Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Article 2: Paul Dale Anderson

I met Paul Dale Anderson in early summer of 1967.  Paul had opened a used bookstore on Main Street in Rockford, Illinois, and a friend told me I had to check it out.  The store was called "The A," which stood for "The Arts."  It was filled with old books and comic books, most (if not all) of which were originally owned by Paul.  He simply didn't have enough space to store his thousands of old books, so he decided to open a bookstore and sell them.

But the store was more than just a bookstore and comic book shop.  It was also a "head" shop, with black light posters, incense, pipes, beads and an assortment of things that would appeal to Love Generation youth.  When you entered the front door, you left Rockford behind and entered an environment straight out of Chicago's Old Town or New York's Greenwich Village of the 1960's.  There was no discernible organization to the place.  Books were everywhere, posters were on the walls and ceiling, Paul's oil paintings were tucked here and there in nooks, and one or two chess boards were always set up, ready for use.  Music (mostly classical and folk) played constantly on the 8-track cassette, and the smell of pipe tobacco and incense engulfed you as you entered the front door.  The whole place was a challenge to all of your senses, and I loved it.

For the next couple of years, my sister and I spent a lot of time with Paul in that store.  We kept the coffee fresh, waited on customers, worked the cash register, put posters on the walls and organized book shelves (to the extent they could be organized).  We helped Paul set up a coffeehouse in the basement of the store, where several of the area folksingers would perform.  We loved the atmosphere of the place, where there was always stimulating conversation, on-going chess games, music and books, books, books.

Paul grew up in Rockford and majored in journalism and philosophy at the University of Illinois.  Five years older than I, he worked with Roger Ebert on the Daily Illini, the school's award-winning newspaper. He is the first Renaissance man I ever knew.  In the years I spent with him, he was an accomplished actor, painter, writer and general bon vivant, with his habitual two-day beard, sly grin and hands that looked like he'd just cleaned and packed his pipe (which he probably had).

Paul Anderson pushed me to appreciate the arts.  Paul was the first person to shove a book into my hands and say, "You have to read this."  His tastes in art and literature defined "eclectic."  He turned me on to the stories of Wolfe and Hemingway and Vonnegut and Salinger, the poems of T.S. Eliot, Gwendolyn Brooks and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the plays of Shakespeare and Shaw.  He was the first to introduce me to fine art, especially the paintings of Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer.

On any given day we might be sitting in his shop, sipping coffee and awaiting the presence of customers, and he would grab some book off a shelf and read a passage aloud to whomever was there.  You might get a poem by Emily Dickinson or a few pages from Kerouac or Heinlein.

That was one thing that was so great about knowing Paul: you never knew what you'd hear next from him, but it was likely to push you in a direction you hadn't expected.  The sheer volume and breadth of his knowledge was astounding, and he shared it, kindly and thoughtfully, with others.  His generosity changed the course of my life.

Paul Anderson pushed me to be a critical thinker.  Paul was also the first person to highly encourage me to think critically about a subject.  He started a series of drop-in discussions in his bookstore, and an evening's topic could be on anything--a work of art, a movie, politics, a person, a philosophy of life.  It was called the Penny University.  If you paid a penny to partake in the discussion, you could sit in and say as much or as little as you wished over the course of a couple hours.

It was typical for the Penny University to attract a number of bright people who were not shy in voicing their opinions and thoughts.  Paul always encouraged me to jump into the conversations, although I was initially shy and unsure of myself in front of such an intellectual group.  His respect for my opinions really pushed me to think critically about art, events and issues for the first time in my life.  It is a habit and facility that I carry with me to this day.
And Finally....  Paul Dale Anderson has become a very well-known writer in the "horror, fantasy, science fiction, and suspense-thriller genres," as his website states.  He's written, as of the website's last update, 27 novels and hundreds of short stories.  He's taught creative writing and been an editor for several publications, a hotel manager, a librarian and a board-certified hypnotist.  That's just the beginning of what Paul has accomplished in his lifetime, but we'll err on the side of modesty here.

More than anyone else, Paul helped me and my family when my father was gravely ill and after he died.  (Ironically, his father died only three weeks after my father died, in December of 1968.)  He was there for us throughout that ordeal, and I will always be grateful to him for his love and guidance during that time.

Periodically, I reread a short story of Paul's called "The Understanding."  In it, he describes the two bronze lions outside the Art Institute of Chicago.  It was the first I knew of those lions, guarding the gateway to some of the greatest art in the world.  Paul, you opened the gates to all of art for me.  Thank you, my friend.

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