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I am a serious book collector, and San Francisco used to be a serious town for the likes of me. I buy 'em used, sometimes by the carton-load, and upon occasion I resell to selected fair buyers.
Independent booksellers have taken a beating, first by the big national chains, and then by the Internet. Recently Powell's, the huge ("square block of a million books") used book store in Portland, Oregon, has been sending its agents down to San Francisco to offer PUNY lump sums for the entire inventories of targeted local used book sellers, to induce them to drop out of the increasingly difficult market, and thus increase Powell's share.
The San Francisco Chronicle article breaking the story behind two recent local shop closings, involving incentives offered by Powell's of Portland, was waved in my face by Tracy, the petite owner of Lifetime Books, a used book shop in town. She knew that I, of all people, would want/need to know.
The story broke this summer, just after one SF shop closed without warning, another announced its imminent closing, and yet another was winding down toward closing. I plopped down in the big naugahyde armchair by Tracy's bookpile-covered front counter, so that she and I could hash this out, after picking up dinner for us both, next door. I knew it'd be a long discussion, and that Tracy would be indignant and very vocal.
Tracy explained/ranted that she would NEVER sell out to Powell's. She was disgusted that her colleagues were doing so, rather than soliciting offers from herself and other struggling locals in the business. So committed, in fact, was Tracy to the Cause of Independent (local) Bookselling that she'd recently started up a second (unrelated) business, just so that she wouldn't be starved-out as a book retailer! This was, indeed, her consuming interest.
Tracy (O, age 50) was a tiny spitfire (5 feet tall, without the Harley helmet or spike heels), and her counter was a neighborhood hub. She knew titles, authors, editions, everything a bookseller needs to know, yet she was no intellectual: She was, rather, a very diligent hound, scouring the papers and Web for news of library sales, garage sales, etc. She'd regularly comb thrift shops and sniff through all sorts of charity bins. And then, at her counter while hobnobbing with her usual customers and friends, she'd mylar-cover the dust jacket of each hardcover she'd acquired.
I knew Tracy's buying preferences pretty well. Any bag of my outgoing tomes that I knew she'd want, she'd in fact want. She'd issue Store Credit in return (which I'd immediately use!). Kind of a symbiotic thing.
* * * * * * * *
A few weeks ago, I brought a bag of surefire titles to her store, but an employee was behind the counter, saying Tracy hadnt come in: She didn't feel well (was having a headache and a "pinched nerve in her neck"), so there'd be no purchases that day. I had a heavy load, so I left and sold the books immediately elsewhere.
A couple of days later, I passed by to say hello, but Tracy was still out sick. "What's wrong?" I asked, seeing that same (previously very part-time) employee. I was told she was still in pain, so she'd decided to ... go for a chiropractic adjustment.
"But what's the DIAGNOSIS?" I asked. "This isn't like Tracy, to be down for days on end. Has she seen a doctor?" "No," he replied, "And I know what you mean...But then, she says she THINKS the chiropractor MIGHT actually have helped."
"'THINKS'? 'MIGHT'? And helped WHAT?" I argued. "She doesn't even know what's wrong! She has a severe headache for DAYS? it came on SUDDENLY?" I was disgusted. I would have given her a piece of my mind -- I bought a book and left.
Four days later, I was passing Tracy's store and thought I'd go in and get the lowdown from Tracy herself. But there was that employee again (I've since become friendly with him)! "Still??!" I asked.
"Tracy died," he said softly. And then, "And this is her brother, in from Colorado...It WAS more than a pinched nerve..." The brother sat glassy-eyed in the big naugahyde chair. "I just cremated my sister," he said, gazing from some distant mental tundra. Long silence.
"Did she pop an aneurysm?" I asked. The two men looked at me, astonished. "How'd you know?" asked the brother, suddenly alert.
"Because of her sex and age, because of the abruptness of onset, the symptom of headache, but most of all, frankly, because of the outcome."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Just a week previously, Tracy and I had discussed what the imminent (9/30/06) closing of a landmark bookstore a block away would mean for her own business. She was hoping to adopt some of those customers as her own. "We'll see", she said, ever the optimist. "I'm ready for 'em,"
And she was. Her eye for titles had gotten better and better, with every year --- PLUS: She was on the upswing, having just started the 2nd business and moved to a new apartment, which she'd wanted me to help her decorate... But - DANG! - I could really read her the riot act here: She went to her CHIROPRACTOR, with a sudden, excruciating headache and neuro-deficit symptoms, thinking "pinched nerve", and "I need 'an adjustment.'" She even told her boyfriend, after she'd come-to from a repeated faint: "Don't you DARE call 9-1-1!"
Look, folks, I can be as holistic as the next guy - sorta - but Tracy urgently needed medical attention: Specifically, an angiogram or MRI. She'd even had a few days' window to obtain it immediately: This isn't England or Canada, where such testing only comes after weeks or months on some waiting list; any San Francisco Emergency Room would have worked her up for Intracranial Hemorrhage. (As it turns out, that's what happened, when it was too late: Tracy was indeed admitted to the hospital, where she promptly lapsed into a coma, convulsed, and died.)
I'm continually amazed by people who choose Chiropractic over emergency medicine, especially for sudden-onset headache. And I'm positively vitriolic toward practitioners who DON'T say, "Y'know what? See a medical doctor first: Your life might depend on it."
My friend Shelley, also 50, also type O, had collapsed at her own store in 1999, and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where her cerebral aneurysm was surgically repaired; she survived: Gradual but complete recovery, returned to work, etc.
But Tracy will not return to work, at this crucial time for her Pet Obsession. Tracy will not be a part of what becomes of her Cause or her store. (Powell's of Portland? "Over my dead body!" Tracy would have quipped, winking, and stomping in her inimitable clipped and bug-eyed way [Thyroid]. And then she'd give off a big burst of a laugh.)
* * * * * * * *
1. Go out today and support your local independent (used) bookseller. Browse those stacks, and make it a habit. Do it for Tracy! Take up the Cause!
2. Don't categorically write off Allopathic Medicine. As you can see, the stakes are just too high. Be definitively diagnosed; THEN make educated choices. Remember Tracy, who, a couple of weeks ago, had a new business, a new apartment, and more spunk and spark than any 5 women half her age. She was dying, and she went to the Chiropractor.
3. If you're a Chiropractor, remember Tracy. It's okay to suspect the worst and do the prudent thing. Otherwise, someone could lose a sister, a wife, a daughter...or a friend.
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