Snowbirding 2018: Reader’s Oasis Books

A visit to one of the “must see” destinations in Quartzsite.

Years ago, when I first visited Quartzsite, I stopped at the local bookstore. That’s when I discovered that the owner was a nudist.

Or as much of a nudist as he could be in public without getting arrested.

The only item of clothing he wore back then was a sort of sack that covered his penis and balls. And maybe a hat, but I can’t say I remember that for sure. All I remember was that he was very thin, relatively old, and had a very even, very brown tan.

On that first visit, I was with my wasband and his cousin. We didn’t stay long. I love bookstores, but I was more accustomed to the kind with lots of new books. This bookstore was old and dusty and disorganized. And it was run by a nearly naked man old enough to be my father. Which was weird. I know it was seriously weirding out my future ex and/or his cousin, so we left after being there only a few minutes.

Fast forward 20 or so years. I’m back in Quartzsite again — heck, I’ve been coming here nearly annually for the past 20 years. I never got around to visiting the bookstore again. Frankly, I thought it had closed. It wasn’t where I remembered it being. And surely that guy had to be dead by now.

Bookstore Ad
Here’s an ad for the bookstore in the local tourist information booklet. It’s definitely “must see.”

But I was getting some work done on my rig the other day at Solar Bill’s and got into a conversation with one of the women who work there. The bookstore came up in conversation. Did it still exist? I asked. Yes, I was told. But where? She told me it had moved to the east end of town. Then she told me that she’d recently sat next to the owner of the place at some sort of event in town and hadn’t recognized him because he was wearing clothes.

Oddly enough, the bookstore and its owner came up on Twitter yesterday. One of the folks who follows me (who I follow back) suggested I visit the bookstore. I don’t think he thought I knew about the owner’s eccentricities. We then tweeted back and forth about it; I’ll let you click the tweet to follow our conversation if you want to.

Later that afternoon, with nothing much else to do, I tucked Penny into my backpack, hopped on my bike, and rode over to Main Street. I turned right, heading east, and pedaled until I saw the bookstore on the north side of the road. I pulled in.

It was surprisingly busy for 4 PM on a Sunday afternoon. There was a bookmobile bus parked outside and a table covered with books by a local author who was sitting there for a signing — more about those in a minute. The owner of the bookstore was sitting on a chair on the porch. I was almost disappointed to see him wearing a colorful sweater, but then realized he wasn’t wearing brown leggings. Those were his legs. And when he got up to greet me, I could see he was wearing the same kind of penis bag — what the hell would you call that thing anyway? — I remembered. It was knitted or crocheted and as colorful as his sweater. I like to think it wasn’t the same one.

He had aged. Obviously. And although he was a lot thinner with a lot less muscle tone than I remember, he was still spry.

I let Penny out of the bag and put her on a leash since there was a loose cat around. Then I went inside to look at the books. He followed me in, pointing out that all used books, including audio books, were 50% off. Then some other folks came in and he went to greet them, leaving me to browse.

Although the bookstore was in a new (to me) location, it was a lot like I remembered it. There were a ton of used books — 200,000 of them, according to the advertisement in the local tourist info rag. They were mostly organized by topic in the various rooms of the small building and, within each topic, grouped by author. There were a lot of books and authors I’d never heard of, along with a lot of old paperback bestsellers. Most of the books were wrapped in plastic — I think that was an attempt to keep them clean in this very dusty environment.

I’ve been wanting to get into some fiction — mostly to keep me from fixating on the latest from the “very stable genius” who is being roasted daily on Twitter — so that’s what I was looking for. I stumbled into the spy thriller area and found the Robert Ludlum collection. Back in the 1980s, when I took a subway to work in New York every day, I used to read Ludlum’s books. I’m a very fast reader and went through two or three of them in a week. After reading about a half dozen, I realized he had a formula and that kind of spoiled it for me. Later, he didn’t even write his books. But the one I found was very old and there’s a pretty good chance I haven’t read it.

There were a few other shoppers around, including a woman a little older than me looking for books by a specific author and a young couple who seemed very interested in older non-fiction books. I was browsing in the same room they were in — looking at some first edition youth books from 1914 for a gift for a friend’s son — when I realized that the music I was hearing was live. I wandered out into the main room in time to see the owner sitting at a grand piano I hadn’t even noticed — it was covered with books and other items — playing a kind of ragtime song with wild hand flourishes over the keys as he sang. I had never heard the song before. There were three people there — all retirees — standing nearby, listening and laughing at the lyrics. The refrain:

If you want an icy cold beer
Set the can next to my ex-wife’s heart.

