It’s always a lot of fun to go booking, to browse through one or more used book stores. It doesn’t matter the weather or the time of day, wandering around in a used book store is just good for the soul. One of the things I love about used book stores is that aroma of old books. You can smell it as soon as you walk in, as I did in a store here in Portland recently. I took a moment to enjoy that smell of old paper, then headed back into the stacks for my favorite sections: mystery and science fiction. I was happy to find a few things I’d been looking for, and a few I didn’t know I wanted until I saw them. But this particular trip had a twist ending I didn’t see coming.
After getting an armload of books I was on my way to the cash register when I passed a locked end case. I hadn’t noticed it before, having started on another side of the store, and I paused to take a look. What I saw held me rooted to the spot. In it were three volumes in the series The New Adventures of Tom Swift Jr. They were all in dust jacket and appeared to be in really excellent condition. I looked closer and saw the small sign: “complete set”.
What? A complete set in that good condition? I’d thought a few times about buying one or two of these books, which I’d loved as a kid, to try them again, but had never done it. The ones on eBay or elsewhere were terribly beat up and awfully expensive. And here was a complete set in – judging from the three books in the case – really, really good condition. The only problem was the price tag. It was a lot of money, more than I was willing to spend. I sighed and went to buy the books I was holding.
That afternoon I told my wife about the Tom Swift Jr. set I’d seen. I told her how much I liked the few I’d read when young, and how I’d thought about buying a few of them but never did. When she asked me how much the set cost, and I told her, she didn’t bat an eye, just said “You should get them.” That floored me, but she convinced me she meant it, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought I’d go ahead and get them. So the next morning I called the store and talked to an employee who said he’d hold them until the end of business the following day, when I was going to be in the area so it would be convenient for me to stop by.
The next morning, I got to the store about a half hour after they opened and went to the clerk at the counter and told him I was there to examine and if satisfied pick up the set. I gave him my name and he replied “Oh, I know who you are. You need to go speak to the store manager.” I thought that was odd, but went to the woman he’d indicated, again identifying myself and the purpose of the visit to the store. She looked at me uncomfortably and said she was sorry, but the set was sold. I said, yes, I’m the buyer.
“No,” she said, “the set of books is already sold,” she told me, “It was sold yesterday.” When I told her I had called, made sure it was available, put it on hold she sighed. She told me it had already been sold when I called, had in fact been sold before I even went into the store two days before, but while the set had been marked “sold” in the back room, the three books and the sign had mistakenly been left in the end case. The books had been paid for and picked up the previous afternoon. Only then had they discovered the problem. The clerk I’d talked to on the phone had made a mistake. She said that since I hadn’t left a phone number, they’d no way to call me. Sorry, but…
So after deciding not to buy them, then deciding I would, then tossing and turning all night about the cost, then deciding again, calling to put them on hold and finally driving to the store, it was all for naught. They’d been sold before I ever saw them in the first place.
My wife, who had come with me to pick up the books, was great about it. “That’s too bad,” she said, “but now you have the money to buy something else.” I think she knew it would probably be books.