How a shelf life stacks up

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How a shelf life stacks up

Peter McNevin has a job you can only dream about. No, he's not an astronaut. And no, he's not a masseuse for the underwear models here from the Czech Republic. He runs the used-book store, Abby's Book Nook, in Itaewon's funky neighborhood back behind the mosque.

That's right, you love books, and you wish you had started Abby's. You're one of the people who've gone there and asked Mr. McNevin if he wanted to sell the store, and he told you "no."

That's good, because you probably couldn't run Abby's and stay sane. Things happen there that you could never dream of. Not every customer comes in asking for Clancy, Koontz or Crichton. On a typical day Mr. McNevin gets people asking for a book on things like commercialism in China in the '60s and '70s, (as if such a thing existed), baseball memorabilia or Pokemon magazines. If you're Mr. McNevin, you shake your head and tell them sorry, and think, "Haven't they heard of Amazon?"

On less typical days he'll get drunks barging in and demanding pornography, shouting "Playboy! Penthouse!" If you're Mr. McNevin, you throw these guys out and think, "Haven't they heard of cable TV?"

Other customers take advantage of the coziness at Abby's. The two couches in the shop are a little too comfortable and, well, accommodating. You sit on them and they swallow you up and tell you you're a teenager again in your parents' den. Some patrons use them for heavy necking. If you're Mr. McNevin, you see this and think, "Get a room."

The Muslims in the area treat Mr. McNevin like one of their own. In fact, they made him one of their own, without bothering to get his consent. They took him in once, when his judgment was "clouded," and laid their hands on him. If you're Mr. McNevin, you woke up the next day and thought, "What did they say? My Muslim name is 'Zaeed'?"

The best way to enjoy Abby's, and save Mr. McNevin the trouble of thinking things that will later wind up in newspaper columns, is to go without an agenda. Visit on a Sunday, after lunch. Mr. McNevin will make you a cup of coffee and play your kind of music. Explore the shelves. You'll be dazzled. In front are old coffee-table books. Look for "Henry Miller: My Life and Times."Behind the counter are collectibes. Look for a first edition of Rudyard Kipling's "Kim" (1901). Around the corner you'll find some obscure travel titles, like "Vagabonding in America" (1973) it will tell you all you need to "hitchhike, crash, odd-job, live in communes or make it by drifting and hanging out." And you didn't know what you were going to do after Korea.

In the mood for erotica? It's all stored discreetly on a high shelf, above the religious titles. But be careful: It's rigged so that when you pull out one book, say "Delta of Venus," the whole stack will come tumbling down. A young Canadian woman was the latest victim.

If you're Mr. McNevin, you know what she wrote in her journal that night: "Today I got crushed by 20 pounds of erotica, and realized I didn't want to own a used-book store after all."

by Mike Ferrin

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