Once again I’m at Half Price Books, hearing faceless voices bounce over the tall stacks around me. “You’d hate to have a hole in your Duck Commander collection,” a woman I can’t see declares. I assume sarcasm, but when the man she’s addressing doesn’t laugh and responds with, “You really would!” I realize these folks are being entirely serious. The man really does have a “Duck Commander collection” and he really would hate to have a hole in it.
Sometimes I think if I come to Half Price Books enough somehow I’ll become an author myself. If I linger among the collected works of the greats, their brilliance will magically attach itself to me — as if wit and intelligence are contagious bacterium.
It doesn’t seem to be working though because I’ve been here a thousand times and they still haven’t given me the damn Pulitzer. The only thing I’ve caught at Half Price Books was the flu — probably from that little monster who kept wiping his nose with his shirt and asking his mommy if he could eat the gum he found on the floor.
The second reason I come to Half Price Books is for the people-watching. And boy is it good.
A misanthrope at heart, I’m also something of a voyeur. I may not like human-beings, but I do enjoy watching them from a close (and I suppose creepy) distance. This is probably why I spent $200 in high school on the most expensive binoculars they had so I could spy on the MILF who lived across the street. Unfortunately for me, she always kept the blinds drawn, and despite their exorbitant cost, the binoculars I purchased didn’t come with X-ray vision.
I’m flipping through Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre when a slightly flabby young man donning an offensively blue Hawaiian shirt waddles into the row and asks an employee scanning books where he can find “the Shakespeare.” “He’s right here where I’m standing,” the employee says giddily, and they chuckle like a couple of old flirts.
Hawaii N-O, as I’ve decided to nickname him, is with a young girl who must be his sister and who mom must have charged him with watching because she doesn’t seem to notice all the books hovering around her head, but stands with arms crossed, impatiently tapping her foot to the ground while big bro’ shuffles through a tattered copy of Hamlet. She stares up at him like she’s way too late for an evening of Justin Bieber listening.
The blueness of Hawaii N-O’s shirt is making me nauseous. “I think that is the big danger in keeping a diary,” Sarte writes, “you exaggerate everything.” But the blueness of this dastardly shirt could not possibly be exaggerated, and I’m beginning to wonder why Half Price Books doesn’t have a dress code.
Another girl, older but no less round than her companions, joins the pair. “What cha got there?” Hawaii N-O asks. “Well, it’s about a girl who moves from Cleveland to Mississippi and, I don’t know, I just really like the cover,” she replies.
I’m in a book store literally witnessing a girl judge a book by its cover. I suppose I’m something of a hypocrite though; I bought a book last week called How to Make Love Like a Pornstar because there was a picture of Jenna Jameson dressed as Marilyn Monroe on the front. No one’s perfect.
“That’s what happens when you start playing strings again when you haven’t for a while,” another random voice injects into the bookstore’s ether. I’ve never played the violin, but I’m sure I can relate. I once gave up masturbation for an entire week, and when I came back to it I was entirely inept. It’s true what they say: Practice makes perfect.
As I slide Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 back into its place on the shelf, I think about how bookstores should be more like libraries than coffee shops. I don’t come to HPB just to shop, but to relax and read. However, I suppose if this were the case then I could no longer eavesdrop on the titillating conversations of my fellow bibliophiles. Someone ought to write a book about such conundrums.
“Who wrote Percy Jackson? All my friends are reading it,” says a young girl of about 11 to her hulking father. The man’s collared shirt is the most aggressively tucked in shirt I’ve ever seen. It’s like his boxers are literally trying to eat it.
“Riordan, Riordan, Riordan,” I try to assist the girl with my mind, but, alas, my psychic abilities are non-existent. No Woman No Cry plays on the loudspeakers. William’s offer is ready at the buy-counter. And I need to visit the facilities because I was concentrating so hard I think I tinkled myself.
At the start of his famous novel Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh is saying how Jean Claude Van Damme movies have weak plots and predictable structures. But I’m not sure if I agree. When JCVD does the splits in Bloodsport and punches the Chinese Giant in the nuts, I don’t think anybody saw it coming.
Two young ladies move into the fiction row with me. True friends visit the bookstore together, I think. On numerous occasions I’ve asked the manager here to rename the row “Aaron’s row,” but she just looked at me funny and then told me where the self-help books could be found.
“How much is this on Amazon?” the blonder one asks as her friend peruses silently. I move to my left, about three feet at a time, to accommodate them, but they keep on coming so I cross back in front of them with a quiet “excuse me.” This makes the girls giggle and one even apologizes. I tell them it’s OK and we all giggle some more.
