Jack’s Take on (parts of) Philadelphia

Jack gives Wendy an afternoon off to take a long, hot bath, and offers his impressions of the glorious charm that is Philly.

In the 1980s and early 1990s I toured around Europe with my folk-band Heritage and then, with my band mate George, branching into the States. The book tour on which Wendy and I are currently engaged has reminded me very much of those days: driving long miles between gigs, meeting lots of interesting and engaging folk, and swinging between fast food and gourmet meals. Last night we stepped slightly away from the book activities to give a house concert organized by Eileen and Ray, the friends we stayed with here in Philadelphia (in the wonderful and palatial house of their friends Jean and Pat). House concerts are a peculiarly American concept, and this one was well attended by folk who joined in every chorus with more enthusiasm than I’ve experienced in a long time (including the rather silly ‘Railway Porter’ and the infamous ‘Counting Backwards Song’ which some adults won’t sing because they always get the numbers wrong). ‘Twas a lovely night.

This morning we discovered a real bookstore-owning character in the shape of Greg Williams of ‘Walk a Crooked Mile Books.’ The shop is half of an old train station and a gloriously riotous and ramshackle building on the historic register, with bookshelves stuffed everywhere you can imagine (including, to Wendy’s delight, the bathroom). Outside he has a ready-made amphitheater where he puts on frequent music events. Greg proved very willing to spend time chatting and comparing notes about the things bookstore owners tend to have in common: borderline poverty, endless boxes of donations, and the joyful exuberance of getting to run one.

Crooked Mile’s staff cat Cici sat silent and plump at our feet during our discussion. Greg said she hadn’t so much applied for the job as created the position; she appeared one day “and that was that.”

It is hard to convey the delight one feels at finding a kindred bookslinger. Greg is a shelf-building, free-thinking, problem-solving kind of guy with a long white beard and eyes crinkly with laugh lines. We started trading book questions: “Do you make people pay half in cash, or will you take all trade credit?” “What do you do with older paperback fiction?” “Do you ever get….” Etc. We did etc. for about an hour, until other customers entered and we said farewell.

Tomorrow we’ll tell you about our book signing at The Spiral Bookcase. Today, we bask in the glow of knowing there are other shops stuffed to the gills with the eternal library of human knowledge, run by bookslingers who know the value of what we contribute to the world.

BTW, Greg also writes a blog, which can be found at http://www.walkacrookedmilebooks.com

(Cici, the shop cat, proved camera shy. This is the best we could do.)


Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Uncategorized

10 responses to “Jack’s Take on (parts of) Philadelphia

  1. Lara Maynard

    There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile,
    He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
    He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
    And they all lived together in a little crooked house. (Love that! –

  2. Greg Williams

    Thank you, Jack and Wendy, for a very flattering picture of our shop. I really enjoyed your visit and wished we could have talked longer but life dictated otherwise. I do hope that you will stop by on the spring leg of your trip and be a “guest artist” and do a concert for us. T’would be great fun. Lara, you got the reference perfectly. I don’t want to correct Jack, but C.C. (short for Crooked Cat) as you discerned, usually preens for photos like a wanton hussey, but the fact that all they got of her was her tail end, tells me she took some offense at being named something as desultory (and French) as Ci Ci. She’s slowly getting over it and will be approachable again come spring. Enjoy the rest of your trip.
    Greg Williams
    Walk a Crooked Mile Books

  3. Greg Williams

    Well, I’ve never tried catnip before, Greg is pretty straight arrow when it comes to hallucinogens, but I’ll try anything once, especially if you’ll let me sniff your hand and then scratch under my chin.

    • Anything for you, C.C.!

      Perhaps you have some training comments for our staff kitten, Owen Meany. He’s….. he’s….. how can I put this? The other day he pushed a wine glass off the table, and when it shattered jumped down to try and eat the glass.

      Is “dumb” the word that would fit? Perhaps we could go with “young and inexperienced.” Any pointers? (Wendy)

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