Monday, March 30, 2015

Sam Kleinman: A memorable fancy

Sam Kleinman zt"l was an antiquarian book dealer in Philadelphia, who owned the Schuylkill Book and Curio Shop in a very dreary and rundown section of the city (Lancaster and Belmont Avs). From the first time I stepped into that book shop I knew it was mythic, and I was stepping up a plane or two in the esoteric levels of reality. Titans and demons were lounging around in his shop, inside of boxes, behind staggering piles of old books that were supported by other leaning and staggering piles, up in the dirty light fixtures. They were telling old tales and smutty jokes, smoking cigars, and sniping at the way things are.

I met Sam in 1970 as a sophomore at Penn, and spent untold hours in his "store". 'Store' is in quotes because it wasn't a normal bookshop with volumes arranged in some kind of order on shelves. There were a couple of locked metal cabinets, a shelf or two, and the rest of the space was full of piles of books and piles of boxes of books. I was allowed to rummage thru them, looking for poetry, old mythologies, medieval and modern psychology, and undiscovered Blakean geniuses.

It was in this kind of unpretentious (to say the least) chaos (to say the least), that one day after I'd been showing up at his door sporadically for a couple of years, he opened one of those locked metal cabinets and showed me an original Blake, possibly Songs of Experience (gasp!!!). As unknowledgeable as I was, I about fell on the floor. It was the most notable (by an exponential factor or 2) of the many treasures he showed me over the years, treasures I was mostly unable to appreciate or understand at the time.

I guess Sam liked me for some reason, me an unkempt hippy living on the edge. Indeed, he was profoundly kind to me, generous in every meaning of the term, and I remember more than once walking the mile and a half or so back to Penn (I had no money to throw away on buses or streetcars, especially after dropping $10 or $20 in his shop) with a *large* box of books hoisted on my shoulder.

I remember once, while I was searching thru stacks of boxes in a back room, someone knocked on the door. Sam didn't want walk-ins so he kept the door locked and usually just shooed people away. (Was I the only exception??) After a few moments he came back to me in a back room, where I sat on the floor, face streaked and hands black with dust after a long session of hunting thru boxes. He was chuckling.
"The guy wondered if I had any dirty books. I told him I had hundreds of boxes of them, but not the kind he wanted."
I was so clueless I didn't get the humor! He had to explain it to me, probably with a look of wonder and pity on his face.

Sam Kleinman. May his memory be a blessing. It is to me.

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