My wife and I were knocking around New York City last week because we visited the excellent show of Picasso paintings and etchings at the Gagosian Gallery on West 21st Street. Afterward, we stopped into The Strand bookstore in Greenwich Village. They were selling the book that accompanies the Picasso show for a full twenty dollars less than the gallery. We decided to go next door to the store’s rare book department where they keep their very valuable and dusty old tomes for the serious collectors of New York. We went through the steel door and felt that we were entering the high-security wing. The smell of decaying literature was immediate and sort of relaxing as all rotten literature should be. We walked around quietly as the employees set up tables of wine glasses for a publisher’s party that would be starting shortly.
I soon found myself strolling down a narrow aisle toward a large window with a massive old air conditioner cranking away near the ceiling. I could feel the cold air flowing past me and after walking all over the Village it was a welcome respite. I came to the shelf near the window and noticed a wonderful illustrated volume full of Shakespeare’s history plays. I pulled it out and began to flip through and was amazed to find a picture on nearly every page. I wanted it. I was also enjoying the cold air and the nice fine spray of water droplets on and about my head and shoulders. ‘Ahh, misters,’ I thought to myself languidly. ‘They must think of everything here because of the serious collectors who come through each day. They must be kept comfortable in the heat or they will go elsewhere.’
So I continued to flip through Henry the Fifth and wondered if one hundred and twenty-five dollars was a lot to pay for the histories. But I didn’t want to leave the misters yet because they were cooling me very nicely… ‘Misters?,’ I thought. ‘Misters? Really? Water spraying about my head in the rare books department? What on earth kind of idea is this?’ I looked up at the air conditioner and was met with an increased volume of cold water against my face. Then I looked down at the shelf of rare books beneath the windowsill and saw a large puddle of water on the shelf and droplets of water spattered far and wide over an intimidating selection of fine rare books. ‘This just can’t be right,’ I thought as I backed away quietly. I had a bizarre impulse to gather my wife silently and flee. But I could find no apparent wrongdoing in my situation so I halted.