I stop at Mercer Street Books to pick up the review copy of Lunatics, Lovers and Poets. Where to read it? Which restaurant? Where? Too many cars, too loud, I don’t want to cross the street. Irish pub? No, it’s too dark, too much dark wood, in the middle of our block I avoid the selva oscura. Floyd’s! Floyd’s? It’s gone! How about Mecca, that’ll work, but that’s all the way round. In the meantime, how about a drink, yes, the liquor store’s still here, at least for now. In our tunnel-warrened city known to all as NOTICE OF PROPOSED LAND USE ACTION, in the depths of our noble NOPLUA, which of these bottles will be my Virgil? Here it is, the rye whiskey John Jacob, the Baptist & the Angel Wrestler together at last. I need a safe spot to sit, safe, sift, sofa, SIFF, what now, a parklet? A perfect parklet for parking a pucking poet. Don’t pass out you’re working….
Lunatics Lovers Poets Lunatics Lovers Poets LLP LLP
I’m in the elevator of an office tower. It takes me to the 14th floor, the offices of Cervantes Shakespeare Rushdie LLP.
“Can I help you?”
“I need a meeting with one of the senior partners.”
“I’m sorry, unless you have an appointment.”
I lean forward to whisper: “This is about a Calendrical Coincidence.”
The receptionist lifts the phone for a few hushed words.
“Ms. Anton will see you now.”
Ms. J. Anton has long blonde hair and reminds me of the setup of an old joke.
I try to chat her up. “Where are you from?”
“I’ve lived everywhere, Miami, Tazmania, an igloo in Iceland,” she says. “But enough stale talk, what is your Calendrical Coincidence?”
“We’re coming up to the 400th anniversary of the death of Cervantes.”
“Yes, yes, we know,” she waves me off, "April 23nd is the same date as the death of Shakespeare, and the English were still using the Julian calendar, so it’s wasn’t actually the same date. Please show yourself out.”
“Actually, according to his biographers Cervantes died the prior evening, on the 22nd, and his death was recorded in the registry the following day,” I say.
“If so, what is your Coincidence?”
“Precisely 400 years after the death of Cervantes on Friday, April 22, 1616 is the first night of Passover — which falls on Friday, April 22, 2016.”
Ms. Anton arches an enormous eyebrow. “Is that significant? Not all children born at midnight are Midnight’s Children.”
“There’s some evidence that Cervantes had Jewish ancestry. It’s partly circumstantial based on the professions and birthplaces of his parents and grandparents. Also, even though he was a war hero who lost his hand in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, he was denied for all sorts of official posts. And at one point, his father helped him to come up with some dodgy documents to get a posting in Italy. If he had come from a ‘clean’ bloodline, that wouldn’t have been necessary.”
Ms. Anton massages her glabella and shakes her head.
I continue: “We can also find several clues in Cervantes’s literary output. In fact, I have a theory about the Talmudic significance of Cervantes’s talking dogs…”
“You wish to incorporate Cervantes into the Seder, yes?”
“Yes, um…the Sedervantes.”
I regain my nerve and launch into a full pitch. How I’ve rewritten the Haggadah with quotations from Don Quixote. How the breaking of the matzoh can retell the story of “El Curioso impertinente.” How the Passover story relates to the biography of Cervantes being captured by pirates and held as a captive in Algiers.
“More stale talk,” Anton interrupts. “You compare the five-year captivity of a writer dead just 400 years with the 3,200-year-old story of an enslaved people.”
She spins the globe on her desk. “Do you know how many people are alive right now right this very moment who are in captivity and bondage, trapped in crushing poverty or wandering the earth as exiles from war and oppression?”
Now it’s my head that’s spinning.
I hear the air raid sirens, the bombs falling.
“Our firm will only take your case if you bring these Coincidences into the present.”
I smell the stench of shit and piss and fear. The soldiers, my squadmates, they’re trying to rouse me.
“What’s your name, buddy?”
One of the SPD Bike Patrol squad pours John Jacob into the gutter, another helps me to sit up. A third holds up my copy of Lunatics, Lovers and Poets, saying “Hey, is this your book?”
A firetruck pulls up, the infernal sirens cease, and an EMT-trained firefighter examines my pupils.
Yes, that’s my book, and furthermore, I’m on assignment for The Seattle Review of Books, have you read it? Of course you have, and publications like this represent a hopeful sign of the continuance of a vibrant literary culture during and despite the rapid economic expansion of the polis, don’t you think? And would you happen to know a good accountant? Just wondering about the extent to which I can write off expenses incurred during the production of literary output.
Why am I covered in vomit?
Remember the book “Lunatics, Lovers and Poets” that you asked me to set aside for Ivan? Someone just came into the bookstore to sell it back to me. He claimed to have found it on the street. I told him that I wouldn’t pay for it, but I would exchange it for a book on the cart outside.
The pages are covered in marginalia, and it looks like Ivan’s handwriting. Ivan must have lost it. (Just the book, I hope.)
Anyway, I thought you might want to take a look. Scans attached.
mercer street books
7 Mercer St
Seattle, WA 98109