Friday, July 21, 2006
Buying Books With the Big Boys
Haven’t written for awhile, I know, but life’s been busy. I did scratch out a piece about an auction I went to, thinking it was rather breezy and fun until I realized it wasn’t even true. Oh, everything happened exactly as I described it -- it just wasn’t emotionally true. Reluctantly, I hit the delete button and never tried again for the simple reason that I had no idea why the whole thing kept dogging me in the first place. But then last Saturday night at my niece’s wedding my daughter’s boyfriend made a casual comment that triggered an audible click in my brain. What happened at the auction had very little to do with what I thought it did and everything to do with ME.
So here’s the story as true as I can tell it. The Sunday before last, Eric and I went to an auction located about fifty miles west of where the sidewalk ends. It was a beautiful day for sitting outside watching the contents of someone’s home being carted away piece by piece. If I let myself get too worked up about the passage of time I’d never go to an auction again, so if you don’t mind, I’ll move past that part . The thing that had me so excited was the promise of fifty – count ‘em, fifty -- boxes of old books. Of course, a promise like that can never be taken too seriously, as “old” in auction-speak is very often a synonym for smelly, dirty, and/or broken. Sure enough, this auction was no exception, though I did catch a few winks here and there from a stray swan penned up with the ugly ducklings. Still, my heart wasn’t exactly fluttering. That is, until I found THE BOX.
It looked like all the others, down-at-the-heels, raggedy brown cardboard. But inside lay the treasure of the Sierra Madre in the form of pristine, Easton Press editions of Roger Tory Peterson’s field guides, leather bound with gilded page edges and satin ribbon markers as clean and soft as sticks of new butter. Strains of the Hallelujah Chorus wafted through the air as I staggered to my feet swearing I would not go home without them.
Fast forward to the auction. The boxes of books sat lined up on the grass like the remnants of a rag-tag army. The auctioneer decides it’s going to be choice out. That is, everything from here to there will be up for bid at the same time, winner take however many he/she wants at the winning price per box. Fair enough – except I can’t see where from here-to-there IS. First I run to the left end of the line and, being small, try to sneak into any available holes in the crowd. No luck. So I run to the right and try there. No good either. Finally, I duck under an elbow and almost get decapitated. Try, as I might, I simply cannot get to the books! All I can do is calculate the proximity of my box to the location of the auctioneer. I do, and figure I can sit this round out. The bidding goes on until all the boxes are gone. When the next batch comes up I’m ready and this time succeed in squeezing between two men, both with the girth of ancient sequoias. Quickly, I scan the boxes. No Roger Tory Petersons.
For a second I’m confused. But then a guy three guys down from me hefts a box onto his shoulder and I catch a fleeting navy-blue-and-gilt glimpse of MY books being carried away for the paltry sum of $35. If I were less circumspect I’d have wailed like a professional keener at an Irish wake. As it was, I inwardly blamed everybody from the the auctioneer, to the phalanx of unmoving men, to George W. Bush. Right then and there the auction ended for me. Never mind that a few minutes later I was the only one smart enough to bid on, and win, a box of trash for a dollar, knowing full well it housed a deluxe book of Lennon Sisters paper dolls in magnificent condition -- the auction was OVER.
Countless times in the days that followed I bemoaned those books. Conjured them up in my mind until they darn near materalized. My beautiful books. Gone. All because of the way they ran the auction. All because of the unyielding men who never let me in. All because …
“Whenever anything comes up where Catie needs to assert herself, she always wants me to do it,” Joe says to me at the wedding. “Hard as it to believe, she can be timid that way.”
A terrible truth had just been revealed over the roast beef and string beans almondine. It was not the auctioneer’s fault that I didn’t get the books. It wasn’t the men’s fault either. It wasn't even George W. Bush’s fault. It was mine. I tell myself I’m confident, know how the play the game with the best of ‘em, but it’s not always true. The fact of the matter is, sometimes I’m just too ladylike for my own good.