Friday, June 16, 2017

Westgate Book Exchange

I was only at the Westgate Book Exchange, on West Charleston Boulevard, next to M&M Soul Food Cafe, once, which may explain why it's gone now. We went to West Charleston here in Las Vegas to try M&M Soul Food Cafe, and when we left, I drifted next door to Westgate. I am always pulled to stores that have extensive book collections, including the Goodwill in downtown Ventura, which I count as half a bookstore because of the huge wall of books it has near the register.

This one had rows upon rows of well-organized paperbacks, and there's even a photo on its old Yelp listing showing exactly that. I loved how whoever ran this shop had the mysteries organized so well, and while I don't read them often, I always want to find something markedly different when I'm in the mood. Hence this one that I'm reading right now which came from the Westgate Book Exchange: Flamingo Fatale: A Trailer Park Mystery by Jimmie Ruth Evans.

In our first year in Las Vegas, we lived in a mobile home park way down the street from Sam's Town, and though that's not quite the same as the trailers featured in this mystery, I know the atmosphere. I know the people. I know how loud the irritable, battling Lundys got toward each other diagonal from us. They didn't even have to be in their screened-in patio, and you could hear them. But they were history. They had been there since 1992, when Valley Vista All-Ages Mobile Home Park opened. It's under new ownership now, a different name, but I'll bet that the Lundys are still there, still sore at each other, still sitting in that screened-in patio on those rare quiet nights, looking over their tiny kingdom.

I know the Christmas decorations, how elaborate some of the neighbors got, and especially before, at Halloween, when one mobile home made it positively atmospheric. Not just the usual cobwebs and the fake bats, but dry ice fog for that night, with an almost-supernatural tinge.

So this mystery is definitely for me, but this is the first time that I've opened it since I bought it, an eventually futile attempt to read a great deal of what I have that's not part of my permanent book collection before we move. We're looking to move with as little as possible, not just for cost, but because Ventura has so much to offer for us, from antique stores to the bookstores I will most certainly frequent. Right now, I have a yen for world-class pianist Oscar Levant's books, but I don't want to search for them online. I've done so much of that in the past four years and had so many books shipped to me, simply because the only available bookstore nearby was Barnes & Noble on Stephanie here in Henderson, and my absolutely local library (located on the same side of the street as my apartment complex, though about 15-20 minutes to walk there) doesn't offer much that's truly adventurous, and certainly not that.

I want to browse those bookstores, seeking nothing in particular, but keeping Levant's books in the back of my mind on the off chance that I happen upon them. I want to give my money to the town, to support these businesses so they'll stay open. Salzer's, which has its music store on the left side of the turnpike, and its DVD rental store on the right side of the turnpike, has been open since the '70s, and in its current location since 1985, at least the video store side. Its owner, Jim Salzer, looks like if Derek Jacobi had spent his entire life in Southern California. That's where I want to be, in person, always in person. I'll rent from them once in a while, surely, and browse as often as I intend to haunt those bookstores.

Mostly, I carry over my experiences. I'm hoping for bookcases as well-organized as those that were at the Westgate Book Exchange, but a cozier atmosphere. I want to disappear into those lined-up books again, only emerging when I've found what I think will suit me. I think about G.W. Bookstore in Palm Springs, when we visited in October 2006, staying at what was then Hotel Zoso (now a Hard Rock Hotel), for the California Business Education Association conference for my dad. I remember walking in and finding a Vintage International Edition copy of The Remains of the Day from October 1993, when the movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson was released. I looked at the receipt I still have from G.W. Bookstore, an otherwise blank receipt, without the name of the bookstore, and I find that I bought it on October 9, 2006. I remember that the owner of the bookstore looked like he lived there, and it wouldn't have surprised me. I want to live like that.

Since Westgate closed, a few other independent-minded bookstores deep in the Las Vegas Valley have also closed. This is not a reader's town, I know, but it's still disappointing, given all the possibilities for when people are forced indoors by the horrid heat such as we're dealing with right now. Libraries should be even more open at this time of year, and some are, I've seen, but still not enough. This should be a storyteller's town, too, where people gather to tell their stories from places they've lived. Perhaps contests. Perhaps not. But just to gather around and fill this desert with memories of other places, other experiences, other excitements, other anything. I never had the ambition to try to establish anything like that here given all that we'd lived through in these four years, these four hard years that have seemed so long and yet, just the other day, I was thinking about when we first got here, and the next minute, here I am. Four years older. Surprised at the speed now.

Unfortunately, most of the stories I've seen here take on the same themes, in gambling, in drinking, never much in wonder, in creativity, in eccentricity. The Electric Daisy Carnival, which is happening this weekend, is the place for it, but I'll wait for the YouTube clips, and finish watching the documentary Under the Electric Sky, about the 2013 Electric Daisy Carnival, which I saw from my mobile home, at least the lighting being tested a few nights before it started. Huge beams of light flashing on and off and on and off and in different colors, and waving around, and it was like a promise that here you will find the freedom you seek, the life you've always wanted but never had the courage to go for. You can have it there, at least for three nights. It means many things to me, and I love the at times ethereal music, but I couldn't go out there as those hundreds of thousands of brave souls are doing at this very moment, trekking out to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway while it's well over 100 degrees today, and set to get even worse during the weekend, with 112 degrees and 113 degrees. Even in the dark, it'll still be 95 degrees. I don't envy them that, but I look forward to seeing how it turned out in photos and in videos.

No, my life now is in these bookstores, these libraries. I will be more mindful of my collection because there will likely be times I head there on my new bicycle (hopefully to work as well, which I plan to after I buy it in Ventura), and can't carry as much with me as a car trunk can. It establishes priorities, though. What do I want the most right now? Besides everything? What do I want to read right now? What's important enough for me to shoulder in the bag I'll be carrying with me while riding? Not many 900-page epics, I'm sure.

I wish the Westgate Book Exchange was still around, so I could see it at least one more time. But maybe, in light of these lifestyle changes, it's probably better that it isn't. I would dive into it again and come out with more than I should have before moving. At first, I will miss those days, but this is teaching me to relax with it. It will be there, but just be sure to visit often so it stays open. I will gladly support all the bookstores and libraries in Ventura. It's a start, on the way to knowing more about the town.

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