A Southern Oasis

January 2, 2016

A few days ago, I went to visit my in-laws down in Florida. My wife and I were warmly received, as we always are. We’d last been to see them in 2013. They live in the area of Palm Bay, about an hour’s drive outside of Orlando. It’s fairly rural, and I appreciated being out in nature again, something I miss, living in New York. At my mother in law’s house, when you go outside at night, with no street lights, it’s pitch black, and very quiet. You never know what’s out there in the dark, looking at you. Gator, possum, skunk ape, who knows. Some people don’t like that type of seclusion, but I love it. I could definitely see myself getting used to it.

We decided to go to this huge flea market that the family enjoys. We went to the same one two years ago, and, if anything, it was even bigger this time. The clientele are, unabashedly, rednecks. My wife was walking past a group and she heard the term “sand nigger” thrown out. It was an unfortunate reminder, not that any was needed, of what is, and continues to be, wrong with the south. We lived in North Myrtle Beach, so we know what it’s all about. As I’ve talked about on the blog before, I consider below the Mason/Dixon a fun place to visit, but I would never want to live there again.

There are some great stores and booths in that Flea Market, like the one with all the knives and swords and other bladed weapons, where my wife’s grandfather insisted that we each pick out something so he could buy it for us. I didn’t protest too much. I’ve loved weapons since I was a kid, too. But really the reason I had wanted to come back was for the bookstore.

There are books scattered throughout the flea market, but only one actual bookstore, almost big enough to rival the Barnes and Noble here in Union Square. The books are used, and marked down to a fraction of the cover price, as you would expect in a flea market. But I must say, the sheer volume and selection of what was on display made this a treasure trove for me, a guy who still goes for the physical book, and shuns the Kindle or other tablets. Here, in the welcome air conditioning, I found stacks of old Stephen King, Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, Michael Crichton, and Elmore Leonard, a much better selection than even The Strand, my favorite used bookstore in New York. Here, I found much more than I knew would fit in the large empty suitcase we had brought with us, specifically for this purpose. Here, the rich smell of old paper, nothing else like it, permeated the air, and the silence, but for the occasional rustle as a customer turned a page, was deep, and mysterious, and total. I could almost swear that I could feel the books communing with each other, sharing their stories, even as I was forced to get only what I wanted most, leaving behind so many unexplored tales, so many as-yet undiscovered authors. More than anything else, I wanted my own books to be among them, sharing shelf space with the greats. But I had no problem putting my ambitions aside for a time, and approaching this oasis as only a passionate fan of fiction, just as I’ve been since I was a child.

When I’d made my selections, I approached the withered mummy of a saleswoman, her age impossible to determine, though she seemed to be sitting in literally the exact same spot, with the exact same posture, as when I’d seen her two years before. I could have haggled with her about the price, as one does at these places, but I didn’t bother. I felt like she probably needed the money more than I, not a usual sentiment for me, but apropos, in this case. Maybe I was way off base, but I felt like I could probably see this woman living in a trailer somewhere, and who was I to argue about a couple of dollars, when I would doubtless take many hours of pleasure from my new purchases? When I walked back out into the blinding sunlight of central Florida, mid-eighties even in late December, I wondered when, and if, I might be back. In 2016, we plan on moving out of NYC, and that will doubtless be taking up most of our time. We won’t be able to make a Florida run. Maybe it’ll be another two years before I see the place again, or maybe longer, or maybe never. In any case, there’s something special about that flea market bookstore. A little slice of heaven for me, the book lover, a little air-conditioned oasis, where the stories are plentiful, and possibility abounds.


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