The Day I Got Locked In The Used Bookstore  

Posted by Devin Parker

Some people talk about it, but I'm the only one who had the nerve to actually do it for reals.

As I'm fairly certain I mentioned previously, Marilyn and I are currently living in my parents' spare room. I've been freelancing, so I'm at the computer all day. There are two plush chairs in the room and the windows look out onto the forest, so it's pretty nice. This is the room my grandmother was living in until she died, so it's even got its own bathroom. Marilyn takes the truck to work each morning. I don't really have much reason to leave the room at all unless I want something to eat. It's been kind of weird, but to be honest, it's not all that different from the way I was living when we lived in L.A. I'm still a cave-dweller, but this cave has a pleasant view.

This afternoon, Mom came home with the mail. My parents already get a metric buttload of mail every two days, so our moving in with them probably hasn't helped to make things easier in that respect. There was a yellow card in the mail, which here in Crestline means that there is a package that needs to be picked up from the front desk. She asked if I would drive down to the post office and pick up the package. Also, she heard some of the mail falling down the back of our post office box as she pulled the mail out, so would I also get whatever was left? I agreed.

After taking care of business at the post office, I looked across the street at the Alpine Mall. For those of you unfamiliar with Crestline, the Alpine Mall is a collection of small pale blue buildings clustered together that play host to a number of small, doomed businesses that last a few months and then go out of business to be replaced by other small, doomed businesses. Such is the fate of the specialty store in a small mountain resort town. Anyway, when we moved back up onto the mountain, I noticed that there was a small used bookstore right out in front. I failed in my attempt to convince my wife to walk down into town to check it out with me over the weekend (we had just been to Barnes & Noble, anyway). So, without any pressing agenda, I decided to cross the street and check it out by my lonesome.

The building that the used bookstore is in is some sort of converted house, and the bookshelves are all arranged in different rooms. Little fans on every corner, keeping the air cooled and moving. Navigating the store felt like wandering through the home of an obsessive-compulsive. I don't meant these things in a bad way; quite the opposite, I found the store to be exactly the sort of thing I was hoping it would be. Though it was a little cramped; I had to wriggle past a customer and her daughter talking with the woman at the sales desk to get in. The science fiction and fantasy books were in the room in the back. I've recently felt a strong, perverse desire to read some trashy game-based fantasy novels lately, so I thought I'd check and see what they might have on the off-chance that there would be a Forgotten Realms book tucked away back there. Much to my delight, not only were there multiple Forgotten Realms books on the shelves, but there was a veritable feast of genre delights, both classics and flashes-in-the-pan that I remembered from old Dragon Magazine reviews in the late 80s. Isaac Asimov's entire Foundation series next to the "Willow" novelization; a book on Douglas Adams by Neil Gaiman, original series "Star Trek" novels from the early 70s, the Deryni series and the collected works of R.A. Salvatore. To my surprise, they even had a few roleplaying game books, including the rather obscure Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth and a hardbound copy of Mage: The Sorcerers' Crusade ($4 apiece, yo). Not a huge collection, but notable for its selections, I thought (too bad I'm not really interested in Mage).

Anyway, I kind of wimped out on my quest for game fiction (and they had some of the very first Forgotten Realms novels there, including the one where Salvatore introduced Drizzt do'Urden, so I've got no excuse), but I made a compromise by giving Mercedes Lackey a second chance and picking up The Oathbound - I've always liked the cover art. My first experience reading Mercedes Lackey was in 1991, when I read a novel she authored based on the computer game "The Bard's Tale", so I probably should have known what I was getting into. I think she deserves a chance to redeem herself in my mind. I was also pleased to find that they had a copy of Storm Front by Jim Butcher. I've been meaning to give The Dresden Files a chance, since they're so wildly popular amongst the gamers and Kristen recommended it to me as someone who liked "Buffy" and "Angel". My first exposure to The Dresden Files was the cheese-lensed (as in, viewing through a lens of cheese) television adaptation; again, I'm willing to give the man a second chance.

