slender, blonde, blue-eyed, decent face and looking seventeen it wasnít that nobody would say hello. I tried to be his gay uncle, as it were. Paul told me he was saving his virtue for Mr. Right. With whom I think he expected to spend a Hallmark eternity.
Iíve encountered only a couple of other gay guys nutty and sad enough to be members of the virginity fraternity. Now Iíve got enough romantic, monogamous lunacy to become a romance writer (sadly for my pocketbook I lack the other soulless attributes required for that profession). But like any sane person, when I came out, hoarding my sperm Ė heck, I canít think of words adequate to the preposterousness. Gently, reasonably I hinted to Paul he should really consider rolling over on his belly (Paul was a born bottom). Iíll always think that getting fucked wouldíve made him happier; couldnít have made him worse.
I think he had another problem. Paul was and is vapid, uninteresting, tedious. And I like him.
Simple chat sometimes required a strenuous patience Iíve probably never extended to anybody else. If an abstract thought came his way heíd likely jump under the bed. After Lois & Clark, Wonder Woman (comics and TV) and the various Teen Titans and Justice League comic books his mental life ended. He had a mildly whiny way of talking, not too bad, but enough to chill a stranger in a bar.
Eventually he gave up on the comics heíd been collecting for most of his life. He quit going to the bar. He works at the mall, goes home and watches TV, on weekends he cleans the house. Even though Gordon, Yance and I, because heís known us for so long, are the nearest kindred of friends he has, he rarely visits the shop.
Paul does leave us cards for most holidays. On and off heís bought me presents. Wondering about the presents I did ask him if he had a crush on me. Nope. All to the good. What would I have done if he said yes? My sexuality rehabilitating itself after ages of abstinence, him a passable blonde bottom? Sure. Which couldíve been one of my more notable mistakes. I couldíve never been Paulís dream man.
As I said Paul was in the shop today. Ugly to confess but when heís around Iím just waiting for him to go. Not that heíll ever know. When I see him I muster my kindliness and politeness.
He had a big box for me. My Halloween present, which, thankfully, he didnít bring in until he was about to leave. His gifts have ranged from good (CD store certificate) to odd (Mickey Mouse shirt) to the awful (a painting I sold on eBay because as cold as it may sound I didnít want it in the same building with me.).
Paul departed wishing me a ďHappy Halloween!Ē A half hour later I summoned my courage and opened the box. First out was a ceramic knickknack with a chalkboard, pencil and other schoolroom gewgaws handing down. Next was an elephant in the same style (why an elephant?). Last was a faux-stone box with bags of tea.
Even though I canít pretend I want Paulís presents Iím always baffled by their irrelevance to my own tastes. And Iím not sure that they reflect any of Paulís aside from a spasm of money spending.
Iíve never watched a friend become psychotic. Or stood by oneís death bad. In his own way Paul is the saddest person Iíve ever known.