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"CAN I HAVE THAT DIME?"
A Bookstore-y
by George Cowmeadow Bauman

When I was first at the Acorn Bookshop – 12 years ago now, the bookstore’s founder and my new business partner, Stuart Wheeler, would occasionally introduce me to regulars in the store, as a way of helping me get to know customers who often supported the place. (It wasn’t too long before I was pointing out new regulars to him that he'd not noticed since his retreat to the office that winter of 1999.)
 
Every day we get folks who announce that it’s their first time in the store, and we always give them a special “Welcome to the Acorn Bookshop”, or one of my favorites, such as “Welcome to Booktopia!”
However any successful shop relies on a mixture of such newbies and those booklovers who frequent the shop regularly. Some come into the store fairly often, every month or so, and several show up a couple of times a week. There’s also The Weeklies: the Paul and Tubby show every Wednesday at noon as the Grandview Firehall siren blows; British ex-pat David Madwar who buys bread and books every Friday afternoon as he offers his latest book, movie and BBC-TV recommendations; and homeless-looking Richard Baumann, who visits every Saturday to ask the same questions about books on fireworks, Flippo the Clown, early TV programs, and the history of local broadcasting. Stuart said that until Richard lost money through a hole in it, he used to keep a large wad of money rolled up in a sock stuffed into his front pants pocket. Now his wad is still pocketed, but unsocked away.

We know many customers by not only their given names – sometimes learned from their bankcards and others we’ve introduced ourselves to, but also by nicknames we’ve given them…most of which are complimentary.

For the following two characters, not only do they have nicknames, but they are also on our ever-expanding list of “Acorn Crazies”.

Michael Scarpetti comes in almost every day, and usually offers – in a bad Latino accent – a joke that begins with, “My country is so small that…” Thus, to distinguish him from the other regular Michaels, we designated him Weird Michael. We’ve since gotten to know the interesting and semi-amusing guy better, so sometimes we just refer to him as Mike Scarpetti, not Weird Michael. Our naming is flexible, subject to experience.

Very Weird Michael is one of Acorn’s original regulars who was pointed out to me during my first few months. Stuart sternly warned me: “I caught him stealing science fiction paperbacks stuffed under his jacket!”

Stuart said he kicked the thief out that day, but I was surprised to learn that Very Weird Michael hadn’t been banned from the shop.

I’m more astonished that my partner – Air-Force-veteran-rigid that he is – didn’t pull the loaded .38 out from under the counter and escort the shoplifter out. Maybe he did, but didn’t want to repeat that part to me, knowing my aversion to guns.

The gun is no longer in the store, nor is Stuart, who has been home for several years dealing with Parkinson’s. His once small-inventoried Acorn Bookshop has grown into a mighty, overcrowded, oak of a bookstore.

As to letting Very Weird Michael back into the store, perhaps Stuart believed that keeping a reader from his books is a fate worst than the crime…but that doesn’t sound like Stuart the Strict.

The biblioklept sounds exactly like one of the characters in Joan Hess’ Claire Malloy series of bookstore mysteries: he’s an older homeless-looking hippie, who visits to steal sci-fi/fantasy paperbacks. Claire catches him stealing and it becomes a game between them, Malloy being uncharacteristically philosophical about the nonviolent thief.

I noticed that Very Weird Michael visited about once a month, always wearing a fringed, dark brown leather jacket, and usually accompanied by a silent woman. After 15 minutes or so, they’d bring several Andre Norton paperbacks over to the counter to buy. He was a man of few words, and those weren’t accompanied by a smile as we conducted the commercial exchange. I watched him closely the first few times I was out front when he came in, and I picked up that he was never relaxed, always alert and wary – like one of the Sopranos, but I detected nothing dishonest about him.

Several years ago he told us – I have no idea why, considering his tight-lipped nature – that we wouldn’t be seeing him for a while.

We hear frequently about upcoming vacations and business trips as people buy books for those adventures, so, as with the others, I made light of it with Very Weird Michael. Most other folks accept such bantering in the spirit of the chat about their upcoming itineraries.

