Category Archives: The Other Day at Portrait…

Dennice and Her Bookstore

May 17th will mark the 25th anniversary of this little bookstore-that-could. A quarter of a century. It’s remarkable. A bookstore housed in a less-than 400-square foot space, where nothing digital has ever seen the light of day (okay, maybe a clock or two,) where no poorly-written book has been given shelf-space, is about to be 25 years old!

How have we been able to stick around this long?

Dennice Rousey is to blame.

Dennice and the hundreds of people like her throughout the years. You see, Dennice lives in San Diego. But we, about 130 miles away, are her bookstore. When she visits her nephew she’s also visiting us. She comes in, stocks up on months’ worth of books and leaves. When she saw our Staff Picks section a couple of weeks ago she was quite miffed that we hadn’t thought to put them on our blog– for her, since she can’t come in every week. I find this relationship absolutely awe-inspiring. That, in this day and age, it’s still possible and can still be nurtured, is really something.

Yes, we have great books. Yes, we have knowledgeable and passionate staff. Yes, all the gifts that surround our books are unique and pretty cool, too. But none of it would mean anything if it weren’t for the Dennices of the world, who recognize the beauty of it, who seize it and do whatever they have to (travel as many miles as they have to) to support it.

[Ed. In the original version of this post we called Dennice Rousey, Mary Day Dewart. We’re red-cheeked about it.]


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a bit of whimsy and some coincidence

One of the best things about working in a bookstore like ours is that it’s a place where surprises occur, serendipity happens, you read a book about a culture you previously knew nothing about and all of a sudden you’re in conversation with someone seemingly right out of the book… It’s amazing, really.

It was one of those quiet, chilly nights here at the bookstore.  I looked up to see an elderly couple coming through the door from the cafe.  The gentleman had on a grandpa sweater with no idea that it is considered a fashion item among young women today.  He wore his sweater with disregard for anything but its warmth and coziness, and it looked as if it had served him well for many years.  They both had an air about them that brought to mind farms and countrysides in a time gone by.  I greeted them and he nodded and she smiled a smile that warmed the entire bookstore. I watched as she examined many of our pretty antiques and then her eyes found our little silver vases.  She called her husband over and spoke excitedly in a language I couldn’t place. She showed him the vases, and there was more conversation and nodding, and shrugging on his part.

Soon they were both at the counter, with five of the vases, and she said to me, “Which do you like best?”  We discussed where it was going to be placed in her house and what she would be using it for, as a bud vase or just decoration.  She assessed the height of each vase and then pointed to one and said, “Perhaps this one is too serious, a small vase should not take itself so seriously. And this one,”  she pointed to another, “is perhaps too fragile-looking.  I like things to be sturdy, right?” She winked at me.  She held a third vase in her hand.  “Now this one, I believe it to have whimsy, I think whimsy is a good thing in a vase, don’t you?”  Her husband and I agreed.

At this point I was completely charmed by them and asked where they were from and if they were visiting L.A.  She said, “Romania.  Do you know Romania?”  I said I had never been there, nor had I ever met anyone from there… but I am currently enamored with literature from Eastern Europe and how cool that you’re here! She laughed and said, “Well, now you know a couple of Romanians!”  I said, “If all Romanians are as nice as you are I will definitely have to visit that country.”   She blushed a bit at the compliment. They continued to discuss the pros and cons of each vase and then their conversation drifted to their grandchildren.  They were in Los Angeles to visit their three grandchildren and were thinking of moving here to be close to them, as they miss them so much when back home. She asked if I had any grandchildren, and as they paid for two vases that were deemed to have enough whimsy, she added,  “Children and grandchildren are the money we have. That money is better than money.”  I thought about it for a minute and told her she was absolutely right.

Two of my favorites:

The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon, is a National Book Award Finalist.  It tells parallel stories, one based on true events of the murder in Chicago in 1908 of an immigrant, Lazurus Averbuch from Eastern Europe.  The other is a contemporary story of a writer named Brik, also from Eastern Europe, who decides to write about Lazurus and travels to Sarajevo with his friend Rora to do “research”. The writing is original and extraordinary.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway is a novel based on true events. During the siege of Sarajevo a cellist plays everyday on a street where twenty two people were killed in a mortar attack.  It is his way of commemorating the killings. Inspite of the danger, he plays at the same time everyday.  He is the link in the story between other survivors and snipers in a city under siege. Extraordinary book, as well.



