Portal’s is Closing
I was reminded that this blog was originally intended to be something of a travelogue, kind of a point of view of Bridgeton from the eyes of a San Niebla/ Space City/Metroplex resident. There are more cities to add to that list, but that would be giving more about me away than I’m comfortable. Suffice it to say, I’ve been around. And I have discussed some places in and around here, and yes I talked about my feelings about the supers here. There is so much to talk about and so limited time. This is one of the reason I scream to myself at night, wanting to be at my computer spewing out stories for hours at a time just to get the good ideas out of my head where other people can hear them and yet I can only put down somewhere between 500-1000 words a day during my lunch break. Before you ask, it’s a habit thing more than anything else and there are so many distractions at home for the limited time there. The work provides me with the structure and the isolation I need to get some good work. In exchange it takes most of my time in a day and can drain me severely. (See post on Soul Sucking Jobs) But this is just rambling about books, so today, as sad as it feels, I’m going to ramble about books. No, not my own. I’m saving that rant for when I have a decent cover artist for the at least one book I have done.
Granted there are vast numbers of book stores, including a decrepit one that smells of mold, smoke, and archaic volumes of forgotten lore, which claims to be Bridgeton’s Oldest Bookstore. However, like many bookstores here, these ancient homey markets feel more like a tradition than a business, a hobby passed down, father to son, to keep a mediocre store alive with the same stock that it opened with so many years ago. I admit, I went into BOB once and thought I found some ancient grimoire of unknown and incalculable evil underneath stacks of old and crumbling Starlog magazines. Turned out it was a very nice collection of Lovecraft stories, complete with annotation from scholars and sorcerers, hand bound as an art project sometime in the late eighties. The store asked far too much for the tome and I walked away. I honestly wish them well. Every town is in need of a good bookstore or seventeen. There is a structure downtown that has spread all over the Bridgeton area. I’m not complaining about that in the least. One of the Icons of the Bridgeton
Life pages, Portal’s Books is a sight to behold. Or at least it was.
For those who don’t know, Portal’s started as an independent book store just off the center of downtown, renowned for its rare book collection, huge selection, strange pulps still for sale, and a local flavor. It has expanded to several satellite store including a massive former warehouse in Duckland mall where it hosts book signings sometimes taking over the whole mall with hordes of people trying to get Felicia Day’s, William Gibson’s, or Togrusa the Impenetrable Darkness’ autograph. Personally, I couldn’t get into Felicia Day. William Gibson was such a nice guy, and Togrusa the Impenetrable Darkness’ book was nice enough when he wasn’t getting all preachy.
They carried new and used books some imports, and other hard to find items. Across the state, it became the name to know when it came to finding cheaper books, the new hot volume, or just something no one had ever heard before just so you could tell your friends you read something they can’t comprehend, or before it was cool. No one has to know. I won’t tell.
On our first scout run, we spent hours lost in the store, enjoying the feel, the wondrous nature of being surrounded by such works. For the record, for years, K and I would love to wander around books stores, like that Half Price chain, just seeing what was available, what new flavors (and cheap prices were available) so getting lost in Portal’s felt like home to us. You just have to get used to the fact that you will get lost, but it’s not your fault unless you can handle the non-Euclidean geometry of the hyper-dimensional architecture of the building. The strangest part was wandering through the garden section trying to find the Graphic novels. It wasn’t that the gardening section was all that weird, other than the fact that it was on the east side of the river and about 3 miles away. I still have no idea how I got there. I called K to ask her about it but she was trying to work her way back from Ducklyn using the knitting section as a point of reference. She knew she was still in Bridgeton when she was flipping through the anthropology section and if she could follow along to the psychology section she might find the help desk. The help desk really was helpful, for once. We laughed and vowed to spend many of hours wandering the enchanted halls.
That was then. When we returned, we expected the new and fascinating books to come leaping off the shelves like a deranged harry potter fan fiction. But we saw the prices go up and the arrogance with it. A new upgrade to the building left it hollow. The prices (a subject for which it claims was renown) left us flat and disillusioned. For the record when we say the used was too high, we are not talking about going online for books, I’m referring to the other brick and mortar places we used to frequent. Suddenly, “Used” meant “15% off.” And “Remnant,” please get it out of our store translated to “Ok, you suckers, you have talked us down to 25% but at least look like you are getting a deal or we will fart in your latte, capeche?”
The reality, like any good magic trick, is less stimulating the seventh or eighth time. Suddenly the four primary walls of the store seemed less a limitless border like a Tardis in reverse, but the warehouse it used to be once long ago. After my third visit where I left feeling a strange malaise of disappointment, I started to wonder if someone had found the imagined magical sigils painted on the walls to alter time and space and scrawled graffiti over them, disrupting the mystic energies. It was so strange. Strange enough that K and I went back several times go figure it out, and try to find several books that other stores refused to carry. We found some of the books at least.
Years after that first visit and just as I was suspecting the spell broken, I bumped into a co-worker at one of my MANY temp jobs who told me the secret that kept me wondering what happened to this fortress of Solitude turned agent of bibliomancy. He had worked there for many years, actually espousing the merits of their employ until one day…
“They sold out.” He told me flatly.
“How is that possible?” I asked. “They are a book store. It’s not like they are suddenly like a Bucky and Donna’s or some other chain.”
He shrugged. “They found the internet. Suddenly, they found they could get better prices from people willing to pay shipping for all sorts of books. So they made a Nile account and quietly put most of those really cool books up there. Half of the rare books disappeared; including this one really cool ancient tome of Lovecraftian stories that always gives me the creeps. Four weeks after that, well, the place didn’t feel like Portal’s anymore.”
And he was right. The timing corresponded to our feelings about the place. In essence, they sold their soul online like so many others. That for me felt like another Bridgeton staple we have come to expect more and more as we get crankier and more despondent with our current situation, the illusion of greatness treated at the genuine article rather than anyone pointing out something that was once great that had fallen into disrepair. Still Portal’s like so much of the area of geeks and freewheeling spirits could be a great thing again, if anyone could see what it could be rather than what it presents itself. Gods help them see it for what it is. It might kill the store entirely.
And he made me wonder how many strange and archaic tomes of Lovecraft stories are floating around this town, let alone the nation.
[Edit: according to a reader, MrMystic93, there were 13 copies in the Bridgeton area as of 2007. He says that most were bought by an anonymous collector in New Amsterdam last year who keeps them behind four inch panes of glass etched with Enochian script. When I asked how he knew this my tea grew intensely cold. The fun part was I don’t remember making tea whatsoever let alone getting a steaming mug that went from piping hot to frost covered in a matter of moments. I also don’t own a mug that says “I Heart The Depths of the Human Soul Long Since Devoured.” So I have no idea how you did that MrMystic93, but bravo. BTW, the eldritch horror pinup girl on the reverse side was a nice touch. I say was because two days later the mug dissolved into oak leaves. Probably should have taken a picture or two, and checked on my magical wards.]
So I’m heading to the Ducklyn branch soon. I still support my local bookstore, though I get more from the comic shop than I do from the Portals. You never know, there still might be a wondrous book in the back somewhere that they have all forgotten about, sitting, waiting for us to find the magic inside. Either that or the new Black Terror book might be out.