28 September 2009

The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse

Listening to: Jack's Mannequin, "Dark Blue"

I've done a fair amount of sample sale shopping in my life. One glorious year my friend and I worked in Northern San Diego where a lot of clothing companies have their headquarters. He'd get the tip that a blowout sale was going on and we'd run over to the ATM, sometimes on lunch hour(s), and head to the sale with eyes on the prize. We got some incredible deals. One dollar for a pair of new shoes. Swim trunks, hoodies, sunglasses, jackets, shirts, and all sorts of wonderful items for five dollars or less. Snowboard jackets and pants for ten dollars. We were in shopping heaven.

Eventually we wised up and figured out a system. Instead of slowly making our way trying to find stuff that fit us, we would each grab a huge cardboard box, start from opposite ends, and just start grabbing. We'd do that real quick, load up the car with round one, and then return for more. We figured someone we knew could fit anything cool we saw and if not, we could just resell it. After a summer of these shopping extravanganzas, I'd be outfitted for the entire year.

Of course, this also ruined me for normal shopping. Why pay more than a few dollars for something when I could just wait for the next sale? For example, one time we went to a Converse sale in LA and got Chucks for seven dollars. Which was amazing but now I can't get myself to buy them at retail price. When you buy twenty-ish pairs at such a steep discount, your whole relationship to the very important "how much should I spend on shoes" question changes. And another negative side effect of all this sample shopping was the "buying frenzy," which results in ridiculous purchases like fake silk wrestling boots. What in the world was anybody possibly going to do with these?

Having said all that, I'd never been to a book sample sale. Well that changed as of this past Sunday. I went to the San Francisco Public Library Big Book Sale and everything was one dollar since it was the last day. One dollar, for an entire book. That's amazing. Since I'm in the process of moving most of my stuff back to San Diego, I thought it would be smart to avoid buying too many books because I already had a boxful to drag home. I figured I'd just mosey in, browse around for five or ten books, and escape quickly with some essentials. Did I mention that the sale is held in a football sized pavilion, with over 300,000 books in fifty categories? In retrospect I don't know what I was thinking.

I mean, the very first table I went to, Science Fiction, already netted me three books. That was seven minutes in. Then I detached myself from trashy fantasy novels and crossed over to the Writing and Literary Criticism area. I doubled up the number of books in my hand within five minutes. It was starting to dawn on me that I was going to have a really heavy walk back to the apartment. Sheer laziness (and an inability to lift very much with my, ahem, muscles) restrained me from grabbing a shopping cart. My new promise was to limit myself to just one plastic grocery carry thingie. In order to accomplish that goal, I decided to just skip over entire sections. I wouldn't even look. I mean, there was no way I was going to wander into Nature, Architecture, Film and Music, or Textbooks without having something catch my eye. And those books can be big. With pictures. Heavy pictures. I skipped over all hardcover fiction for a similar reason.

I also elected to avoid the Dummies table, cast a wary eye toward the people crowded around Military, gazed longingly at Religion, and only briefly profiled the shoppers in Self Help. Okay fine, I did dip into Self Help and for some reason found "Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future," filed there. I tossed it into my carrier because it was a must buy and not really self help at all was it? I had to rescue her.

The children's section was an absolute goldmine. Sitting on the corner was a whole bunch of classic Baby-Sitter's Club books. I took one look at those covers and was convinced they'd make great gifts. I had a conversation at a party just awhile ago about who everyone's favorite sitter was. (Claudia won by a landslide.) I figured giving someone "Claudia and the Phantom Phone Call" would give me huge friend points. But then I noticed that volumes two through six were just there for the buying. So I had to take them, and now my sister's bookshelf will be retro and awesome. And to hell with the friend points.

Of course, if I was going to go Eighties, why not grab some Christopher Pike and Nancy Drew too? Cubby five of George's Ikea bookshelf will now be tastefully decorated with dusty nostalgia. The inscription inside one of the Baby-Sitter's Club books reads: "This belongs to: Jennifer Kahn, daughter of Michelle Kahn." Thanks Jennifer and Michelle, you're the best!

I didn't even bother going to the CDs, DVDs, and VHS section. There were scavengers all over those tables and I didn't feel like fighting for outdated media. Who still uses VHS's? The Mythology section was woefully understocked. I tried to figure out if there was some reason for that. Do people just hang onto their mythology books or something? Hand it down from one generation to the next? I saw at least a hundred Bibles but only three books about the Roman gods. Hum, an insight into the true nature of religious folk perhaps? I'll let you divine the meaning contained within.

My biggest laugh was picking up a book called "How You Can Make $20,000 a Year in Writing." The author promised to show you how to achieve a high paying career by freelancing. Sadly, the book was printed in 1943 -- and that sum would probably be just as welcome today. The edition four years later increased that princely figure to $25,000. We've come far in sixty years.

The line to get out of the sale wrapped around one side of the building. Along the way you could see people's discards as they'd whittled their selections down. Someone had decided that "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" was just not going to work on their coffee table. Same with a giant picture book of the solar system. And multiple "Where's Waldos?" I managed to pick up "Why I Am Not A Christian" as I waited in line. If I'm going to be a hack philosophy major, I might as well play the part -- and figure out if Bertrand Russell had a theory on why used mythology books were in such short supply.

Some of my favorite finds included: "Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch" (for obvious reasons), an advance reading copy of Bennett Madison's "The Blonde of the Joke" (which just came out and I already have a real one so you should get one too), and a whole bunch of fiction journals and non-fiction essays (my favorite and most productive section). Plus I was excited to find "Red: Teenage Girls On What Fires Up Their Lives Today" because Jordyn (Ten Cent Notes) , YA book blogger and great writer has an essay in it -- and she's bonus cool because she reviewed Exclusively Chloe.

All in all, I left with thirty plus books and that was with a strict time and quantity budget. Now I'm going to have to ship everything home because books are just too heavy to carry on an airplane. But next year, I'm coming back for more. The only thing that could possibly top this experience is attending BookExpo and getting all new books for free. I need to put that on my list of life to-do's actually. Until then it'll be catching up with Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey and Dawn for me.