Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Dollar a Book

I'm finally beginning to understand that happiness is not achieved by acquiring things, but by doing without them. My understanding of this is incomplete.

A little more than a year ago my wife and I had a yard sale to rid ourselves of a whole lot of the stuff we had accumulated in our child-rearing years. It felt good to empty the house.

"You really selling these for a dollar each?"

We sold hundreds of books, priced simply: $1.00 for hardbacks; 50 cents for paperbacks. Among the books we sold were some first edition copies of several books in the Harry Potter Series signed by J.K. Rowling on her tour through California.

I can remember the guy who bought them. He bought them all and he was quivering. "You really selling these for a dollar each? They're signed."

"Yup," I said, "A dollar a book."

"O.K. I'll take them all. Here you go." He thrust $5.00 in my hand and bustled away.

Today my son, Ted, and I walked into town to use his Christmas gift certificate at the used bookstore, Copperfield's. As we paid for our books, we noticed one of our signed Harry Potter books on prominent display above the sales counter. (Or one exactly like ours. I didn't ask the clerk to take it down off its shelf to inspect it closely for the same reason I usually accept Novocaine when the dentist suggests it: numbness has its place.)


Its price tag? $1,000.00

My inner teenage critic attacked.

"YOU IDIOT! YOU ACTUALLY SOLD YOUR SIGNED HARRY POTTER BOOKS FOR ONE DOLLAR EACH?? THEY WERE WORTH 1000 TIMES THAT MUCH MONEY!!!"

Ted, no longer a teenager, was much milder in his response. "Boy, I'll bet you wished you didn't sell our copies."

A second time, I suppressed an impulse to ask the salesman to bring the book down from its display so that I could inspect it. How would that help? If it was the book J.K. Rowling signed and personalized to my daughter, I'd feel like I had to buy it back, and how stupid would that be? As things stood, it was bad enough.

Ted and I walked home. It's about a half mile. My inner teenager was ripping me apart the whole way home. My conversation with Ted would momentarily snap me out of my self-accusations.

We passed an art store, closed for the holiday.


Ted: "I'll bet Uncle Jim would shop here if he lived in Sebastopol."
Me. "Yep. I'm glad they're closed,though. Everyone should have time off at the holidays."
My inner teenager: IF YOU HAD A $1,000 FOR EACH OF THOSE BOOKS, YOU COULD TAKE ART LESSONS AND BUY YOURSELF SOME NEW ART SUPPLIES AND DEVELOP YOUR DRAWING SKILLS.

We went by Copperfield's store for new books.

Ted: "I like used bookstores better than new bookstores."
Me: "I really like the earth not having to come up with a new book each time someone wants to read one." I remembered what Jim Wilson said about how at one time, when each book came as the result of a monk's hand copying, books were among the most treasured of all human creations.
My inner teenager: "IF YOU HAD A THOUSAND DOLLARS FOR EACH OF THOSE BOOKS, YOU COULD DONATE IT TO fightglobalwarming.com TO HELP PAY FOR THEIR TRAIN AD.


Ted: "Do you really want to learn the zither, like you said yesterday?"
Me: "No, I've got enough musical instruments."
My inner teenager: "IF YOU HAD THAT DOUGH, YOU COULD AFFORD A BABY GRAND PIANO, BUT NO, YOU SOLD THOSE BOOKS FOR A DOLLAR EACH!"

We crossed the street and stopped at the bank's ATM to get a little pocket money.

[No photo here. Do people who take pictures of banks get arrested these days?]


And by another bookstore, this one a favorite of mine, Many Rivers Books and Tea, selling tools for spiritual practice.

Ted: "Look. Kwan Yin. Like the oolong tea I got you for Christmas."
Me: "Yes, the Chinese goddess of compassion."
My Inner Teenager: "YOU COULD AFFORD TO TAKE A NICE LONG RETREAT AT SPIRIT ROCK WITH THAT MONEY. AND MAKE A GENEROUS TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATION, TOO!"

At the handmade lamp store:
Ted: "Look at that lamp. It's a sunrise or sunset, depending on how you look at it."
Me: "I like the North African motif."
Inner teenager: "YOU COULDA BOUGHT A BUNCH OF THOSE THINGS."



A few step further took us past a deli that started out life a gas station.

Ted: "I keep expecting that deli to sell candy bars, like the gas station did. You know, they might actually have good food there."

I realized I was hungry. We were almost home. I knew that I needed to shut my inner teenager up. I remembered Pete Glade's advice: "Eat good food, get good exercise, get good sleep, and think good thoughts." I warmed up a bowl of leftover minestrone soup, bid Ted adieu, hopped on my fixed gear Bianchi, and rode onto the Santa Rosa plain under a brilliant sky swept by a cold north wind.

My legs churned. My inner teenager's voice faded as the wind whispered in my ears as I rolled through the oak woodlands. Legs. Lungs. Heart.

My Inner Archy (he's four) became audible. He asked me if money is really so important. "The important things aren't things," I could hear him say. "What if you did have the extra money? Is there anything you really need? Isn't your real problem that you have too much stuff? How does money help with that?"

And then, the most important thing to ask: "What are you grateful for?"

And then, I began to think of some of the many blessings in my life. Home. Health. Family. Good food. Music made at home. Time to enjoy some exercise outdoors.

Gratitude is a good antidote to your inner teeager.

And a family home for the holidays.

2 comments:

Jim G. said...

Great story. I appreciate your honesty describing the inner tug-of-war, which we all have. The pictures of the shop windows really made the story come alive.

I thought the story was going to end with you buying an orange or something for a buck and sharing it with Ted.

Our problem is that we have tons of junk but it's not worth anything!

Edward Mills | Evolving Times said...

Ouch! Great story. Great wisdom!