November 01, 2006

Origin of the Bookstore, Part the First - Captain Jack's Tale

For the next twelve months we'll be doing a special feature each month in honor of Borderlands' upcoming 10th Anniversary (November 3rd, 2007).  We'll share some stories about what Borderlands is and how it got that way.

Captain Jack's was the funky used clothing store that occupied 866 Valencia Street from 1994 until 2001.  The store's owner, a Mr. Hale, was also operating a massage therapy studio in the back of the store. Conveniently, Mr. Hale was looking for someone to take over his lease. (He'd had enough of the used clothing business, he told us, and wanted to move to the Santa Monica beach, live in his van, and become a stand-up comedian.)  Hale was uninterested in the used clothing inventory he was leaving and just wanted to go.  So Borderlands took over the lease and began excavating 7 years worth of used clothes in preparation for turning the place into a bookstore. A frantic month of progressive mark-down sales and kind-intentioned booksellers (who had never in their lives sold clothes) lying through their teeth to shoppers, ("Does this look good on me?,"; "Um, I suppose so . . . uh, sure, lime green with aqua polka dots really suits you!") followed.  Finally, all of the old suits and the cool Che Guevara t-shirts and the feather boas and the fearsome 70's polyester cut-to-the-navel shirts and the size 12 high heels and especially the lime-green-and-aqua-polka-dotted monstrosities were sold, or given away, or snuck into customers' bags when they weren't looking.

The booksellers breathed a collective sigh of relief, and then got a good look at the place.  Interior decoration had not been of vital importance to Captain Jack's, and now that the walls were no longer festooned floor to ceiling with sparkly 20's ball gowns, we noticed that the walls and ceiling were Pepto Bismol pink, the trim was forest green, and the 100-year-old wood floor was painted dried-blood red. Three eye-catching colors, surely, but also colors that were never intended to be within 50 yards of each other.  It was the visual equivalent of a Metallica concert with Barry Manilow and Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute, as the opening acts.

But the paint was the least of our worries.  The basement was packed with old furniture, unidentifiable Things, disused Nordic Tracks and also a creepy little room that, judging from the used Q-tips on the floor, had been someone's home for a time.  There was a seven-foot-tall by four-foot-wide mound of moldering blue jeans in the basement, like a nest for the now-extinct Levisaurus, as well as enough centipedes and other things with too many legs to fill a China Mieville novel with some left over for the next Indiana Jones movie. Did I mention that the basement was not a nice place to be?  Anyway, we cleaned and we cleared and we took continual trips to the dump and didn't scream when the centipedes dropped on the backs of our necks from the ceiling. (Well, not much, anyway.)

A short but endless time later Alan sanded the floors back to their "natural" state and we painted the walls and ceiling in more subdued colors.  Alan frantically built shelves.  We put up the picture molding, crooked, and then took it down, cursing, and put it back again straight.  We judged parts of the ceiling too damaged to fix and covered them with hastily constructed but attractive panels to add "visual interest".  We dubbed part of the office wall where it met the ceiling "The Cthulhu Corner" since it was of No Human Shape, and decided to smother the tentacles in crown molding.  We sang and drank continual cups of English Breakfast Tea to keep ourselves awake.  We joked about the Old Ones opening the dimensional doorway that must surely exist in the store.  Then we drank more tea.

We packed up 10,000 books on Laguna Street, moved 'em to Valencia, got more parking tickets than we thought humanly possible (13 tickets in 4 days was the record), unpacked the books again, and we were in business.

And so very, very tired.

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