I will preface this by stating a universal fact of life, one so face-smackingly obvious you might not have acknowledged it as the cosmic law of nature that it is. Are you ready for this gem of higher consciousness? OK, here it is:
You can find some great shit at Half Price Books and Goodwill.
But I don’t want to write about all the great shit you can find at such fine establishments (you will find no posts here about unearthing treasures like the mostly unscratched CDs of Springsteen’s The River or a T-shirt from a local bar that was still stained with what I can only hope was spilled beer). I want to write about veritable highway robbery, bargain banditry as it concerns books that have been signed, personalized, or otherwise made unique, valuable, or noteworthy and which were purchased for slightly less than a Subway $5 footlong (or are they $6 nowadays? I mean, I’ll still eat there regardless. Sweet onion chicken teriyaki is my jam.).
I’ll start this off the way most great blog posts do:
It was a dark and stormy night.
That’s a lie. It was actually a very sunshiny January day about two years ago. Wasn’t even snowing, although it probably had recently. There might have been a cloud or two. Let’s move on.
I was perusing the poetry section of the Half Price Books in Greenwood, Indiana, as one does. Or at least as I do. And by that, I mean I wander immediately back to the poetry section, stare at each book for a while, and completely ignore most of the rest of the store. I might wander over to the history books eventually, and then to specific spots in the CD section (“W” for Tom Waits. I never find any.), but I’m largely there for the poetry.
I must have been working backwards or skipping shelves, because I remember flipping through a book of Jim Morrison’s poetry (The American Night, maybe? Not too sure.) and thinking something along the lines of “Boy howdy, I bet he was high as a buzzard when we wrote that.” No offense to The Lizard King’s sensibilities, but I didn’t end up buying it. I did, however, end up buying what I picked up next: a copy of Seamus Heaney’s District and Circle.
Seamus Heaney authored many fantastic poetry books, some of which I have dog-eared copies. The first of his books I acquired, Human Chain, was purchased for a college class. And maybe it was because I was reading it as an assignment on top of doing other assignments, trying to grade papers fairly, and figuring out how to teach college freshmen about why commas are kinda important–but I didn’t like it at first read. I simply didn’t. I’d read a poem or two, put it down, and fall back into grading the next ten or so essays about potholes or Jack the Ripper or whatever they were about. It wasn’t until I read Human Chain on my own time (and probably while sipping a beer) that I realized that I actually did like it, and that Seamus Heaney was a pretty durn awesome poet.
Anyways, back to District and Circle. I hadn’t read this one yet, which meant I was probably going to buy it. It was hardcover, though, with a dust jacket, both of which I dislike in books (paperbacks are more portable and therefore easier to bring into BMV offices, hospital waiting rooms, and bars. And if you’ve never read poetry in a bar, you now have something new to do this weekend.). I’d really prefer a paperback version, but I didn’t see one. Surely mortal man has never faced such a conundrum.
Undecided, I flipped it open, the spine creaking the way they do when a book has rarely (if ever) been opened.
And that’s when, of course, I saw Seamus Heaney’s autograph on the title page.
And that’s when, of course, I double-double checked that the price tag of “$4.00” was correct.
And that’s when, of course, I muttered “Holy shitballs!” and probably taught a nearby kid a new phrase to try out at the dinner table.
And that’s when, of course, I zipped right to the cashier counter and was more than happy to hand over the four crumpled dollar bills that were loitering in my pocket and get out of there as quick as I could, not just because I was thrilled at finding such treasure but also because I was half expecting the dreaded Half Price Books Security Team to burst out of the surrounding stacks, tackle me and demand several hundred more dollars or else.
The dreaded Security Team didn’t appear. What’s more, I’m pretty sure by now that they don’t even exist, and Half Price Books just leaves their mounds of literary treasures to sit unguarded save for a quick blorp from the bar-code scanner at check-out. Just imagine.
Yes, blorp is a sound some bar-code scanners make. It’s true.
So, I blorped my way out of there with my prize and a little receipt that officially transferred ownership of said prize to me. I no longer have that receipt, but I’m counting on you to take my honest and trustworthy character into account here. Plus the fact that I have exactly one signed copy of Seamus Heaney’s District and Circle hanging behind glass on my wall.
And also a paperback copy, bought later from a Goodwill. For the BMV lines.