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Love is all you need…

A Christmas Valentine’s Tale

Last Monday at about 5pm, my office door opens and in pops Lilly’s head. Her face is cloudy but I can almost see the adrenaline rush around in there.


She calls me out to her illegally-parked car and asks me to look in through the passenger side window. Inside a temporary pet carrier, snuggled in the far corner, looking to me like it’s sleeping the long sleep, is a little squirrel. I mean really little. The same kind of squirrel you see scampering up a tree, or sitting there staring at you as you pass by like it’s possessed; the same kind of squirrel you chase off your fruit trees and the same kind you drive past, shielding your eyes from the little display of horror.


This little guy had been wandering around, dazed, on one of the busiest streets in Toluca Lake. Lilly, proper, law-abiding Lilly, stopped her car and got out in the middle of traffic and single-handedly made every car whizzing by stop! She carried the squirrel to her car and came rushing to work. “I didn’t want to be late,” she told me.


She talked and cooed to the squirrel. So afraid and almost sure that it didn’t have very long to live, she called a local pet clinic and begged  them to take the squirrel in so that “at least it will be in a peaceful, loving environment when it takes its last breath.” They told her to bring the little guy in. I so wish you could have seen the relief and joy on her face at that moment.


She took the squirrel in.


The next morning I received this email:

Welll, the squirrel made it through the night and is eating peanuts right now.

[The pet store] has calls in to several wildlife rescue places and he’ll/she’ll eventually be in rehab!

Ha ha ha!  He’s still not well, and may be injured, but he’s still with us.
The pet store named him Charlie.
Charlie. I thought that suited him. Cute and scruffy Charlie. But what I thought and didn’t want to tell Lilly was that even if there were no broken bones Charlie was still likely not going to be with us much longer. A little body as little as that, having sustained such trauma.
Well. I was wrong. Not only is Charlie now called Charlene, but she is with someone Lilly calls the Squirrel Whisperer and is doing so well she will be released into a “tranquil, squirrel-friendly environment” in a few days.
Love saved the day.
Full Disclosure: Squirrel pictured is one of Charlene’s brethren and not Charlene herself.

Go love someone! Anyone!


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The lovely young woman was almost in tears as she recounted how she and her mother had bought the same ring when her mother was visiting from the East coast and, as time passed, the rings they wore every day would remind them of each other.  Now she had lost her ring and could we possibly get her another one? Following this was her description while I tried to draw the ring from her description. Needless to say, this exercise starts with drawing a circle and then listening further.
“It was sterling silver and had these sort of winding leaves, with a sparkly stone…”
“Clear or colored stone?”
“Clear like a diamond but surrounded by other stones not quite as sparkly but not colored either.”
“Sounds like marcasite.” And she is shown similar marcasite at which she nods hopefully. More sketching ensues until a drawing is shown to the woman.
“Yes, that’s it!  Do you think you can order it?”
“We will definitely call and see if it is still available to order.”
Happy ending. The ring came in and it was the right one and the customer was elated and had her sentimental ring replaced… and her mother never knew she lost the first one.

There are so many ring memories… A couple approached the counter a few years ago and began joking about the “engagement-looking” rings. The joking turned to a serious discussion about the meaning of rings and the sometimes heavy implications that go along with the gift of one.  Before they left the store he had bought her a promise ring and she had chosen one for him as well.  They were officially engaged to become engaged and I felt like an old-fashioned matchmaker for no reason other than I sold the rings and was privy to their entire conversation, which had taken place in front of me at the counter.  From joke to no-joke, it was an important event for this couple.

Another couple chose rings one evening and said vows to one another in front of the counter.  I stood there with moist eyes (weddings always make me tear up,) and acted as witness to their ceremony.  They still come into the bookstore and seem to be happily wed.  And then there was the time an older woman was looking at rings with a young man I assumed to be her son.  She left to go to the ladies room and he handed me a ring, credit card, and said “Can you gift wrap it before she gets back?”  I rushed to get it done before she returned.  When I handed him the package I remarked that I hoped his mother appreciates what a thoughtful son she has.  He looked daggers at me and replied huffily, “That’s my wife, not my mother!”  That cured me of making any assumptions ever again!

