By Travis Jensen
My wife and I decided to walk to the newly opened discount bookstore yesterday evening. The discount store is just an annex of the regular bookstore. The two stores are located a block-and-a-half from one another.
I tend to want to splurge on books when I'm feeling down and figured the discount store was the place to do it. I received word earlier that afternoon that a writing project I had invested the last five months of my free time into was a flop. I don't want to get into it now. I'm still upset. Let's just say I won't be leaving my day job anytime soon.
The inside of the discount bookstore resembled that of a prison library, or at least what I imagine one looking like anyway: dingy white walls, concrete floors painted battleship gray, metal shelving. The space was formerly a laundry mat, I think.
There were two guys behind the counter, which consisted of nothing more than a rickety old folding table with a small register and credit card machine on top. Both clerks were about my age, mid to late 20s, grad students at San Francisco State maybe.
My wife and I split up inside the store. I headed for the fiction section; she went to browse the I don't remember where she went.
There was a sign taped up on the wall next to where the fiction section started stating that all titles were 65% off the lowest marked price. Not a bad deal.
The fiction wall stretched almost three-fourths the length of the entire store, maybe 65 feet. And at the end of that wall, there was another handwritten sign that read, Even More Clearance Fiction Back Here, with an arrow underneath the text pointing to an adjoining back room.
I started browsing the titles from the beginning. The books weren't arranged in any particular order, a major pet peeve of mine.
I made my way through about a tenth of the fiction section before feeling a headache coming on and decided to call it quits. I managed to find one book of interest, a biography on Babe Ruth that examined his wild life off the field. What this title was doing in the fiction section, I don't know.
I then walked up and down the aisles to find my wife. She was in the biography/memoir section.
"You ready?" I asked as I approached.
"Yeah, I'm ready. I think I'm gonna get this book," she said, flashing me the cover of "The Shameful life of Salvador Dali."
"I'm getting this," I said, showing her the Babe Ruth biography.
"Thought you were looking at fiction?"
"I was. This was mixed in."
The two of us then made our way towards the register, walking alongside the great wall of clearance fiction to get there. I was leading the way, somewhat skimming the eye level titles on the shelf as I walked. Somewhere in the middle of the wall, my eyes locked onto the spine of a book that looked very familiar, almost too familiar. I came to an abrupt halt and squinted my eyes for a better look. My wife rammed into the back of me.
"Shit!" She exclaimed. "What is it?"
"No way," I said, pulling the book off the shelf.
It was a copy of my first book, "Love, Hate, Destroy," released in '04.
"That's cool," my wife said grinning.
"No, it's not."
The book was still crisp, looking as if it had only been flipped through once or twice at most. I sniffed the inside pages. It still smelled new and reminded me of the day I held the book in my hands for the very first time. What a day. How happy I was. How proud I was. A real published author!
Granted the title is now over four-years-old, as a writer, seeing your book on a clearance rack, especially at a store where many people you know will go to shop for books, is a disturbing and embarrassing feeling. I don't know why, but the first comparison that comes to mind is the feeling you get when you have one of those dreams where you show up to school or work in your underwear.
For a minute, I thought about buying the book myself just to get it off the rack, but my wife persuaded me against.
"You can't just buy your own book," she said. "That's lame."
She was right. Buying my own book was lame.
"Fuck it, let's go," I said.
As we walked towards the register, I couldn't help but wonder how many other copies of my book were scattered about on that great wall and in the adjoining room. It would have taken me hours to go through all of them. I felt my anxiety levels begin to peak.
One of the two clerks, a wannabee Jack Kerouac looking cat wearing a lumberjack flannel and black beanie, rang me up for the two books. Not even joking, the total with tax came to $6.66. Kerouac thought that was pretty funny. I didn't have any cash on me, so I pulled out my bank card, but before I could hand it over, Kerouac shook his head and said, "Sorry, bro, but we got a $10 minimum for all ATM purchases here." He then pointed to a small handwritten sign attached to the edge of the table verifying said policy. "There's an ATM two blocks down," he said. "I can hold the books behind the counter for you until you get back."
"Okay," I said putting my card back into my wallet. "I'll be back."
He nodded his head and set the books on a metal folding chair behind him.
My wife and I left the store.
I never bothered going back for the two books.
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