Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Walking With Blinders Through The Last Book Sale, Part 3

In case you missed them, here's  Part 1 and  Part 2  

After lunch, my friend Tim met me at the auction. Tim had been with me at the preview last week, and so he wanted to come watch the human panoply of events unfold, if only for a couple of hours. We snuck him in without a guest badge and were able to actually get seats, since, as predicted, some people were only there for The McMurtry 100.

Everyone filed in, all loopy from lunch, and the bidding resumed. Apparently the auctioneer and Larry had a conversation or something, because suddenly the opening bids were fifty bucks for shelf lots. And a funny thing happened; an auction broke out. People were jumping in at fifty bucks, and hanging in until $150 or $200 or even more, depending on what section was being auctioned.

A great many shelves went for fifty or seventy-five bucks. And believe you me, our auctioneer made his displeasure known. I won a shelf lot of miscellaneous art books, oversized picture and travel books (there were ten books I wanted on that shelf) for fifty bucks. I bid, and I was the only one, and when it was clear that no one else was jumping in on it, he said “Sold, fifty dollars to Bidder Number THREE.” Just like I was the fat mailman on Seinfield. What did I do? Anytime there were no takers, he pulled the lot, refusing to go below fifty dollars. Hey, I can’t blame him. Fifty bucks for two hundred books is a steal...if you can sell all two hundred books. If you’re just buying ten books, then it’s five dollars a book, and while that’s still a good price, you’ve got a hundred and ninety bricks to get rid of or they will take up too much space on your shelves.

This is the crowd after it thinned out on Friday.
Tim and I kibitzed with each other and my fellow bidders while we waited on some lots to come up that I was bidding on. I had two lots in particular that I was gunning for, and would not be dissuaded from acquiring them, right up to the limit of my budget.  I paid strict attention as my section loomed near. The music section, which was going more or less just like everything else: minimum numbers and a scowl of frustration from the auctioneer. But I was bidding on two shelves full of jazz books, and I knew in a Murphy’s Law kind of way that if any section would go for more, it would be the jazz books.

And I was right. I got the first lot well within my budget, since it was mostly jazz, but not completely. When he started the second shelf, I cockily raised my card and heard the auctioneer start rapidly talking and pointing. All of a sudden, he’s looking at me and saying, “Now a hundred...” I kept my card up, and every time it came back around, I kept my card up, but it was happening so fast, I didn’t have a chance to turn around and see who the hell was bidding me up.

Finally, everyone dropped out, and I won the lot at the limit of my single shelf budget. Victory, sure, but now I wanted to know: had I missed something on the shelf? Was there some sort of rare, out of print, first edition Jazz tome that I missed when I was looking the shelves over? There were dealers in the room, and it’s no stretch to acknowledge they knew the market better than me.

During the next break, I strolled over, after saying goodbye to Tim, who was satisfied that the shelf lots he’d picked out all went for way more than he was willing to spend. It’s nice to know you’ve got champagne tastes, I think. Anyway, I took a look at the shelves, joining about a half dozen other people, who were just as curious as me. No one had any answers. The woman who bought the very next shelf, rock and country, was the same woman we’d eaten barbecue with the night before, and she asked me if I wanted anything off of the shelves. I quickly checked all of the Elvis books and saw that I had them, and politely thanked her and declined.  A bidder came up to me and gave me his card, so that I could contact him if I wanted to let any—ANY—of the jazz books go. He was just a fan, it turned out. We were all scratching our heads.

I will skip to the end of the mystery for you: on Saturday, I found the other two bidders. One was a musician, who came in just for the Jazz books, and he dropped out at about $150, and the other was a book dealer and jazz fan, who was bidding for himself, because he just wanted the books. The bottom line: people who read also like jazz. In my case, I just happened to line up with some fellow enthusiasts. When I told them the books were going into a museum, they all felt a lot better about the fate of the books, and apologized to me for running up the bids. All is fair in love and war and book auctions.

With my major lots taken care of for the day, I took a break from the floor and ran into the documentary film crew, who asked if they could interview me. We found a kinda quiet place in one of the other buildings and I told them my favorite Larry McMurtry story and they told me that they were planning to do the film festival route and make this something that could go into theaters. Cool. I like it when people are serious. We did about thirty minutes, all together, and then I rejoined the auction.

“What number are they on?” I asked one of the guys in the back of the room. He told me that they had finished with Booked Up #4 and were about to start on the contents of Booked Up #3. Wow, I thought, they are moving and grooving on this. I sat down, for the chairs were more and more plentiful as the day wore on, and looked over my list. As I did, an unpleasant thought ricocheted through me like Lee Harvey Oswald’s magic bullet.

I looked around at the long, tall shelves, all laid out in a grid like the walls of some labyrinth of old, and I realized that the next time I came to Archer City, this building would be closed and the shelves empty. My favorite Booked Up was going away, and I helped to dismantle it. Me being here was working against my own self-interests.

My Own Personal Labyrinth.
See, I am a regular (insofar as Archer City is concerned) at Booked Up. Ever since we moved to Middle of Nowhere, North Texas, some six years ago, I’ve been going twice a year, without fail. Sometimes more if I was showing a guest where Archer City was. It was a getaway for me. A place to go to recharge the batteries, reconnect with literature, find strange reference books I didn’t know I needed (and a few that I did), and in general spend a day, hanging out with one of my most favorite things of all time, books. Just being in the bookstores at Archer City was enough for me. It was always a nice day trip for me.

And I would be lying if I didn’t get a vicarious thrill out of updating my Facebook status to the groans of envy from my other book-minded friends in Austin and the Metroplex.  They knew the reputation of the place. They were aware that going was akin to a pilgrimage for the Texas Literary Set. I always respected Booked Up, but I don’t know if I ever really appreciated it before now. And it was coming apart before my eyes. Son of a bitch.

My wife joined me after the auction closed for the day. They made it through two buildings in one day. Tomorrow, Booked Up #2 would sell, and that would be that. I expressed some of my concerns to her, but the excitement of seeing James McMurtry live trumped all. We’d gotten tickets, you see, and this would be our first time to see him live.

I won’t go into it, because as it’s been famously noted before, writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Let me just say this: if you like strong songwriters who write about things of substance, and use language like a surgical scalpel, and you like songwriters like Dylan and Springsteen, you need to check out what James McMurtry does. Go onto whatever you’re buying music on, and click on his songs and listen to the samples and know that he is every bit as genius a storyteller as his father is.

We drove home invigorated and talking about the show. After all, McMurtry played “Choctaw Bingo” and we agreed that it’s pretty much a perfect song. Tomorrow was the final push, the last hurrah, and as you can expect, I tossed and turned for hours before falling into a restless sleep.
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