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THE CHOPPING BLOCK: Next year




 

Less than 24 hours into 2023, I broke my New Year’s resolution. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, I haven’t kept such a promise to myself, but’s it certainly a personal record. Yearly resolutions are about as important to me as giving up something for 40 days during Lent, that sacred time of the year when people believe eating fried fish on Fridays will save them from going to Hell. At this point, disregarding resolutions is a recurring theme, a yearly tradition. As a bibliophile with a mountain of unread books, a more logical part of my brain decided this year not to buy any more until I have a chance to chip away at my reading list. At last count, I had 75 books that needed to be enjoyed, held, loved. I read 62 books in 2022. You do the math.


I spent New Year’s weekend in Milwaukee visiting the lady friend. New Year’s Eve included a quiet dinner at a small Italian café. We both had one drink during dinner to celebrate our first end-of-calendar date together. Neither of us finished our beverage, but after the dirty plates and empty breadbasket were taken from our table, we splurged for dessert — a chocolate tiramisu that we shared with two spoons. We had to stop ourselves from licking the cup clean. It was too nice of an establishment to be tonguing the glassware.


Another young couple, dressed to the nines for the night’s festivities sat at the table next to us. We concluded they weren’t in love yet, based on the man’s eagerness and habit of hunching over the table and putting his face as close as possible to his date’s mouth while conversing. He seemed to be shouting at her, mansplaining. She sat silently, bolt upright and apathetic to his passionate speech, like a mannequin. People are strange, especially during this time of year. But it was too nice of an establishment to publicly point out the man’s kinks.


Satisfied and sleepy, we found our way back to her place, where we were in bed by 9 p.m., forgoing the customary midnight champagne toast and kiss.


Without any plans the next morning, the first day of this year, she suggested a visit to an off-the-beaten path used book and record store nestled into the city’s Bay View neighborhood. The exact name of the shop is a mystery, but ever the adventurer, she knew exactly where we needed to be and how to get there. I love that about her. Plus, I have a hard time telling her no. As we approached the strip of road, a nondescript “business district,” we noticed a long line forming down the sidewalk. We worried that the secret bookshop may have been discovered. But the horde of hungover humanity instead waited for the local bratwurst shop to open. We passed the line on our way to find the unmarked entrance. People glanced at us. Their eyes asked if we, too, were hungry for sweaty meat this early in the morning.


Once safely past the caravan of carnivores, we dipped inside the store. The magic of the many books and records within revealed themselves immediately. A grubby man wearing a well-worn Green Bay Packers cap on top of his headful of scraggly white hair welcomed us with a snort from behind the tall cashier counter. He shuffled among a pile of records and boxes of books, deep in thought, forever busy. The Grateful Dead played over the speakers.


The initial disorganization of the space dissolved once my eyes adjusted. Everything had its place — records alphabetically sorted in the front, bookshelves for every genre imaginable in the back and along the walls. There was even a rack of VHS tapes in there.

I couldn’t contain my excitement. She knew of my half-assed resolution, and we both shrugged. Splitting up to cover more ground, we picked through the sci-fi, horror, religion and occult offerings. It didn’t take long before we each had small piles of paperbacks. I’d turn a corner and find her sitting on the floor flipping through a 1980s book about the satanic panic.


“Look at this,” she said. “It’s signed by a reverend.”


“Get it.”


She returned the sentiment whenever I pulled a “Mars Attacks War Dogs of the Golden Horde” hardcover from the sci-fi shelf. Buying one more book in 2023 wouldn’t kill me, she assured. I repeated that line 10 more times to myself before we each walked out with an armful of new-to-us titles.


The Packers were playing that afternoon, and the owner planned to close up before kickoff.


“Grab a box,” he said.


We obliged and carefully stacked our findings to the top of it. The man smiled and thanked us for keeping him in business. He could tell we were fellow obsessives.


There was no talk of broken promises or 2023 being a failure already as we passed the bratwurst restaurant. Peering inside to see the maniacs, grease glistening around their mouths, I didn’t want to be anywhere else with anyone else at that moment. Maybe next year I’ll stop buying books.


The Chopping Block is Rev. Justin Criado's monthly column for the Telluride Daily Planet newspaper. It also appears in the monthly Four Corners Free Press print edition. This piece was originally published on Friday, Jan. 27.


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