Category Archives: The Postman

Laputa, Lilliput and Eternal

Newsflashes, while efficient, are so sterile. Let me tell you a story instead, clarity be damned.

The first ever Real Adult Book I read was Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage II. It was a massive thing to my twelve-year-old eyes, a gargantuan undertaking that took all summer to get through. My very first Sci-fi doorstopper.

viaje-alucinante-ii-destino-cerebro-isaac-asimov-leer-12696-MLA20064364207_032014-F

A cover I could never forget.

I fell in love early on. Albert Morrison was my scientist avatar, awkward, love-starved, a bit desperate. Natalya Boranova a compelling and stable companion, the one I rooted for as love interest. Sophia Kaliinin a tempting sylph, but quite clearly out of Morrison’s league. And Yuri Whatsisname an apt, ultimately too-powerful rival. There was another guy in there, the pilot or whatnot, but apparently I didn’t care that much for him because I can’t remember his name. I can’t explain to you right now how proud I am of remembering those names, by the way.

The Science-fiction and plot points were awesome too, but they kind of took a back-seat to the relationships in there. I’ve always been a very character-focused type of reader, or I guess media-consumer. Be it novel, TV show or CRPG, it’s the character interactions that really do it for me.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Fantastic Voyage II opened my eyes to what books could really do for you. It was my first obsession in written form, and I’d re-read it at least five times in the course of my teenage years—whenever I couldn’t remember the name of one of the cast. That poor paperback was lovingly beaten and downtrodden by the time I was done with it.

Some time after that first read, my brother picked up from the library the first volume of Chronicles of the Dragonlance. I remember being greatly intrigued by its cover, Tanis and Goldmoon and Sturm all posing in front of a forest or a meadow or something like that, super badass and attractive. It was another massive book, too—to my eyes, at least.

I wouldn’t have dared open it up if it weren’t for my Fantastic Voyage II venture, but I was a seasoned doorstopper reader by then, you see. What would have been daunting before was only a mild challenge now. And so I started reading it. And so my true teenage obsession began.

Return of the Dragons. Better title, if you ask me.

Return of the Dragons. Better title, if you ask me.

The Dragonlance series, flawed and cliché and hit-you-over-the-head pro-Christian as they might appear to a more adult or experienced readership, was my Lord of the Rings, my Star Wars, my Star Trek. I had no idea what a fantasy trope was at the time, so everything was just fresh and mind-blowing. The religious undertones flew completely under my radar—it was just a fantastic story with Gods and mortals and life lessons and whatnot. The most awesome tale ever told, and I do mean awesome in the biblical sense. I would pay real money to have that sense of wonder again, to be able to relive that discovery. It takes so much more nowadays to buy into things….

I consumed Dragons of Autumn Twilight like it was my first heroin high, then felt sad when it was over, then overjoyed when my brother said that this was, in fact, the first volume of a trilogy. Oh, how I buggered him to find the next installment, which he did, and the third installment, which he didn’t. They didn’t have at the library, you understand.

So I had to go hunting. This was the late nineties, with the internet in its infancy and online ordering nothing but a distant chimera (It still kinda is, in Spain.) So that meant going to a local bookstore.

What do you know, it's still there, right next to college campus.

What do you know, it’s still there, right next to college campus.

Now, you must understand what this means for an awkward, shy, overweight-and-self-conscious-about-it teenage boy. It means tentatively walking into a somewhat secluded, mildly busy place, trying to look like I knew where I was going. It means surreptitiously reading aisle signs in a frantic search for the suitable section. It means working up the inhuman courage to talk to a pretty and helpful staff member because I just couldn’t find what I was looking for.

Truly an epic ordeal for the ages.

Anyway, they didn’t have it in stock. I could’ve tried in half a dozen other stores, but that would have meant repeating this whole process all over again, which was a fate worse than death. They happily offered to order it for me.  “You can do that?” I remember saying. It never occurred to me that you could choose which books the store would get. It was magical.

I bought the book from them a week later. It was the best in the series. I loved every tiny bit. And at the end, there were ads. In stunned silence I leaned that there were more Dragonlance books out there. A LOT more. So I returned to the store.

That bookstore, the name of which I’ve unfortunately forgotten, became my drug dealer. I’d come in with a list of wonderful highs I wanted to try, and a week later they’d have a pile of the stuff waiting for me. I just needed to cough up the cash, which my parents were gracious enough to provide. My mother loved it, was so glad I was spending time away from the ubiquitous videogames. My father would just shake his head in amusement. Not much of a fantasy guy. They still have my giant collection on their shelves, providing a much appreciated and probably well-calculated sting of nostalgia whenever I lay eyes upon them through the webcam.

What the hell am I getting at with all this, you might ask? I have a great fondness for local bookstores, that’s what I’m getting at. They were a strange, mystical, nigh foreboding place that later became a direct gateway to some of the best experiences of my teens, which was getting lost in Krynn and daydreaming about being a badass Red Robe. Wait, is that sad? That’s pretty sad, isn’t it. Just replace “bookstore” with “brothel” and “Krynn” with “titties.” Yeah, much better.