I wanted so badly to capture it on video and even had my phone out, but I thought it would be rude. I was going to ask if I could for the next song, but when he finished that and we all applauded, he closed up the piano. When asked, he told the folks around him that he was 75 and that he’d been playing for a long time. He wrote his own songs, so that was an original.

At that point, a bunch of us were ready to check out so we lined up in the only area that looked as if it were set up to take money. The young couple bought quite a few books. As he checked them out, he told them about the music that was playing — an old blues song with a female vocalist I’d never heard of — he’d apparently put the music on when he was done playing.

While I was waiting, I saw an old Nero Wolfe paperback from 1966 and grabbed that, too. I’ll definitely need my readers to see the tiny print on the yellowed pages.

Bookmark Front Bookmark Back
Here’s the front and back of the bookmark I bought. Sadly, Paul doesn’t look nearly as hot as he does in this photo. But add a sweater and he was dressed the same.

He was selling bookmarks for 50¢ and everyone was buying them. When I saw the photo, I had to buy one, too. He autographed all of them, which was kind of cool.

As he checked out my two books — for a total of $3.00 with the bookmark — he told me about the song that came on, another blues number by another female vocalist. It was great music from the 1930s or 1940s.

When I was finished, Penny and I wandered over to the bookmobile. It had been a school bus and had been painted black with the words The Road Virus painted on it. The front half was lined with shelves full of books in a variety of topics and genres. The back half was blocked with a temporary partition; it was the living space for a life on the road.

The owner of the bookmobile sat in the driver’s seat, turned around to chat with that young couple and me. She looked to be in her 30s maybe — I’m terrible with ages — and had hair partly dyed blue. She said that she and her partner had been on the road with the bus selling books for exactly a year. They’d been all over the country. They usually partnered with local bookstores or wax museums or other attractions and stayed for a short time before moving on. It was all about local — not chain — establishments. She probably had about 1,000 books on board and I found one — a mystery by an author I’d never heard of — to buy. I really like to support small businesses, especially when they’re run by folks with an alternative lifestyle.

A Young Cowboy's Adventures
Here’s the book I bought for my friend’s son. You can find it on Amazon for less — but not autographed.

Penny and I walked back to the bike. I had to stop at the table where the older gentleman was sitting with his books spread out in front of them. His name was Stu Campbell, he wore a cowboy hat and vest, and he looked to be in his early 70s. He told me that most of the books had been written based on his own experiences. One of them caught my eye: A Young Cowboy’s Adventures. I asked him if it would be good for a boy about 12 years old and he said it would be perfect. So I bought a copy for a friend’s son who has been helping me with a few things at home. I even had it autographed.

With a bag half full of books, Penny had to jog most of the way back. But when I realized she was getting tired, I managed to stuff her into the backpack with the books for the remainder of the ride. I could see her over my shoulder when I turned my head; she was riding high in the bag with her head sticking out into the wind. I knew she was uncomfortable, but it was a short ride back to our home on the road.

If you’re ever in the Quartzsite area — especially in January when it’s so crazy busy with winter visitors — I highly recommend a visit to Reader’s Oasis Books. You won’t find anything like it anywhere else.

The Junk Drawer

And what I found there.

We keep our stamps and batteries in a drawer in a built-in desk in our kitchen. Sadly, that’s not the only thing kept in that drawer. Over the years, our cleaning person used it as a catch-all for little things she could fit in there. And we apparently added our own things.

Today, sick of dealing with a drawer I could often not close, I emptied it as a prelude to cleaning it out. Here’s what it looked like neatly arranged on my kitchen’s center island:

My Junk

Here’s what I found:

