So, I finally took my great big pile of culled books (I guess about 50 volumes, including all the Barthelme that Tim once wanted, as well as the Vandermeer book that I said I would send to somebody but they never emailed me their address) to Book Affair in Carlton yesterday. I wanted to be economical about the whole affair, since I don’t have a car and don’t ever intend to own one, so I decided that I would forfeit the thirty dollar taxi ride from Malvern to Carlton, and use public transport to get there. We are right by the train station, after all, and Book Affair is only a brisk stroll from the Melbourne University tram superstop.
My shoulders today will attest to the fact that this course of action was, largely, a mistake. While a pile of 50 books isn’t really all that heavy, I guess maybe 20 kilos at a stretch (there were a great many hardcovers and folio books in the stack as well, so it was probably a little more), and since I am from Queensland and therefore more genetically predisposed towards muscle-dependant labours than weakling Victorians, the real difficulty with bipedal transportation of books is not that the books are heavy, but rather that their unique shape makes them supremely awkward to carry.
I had two baggage modules with me yesterday. The first was a tasteful black canvas duffel bag with leather trim and solid base, a very sturdy and capacious piece of luggage I don’t mind telling you now. The second was one of those revolting piss-stinking red white and blue-striped laundry bags that you buy at The Reject Shop for like two bucks. Affording one of these latter bags only a cursory glance, and you could be forgiven for thinking it less than structurally sound. Happily, they are tough little sons of bitches, and so I spent the morning carefully rationing out my piles of books into these two receptacles, trying to keep the weight and mass even across both units. Nevertheless, the duffel bag filled before the stripy bag did, so the stripy bag ended up holding the greater portion.
I set off from my place of residence at around 10:30am. The first thing I had to do was descend three flights of stairs. This was accomplished without injury, and so I commenced my laborious constitutional towards the station, only a few blocks away. The problem with the stripy bag is that it is very tall, and so unless the arm is bent, the bottom scrapes along the ground, and so it wasn’t enough for me to simply hold the handles in a deathgrip – I also had to give my biceps a workout. Anyway, I made it to the station, staggering like a man born with each leg shorter than the other, and made my way onto a train packed to the gills with Commonwealth Games revelers (I assumed). Upon arrival at Melbourne Central I disembarked, and was distraught to discover that, despite my cumbersome burden, I was still capable of walking faster than every other meandering cunt that was there, yet had no choice but to shuffle along behind them as they strolled nine abreast and filtered themselves onto the escalators.
At the top of the second escalator, within spitting distance of Borders, I considered abandoning my project and just going inside to look at one of those dodgy half-porno foreign photography magazines. Sadly, despite a profound weakness of both body and spirit, I did not do this, and instead stepped, or rather hobbled, out into the late morning sunshine of Swanston Street. There I determined to refresh myself with a cigarette, which I commenced to roll, and was immediately accosted by a man who asked for one of them, mentioning that he would not be paid until Monday. As we rolled our respective smokes we got to talking, as you do, and it turned out that he was a rather pleasant character indeed, a fan of speculative fiction and computer games (he was profoundly impressed when I mentioned that my favourite computer games of all time were System Shock 1 & 2) and, as it turns out, a writer, which is another thing that I claim to be, sometimes. To validate this claim, the man, named Julian and around 40 years of age, at a guess, presented me with the first few pages of an assignment that he was working on. I do not remember the precise details of the assignment, a sci-fi story, but it was reasonable enough for something thrust upon me by an absolute stranger in the middle of the street. Anyway, we chatted for a while longer and I gave him a couple more cigarettes, and we exchanged email addresses (I have no problem with giving my Hotmail address to a total stranger, but I draw the line at Gmail addresses). I boarded the next tram.
The tram trundled along Swanston Street towards Melbourne Uni. In my six years in Melbourne, every other tram I have been on, heading in that direction, has terminated at the superstop, instead of going around the corner along Elgin Street (and therefore putting me that much closer to the bookshop), and so naturally I assumed this one would as well. I took up my bags and deracinated myself, as it were, from the rich loam of the tram’s floor, and hopped onto the platform, still struggling with those ridiculous fucking bags. Naturally I was first surprised and then infuriated to see the tram merrily trundle its way around the corner, rather than going back in the direction we had just come from. Ah well, I said to myself, and chuckled at the curious ironies of life. I hefted up the bags, and headed those last couple of blocks along Swanston, towards Elgin, at the corner of which I stopped to compose myself. My shoulders were beginning to hurt, and the circulation to my fingers had been all but terminated, thanks to the biting handles of that stripy fucking bag. I shook my hands in order to restore life and, while I would not presume to bore you with recollections of the last phase of my journey along Elgin Street, let me tell you now that it was supremely unpleasant.
I made it to Book Affair, happily, and threw my bags up onto the counter. “Guess what’s in these?” I bellowed, and the man was kindly enough to humour my pathetic attempt at ingratiating myself towards him, in order that I might get a better price. For purposes of etiquette, I told him that while he was reviewing my submissions, I would take a look about the store. I vaguely recalled there being a Stanislaw Lem book lurking somewhere in the Sci Fi/Fantasy section. So I trotted off, failed to locate the Lem (or, indeed, anything else of interest, which was something of a surprise as usually I can find something good at this particular store). A few minutes later he actually put an announcement over the PA: “To the gentleman who brought the books in, we’re ready for you.” I returned to the counter and stroked the spectacularly fat cat that was there while the man told me that I could get $150 credit or $75 cash.
Had the purpose of my book cull been any other than to simply reduce the number of books in my collection to make our move to Brisbane fractionally more convenient, I would have taken the credit. Sadly, this was not the case, so like the pathetic junky that I am, I requested the money. There were a few books left, ones that he knew he would never be able to sell, so I took them back. We concluded our transaction and I went away. I had planned to meet a friend at a nearby pub, but it would still be several hours before he arrived. I left the books on a park bench up the road, and went back down Swanston Street to another secondhand bookstore that was there. I don’t know the exact name of it, but if the signage was any indicator, the store was simply called BOOKS. I went into BOOKS and picked up Hyperion and The Fall Of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, as well as John Crowley’s Little, Big for the missus (I had intended to resecure for her my old copy of The House Of Leaves from Book Affair, but somebody else had already bought it). I then walked to Alice’s Bookshop in Rathdowne Village, near enough to two clicks away, and I’m sorry, I know the guy’s written two relatively enjoyable books about the book trade (I gave them to my mum, however, after he made some disparaging comments about the television show Black Books, and also because I had determined that he was, to put it mildly, a bit of a wanker), but the place fucking stinks and the beardy guy behind the counter was an unfriendly cunt. Plus the stock is obscenely overpriced. Plus there was nothing there that I wanted. It would be a great bookstore if it a) got rid of its staff and b) marked everything down by 50% and c) got some proper books in, but as it stands, Alice’s is probably the dullest, most unpleasant bookstore in Melbourne, if not Victoria.
So I went back to Lygon Street, mooched around Borders reading Batman comics for an hour or so, and then went to meet my friend and we proceeded to get shellacked, which drew my attention away from my bodily injuries, at least until just now. As it is, I am typing this essay using my eyelids, for my torsal region is paralysed with pain.