You might not expect to see a such a large selection of rings on the counter of a bookstore, but there they are in all their glorious bling-y sparkle.  Our history with rings goes back about eleven years and started with a few sterling silver Claddagh rings and grew steadily each year, incorporating men’s spinner rings, or “worry rings” as I like to call them, antique-looking 1920’s-style art deco rings, contemporary hip-glam styles and many unusual animal themed rings.  I know women who have worn the same ring on the same finger for decades — and not necessarily a wedding ring, mind you. There’s something about the ring that is different from all other kinds of jewelry… the wearer gets to enjoy the sight of them as often as others do and they are worn on fingers that are always flying around, doing the things of life. It’s a daily reminder, a talisman, something small of beauty, a milestone marker– a ring can be so much more than just a ring. That’s why, in the end, it’s not so unusual to have so many of them in a bookstore.


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spreading mirth, barring harms, and lengthening life

The world passing through the bookstore as it does, its symphony of languages inspires the education of one’s ear.  Starting us off in this New Year, three lovely women turned up speaking something beautifully musical.  Softer than French…Italian?  No, too many “th” sounds.  Castilian Spanish?  Very, very close…but not quite right.  I’ve heard those “th” sounds somewhere. Greek singer Haris Alexiou springs into my mind. Could it be? I finally hazard asking them, but with a hesitation that impels them to jump in, so it happens that all four of us simultaneously exclaim Greek? Greek!!!. I’m so pleased with the success of my faintly educated guess that I give an involuntary hop and squeak of delight, which makes them laugh…so appropriate of The Three Graces – Euphrosyne (Mirth), Thalia (Good Cheer), and Aglaia (Splendor) – the Greek goddesses who brought joy and goodwill to both gods and mortals.

These traveling three were plenty mirthful and cheery, and splendid in their accomplishments – architecture, medicine, and engineering –  girlhood friends who had carved time out from their professions to grab a vacation in Los Angeles.  Here at the bookstore they were on the hunt for things they couldn’t find at home. Thalia wanted Syliva Plath’s Collected Poems.  Aglaia seized upon California cool: Modernism Reborn by Russell Abraham and was thrilled when we pointed her to a shop in Santa Monica specializing in architecture titles. Euphrosyne just wanted to play, piling on our “lets-go-clubbing” hair ornaments. Having actual Greeks at hand I hazarded another question: “How are folks there handling the government’s economic meltdown…have they capitulated to severe belt-tightening?”  Not quite yet, they say. Well, no critter willingly steps back from fatter times. We are looking into our own budgetary abyss, equally unwillingly.  Just the right moment for the three graces to show up and start us out on the right foot…”Frame thy mind to mirth and merriment, which bars a thousand harms, and lengthens life.” Shakespeare isn’t nearly so ancient as they are, but the quote serves.  We at the bookstore are taking this to heart and are likely to hop and squeak with delight at whatever language you bring us, spreading mirth, barring harms, and lengthening life!


Note on a Theme from Aida:

We are making some exciting changes at the very same bookstore of which Jane speaks. Expanding the magic, if you will.  Also, in the interest of spreading mirth, our 50% Off Red Dot sale is still going strong!

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Shop Small Here. And Everywhere.

November 27, 2010 is the first-ever

Small Business Saturday

A day to come together in support of the small businesses we love: the shops and restaurants that employ our neighbors and reinvest our money close to home; the businesses that are the heartbeat of our communities and local economies.


We look forward to seeing you in Tujunga Village this weekend!


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“Wolf! Wolf!” cried the little boy.

We at the bookstore like to think we have a light-heartedness about us, a jollyness reflected sometimes in the unusual, whimsical gifts that we offer.  At any given time you might find a small duck that quacks six different tunes, a pewter wishbone, a tiny snowglobe with a frog in it or a fake spilled cup of coffee (mentioned here, as well. Apparently, this is all we can talk about!).  Of all the gift items we carry it is the fake spilled coffee (and wine and milk and ice cream spoon) that draw the most comments in a day.  Our owner, Julie, who does most of the buying for the store, is truly creative and original in her outlook about everything, including what would be fun to have in the store to charm our customers.  Julie likes to leave the spoons with the fake melted ice cream sitting atop a stack of books.  Yes, it works every time.   Someone walks by, spies out of the corner of their eye what looks like a real disaster happening, and exclaims:
“Oh my gosh, someone just left a spoon on one of your books…who would do a thing like that???!!!”
To which we have various replies:
“Don’t worry, it’s fake”.
“Thank you for being concerned about our books.”
“What slobs. Who would do such a thing!”