So hopefully this story begins to explain just how special it feels to see this at Gulliver’s Books, the bookstore to which I deliver mail every day:

Among all the other local author stuff. Conspicuously non-Alaskan-themed...

Among all the other local author stuff. Conspicuously non-Alaskan-themed…

 

Gulliver’s Books is currently stocking Eternal. Hooray!

It’s only relatively recently that I went in there as a customer, which I regret dearly. I grew older, moved away from home, had no transportation of my own for a while so I was swept into the convenience of ordering books online. Shame, shame, everlasting shame.

After going back into an actual building to buy books, it became clear how far I’d strayed. How much magic is lost through the sterile causeways of the internet. There’s something about standing in the middle of wall-to-wall shelves full of books waiting to be discovered, something that simply cannot be described. Countless covers and spines clamoring for your attention or quietly awaiting their turn. Perhaps it’s the density of work-hours condensed into one place: hundreds upon hundreds of hours per linear inch, all neatly stacked and presented as somebody’s best efforts to take you somewhere they thought was worthy of the time.

Have you done it of late? Have you ever done it? Well, now is as good a time as any. And if you live anywhere close to Fairbanks, Alaska… you know where to find my stack of hopeful hours.

Happily frothing,

– Israel

Fictional Characters in Real Life

Today was fun!

* * *

I get out of the mail truck and walk up to the customer’s door, her mail in hand. I’m steeling myself for a confrontation, just in case; they requested redelivery for a package that doesn’t exist, and it’s actually my fault because I left the notice in the wrong mailbox. Oops.

I knock loudly and ring the doorbell, hoping it will be over quickly. The smell of sunbaked dog piss hit me in the face before I even opened the fence, and mosquitoes swarm around the area as if they’d been specifically waiting for their favorite meal to show up. Long seconds go by, the upcoming conversation playing and re-playing in my head. A futile exercise, I know. They don’t ever go the way I imagine them.

I put on a smile as the door swings open. It reveals a wiry old man I’ve never seen before, slightly sunken features, thready white beard down to his chest. He stares out for a tiny moment, eyes unfocused.

“Hi,” I greet him.

“Wah!” he startles, as if I weren’t the guy that knocked and doorbelled just ten seconds ago. He recovers quickly. “Um, yes?”

“Yes, hi, you requested redelivery of a package notified on Saturday, right?” I show him the automatic printout I got in the morning. NOONE CAME TO THE DOOR PLEASE KNOCK LOUDLY AND GIVE TIME TO ANSWER is written under additional information.

“Uh, yes, uh ….” The man leans forward and dubiously looks at the paper, so close he could sniff it. I notice as I speak that his eyebrows jut out of his brow like wide, wispy canopies. It’s awfully distracting.

“Yeah, it’s my fault,” I tell him, “there was a misunderstanding—the package wasn’t for you, I left the notice in the wrong box.”

“In the wrong box got it,” the man repeats immediately. His voice is somewhat feeble. He fidgets. He missed a comma. I can’t decide whether he’s grasping the issue.

“Yeah, sorry about that. You can simply tear up the notice you got on Saturday.”

“Tear up the notice I got on Saturday got it.” He’s looking up at me, features conveying nothing but earnest compliance.

Okay, well. At least no-one is getting angry.

“By the way, if it ever happens again you can also leave the notice in your mailbox with the flag up. It’ll save you the trouble of filling out a form online.”

“Um, I need to leave the notice in the mailbox with the flag up got it.”

I blink. Twice.

“But not Saturday’s, though. I already know about that one. You can throw it away.”

“I can throw it away got it.”

We look at each other for a moment. His eyes are open to the appropriate width—not dazed, nor lidded, nor crazy wide. He looks perfectly lucid. My gaze keeps tracking back to those prodigious white eyebrows that tremble subtly with his every word.

“Well, then, here’s your mail. Sorry about that again, have a nice day.”

He takes the bundle and looks at it like it’s a handful of marbles. He looks back up, nodding vigorously. He approves.

“Have a nice day.”

The door closes. I stand there for a moment, somewhat stunned. I don’t even smell the dog piss anymore as I shut the fence behind me.

Nope. They never go the way you imagine.

 

***

 

Some stories have characters that could only exist in that story. Sometimes characters are so weird or quirky or stupid that they fail to suspend disbelief altogether. I used to balk at oddball characters in novels and fiction in general, but not anymore. They exist. There’s much worse out there.

Now, I’d like to think there is nothing wrong with this man at all. I sure hope he doesn’t have a cognitive disease, and that he’s free from the clutches of senility. I walk away from his home imagining he’s chuckling his ass off at the confused postman, or perhaps carrying on with the game of Starcraft I interrupted, fidgety hands moving at two hundred actions per minute while he mouths off the poor sod that challenged him. I was but a blip in his existence, a quickly dismissed annoyance in the grand tale of his life.

That is the reality I choose to believe.

I know kung fu,

– Israel