Sunday, June 10, 2007

For The Birds!

If the picture to the left seems dull as dishwater, that’s precisely the point. This is a story about a little blue booklet so drab if it were a debutante its dance card would be revoked. I bought it last week, sold it this week, and will still be talking about it when I get to bookseller’s heaven where, thanks to said little blue booklet, there’s a luxurious white cloud waiting with my name on it.

It all began last week when I spotted the homely little thing at my favorite book sale of the year. I looked at it, put it back, picked it up, set it down again. Finally, on my second pass through the tables I bought it on the half chance that with the new interest in “going green” someone might actually want to learn how to turn a golf course into a bird sanctuary. The booklet was published by the Audubon Society in the thirties and was called Golf Clubs As Bird Sanctuaries. It was liberally illustrated with black and white photos, mostly of birds nesting in trees scattered around golf courses, or “golf clubs” as they were called then. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure the oddly worded title caught my fancy as much as anything. I distinctly remember a hazy mental image of baby bird beaks gaping hungrily out of the top of a leather bag full of golf clubs. There may have been some of those funky knitted cozies on top of the clubs too, but I can't swear to that.

Anyway, the booklet surfaced in a box late Thursday afternoon so I duly listed it online. Pricing was a bit of a problem, as, oddly, there were no comparables. But I looked it over pretty well and could see nothing other than its apparent, and probably temporary, scarcity to recommend it. So I listed it at a pie-in-the-sky $25 and went cheerfully off to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers lose to the Spurs in game one of the finals. By the time the slaughter was over the little blue booklet had sold on ABE to a guy in England. I tried deleting it from my other venues, but it hadn’t indexed yet, so I went to bed. By morning it had sold again on Biblio, this time to an American. As I was sending regrets to Buyer Two it occurred to me that with so much interest so fast I’d probably under-priced it. “Should have asked fifty,” I muttered, hitting the Send button.

Immediately Buyer Two fired back a note. If I hadn’t already shipped it, he would like to offer me $300 for it. I cleaned my reading glasses to make sure I’d read that right, and thought about Eric’s teeth and the $800 dental bill (after insurance) that had arrived the previous day. I admit it. For a nanosecond I wavered, but in the end declined so I could live with myself in relative peace. I did, however, ask him why anyone would pay so much for such an ugly (ha-ha) duckling.
Right away he shot me a second email explaining that the great golfer Bobby Jones was on the Board when they published it. Since I wouldn’t know a putter from a pickaxe, the name meant nothing to me, but I checked the booklet and, sure enough, there was a Robert Jones listed among the Board members. Quickly, I googled Bobby Jones and learned that he’d won the first Grand Slam in 1930.

“I’ll give you $400,” Buyer Two concluded.


Again, I thought of Eric’s teeth and the $800 dental bill and wavered a second time. But in the end I stuck fast to the original no. No, I couldn’t live with myself if I did it. No, it wouldn’t be right. No it goes against my vision of who I am and what I’m about. No, I couldn’t possibly. No, no, no …

Now here it is twenty-four hours later and I am filled with regret. No, not for the string of emphatic nos. The money would have been great, but the karma wouldn’t, so that one was a no-brainer. What I regret is the failure of it all. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s failure and this time the self-appointed Queen of Research failed big. Of course it’s not like Bobby Jones had signed the thing and I’d missed the signature. And Robert Jones is a very common name, so even if Bobby and I had been buddies in a former life why would I recognize his name when it was printed formally on a brochure about birds? I tried out all the rationalizations I could think of, but in the end I felt pretty stupid. And still do.

It didn’t help that while I was writing this, Buyer THREE called on the phone from London to rub salt in my wounds. I am not making this up either. I swear on a stack of Golf Clubs As Bird Sanctuaries that he really did call right in the middle of the explanation about Bobby Jones. He’d seen the listing on ChooseBooks yesterday and printed it out, but when he went back to order it it was gone. So he figured he’d “ring up” and see if I still had it.

Regretfully, I don’t. I shipped it to Lancashire this morning. All I can say is, that lofty perch in bookseller heaven better be a Sterns & Foster. I deserve the Cadillac of clouds for this one.