Everyone, hopefully, laughs and we go on to talk about our other gifts or books or life in general.

Day after day, month after month, the same scenario, laughter and explanations over the fake spilled food items.  Our regular customers have become savvier (though some keep falling for them over and over no matter how many times they’ve seen them,) but we get many new customers everyday, some from continents away. One evening,  such a customer was shopping at the store and purchased her items at the counter as we chatted about her home country of Thailand, which I had the privilege of visiting years ago.  Her English was certainly better than my complete lack of Thai but it was difficult to understand some of her words.  As she said goodbye and was leaving the store she suddenly rushed back to the counter and exclaimed, “Quick coffee spill, quick quick!!!”  I gave the usual reply: “Fake….plastic…etc…”  She would have none of it.  She shook her head emphatically and said, “Come see, quick!”  To humor her I stepped from behind the counter to show her our fake coffee cup on the floor, but to my horror and amazement there was a real cup of coffee spilled all over the floor puddling in little rivers, headed for our gifts.  I jumped to clean up the mess, but was laughing at the absurdity of the situation and trying to explain to this lovely Thai woman how I had misjudged what she was telling me and still trying to explain about the fake coffee spills that we carry.  She laughed but I don’t think she really understood. I think she returned to her country thinking that some American women are very hard to communicate with in an emergency.

And I ended up thinking of the little boy who cried wolf until no one believed him when the real wolf appeared.



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I know what “a cappella” means.

Their parents must have been savoring a long post-meal linger in the cafe’s back garden, because two young teen gal-pals wandered into the children’s section in search of amusement.  Their clothing fascinated me.  Conventionally unconventional in that teen-uniform sort of way – a mix of Madonna, grunge, and Goth.  Sneakers, red & black plaid net mini skirt over shorts on one, denim mini over leggings on the other, tank tops, cropped jackets with necklaces, leather buckled bracelets, tousled hair with turquoise streak, etc.  My generation, at their age, was still dressed by their mothers in girly frocks an inconceivable universe away from such street-smarts. They idly perused past a few teen titles: the goth tale The Replacement, and from the Twilight series The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner.  Then to my surprise one of them caught sight of a fairy-themed play tea set and fell in love.

Oh, enchanting moment, to see the Miley Cyrus carapace crack open and reveal the sweet youth still imagining within.  Soon enough the luminous lofting soap-bubble between-worlds fairy delicacy will thud to earth, perhaps in vampire leather and heavy eye-liner or hip-hop army boots with hot-pants and knit beanie.  But this moment still held a wrestle between a fairy tea-party and an allowance just shy of enough to pay for it.  After intense debate with her pal about whether this particular purchase merited her entire cash reserve, the decision was finally made in the negative.

Summit concluded, her financial adviser turned and picked up the vintage classic moo-in-a-can toy.  I remember this toy from my childhood. Its simple goofiness seems to be persistently attractive – there’s even an i-phone ap that brings it into the cy-world.  Of course part of its charm is that the cow (or lamb, or goat, or whatever) never sounds very real…more the slightly strangled groan/croak of some indeterminate species.  The girls convulsed into giggles and began an a cappella chorus for cow, sheep and two voices. The possibilities were too rich, and by the time I was done with my enthusiastic instigation they had escalated into full beat-box farm rap opera with all the sound effects. I was in school choir.  I know what a cappella means.  But I would never have had the nerve to leap into the kind of wild scratches, buzzes, moans, and pops these little divas were throwing out. They took a bow, then bopped off to check on their parents, and my eyes fell upon two books nearby.  Air Guitar by Dave Hickey is a terriffc collection of jazz club-honky tonk-art gallery-hot rod-surf shop essays on creativity and art and our big, messy Democracy.  He likes to take seemingly unrelatable things and remark on how they tango together to make Art.  Like, possibly, baby’s moo-cow toy and beat box riffing.  Perfect segue to the next book over:  Becoming Jimi Hendrix by Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber, the thorough and thoroughly riveting biography of the shy, spacey, apparently chronically untogether young guitarist whose wild sonic experiments got him rejected as an ugly duckling at home, who journeyed away to foreign lands (well, England) where his strangeness took the rock scene by storm, who returned home a glorious Swan God of Music.  Hail! all ye eccentrics riffing the sounds in your heads, who can still see fairies, possibly adorning yourself in plaid netting and/or a worked-over tee – we at the bookstore are happy to egg you on!


