It was an overcast Saturday afternoon in the neighborhood and I spent it leisurely, bicycling around and stocking copies of The Old Crow Book Club in the street libraries.
Earlier that morning, 7 AM to be precise, I’d driven through inner SE Portland neighborhoods and stocked about two dozen libraries. Rain fell during my duties, and when back in the car, I listened to the jazz station’s two-hour Brazilian Beat bossa nova program. It was a specially-themed show featuring all bossa nova songs with rain in the title. So there I was distributing books in rain, a writer who wrote a weird book about rain, and listening to bossa nova rain songs and occasionally trying to remember the fluent Portuguese of my youth as a missionary’s kid in Brazil in the late 1960s. What a strange convergence of things going on, but I like to think that makes me an interesting person.
I approached one the better libraries in Sellwood. A woman with purple/blue hair and holding daffodils was examine the contents of the library. I bicycled past her and said hello and that I was going to check out the library after she finished. I parked 20 feet away and told her to take her time. I was in no hurry.
She had the semi ragged appearance of someone homeless and then it dawned on me that we’d met.
She closed the library’s door and walked toward me carrying assorted possessions, including a pack of cigarettes, a smart phone, and a Bret Easton Ellis novel. She saw me holding a copy of The Old Crow Book Club and flashed a super smile. I tell you, when a homeless personal smiles at you like that, you won’t forget it anytime soon.
“You wrote that, didn’t you?” she said.
“I’ve been hearing about it.”
I then recognized her as Anya and she had made a brief appearance in the book. I’d only met her that one time and that was well over a year ago. Her appearance had changed a lot since then.
“You’re in the book,” I said.
“I don’t remember what chapter but you’re in there.”
I introduced myself as Matt and gave her a copy and then we talked for 20 minutes on all things books, homelessness and street libraries.
I learned: Anya was living on the streets around the neighborhood. Her boyfriend had recently committed suicide. Someone had gifted her with the daffodils. She knew Mark wasn’t doing well and wasn’t going to survive much longer. But, she said, sometimes when you’re in trouble on the streets and need to get out, you can’t see it. She knew that all too well.
Anya had an extreme passion for the neighborhood’s street libraries! She said she knew every one of them within a four-mile radius! We discussed our favorites in Sellwood! She said she sometimes took stock from full libraries to bolster the needy ones! What? I thought, in another life, we might have been perfect partners!
I then pitched the idea of hiring her to help distribute the new book all over SE Portland. $20 an hour. Use the Little Free Street Library app on her phone (I showed her how it worked on mine.)
Anya said she thought many of the libraries weren’t registered. I agreed and said I thought that when one neighbor saw a library go up on her block, others wanted to join in.
“Sort of like the Broken Windows Theory,” said Anya.
“Yes,” I said. “I doubt James Wilson (the criminologist who propounded this controversial theory decades ago) meant it with street libraries though.”
“I doubt it,” she said.
I knew right there that she had obtained a higher education of some kind and here she was homeless and carrying daffodils, a Bret Easton Eliis novel, and my book. Of course, maybe she had no formal higher education whatsoever and was just one of those brilliant self-educated persons I run across every now and then who should be running the country.
Before departing, I set up a time with Anya to meet to facilitate book distribution. I also set her up with some fine pipe tobacco that I always stash in my bike bag for these occasions. I offered a $5 dollar bill for lunch but she refused. I told her to consider it an advance on her salary. No. I tried again and she was adamant.
I could tell she wanted to earn the dough. I knew I had just found the greatest hustler of The Old Crow Book Club.
(Please consider visiting nestuccaspitpress.com and purchasing the book or better yet, making a donation to support my efforts to pay homeless men and women to distribute the book.)