The first thing we did Thursday after lunch at Applebee’s was stop at the antiques malls. Believe it or not, I actually found the booth where I’d seen the first edition Out of Africa last year. Crazy as it sounds, I recognized the metal legs of the display table next to the bookcase. What I didn’t find of course was the book. I did, however, make a couple mall observations. Not only did there appear to be fewer books overall, but fewer dealers selling only books. Consequently, the quality of the available books, with a few exceptions, held all the appeal of a pallet of cheap Chinese imports. So much for scoring bargains.
As soon as we hit Dayton we headed straight to the fairgrounds (oddly located downtown) to check out the state of things. It was five o’clock and already boxes marched in a short line to the front door. We placed ourselves as numbers seven and eight, amazed that last year we didn’t stake out our territory until after dinner and were still closer to the front. A portent of things to come, perhaps? Oh, yeah.
After that we headed over to the Grand Dayton hotel, formerly the Doubletree. We hadn’t even parked the car when the bloom began to fall from that rose too. Goodbye valet parking. Goodbye welcoming cookies. Goodbye friendly, helpful staff. The room was still nice, but goodbye speedy check-out in the morning too. Of course none of this matters that much, but it WAS a disappointment. Dinner at Thai Nine with our friends proved to be the only constant of the trip.
Friday morning we pulled into the fairgrounds at six a.m. only to sit in the car and watch the medical staff shiver across the parking lot on their way to the hospital. There was exactly one car in the lot with someone sleeping in it -- last year you’d have thought it was Motel Six. The line, however, had grown to about fifteen and remained that way for at least half an hour. Little by little new people came, but no one congregated, as it was colder than the back end of Antarctica. We looked around a little, didn’t see anybody we knew and so at seven gave up and drove over to the restaurant by ourselves for breakfast. We were cozily ensconced at a table for two when in came Carol and Ed and a couple we like from Toledo.
“Where were you? We looked for you and finally just came over!” they said.
"Ditto here," we replied. They snagged the last available table for four -- across the room.
By the time we got back to the sale, the sun had finally dragged itself up over the horizon. Time passed slowly, but finally it was ten o'clock and the bulls (that is, the booksellers) who by this time numbered in the hundreds, charged the doors.
“No running! No running, please!” the volunteers hollered. They might as well have saved their voices. The herd was not be deterred.
As always, I ducked into the specials room (See? What did I tell you about my great pronouncements?). Immediately a dealer started grabbing everything without even checking prices. Each time he chose something -- thwack! – onto the stack it decisively went. By the time he thudded three full sets onto a new stack my brain had frozen solider than a Butterball turkey. I guess I recovered, but it’s hard to say whether the books just weren’t all that great, or I blew the first few minutes. By the time I made it out to the stacks the art section was chock-a-block with bins, tubs and crawling bodies. Getting to the tables required steel-toed boots, a walking stick, and a can of pepper spray. Since I lacked any of the above I made a beeline for the old books, only to find that they’ve been moved. By the time I located them a pack of Amish women bearing large bins and boxes surrounded them like a SWAT team. I didn’t wait to see if they’d whip out a scanner or two – I headed off to parts less occupied. In the end I got some stuff, mostly for the mall, but nothing that stands out. In fact, I had to dig around in the boxes to find something worthy of a picture. The one above ought to be good.
By the time I caught up with Eric I felt deflated as an old party balloon. “Okay, “ he said, "you clearly need a break. Let’s go see the auction.”
Well -- this perked me up more than I would have expected. The book I wanted had a detached board which I strongly suspect got that way during the sale. My heart sank like the Titanic until I glanced to my right and saw three books that made my heart stop – a first American edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano; a fabulous hardcover limited edition auction catalog of John Steinbeck’s books and manuscripts, AND the loveliest small leather volume from 1852 called Companions of My Solitude. How had I missed them? I don’t know – I guess sometimes seeing is believing. But here’s the bad part. Of the three the only one that didn’t have a bid was the Steinbeck catalog. Vonnegut had two. I bid conservatively on all three, an approach that worked well last year when I ended up two for two. But I don’t know ….that was then and this is the decidedly less magical now.
I hate to admit it, but I’m actually trying to cut a deal with the book gods as we speak.. Let me have the Steinbeck and Companions of My Solitude and I’ll give up the Vonnegut. I think that’s fair, but so far it's been silence of the lambs over here.
At least I’ll know by tonight. No phone call, no books.