After graduating high school, I flew directly to NYC. I didn’t know a single soul, so I spent most of my days commuting to Union Square and walking around. This was back in the day when I frequently read for pleasure, or as many would call it, the “pre-college era.” College really takes the life out of you like that – or maybe it was just the Ivy experience.
Anyway, I bought a couple of books from some man’s stand, one of the books being Dante’s Inferno. This particular copy was raggedy and foxed. Honestly, it looked quite golden. It was beautiful.
I was walking down St. Mark’s Place when an old man stopped me. He looked at the books in my hand, then started reciting the first page of Dante’s Inferno in English, then in Italian. I wish I could give you a vivid description of what he looked like, but I don’t remember. Just picture him as an average white, old man. He introduced himself as Frank, a former professor of I don’t remember where. After some small talk that I also do not remember, he offered to sell me a book for one dollar. He boasted about the library in his apartment, housing over one thousand books. Of course, I said yes. Frank starts climbing up his stoop and motions me to follow him. Stranger danger? Never heard of it. I followed him inside.
This apartment building was crummy. Shit looked ancient, just like Frank. As I reached the bottom of his staircase, I realized I probably shouldn’t follow this elderly stranger into his home. I weighed the pros and cons in my mind. Pros – I could get to see the thousands of books he mentioned. Cons – possibly getting murdered. I decided I would just visit the New York Public Library if I really wanted to see multitudes of books on shelves.
I was ready to sacrifice my life for this one-dollar novel, even though I knew I’d probably never read it. I remember thinking, “Damn, this is where I die. Fine.” Evidently, I did not, but that is a sentence I’ve said to myself quite a few times.
After a few minutes, Frank came back downstairs, and we concluded our business transaction. I don’t remember the title of the book, nor did I ever read it. I do, however, think of Frank every time I’m in a near-death situation. Maybe he’s my Virgil.