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Remembering the bookstore where we all met

There’s a song on the new record by Allo Darlin, “History Lessons,” inspired by nostalgia fatigue over venues in London closing. “Places come and places go, I feel stronger letting go,” Elizabeth Morriss sings. It’s a valid point, and it’s a line I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Getting overly nostalgic over physical spaces disappearing can be pointless, sometimes. But on rare occasions it is worthwhile to reflect and remember and process and learn. Take for example, the eulogies currently being penned on Death By Audio, the radically idealistic Brooklyn DIY venue that will close down at the end of the month. “Losing these spaces hurts far more than the sum of the memories had within their walls,” wrote Joe Steinhardt of Don Giovanni in the recent Impose tribute to DBA. “When these spaces close we lose everything they stand for, and maybe that is worth fighting for?” That sort of sentiment is similar to what we’ve been thinking about while piecing together this retrospective on Lorem Ipsum Books, a place that you maybe have or have not heard of. Lorem Ipsum existed for about 10 years in Cambridge’s Inman Square, and for a handful of those years, it was super important to us. It’s where most of the Media’s editors met, where we held our launch party last year, where we booked shows, held free skool classes, and learned a lot about ourselves and each other. The shop closed its doors for good last month, so as a tribute, we’ve asked a handful of friends to reflect on what Lorem Ipsum meant to them and how bookstores can act as powerful community spaces.

Peter Loftus, store manager and general organizer of everything for many years

Perusing the selection at good bookstore, especially a used bookstore can have a kind of empathic magic about it. Craning your neck 90 degrees and reading through rows and rows of titles that someone else had read before and already passed on gives the shelves a kind of ecology made up out of shared interests that can be really telling about the lives and people that make up a community.

Years ago, when I first moved to Boston from my rural 4,000 person hometown, I remember spending a lot of time walking around aimlessly just to explore. At some point during those fledgling weeks in the city, I first stumbled into Lorem Ipsum Books. Having never really lived in anything like a city before, being able to pick up on a community’s the sense of humor, range of tastes, and common interests, just by stopping into the neighborhood bookstore, left a big impact on me. Between the shop’s rainy-day discount, campy pulp novels, handwritten employee recommendations on little notecards taped to the shelves, curated sections of fairly odd fairy tales, a how-to section filled with titles specifically beginning with the words "How To", the prominently displayed primers on tap-dancing and left-handed calligraphy highlighted the strange and curious details of this new setting I was just beginning to understand.

I think Lorem Ipsum was the first place I ever applied for a job in the city, and probably also the first time I felt dumb for wanting to be a part of something just because I thought it was cool. It took another three or four applications and a couple of years before I ever heard back, but eventually I did get hired. At that point, I was over-eager to contribute.

Before I met all the friends I eventually came to know through the bookstore, through the shows and readings and events, I was always surprised by the number and regularity of familiar strangers. Folks who came in usually just looking to browse a bit, maybe shoot the shit and talk about books or try to sell some back a couple times a month. To me, this is the most basic level of community, when people start gravitating around something they find a sense of belonging to, places that you seem to find a bit of yourself in, weird and unpredictable as that often can be. Now, some five years later, I've really come to know these people through their books and seen a lot of their lives in scrawled margin notes and jettisoned sections of personal libraries. I've watched kids grow up, new relationships start and old relationships fail. I've found lost cats (and their owners), I've seen very long beards suddenly disappear and I've heard more plot synopsis than I could ever recount.

For a long time, I overlooked just how intimate and special these tiny connections with frequent strangers really are, some of which I have literally seen on a weekly basis for more than four years. I'm grateful to now call many of these people friends, although it's odd to make sense of relationships forged in the stacks that probably would never have existed outside of the bookstore. Like Mike from Wales, the aging post-punk dad who would visit every Thursday morning on his lunch break to swap burned CDs of obscure garage rock compilations with me and attempt to explain rugby. Or Askinder, who walks two beautiful dogs and whose nephew Mickey still invites me to join his book club every few months. Folks like Mopsy, a veteran book reviewer who gave me all her advance copies of new hardcovers, always while double-parked. And good friend Frank the bookbinder, who recently lost his dog Lucy after 17 years of faithful companionship, both of whom spent many evenings in the bookstore reading and chatting while I closed up shop. John, the underwater welder who wears a Davey Crocket hat, once taught me how to bleed the fuel lines of bookstore's oil heater by hand, a trick which I put to good use every following winter. It's not the relationships that I'll miss, as I think they'll always be meaningful to me, but I think it's the context which allowed these moments to exist that I'll mourn the most in the wake of Lorem Ipsum.

