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If you borrow this book, you have to return it: Toni Mirosivech.

February 20, 2011 \am\28 8:29 am

[For this series, I’ve asked many wondrous writers to reflect on an individual copy of a book that is very important to them. Writers and publishers have varied and often impassioned relationships to their analog books, as actual books are still arguably the “realest” physical manifestation of their poetic pursuits. I think that as the Kindle and other digital representations of text continue their upward spiral, it’s important to reflect on books as the uniquely funky-smelling, emotion-provoking, paper-cutting, dust/coffee/spaghetti sauce-collecting artifacts that they are! Check back next week for more top picks!]
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Toni Mirosevich is the author of four poetry collections; Queer Street, The Rooms We Make Our Own, My Oblique Strategies–winner of the Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award–and most recently, The Takeaway Bin (Spuyten Duyvil, 2010.) She also the author of a book of nonfiction stories, ‘Pink Harvest” (MidList Press, 2007, First Series Award in Creative Nonfiction.) She is a Professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and lives with her wife in Pacifica, CA.


Favorite book: The Trail of the Sandhill Stag

I’d moved up to the Monterey Peninsula to escape life in LA.  In high school I read Joan Baez’s book, Daybreak and in it she wrote about the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence she had started in the Carmel Valley. There, people read Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Elie Wiesel and every day they all sat under a big tree outside for an hour of silence. I wanted to go up there and sit under that tree. I wanted to sit next to Joan, whom I loved from afar. The Institute sounded like the perfect antidote to the plastic world of LA.

My boyfriend and I packed all our books and a popcorn popper into my used sportscar, a sweet Datsun 1600 ‘Fair Lady,’ I’d bought from an ex-cop. We headed up the coast. When we got to Monterey, I learned that the Institute had moved to Palo Alto. I’d forgotten to check before I left to see if the place was still around.

My boyfriend immediately found work as a teacher’s aide at a middle school. I couldn’t find a job for weeks. Then I found one. They needed a cashier/salesperson/flunky at a corner drugstore in Carmel. It’s the last place I wanted to work. I already knew the clientele I’d be dealing with. I’d been to the Quaker meeting on the Peninsula to see what political work was available and had met Joan Baez Sr. The Quakers also sat in silence for an hour and during it I’d sneak peeks at Joan Sr. out of the corner of my eye. She had the most soulful beautiful eyes. Afterward one such hour we found ourselves on the same nonviolent action committee. Each weekend we were to set up a little table on a downtown Carmel corner and try to get honeymooners and the very rich to sign an anti-torture petition. Our signature sheets were always blank at the end of the day.

The woman who managed the drugstore was mean. Or maybe she was unhappy. At the time I thought anyone who treated me unkindly or less than was mean. She put me behind the makeup counter and wanted me to push the products. I didn’t wear makeup. My other job was to keep an eye out for shoplifters. Apparently, Carmel was rife with the sticky-fingered. I stood behind the counter and she watched me watch customers to make sure I was noticing that possible shoplifter over there or over there. She was suspicious of everyone. To hear her tell it people from all over the country were coming to Carmel just to steal band aids or cotton balls from her store.

One day a woman entered the front door dressed in obvious disguise. Now here was a potential shoplifter. She was wearing a curly wig and a trench coat but every time I tried to look at her out of the corner of my eye she was smiling back at me, a big toothy grin. She walked up and down the aisles and pretended she was looking for some item but it was obvious she wasn’t looking for anything. She’d pick up something, put it down, then smile my way. After one last little wave she exited the store and was gone.

The next day I found out she was the crazy lady who worked with my boyfriend as a TA at the middle school. She’d come in to check me out.

She was crazy in the best way. She and her husband would have us over for steaks, which we couldn’t afford, and wine, which we couldn’t afford, and in the middle of the meal she would burst out singing or after dinner she’d take me aside and we’d make nefarious plans; like how to free me from a life of drugstore servitude. Once she told me having sex was like having a good dinner and that she was having a very good dinner with someone other than her husband.

We made what would today be called a zine but then was just a stapled thing. She wrote funny poems and I drew weird little illustrations to go with. I think we made 12 of them.

She had a favorite childhood book: The Trail of the Sandhill Stag by Ernest Thompson Seaton. Published in 1908 it was about a boy, Yan, who went hunting for the biggest stag in the snowy Canadian woods. When he finally comes eye to eye with the great stag and the stag looks at him with those big soulful eyes he can’t pull the trigger.

Here’s the frontispiece of the book: To the Reader: These are my best days of my life. These are my golden days. I didn’t realize it then but being with her was the embodiment of those lines. Actually, I think these days are the best days too. If she were alive today I think she’d say, I don’t see any contradiction in that.

I don’t know how the book came into my possession. The copy I have has a public library stamp and it’s either 30 years overdue or I bought it at a used book sale. It’s inscribed to Happy Birthday Paul, 12! Birthday.

I read it whenever I need help going to sleep. On page 29 is my favorite line of all time. Early on, Yan, finds the trail of the great stag but doesn’t get a glimpse of him: “…and the few deer there were now grew so wild with long pursuit that he had no further chances to shoot, and the hunting season passed in one long train of failures..” The next line is the favorite one: “Bright, unsad failures they.”

She and I were like that. Bright, unsad failures.

My favorite line from my favorite book. A twofer.

I did leave the drugstore job after a month but not before having a brush with fame, someone else’s. One day there’s was lots of hub bub outside the store and then in walked Barbara Streisand. Her hair was curly then, like she was wearing a wig. This was post the Elliot Gould phase and she was with a very handsome Hollywood man. They must have driven up from LA for the weekend. She walked around picking up this and that like she wasn’t going to buy anything and then finally settled on a box of Tampax and a bottle of Love perfume. When she came to the cash register I pretended I didn’t know who she was so she could have a little peace. Even with all that fame and success she looked deeply unhappy. She looked like she needed a good dinner.

After she left the store a guy rushed in and asked me, “What did she buy? What did she buy?” I didn’t tell him.

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