L.A. Affairs: I was focused on work. I didn’t realize he was flirting with me

When you’ve been in the bookstore business long enough, there are times when you start to think everybody’s got an angle. A hot book idea they want you to send to a top agent, a request to put a big stack of their mother’s romance novels in the front window … well, you get the picture. And I almost always listened because you just never know.

It was a mid-November, end-of-day rush hour in L.A., and I spied the only empty spot in the parking lot behind the bookstore and wearily dragged my clunky old hand truck out of the back seat. As I opened the trunk to load up the boxes of books that hadn’t sold that day at a downtown book signing, I reflected on how far we’d come.

It had been just five years since we proudly opened the front door at Skylight Books, and every day was still a challenge. We’d had our joyous anniversary celebration a few weeks before and were finally starting to catch up with finances. The store had become an important fixture in the Los Feliz community and our author events were now known around the country. Though I still felt pretty vigorous at age 57, it was a relief to be able to hire a few extra staff members to take on some of the tasks I had been doing — like this off-site event.

I might have cursed a little at the box that landed on my toe, but mostly I was doing OK. Then this busybody guy stepped forward out of nowhere and shook his head sadly at the large dent on the side of my car. Maybe it’s just an L.A. thing, but it seemed that every time I stopped at a stoplight those days, some enterprising do-gooder would lean over from the next car with a crumpled card reading “We Fix Dents.” I didn’t need another one — not tonight.

Then the guy grabbed my hand truck and said, “Here, let me give you a hand.” Before I could object, he had loaded the boxes and said, “Where to, Bookstore Lady?”

“Do I know you? Or do you just hang out in parking lots to load up books?”

“I work at the theater next door.”

“Oh, are you in a play?”

“Well, I was just in ‘The Time of Your Life’ — the longshoreman who gets killed at the end.”

“I saw that. You were really good. Anyway, thanks.” I tried to wrest the loaded-up hand truck from him.

“No, I’ll take it around the corner for you.”

When we rounded the corner from Russell Avenue to the front door on Vermont, one of our booksellers, Steve, handed me five telephone messages that had to be responded to immediately. I thanked the longshoreman guy and headed upstairs, followed quickly by orange, tailless Lucy the Bookstore Cat.

It was after 11 p.m. by the time I made it back to my car, with an armload of advance reading copies to go over. Oh no! Not another parking ticket on my windshield! It wasn’t a ticket after all but a note — “I’m the longshoreman guy who helped you today. Give me a call” — with his number. From the way he had studied the dent in my car, I was sure he was another of those “I fix dents” people. I plopped the books onto the front seat, on top of the note, and headed home.

Two days later, I got a call at work. It was the longshoreman guy. I said, “Look, I don’t really want to deal with that dent in my car right now but thanks anyway.”

Long silence.

“I don’t do that kind of work. Just wanted to see if you’d have dinner with me.”

Oh. Then it must be a book idea pitch. OK, I’ll listen to the plot for his self-published novel. “Well, I’m leaving at 5:30 if you want to come by then.”

When he got there, I pointed to the Thai restaurant across the street. But he said, “If you like Thai food, I know another place. Wait here.” He came back with his pickup truck. Oh, it was a car thing now — I didn’t even know this guy.

We headed a few blocks into Hollywood and stopped at a red-and-gold-painted place with a pagoda in front. After we sat down, the entertainment for the night was three Thai Elvis impersonators, representing different stages of Elvis’ life. When they leaned into the mic, all three sang in unison: “Love me tender …” That broke the ice, and I don’t know what we ended up talking about, though the pad Thai was delicious.

When we got up to leave, I realized the story pitch had never come, which was a little disconcerting. He asked, “Want to go somewhere for coffee or a drink?”

“No, thanks, I have to get home to — umm — feed my cat.”

He took me back to my car. Then he suddenly leaned over with a warm kiss, which I wasn’t expecting. But it must have been OK because when he came around to open the passenger door, my legs felt like rubber. I had trouble standing up as I unlocked my car and waved goodbye.

Fast-forward 16 years, I was now retired from the bookstore and living in Ojai. I called Steve at Skylight and asked him to take a picture of the parking lot. I wanted to frame it and hang it on the backyard pecan tree as the longshoreman guy and I finally said ”I do.”

Now, that was an angle I never saw coming!

The author was the co-founder, co-owner and general manager of Skylight Books in Los Feliz for 20 years. She lives with her husband, Ben DiGregorio, in Ojai and is researching and writing stories about her ancestors.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

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