A Strange Goodbye

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Living at Shakespeare & Company was good although not in the ways I’d expected. Having to be there to help open and close at noon and midnight, in addition to a two hour shift at some point between, really broke up the day. We all found it difficult to spend any substantial amount of time reading or writing. I had some conversations with the 93 year old owner, George Whitman, while cleaning his apartment and he was very bold in explaining how writers staying there never had to work when he ran the store (his daughter runs it now). The point was to be hospitable and to foster creativity and learning. However, I did find ways to make the time constructive. I tried getting my shift as early as possible, then would take off to a café where they’d let me sit with one cup of hot chocolate all afternoon. I didn’t get too much reading done, but I’m currently in the middle of four fictional short stories, so all time was not wasted.


I made a few great friends while staying at the bookstore. There was a Carl from Texas who told us stories about the times he’d been really drunk and he only tells them when he’s really drunk, Omar from San Diego who wanted to believe in my magic so bad that he would run and hide if anyone started talking about how they thought it was done and Brian, a recent graduate from Brown University who writes mostly with words I’ve never heard of and hangs out in the same parts of Providence as me although we’d never met. There were others who came and left while I was there, but these are the ones who I connected with. Every night after close in the front library (see pictures) we’d boil up pasta on an electric burner and break bread to dip in giant jugs of Nutella hazelnut spread. They would drink wine, I would do magic tricks and we’d end the night with philosophical conversations and readings of things we’d written or found in the library. I have a hope and good feeling I’ll stay friends with them all.

I got along well with the employees there too. One guy was a challenge, since he was so high strung and ruled by the sword, but having nothing to lose I was able to feel compassion for him. One of the local drunks who hung around on the benches outside the store didn’t feel so bad for him though. On my last night there, in one of a number of ways I could imagine it happening, Jonathan’s attitude with the drunk somehow escalated things to the point where the drunk attacked him, breaking his glasses.

That was only the start of an interesting last night. While Johnathan was battling the drunk, I was at a café around the corner writing. I’d been there since four and it was then around eleven. Amanda, a girl that had been staying at the store for a couple days and who stayed quiet no matter how many times I tried engaging her in conversation, walked into the café as I was getting up to leave. She was buying a coffee, so I sat with her to try chatting for a bit. She talked plenty then and invited me to leave Paris with her and her friends by car the next morning. They were driving to Barcelona with a one night stop in the south of France. I asked how much, she said free and I said I was in. I had been thinking earlier that day that I was ready to leave the bookstore, so it was good timing. I didn’t do and see everything I wanted to in Paris, but I love the city and know I’ll be back at some point not long from now.

After a long drawn out close, with Sylvia Whitman sticking around because of the drunk-attack, we all gathered in the library to see them off. They would lock us in every night, so if we wanted to go out, someone had to stay to open the door. That night, two of the other guys staying there had some ladies waiting outside. While closing Johnathan made some comment about not having anyone in afterwards, but it sounded like another one of his random orders based in nothing more than an expression of authority, so none of us paid much attention to it. When they were gone, the ladies came up to hang out. We all sat and talked and made pasta as usual. A few of the smokers sat in the window puffing, laughing and relaxing. About a half hour later, Johnathan and Sylvia came back, storming up the stairs and busting into the library. They kicked the girls out and there was yelling about the smoking. Sylvia stood in the doorway expressing her distaste towards all of us. Although one of the guys tried explaining the situation and that it was not the fault of everyone, she heard nothing and proceeded to comment that “my father just might kick all of you out in the morning and if he does I wouldn’t give a shit”. She was angry and not listening and it made you see all of her at once as someone who gets that way often. I had my head down watching my shuffle of a blue deck of bicycle cards, feeling unfairly held guilty by association and she slammed the big wooden door hard, making me jump. That was the last time I saw Sylvia Whitman and Johnathan and everyone else at Shakespeare & Company bookstore.

The next morning, on three hours sleep, I packed up and joined Amanda and her two friends in a little lime green compact car on a drive south. I slept most of the ride and slept in the car that night. We stayed in a small village near Carcassonne, France and I awoke to large green rolling hills spotted with wild flowers and little stone houses. In the morning we hyper-toured a castle, then drove on to Barcelona. They talked and they talked and I tried to make good practice at finding my annoyance with their conversation of life in Orange County and how things in France were “so random” as a reflection of myself, but it wasn’t easy. There were no beds at the hostels when we arrived, so I slept in the car again. This time it was parked in a garage with bright fluorescent lights. I had a cough and heartburn and my back hurt. There were no toilets; just flat, slick cement in the quiet garage, so I urinated in an empty apple juice container and put the cap back on leaving it on the ground and wondering if someone might pick it up and drink it since it looked like apple juice.

Tonight I have a bed in Barcelona. It’s in a hostel by a topless beach. :-O

From L to R: Brian, Me, Carl, Gabriel, Sara. Upstairs front library at Shakespeare & Company. Taken by the French-Chinese photojournalist 'Zeng Nian' who was doing a story on the store.
From L to R: Brian, Me, Carl, Gabriel, Sara. Upstairs front library at Shakespeare & Company. Taken by the French-Chinese photojournalist ‘Zeng Nian’ who was doing a story on the store.

This is the upstairs front library where I sat to read and write while living at the store. Notre Dame iand the Sine River are right out the window. Customers would come in and take pictures of the room.
This is the upstairs front library where I sat to read and write while living at the store. Notre Dame and the Sine River are right out the window. Customers would come in and take pictures of the room.

4 Thoughts on “A Strange Goodbye”

  1. kevin Says:

    tell me you took pictures of the “large green rolling hills spotted with wild flowers and little stone houses.” After reading others comments to what you have been writing i agree..it is getting better and better. thanks for the update.

  2. mark Oltedale Says:

    JPM,

    Your writting about your travels and experiences remains riviting, I look forward to getting the updates, it’s a great diversion from the day to day.

    Mark

  3. Jeff Says:

    That library looks cozy… Looking forward to previews of the short stories you’re working on.

  4. Brian Says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading about your experiences in France. I was the canadian that toured the Paris catacombs with you. I returned to Paris just over a month later with the hope of staying at shakespeare and co. but sadly there was no vacancy. I bought a cheap guitar and spent a week busking outside Notre Dame before returning home.

    Great website, interesting stories.

    Brian

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