The Books (Dry Satire)
It’s 8:04 and I’m out of bed already. I can hear the shower running and give myself a quick check to see if I need to put on some more deodorant, but I’m fine. I microwave three pizza-rolls, and by the time they’re cool enough to consume, my sister and mother are downstairs. It’s 8:15 by the time we’re out the door.
“Alright, so what am I after again?” I ask, trying to rub the sleep out of my eyes.
“Big soft back books. Preferably, without the crease in the spine.”
I nod, as we arrive in the parking lot to the Goodwill Headquarters and Warehouse at 8:53. There’s a line of people outside, and we take our place in the back.
“Michael, do you see that man over there, with his glasses clipped onto his shirt?”
“The other times I was here, he would wait until they opened the doors and cut in front of people to get in. He doesn’t do that anymore. Do you know why? I called him ‘asshole’.” She relishes in the thought that she might be the person to get the man to actually stay in line.
“You’re a regular vigilante, mom.”
The last two words are cut off as the large door opens, and we head up a concrete ramp, grabbing a shopping cart through the wave of people. The shopping carts are second hand, purchased from a “T.J Max” store, and undersized. I follow my mom and my sister through the throngs of people to three tables, each with a milk-crate of books on top. Along the back wall, there’s a counter with innumerous cases. She darts off in another direction, and I’m left to fend for my own.
In the far end of the madness, people are crowding around, bumping into me, picking up books with disregard, glancing at the condition, and tossing them into their carts. I’m a mess; there are three people at my carton, each of them pulling books out like a vulture picking carrion clean. As I reach into the box, there’s a slight stinging, and I withdrew my hand. Did someone just slap me?
No. I throw my hand back into the fray and emerge with a handful of books, which I glance at and toss into the cart. For a few seconds I ponder whether or not they’re the right books, but there’s no time for thought in this game. This is kill or be killed, it’s do or die time. You’ve been training your whole life for this, but the fingerless gloves you’re wearing do nothing to protect against the violent paper cuts.
I glance over my shoulder and look at mom’s progress. Her shopping cart is already almost full, and I’m only on three books. The people who were crowding me have since moved away, onto other cases, leaving me with a box of bent-up harlequin romance novels to peruse. In my cart sits a solitary “Dr. Spock” book, promising 30,000 ways to raise my child better.
I pull the cart away to another table, with less people. The man in the yellow shirt, with the glasses is over there, grabbing as many books as he can and tossing them into his cart. This man’s name is quantity, not quality. He should have just been grabbing the cartons and tossing them in, for what he was doing. But I manage to secure two books, one on the art of massage, and another on Harry Potter. It was strange and hardly euphoric. I couldn’t find any type of comfort zone to fall into; it was madness. Going back and forth between cases of books, shoulder checking grumpy old tattooed men, trying to grab the last worthwhile book before another sanctimonious bastard snagged it.
It was a feeding frenzy, and I was but a guppy to these experts, who moved from table to table like the changing ocean tide, filling cart after cart after countless cart without looking back. Fed up with my inability to conquer these libertines, I grab a handful of books and throw them into my cart. I’m breaking a cardinal rule, to not look at the books. I can look after I’ve laid my claim on them.
But I can’t. After I finish the second handful, it’s time to go. The tables are now but empty, the clanking of carts down in the text-tile section can still be heard, the losers from the book tables trying to recoup their losses with second-hand fabric. At the checkout line, I see various people crowding around with up to six shopping carts filled with books. Behind me in line is a man who seems to have found his fortune in off-white toaster ovens that weren’t always that pale color. And behind him, a man, a brother, with three televisions stacked precariously on top of each other. I wonder if I go to the flea-market if I’ll see those TV’s again, marked up from the ten dollars they were paying to forty.
And then we‘re next in line. The woman in front of us, bless her, was only buying a purse, but the first in line had seventy pounds of purple fabric to buy. My mother’s attention is on my cart. She’s pouring over the books I’ve taken, a mask of disappointment creasing her face. She knows I’ve broken the rule, the one rule she‘s bothered to teach me when it comes to this game. Have I lost?
My sister is occupied, sitting beside the counter, playing with a set of crayons, and I only wish my time could be that simple.
The total, with each soft-back book costing .25, comes to $110.25. My mother, in lieu of a wallet, carries around a pimp-roll and pays the man. I smile to myself as I see that the middle of the roll is nothing but singles.
We take the books out to the van, and I stare back at the Goodwill. There’s an entire subculture of book vultures and violent, vehement readers that I knew nothing about. My hand still stings from where someone slapped it, and I’ve got too many paper-cuts on my hand to count.
There’s an entire subculture of people that have taken the time to perfect the art of the quick-grab. I’m not one of those people; I take my time, I have to look at my purchase. But in there, you can’t afford to do that. You either grab, or lose out. I don’t think the people in there really enjoy doing what they do, but they have to. Times are hard.
She takes the shopping carts back to the store as I load the boxes of books into the car. She paid $110, but in resale, she’ll clear $1,000 easily.
I sit back in the car, panting, as my sister colors in a coloring book. I grab a baby-wipe from the container between the seats and try to clean my hands, but it feels like a layer of impenetrable dirt is covering my hands. I sigh, and yawn. It’s 9:42.
“Why so tired, Michael? It’s boring in there.” She’s scribbling all over the page, coloring just outside the lines.
I wonder if it really is boring, or if she’s just young.
I prefer to think the latter.