I am always surprised at how eagerly community would crop up all by itself around the bookstore, how often someone would come to me with an idea for something they wanted to do, an event or performance or art show, and how often they were really great ideas that we were able to bring to fruition. I used to run a poetry series out of the bookstore because there was a near constant supply of poets and pronounced demand in the poetry community for such a series to exist. I was always surprised by how well attended those early events were, often without anyone I even knew personally in attendance. Eventually that came full circle when I no longer needed to curate the series, because half a dozen of other passionate individuals from the community came asking to organize their own series. I came away from that experience with a new understanding of what Lorem Ipsum meant to the community and just how viable it already was, as well an awareness of what the space could become by providing an environment which valued and fostered that want for expression.

I think what made Lorem Ipsum a viable community space was the way it allowed the community to explore and support itself, an experiment that yielded a whole spectrum of meaningful intersections between people, places, stories and events. The result was an intimate, diverse community that I'll be forever grateful to have been a part, to witness its evolution into something strange and beautiful. Lorem Ipsum was literally a cross-section of the community it was supported by, not only in the books on the shelves but also in the ideology it strove to stand by.

Audrey Mardavich, organizer of 2x2 reading series

About a year and a half ago I started the 2x2 Reading Series and I invited poets and writers from all over the country (and the world) to come read their work at Lorem Ipsum. I was always so proud to invite writers there because I believed that Lorem Ipsum cultivated a spirit of radical acceptance, community building, book-loving, and appreciation for independent publishing. It is difficult to hold readings at bookstores if you can’t guarantee lots of book sales, but Lorem Ipsum let us exist outside of that economy and became an important community space where unpublished, non-academic, radical voices could also read their work and have an audience and thrive.

Faye Orlove, co-editor of The Media, contributor to Hi-5 zine and worked for Loroto (both run out of the Lorem Ipsum basement 2011-2012)

I met my best friends at Lorem Ipsum. I met Peter and Shane in 2011 when the bleach in my hair had grown out and turned the ends dry and yellow. I was barely tattooed, still finishing my degree, and consisting on a vegetarian diet of mostly Taco Bell. Back when there was a Taco Bell down the street.

Mitch and Tim and I would get steamed rice from the cheap Indian food place around the corner, and doodle pie charts and inside jokes on notebooks we brought from home.

We'd always have iced coffees, Mitch and I drank ours black.

I met Chris after a lot of talk about "Chris this" and "Chris that" and "Chris is somewhere overseas." I soon realized that Chris spends half his time somewhere overseas. It's strange to remember the exact place where I met my best friend, but it was there, within those white plaster walls, summer heat making the backs of my knees stick to themselves. Chris was shorter than I thought he'd be.

That was also the summer and the spot where I met Hanna. We'd later play music together, cry together, laugh through funny voices together. But that summer I just remember learning from her. About how to doodle cats, ask for consent, and produce a zine from scratch. About five of us would make High 5 zine together in the bookstore basement, at a little collaging station that always smelled like rubber glue.

*illustration by Santiago Cardenas

In 2012, I graduated college and shaved the side of my head in what I later diagnosed as a severe panic attack. For my final film project I made two short films to be played side by side on the white walls of the bookstore. I never got to screen the films where they belonged, but I played them at school, on a bare wall, and ended up publicly crying in front of a classroom of students and faculty. Before I left Boston, I wrote a poem, found a place for it in High 5, and published it with a made-up name. We always used aliases.

I moved to California and within four months moved back. I didn’t want to be anywhere but Boston. Nick and Addison offered me a job helping them make music videos in their dark, little office in the basement of Lorem Ipsum. I remember the three of us sharing burritos on the couch in our office, talking about the boy I'd kissed the night before and what episode of Toddlers and Tiaras to watch. We hung up neon signs and strings of Christmas lights around the office and played Starships by Nicki Minaj so loud you could hear it from upstairs. That was the best job ever.

I met Liz around that time, I think my hair was pink. We met in the bookstore and I remember wishing I could wear black cloaks like her and look as mysterious as she did. Obviously, that was the start of something special. A year later it seemed only right to host our Media launch party in that very space. The space where we met, and brainstormed, and watched the Screaming Females perform a Sheryl Crow cover that made everyone totally freak out.

After the launch party, I didn’t hang out at the bookstore much. Friends kept leaving town and the air was getting dusty with loose cement from construction sites. We all sort of, parted. I moved to LA for the second time, this time ready to make it work. No movies or poems, I just left in the dark.

