Granville Street was very busy. This was the south end of downtown
Vancouver, near Davie Street (in the 1980's), a bit of a rough neighbourhood. Some
nights, when locking the iron gates in front of West Coast Books,
I had witnessed hookers getting their tricks and street people begging.
The entrance to the shop smelled of stale urine and was usually
cluttered with garbage.
There were a few customers in the shop that Saturday afternoon,
browsing through the shelves. An elderly gentleman walked in and
dropped a pile of books on the counter and asked, "How much
do I get for this lot?"
"It'll take me a while to figure that out," I replied.
"I have to check the titles, the prices and then call the owner
to see if he wants them."
The old man wandered out on to the street, stood by a scrawny young
tree, and lit a cigarette. Wisps of smoke swirled above his head
in the sunlight as he drifted off in his thoughts. I began checking
through the pile of books and, at the same time, took care of other
customers. The old man came back in and stood beside me as I leafed
through the heavy volumes of Books In Print looking for current
"You know, I live in a rough part of town, near Hastings and
Carrall," he said. "That's my choice. I have friends there.
We often meet at the coffee shop and discuss things, but what bothers
me is that my friends really aren't interested in discussing the
truth. One time I actually went to the library and got books on
the subject we had been discussing the day before, but they weren't
interested. They didn't want to know facts."
He paced up and down for a while with a graceful gait, shoulders
held back. My attention was still on Books In Print.
He stopped. "You know, I used to be a pianist."
I paused in my calculations and looked up at him.
He continued: "I wanted to give a gift to my friends, so I
decided to make a recording. I booked time at a studio and while
I was playing I heard glitches in my performance. When we had finished
the recording I asked the technician if I could take the tape home
and listen to it. He refused me at first, but I was persistent so
he finally gave in. That night I listened to that tape over and
over again, and every time I listened I heard more glitches, more
mistakes. The next day I returned to the studio and asked the technician
to help me redo the recording but he refused and told me that I
would never be able to duplicate the magic that was in that tape.
"I accepted the technician's decision, had copies made and
sent them to my friends. I got a letter back from one friend soon
after he had received his tape and in just about every second line
he said, 'That was a wonderful gift you gave us. It's beautiful.'"
The old man gave a deep sigh and when he noticed that I still hadn't
finished checking through his books he went back out onto the street
to smoke another cigarette. Ten minutes later he returned, leaned
over the counter and said, "Isn't that how we treat life? We
spend so much time worrying about the glitches, that we forget to
see the magic of the whole."
We stood in silence for a moment, absorbing that thought, then
I handed him his few dollars for his books. He strode proudly out
of the shop onto the busy street and disappeared. I never saw him