Thursday, December 2, 2010

"dear" old books

I walked into the used bookstore that my coworker Ashley had called "odd." I had only been there a couple of times before and hadn't noticed anything particularly odd about it. But I remembered Ashley's statement yesterday as I stepped inside.
"Hi," I greeted the lady at the wooden counter just inside the door. Her salt and pepper hair fluffed out on the sides like Christopher Lloyd. "My dad brought in a bunch of boxes of my books the other day and said I had some store credit."
"Oh, yes," the woman said. "You have tons of it. They were in such good condition. You take very good care of your books."
I smiled at her. I know, thought Inner Me. When I was in high school I carried Sense and Sensibility in a Ziploc bag.
She shuffled through some papers in a drawer and found my sheet. "Yup. You have tons." She closed the drawer and looked up at me.

At this point in the story, I would like to introduce you to Inner Me. Inner Me is very blunt, honest, and feeling. Sometimes I wish Inner Me would smother Outer Me with a rag soaked in chloroform, and take over the conversation. Instead, Outer Me's composed, polite, homeschooled interaction takes the form of the following visit to Dear Old Books.

Umm...."Could you tell me how much?"
She shuffled through the papers again and said, "It's a ton. Like $80. Oh, it's not quite that much. $57.50."
"Okay, thanks!"

I walked down the aisles of books. I didn't want more books. The reason I painfully gave away my own books was because I have, in the words of Christopher Lloyd, tons of them. I don't need more books I want to have read but don't want to read sitting on my shelves.

But as I sat on a footstool in the classics section and stared at the books in front of me, there, my own bindings looked back at me with betrayed and lonely faces. I felt what a mother must feel when she hands her baby over to be adopted. How could I explain to them that I couldn't care for them anymore? That hopefully they'd go to a good home with someone who loved them more than I could?

I admit that I looked at my own books more than I looked at possible purchases. I wanted to collect all my lost children and take them back again. "I've made a mistake," I could say. "They weren't supposed to go. I was weak!"

I finally picked up John Steinbeck and went to the counter. A man was there instead, and he looked up my information on his cream-colored computer, in true 90s condition.
"That'll be $3.50," he said.
I slung my purse over my shoulder and froze. What? "But...the credit doesn't count?"
"It takes off half. So a 6-dollar book is $3.50."
"Oh. Oh I see." I looked up at the crack where the wall meets the ceiling and pretending to be calculating something, when inside Inner Me was seething, Are you kidding me? You want me to give you my books AND pay for yours?
"Well, in that case, I don't think I want this book," I said kindly.
He just looked at me.
"Is that okay?" I offered meekly. Is that okay?? You don't need his permission to not be cheated.
He nodded.
"Do you want me to put this back? I know where it was."
"Would you mind?"
I put the book back and walked out the front door, saying, "Thank you," though I have no idea for what. Thank you for taking my books and being willing to take my money, too. Thank you for being rude and having very bad people skills. Thank you for making me want to cry because I am very sensitive to people who look at me with annoyed expressions. By the time I reached my car, Inner Me and Outer Me had melded into one, and I replayed the scenario in my head again, only this time with me demanding all my books back and telling them they are a lame establishment.

The only thing that gets me through it is imagining that my Barnes & Noble classics will go to good homes, maybe to a teenage girl who will obsess over keeping them as pristine as I did, or, better yet, someone who will wear out their covers with repetitive reads.

Ashley was right. And I am never, ever going back into that store. On principle.


Anonymous said...

Well this just sounds like the worst place ever! Heather, I would have had the EXACT same reaction as you. Right down to thanking them when I walked out and berating myself for doing so. Twins indeed.

Sarah said...

I hate stupid.

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