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BY Frederica Mathewes-Green

The Baltimore Book Dump

When I was down to the Big City not long ago, my youthful friend Rod took me to his favorite bookstore-cafe. We sat on high stools at a small, sticky square of yellow wood, buffeted by alternative rock flowing from the excellent sound system. I chose, at Rod's suggestion, a designer beer that the menu described as "fruity and complex." Nearby, patrons lingered at blond-wood book racks, perusing the handsome volumes with impressive nonchalance. Diversity spread her amiable wings: Elbowpatch-and-beret types mingled easily with Birkenstocker-backpackers en tout noir.

So when Rod came up to Baltimore I took him to my favorite book source, across the street from the Friend General Store and Love Nest Package Liquors. The bulky one-story building fills nearly a city block; it is painted rosy beige with deeper brown trim and topped with romantic crenelations. The orange metal sign bolted to the wall reads "Baltimore Department of Finance, Bureau of Purchases, Warehouse #9." But those familiar with its charms eschew the formal title; we call it the Baltimore Book Dump.

I don't recall what was displayed in the window of Rod's book boutique. The items in the Book Dump window appear not so much displayed as huddling in refuge. Prominent is a large cartoon cutout of a figure in a hardhat, hand-decorated with a smiley face and an unintentionally threatening note of good cheer: "Think safety beyond this point. It helps!" Next to it is a small framed print of two ice skaters, bearing another ambivalent message: "Time with a friend is like no time at all."

There's a quart of Duralene oil, a brown metal trash can, a defunct computer monitor, a Singer sewing machine, a few jumbled and overturned chairs. Just visible is an oversized, crudely painted metal globe, emblazoned with a strip of masking tape marked: "Don't Ask." This could be another gem of cryptic wisdom. A square of brown cardboard is taped to the window, on which someone has written in bold, black marker: "Great Northern Beans, ...

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