Don't blink as you drive past.
It's one of those.
The cracks between piano keys, like the spaces between words on a page: a roadside Pawnshop perched between blinks.
Snagged by the allure of a ramshackle business
I stopped. And long I stood outside.
"I think I've been here before...long time ago."
The peeling paint gave a wordless witness to a downcast history: AJ'S Pawn.
The windows blocked by--dare I say? Junk. Excuse me--I mean merchandise.
Here there be archaeology.
Smallish, cluttered, yet not at all oppressive to my wide-eyed gaze...I grabbed the doorknob and twisted.
Then--after a couple of beats--unlocked from within.
AJ is a cautious man.
The ting-a-ling bell announced my entrance.
Dark-eyed AJ's deep-set eyes bored in on me, lifting his chin in greeting as he turned back toward the lady customer.
AJ is a Middle East bazaar and Mediterranean mix. A classic monger tilting his voice and head in persuasions and the shoulders shrug now and then with feigning dismissals.
He is at once an actor, psychiatrist, and priest.
Lady customer is stunning.
I am not a man who stares. I stare.
AJ notices my notice and crinkles his eyes in amusement while raising his eyebrows toward me. Those bushy arches whisper to me.
"She is something--is she not?"
I wrench my eyes away before embarrassing myself.
Pivoting, I sigh deeply and take it all in--the shop and its myriad contents. What spectacular chaos!
Everything is everywhere.
Layered, wedged, balanced, stuffed, stacked and fitted into bulky anonymity--watches, knives, guns, rings, necklaces, golf clubs, taxidermy, god-knows-what-else is here.
But then, the Pawnbroker bubble.
An unlikely dome of plastic off in the dusty corner summons me urgent and mysterious.
As a child, I'd drop a quarter in a vending gumball machine and crank the metal handle's winding key all the way to the right. Clockwise.
Let go and the plastic bubble containing a prize and a gumball appeared.
Small it was--that bubble.
The Pawnbroker bauble bubble is not. Not at all: small.
If our planet spun somehow inside a magic soap bubble, no less wonderful in its scale is AJ's universe in a bubble.
Peer through the most powerful microscope and you'll see all things are composed of smaller and smaller things nested one inside the other like a hallway of mirrors.
We are but dust.
Dust from exploded stars.
Dust is made of yet finer parts, of course. Worlds within worlds.
Pawnbroker bubbles floating in the expanse one and all.
Three steps and I'm there, an astronaut on a tether, eyes pressed close to plastic, surveying miracles inside the dome.
What do I see?
Russian dolls within dolls. baubles, Hummel figurines,
a single pin with all Ten Commandments etched thereupon,
snow globes (Rosebud?) six steelies, eight agates, half-dozen pee-wee marbles, watch fobs, cufflinks, tie-pins, Masonic ritual rings, expandable watch straps, fake nails, gold toothpick, belly button jewel, a humidor, Zippo lighter, cigarette holder, skate key, miniature Bible with hand-carved bone ivory cover and latch...
Wonder of wonders. Tier upon tier. Paleontological illogic.
The voices of AJ and the astounding lady customer drift back in and I hear a voice directed at me.
Her voice snaps the spell of the Pawnbroker bubble and I whirl about to answer.
"I'm sorry--what did you say?"
I stare directly into her sunlight--blinded.
AJ chuckles privately to himself.
"I asked where you got that wonderful red wristwatch."
Approaching them, I remove my timepiece from its perch and launch into a Professor Harold Hill patter.
"It is a solar-powered Atomic watch with 31 Time Zones, night lite, stopwatch, waterproof to 100 meters, and able to withstand vigorous impact and robust handling without damage."
I dangle it in front of her, offering it for closer inspection.
AJ observes, listening and appraising my performance.
I turned toward him. "Do you remember back in 1983 when I sold you my Canon AE1 with the telescopic lens?"
Without pausing a beat, Abdul Jamal nods slowly, pursing his lips and cocking his head slightly.
AJ licked his lips and began speaking admonishingly.
"I sold it the next day to a married man from a fine family who returned the following year to tell me how it ruined his life."
My eyes widened. The beautiful lady immediately lost interest in my red watch. She spoke wonderingly.
"What do you mean?"
I saw AJ's eye twinkle return as he pulled himself up to full height and began spinning the wild story of downfall and humiliation engendered by my camera.
I won't belabor this tale. I can't match the thrilling narrative spun in that Pawnshop on that afternoon. I'll stick to the bare bones of it all.
It seems I had spoken to a friend of mine who owned an Art gallery right after selling my camera. His name was James.
He asked all sorts of technical questions. I answered.
He wanted to know the location of the Pawnshop. I wrote it down.
James wanted that camera.
I forgot all about it.
Now, many years later, I hear the upshot of that transaction.
James began a new career within his Art gallery career. He began photographing ladies. He would print the photo and rework the details into a paint-on-top concoction. Yes, he painted over the photo matching it as best he could and using the actual image as his guide.
Long story short: ladies loved the result.
This was the Gateway Drug!
Soon James was taking nude photos of lady customers.
Same procedure. Paint on top of photo: thrilled ladies.
Poor James. He loved his newfound career way too much.
He was staying late at the gallery night after night and making transparent excuses to his wife for the absence.
Of course, he was discovered and the ensuing divorce broke him in more ways than one.
James returned the camera and sold it back to AJ, blurting his tawdry and lurid confession in the process.
I slipped my red watch back on my wrist.
The lovely customer didn't want to touch it any longer.
Bad vibes, you see.
I excused myself and walked out into the late afternoon.
"What was THAT all about?"
As Rod Serling might say:
There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.
It is in the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge.
This is the dimension of imagination.
It is an area which we call the Pawnbroker bubble.