Lighthouse Avenue in New Monterey, California is a heavily traveled, stop-light infested boulevard of bars, twelve-dollar hair cuts, Mexican, Italian and Asian restaurants, a Goodwill store and surf shop, and, most notably, a string of used and rare book shops.
The book shops have been there forever, since the days of John Steinbeck and Clark Ashton Smith and even Joseph Campbell and John Cage. John O'Hara probably stopped in at one or two when visiting Steinbeck in nearby Pacific Grove.
One of the stores, Book Buyers, was a jewelry store in the 1930s, and the story is Steinbeck would stop in to gawk at, and at times purchase, jewelry for his first wife Carol.
The rare and used book stores in New Monterey come and go. The one constant seems to be there are always a half dozen or more. That could be changing.
Last year one of them closed some time after the owner had a sex change. That _ the closing as much as the sex change _ caused a buzz from book sellers and book buyers up and down the avenue.
Then, just a few months ago, Richard Gates, who owned Books & Things, died. His place appears to have closed down too, the windows dark. Richard was a lovely, kind soul, but when business was slow, or simply to take a break, he would sit out in front of Books & Things and have a cigarette, and you always wondered if that was taking a toll on his health.
Last week we lost another soulful book seller, Ron Marek. Ron came from Michigan several decades ago, a big guy with a big if somewhat shy smile, a lover of books and literature and people. He opened Lighthouse Books, a tiny space in a large building facing onto Lighthouse Avenue.
Ron didn't own a car. He lived in a small apartment a decent walk to Lighthouse Books. He walked everywhere. To the Monterey Library, to the Pacific Grove Library, to Goodwill to check its books, to Doctors on Duty if he was feeling poorly.
People loved being around Ron. His enthusiasm was catching. He could go from very quiet to excitedly making a point about the beauty, rarity, or simply the greatness of a particular volume of poetry, or a play or novel or biography.
He was, for instance, very excited that Arthur Miller, shortly before his death, had written a forward to a new edition of Tennessee Williams' ``A Streetcar Named Desire.'' ``Imagine, Arthur Miller writing about Tennessee Williams _ isn't that something?'' he said, then went into the complex relationship, personal and in a literary sense, of the two writers, finding paradoxes and ironies and getting more carried away by the moment. He knew his writers and he was passionate about them.
If you asked for a particular book and Ron thought he might have it, but wasn't sure, he would skim through the shelves, scanning and pulling out books at a breakneck pace, often stopping to laugh at his (lack of) organizational abilities.
``People stopped at Ron's not only because they love books, but because they loved being around Ron, talking to him, hearing what he had to say. It felt good being around him and his books,'' said book collector Paul Soifer.
Some of those people included book dealer Jim Johnson, artist Caroline Kline, writer and City of Monterey cultural director Dennis Copeland, collector and art dealer Dean Chapman, writer-editor-artist Jeffrey Whitmore, and many, many more.
``When someone like him dies,'' said another book seller a few blocks down Lighthouse, ``you hope that all he knows doesn't go with him. It seems such a loss.''
Ron kept one of those little ``Will Return'' signs with clock hands in his Lighthouse Books window.
The day last week Ron, who was 64, was found dead in his apartment from a heart attack, word was slow to get around. The next morning a friend of Ron's sat in front of Lighthouse Books, waiting for him to lumber up Lighthouse Avenue and, wearing that big shy grin, open his shop.
After all, the ``Will Return'' time sign indicated Ron would be returning at 11 a.m. Of course, he would not.
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...