And sometimes when you look into the abyss...the abyss looks back into you

There are a number of bookstores in the surrounding towns that allow people to bring in books they’ve already read and trade them for others. I’ve been checking these bookstores out periodically over the last year or so, trying to find the one that would give the best deal. I went to the final one a couple of months ago. I took Shannon because it is a paperback exchange kind of place, and if you’re going to exchange paperbacks then you naturally need to say something to the proprietor, something like, “I’d like to exchange some paperbacks.” I would like to have had Shannon do the talking, but she’s pretty socially stunted, too, having the misfortune to take after me in that respect. So, even though I was the one forced by necessity to engage in conversation, it was nice to have Shannon as support, standing behind me and a little to the left. Just knowing she was there made it a little easier to speak up.

So, the first thing I did was ask the proprietors (there were two of them, both middle-aged women, one with scary eyebrows and the other with ratty hair) if there were any restrictions.

“What do you mean?” said Ratty Hair.

“Well,” says I, glancing at Shannon, who by way of encouragement raised her eyebrows. “I’ve been to places where they say you can only trade the kind of books you bring in, like sci fi for sci fi, romance for romance, and stuff like that.”

Ratty Hair shook her head.

So far so good. I continued, “And I’ve been to places where they give you credit but they still make you pay a little bit per book, like 75 cents or something, regardless of how many books you bring to trade.”

“No,” said Ratty Hair, “you get credit based on the cover price of the book.”

“So there’s no extra charge?” I said, wanting to be perfectly clear on this point.

“What kind of charge?” said Ratty Hair. Her question really confused me. I looked at Shannon, who had apparently become very interested in some colorful children’s books and was beginning to drift to the other side of the shop.

“A charge for each book you trade,” I said. Ratty Hair just stared at me. I tried explaining it in a different way: “You know, for each book you trade, there’s a charge.”

“There’s no extra cost for the books,” Scary Eyebrows broke in. “You use up your credit and that’s it.”

“Okay, thank you,” I said. So I gave them the books I’d brought. They went through them and decided they could only use about a fourth of them.

“We can’t really use these others,” said Scary Eyebrows. “We have overstock in them already.”

“What kind of books do you find that you need?” I asked.

“Well, the popular authors, like Janet Evanovich and Nora Roberts. Oh, and classics. If you have classics, we could use those.”

“Okay,” I said.

Then Ratty Hair, who had been calculating the value of the books I brought in, told me the amount of credit I had.

I spent the next ten minutes or so picking out four or five sci fi books. I also chose two mysteries, making sure to stay within my credit limit so I wouldn’t have to pay anything. Every once in a while I looked over at Shannon, who had now shifted her attention to the resident Chihuahua belonging to Ratty Hair. The dog was trotting around the bookstore, licking the books at Chihuahua eye-level. Finally, I took my selections up to the counter. Ratty Hair added them up and subtracted the credit.

“That’ll be $1.34,” said Ratty Hair.

I stared at her. She stared back at me. It was very unnerving. Fortunately, I was able to keep my head and figure out that the price she quoted included tax.“Oh,” I said, “I get it.”

Ratty Hair was still staring at me. I paid her and said, “Thank you.” Scary Eyebrows said, “You’re welcome.” Ratty Hair just stared. Then Shannon and I grabbed the leftover books and we got out of there as fast as we could.

Out in the parking lot, Shannon said, “That’s a creepy place.”

“You noticed that, too,” I said.

But I decided that, since it was the only paperback exchange around that gave a straight trade without any restrictions, I’d have to find the courage to go back someday with a bunch of classics, of which I had not a few.

Last week I did it. And I did it alone. I went into the store with a bag full of good classic books by authors like Zora Neale Hurston and Edith Wharton and Ring Lardner and Aphra Behn and Miguel de Cervantes. Just for good measure I also tossed in a loose Debbie Macomber romance and an Earlene Fowler mystery that happened to be lying about.

There was a man at the counter, a pleasant-enough-looking man, who took the bag of books and invited me to look around while he went through what I had brought. His politeness and good interpersonal skills immediately put me at ease.

I went over to the sci fi section again, and started the process of trying to decide which books I would get. There were so many I wanted, but I knew I’d have to limit myself.

A few minutes later I headed back to the counter and was a little surprised to see that the pleasant-looking man had been replaced with Scary Eyebrows.

She indicated the books I’d brought in. “We can’t use most of them,” she said, “but we can take these three.”

I looked at the three: the Debbie Macomber, the Earlene Fowler, and the Edith Wharton.

“Ohh...kay,” I said. I wanted to ask her what she considered to be classic literature, but I knew that was a line of inquiry that would probably lead to a dead end.

She continued. “I noticed you were looking in the sci fi section. If you want to trade for sci fi, you’ll have to bring in some sci fi books.”

“What?” I said, looking at Scary Eyebrows with an expression of mild shock mingled with disbelief, but she must have been taking lessons from Ratty Hair because all she did was stare at me.

“The last time I was here,” I said, explaining things very slowly and clearly, “I got sci fi.”

“Then you must have brought in sci fi to trade,” said Scary Eyebrows.

“No,” I said, “I brought all kinds of stuff.”

“Well, there you go,” she said, as if that proved her point. All it proved to me was that this was a creepier bookstore than I had thought. I knew there was no point in arguing with her. In places and cases like this, the customer is always wrong.

“Well, I don’t want anything else,” I said, trying not to sound like I had just lost at a game of marbles or something, “so I guess I’ll take my books back.”

“I can write down your credit and you can use it later,” Scary Eyebrows offered.

“No, that’s okay,” I said. So I took my books and left the store and promised myself that I would never go back to that creepy bookstore again.


adrien said...

that does sound kind of creepy. i wish i could have gone with you...i'd smack some sense into Scary Eyebrows (figuratively speaking, of course).

jared & megan said...

to be honest, I probably would have done the same thing as Shannon... ambling away in the face of conflict. On the other hand, if you had asked me very, very nicely, and provided some kind of bribe or incentive, I may have handled the transaction for you. Possibly. I do have another question tho... Scary Eyebrows... are we talking Groucho Marx eyebrows, Miracle Max eyebrows, Queen Narissa (Enchanted) eyebrows, or something else entirely?

Janeite42 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janeite42 said...

Eyebrows like this: http://www.shallowvalley.com/2006/10-30-06/peek3sm.jpg

Marlyse & Kenny said...

Wow. It sounds as if Scary Eyebrows and Ratty hair would make some pretty ugly liar children. Not together of course...but, you get my point.

jared & megan said...

hey so that link for eyebrows doesn't work. any thoughts?

Janeite42 said...

Try copying and pasting it in. It worked for me that way.

jared & megan said...

that's what I did before. I did it again, though, just in case. it still didn't work.