Friday, July 29, 2016


In the earliest of days in
Plainfield, for me, about 
1966, there was a lady who
ran the PM Bookshop.
I never knew what PM
meant or anything, but
it was a kind of magical
place, a lot like any of
those old Fourth Avenue
NYC bookshops. Cluttered,
dusty, eccentric. With the
hands-on proprietor always
there, keeping her slow
and steady knowledge
of inventory, sales and
availability always ready.
It wasn't 'literary' per se 
in any special way, a 
lot of junk too. But it 
didn't matter. There was,
back then, in that time  -  
and this was a fine 
example of it  - the sort
of bookstore that existed
before 'merchandising' and
layout and product pushing,
all the sort of thing the 
Barnes & Noble crowd 
got rolling. This lady 
was just always busy 
at books  -  she could 
talk them, about them, 
reference them, etc., 
but it was all immediate
and from her head. It 
wasn't yet an 'industry' 
where she'd need the facts 
and figures of sales volumes,
'product placement' movement, 
display and all that In a sort
of Van Wyck Brooks way, she
'represented' for Plainfield the
intellect. She kept the flame
burning. For books and for
knowledge. For the meager
tramp-wrappings of learning 
and study  -  and a place for the
scholar in a faraway outpost of
a place such as Plainfield. She
was noble, and the silly word
'bookseller' hadn't yet entered
the bogus lexicon of mass-selling.
My girlfriend and I would often
go there, when we didn't get to
Fourth Ave., for pretty much the
same reason. Sit about, look at 
books, find things, and sit in
the wonder of that world. The
lady was always nice to us, 
and you could still get some
real stuff for like a dollar. 
Pre-Raphaelite writings and
poetry, picture books of 
out-of-the-way things, any
old, crusty, dusty library-estate
book from old-timer who'd 
passed on and sold her his 
or her book collection. It 
wasn't like now, either,
for the books themselves, 
none of the glory covers and
book-jacket graphics and 
things as we have today. 
Most books were subdued
and quiet, as if they were
sobbing in your hands. Most 
everything was a real find.
Just outside the bookstore, to
the east of it, was a small 
wooded lot. The Johnson 
Administration, back then,
through the President's
wife, Lady Bird Johnson,
had underway a 'beautification'
campaign  -  to beautify the
roadways and town-spots
of America  -  she sought 
to have billboards removed from 
(mostly that failed, of course,
but they were reduced a little  - 
of course now they're light-boards 
and everything else and it's 
much worse), the sides of 
highways, etc. She wanted no 
visible junkyards and scrap 
piles visible from the roads,
etc. Shrubbery and trees 
planted. It was all just a form
of do-goodism, and everyone
knew it was crap (the advertising
and billboard lobby, for one 
instance, representing billions 
of dollars, and hefty campaign
contributions too). Nothing more,
it was, than the sort of things 
done by 'First Ladies'  innocuous
stuff, like the 'Eat Healthy' crap
of today's incumbent  - not, of
course, Bill Clinton as First Lady's
'condom campaign', but that'll be
next. (Good Old Boy' vending
machines in each third-grade
cloakroom). In Plainfield, that
same campaign had taken a 
small patch of land and 
woods and, in the name 
of 'beautification'  - and
announced by a little govt.
plaque, and turned it into
what was called an urban
'vest-pocket park'. Neither 
of us had ever seen that 
phrase before, so, (my 
girlfriend and I), we 
thought it was very cool, 
and we often would buy 
two or three books and 
just go out there and sit,
reading and looking 
through things. No one 
else ever seemed to use 
it, nor were we ever 
bothered That little park
(the bookstore is long gone) 
itself now, fifty years on,
has had two reiterations as
a renewed park attempt.
Fences, benches, nice shrubs,
etc., yet each time is failed.
As of now, it's pretty much 
a rubble-strewn mess again, 
with but the straggly remnants
of fence and tables and benches.
There was even a murder there
once since. There used to be a nice 
bicycle shop on that corner, as well 
as a pretty fancied-up toy store
across from it. Everything is gone
now  -  the bike shop is some 
Empanada/Somosa Restaurant
now, and the toy store  -  late a
computer store  -  is a ruin.
I pass there a lot, on or from
other places, and in my head
it's all like going to Greece  -
just a weird place to see and
remember ancient ruins and
It's difficult for me to sit
here and write of Plainfield 
now. It really once was a
proud and noble city. 'Queen
City' was the name given to it,
as some cities seem inevitably 
to do, calling themselves 
something bold and noble,
to personify their goals.
Plainfield was the first city
I actually saw destroyed. Just
watched it all decay to nothing.
I'm sure there are a hundred
more just like it  -  Paterson,
Rochester, NY, Reading, PA,
especially Newark, NJ, and the
Oranges, or Maplewood, or 
Trenton and Camden even.
It all happened quickly enough,
by the late 60's the downward
process had metatsized itself
into every pore and organ of 
these cities: riots, shambles, 
drugs, poverty, death, addiction,
and shambles. Industry all was
decayed, old housing stock
crumbled as whites fled, the 
1965 immigration quotas, all
changed, allowed all sorts of
newer people in. They flocked
to the inner-cities the whites had
abandoned  -  and all Hell and
everything else took over. You
could read about it n any book,
but in Plainfield, about 1966/67, 
I was able to see it all, first-hand.
There weren't no coming back.

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