VW Michael paid for his paperbacks – he always paid with cash, never with plastic – and looked up at me with intense dark eyes and said, “No, there’s no chance you will see me anytime for a while. I won’t be coming in.”

“Are we losing you to another bookstore?” I joked, still trying to loosen him up a bit.

He refused to be loosened. “I’ll be visiting no bookstores.”

Taking the recycled plastic Giant Eagle bag full of Andre Nortons from me, he turned and left without saying more about his impending absence.

Christine and I were very curious about the meaning of what he told us, and very surprised that he’d even confided in us at all. He usually wasn’t one to give out any details of his private life.

We speculated about the reasons he’d be staying away by creating our own Top Ten List:

“Places Very Weird Michael Might Be Going”

10. Joining a dolphin-worshipping cult who were taking believers out into the ocean, ostensibly to a still
thriving underwater Atlantis

9. Getting a frontal lobotomy because the scars will look cooler than tattoos

8. Going on a research expedition to the Sahara to finally get an answer to the age-old question: Just how many grains of sand are there in a desert? After that he’ll be assigned to answer a similar question about drops of water in the ocean.

7. A blind(folded) date with Jimmy Hoffa

6. Helping Habitat for Humanity raise homes for earthquake victims in Nicaragua out of the goodness of his heart and the generosity of his spirit.

5. A CIA agent assigned to penetrate the gay soccer world in Iran for information about queer footballers, which the ignoramuses at the CIA consider downright un-American and a threat to the NFL.

4. Beamed up by Scottie.

3. Living up some Appalachian hollow, shotgun-wedded to his first cousin on his mother’s side. At the mid-
cowfield wedding site, surrounded by corn as high as a revenuer’s eye, Very Weird Michael’s mother was
bursting with joyful sentimentality and declared to everyone that it was just like her own hastened
wedding to Cousin Ernie, now dearly departed. Ernie was driving his truck full of possums to an early morning farmer’s market. Good ol’ Cousin Ernie was never the top chip at the poker table and was gambling that his collected and frozen roadkill would be the next culinary wave. “It tastes a little like chicken,” he always said. At four dark-o’clock one morning he and his uncomplaining critters rumbled around a sharp, hilly, wooded bend on a one-lane graveled road and ran smack into what was eyewitnessed as a flying saucer but was later referred to officially as a “large deer”. Only well-nibbled possum bones were found after the fire, created by the explosion of the two 20-gallon blue gas tanks bolted to the roof of his cab when they hit the rising-from-the-charred-road “antlers” of the “deer”.

2. Cryogenically frozen for two centuries so he can come alive and live in his preferred science-fiction/fantasy world, trusting that the electricity and backup generator wouldn’t go out and threaten his “Thaw By” date.

And our top pick for The Place Where Very Weird Michael Might Go was…drum roll (a la the Griswolds)…:

1. Prison, where a new sweetheart and old diseases awaited him.

After we hadn’t seen Very Weird Michael for 1-2 years, a short, slender, leather-clad guy with slicked-back brown hair came up to the counter with a couple of paperbacks. Reaching for the books to note their titles for restocking purposes, I did a double-take when I saw who he was. He noticed me noticing him, and even gave a little smile, though devoid of any warmth. “Yeah, I’m back.” He said nothing else and left.

The following week he came in again –through the front door as always, rather than entering the more-frequently-used side door to the parking lot, indicating that he probably wasn’t driving to the store, perhaps at the state’s request. He didn’t do any talking, or buying; he just browsed through the science fiction paperbacks.

After he left, I got to thinking back to when Stuart told me that he caught VWM and his girlfriend shoplifting; I wondered if he’d stolen from us that day, for he seldom left without a purchase.

The next week he returned, looked around, then came quickly to the counter. He made no eye contact as he approached. He glanced down to the counter at the miniature black ceramic toilet where we keep our business cards in the tank and the pennies-for-customers in the bowl, and spied a dime.

“Can I have that dime? he growled. “I’ll explain later.”

Christine gave him the dime and he fled out the front door.

Two-to-four years later he has yet to explain.

Anything.




 
Acorn Bookshop, 1464 West 5th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43212 - 614.486.1860