With all the free booze and old friends reuniting, you could be forgiven for mistaking the party in Bailey/Coy Books last Thursday for a holiday gathering. But look past the crowd of people to the empty bookshelves swathed in black gauze, and you'd understand that the party was a wake; booksellers and longtime Capitol Hill residents smiled wanly and tried to be funny as they said good-bye to their favorite bookstore.
They also bought the last few items Bailey/Coy had to sell—a few choice bits of memorabilia, like an autographed Annie Leibovitz photograph and a pair of boxer shorts autographed by David Sedaris, were auctioned to help reduce the debt Bailey/Coy owner Michael Wells has incurred. Wells even sold the sandwich board that was used to display the opening sentence of the day at Bailey/Coy. For the occasion, of course, it had a last sentence (Wells chose the last line off the top of his head—"For there she was." If you don't know where it comes from, you've got some reading to do.)
In the corner of the room, where the magazines and greeting cards used to be, someone set out a large, raggedy collection of spiral-bound notebooks. In these notebooks, from 1990 to the present, the staff communicated amongst themselves. Many of the messages were the mundane, passive-aggressive notes we toss off to our coworkers all the time—apparently, night crews often forgot to shut off the air conditioning at Bailey/Coy during the summertime, and a few cashiers often forgot basic register functions, much to the ire of coworkers.
But peppered throughout the books, in the messy handwriting of dozens of booksellers, the exceptional moments are there, too. Employees pasted weird discoveries into the notebooks, like a typed letter from a prisoner asking if any lesbian couples at Bailey/Coy would like to take him in as part of a triad upon his release in a few months. There were the customers who were completely intolerable:
Creepy Eric was in tonight w/ his new "bowl" haircut. He is the super-freak of all freaks! I told him we wouldn't order any more books for him because he never picks them up. Don't order anything for him! He's crazy + needy.
There were the customers who were famous; Tony Kushner and August Wilson popped in one weekend, and Susan Powter "the diet guru" bought Cunt and Traveling Mercies from Bailey/Coy, among other books. The starstruck employee noted that "she had the farts—must be from all the vegetables she eats."
And there were the notes that seem strangely prophetic, like this one, from April 11, 1995, announcing a new addition to the bookstore: "Ohmigod! We have a computer section where gardening used to be. Technology conquers nature. It's all over now..."