Way back when, back when things were VERY different, I used to sell books. And I mean ANY kind of book. New. Used. Rare First Editions. I would go to garage sales, Goodwill, and I would check things out online. Buy a book from Amazon.com, knowing it was worth FAR more than what it was selling for, & I would get. Once I received the book, once I gave it a good look-see, I would put it up for auction on a different website. I have gone to Used Bookstores & found Signed First Editions from writers such as Chuck Palahniuk & Norman Mailer!
It blew my mind, sometimes.
At one Used Bookstore, I almost got into a fight over a First Edition Hunter S. Thompson book, The Great Shark Hunt. It was priced at $5.00.
Hell, yeah, I thought. What a find!
What happened at check-out was almost epic. Almost ended in the greatest, ugliest tragedy of Used Bookstore history.
“Um, I can’t sell you this,” the kid behind the counter said.
I knew something was up when he was gawking at the book. And when he started typing away at the computer, I knew I was going to be screwed. I knew this was going to happen. And I was prepared for it.
“Is K___ here? You know, your MANAGER.”
He was taken aback. I knew his Manager by name. And hell yes, how could NOT know his name! Scarier still, for the kid, The Manager knew MY name. That bookstore kept accounts for people. And it had a Purchase History file on the account. That’s right: ALL of my purchases in more than a two-year span was recorded.
(I even ask for a print-out of the bastard. It was a LONG list, my friends.)
So of course Manager, K__, knew me. He rang me up so many times at check-out, asking about my family, the whole pleasant Purchase/Transaction scenario played with perfection between K__ & Me.
And now I’m being told I can’t buy a piece of treasure I legitimately found.
K__ showed up on the scene. It did not take him long to figure out something was REALLY wrong. He looked at my face, looked at the book next to the computer…
“What’s wrong, Leland? When I shelved that book, I KNEW you were going to be the one to get it. I just KNEW. I almost set it aside for you. So what’s the problem?”
“That kid behind you won’t sell it to me.”
K__ turned to the Sales Associate, a look of anger on his face.
“Why the hell not,” he snarled.
The kid started talking fast. Telling him about the price, and then pointing to the computer screen.
“It’s priced at 5 bucks, Mr. K___. I expect you see the problem. It’s YOUR problem someone on the staff priced it wrong. That they didn’t know a gem when they saw one. Please don’t make it MY problem.”
He didn’t say anything for a while. And he didn’t look at me. He just looked at the book. Then he would look at the computer screen, & then back to the book. When he DID say something, a section of my mind exploded with rage. Another section melted.
“We can’t sell this to you at this price, Leland. Certainly, you of all people can understand that.”
I was LIVID.
I felt deceived.
This was an OUTRAGE!
“K__,” I said as calmly as I could, with all the menace I could muster from my eyes, “the books are sold ‘As Is’ and the price is non-negotiable. What the hell, K__? This is ME, a devoted customer. And THIS is what I get!”
He wasn’t fazed. Nor did he seem impressed. He knew that I knew the worth of the book. He probably also knew, if I were in his shoes, there was NO WAY I was going to let that book go for 5 measly dollars.
I turned rude REAL quick.
“So what the F#@K you gonna do?”
“Let’s work on this, Leland. I’ll make you a deal: I’m going to put this in the Rare Book display area. I’m going to give it a price of $95.00. You can buy it now at that price.”
My breathing was not doing well. I could feel the muscles in my jaw starting to clench, tighten, relax, then begin again, distorting my facial features.
He saw it right away. I was going to explode.
“Now,” he began his pitch, “if this does not sell in two weeks, I’ll pull it from the shelf. I’ll call you & can buy if for, say, $35.00. Is that fair?”
The bastard had me. $35.00! I would have paid that at that moment. If it was $35.00 when I saw it on the shelf, I would have bought it.
Only thing: what if someone bought it? What if it sold that very day, which, I knew, as soon as I was out of the store, that’s what was going to happen.
“What if it sells, K__? What then? I just swallow the fact you F@#KED one of your best customers! Is that the type of S#$T you pull?”
He was quick. And Smart.
“If it sells, Leland, you can have 75% off your ENTIRE next purchase.”
“I want 75% off the entire total amount on my next visit. Get me? Not ONE book. ALL OF THEM!”
With that, he hesitated.
“All right, Leland.”
He went to his office. I stood glaring at the kid. He did not want to look at me. The Great Shark Hunt lay two feet away from – a monument/artifact of significant, personal worth. I wasn’t going to sell it. Not at all. It would stay in my Private Collection if I could wait two weeks… if it did not sell… if I did not break & buy it for $95.00.
K__ returned with the store’s business card. Written on the back was the agreement for my 75% off. It was initialed. And he said if I had any trouble, to call him. He wrote his cell phone number down, too.
I was not happy when I left. And I tortured myself for the next two weeks, looking the book up online. Looking at pictures of it. Rereading the trade paperback copy I’d had on my shelves for years.
I got the phone call.
It was on a Wednesday.
“Leland! It’s K__ from Used Books. Come and get your book. I’m putting it behind the counter for you.”
“I’m on my way.”
I walked to the store. I was happy as hell. I started my First Edition Hunter S. Thompson Collection earlier in the year. This buy would put my collection at eight titles. All of them with wonderful dust jackets. It was going well.
K__ was the one to ring me up. After he handed the book to me he said, very sternly “Give me that card I gave you.” I smiled. He knew me well. TOO well, if you ask me.
I fumbled around in my wallet, handed it over to him, and then he did something that made BOTH of us smile: he took a black Sharpie, crossed out the agreement, handed it back to me, saying:
“That should make a good bookmark.”
As far as I know, that card stayed in that book for as long as I had it.
I do not wish to share with you the terrible fate of my book collection. It makes me shudder thinking about it.
I feel I am making a slow come-back, though.
I’m two titles back in the game…