A couple weeks ago I made my best choice in New York so far – I decided to start volunteering at Housing Works Bookstore! This organization runs second-hand bookshops and thrift stores all over New York City and Brooklyn, and the main bookstore/café in Soho is staffed entirely by volunteers. All proceeds go towards ending HIV/AIDS and homelessness.
(They also host all sorts of events both in the stores and around the city — here’s a list of the spring events coming up.)
I feel like I have finally found a space in New York that makes complete sense to me. Housing Works is quiet. It’s organized. People there know not to bother you if you have a book open, or even if you’re just holding a book, or even if you’re just standing there. Zero bothering!
The café serves my two favorites: coffee and beer. The floor plan is wide open, not like all of those tiny, narrow, windowless NYC restaurants and shops that I still can’t quite get used to. And although the books are stacked pretty high all throughout the store, it doesn’t feel like you’re navigating one of those little bodegas where one wrong move could send a pile of toilet paper rolls and soup cans tumbling down around you. Bodegas = earthquake hazard.*
On my first shift I was supposed to be helping out in the café, but they needed an extra hand at the front of the bookstore area, so I volunteered to work there instead. My first task was to turn a chaotic pile of recent donations into a manageable pile that a bunch of the guys could then move to the basement for sorting.
In this pile I found such gems as “Cooking for Dogs,” “A History of Metal Music Boxes,” and “How to Be a Good Lover – Girlfriend to Girlfriend” (this seemed to be more of a “let’s have some girl talk” thing rather than a lesbian thing, but either way, very helpful!)
On my second shift, I arrived to find that there was an event taking place that night — one of the former Antarctic Writers in Residence was sharing poetry she wrote and photographs she took as a result of her trip to Antarctica. For those of you who recall the recent book I read about Antarctica, I’m sure you can imagine how much fan-girling was taking place on my part, and you can be adequately embarrassed on my behalf.
On my third shift, there was another event taking place — literary speed dating, a networking event for book agents and publishing houses. Wine was involved, so needless to say, it looked like it was going pretty well for everyone.
On my fourth shift, yet another event — a concert/poetry reading featuring Yo La Tengo and Amber Tamblyn. In attendance were Robin Wright and the guy who played Quinn in Homeland! Apparently I was standing next to Quinn for like an hour and had no idea it was him. For those of you who know how bad I am at recognizing celebrities, this should not come as a shock.
I read a book recently where the author talks about this thing she and her friends call a “moocow.” Basically, it’s when someone does or says something that makes you think, “Holy God, this person and I are meant to be together.” Basically, it’s like fate sending you a sign, except that “moocow” is more fun to say than “fate.”
I have so many moocows with Housing Works already: the Antarctica and literary speed dating things, for one. There are a lot of little things — I became obsessed with this random song recently, which wouldn’t be weird except that the song is like two years old so no one else is currently obsessed with it, and yet during clean-up the other night, my manager started playing it on his iPod.
My shift is after work and I don’t get back to my apartment until about 10pm usually, so between work and that shift and my commute it’s a pretty long day, but so far it hasn’t tired me out one bit. I imagine it has the same effect on me that running or playing sports or meditating has for other people. It requires energy and thought and dedication, but somehow at the end of it, it feels more like I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep rather than worked a 15 hour day.
I haven’t been so happy in any other place in New York so far.
*You can take the girl out of California but you can’t take the crippling fear of earthquakes out of the girl.
**Image credit: this article