Today was the day I told the universe it was going down. Book Chat Man would be there sitting on his usual sidewalk reading a book while drinking malt liquor or smoking or both. This certitude meant the $20 gift certificate I procured from the local bookstore was stuffed in my pocket, ready for presentation to Book Chat Man.
It was only two days ago that I saw Book Chat Man propped up against a grocery store and reading my novel The Great Birthright as he waited to redeem cans and bottle to sustain his life as a homeless man residing somewhere in or around one of the wealthier neighborhoods of Portland.
The idea was to award the gift certificate in appreciation for his reading my novel after the Book Chat Man delivered a review of it to my face without me first revealing I was its author. What fun and I mean that in all sincerity!
I was prepared for a drubbing, indifference or praise with his review. For some unknown reason, I wanted a drubbing and I wanted it bad.
Why would I presume he finished reading the novel? Because he’s the Book Chat Man! I’ve never seen him reading the same book on consecutive days. He’s always got a new one, always novels.
It was a pleasant overcast morning. I rounded a corner on my bicycle and there he was! I pulled over and got off my bike. He recognized me and said hello. I said hello.
He was reading The Sea Wolf by Jack London. He was drinking a can of Smirnoff Ice Smash malt liquor and smoking a cigarette.
I asked him about a book I saw him reading in front of the grocery store. It had a bluish gray cover with a dog on it.
“The Great Birthright!” said Book Chat Man and he said it with significant enthusiasm.
“What did you think of it? I said.
“I loved it! What a read! I finished it earlier this morning and gave it to a barista at Starbucks.”
I revealed myself as the author of the book.
“Oh wow! I can’t believe it! I loved that picture of you as a kid on Cannon Beach.”
We discussed a few particulars of the novel. Clearly he had read it all. I can’t say that about most people I know.
“I found it in a book nook,” he said.
“I put it in there,” I said.
I presented the gift certificate and told him the reason for the award.
Book Chat Man’s face lit up. He thanked me. He told me he appreciated me.
I gave him copies of my two recent clandestine publications, got on my bike, and rode away.
Book Chat Man’s name is Mark and it occurs to me as I write this that I have had the most interesting and unique literary conversations of my life with a homeless man while he either drinks malt liquor or smokes or both.
I wonder what titles he’ll purchase with the gift certificate.