I was back in Boston two weeks ago with my friend Emily touring the east coast. She played a show a few doors down from the bookstore and mid-set Chris and I braved the cold rain to go see our favorite hang-out spot. The bookstore had since closed and even though it was dark, I could still see everything. I saw where Johnny hung his Night of the Living Deadhead posters every Tuesday. I saw where I got sweet with a cute boy I met at the last You Can Be a Wesley show. I saw the corner where Mitch and I died laughing at the funny photobooth pictures we’d take when business was slow.

Chris and I made bets that both our keys still worked but we didn’t try them. I’m not sure why. Maybe we were scared to walk back in, to see the bookstore empty, to alter the way we left things. Or maybe our fingers were just too frozen. We kind of just stood there, feeling a sharp chill across our cheeks, silently saying bye to the place where everything started. Then we got dumplings and warmed up down the street.

Addison Post, co-founder of Loroto Productions (located in the basement, 2011-2012)

Walk Down All The Stairs
A River Beneath My Desk
Books A Floor Above

Brought Back Some Allstar
The Basement Smells Like Chili
Better Take A Nap

8 Hours Editing
A Video For Sammy
Now It's Dark Outside

I Had A Lunch Break
Faye And I Put On A Show
Toddlers And Tiaras

Chris Finished His Shift
Asked Us What We Want To Do
Play Left For Dead 2

Nick Curran, co-founder Loroto

I spent most of every day for a little over a year working in the day-glo neon of Lorem Ipsum's basement. I haven't been there in as much time, but it was the first official studio space that Addison and I ever had as Loroto, which we decorated to feel like a Hype Williams directed Nicki Minaj video. So, day-glo neon.

There were no windows in the basement, the ceilings were falling apart and, according to Inman Square lore, a river ran directly underneath our desks. (According to the figures I consistently found at my periphery, the room was also haunted.) I'd sit at my desk and edit something for twelve hours, then walk upstairs to find 30 people crammed between the book shelves for a show or a reading or screening or whatever. Or we'd get drunk in the basement and bring the party upstairs after hours, to our friends who worked in the shop. Then I'd wake up at home, three neighborhoods over, at noon the following day, maybe wearing black nail polish or glitter, three hours late on a deadline.

Once, Addison had a nightmare where he couldn't find the stairs to get back upstairs and then that's all that I could think about. Once, I came into the store early in the morning and, as I got the back, near the counter, to head downstairs, I heard a loud thud. A 1200 page hardcover book had fallen directly in the middle of what had previously been a clean, open floor, with easily 6 feet to any book shelf from any side. Haunted.

I loved that space and I love the people that I met through it. A lot of good friends, bands, collaborators and conspirators. For the time that I knew it, Lorem Ipsum was an important resource in what was a thriving underground/DIY scene in Boston. Lorem Ipsum always seemed to be a week away from closing, but because it acted as so many things to so many people (on top of, you know, being an actual book store) I never thought it would leave.

Liz Pelly, co-founder of The Media, booked shows at Lorem Ipsum 2011-2012

At some point around 2011-2012, I think Lorem Ipsum Books actually changed my life. I never saw it coming, but the bookshop was one of the first spaces to show me how a physical community space could feel energizing and inspiring and transformative. It’s funny that everyone else has commented on how haunted the space felt. The first time I went to a show there, I felt a really bizarre and haunted addictive excitement; it followed me home that night and soon Lorem Ipsum became a place I wanted to be as often as I could. I met Chris and Shane and Peter and Mitch that first night, they were all crammed behind the register and I talked to them about the store and shows and I immediately knew I wanted to be friends with all of them. Also I bought a tiny per-zine about a girl who worked at an alt-weekly and only wore black dresses, which felt creepy.

Lorem Ipsum was the first/only aboveground non-house non-bar all-ages venue I booked shows at in Boston, and also my first experience booking shows with a collective other folks. Lorem Ipsum entered my life right around the same time as Occupy Boston did, and together the two experiences were massive for me and equally caused me to re-think a lot of my personal politics. Lorem Ipsum also also housed Papercut Zine Library, hosted free skool classes, had a zine making table in the basement where I made crappy show flyers ... It’s where we eventually hosted the launch party for The Media and where I felt an initial burst of support and excitement over the project. Eulogizing lost art spaces can indeed feel completely useless, but spaces that have the potential to transform lives are the ones worth celebrating, remembering, and fighting for.

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