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Monday, May 08, 2006

Ingrid's Bookstore

During the course of a conversation I was having with Anonymous Law Student the other day, I began to reminisce about living as a teenager in Lawton, Oklahoma.

(Well, "reminisce" may be a bit inaccurate. After all, doesn't that denote actually missing something? And I can hardly claim to miss it . . .)

But I had seized upon the memory of a used book I bought on a slow Friday night in the bustling metropolis of my childhood . . .

The book was The Subteraneans by Jack Kerouac. It was one of those books that is better purchased as a used paperback, that you can fold up and stick in your back pocket. But it is not the book itself that has been seared into my memory . . .

No, it is the establishment from which it was purchased that I will never forget. It was the circumstances surrounding the purchase that would certainly have made Kerouac himself gleefully appreciate the bohemian nature of it all.

Life in Lawton was probably--for all my complaints--as typical as life is for any teenager in any community of its size. If you didn't "cruise" or have the means and access to drink every evening, you had to be creative with your entertainment.

I am unsure which of my friends knew about Ingrid's Bookstore, or made the decision to visit in the first place, but I do remember the four of us--myself, Genius Friend, "DJ McNastee", and Braveheart--loading up Genius Friend's little white Dodge Neon and heading off to this fantastic world of . . .

. . . well, porn, of course.

Ingrid's was located in a declining strip mall that I think mainly consisted of empty storefronts bookended by Ingrid's on one side and a skanky dance club dive on the other. On the weekends during the evenings, guard was kept by a Hell's Angel-looking type that sat out front of the dirty glass door in a metal folding chair.

"Gotta see your I.D.s fellas before you go in," he'd said. And after fumbling with our wallets in a hurried effort to find ourselves approved, he opened the door and let us through.

The best way I can describe Ingrid's is: it was most definitely suffering from some sort of bi-polar disorder.

As we entered, the first sensation that slapped us in the face was the semi-sweet, musty aroma pervading the store. It was certainly not your typical retail establishment. And, although the store was as dimly lit as a junior high make-out session occurring in someone's un-parented basement, we could still see the faded carpeting was badly water stained in areas near the wood-paneled walls.

When you enter Ingrid's, you find yourself in a small room crowded with old metal shelves and book racks of varying sizes and colors. On the left the wall runs right up to a circular counter-slash-dusty and clouded glass display case. It is this wall and glass counter that divide the store into its dual personalities . . .

On the metal shelves and racks were a selection of books. All used, these were just plain books--mostly paperbacks--but they were not what most would consider trash. Ingrid had used copies of Catcher in the Rye, the Grapes of Wrath, Jack Kerouac, Shakespeare, Tom Wolfe, Dickens, and lots of Louis L'Amour. All decent books.

Many of these books were the kind, like I said, that you'd fold up and carry with you in your back pocket, reading them over and over again.

We spent at least 20 minutes during that first visit leafing through these books and only occasionally looking up to peer around the wall that divided the store. But after we'd worked up enough courage--with Braveheart leading the way--we eventually wandered over to the other side that makes up Ingrid's (and most certainly keeps the doors open).

There was the porn. And "adult novelty items."

And she had quite a collection. I think Ingrid must have been particularly fond of the magazine Barely Legal (not the blawg), because she must have had a copy of every edition since its first printing. In fact, she had copies of magazines I am still baffled to this day that they exist--or existed.

If you had a fetish, Ingrid's did too.

That was where I first realized--as if struck by lightening--that gay men do get old.

And, as if its not gross enough thinking about a sixty-five-year-old man and woman getting their funk on, its even more disturbing when you glance at the white-haired skeleton leafing through the Playgirls . . .

and shudder.

Across from the counter in this half of the store was a doorway guarded by a black curtain. My initial impression of this doorway was that this must lead to the offices.

But I think I was wrong.

Over the course of the time we spent browsing, I watched several men go from the counter to then disappear behind the black curtain. I watched a couple of them solemnly reappear and make a hasty retreat out of the store when their business had been fully conducted behind the curtain.

I can only now surmise what was behind that curtain. I am sure you can, as well. And you probably don't need any suggestions.

Well, after a good 30 minutes of browsing, I was satisfied with my selection of Kerouac's The Subterraneans. My compadres had made their selections, as well. Genius Friend, on the other hand, ever vigilantly afflicted with a higher sense of conscience than the rest of us had, decided not to give any of his money to Ingrid.

For the rest of us, though, the paying and conversation with Ingrid sealed the "magic" of that evening.

After checking out--I was first as I'd thought I'd beat a retreat almost as quickly as Genius Friend--I discovered that Ingrid sold pipes on the used books side of the display case. So I returned to ask about them.

Ingrid, herself, was a very large woman. And when I say "very large" I mean as in Dr. Phil-I-Need-Help-With-My-Weight-Before-I-Die large. She sat poured over the sides of a metal swivel stool behind the glass counter and was as sweet and as charming as you could imagine.

Braveheart (whom I need to post about sometime), ever the conversationalist, struck up a discussion about Ingrid's bookstore and her chosen occupation. We commented on her great selection of books, and admired the pipes as I purchased one. Comments on her exhaustive supply of porn and objects of fetish delight were left unsaid, thankfully (Braveheart often lacked that "filter" most have), but we all were thinking it.

Then Braveheart asked about the competition--Christy's Toybox--which is actually a chain of adult novelty stores that you can find in Oklahoma and Texas and, I am sure, other states as well.

To this came a reply that I will never forget, and to this day it makes me smile when I think about it.

Ingrid, as sweet as can be, looked up at all of us and said . . .

"If you'uns want to go to the Dillard's of porn shops . . . Honey, you just go right ahead on over to Christy's. And you'll pay Dillard's prices too--for your pleasure. I guarantee . . .

"But darlin," she added without hesitation, "If you want a reasonable thrill at a reasonable price, well, that's Ingrid's. I run the Wal-Mart of porn. And I'm damned proud of it . . ."

We were just 18 growing up in what we took to be a know-nothing little town in the know-nothing little state of Oklahoma. It was either be creative with our time our collect our change and get our older friends to buy us alcohol . . .

We did plenty of both. But I look back and sincerely wish I would have spent more time appreciating the wealth of interesting characters that surrounded me growing up.

That must be the difference between a man like William Faulkner and myself . . . he was busy watching; we were too busy growing up.


Blogger Anonymous Law Student said...

The Warlmart of porn...that's a winner right there. If that lady just advertised that slogan I imagine she'd do more business than Santa.

5/08/2006 2:40 PM  

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