I could have written the book on bookstore etiquette. Wait. Note to self: Write book on bookstore etiquette. Rule #1 — No Hawaiian shirts. Rule #2 — Don’t let your kid sneeze on me. Bring your kids to the store, by all means, child literacy is important. But if he does it again I’m gonna punt him into the Sports section.
If these girls were dudes, or unattractive, it wouldn’t be OK at all, it would just be annoying. I have a lot more patience for attractive women than I do anyone else. I can be honest about that. Pretty women may not be able to get away with murder, but they can inconvenience me any time.
“Let’s go to Panera because I can get coffee,” the blonde requests. “This is my number one. I need to get rid of these other two,” the brunette indicates, her choice of books apparently made by the process of elimination.
And then they’re gone, and I’m a little sad. Even though they were distracting, I liked being near them. Or maybe I liked being near them because they were distracting. Either way, distractions are always welcome in the form of cute girl x 2.
A mother and daughter dressed in burkas wander aimlessly. The girl keeps glancing anxiously at a sheet of folded paper in her hand. They look confused, like they’re looking for a cannonball instead of a book. They speak in a language I can’t identify, let alone understand. When I type ‘burka’ into my phone, it auto-corrects to vodka, and I think that’s probably racist. Why should telecommunications companies prefer Russia to the Middle East?
I’m mostly watching other people, but right this minute I feel watched myself. It’s the short, middle-aged Latino man in the cubbie behind me. He’s wearing a bravely green shirt the color of Nickelodeon slime and semi-matching plaid shorts that hurt your eyes if you stare too long. He looks like an Old Navy employee dressed him and he wore his purchases out the door.
Is there a word for voyeurs who watch other voyeurs? Voyoyeurs? Rodrick’s offer is ready at the buy-counter.
I’m reading a page in Word Virus and William Burroughs is telling me it’s OK to plagiarize as long as I do it openly and freely. I can’t tell if he’s serous or not, and I’ll probably never know because this book is massive. But if I ever do plagiarize, I now know who to steal from. Thanks in advance, Bill!
I imagine typing out every word of Junky and presenting it to a publisher as my own work. When they inevitably look at me like I’m an insane person and consider calling the police I will tell them that it’s OK, I’ve been given permission. Let’s do this!
It’s been seven minutes since I first saw the mother and daughter in burkas looking for something and now they can’t find each other. The girl is saying a word that, because of her longing tone and rotating head, seems like ‘mom’ with a question mark after it. I can see the object of her search; she’s at the buy-counter next to Rodrick, and possibly William.
Someone who’s called the store is asking where the Meijer’s is (?!) and the employee on the phone is helpful enough to provide both a number and address. (The Meijer’s is apparently between a Wal-Mart and a City Barbeque.)
I think about a dystopian future where all the bookstores have become kiosks for mega-chain superstores, and the only books that exist are just maps to the nearest Costco. I think about Guy Montag, and it makes me shiver.
An older woman with grey hair, grey shoes, grey jeans, and a long-sleeved grey shirt sits in the Mystery section like she owns it, all spread out, elbows on knees, flipping with unblinking eyes through an Agatha Christie paperback.
After ten minutes, this Woman in Grey has apparently found what she’s after because she scoots back her chair with vigor and marches with spacey confidence to the check-out counter.
I wonder if she’s some kind of superhero, and there are others like her out there. Middle-aged ginger who wears red, divorcee brunette who dons only brown. Together, in their respective colors, they fight crime and bring mystery novels to the unfortunate. They wear ugly colors by day, and root out illiteracy by night.
It’s mid-September, so you can see, in outfit choice, the formation of two distinct factions: Those who have accepted the cooling weather and the curtailment of another summer, versus those who cling steadfastly to the recent memory of warmth. I straddle the fence of loyalty with a hoodie and cargo shorts.
A little girl (5 maybe) is calling for her mom. I respect that she goes with the shorter form of the word (a future writer perhaps) rather than the more juvenile ‘mommy’. This, by my count, is the second lost mother in about ten minutes, and I feel like it should be the other way around. Shouldn’t parents be looking for their kids?
Then again, it makes some sense: Mothers might be eager to lose their children, if for only a few minutes in a bookstore to flip through that copy of 50 Shades of Grey she can’t buy because a) it would cause a panic in her insecure husband who would take it as a sign that their sex lives are no longer adequate and she really doesn’t need that hassle, having to shower him with uncomfortable (and barely sincere) compliments to reassure him that he’s enough for her and k) she’d never have time to read the damn thing anyway because taking care of small children is a 20 hour a day job. Of course she’d love to be tied up and have ice rolled along the curves of her body by a conspicuously good-looking man. But there’s little time for S & M when your days are spent keeping diapers dry.
