About 2 hours ago I found out my good friend Allan Milkerit died; he passed a little over a year ago. Allan was a San Francisco Bookman.
Allan Milkerit taught me books.
He was one of the best.
I met him while I was in grad school; he was running the show on the third floor of a building in the Mission District of San Francisco. You’d never know it was a building full of books, cause the ground floor was a paint store, and the neighborhood wasn’t the kind you’d think of when you thought about used books.
Does that make any sense?
I had some student loan money, so I started scouting books as a job…and I needed a place to sell them. Allan was, for all intensive purposes, running the show at a place called “Tall Stories”. It was a used book co-op, right down the hall from the great Bolerium Books, as well as Meyer Boswell. Bolerium sells Leftist / Commie / Gay / Socialist Literature, and Boswell sells important and antiquarian books on Law.
The first time I met Allan, he was behind the counter, and he was schooling someone on Ed Abbey first editions. The next time I went in there, I built up the nerve to ask Allan if I could rent 3 shelves for my stuff.
He sized me up and asked my area of specialization.
“Modern firsts,” I said.
He scoffed and said something like, “join the club.”
We became fast friends. He even made some space for me in his glass case, where he kept the good stuff. I hadn’t even been there a week.
Soon, Fridays became “Meat On A Stick” day, and we’d hit some of The Mission’s classier joints for just that: meat…on a stick.
Usually with John, who collected baseball books, and was Allan’s friend to the end.
One of my best scores as a bookman came one day when this nutty dude who used to edit a zine dedicated to jazz music came into Tall Stories on a day I manned the counter. If you manned the counter, you got to buy. Nutty Dude had six letters William S. Burroughs had written to him, and they were great. The best one was a two page letter that started out something like this: The Last Three-Toed Sloth seen alive was hanging from a tree in Brazil before the white man put a bullet in its head…
Of course I’m remembering a letter that I read over a decade ago, so I’m sure it didn’t say that exactly, and I gladly paid Nutty Dude the $140 he wanted for the lot of 6 letters. Allan walked in, looked at them, offered me $400, and I gladly sold: I really thought I was doing great turning a $260 profit in 10 minutes.
Do I need to tell you how The Superior Bookman did with his buy?
Allan knew — and loved — Ed Abbey, photoplay editions, Ferlinghetti’s Pocket Poets series (the only known complete run sat on a shelf in Allan’s bedroom), everything about Ann Tyler, and movies.
Allan loved the movies.
Allan drove me crazy, too: half-filled cups of coffee so old they looked like a science project; his stubborn behaviors; his ability to kick my ass in the Frisbee Game we used to play in the hall when no one was around.
I wish I could figure out how time works, and how I can go so long without calling an old friend to see how he’s doing, but how it can seem like yesterday we hung out, and ate Meat On A Stick, and talked about how the internet was killing the Independent Book Store, and how he wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to survive.
I just wish I would have been there more for him.