Over 8 miles from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, nestled in the heart of Shangri-La Drive just some 300 feet from the rows and rows of Douglas Firs hiding the Patuxent Naval Base from view, there is a store called Plaza Books and Video. In popular lore, it is simply identified as “Books.” There are many stories of the riches and wonders of Books, and yet it remains the stuff of mystery and Senior Week bucket lists. My editors sent me deep into the heart of the Popeye’s parking lot to observe and infiltrate the natives of Books, and give my interpretation of what I saw at the Lexington Park establishment that has earned so many winky-face comments on its Yelp profile. This is my story.
When we pluck up our courage and walk in, the scene was hardly what I expect. The best comparison would be the yard sale of two parents about to kick their 30-year-old son out of the basement and stop paying for his subscription to WoW. Already this trip has produced some fascinating ancient artifacts, but I can’t help but wonder where the actual books are. Then I notice the small teller’s window, jutting out, with a sign reading, “MUST BE OVER 18! ID REQUIRED PAST THIS POINT.” I deduce immediately that the natives who built this bookstore must have laid these comic book shelves out as a red herring. Suddenly, I’m struck by the reality of the situation. “Wait a minute,” I think to myself. “This isn’t a bookstore…this is a secret bookstore!” I’m now certain that all the best reading must be hidden in the back, meant only for the customers who are pure of heart, just as the bookstore owners of old intended.
I slap my ID on the counter dramatically, and shield my face with my hands in the event that I have triggered some kind of a trap. The guardian of the bookstore peers at me carefully, his eyes alternating between my face and my picture. His voice then booms, “Yep, you’re good,” and the door is opened for me. Thrilled and astounded, I wait to see if my companions too will make it. And…to my surprise, they do. Not that I’m not happy about it! But…really? Even Jocelyn? Come on, she’s a total klepto! I don’t know why people like her so much, she’s not even that pretty. Er, but whatever. It’s your call, bookstore Gods.
This is the moment I’ve been waiting for almost 20 minutes of my life. The door to the back opens. I light a match and hold it up, and am immediately told to put it out by the vigilant staff. I gasp, and stumble back, steadying myself in the door frame. “What do you see?” asks one of my cohorts. “Wonderful things,” I stammer in reply.
There are no books in the back room of Books. All there is are rows and rows of personal massagers, battery-powered boyfriends, marital aids, ding dongs, dingle dangles, slim jims, jackhammers, junket pumpers, chick sticks, pocket rockets, musn’t-touch-its, him-hangs, pop rockets, five dollar foot-longs, Action Jacksons, and dildos. Lots of dildos.
Let me take a minute to describe the scene. The back room is a quiet, reverent place with an almost holy, church-like atmosphere. Nope, not really. I was totally lying in that last sentence, unless your church prefers “Sensual Strawberries and Champagne Love Oil” for its baptisms. Sure, we were all pretty quiet. But we were like that pretty much the whole time we were there. And on the drive back. And as we sat in silence in the common room, unsure what to say. The room is absolutely flooded in fluorescent light, presumably just in case there was any confusion or ambiguity that that, yes indeed, is a full leather gimp suit you’re staring at in total shock. The bulk of the products seem to be toys made for women, grouped in the center of the room. To my surprise, we seem to fit in nicely with the native population. This is probably because the visitors appear to mainly consist of college-aged women who go there as a joke but secretly wish there was enough space in the room to discreetly buy something without the others noticing. The other part appeared to be middle-aged men who really wished there weren’t a bunch of college girls around to witness their personal purchases of things pink and vibrating.
The right wall is stocked with videos, which, for publication reasons, I’m compelled to call “Low Budget Alternative Indie films.” These films proved a fascinating study of what the anthropological community refers to as taboos. Take for example the AVN award-winning picture, Nasty Nymphos. It’s the riveting story of a smart but unmotivated 20-something girl who decides to teach her boyfriend a lesson by [retracted], only then a pizza delivery guy shows up and [retracted], so they have to use the kitchen table to [retracted], a banana [retracted], and she realizes that work doesn’t always have to be hard. Sometimes it’s really flaccid, uh, I mean rewarding.
By the time we had combed through the whole store, I suddenly stop and realize something. Somewhere between the fuzzy handcuffs and the sexy dice I had lost all sense proportion. I had abandoned my search for the mysteries of Books and just had a laugh with my friends instead. Suddenly, it also hit why the ancient mysteries of Books had yet to be discussed fully. There was absolutely no way you could talk about it in detail. Come to think of it, there was no way I could publish an article in any great detail about my experience there. Who knows if this version is even cool to green light. I realize that in spite of my best efforts, I will leave Books as so many before me had, with the understanding that this was probably going to be my only trip there, and there was really no need to talk about it further. But here’s my one mystery solved for any brave enough to venture forth; If you’re open-minded, comfortable with a little sex humor, and have a good group of friends, Books is fun!
Just…be sure to stay out of the movie viewing rooms.