Nostalgia for Magic – Weiser’s Bookstore

music-inn-225x300When I worked at Weiser’s Bookstore on 24th street I didn’t realize I was witnessing the end of something, but one never does.

The famous store had been around since the 1920s and specialized in Oriental Philosophy and the Occult.  It was an interesting period of time because it was at the beginning of the commercialization of the New Age movement, but the place had this older eccentric atmosphere. There were people who worked there who were practicing Rosicrucians and others associated with the Golden Dawn. Crystal hunters would come in to sell their finds. A customer would rage about the Planet X and be escorted to the door.

Now that I tend to collect books, I cannot even imagine what amazing obscurities the manager Chip had behind the counter towards the back. I realize that places like this in New York are more obscure than ever now. Places with old magical knowledge you could talk to people about in person. The Store is just online now. Their newsletter is great.

Once I remember I went out for lunch and wondered down 23rd street. I came across a card table where an old man sold used books. I immediately noticed the Burroughs’ classics Naked Lunch and Junky on the top. The copies were old worn paperbacks. When I picked up the copy of Junky, another man with serious eyes and who looked like a ghoul took notice of my interest and said, “That’s a good book.”

It took me a while to realize that the man was Herbert Huncke himself, one of the characters in Junky. I was spooked. Had he put the book there as bait? I believe I shook his hand and we had a discussion of where Burroughs was now. We talked about the bunker Burroughs’ had on the Bowery. He looked remarkably good for all he had been through. I believe I bought the copy of Naked Lunch to avoid feeling like I was being hustled. The idea of having Huncke sign the copy of Junky passed through my mind, but then I realized he didn’t write the book. He just lived it. I went back looking for him a couple of times, but never saw him again.

I encountered Ginsburg a few times. Once on the north side of Union Square. I recognized him and he smiled. He was just standing there. We were across the street from the old Max’s Kansas City which was now a deli. He looked like an old ghost passing through the city. The other time was at a New Year’s Day reading at the St. Mark’s church. He would be sitting there cross legged like a wise Buddha listening, always listening.

Another day when I was working on the floor at Weiser’s, a strange old man with a scrawny beard came in and started asking about books about pyramids and archeology. He had of stack of these books in his frail hands. He had glasses and a loud almost shrieking voice that got your attention instantly. He said he had a film card which gave him a discount. I am positive now that this man was Harry Smith. I believe he lived at the Chelsea Hotel at the time where he died a few years later.  For those who might not know, Smith was a polymath, ethnomusicologist, filmmaker and mystic. What would they all think of our strange world now?

X.F. Pine

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