I first met Moe when I was sixteen. I had been next door at Cody’s, looking for Kerouac’s Desolation Angels. But it was ninety- five cents new, and I only had seventy-five cents. I was almost but not quite broken-hearted. When I walked out of Cody’s I turned south, heading for Pepe’s Pizza to meet a friend when I thought of Moe’s. I walked in, thinking “No way! This is all hard-cover expensive books. Moe was at the counter and he was telling no one in particular, “I’m going to shelve pocketbooks.” No one in particular took over at the counter. I followed Moe.
Down one or two stairs, in the back of the shop, was literature. On one side, hard cover books and “quality paperbacks.” On the other, pocketbooks. It didn’t take much to find the K section. And there was Kerouac, and not only Desolation Angels. There were five or six titles, I don’t remember which. I had them all in my left hand and my seventy-five cents in my right hand, wondering how much.
My experience buying used books started at Castro’s, on University at Grove (now MLK.) Pocketbooks were usually five to twenty-five cents. How much were these? Moe was not looking at me. He was huffing, puffing on his cigar, shelving pocketbooks a mile a minute, cursing where necessary. Then he bumped into me.
“Oh sorry,” he said, unconvincingly. “Need any help?”
“No. I’m just wondering how much these are.”
“Half the price on the cover.”
I looked at a battered copy of Tristessa, printed in England, which a price of two shillings.
“How much is this one?”
He deliberated for a second.
I left with two Kerouacs, Tristessa and Desolation Angels, and headed for home, forgetting about my friend and pizza, which I couldn’t afford anyway. I was going home to raid my savings bank.
Jack Jackson, a former employee at Moe's, is a high school teacher in the Bay Area.