Author: Frizzelle, Christopher
Date published: May 18, 2011
PILOT LIGHTS OUT
Summer Robinson sat at the register at Pilot Books-a register consisting of an iPad, an envelope of cash, and a receipt book to be filled in by hand-in an awesome black dress and awesome boots. Robinson's general awesomeness was the reason Pilot Books was such a hit among regulars, mostly poets and writers in their 20s who don't jockey for a lot of attention from the Seattle Literary Establishment because they'd rather drink at Redwood or argue about Tao Lin novels or throw houseshows- slash-basement-dance-parties than, say, go to a Seattle Arts & Lectures thing. Robinson is a hero to these people.
Above Robinson on the wall: a painting by Derek Erdman of three cheerleaders. "You notice anything?" Robinson said. "Took me a while." The cheerleaders are smudgy in the face-bruises. "It's called Damaged Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders," she said, laughing. "I got that at the Anne Bonney, and I wanted to have a show of Derek's work, but it didn't happen. There's lots of stuff I wanted to do."
Pilot Books got its start at the Anne Bonney-Spencer Moody's junk shop-as a booth of curated small-press titles. Then it moved into bigger albeit if-you-didn'tknow- about-it-in-advance-you-would-neverknow- it-was-there digs, on the second floor of the Alley market on Broadway. A lot of people I know loved Pilot Books and talked about it constantly, but stupidly enough, I only went a couple times at odd hours when it was closed. Showing up on its last day of business, I felt a shudder of shame.
"Well, it's because of you that we're closing," Robinson said, grinning, when I told her this. "Just kidding. Sort of."
As she reflected on the mechanics of the business-"I thought it would be really easy to sell six books a day; turns out, it's not"-the fiction writer Stacey Levine walked in and, looking around the empty store, said, "When are people coming?"
Levine was four hours early for the lastnight- ever party, where people would read their "favorite passage/poem/sentence/ whatever" from something they bought at Pilot. "How could I have messed that up?" Levine said, and then started talking about the carpet. "I've spent a lot of time on this floor. It was known as Summer's living room."
Five hours later, and lots of people were standing and sweating, or reclining on the stairwell to the upstairs lending library, or sitting on the floor drinking beer. "In Spain, the young poets are horrible, whereas here they're very cute. They seem to enjoy being poets," said the slightly astonished Spanish novelist Javier Montes, looking around. (He happened to be in town.) The poets in the room included Zachary Schomburg, who runs Octopus Books and lives in Portland, and Brandon Scott Gorrell, who wrote During My Nervous Breakdown I Want to Have a Biographer Present and lives blocks away. I asked how people felt about Pilot Books closing. Frances E. Dinger, the editor of Seattle University's newspaper, said, "I'm new in this city, and I feel like Pilot was my first home. But I feel like the family that lived in this house is alive and well." I asked a stranger, and he responded in untranslatable semaphore. I asked Gorrell, and he took a swig of his beer and said, "I think it sucks because we're not going to have anywhere to hang out anymore."