On Thanksgiving Day I had an accident. No one was hurt. No real damage done. It happened this way. I was at the Texas Lone Star Bar in Washington Square signing copies of The Vincent Calvino Reader’s Guide and The Corruptionist. The Guide is a small book–same size as a Lonely Planet phrase book. Fits snuggly like a pack of cigarettes into a shirt pocket.
There was a large crowd in attendance. As one would expect as the bar offered a free Thanksgiving Day dinner. That brought in what is called by locals “The Balloon Chasers” – a group of expats who find free food joints by the balloons put outside to attract customers into the bar.
I sat at a bench in the corner. Books piled on the table. A reader from Hawaii asked me to sign books for him and to keep them for him as he wanted to drink and eat gravy without spilling any on the books. Good idea. I placed the books on the bench. As I was signing books, the pile of signed books somehow was knocked over on the bench. The Guide (remember fits into the shirt pocket size) was dislodged and fell into a crack between the bench and wall. The crack was large enough to swallow the book but too small to reach down and fish it out.
Old George’s driver (ex-driver, as Old George is deceased) was called upon to retrieve the missing book. He went off and returned with a long coil of wire. One of those makeshift lengths that looked suspiciously like what was used to unclog the toilets (another story). The ex-driver spent ten minutes fishing for the book with the coiled wire. In the process he started to dismantle the paneling. One strip at a time, exposing the bare concrete wall. By this time the assistant cook was on her back under the bench trying to pull the book out from the bottom end.
By this time there was quite a crowd gathered around the bench. Photographs were taken of the ex-driver and assistant cook as if they were part of a crime scene. Everyone was cheering them on. It soon became apparent that short of getting a jacket hammer to tear down the wall or a chain saw to dismember the bench that neither one would get to the book.
I finally intervened and asked them to leave the book in its dark resting place. Rumors have circulated for many years that Washington Square would be torn down by the rows of shabby shophouses and rebuilt into a glistening complex of chrome and steel condos and shopping malls. Sooner or later that will happen. When the wrecking ball strikes the Texas Lone Star Bar, a worker who is paid $6 a day will likely find the Vincent Calvino Reader’s Guide signed for Kevin, and either throw it back in the rubble or sell it on the street for $2.
Accidents are random. They shape how we remember things. And they influence the creation of stories upon which memories are built. For that Thanksgiving Day signing, a lot of people won’t remember the turkey or the signing, but they will remember the ex-driver and assistant cook, working together to dislodge a small book about a private eye who used to frequent the bar of lost things, lost causes and lost people.