February 01, 2007

Origin of the Bookstore, Part the Fourth - The Leak of the Week Pool

For the next nine 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.

by Jude Feldman

As many of you know, Borderlands is housed in an old building.  In fact, the building at 866 Valencia turns 100 this year.  We like old buildings; their charms and quirks, their character and temperament.  Something that we don't like quite as much, though, is their tendency to leak.

After fire and censorship, water is the third greatest danger to books.  So when it comes pouring out of the ceiling unexpectedly, you get some pretty frantic booksellers, and for a while we were pretty frantic all the time.  The store leaked when it rained, when the wet leaves on the roof above the skylight became too sodden and heavy, when the plumbing in various parts of the apartments upstairs developed problems, and sometimes for no discernible reason at all.  The following are three selected episodes from the period in which the Borderlands employees enacted what we called "The Leak of the Week Pool," an unofficial betting pool where we wagered on what part of the store would leak next.

One evening, shortly after closing time, Alan and I were working in the office and Cary was finishing the store-closing duties.  We heard an odd "plunk-plunk-plunk" sound, and without further warning big whitish drops of water were falling from the center of the office ceiling.  Through the light fixture.  And then there was grayish water fountaining in an oddly pretty fashion off the top of the lamp and splashing on to every flat surface.  I would like to tell you that the three of us responded with military precision, one of us fetching buckets, one of us turning off the lights and covering the computers with plastic sheeting, and one of us running upstairs to see what the problem was, but in actuality our response was anything but precise.  We did in fact do those things, but it was more like the Keystone Plumbers or the Three Stooges than the Navy Seals.  After staring dumbly for what seemed like an eternity in disbelief, we realized that we were getting the grayish water in our mouths, which had unconsciously dropped open.  Cary and I moved as fast as we could, frequently bumping into each other, to protect the contents of the office, dimly aware that we were being soaked in an unidentified watery substance, while Alan went upstairs at a run, T-wrench in hand.  It turned out that the gentleman in the apartment directly above the office was painting his room, and washing the paintbrushes in his sink.  He hadn't noticed that the drain of his sink had become detached from the wall and was drenching everything below him in heavily diluted white paint.  Alan re-attached his drain in minutes.  Miraculously, the only casualties of this encounter were a handful of books and both Cary's and my boots, which never recovered.  It also took three showers each to remove the paint from our hair.

Another adventure from the same period concerned the building's sewer.  Now there is never a good time to have sewer trouble, but there probably could have been a better time than the day I went to Dickens Faire, the Victorian Christmas Fair at the Cow Palace.  It was pouring rain that day, and I dropped by the store after closing to pick up my computer and ran into Alan, who quickly informed me that we "seemed to be having sewer issues".  He once again went upstairs at a run with a T-wrench to turn off the water supply to the building and I took over his unenviable task of emptying the near-overflowing toilet into multiple five-gallon buckets.  The plumbers arrived while I was bailing as fast as I could, and I raced to the door to let them in.  They stopped dead for a moment to stare at me, and I realized that most people probably don't bail toilets in a corset, velvet jacket, knee-high boots with four-inch heels and a long skirt tucked into their waistband.  Oh dear.  Anyway they recovered themselves quickly and followed me as I dashed to the bathroom at the back of the store yelling "This way!," only to find them arrested mid-motion again by Ripley.  In the middle of this, they wanted to ask me questions about the cat!  Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Speaking of Ripley and the Leak of the Week, this last story concerns her.  I'll bet you didn't know that cats have preternatural leak-detecting abilities.  Well, they do.  Ripley, in fact, has a special meow that we call the "Timmy's down the well" meow, in affectionate tribute to Lassie.  More than once we've heard this distinctive meow and found the cat racing back and forth across the store, staring at the ceiling.  When we'd follow her, she'd inevitably lead us to a small leak that was just in the process of becoming a big leak.  Last time, because of the derring-do of the cat, the only casualty was a small section of the used mass markets in "S".

Postscript: Thanks to Alan's rapidly acquired plumbing skills (and willingness to risk life and limb climbing on the roof to clear the leaves,) the Leak of the Week has become just a series of darkly funny memories.  But the T-wrench, plastic sheets and buckets are still kept close at hand, awaiting a plaintive meow.

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