Sorry, getting caught in the details. Anyway, I came up front to make my purchase. Did I mention the books are pretty cheap? Roughly a buck and a half for a paperback. Talking my language now! I step into the front room to put my books down on one of the glass cases (the one with the original production script from "The Green Mile" at $25 or something) and see that there is no one there. The front door is locked; the "closed" sign is hung, with one of those "Will Be Back At" clock faces with the plastic hands set to 5:30 (or it may have been 6:30). The store hours were from 10 or 12 (again, my memory is foggy on this point), so I assumed it didn't mean she'd be back tomorrow morning. Besides, all of the lights and fans were still on. She would be coming back; apparently, she'd just forgotten that I was in the back room.

I didn't have my cell phone with me, either. I'd forgotten to take it with me, and originally I didn't think it would be such a big deal, since I was only stepping out to get the mail (and though I fretted a little, knowing there would be worrying since I had essentially gone missing, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy being incommunicado. Selfish, perhaps, but I miss that kind of freedom). I decided that the conscientious thing to do would be to wait until the cashier returned. Besides, I only had a one- and a five-dollar bill, so leaving exact change for my books wasn't really an option. Nor did I care to leave without my loot - that's just the way I am. So I sat, browsed a little more ("Hey, they've got Marvel Comics' adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda!"), and sat in one of the comfy chairs in the front of the store, thinking about how odd this was.

Then a woman came to the front door and knocked. I went to the door, unlocking it and opening it (hoping the alarm system wasn't set). She said she was there for the Writers' Group meeting, and could she come in? "I don't see why not," I said - indeed, there was a little sign on the door advertising for the group - and we sat down and talked for a minute or two after I explained what had happened. Then two more women showed up for the group.

"Are you a writer?" the girl closest to my age asked.

"As it happens, yeah, I am," I said.

And that's how I ended up sitting in on the Writers' Group meeting, giving my input on the short stories and vignettes that were read and my opinions on what one should consider when writing. Things like "If you know what your character wants, the story can mostly write itself; what is the character willing to do to get what they want, and what are the consequences of their attempts to get it?" Stuff like that. The girl closest to my age enjoyed the fantasy genre, and her perspective on why she enjoyed it was similar enough to mine that I didn't feel too out of place. I was also kind of grooving on the entire serendipitous, random nature of the afternoon's events, so I was in a good mood anyway. I also haven't had any contact with anyone outside of my own family for at least a week, so it was nice to get out and interact a bit on a topic I know something about. At one point I realized I'd been there long enough that I'd better give Mom a call and let her know I hadn't been in an accident in her Explorer (or, as she imagined, arrested by the sheriff for stealing the Explorer), so I used the store phone to call. Once I'd found it. It was kind of buried under the clutter, but I knew it was there because the entire time I'd been sitting and waiting, the clerk's family and friends kept calling and leaving "Happy Birthday" messages on the answering machine.

In the end, the clerk finally returned and apologized profusely for the misunderstanding. We laughed about it, and she let me have the two books for free. I wished her a happy birthday. The women in the Writers' Group said they considered me a member now, and if I wanted to come back again, I'd be welcome.

And that's what happens when I go outside the house.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 13, 2009 at Thursday, August 13, 2009 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


I like it, though I'm disappointed you didn't have to keep reading a mysterious book in order to save the fantasy realm described therein. What was the name of the store? I didn't know there was another besides McCabe's down there (which I also recommend--very homey and a terrifically nice staff).

8:06 AM

Only you, Devin :) Glad you have the kind of personality that can ride with the serendipitous!

9:52 AM

It's called Mountain Books And Rarities. Normally I want to support McCabe's (I only got books at B&N to finish off a gift card I've had since Christmas), but it's hard to resist the lure of cheap used books.

4:18 PM

Amen, brother.

4:51 PM

Hey, used books are awesome! Very "green." Why buy a new one when you can get it used?

6:39 PM

Posts like this make me miss when we all blogged more.

Thanks or the laugh this morning Devin.

10:18 AM

A wonderful tale. Thanks, Devin. (Chloe from FBC in Minneapolis - got check in with you guys every one in a while).

9:41 PM

Hi, Chris!

Hi, Chloe!

9:43 PM

We really enjoyed this story. You should write more in this vein. Use your storytelling voice.
Ray and Janet

4:42 PM

I just happened upon this Devin. GREAT STORY and now I have a new book store to go to on the mountain. How did you like the Dresden?


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4:06 PM

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