On the other side of the store is a skinny white-haired man wearing a white t-shirt with slight borders of red at the collar and sleeves. On his chest the shirt reads FLASH in big red letters. He wears light-green Adidas shoes. It is a wardrobe that looks more like a Halloween costume for a six year old than something a man in his 50s would wear, but hey, flash on my good man!
Two women who just walked into the cubbie next to me are shopping. I hear their voices over a heavy stack of American History books.
“Well, we can get him that.”
“Which one do you want to get him? That dinosaur looks familiar. I don’t know if he has that.”
“Oh you know what? We have to look for anything Einstein.”
(If ever there was a name that always deserved to be emphasized.)
I wonder if this could be Christmas shopping already, in the second week of September, and who is this dinosaur-loving, Einstein-admiring individual they’re shopping for? He should be given an award for being the world’s biggest nerd.
It’s game day in Columbus so most people don the scarlet and grey — various Buckeyes-themed t-shirts, hats and hoodies. The adults look like children, and the children look like dolls. I have on an Indiana University hat though so I probably look like the idiot to most people here. Game time (3:30) is nearing, but the store surprisingly seems to be getting more crowded, until it empties in a mass exodus around 3:15, as if the Beatles have suddenly announced a reunion tour and their first gig is at the Pet Smart next door.
I start to look at Sarah Vowell’s The Partly Cloudy Patriot when a man who looks exactly like former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton emerges in my periphery. His phone is strapped authoritatively to his hip like a black brick, and he has on a cool-looking plaid shirt and khaki pants. But I seriously doubt that he didn’t have help picking the outfit because it looks very wife-assembled. “But it’s game-day, honey. Can’t I just wear my lucky Bucks shirt?” “Not unless you can magically remove the four stains and three holes in it you can’t.”
To my left, two young girls (between 12-14) are conversing loudly in the Young Adult Fiction section. Like most pairings in Half Price Books, one does a majority of the talking while the other does a reciprocal amount of the listening.
“I missed 70 days of school last year,” this motor-mouth in grey head-band and black shorts rumbles. “Oh, this is way more up your alley,” she lunges toward something on the shelf and then slaps it into her friend’s hand. Friends don’t let other friends read bad books, I think.
I’m finding out what Nick Hornby has been reading and Tom Petty is reminding me that I don’t have to live like a refugee. It’s a good thing too because I was just thinking about joining a band of gypsies and migrating to Mexico by foot.
An employee pushes one Brute garbage can across the floor and pulls another behind him. Both are overflowing with VHS tapes. The CD on the loudspeaker overhead begins to skip. His co-worker follows close behind with yet another rolling trash can full of VHS tapes, and I’d bet that all the existing VHS tapes in the world are right here in this Half Price Books — there couldn’t possibly be more than three garbage cans of VHS tapes left on the planet, could there? “That sounds like a skipping CD,” one says as they disappear into the exclusive backroom. When the music comes back on it’s in the form of Bon Jovi and I think I preferred the skipping.
A slightly obese middle-aged white woman waddles to the bathroom, purse in right hand, flip flops boisterously smacking the soles of her feet with every stride. She sings along with Jon, “Your very first kiss was your first kiss goodbye,” and I guess he means ‘first kiss’ with one particular person, but I’m thinking what if a person’s first kiss in life was a kiss goodbye, and how would that work logistically?
I promise to kiss you if you let me leave right after.
Also, if it was just a first kiss with this one person and you haven’t kissed them until they’re leaving you, how much could you really care that they’re going? I suppose it’s possible to be in love with someone you’ve never kissed before, but it doesn’t seem likely, at least not to the level expressed in this now annoying song.
I’m reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters Remix, and he’s hilariously telling me how old he is when another Bon Jovi song comes on. The store’s clear music selection-scheme of playing two or three songs by each artist has both its drawbacks and its advantages. I like this JBJ song better than the last one, but it still bothers me. I just don’t feel like reading to the sound of “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
I see a young kid who looks like Harry Potter, no shit, reading Harry Potter. But curiously, he has on a red The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe t-shirt and I wonder if it was a conscious choice (“I’m heading to the book store so I better throw on my L double dub tee”) or if it was more organic than that — like this nerd has loads of book and movie-themed t-shirts and it was either that or something Battlestar Galactica.
The boy slides a chair across the carpeted cubbie, not for sitting purposes, but to help him reach his next choice. I’m thinking how books should never be out of the reach of children and I’m thankful for all six feet of height I possess, if for nothing else than to help me reach all the books I want, exactly when I want them.
“It takes thirty African elephants to equal one blue whale,” a small boy tells his mother from somewhere behind me. “Is that tic-tac-toe with earmuffs?” she responds, apparently unimpressed by the senseless magnitude of whales.
