About fifteen years ago, I almost bought this book at a used bookstore in New York. Actually, it wasn't even a bookstore; it was an old brownstone on Greenwich Street (somewhere south of Perry) in the West Village. Once a month or so, for a couple of hours on Saturday or Sunday, an elderly man would sit on the sidewalk in a deck chair and sell books straight out of his dilapidated garage.
Late one afternoon, on my way to meet a friend for a drink, I saw the open garage door and stopped in for a browse. Although the owner tried to keep the space tidy, as the day wore on and people wandered in and out, it all became a bit of a shambles. I remember seeing the Arlen book on top of a hazardly-stacked pile of books and loving the provocative title. I held it in my hands for a minute or two and leafed through it, but it was getting late and the price was a bit steep for a junior copywriter's salary (I think it was around $8), so I passed on it.
My neighbor never opened his store again. At least not that I ever knew of. I passed by his brownstone many times after that, but the garage door always remained locked, piles of books still visible through the small dirty windows.
Years later, I read Arlen's masterpiece, "The Green Hat", his tale of an English youthquaker in 1920's London. The main character, Iris Storm, is the Edie Sedgwick of her day, a Bright Young Thing whose pursuit of wild pleasures cements her reputation as a "shameless, shameful" girl. I enjoyed it immensely. But the overriding feeling I had upon finishing it was a mixture of guilt and sadness that I had said no to "Hell! Said the Duchess."
I've seen the book available since then, but for exorbitant prices that I would never consider buying it for. At this point, I think my longing goes beyond the book itself. Maybe it symbolizes my nostalgia for that period of my life in NYC, or perhaps for the fleetingness of time, or opportunities lost. Whatever the reason, I'm sure I'm not alone.
What books have gotten away from you?