It wasn’t the dark and musty place you imagine an independent bookstore to be. It was actually quite well lit. With rows of shelves and tables piled high with colorful volumes in a manner that can only be described as organized chaos. But there was a kind of intuitive logic to it. You could usually find what you needed, and if you couldn’t, Oscar could put his hands on just what you were looking for in a matter of seconds.
I first met Oscar when I went looking for a particular poem. I had gone to the big name bookstore at the mall but no one had ever heard of what I was looking for.
It really wasn’t their fault. To be honest, even I didn’t know the title of the poem or who had written it.
I heard it on the radio.
I was listening to my favorite radio station one night when the sultry voice of the female DJ began reading what I can only describe as the most beautiful poem I had ever heard. At least I thought it was a poem. Free verse. About a boy and a tree. And how much the tree loved the boy.
It brought me to tears.
Of course I had to find it.
Then someone told me about Oscar’s.
As I stepped through the door I knew I was somewhere special.
This little unassuming storefront on New York Avenue turned out to be heaven.
The smell of old and new books and patchouli mingled with the sounds of psychedelic music playing quietly in the background.
Bearded men lazily leafed through existential leaflets.
Girls in ragged jeans and peasant blouses, babies on their hips, paged through picture books I had never seen before.
There was a feeling like no other bookstore or library I had ever visited.
Behind the counter sat Oscar. An elfin man with gray hair and wrinkled face that spoke of age and wisdom.
Perched on a high stool, knees drawn up, book in hand, reading glasses resting low on the tip on his nose.
He glanced up as I entered, and I thought I saw a twinkle in his eye that seemed to say, “Hello! I recognize a kindred spirit! Welcome!”
I didn’t waste any time, went up to the counter and described the poem I was looking for.
He smiled a slow, easy smile and said. “It’s not a poem but a children’s book.”
And like a magician wielding his wand, walked over to one of the book strewn tables, without even rummaging through them, pulled out a book and handed it to me!
I don’t know if it was the magic of Oscar and that wonderful day of finding his bookstore, but The Giving Tree is still my favorite book of all time.