It’s been about eleven years since I wrote the short story, that I turned into a screenplay, that I turned into a novel that would eventually be called The Prostitutes of Lake Wiishkoban. As I went through each step of that process, realizing that I had much more to tell of that story than would fit in anything smaller than a full-length book, I began to fear the effort it would take to produce all those words, a task unlike anything I’d ever done as a writer before. After I finished my first draft of the novel in May of 2010, and especially later as I tortured myself trying to get each of the 109,000-plus words as perfect as I could, I started having daydreams about the book being a bestseller, even a cultural touchstone to spark a much-needed national debate on the legalization of sex work. Part of that is just my ego running amok, but in all fairness, after all the effort I put into seeing that novel through from concept to publication, I don’t think it’s that bad to want at least a little recognition from others for my hard work.
Of all the places where I could have done a potential book signing, though, the one place I wanted to hold it was no longer available to me, even before I got the idea for that short story. Thackeray’s Books had been an iconic fixture in Toledo since my earliest years, a few stores down at the Westgate Shopping Centre from the city’s best independent music store, Boogie Records, and I was a frequent shopper at both those places since my earliest years. Local stores like those started having problems staying alive as the Internet Age drew on, and not long after I started going to the University of Toledo — just down Secor Road from Westgate — the big bookseller that provided Thackeray’s with the books they sold, Borders, announced that they would be opening their first Toledo location, not far from Westgate at the newly-remodeled Franklin Park Mall. The owners of Thackeray’s saw the writing on the wall, and closed up shop soon after. (Borders, of course, went out of business a few years later, and their precious mall spot was taken over by Forever 21. I think part of me died when I heard that news.)
For all the wonders of the Internet when it comes to shopping, though, its ability to preserve the past isn’t always what I wish it was. I can only find one picture of Thackeray’s iconic exterior online, and since that’s in an article published by Toledo’s infernal fishwrap, I won’t link to it here. At least a Reddit user posted a photo of the iconic Thackeray’s bookmarks that used to come free with every purchase there; I saved dozens of those over the years, but I didn’t bring them with me when I left Toledo a few years ago, and I kind of miss them. (Someone appears to be selling t-shirts online with the Thackeray’s logo on them, but I can’t tell if they’re officially licensed or not.) Westgate was torn down a couple of years later, and while its old location is still known by that name, new buildings were erected to house a Stein Mart and a Costco and a bunch of other places, most of them attached to national chains. Apart from the surrounding retail developments, Westgate is now completely unrecognizable from the place I used to visit in my earliest years.
So much of what I remember of Toledo in the eighties feels like it only lives in my head now. I just recently discovered that someone put up for sale an old paper bag from the Centre Supermarkets chain that had a store a mile from my house, the first such evidence of Centre’s existence I’ve found online, but I still can’t find any photographs of any Gastown gas stations, much less the one in front of that Centre store. All that seems to remain of Jim’s Pizza Paddle — the precursor to my beloved J&G’s Pizza Palace — is my memories of where it used to be on the corner of Holland-Sylvania and Central, and the fire that burned it down (but somehow left the Subway next door untouched). Don’t even get me started on regional chains like Highland Appliance and Best Department Stores.
These days, of course, I worry about which local touchstones might not survive the financial difficulties being caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t been back to Toledo in over three years now, and I don’t see myself going back there until I’m fully vaccinated at the very least, and maybe not even then. Between the concern I have for minimizing unnecessary travel to keep people safe, and the work I need to do on my next book (yes, I’m going to plug my Patreon again, since you can get exclusive updates on my that work over there), I just don’t see myself going anywhere I don’t absolutely need to be for the foreseeable future.
I wanted to do a book signing at Thackeray’s since I first learned how to read, but as I think about this next book I’m working on, and daydream about it becoming a wild success, I sometimes wonder what I’d rather do: Have a bestselling book and do a signing for it at one of the remaining chain bookstores in Toledo, or go back in time and get to visit Thackeray’s once more as just a reader, not an author. The longer this pandemic goes on, and the more businesses that close, and the more those closures make me worry about how much Toledo will change by the time I get back there, the more I wonder just how much I would give to go back to the Toledo of my early years one last time, to take everything in and appreciate it a lot more than I could back in the day. No amount of money will ever let me do that, though, so I’ll have to make do with just trying to get a bestselling book in the bookstores that still remain here in 2021.