My friends Mike and Karen Moreland, who were recently in Paris, send me this photo they took of a shop window in Montmartre. They said it reminded them of me.
Well, I can see why. This character doesn’t look much like me now, but I think it looks a lot like who I was in the 1970s, during the seven years I worked for Kepler’s Books and Magazines in Menlo Park, California.
During the 1960s, ’70s, and into the ’80s, I worked for a great many independent bookstores. Of course those were the halcyon days when there were a great many independent bookstores. Most of those jobs were temporary or seasonal work. But my main bookstore job, and the one that fulfilled me most, was my stretch at Kepler’s. During that time I learned more about the publishing business than I’d ever known before. I learned about product, and sales, and trends. I also enjoyed, more than ever, working with that gentle segment of the public known as readers.
Kepler’s Books was an important store, an intellectual focal point of the San Francisco Peninsula. It was known for Roy Kepler’s brave pacifist philosophy and it was also the hippest place in town to be. Just being a clerk there gave me minor status in my community; it also gave me a community of friends like none I’ve ever had before or since.
I started out at Kepler’s in late 1970 as the returns clerk, sorting out a mountain of returns that hadn’t been dealt with for months. I learned quickly that I loved shipping and receiving. Within a few weeks I started taking on more and more hours clerking on the floor, until I eventually had three full days of work a week. I enjoyed my work days as much as my days off. I felt like a gardener in the store, weeding the shelves, arranging the stock, making the order more orderly, watching the crop grow, get plucked, be replanted.
In 1974, when the buyer retired, I asked Roy if I could replace him. Roy agreed, and I became a full-time, responsible employee with a decent salary and a challenging job. Roy had recently doubled the size of the store, so part of my buying job involved filling vast space with stock, and in those days the paperback book business was growing madly. It was a buyer’s dream.
I think I did well. I introduced a number of improvements, kept the store stocked, and saw the store grow. That year’s Christmas was the biggest yet for Kepler’s Books and Magazines.
But, alas, I was not ready for full-time work, nor was I ready for that kind of responsibility. I freaked out. Couldn’t handle it. So in the summer of 1975, I called Roy and asked him if I could have my old job back. Once again Roy gave me my wish, and I returned to being a part-time bookstore clerk, the happiest job I’d ever had, and a job I kept until 1977.
It may have been a mistake for me to forsake the buyer’s job. Part of my conscience tried to get me to grow up and become a responsible bread-winner, to grow into a growing career. Who knows? Maybe I should have stuck with it. Instead, I cruised for a while, then became a free-lance editor, then became a small-press publisher.
I can’t say I have a single regret.