Morrill Books, the coldest
bookstore in San Francisco, is walking distance from North Beach, which
from Chinatown, which is walking distance from the financial district.
This assumes you can walk from the northern tip of Lyon to 7th and
which I used to do when my right knee was younger. I can still walk
Columbus and Bay to 7th and Market. (Good for me!). If you walk around
North Beach and wander a little to the north, and a little to the west, chances are you can find
by accident, which is invariably the best way.
I live on the 2nd floor but part of my kitchen is on the ground floor. Long story. It's a little disorganized but I've given up trying to make it anything else. And I have the ugliest linoleum that anybody has ever seen. So why not do something about the linoleum? Because it's my linoleum. It serves as a reminder that I'm not an entirely public person.<>Morrill Books is an underground bookstore in more ways than one. We couldn't get a land use permit for retail so we don't make a lot of noise about who we are and what we're doing. We're not in the yellow pages for that reason and because we'd have to pay business rates, but we are on the bulletinboard at Dog Eared and City Lights, the last I checked. Too bad there's no bulletin board anymore at Mimi's.
Years ago, when I was unexpectedly destitute, I started selling off my used books. And then my friends dumped their books on me. They wanted to help. And later, they mostly just wanted to help the store out. Almost the same thing, but not quite. My friends are my best blessings even though, well, never mind. They also gave me old videos and CD's and strange knick-knacks which we sell now too but I haven't changed our name to Morrill Junk. We used be called "Books for Friends" but my ego pushed aside tradition.
You notice I sometimes say "we" which might be annoying. "We" means my cat, Solo Vino, and myself, but sometimes there are others who drop by and don't leave because they don't want to or because I make them think they don't want to. And sometimes I'm just thinking of my friends when using first person plural. Some still worry about me though I'm more secure than most of them now.
The profit margin on our new books is tiny. It pays for the food. (A very simple diet.) Our used books and junk, which cost me nothing, pay the mortgage. Lately it's been Fat City because I refinanced. We can lose money for the next three years.
Sometimes Alex comes over and draws or paints. He hangs his stuff on the wall and sometimes people actually buy it. Alex is clean, quiet, comfortable. He carries with him a jar of instant coffee. We almost never talk. I'm afraid of interrupting the "artistic process." Ha! And he's not a chatter. Alex used to be a student at the San Francisco Institute of Art and before that, he studied in Spain. Alex is nuts. Caca what tease.
Alex says he has two cats (I've never seen them) named Formica and Praxis. When Alex is at the table, I get to leave and take one of my walks.
Patty is another quiet one. More on her later, maybe. (She offends easily.) She feeds the coots in the "coot pond" in the park (Spreckels Lake). Throw the bread crumbs high enough and the seagulls get them midair. Too much cement around there for me. She used to live near those shops, Mystic Gardens, etc., on Ocean.
Jose has been coming by lately. He used to go to a storefront club for recovering alcoholics. He's never been an alcoholic but it was a place to hang out. Now he hangs out at the store.
We have tons of old National Geographics which I keep trying to put out in the recycling bin. Jose keeps carting them back in. And we have a growing number of self-published books and booklets. (We just started a publishing venture with a wonderful fellow who lives in Santa Cruz. More on that as things develop.)
Morrill Books has no heat. It's cold like a warehouse. Morrill Books is the coldest bookstore in San Francisco. I don't like being cold but saving on the gas bill has always been something I've obsessed over. One of these days I might change that habit because I really dislike being cold. And even my strangest friends think it's strange so it's something to worry about. Too bad there's no place for a wood stove. There's cardboard in the kitchen window. And there are cracks around some doors and windows that even let in daylight.
During the warmer seasons, some friends drop by with their children and sit on the floor and read to them. Even our new books are used, especially if they're children's books.
And now let me tell you about the basement. Didn't I tell you it's an underground bookstore? There's a leak in my basement and I don't know where the water is coming from. Let's call that Mystery Number One. Everything down there is on pallets. It smells like damp wood and damp stucco. All first time visitors to the basement are told to watch their step. The wiring is a little iffy too; another good reason to keep a low profile. (Lots of black plastic tape.) Something strange about the basement is that it's larger than the ground floor by almost (I estimate) three times and yet I'm the only one with access. I've looked and looked and looked but there are no signs of there ever being any other door than my own. That's Mystery Number Two.
Some friends and visitors have told me the basement is their favorite place on earth. When I think about making changes, they flip. (Sometimes I think something's wrong with me because I don't share their attachment but usually I act like something's wrong with them because, as I feel I must remind people incessantly, this is my place.)
The aisles are narrow. You have to be thin to pass by another thin person. And the shelves are high. I can't reach the two top shelves unless I stand on something. It's damp but nothing's been damaged yet. Along with books and videos and CD's, there's garage-sale sort of junk, tourist trinkets, but not from San Francisco and not from this decade. For example, there are tiny bottles of wine from Asti. And there's a pine cone that says Yosemite. Three sea shells glued together that say San Jose (my favorite.) And several music box carrosels that don't work but they may have been hand carved.
On the top floor is my futon and my clothes and the other half of my kitchen. The small square back window looks out onto other people's orderly gardens. The upstairs is a lot smaller than the ground floor. All the wood trim has been painted--painted before I moved in--with thick, hard, high gloss enamel. When you touch it, as people do when passing though a doorway, it feels cold, hard, and smooth like glass. The colors are, well, we're used to them. I'm used to them.