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Mattie had such soulful eyes that you could almost read her thoughts. And Mattie’s thoughts were always welcoming and cheerful.  She was in many ways the neighborhood mascot. Our small neighborhood, sometimes referred to as Tujunga Village, is much more than a lovely place to shop and eat– it is a caring community of shopkeepers, neighborhood coffee-istas, book lovers and folks who just like to hang out and chat.

We all knew Mattie and thought she was an exemplary dog, so well-behaved.  She must have learned her manners from her very caring and always polite owner, Joe.  None of that barking, yipping, slobbering, jumping and yes, even snarling, that other dogs sometimes exhibit when visiting the neighborhood shops.  No, Mattie was friendly but calm and reserved, a model of good behavior.  One look into her eyes and you knew you were in the presence of a very old soul who knew what was what and acted accordingly.

Unlike Tulip, the German Shepherd of the renowned book, and J. R. Ackerley, her owner, Mattie and Joe were bonded at first sight when a co-worker brought the 10-month old puppy to work, stood at Joe’s office door and said, “Joe, this is your new dog.”  Whereupon the pup jumped out of her arms, ran around the desk, jumped onto Joe’s lap, curled up and promptly went to sleep.  That was the beginning of their 13-year love affair.

Joe’s Mattie passed away recently, at home, in her sleep.  She was his constant companion for all those years and everyone became accustomed to seeing her by his side for walks in the neighborhood and visits to the shops, restaurants and coffee houses. We will miss her greatly and remember her fondly.





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Terrorism: The Extremely Faint Silver Lining

The World does pass through the bookstore, and last week Africa made an appearance.  A young man came browsing, so fresh and sunny that I was compelled to ask him his story.  Turns out that at 22 (fresh indeed!), Seth Maxwell is President of The Thirst Project (a title that he still finds faintly startling).  A billion people worldwide try to survive without clean water: in its 2-1/2 short years of life The Thirst Project has raised over $300,000 to complete 5 well-water projects in Ethiopia, 3 in Uganda, 1 in Niger, and Seth was just back from their latest effort in Swaziland.  That’s 34,000 rural lives dramatically improved.

Let’s see…uh…22, 21, 20…he was 19 1/2 when he and 8 buddies started this? You can hardly help thinking…what was I doing at that age?   I was in college too, but my spare time was spent at Love-ins and Janis Joplin concerts.  It’s true I joined the crowds at the Berkeley Free Speech protests and the civil rights sit-in at the San Francisco Sheraton Palace Hotel, but the current of the 60’s that caught me swirled towards Rishikesh, India rather than Selma, Alabama.  Who knows where Seth thought he might be pointed those few years ago, but standing on a street corner handing out bottles of water to raise money for what he thought was a one-off good work, he got grabbed up in a wave that swirled him to Swaziland instead.  See what that looks like here (click to download pdf).

A few days later, another shiny spirit stopped at our counter. Irresistible smile, glorious halo of curls, eyes that sent out sparks of light. Again, I simply had to know. My question turned her from snooping the New Nonfiction section and she replied, “Well, I came in to see if maybe you were carrying my book, A Princess Found “.  As it turned out, we didn’t have it (our jewel box size is enchanting, but it is the size of a jewel box).  And so I had the pleasure of Sarah Culberson’s charm as she explained the surprise of where she started and where she has found herself.  Adopted, raised by a loving family in West Virginia – when she finally came to be curious about her birth roots she found herself stepping through the looking glass into the very other world of war-savaged Sierra Leone.  She carries royal blood, and is returning an unexpected harvest from the wild oats of her father’s youth, sown so far afield. Her Kposowa Foundation is building a school and digging wells for fresh, clean water for the chiefdom of Bumpe.

The only extremely faint silver lining to the terrorism situation is that now  some might actually have a slightly better grasp of where Niger, Swaziland or Sierra Leone are than perhaps Selma, Alabama or Morgantown, West Virginia.  The currents swirl and you never know where you’ll end up…including here, talking to us in the bookstore, who are so interested to find out what’s your story.

P.S.  Water, water! These stories have got me haunted by Joni Mitchell’s sidereal version of “Cool Water”.


[Ed: It has been brought to my attention that the title of this post may be misleading. I ask you how it is that people came to be so thirsty.


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