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Sunday, January 8, 2012

1-8-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #5 (Working at the Strand Bookstore, Broadway & 12th Street, in Greenwich Village)


So. I have a rockin’ start to a creative writing career at the tender age of 18. Some wag calls me “The Downtown Joyce Maynard.” I take an instant dislike to Joyce Maynard, as she’s writing for The New York Times and besides getting great gigs, has a rumored affair with writing legend J.D. Salinger. Not that I want my personal life to sully my career or credentials – that would be against my independent nature -- but I do wind up with a semi-secretive relationship (because I wouldn’t want my personal life to sully my career or credentials!) with a fellow Village Voice writer whose intellect and sense of humor were great aphrodisiacs. (His memoir book that came out recently, Lucking Out, mentions none of his ‘70’s flames by name because, “it was a decision on my part to leave my romantic/sexual/personal life as blurred as possible, not only because I didn't think it'd be that interesting to the reader but because I didn't want to embarrass anyone I had been involved in. They might have moved on with their lives, be embarrassed at having the past brought up, you just never know, so I decided to play it safe.” – entirely forgivable, then.)

And even though ol’ Trixie A. Balm wrote for the Voice, Creem, Circus, Gig, and many other fine music publications. . . Lauren still needed another job to supplement income during college. She did what any aspiring writer and junior boho in New York with any sense of history would do: Look for work at the world famous Strand Bookstore, in the Village.

Tom Verlaine of Television (New Wave Art Rock geniuses) worked at the Strand, as did Patti Smith, and countless other infamous and famous alums cut their teeth in that venerable used book emporium. At any rate, to the Strand I went and got a job in the office in the basement, fulfilling people’s book orders sent in the mail (remember snail mail?). We would type up these forms, throw them into a suitably sized box, then send them upstairs to the “pickers” to pick the books and bring them back for us to finish the order (when a title wasn’t available, we’d have to notate that) and then we’d have to look up the price on the inside cover of the book, tally up the order, and add tax and shipping.

Keep in mind this was the era before ANYTHING was automated; everything had to be done manually, though of course accuracy never suffered on that account at the Strand!! Or, at least, it didn’t suffer much.

Anyway, I met one of the coolest people who became a friend and bandmate to me; Miriam Linna, originally from Ontario, was living in New York, and working at the Strand. She had just been given her walking papers (the nerve of ‘em!) the ultra cool retro rockers The Cramps, and was a sad lil’ drummer gal. I had just spent several months brainstorming a new band, Nervus Rex, with Shaun Brighton. We needed a rhythm section, and so it seemed like kismet to have met the fabulous Miriam Linna and be friends with her.

The pay at the Strand was probably minimum wage, like $2.30 an hour, but it was on the books. I worked there for a few months in 1977. . . then one day I was talking in a too-loud voice at my desk when there was a boss-bashing session. Fred Bass, our boss at the Strand, just happened to be standing behind me at the time (who knew?!), so I was canned, pretty much, on the spot. Oh well. Probably taught me a lifelong lesson: to NEVER badmouth the boss on premises – and to keep my voice volume better modulated, generally.

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