Don't Pat Me on the Back in July

Once upon an autumn, I was returning to Chicago after a too-short vacation, thinking about the start-up of the Book Fair to come. The one before had been a rough one, with stubborn customers, broken elevators, broken restrooms, bad weather, and a sudden disaster elsewhere which cancelled all the promised media attention. I drooped a little, considering the year to come.

The cab driver had his radio tuned to NPR, and somebody was explaining farm life for the urban listeners. He had reached harvest time, and noted something along the lines of, “If a man is healthy and lucky, he may take an active role in forty-five or fifty harvests in a lifetime.” The message was intended for me. I will be allowed, if lucky and healthy, to be an active part of this harvest forty or fifty times. One day the sweat and frustration and seething anger and panic and joy and laughter will be done. I can wait.

Lots of sweat this year. A few incidents unfunny enough that it’ll be five years before I blog about them. Some customers tearful with joy. The annual complaints—”Why do you charge so much when you get the books for free?”. More sweat. I wear an apron and a sleeveless sweater throughout the games, see. So I always warn people not to pat me on thre back by way of encouragement. Doesn’t do me much good, like a lot of my other instructions. If we had made a thousand dollars for every time I said, “But I TOLD you….”

Hey, do you remember 2009? It was our Twenty-fifth Book Fair, and we broke all previous records. Everyone said we’d never hit that total again. You can’t expect another record at the SECOND Twenty-fifth Book Fair because it isn’t the FIRST Twenty-Fifth Book fair. That $139,000 would be the record for years to come.

Thanks you the blog readers, among others, we took that record, broke it, threw the pieces on the floor, and stomped on them. We topped that total by over 20 percent, friends and neighbors. And I know you will be glad to hear that so far seven people have told me that there is no way we can duplicate it, that this $168,000 was a fluke brought on by good weather and unprecedented publicity, and the 2010 total will never be matched.

The masses of art books had something to do with it. Three of you rushed in for that copy of Atlas Shrugged I blogged about; my apologies to two and three because the first person in bought it. You were not as thrilled by the signed Nora Robertses or even the Anne McCaffreys, and those wonderful astrophysics journals from the Adler Planetarium just kinda sat there all weekend.

You loved the signed Shel Silverstein, to judge by the number of people who carried it to check-out, found it was $1500, and brought it back. My $300 Mickey Mouse also wandered throughout the Book Fair, only to be brought back with a whimper of “I thought that said three dollars!”

We sold two plastic laundry baskets and the first printing of The Great Gatsby. Movie posters, maps, and mysteries all made money. We sold Ghost Cats for a dollar and the History of Essex County, Massachusetts for $125. The first category to go completely empty was either Lincoln or Classics. Half a dozen other categories had fewer than a dozen books left Sunday afternoon.

So now we’re busy cleaning up after ourselves, so don’t pat me on the back even yet, unless you want to go wash your hands. By Friday, I will switch from sweating over the 2010 Book Fair to sweating over the 2011 model, thanks, um, to those three poor, deluded souls who donated books during the Book Fair. (But I TOLD you….) 

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