There are always women in Half-Price Books. It’s pretty astonishing, and likely explains why women are so much smarter than men. More single guys should realize the added benefits of literacy. Books and women: What else is there in life?
Well, whiskey, there’s whiskey.
Note to self: Idea for a bar called The Book Store Bar where people can slam shots of Jameson as they flip through the collected works of Emily Bronte. In fact, they should just serve whiskey shots at Half Price Books. Although that would probably make it a less family-friendly establishment and thus cut down on the number of sexy MILFs perusing the stacks. Again, when is someone going to write a book about such problems?
Now I’m flipping through Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, and there’s an attractive brunette girl next to me in tight black pants with hair down to her butt. She reminds me of Topanga from Boy Meets World, and I’d like to acquaint myself with the world inside those black pants. Would it be awkward if I tried to pick her up while holding this particular book? Are girls ever worried their dates will turn out to be serial killers — or even worse Phil Collins fans?
When it comes to conversing with women my problem is the initial breaking of ice. Once I’m in the flow, I’m good, but what to say first is highly problematic. It’s like a stand-up comic’s problem of what to say when he first walks on stage. There’s that brief moment of discomfort as he launches awkwardly into his routine. Some are better at it than others. Same goes for talking to women: Some men are just better at it than others.
Jimmy Fallon starts his Tonight Show monologue every night with “This is what everybody’s talking about, you guys.” I think I like that. Maybe that will be my new opening line with women. I’ll just walk up to the pretty girl in the fiction section and start regaling her with current events. “Hiya, I’m Aaron, and this is what everybody’s talking about!” (Mickey Mouse voice).
I’m reading the opening chapter in BJ Novak’s One More Thing, and his story about the tortoise and the hare’s rematch is interrupted by two young blonde ladies who look to be about 14. They’re gossiping loudly like they’re alone in the girl’s bathroom.
“I am so frustrated with Ashton,” the blonder one says. “She is obsessed with yoga, and it’s, like, all she talks about.” Her friend only listens, couldn’t get a word in if she tried because her friend talks like she has a word quota to meet and some kind of deadline is looming — or maybe like she’s trying to break the world record for syllables per minute.
“And the only reason she posts all this stuff about yoga is because she wants people to ask her about it, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with yoga but it’s, like, not the only thing in the world, you know?” I don’t know this Ashton character, but I suspect that she’s been unfairly maligned here today. I’m certain that at least one of these girls is named Becky.
A pale-skinned, red-headed woman wearing a Cleveland Browns t-shirt (and who I find moderately attractive) is lingering around the aisle I’m in. A girl in a bookstore is infinitely more attractive than the same girl outside the bookstore. I mean, that’s just science.
I imagine us being in a jungle rather than a bookstore: She’s the hunter and I’m the hunted, a stupid animal that doesn’t move around much, just grazes in one spot (the fiction section as it happens) and would be an easy kill, like a gazelle slurping casually at a ravine.
It’s extremely rude of me but I wonder if this girl really likes football or just wears that shirt because she thinks guys will like it. Like that Viagra commercial with the girl lying in bed wearing a football jersey, it’s advertising for cavemen. Sex good…football good…Viagra good!
The things we wear are a bit like advertising, aren’t they? Browns Girl is advertising herself to the opposite sex. She likes what they like, and she’s loyal. Because as we all know the Browns are awful and yet she’s still willing to brandish her support in public.
I open a biography about Proust and Edmund White is telling me that people refer to “sudden gusts of memory” as “Proustian experiences,” and now I’ll know what to call it when, while watching the Browns lose their fifth straight game, I start thinking about that one time a semi-attractive redhead in a bookstore couldn’t help flirting with me. It must have been my ratty beard and the stench of not yet showering that day that did the trick. She was a Browns fan after all.
Proust was apparently a gay man, so nothing in this particular book will serve me in my quest to strike up conversation with the female fans of dauntingly bad football teams. I return it to the shelf.
People are a lot like books: Some are old, some are new; some are inane, some are brilliant; some are entertaining, and some are boring; they can make you feel lonely, or sad, or jealous, or horny, or curious, or confused, or nostalgic, or weird. They come in all shapes and sizes and colors, and from a billion different backgrounds; and there are way too many to know them all.
If I’m being honest, it saddens me more that I’ll never read all the books than it does that I’ll never meet all the people the world has to offer. But I am slightly disappointed that I’ll never meet all the folks in this book store. These are, as they say, my people.
There’s an offer ready for Tony at the buy-counter, and I’ve decided to purchase a copy of 50 Shades of Grey. Because I’m single as hell and I have plenty of time to consume mindless erotica. Now I just need to find out if Browns Girl knows how to tie a knot.