City Lights

Half-blinded by the abrupt shift from California sunshine to the dim bookstore, Milo stopped, and closed his eyes. Obeying an impulse from his lizard brain, he inhaled deeply.

He smelled an immense quantity and variety of papers and inks, old and new. His lizard brain, for all of being an unrepentant pre-literate, approved of this olfactory. It told him to sniff again.

In the many long months since Chicago, the only paper Milo had smelled was Zig Zag or used newsprint, just before sparking the huge spliffs manufactured therefrom. He'd nearly forgotten that one of the most attractive - indeed comforting - features of the university library where he'd spent so much time was a smell akin to this. The paperbacks were a bit acidic and musty, the newer glossies clean and pungent. The inks, with their post-evaporated whiffs of sweet enolic ethyls and methyls, cleared his head... Milo felt soothed.

"You, my friend are too obviously a connoisseur of the laic holy scripture of the pantheistic printed word, in its many multifarious and magical forms," said a slightly raspy tenor somewhere in the space beyond Milo's left ear.

Realizing his eyes were still shut, he opened them.

He was standing just past the threshold of an odd, triangular interior, walls and mazes of shelves stacked to the roof with books. Scattered along the shelf tops were carefully hand-lettered cardboard signs, proclaiming domains of "Stolen Continents", "Muckraking", "The Beats" and "Class War". On an incongruous red steel post sprouting from the mazelike jumble filling the room was a more crudely drawn sign that said, simply "Jesus".

Just to his left, shoehorned into the apex of the three-dimensional triangle that was the City Lights Bookstore, was a cash counter behind which stood a thin bearded man. He wore a plaid shirt, vest and a quizzical Cheshire smile, topped with a gaudily-banded Panama hat.

"I'm Larry. What can we do for you?"

"Jesus, indeed," said Milo, the exhaled words almost a sigh. "It's been too long."

In spite of the fright the goddess poster in the window had just given him, or because of it, he instinctively decided he needed to know more about the acid test.