Sunday, July 20, 2008

Advanced Tactics on the FOL Book Sale Battlefield: #1—Chemical Warfare

[If you’ve spent any amount of time in the used bookselling business you know that one of the biggest sources of contention among buyers at library sales is the use of electronic scanners. Well for those frustrated and scannerless scouters out there who are looking for new ways to fight back, this is for you.]

As much as I’ve used in the past to locate library sales in my region, I’m learning that, due to increased competition and the fact that most of these sales are picked over by “volunteers” and organizers before the doors even open, sometimes the sales that produce the biggest yields for me are the smaller ones that aren’t listed on that website. A sale that I’ve had good luck with in the past is the bi-annual one at the public library in Statesboro, Georgia.

During a recent trip there I stopped at a car wash before the sale began and was in the process of cleaning my truck when out on the road a car pulled over to the curb with smoke billowing from under the hood. I ran over to see if I could help.

The driver, a scared, elderly lady, looked over at me and said: “My car’s on fire! Help me!”

“Step out of the car,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”

As fast as my feet would carry me I made my way over to a nearby business. I bolted in the front door and saw a woman sitting behind the counter. I blurted:

“Do you have a fire extinguisher?”

She looked up. Although she didn’t respond vocally her dry expression seemed to be asking me a pointed question: Is this a joke or are you an idiot?

“Ma’am, please, I need a fire extinguisher. Do you have one?”

“What kind of fire extinguisher do you need?” she said, finally. “We have several to choose from.”

It was then that I looked around me.

Good lord, I thought. I am an idiot.

I was standing in a fire extinguisher store [Hendrix Fire Protection, Inc., to be exact].

“There’s a lady outside and her car may be on fire. Do you have something I can use real quick?”

Moments later, with borrowed extinguisher in hand, I popped the hood on the car. I saw a small electrical fire so I sprayed down the engine compartment. A pungent, chemical smell filled the air.

I leaned over from behind the hood and said to the elderly lady who was still gripping the steering wheel with both hands: “Okay, that’s it. No more fire.”

I carried the fire extinguisher back to the fire extinguisher store, said Thank you to the lady behind the counter, and was soon en route to the book sale.

The Statesboro library sale is interesting because there are two entrances to the book sale room; one is outside and the other is inside. You can never be sure which door will get opened first, although my past experiences seem to indicate that if I stand outside then the inside door gets opened first, and if I wait inside, the outside door gets opened first—I always seem to walk into a room with several people who have a head start on me. On this particular day I decided to stand outside since my clothes were infused with the smell from the fire.

In time people began arriving for the sale. They would walk up, get in line behind me, and then soon relocate inside. I wondered if they knew something I didn’t.

About ten minutes before the appointed hour one of the volunteers approached the outside door. I held up my hand to stop her.

“Excuse me, ma’am. I just wanted to make sure I’m standing at the right door for the book sale,” I said, the subtext being: Hey, don’t forget to open this door too when the sale begins.

She turned to me with a courteous smile which immediately gave way to a taken aback, sour expression. Her eyelids clenched shut, and then began fluttering. She managed a forced smile as she struggled to keep her eyes open.

“Yes, this is the one,” she said with her chin pushed back into her neck. Then she slipped inside.

It didn’t take long to figure it out: Apparently the smell on me was so acrid that it actually burned the eyes of those around me. Needless to say, once the doors opened and I began making my way around the room, I had whole sections to myself; it was like I was surrounded by some kind of force field.

Yes I felt bad for the other people who had to share the room with me, but, as it turned out, I made quite a profitable haul that day.

[Note: there is a variation of this technique which I do not endorse and which many of you may have already experienced—library sale attendees who do not shower or bathe for days (perhaps weeks) before the sale begins. It is a very powerful, repulsive, but effective ploy (especially in the warmer months)—in fact I shuddered just now, thinking about it.]

Next installment: #2—Bazookas, or, Weapons of Mass Distraction