The Man Behind the Counter

I walked down to the beach this morning and as I was leaving the parking lot area after having soaked up some morning sunlight and breathed in the salty air, I saw a jogging figure approaching me. Despite my hideous eyesight and severe need for a new prescription in my eyeglasses, it didn’t take long to recognize the man in sweats as my friend Eric. I was walking back in the direction in which we both live, and so Eric turned around and walked back with me. We chatted the whole way about our evenings – he had gone to do some grocery shopping (which when you live in Big Sur is an event that takes up an entire evening), while I had gone home to read. Small morning chitchat that any onlooker would immediately realize was shared between who people who see each other very frequently. There is no human being in the world that I see more than Eric Perley. He’s the man behind the counter at the Henry Miller Library; in the winter he’s constantly there plugging away at an overwhelming amount of work on the Big Sur International Short Film Screening Series, and in the summer he’s bopping about the place plugging in wires, pushing buttons, and generally running the show from the wings. It’s time you had some more insight into the life of the man behind the counter, and the guy who will most likely answer the phone if you call.

Born and raised in Southern California, Eric has two older brothers and two very awesome parents in the medical field. A child of public schooling (despite a couple of years in private schools where having to wear a uniform almost sent Eric to the madhouse), Eric attended Cal State Long Beach and eventually transferred to UC Berkeley, where he received a BA in Political Science. The fact that Eric at one point in his life studied for and I’m not certain, but would imagine, did quite well on the LSATs is a truth which becomes quite apparent when one is trying to win an argument with him – trust me, when he’s in it to win it, it’s almost not even worth it (unless he’s talking about matters of opinion, in which case I declare he is most frequently wrong, but there’s no accounting for taste).

He did not move on to law school from UC Berkeley, but instead transitioned into a MFA program at the University of Southern California. He began studying professional writing, which Eric tells me is a program focused more on the craft and the possibility of publishing than it is focused on learning how to teach writing (an interesting choice, considering Eric’s self-declared disinterest in classes regarding publishing – Eric’s never been one for practical things).  You should all be sure to ask Eric how his novel is coming along in the style of this video:

Displaying his lack of interest in practical pursuits, Eric gathered up his savings, jumped in his 1969 VW bus and bummed around the San Francisco bay area for 4 months, during which time he took up the time-tested hobby of having a stroll. (Much like I was doing when I encountered Eric this morning). His stint as a bum came to an end when he drove south to Big Sur, though. Staying in a nearby campground he sauntered into the Henry Miller Library, sat around for a day drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes (a nasty habit which I am amazed and proud to say he has broken), and reading. Within the next few days as the price of his campsite began to be a bit much, he asked Magnus if there was a possibility of putting in some work for the price of a parking spot here at the library. The rest is history. The volunteer-for-a-parking-spot became a full time job, and from a full time job it turned into a life-consuming position at the busiest cultural center in Big Sur.

So that’s how he came to be here, but what is he like, you want to know. Well, I could start off with his 11am ritual, but I’ll spare you. I could tell you about the apparent obsession that he has with crosswords, the Odyssey, lectures on his iPod by the Teaching Company, or really good films. I could tell you that his favorite author is Milan Kundera, but that’s a pretty generic question. All these things give you an pretty bland idea of the not so bland Eric Perley. Perhaps the best way to convey how cool Eric is would be to give you some visuals:

Eric hard at work

Eric hard at work

Eric attacking a daily crossword

Eric attacking a daily crossword

Eric. as a goat.

Eric. as a goat.

Eric on a stroll, taking a break on bended knee

Eric on a stroll, taking a break on bended knee

See? He’s pretty cool. Stop by and play a game of Ping Pong with Eric. And ask him about his novel.

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One response to “The Man Behind the Counter

  1. O my goodness, after seeing “Eric as goat” I’m going to ask my husband if we can raise those cute little critters again. Introducing the billy to the does was always soooo much fun…
    Great piece Keely, and I’m looking forward to asking about the novel, from a safe distance!

    smushy hugs to all of you on this lovely rainy day

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