FLOODED: The Benefit for Longfellow Books

Imagine this:

You’ve got cancer. You’ve just completed a round of chemo with a new drug, a nasty one that not only knocked you on your ass, but knocked your white blood cells right out of existence, so you’re three days in the hospital on IV antibiotics trying to get the infection under control. You’re feeling like crap, so you haven’t had time to worry about the historic snowstorm – Nemo, some nitwit at The Weather Channel decided to call it – that started last night. It’s all white from your hospital bed, anyway.

Oh, and you’re the co-owner of a Fiercely Independent Community Bookstore, which you coaxed into existence when the bookstore you managed went under after the new Borders opened at the mall thirteen years ago. Of course, Borders is Books-a-Million now, but your little place is still there, though you get a little nervous every time a showroomer aims a cell phone at a best-seller, or you see someone sitting at Starbucks with a Kindle. Still, you love what you do, and that counts for a lot.

Your phone rings. Who’s calling on a night like this, a night white with snow? Ah, it’s your buddy, neighbor to the store, probably going to give you a pep talk. Ok, you’ve got the energy to deal with that. Though for someone who’s just been lying in bed for three days, you’re awfully tired. You hope it’s because your body is working hard along with the antibiotic, and maybe making new white blood cells to boot.

“Stu, I’m standing outside your store, water’s pouring down from the ceiling, alarms are ringing, fire engines are pulling up, they want to break down the back door… ” You wonder briefly if this is some kind of strange semi-hallucinatory reaction to the antibiotic, but the phone is very real in your hand, your friend’s voice is very real in your ear, and apparently the water and alarms and firemen are very real at your store. But you’re tethered to this IV bag with a length of tubing and to this bed by chains of fatigue, so you call your co-owner (who might also wonder if you’re hallucinating; hell, you still sorta wonder/hope maybe you are, yourself) and he says he’ll check it out.

He calls a little while later. There was indeed water pouring into the store from the ceiling. Water + books = not good. “Stu, the firemen were carrying books out of the way of the water! Double armloads of books! A Bucket Brigade of books! Firemen saving books! Like they’re children!” You wonder again if there’s something in the IV antibiotics that causes hallucinations.

But no. The storm blew in a window on the second floor above the store. Snow blew in and melted, which would’ve been bad enough, but the real trouble started when the pipes froze because that set off the sprinkler system that’s doused – ruined (sprinkler water isn’t clean and pretty) – half your stock. Only half your stock, thanks to the Portland Fire Department. But you’re going to be closed a while.

Maybe this is it. You’ve been selling books in one way or another since the 70s, but maybe the universe is trying to tell you something.

Turns out, the universe may be trying to tell you something, but Portland is telling you, Not So Fast.

Within two hours of the story being Twittered out by the Portland Press Herald, your Facebook page will have 200 offers of help.

Within two days, you’ll have to ask people to stop calling and dropping by the store as you clean up and try to figure out a recovery.

Within four days, the Maine Publisher’s and Writer’s Alliance will schedule FLOODED: An Outpouring of Literary Conversation in Support of Longfellow Books – and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo and a host of other Maine writers like Ron Currie, Jr., Bill Roorbach, Monica Wood, Moira Driscoll and Brock Clarke will all volunteer immediately for the panel – at the SPACE Gallery, which will donate the facility for the evening, since you’ve schlepped books the four blocks so many times for so many literary events over the years (Zadie Smith being the first, back in 2002), and Rogue’s Gallery will provide T-shirts at cost with “We Survived the Flood of 2013” on the front and “Longfellow Books, Fiercely Independent” on the back for sale. The Benefit will sell out in less than a day, probably the quickest sellout in SPACE Gallery history. That night will be full of love, full of humor, full of books, full of talk about books and writing those books, full of t-shirts, full of readers, writers, and business people in a tiny city that won’t let its bookstore go gentle into that good night.

And this is the story you will tell.

Footnotes: Because this story was too important to me to be cluttered up by links, I’ve listed them all here:

Longfellow Books now scheduling readings just like old times
Zin posted about the flood; I wanted to get my two cents in, too, so I got to do this post about the recovery
FLOODED: An Outpouring of Literary Conversation in Support of Longfellow Books, organized by Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance – thanks for a great evening
WCSH-6 News Coverage of the recovery
Portland Playback Theater, a unique troupe dedicated to “the art of improvisation with real-life stories spontaneously shared by members of the audience” who donated the $900 in proceeds from their March First Friday performance
Richard Russo, who discussed how painful it was to write his new memoir, Elsewhere
Monica Wood, whose memoir When We Were The Kennedys Zin discussed last year after attending a reading at PPL.
Ron Currie, Jr., whose new novel, Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles features a character named Ron Currie, Jr., who’s a writer…
Bill Roorbach whose new novel Life Among Giants about a football player’s tragedy started with the notion of fame
Brock Clarke who skillfully moderated the Fiction discussion in a hilarious direction (“There’s a lot of sex in these books”) so we didn’t get a chance to hear much about his latest novel, Exley
Moira Driscoll, actress, audio book reader, and gracious Memoir panel moderator
Rogues Gallery provided t-shirts which became an instant hit

One response to “FLOODED: The Benefit for Longfellow Books

  1. Pingback: Bill Roorbach: Life Among Giants (Algonquin, 2012) | A Just Recompense

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