Friday, March 23, 2012

A Time Of Darkness and Despair

My first visit to Green Apple Books? I remember it well. The creaky floors, Cruddy (by Lynda Barry) on display for $6, and, up on the mezzanine, my favorite section of all - True Crime. As with Mystery and Science Fiction, it is the (hopefully not too) worn and tattered paperback which is the linchpin of this section. Repressing a shriek of delight I grasped Say You Love Satan (David St. Clair) and The Search For The Green River Killer (Carlton Smith). Foolishly I set them down to wander the store some more, then was unable to find the mezzanine again! Years later I was able to read the Carlton book, but St. Clair's renowned work on the hessian Satanic drug addicts of New Jersey continues to elude me.

     Eventually I started working at Green Apple, and am known as the store's resident authority on this section, though our bookkeeper is more widely read in this field than me. The dynamics of used true crime had changed in the meanwhile. As I remember the glorious '80s and '90s, every used bookstore was hip deep in trashy, gnarly paperbacks priced under $3. Browse shops in San Francisco these days and these titles are few and far between. So, a few weeks back, when two boxes of of mass market true crime treasure came in across our buy counter, I glimpsed for the first time many titles which captured my attention. Convinced a ravenous market existed for these books, I was determined to read as many as I could before they hit the shelves. Over a period of two weeks, I tore through Angel of Darkness (Dennis McDougal), The Misbegotten Son (Jack Olsen), Freed To Kill (Gera-Lind Kolarik with Wayne Klatt), Ted Bundy: The Killer Next Door (Steven Winn & David Merrill), and The Gainsville Ripper (Mary Ryzuk).
     It wasn't all good times. I knew immersion in this level of depravity would have negative effects on my mental health. Children cannot understand that even though a bad thing happened, it is incredibly unlikely to happen to them. After reading true crime for two weeks, I developed this same problem. Before, I was able to control my fear of being abducted and cut up about by realizing, if this terrible thing happens to one person, that's too many, but it does happen. But if it happens in the US to 270 people in one year, the odds of any one individual falling victim is 1 in one million. In practice, even these odds are lessened by my being male, fairly privileged, and avoiding dangerous situations. For example, I do not get hell of wasted drunk, climb in a stranger's car, and take the pills he offers. I don't accept offers to pose naked and tied up for money, even a hundred bucks. This kind of risk reduction has served me well over the years. But logic was defeated after 1500 pages of terrible happenings. The most casual encounters seemed to me to be a set-up. Many men seemed to be hiding a secret and horrifying life. Stopping to tie my shoe, I felt like a limping and lonely antelope on the savannah. While camping, I had to struggle not to run the 50 yards from the river back to our campsite (it looked more like 50 miles) after a branch broke in the distance. I thought it a security breach that my friend told a staggering drunk the name of the campground we were looking for. He seemed an ancillary character, no doubt soon to be picked up by his brother, a maniac with a history of fire-starting and head injuries, recently released from prison...  

     Plato recommended all things in moderation, but that's not really me. In this instance, I am more like the character sang about by Johnny Cash on Live At San Quentin - "I had all that I wanted of a lot of things I had, and a lot more than I needed of some things that turned out bad." It will be at least ten days before I'm ready for Driven To Kill  (Gary King), while Camouflaged Killer (David Gibb) still waits on the shelf at home.

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