Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg. Brooklyn, 2013.
I said, let’s go to the Village but she told me it’s here. I’ve been away for a while and didn’t realize my Ruby Tabeata’s Greenwich Village was gone.
The streets where Gregory Corso walked and Jack Kerouac sat on stoops while he was people-watching are now full of Katie Holmes, Emma Stone, and Julia Robertsville.
Not your Beat Gen story anymore. But where did they go? Artists don’t die, they just move on. Look around you, my friend says, and I have to admit I see them. Young guys with long hair, kids with their jeans torn in all the right places. But these are trust fund babies, aren’t they?
Yes, she says, and no. She is my friend from college who lives uptown, Lenox and 133rd Street, to be exact. New York pushed most of its artists out years ago, but the ones who can stay on rent control are still hanging on. And even if they can’t afford to live here, they can be(at) here.
So here we are. Bedford Avenue is teeming the way Bleecker must have in 1958, crowds surging every which way, and stores-vendors-eats are everywhere. Storefronts aren’t as spiffed up as they are in the Village now and the buildings look as though real people actually live in them.
I start to smile.
We look for a bookstore, weaving away from Bedford to a side street and turning right on North 4th. We go all the way around to Bedford again and then see it—Spoonbill & Sugartown.
It’s L-shaped, a one-room shop like a living room with books laid out on tables and up on shelves. A man is showing his young daughter some children’s books and she stands, staring at him in awe. The young adult and tween fiction is in the back, and that’s where I go.
It’s a small selection, but a good one. Lois Lowry, Karen Hesse, more interesting authors than the usual fare. I turn around to look behind me and then I see something else that makes me feel at home, or at least, in Ruby’s home.
A black cat is sleeping on the table. Underneath her are several books but nobody would disturb her to find out what they are. This is her place, and we all know it. I smile again. Solange. Because Solange is Ruby’s cat, I know Ruby would have come to this store if it was open in 1958. And everything else in here, and everyone else, tells me she would have stayed.
The cat gives me the courage to ask the clerk behind the counter about The Beat on Ruby’s Street, which I’m holding onto for dear life. She reminds me a little of Cyn at the leotard store in my book, quiet but intense; which is just how I’d want her to be. The clerk tells me she'll give it to someone to look at and they'll get back to me.
A week later, they do, saying they’ll take a few books and see how they sell. If they don’t, I will have to come pick them up; if they do, I'll need to bring over some more.
I don’t know what will happen, but it’s really good to know that Ruby and her friends will be in this really cool bookstore. There are just four books there (and hopefully the cat won’t sit on them, though I guess it’d be okay if she sat on one and you could still see the others.)
If you’re there, or even if you’re not there, maybe you can go there and if you want, pick up a copy? I’d also look around because they have a lot of great books there.
And if you do end up with The Beat… well. Let me know what you think?