I love San Francisco and I've loved it ever since I was 14 but I don't go out as much as I used to. It can be a little dangerous. (You can wind up a little dead.) When I don't think about that, I take walks. Other times, it's just me and Solo Vino (and her stray friends) and our friends and our browsers. San Francisco streets can give you a lot of stress. And if you think about it, it's sad the way it's changed. I saw a mugging in Portsmouth Square right in front of the Goddess of Democracy statue. The children kept playing on the playground equipment. None of their parents pulled out a cell phone to report it. A beautiful walking city with good reason to stay indoors. Sad. But that's love.
Sigh. On Fisherman's Wharf, before the Wax Museum, before Ripley's, before that strange rain forest restaurant, there used to be the trumpeter in a box. His performance depended on the donation, down to the penny. He, I think it was a he, changed my life. I try not to go there anymore.
When I go out I like to hop a bus to Golden Gate Park. I like to sit on the benches in the music concourse. My favorites? The one that says "The Gemini Lunch Bunch" and the one that says "Mel Swig." A plan of mine is to make rubbings of all the bench plates. The concourse is like the center of the universe. If you ever want to find me, that's a good place to look--sitting on "Mel Swig," so to speak. The old de Young Museum was one of my favorite buildings of all time. (Some of the art was nice too.) The new building makes me sad. I go there now mostly out of habit, I guess. There are young swing dancers on Sundays near the large fountain.
Lately I've been hiking around Sutro Baths and visiting Loui's Cafe (family owned since 1937). I used to love the Musee Mechanique beneath the Cliff House--a place too good to be true. And now the truth is it's no longer there. The Doggie Diner head is back. That means a lot. It gives me some sort of faith. What forces came together to restore that monument? Good forces, for sure. Take a look at that huge dog head and you know that there are still good, powerful forces at work all around us. Dog spelled backwards and all that.
And sometimes I limp south on Grant until I get to Market and I walk a block over to the Hearst Building. I drop off books for Mr. Davis the doorman (if that's what his job title is) when nobody is coming or going. Mr. Davis, who just turned 70, is quiet too. Walk by and wave to him though he won't wave back. And don't open the door!
When I visit the steps of Lyon St., I'm almost always the only one there which accentuates the peculiar fairly tale high. I come down off it by walking the length of Divisadero.
What else? Oh. I'm coming to you now by the electronic grace of a Mac laptop which shares the table with Alex when Alex drops by. We are a loose affiliate of Amazon.com. A devil's bargain. No, not really. It's a hell of a company. I love Amazon. We'd go under without them and J. D. Salinger.
What else? Personal data: I wear glasses. My hair doesn't reach my shoulders. I wear flannel shirts which could pass for pajama tops but they're not. I look like I must have been happy when I was younger. I look too old now, especially when I don't smile, so I try to remember to smile, but I forget, probably because I have a bad knee and it's cold. (My d___ knee, by the way, is getting better.) I'm told I look like a particular singer, and though I see it myself, modesty prohibits being the one to tell you. I probably have pretty amazing crow's feet when I smile but I don't know for sure because it's been a long, long time since I've had a lover or smiled in a mirror.
But enough about me. For now. (It's hard to stop.) I really should write about my friends and not about me. They're much more interesting and they have better stories. There's Krisha Song and her mom, for example. And then there's Robbie, who in a world of "each according to his need," would get an enormous amount of love, so I make it a point to love him in part due to a socialist bent. (Click here to see a photo of him with one of his biggest fans.) And then there's Tall Man who is, you guessed it, short. He has a limited vocabulary like he's channeling a primitive. He play-acts other characters and he does it constantly but we always call him Tall Man. And there's Famous Jane (there was a film made about her) who is a major penguin authority (really) and now lives near a cliff in Pacifica. And Nadia who traveled all the way to Africa to save penguins. And Danny. And poor Scott. The best bike buddy in the world is Crystal Waters (That's her pictured above. I did her hair.) Patience Carter, of course, the teacher/writer/critic, who was voted Most Likely to Become Part of the Furniture (by a show of hands.) And there are others. The string of ever changing regulars, otherwise known as store squatters and cult members.
Something new that we just started (redundant or
is our donation
We're all fools so it's just second nature here to part with our
And don't forget to support our troops--the ones who
go AWOL. Take a look out Adopt A
And I could talk you to death about food. I am a fanatic. But later. I talk books, too. Books, books, books. How did it all happen? They're all over the place. They bother me. But when I'm away for a few days, I miss them. Strange. A love/hate relationship with the printed word. Sad when a good out-of-print book is sold and leaves us. Sad, too, when a smart looking person buys a stupid book. There are days when I want to shut it down and move to Italy and just be poor there. Of course I can't do that, but I think about it, and threaten it, especially in these winter months. I bet it's warm there, right? But what would I do with all these books? And these people? And this junk? I also dream about getting a remote cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains and just wrapping myself up in an electric blanket which I'll have hooked to a car battery, I guess. That dream needs a little work, obviously.
That's enough for now.
Back to the store.
To send me email: it's sarah and then my last name and then aol dot com.
If you want to know where to stay while visiting, try the San Remo
Hotel. It's close.
If you want to know contract information for Daniel Handler or J. D. Salinger, go ahead, make me laugh.