Among the Book Fair fans is a promising young Cranky Old Goat. This is a man who always has advice or a comment to offer, and it is always delivered from an attitude of perfect knowledge based on long experience. He has told me about the aesthetic bankruptcy of modern art (“people who can’t draw”), and modern music (“just see how many dirty words they can record”), and modern sports (“too many rules and too many safety devices: they’re not learning the game if they’re afraid of hurting themselves”.) The only thing that keeps him from being a classic Cranky Old Goat is that he just recently turned 27. Still and all, he bids fair to become a really great Cranky Old Goat with just a few more years’ work.
When I run into him in, say, Potash Bros. Supermarket, he asks about the latest donations, profound and absurd. And he gives me advice on what to do with them. If only I had taken his advice all these years, this Book Fair would be a trimmer, slimmer event, because his advice is almost always the same, “Don’t sell it.”
I noted recently that someone had given us a piece of what was once the Peak of Modern Technology: a Dymo Labelmaker. For those of you born after the Flood, this was a printing device which fed a strip of plastic past a letter wheel. You turned the wheel to the letter you wanted, pulled the handle, and that letter was embossed into the plastic strip. Once you had made your label–“Summer Clothes”–you pulled something else, cut off the end of the strip, and had a label with a self-adhesive back which could be affixed to the box in question. It impressed us at the time.
It impressed the Apprentice Curmudgeon. “Don’t sell that: throw it away,” he said. “That whole technology is dead. No one will buy that.”
I suggested that it was an artifact of cultural importance. “Okay, maybe somebody making a movie about the Sixties. How many of those are coming to the sale?”
I changed the subject. We had also received a signed copy of the first paperback edition of Barack Obama’s first book. It’s just a signature–no inscription, as so many people prefer these days–and worth a decent sum of money.
“Don’t sell that,” he told me. “Put it away. It’ll be worth even more in a few years.”
“Well, the Newberry doesn’t set aside space for me to put things that will be worth more in a few years,” I said. “They kind of like to get the money now.”
He shook his head. “They shouldn’t even let you sell that. They should keep it.”
“Well, in general, they cut off their collection of American history at 1945, and Barack Obama wasn’t even born yet.”
He shook his head again. “But the history was already going on then.” I had to grant him that. Refreshing to meet someone under 35 who believes history has been going on for a while.
What WOULD he like us to sell? I’m not altogether certain. He himself buys books, and I showed him one I knew he could use. “How much?” he said.
I told him. He shook his head and handed it back to me. “Don’t sell that to me for that price. It’s worth ten times that.”
He really gets me ready for the customers at the Book Fair. As long as I remember I’m always wrong, all will go right.