Most summer mornings I commute from Bridgehampton to East via the twenty-seven. On the outskirts of East Hampton, by the Exxon station, I take the left onto Toilsome Lane, which provides access to the long-term parking lot. The long-term lot is a well-known refuge, where one can park for up to twenty-three hours without fear of the ubiquitous chalk-stick wielding “Police Officers.” It’s ironic that Toilsome Lane plays such an important part in my daily commute, as I work a pretty cushy gig. I sell books at a local independent bookstore—one of the last independent bookstores. Sure—sometimes I have to haul boxes, or shelve mountains of the incoming product, but mostly my job is to walk around the store talking to customers about books. As my friends know, I would have stood in the store nerding out to strangers for free, but some very nice people are willing to pay me for it. It’s a great summer job and I’m glad to have it.
That’s not to say the job is perfect. Sometimes when pitching books to customers I get caught up in my own enthusiasm. The more books I learn about, the more books I want to read. Once or twice a week I give in. I decide to buy something. This decision then compounds; since I’ve already committed to buying one book, why not add these other two books that I’ve been eyeing all week. On the days this happens I spend well into my morning pay—even with the employee discount.
Just a few weeks into the summer I decide that I’ve spent more than enough on books. What I really need is clothing. After struggling through workweeks by repeating outfits, I decide to spend one of my cherished days off clothes shopping. A coworker catalyzed the trip during a conversation earlier in the week. She told me about the Ladies Village Improvement Society, a non-profit thrift store in downtown East Hampton. Not only does LVIS donate locally, but as my coworker pointed out “its Hamptons people out here donating the clothes, so you can find some really good stuff.” Her son once found a Gucci sweater, for example. Not bad. She had already sold me on it when she added, “Plus they have a great collection of used books.”
On my way into East Hampton I pass the Exxon station and continue straight towards Main Street. Today is not a day for the long-term parking lot. Like many before me I will park downtown, braving the chalk-stick officers and the threat of a hefty ticket, all in the name of convenience and leisure. I park outside the Palm and walk up the long driveway of the LVIS compound. The organization’s grounds instantly strike me; the pristinely manicured lawn contrasting beautifully with the estate’s faded-brown tiling and ornate white shutters.
Inside the building one is greeted with the same quaint, dusty smell that all secondhand stores seem to share. I take stock of the clothing—there is some nice stuff here. Plenty of Polo and Calvin Klein mixed in with the usual. I shop here the way I always shop for clothing—as quickly as possible, pulling down all articles of clothing that I’m even remotely interested in. Once satisfied, I carry my bundles into the nearest dressing room and begin trying things on rapidly. It is here in the dressing room that I become discerning. Anything cosmetically questionable goes on the return rack, even if the article was closer than not to looking good. By the time I’m done with my Blitzkrieg, a thin film of sweat has formed on my forehead. All that remains from the twenty pieces of clothing I brought into the dressing room are three button-down shirts and a barely-used pair of Nikes. At the counter a woman in her mid-fifties, nice and still pretty, compliments my choices while ringing me up with a pocket calculator. I collect my Citarella bag of used clothing, thank the cashier, and lumber towards the door before taking pause. It’s only been twenty minutes since I parked. This is, I decide, an unacceptably small portion of my allotted parking time. I practically owe it to myself to take a look—just a quick look—at LVIS’ used books.
LVIS’ second-hand book section is noticeably dustier than the clothing area. Overseeing the many bookshelves is an older lady seated at a desk, smiling kindly.
“Would you like me to watch your clothes?” she asks.
“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary. I’m just browsing for a second.” Before I can take another step I find a book I want to buy—City of Thieves by David Benioff. Unfortunately it’s a member of the WWII canon—a major strike against it—but it is supposed to be funny. More importantly, and unusually for WWII books, City of Thieves is short. I flip over the cover and see that its four dollars. I like Benioff. How could I not invest in his paperback for a mere four dollars?
I think: Now I’ve had my look, it is time to leave before this gets any worse, but as I turn back to the exit another book catches my eye. Its Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut. This one’s a first edition too! And book is one big Hamptons reference—its protagonist an Abstract Expressionist painter living on a farm in Long Island. Equal parts excited and disappointed, I add the novel to my nascent collection. I look back at the book overseer and say guiltily, “I think I’ll take you up on that offer.”
In “History—WWII” there is a hardcover, barely used, of Erik Larson’s In the Garden of the Beasts. In Mythology I find Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. This is getting bad quickly and I haven’t yet made it past the nonfiction stacks.
At this point I am committed to my browsing, so there was only one real option—scanning the LVIS literature stacks top to bottom, as quickly as possible. Kinda like the way I shop for clothing, but on crack. As I move through the titles, my justifications grow increasingly flimsy. Remains of the Day? I do like Ishiguro. 100 Years of Solitude? Well everyone does tell me to read Marquez…
By the time I finish, my knees are sore. My stack ends up twelve books high, costing sixty-eight dollars. I sigh—my clothing had cost only thirty. At the register the volunteer cashier recognizes me from earlier. She seems shocked that I’m still here. It dawns on me that I have been here for a while. Too long, really. As the cashier rings me up for the second time that day, I check my phone and stifle a curse. It’s been two damn hours. I’ve completely blown past my given hour, and by now there is probably a gift from the Village of East Hampton waiting for me on my windshield. These books just got a lot more expensive.
“You sure know your stuff,” the cashier says, eyeing the stack.
“Thanks, yea—I actually work at the bookstore down the street,” I respond, trying to subtly relay why I had been fleecing the LVIS bookshelves like a madman for over an hour. “When I was browsing I had to resist the urge to start recommending books to other customers. My one day off from the store and I spend most of it staring at books!” She laughs at this. I continue, adding, “Its like the busman’s holiday.” Her laugh fades. She is staring at me blankly. I continue: “Ya know? Like on this bus driver’s day off he takes the bus…”
She gives a polite chuckle, and I realize she is trying to hand back my credit card. Now it’s definitely time to go. I step outside into the harsh sunlight with my shopping bags. The fresh air hits my nose like bricks. I walk down the impeccable LVIS lawn, and approach my car with cautious optimism. I think, maybe, but I’m not sure until I’m at the car that—YES! FUCK YES! I don’t have a parking ticket! The chalk stick crew missed me. I laugh out loud to myself—a madman, but a triumphant one.
This shopping trip may not have been a resounding success—I spent twice as much on books as I did on clothing. However I did get some good deals, not to mention I screwed the chalk Officers out of their eighty-dollars. At this point my books-purchased pile is much more robust than my books-completed pile, but at least I’m not spending my paycheck on bad things like cigarettes or heroin. Suffice to say I won’t finish my imposing stack of books by the end of the summer, but on the bright side I have more than enough reading to get me through the school year.