He was wearing a dark blue, velvet coat in 105 degree heat in Las Vegas.
I guess it matched just fine with the slick, precise haircut, perfectly close shave, and heavy gold neck chains. I should mention too, even temporary wealth has a scent.
A small prophecy: Do not mistake charisma for attractiveness. There was a strong undercurrent of power that anyone might feel pulled toward. He was magnetic north.
Back to the velvet coat, and the black leather cowboy boots, and the tailored slacks.
I am in the very crowded buffet line waiting and watching all the people milling around. He was completely silent behind me; and I am strangely unaware of his presence. Perhaps he watched me and waited for opportunity.
I watched in fascination as women wrestled enormous portions of Alaskan King Crab legs on too small plates. I am sure they will dump the whole mess down their fronts; but they don’t. They expertly balance their bodies atop stiletto heels while moving purposefully through the crowded lines of other patrons balancing their own over-crowded plates of crab.
Back to the velvet coat. As he steps up alongside me at the buffet, I notice him without actually turning my head. He orders bouillabaisse and I have ordered scampi. Our chef looks sick to death of the unending line of people ordering exactly the same dishes time after time. I want the chef to know I understand his frustration. I give away a smile and profuse thank you for the fish. Better probably, would have been a tip; but I have left my cash at the table. The chef smiles automatically and moves on to the next order.
My friendliness seems to have provided an opening. Velvet coat asks me if I am psychic.
Off guard, I respond honestly, “Yes, a little.”
Velvet coat laughs and says, “No, quite a bit more than a little. I would say actually, quite a lot.”
I admit that things come to me in my dreams; and then I ask him if he’s psychic. I laugh because the silliness of my question reverberates in my head. If you’re psychic do you really have to ASK someone if they are psychic? In my case at least, the answer is yes.
I abandon Velvet coat. My scampi dish is ready, I grab my plate and manage to make it back to my table without spilling a drop. My cousin and sister want to know why I was gone so long.
We stopped by Baccarat Crystal to inquire about a heart necklace that was a gift from my Auntie Sue many years ago. I had lost mine; and hoped to purchase a replacement. My sister still has hers, with the original box. The salesman knew the piece; too bad they hadn’t sold them in over 30 years. Time is fleeting.
His name was Edward. “Sweetheart,” he began, “I am from Richmond, Virginia. But I’m destined for Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. I know because my friend, a gorgeous Liz Taylor impersonator, told me so. Mother said so too. I don’t know what I’m doing here in this terrible town. Las Vegas just does NOT understand class and good breeding. I can tell you have it because I have it, of course and we recognize it in each other.”
He was part John Waters, part Truman Capote, and part undefined southern gentleman. He was a mostly polite snob; and sometimes just a snob. I would guess, he was in his late 60’s. His manners were beautiful and practiced. My mother would have loved him. His accent and turn of phrase I found utterly charming. I wanted to hear him talk more. And he did.
For thirty minutes he told us of the famous and not so famous people who had wandered through his shop – what they purchased – what they wore – their mostly deplorable behavior. How classless they were.
Then the reminiscing turned toward his time spent working at a museum. And how they were so cheap with their fundraising events. And how he had to apologize to the wealthy patrons for the skimpy hors d’oeuvres. And how everyone forgave him because of his impeccable grace. Of course.
Then, like a switch, he seemed to awaken and remember where we were. He realized we were not going to be purchasing anything; and we were dismissed. His abruptness made me laugh. I wondered how many more stories he’d have to tell today. And if we would be the next story. He could call us “The girls who dared to enter Baccarat Crystal with manners; but no money or means”.
No one told me that Las Vegas is also about tired feet. Tired feet, hot, and needing a rest, I round the corner and I see a beacon. Bauman’s Rare Books. My feet no longer hurt. We cross the threshold.
I’m so excited I immediately start babbling at the salesman working the floor. About my love of books. About my small but beloved collection. About my 20 plus years in the book industry. I sounded like a complete idiot, a total fool. I complimented and swooned over all the lovely things. I could not stop myself. How embarrassing.
I am sure it was very clear that I would not be a purchaser. Still, he asked me which one I would buy if I could. How could I choose ONE? I wanted them all. First edition signed The Stand. Yes Please. Tree of Night, you bet. Catcher in the Rye? $39,500. And on and on and on. My heart breaks a little while we browse and dream.
It’s slow in the store so we still have the salesman’s attention; and he begins to entertain. “Did you know we watch people walking through the mall all day? We watch to see if we can guess from a distance who will come in. Can you imagine? Most people don’t even notice the entrance to the store. It is as if we are invisible. What do you think makes it invisible?” He nods, inviting me to comment.
I try a guess, “Maybe a sign for a rare bookstore is a strange thing in Las Vegas? Is that the thing that people are ignoring? Your sign drew me like a magnet; but I love books.”
“Yes,” he continued, “Sometimes they look like they’ll come in, they think they want to come in, they hesitate. And then they move along. But there are always some, actually a very few, some actually step in. Those are the ones like you. The very rare, like the books themselves. And so we talk. We show the rare books to adoring eyes. We answer questions. We ask which one? Which one would you buy, if you could. Because you never know who might buy. Who might be a collector.”
I wonder how many twenty thousand dollar books you’d have to sell to keep a store open in Las Vegas. I would be too attached to my product and would most likely cry when one of them sold.
Books behind glass. The one thing missing from this store is the thing I love MOST about books, the smell. The books and their wonderful smell are safely tucked away. You are in a museum and a bookstore and a library simultaneously. It is divine and sad.
Finally, it is time to go. We turn and gaze one last time, say thank you and wander off.