Over the next few weeks, I hope to compose and collect here a series of my own memories and experiences regarding the bookstore chain Borders, who has decided to liquidate today. On my Twitter feed, @erikbader, I have listed the first few important books I remember purchasing from Borders with the glum hashtag #booksiboughtatborders. The news, though inevitable, is still a lot to take in. As I am currently in the process of assembling a website that contains all of my unpublished novels that I once imagined would be found on a shelf at a Borders, I see that the chain existed even in the fictional worlds I created, where ironically it will now live on forever.
The first entry is from my unpublished 2001 novel The Pilot and the Panda.
From Book One:
The days run on. What more can one do but sit back and watch them run? There they go, off they go, running along. You can’t stop them. You can only watch. I tried to kill my time in a way that the days wouldn’t end up running me over. I left them to their designs and they left me to mine. The days were getting hotter and hotter, and I preferred to spend my quality time sitting in Rittenhouse Square, seated on a bench with a newspaper or a book or just my thoughts, watching everyone walk by and relaxing the best I could. If you got there early enough you could find yourself a bench under foliage that provided ample enough shade, a bench which afforded you the perfect combination of shade and people-watching angles. I was good at finding those benches, and I got good enough at spending time there that I knew which benches to move to as the hot sun made its shifty way from morning to noon to afternoon. In this respect, I was a professional park resident. It was a nice place to be and if you treated it right it treated you right. All good parks work under this precept. The park accepted everyone: the rich, the poor, the beautiful, the ugly, the sane, the totally bonkers. We all sat in the park together and we were having a summer. When the heat rose to unbearable levels, I crossed over Walnut Street to Borders Books. Borders was air-conditioned and there were comfortable chairs where I could read new books and new magazines and loiter to my hearts content. There was also a water fountain which delivered its goods ice-cold. Once on a particularly confused afternoon I heard the in-store intercom system say “David, house local, David, house local,” and I actually believed that this was a cue to the store security to come bust me because I was a house local, that is, a perpetual loiterer. Luckily I escaped before anyone found me. I stole a glossy magazine too, just to spite the bastards for trying.
From Book Three:
Anything would trigger my reveries. I would be in the Borders, nervously reading magazines while surreptitiously observing an enchanting lady with a Prada bag impatiently flipping through an issue of Cosmopolitan, and suddenly I’d notice the new issue of The New Yorker and I’d picture my name on the cover. If only that was my name there in the huge blue font, I’d grab the woman by the sleeve and say “Hey, you see that name…” at which point I’d pound my chest with my fist, “that name…is my name! I’m that guy! Dave Baxter…the author! The published author!”
I would be admitted into the finest of resturaunts with name alone. Neil Stein, Steven Starr, all the big shots in the Philadelphia resturaunt business, would let me dine for free because they’d know I’d bring in customers. I’d walk in with my new Brooks Brothers suit and notebook, hunker down at bar of the Striped Bass, and order countless gin and tonics while charming the pants off of all the fancy ladies who came up asking me to autograph my latest collection of poems. And they’d thank me profusely, but I’d just say, “Hey forget, it, don’t thank me, thank Neil, because it’s his joint and without great food like this I’d never have become the writer I am now!” Not that I had ever been in the Striped Bass. But often, walking down Walnut Street in the cold, would I dream of all the great food within.
Or else, sitting in my room listening to NPR on my radio, I’d hear Terry Gross interview some latest hack writer and I’d begin to imagine she was interviewing me:
“So would you say Philadelphia has influenced your writing?” she’d ask in her silky erudite voice.
“Oh certainly, Terry! The streets, the buildings, the people…every ounce of it goes into my writing. It’s a tough town, for sure, but it’s rewarding.”
“I’ve heard that you have a close relationship with Mayor Rendell. How did that come about?”
“Oh you mean Fast Eddie? It’s a funny story, really. I bumped into him once at a signing I was giving at Borders. He just came up to me and said he was a huge fan of my writing and invited me out to lunch. He’s a terrific man and a wonderfully effective mayor. I stand behind his politics one hundred percent. He’s doing great things for this city.”
“People have compared your writing to everyone from John Dos Passos to William Faulkner to the ‘J.D. Salinger of today.’ How do you feel about such comparisons?”
“The Salinger of today?” I’d chuckle. “Oh now that’s rich. Well I take it all in stride. Certainly I’ve been influenced by the greats, how could I not? But I’d have to say my main influence would have to be my heart. And of course my lovely wife.”
“You’ve been nominated to win the Pulitzer Prize. This must be terribly exciting.”
“It certainly is, Terry. But I simply cannot let something like that go to my head. To me, I’m just another kid from the city. I’m just like you or anyone else. If anyone should win a prize, it would be my parents. I owe everything to them.”
“I’d like to remind our listeners that you’re listening to Fresh Air. This is Terry Gross, and my guest today is the local author David Baxter. His new novel about Philadelphia, entitled The City of Brotherly Love, has been on the New York Times best seller list for nearly two months, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. This is Fresh Air…back in a moment.”