  • A set of 6 precision screwdrivers with 3 of them missing.
  • A screwdriver that does not belong to the above set.
  • 3 small padlocks: 1 with keys, 1 with combination known, 1 with combination unknown.
  • A “Jet Fuel Only” sticker, which is kind of odd because none of our vehicles takes JetA.
  • A small plastic ruler.
  • 3 promotional pens, all working. Why they aren’t in the pencil cup on the desk is a mystery.
  • 4 black wooden pencils with erasers, only one of which is sharpened.
  • A pencil sharpener.
  • Numerous sheets of return address labels with various holiday themes, all received in the mail by charities that thought I’d pay for them when I never asked for them. (Wrong.)
  • 2 broken sterling silver bracelets, badly tarnished.
  • An empty Tylenol purse size bottle.
  • Part of a AA battery charger, but not the part that actually plugs into the wall.
  • An exposed roll of 35mm film.
  • A small red square plastic filter.
  • A single-hole punch.
  • A wooden clothespin
  • A small black plastic protractor (think elementary school).
  • An iPod belt clip.
  • An embroidered Ducati patch.
  • 2 round adhesive-back pieces of Velcro, both soft side.
  • 2 pennies
  • 2 rolls of quarters
  • 1 roll of dimes
  • A Garden State Parkway toll token
  • A bottle of Plexus 2 plastic polish
  • A bottle of stamp pad ink
  • A First Class Mail self-inking stamp
  • A telephone jack splitter
  • A tiny of green tea flavored “mints”
  • 2 black binder clips: 1 small, 1 large
  • Several dozen paper clips, 5 of which are preconfigured as Macintosh floppy disk removal tools. (Long-time Mac users know exactly what I mean.)
  • A handful of rubber bands, half of which are dried, cracked, and unusable
  • The “start” pin for a light timer.
  • A tube of dark red lipstick.
  • A tube of Blistex.
  • 2 rings for hanging bird toys in a cage.
  • 8 key rings, empty
  • A key ring flashlight with AAA battery still working
  • 3 partial rows of staples
  • A contact lens case
  • A small round sponge
  • An envelope slitter
  • Multiple screws, including two screw-in hooks
  • A rubber foot for some kind of stand
  • A wooden peg for our futon
  • A wooden peg that looks like it came from a game
  • A lapel mic clip
  • 3 black beads, 2 of which are almost identical
  • 3 promotional pins: 2 Feedburner logos and 1 QuickBooks heart Mac
  • 2 WINGS program pins
  • A tiny safety pin
  • 5 various sized wire ties
  • A sprayer nozzle
  • Magnet-backed promotional 2002 calendar from an out-of-business local mechanic
  • A rock with bits of green color
  • A SanDisk neoprene zippered media card holder
  • A bookmark with Mount Rushmore pictured on it
  • The manual for a Sony cassette recorder
  • A pocket calculator, not solar-powered, with installed battery still functioning
  • A piece of masking tape marked “Do Not Open” with the adhesive dried up. I have no idea what this was affixed to, but recognize my handwriting. (I hope I didn’t open it.)
  • A Bed Bath & Beyond Gift Card, likely never used
  • A package of drapery pins
  • My “captain” pilot stripes from the summer of 2004, when I flew at the Grand Canyon
  • A Newton rechargeable Battery Pack
  • 7 D cell batteries, 2 of which are in an unopened package
  • 2 loose C cell batteries
  • 43 loose AA cell batteries: 6 lithium, 17 alkaline, and 20 rechargeable (4 nickel-cadmium, 15 nickel-metal hydride, and 1 unknown)
  • 8 AAA cell batteries in an unopened package
  • 2 9-volt batteries, both rechargeable nickel-metal hydride
  • Numerous postage stamps in the following denominations: 1¢, 2¢, 3¢, 4¢, 20¢, 27¢, 41¢, 42¢, 72¢, $1, $3, $3.85, $4.80, $4.95, “forever” (current First Class rate)

No, I did not find a partridge in a pear tree, despite the season.

The batteries pose a problem. The rechargeables are likely all dead for good, but there’s no place to recycle them in Wickenburg. The other loose batteries are probably at least half spent, which is why we don’t use them. The lithiums likely came out of my SPOT Messenger, which requires lithium batteries. When they’re too used to rely on them in SPOT — which I need to have fresh batteries — they work great in my handheld GPS and most other devices. The fact that we have so many loose batteries amazes me. It’s probably because they kept sliding into the back of the drawer and we kept buying more.

Anyway, the drawer is now empty. My next tasks is to clean it out — with soap and water — and then put back in the things that are supposed to be in there: batteries, stamps, and a few things likely to be in a regular desk drawer.

The rest of this crap? Who knows where it will end up?

And I wonder what’s on that roll of film…

When a Stranger Calls

Another episode from my Truth is Stranger than Fiction files.

