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  • I met a remarkable man yesterday. I was browsing in a used bookstore, something that always gives me immense pleasure. I find it a restful and rewarding activity, and even if I don’t buy a thing, I leave knowing that my blood pressure has been lowered for the time being. Sorry, Amazon, it's just not the same.

    It was the kind of bookstore where people park themselves in the aisles and get happily lost in a good book while their fellow readers navigate around them with the assurance of sleepwalkers, never removing their eyes from the bulging shelves. Such homey emporiums have earned their special place in our hearts.

    I was scanning titles in the history section when the man standing next to me picked up a copy of “The 9/11 Commission Report” and snorted. “This isn't in the right place,” he said. “It belongs in fiction instead.” He said he was an architect and proceeded in great and fascinating detail to spell out all the ways it was impossible for two airplanes to have brought the Twin Towers down. “And don’t even get me started about Building Number Seven,” he said. “Nothing struck it but it collapses anyway. Yeah, that makes a whole lot of sense.” He agreed with those who said a controlled explosion was the only logical explanation.

    The store had a small lounge area with a scattering of comfortable chairs, a table and a plate of cookies. We went there and resumed our conversation. It was a lively swap of personal histories, with more than a few laughs thrown in. When I said I was a filmmaker, he told me he had majored in real estate in college with a minor in film. He never intended to pursue it as a career, but he did have one significant achievement to his credit. His instructor had shown the great Russian silent masterpiece "The Battleship Potemkin" while teaching the class about editing. The film mesmerized my new acquaintance. Not long afterward he saw it was playing on TV and watched it again. He was taken aback to discover that there were a few scenes in the television broadcast that had not appeared in the movie he'd seen in the classroom. He did some research and found that 19 different versions of "Potemkin" existed. Each contained footage that the others didn't. He managed to procure a copy of each and did a new edit incorporating all the scenes in the right order. He believes that his alma mater, the University of Florida, is the only place in the world that now possesses the film in its original form.

    I love encounters like this. They give so much spice to life, whether they take place on the beach, a supermarket aisle or an airport bar. We often talk more freely to strangers than we do to our loved ones, knowing our time together will be brief and not repeated. I’ve heard tales of narrow escapes, forbidden loves, victories large and small, crushing ignorance and recoveries that verged on the miraculous. Reaching out this way entails a risk that you’ll connect with a crashing bore, but I’ve found that the right kind of questioning elicits stories that seldom disappoint. We are, when all is said and done, the sum of our stories.

    I’m heading to a natural spring today. I can’t wait to see what I will see, hear what I will hear and meet whom I will meet. Watch this space. I’ll let you know what happens.

    (Photo: Echo Books and Chocolate Lounge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica)
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