In an email conversation with my father about the Flying Camel and our increasing visibility and growing buzz, he made a very interesting point about perception and reality: for all the people who walked right past us without seeing us day after day, effectively we did not exist. The stairs between Potomac Street and Entertainment Way were just a way of getting between two places, until suddenly we appeared out of nowhere.
This means that in practical terms, I officially now run one of those strange magical little shops that wasn't there yesterday... at least to some people. But isn't that how those shops always work? I mean, it's relative, just as the concept of "yesterday" itself is.
I've made the decision to lean into it. The next time someone mentions that the had no idea we were here, I'll put on a mysterious look and say, "Maybe we weren't." Maybe I can even suggest they had better come back again to make sure we're still there. Repeat business is good, right?
It reminds me of how excited I was when I first inventoried our used book stock and I found a copy of Needful Things by Stephen King among it. The titular shop doesn't completely fit the "pop-up shop of destiny" trope. The owner actually physically moves in, and it has a grand opening (and an even more momentous closing), with no sense that the shop was just always there even though it wasn't.
But it fits the general theme, and it also has strong nostalgic associations for me. Stephen King in a way marked my transition from children's books to adult ones. The first Stephen King book I read was The Tommyknockers, which was also the first book I checked out from the public library that wasn't from the children's section. I read it after watching the ABC adaptation of it that aired in May of 1993, when I was twelve on the cusp of thirteen. ABC had something of a run of Stephen King-inspired event shows in the 1990s, I think starting with It.
The TV shows were suitable for network broadcast so the sex and gore were downplayed and mostly implied, otherwise I don't know that I would have seen them at that age. I don't think I would have read the book The Tommyknockers if I hadn't seen the TV show, not because my parents would have forbidden me but because it wouldn't have occurred to me.
I was a fairly literal-minded child and stuff I was told was "for adults" when I was considerably younger than almost thirteen didn't feel temptingly forbidden to me so much as clearly marked off. I'd get to it eventually.
But The Tommyknockers aired on network TV and so I watched it, and because I had watched the TV movie I read the book. And then I read more of his books.
More than a decade before anyone would utter the term "cinematic universe", I was excited to realize that Stephen King's books were connected in ways that were more interesting and complicated than a series of sequels. I don't remember how I first started noticing this, but when I saw that Needful Things was billed as "the last Castle Rock book", I made a point to put it back on the shelf and read the other ones in order: The Dead Zone, Cujo, The Dark Half, and then Needful Things, a book that had all but jumped out at me from the shelf.
In the years since then, I've realized that the classification of a book as a Castle Rock book or not was kind of arbitrary, and "the last Castle Rock book" wasn't really. But at the time it felt like a very real thing, a set path that I was following, and I'm glad i read those books in order.
Needful Things was ultimately my favorite of them, and I'm not sure that was just due to the anticipation I built up. I liked stories about devils and their dealings, and King's Leland Gaunt presented an altogether different vision of the gentleman from down below: urbane and sophisticated on the surface, cheap and slimy underneath, and instead of contractual trickery, he's essentially a fraud, using worthless junk and magical deception to steal souls.
As I write this, I realize how much of the story works as a metaphor for drug addiction, which is probably not surprising given the author.
It might seem odd that I consider a book about an infernal drug pusher opening a cheap junk shop to liquidate the souls of a town to be a good omen for my own little store, but it's not about the book, it's about the reader. This book was part of a pivotal moment in my life as a reader (and thus a writer), and so I was happy to find it waiting for me like an old friend as I open this new chapter of my life.
As a side note, I just realized that at this point, I think three of my newsletter missives have been about Stephen King and his works, directly or indirectly. I was about to say something apologetic like “It won’t always be like this,” but the truth is, it won’t always be anything. Anyway, as I said, his works came into my life at an important moment, so this probably won’t be the last Stephen King post anyway.
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