An alarm buzzes in my ear and my eyes snap open. The strange butterfly of anticipation in my stomach that lingered all day yesterday has multiplied in the night into a swarm. All my senses are on high alert. Years of training begin to kick in.
I dress quickly – comfortable, combat clothes and shoes are essential. I eat just enough, but not too much – a soldier’s ration.
My dad and sister join me in my preparation, a strange light in our eyes as we review our plan and prepare our equipment. Everyone knows where they have to go and what they have to do. The clock is ticking down.
The book sale is about to begin.
We get there at least thirty minutes early, but the line has already begun. Cars whip aggressively through the parking lot, coming dangerously close to the lines, but no one moves. Everyone has established their place in line and no one is budging.
There’s some small talk here and there, but overall a tense silence grips the crowd as we wait, staring at the huge doors and willing them to open.
My local library book sale is huge, with donations from over twelve libraries. A lady behind me informed someone else that she and her husband had been driving for two days to attend it.
There are thousands of books on the other side of those doors, row upon row of glorious words, reams of paper, shiny dust jackets, battered and well loved volumes…stories waiting for me to claim them.
The clock ticks down. The line grows but the door will not open until the exact second.
Complaints and heckling begin to filter through the line but still we wait.
A huge flock of birds flutters silently above us. At the moment, I don’t care what they are as long as they aren’t vultures…things can get dirty at these book sales.
I check my watch for the hundredth time. Thirty seconds. We hear stirring from within.
The door opens. The dam breaks and the book sale begins.
I cross the threshold and stretched out before me is an Aladdin’s Cave, table upon table of boxes running the entire length of two metal warehouses. They’re not just on the table, but under the tables, in stacks against the wall—a veritable city built of books. A city that I plan to take by storm.
I only have an instant to steep in the wonder of my aesthetic surroundings. This is a battle ground, not a tourist spot. I have trained for this like a solider and its time to due my duty.
I paw frantically through books, the way a marooned traveler might dig at sand for life giving water. Other book seekers stampede past me, burrowing through stacks of books with a crazed look in their eye that I instantly recognize. One would think that we are searching for buried treasure and in a way, we are.
We’re in the trenches, an out and out no man’s land, where people swoop in like dive bombers and books drop into boxes in a constant rhythm that is more frightening than any artillery—someone is taking books that should rightfully belong to me.
The wonderful thing about book sales is that you don’t have to be skilled, you only have to be thorough, lucky and just plain tough.
I have been handled, pushed, shoved, stepped on, stepped over and even verbally harassed at book sales. I have knelt, sat and stood on cement floors for hours, crawled under tables, over other people’s boxes, even over people. This is serious business and to play the game one has to get down in the dirt and fight dirty.
My gym is a book sale. I’m discovering muscles I didn’t know I had at these sales as I lift and eventually drag three book bags easily weighing sixty pounds total (though it feels like a hundred) while working out my toes and calves by pushing a loaded box with my feet.
But these things can be tolerated, these are worthy battle scars.
Every so often you’ll actually be surprised by friendliness at one of these sales. These people are either rookies, aren’t really serious about being here, or simply have far more strength of character than I. I’m just kidding, of course. I’ve said the nice word or cast a smile here and there, but overall I am wholly focused on what I am doing. Some crazed animal instinct rises inside of me, barely under control, as I surge through the crowds in search of the perfect find. There is always some kind of gem buried among these piles and I cannot quit until I find it.
This last sale was like any other, I walked away sneezing, exhausted, hungry but utterly happy with the nearly 70 books that I procured, not to mention a selection of VHS tapes and Audio CDS.
The next battle? How to get all these new books in my already overcrowded bookcase.
It is one of the few challenges in my life that I met head on and with a smile.