One and Only

Someone with more intellectual curiosity than manners (that’s often the way of it) asked me, while we were discussing our thirty Book Fairs, “Do you remember your most annoying customer?”

I was able to explain that I had never seen this person myself, but there was a customer who came every year who made my co-workers fret and the volunteers wonder. This person is, I understand, almost as annoying as the person who asked me the question in the first place. I have had to stand and listen to more people complain about this customer than I really think is fair. Why should I have to brainstorm with solutions to the problem of this oddball customer when, even as we are speaking, somebody may be dropping off banana boxes filled with stuffed owls on the loading dock?

But, oh, the heartache caused by the customer who comes in, looks around, and buys one book!

The people who don’t buy anything never seem to bother the cast or crew of the Book Fair. We all acknowledge that there are people who see the crush and expect a YouTube celebrity is signing autographs or something, and goes away when they see it isn’t so. And there are people who meander in to use the restroom. There are even a few people who want to come through the Book Fair to go upstairs and use the Library (which is functioning on its usual hours during the fanfare and foofaraw on the first floor.)

But the person who walks out with just one book throws the whole system into confusion. One of my volunteers suggested that she go down the checkout line, find these people, and counsel them on how to hunt for books. Other volunteers have suggested more detailed maps, thoroughly explicated tour guides explaining what is in each section, and sheets of notes explaining our classification system posted all along the route taken by these finicky bookhunters.

My problem is that I don’t see why these people are a problem. “Maybe they were here yesterday and forgot to buy that book,” I say. “Maybe they belong to a religion that practices austerity and willpower, and they prove it by buying just one book. Maybe their spouse just spent next month’s rent money on books, and they could afford just one book.”

In general, I am answered with a steely glare and the statement, “We claim we have over 120,000 items for sale and this customer bought one.”

I understand the proposition. But what don’t they understand about the fact that not every lottery ticket is a winner?

Maybe the customer was just wandering through, taking stock to tell her best friend so they could come back on Half Price Day. I don’t know, but I’m pretty certain the customer would not be amused if one of my volunteers took him by the hand and led him back through the Book Fair to point out wonderful things the volunteer would have bought, or already owns, or even donated.

I’ll make a deal with you, Kool-Aid cruller. I will defend your right to buy just one book, if that’s all the ambition and imagination you have. Could you, in return, at least consider the possibility of buying two or three, just to soothe the troubled volunteers? They work hard, and I would hate to put another wrinkle in their brows. (The one who wanted to take you by the hand and advise you always spoke of “those customers with only one or two books”, so to be on the safe side, pick up half a dozen. I might not be able to hold her back this year.)

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