Yesterday, I picked up a charter flight from Scottsdale to Grand Canyon and back. The client’s agent booked the flight at 11 AM and I was supposed to pick up the client in Scottsdale at 12:30 PM. This is far less advance notice than I want, but pre-Christmas business is always slow — other than gift certificates, of course — and I wasn’t about to turn it down. Instead, I hustled my butt off and, at 12:30 PM, was walking into Scottsdale Airport terminal while a Landmark Aviation fueler topped off my helicopter’s tanks.

My passengers were not around. I had a voicemail and it was from them. They were at the FBO at the other side of the airport. Scottsdale has a terminal building and two FBOs. For some reason, no matter how much I stress that I meet passengers at the terminal, they always wind up at one of the two FBOs. In the background of their second voicemail, I heard the FBO staff member explain how to get to the terminal.

I figured I had about 3 minutes to hit the ladies room. I was just finishing my business there when my phone rang. Expecting my passengers, I answered it.

“Flying M, Maria speaking.”

“Is this Maria?”

I don’t understand this. I answer the phone the same way all the time and 50% of the calls start out with “Is this Maria?” Does anyone listen when they make a phone call?

I replied (as I always do), “Yes, this is Maria.”

“My name is Jean. Steve Smith told me to call you.”

So far, this meant nothing to me. I didn’t know a Steve Smith. I didn’t reply, as I let my brain work on this information.

My caller hurried on. “Steve Smith worked with your husband Mike about two years ago.”

At first, nothing. Then a glimmer. “Steve? The guy who makes the ribs? From Texas or someplace?”

“Oklahoma,” she replied, sounding relieved.

Steve deserves his own entry in my Stranger than Fiction files. The poor guy moved from Oklahoma to Phoenix to take a job with my husband Mike’s company. The first night he’s in town, staying at a hotel, thieves steal his truck with all of his belongings in it. Mike, who didn’t know him before that, is one of a few people to help him out as he recovers from that and settles into his new apartment. He came to our house one weekend and made us the best smoked ribs I’ve ever had from our smoker. But he’d left his wife (and kids?) back in Oklahoma and he missed them. One Monday morning, he simply didn’t show up for work. When they checked where he had been living, it had been cleaned out. He basically disappeared and we never heard from him again.

Until yesterday.

Jean was talking again. “I just moved into the Phoenix area. Steve said I should give you a call. I’m looking for a job and I was wondering if you knew of anything.”


At this point, I was washing my hands, speaking to her from the inside of the ladies room at Scottsdale Airport’s main terminal through my Bluetooth earpiece. I was expecting my passengers to appear any minute. I had to brief them and hustle them out to the helicopter so they could catch a tour at the Grand Canyon in less than 90 minutes.

And this stranger, referred by a missing-in-action friend, was asking me if I could help her find a job?

“I don’t know of any jobs,” I said. “And I think it’s pretty strange that Steve gave you my number, considering he disappeared off the face of the earth two years ago and we never heard from him again.”

This seemed to surprise her. “Oh, well he always said such nice things about you.”

Like that mattered to me?

She was talking again, but I cut her off. “Listen, I’m waiting for some clients and I really can’t talk now. I can’t help you. Good luck with your job search. Goodbye.”

I heard her say goodbye as I pressed the disconnect button.

Thinking back on this, I’m amazed that it happened at all. This woman relocates into the 5th or 6th largest city in the country. A city with newspapers and Craig’s list and employment companies. But rather than tap into the wealth of all the job listings available to her, she cold calls a “friend” of a friend looking for help finding a job? Even if I was hiring, I wouldn’t hire her (unless I was hiring someone to make cold calls; she seems to have some skill at that). She’s obviously not interested in finding her own job and would prefer to have someone else find a job for her.

A stranger.

Maybe she thought I had a job to offer. Maybe that’s why she didn’t offer any details on the kind of job she was looking for. Hell, she didn’t even say what kind of work she did! Was she a secretary? A lawyer? A hair stylist? Who the hell knows? Maybe Steve told her I had a successful helicopter charter business and needed help. By being vague about the kind of job she was looking for, she thought she could wrangle an offer or interview out of me.

Not likely, for so many reasons.

I’m also left wondering if this was some kind of scam. (New Yorkers really can’t help wondering this when something strange happens. It’s in our blood.) Maybe she didn’t even know Steve. Maybe she found (or stole) his address book. Maybe she thought she would wriggle into some kind of friendly relationship with me. Maybe she thought I could help her find a place to live — or that she could move in with me. Or that she could get financial support from me with some kind of sob story.

If any of that is true, she really called the wrong person.