Monday, March 9, 2009

An Anecdotal History of the Strand Bookstore-Part I

The Strand is the Foyle's of New York City-Foyle's being a British institution since 1906 and the Strand existing on Book Row and Broadway since 1927, having moved to its present location in the late 1950's.Owner Fred Bass had the foresight to purchase the building at Broadway and 12th St many years ago and thereby was able to insulate his successful business from blinding increases in rent as well as take advantage of New York's lucrative real estate market for commercial space.

I have spent a decent portion of a lifetime haunting its nooks and crannies, and watching it grow in value and importance to bookselling in, and the cultural foundations of, New York as other stores on Book Row-4th Ave running up to Union Square- closed and were boarded up to be replaced by a host of branded irrelevancies.

And we all have tales to tell- some of which must remain classified to protect the
not so innocent.

Not fabricated embarrassing story of enormous social importance No 1-

In the mid 1960's and for a couple of decades thereafter , the Strand had an interior bathroom in the middle of the first floor, which was neither air conditioned nor well ventilated. This was all in the period before the furnishing and ventilation were enormously improved in the 1990's; they remain so to this day. The Strand bathroom during the 1960's was tiny, malodorous and even more difficult to adjust to than the commode on an airplane.

On a cold winter's day, I sat on the throne, did my business and as is my wont peered briefly beneath my shivering legs to watch gravity carry off what appeared to be two purple pieces disappearing down the bowl- In a state of shock, I spent 15 minutes feverishly looking in the medical section for an encyclopedia that would shed light on this bizarre and I thought potentially life- threatening symptom. I found nothing definitive, and still overcome with anxiety, went to a nearby coffee shop to have a diet coke and a piece of pie. As I was pulling my wallet out of my back pocket, it suddenly hit me that the purple material was two opera tickets to see Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera(part of an assignment in my Music Humanities course at Columbia College). They had fallen out of that pocket as I contortedly wriggled my butt to get out of the stinking toilet as quickly as possible.Relieved that the source of this crepuscular vision was two pieces of paper, but annoyed that I would have to repurchase tickets for myself and a friend, I proceeded to do so ( standing room only) and waited on line in the snow outside the old Met Opera House on west 39th st for over two hours, contracting bronchitis as a result.

ps- Next time I bought opera tickets -to Siegfried with Birgit Nillson I believe- I stapled them to my shirt and by accident to my chest- thus presaging the invention of punk years before its time.

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