Tuesday, June 04, 2013
One Fine Thing
Blogging, like a lot of other stuff I can think of, is not as easy as you’d expect. All weekend I was dying to tell you my latest adventure, but lacked the time to do it. So early this morning, the second I slapped the last label on the last order to be shipped, I was in here banging away on the keyboard. I wrote a good half of it before it finally dawned on me that it had about as much zip as the legal notices in the classified ads of the newspaper. So I hit the delete button and started again. Now an hour has slipped by and I’ve hit delete not once, but TWICE. So here we go a third time. At the very least I guess we can judge the veracity of that old saying about the third time being the charm.
As you know, I was jazzed up like a player piano to get to Saturday’s book sale because last year I made two great finds there. Of course I know all about lightning never striking in the same place twice, but when a bookseller imbues a sale with magical thinking there’s not an adage in the world that will disabuse her of the notion. As I took my place in line three words looped around in my brain like an endless tape – one fine thing. All I wanted was one fine thing. There we were basking under a Cleveland sun at the end of a week that consistently predicted a 70 per cent chance of morning storms. Our favorite sellers were all grouped around us which made short work of the three hour wait. AND the crowd was noticeably smaller than usual. All omens looked good!
The first thing I noticed when we entered the sale room was the lack of an antiquarian and collectible section – the favorite of my favorites -- so I headed to art instead and immediately scooped up a few books and catalogues. They did have some specials , but I had a hunch that the one I wanted wasn’t a good idea -- which proved to be dead-on right. Eric told me later that a scanner zapped it and it was overpriced by $125!!!! Today is reduced price day and I’m going, but you can bet that even if it’s a full half off (which it won’t be) I won’t be selling a gorgeous kimono book any time soon. But getting back to Saturday’s sale, I wended my way through architecture, music, cookbooks, children’s and Ohioana buying one book here and two there, all of which were nice enough but still not my ONE FINE THING. Even literature bombed and I love the literature section. I couldn’t even scare up a nice set of classics for the antiques mall.
By this time the only place I hadn’t been was religion, a topic I’m very picky about so I rarely get anything other than Judaica which I do like. But instead of making tracks over there I spent awhile talking to Keith, the nice bookseller I met last summer at a Cleveland estate sale and suddenly keep running into a lot. Since neither of us felt much urgency we talked as we desultorily looked for stuff we might have missed in the children’s section. After that I finally did hit religion, but I never really looked at the offerings because right away I ran into my friend Patrick who asked me how I was doing.
“Not all that great,” I said. “I got some stuff, but nothing really good.”
“Did you see the signed Robert Frost?” he asked.
The WHHHAAAAT???? No, I hadn’t seen any signed Robert Frost -- which might be because it was buried in a box that looked like another buyer’s book receptacle. Immediately I ran over and asked the woman working there who knows me well from the old antiquarian section if she still had it. Yes, yes, yes – NO! Just as the worker she sent to fetch it reached for it another buyer picked it up and added it to his stack. And just like that -- the gig was up.
“Wait -- don’t leave,” the antiquarian category woman whispered to me. “Just wait and see what happens. There’s a good chance he didn’t see the price and will flip out when he hears it’s $200.”
I doubted it, but dutifully waited. Whole Ages passed as he continued to browse, looking at this book, looking at that one, and adding a few more to his box. I can’t recall why I didn’t see him check out, but Eric told me later that he did exactly what the woman predicted he would do. In a just a few seconds, I got my one fine thing after all.
Later that evening I thought about all this and suddenly remembered a side conversation I ‘d overheard as we waited in line. I can’t remember what brought it up, but one of the scanners, whom I initially liked until he went over to the dark side, was explaining how dealers can manipulate prices and with cunning and laser sharp timing wring big money out of a given book whether it’s worth it or not. I listened for a moment and quietly said to Peter, “I really don’t like that.”
“I don’t either,” he said
Which is not to say we’re saints, you understand, though we do respect the books, play fair with the customers, and even help each other. But we’re also competitive – to say otherwise would be lying through our teeth. Just stand on the sidelines of a sale and watch what happens when the doors open. All along the line conversations fall off in mid-sentence. If words were tangible the ground would be so littered with them you’d be kicking them up on the way in like dry leaves in autumn. But, even so, many booksellers have shared their knowledge with me over the years and I try to return that same generosity of spirit.
As for the Frost book, I’m thrilled to have it. I’m practically giddy over it! But I’m also pretty sure that the world would have kept spinning even if the other guy got it.
The second Patrick told me where to find Frost I had my one fine thing.. It just it took me a while to get it.