Toilsome Lane. On most summer mornings, driving down route twenty-seven, I’d take a left down that menacingly named street and follow it down to the 23-hour parking lot. The lot was a poorly kept secret. It was really the only place where both regulars and weekend warriors alike could seek refuge from the ubiquitous Yellow-Uniformed “officers” and their long chalk sticks.
It was ironic that I worked right off Toilsome Lane, because I loved my job. There was nothing toilsome about it. I got to stand around all day talking to people about books. Nerding out, really, which, as my friends know, I probably would’ve done for free. But every job has its downside, including mine.
Every week new books would come in. About a dozen of them would seem interesting, but there was always one that was perfect. One that was just what I needed to read at that very moment. So I’d get in at nine, wait till noon, then I’d give in and spend my entire morning’s paycheck—even with the employee discount—on whichever book it was that week. As I’m sure you can guess, my appetite was bigger than my “stomach,” so to speak. While the “purchased” stack of books grew rapidly, the “completed” stack stagnated. But I’m no idiot. If the biggest downside of your job is building up a future library, then that is a good ass job.
This day in question was not like most days. It was my day off. So I passed the Exxon station, came upon Toilsome lane, and drove right on past it. Long-term parking would not be necessary, thank-you-very much. I’d be just fine in a 2-hour spot, parked alongside my fellow jetsetters. Perhaps we’d hobnob. Have our secretaries schedule a sit-down matcha.
I had come into town to run a few errands, but the primary line of business was getting new clothes. Since I was living on the budget of a book clerk, naturally my first stop was the Ladies Village Improvement Society, a local East Hampton thrift store, which, as the name suggested, used proceeds to beautify and maintain East Hampton. I parked outside The Palm, crossed the street, and was immediately struck by the verdant, pristinely manicured lawn which contrasted energetically with the main structure, a farm-style house with elegantly aged wood paneling and ornate-white window frames.
Inside I took quick stock of the clothing, and there was some nice stuff. Plenty of Polo and Calvin Klein shirts mixed in with the usual High School Swim Team apparel. So I shopped like I always shop, pulling down anything remotely interesting, until I was either satisfied, or over capacity. Then came the rapid try-on phase. Its here in the dressing room where I suddenly become discerning. All questionable outfits are turned away. By the end only a few shirts and a pair of almost-new Nikes remained. I wiped the thin film of sweat from my forehead and approached the checkout counter. A nice woman, clicking away at an old desk calculator, complimented my choices, and folded everything into a Citarella bag. I headed for the door, nodding my head in shame. I had only used twenty minutes of my parking allotment. But then I paused at the threshold.
“Is everything all right sweetie?” The counter lady asked.
I had forgotten. Or at least I thought I had. But before I could take my last step out the store, a sign reminded me that LVIS was also used bookstore. I couldn’t. Not on my day off. But the potential deals were too overwhelming. And my To-Read list was growing every day. I decided to take a look—just a quick look, although deep down I knew what was about to happen.
Overseeing the many bookshelves was an older lady seated at a desk, smiling kindly. “Would you like me to watch your clothes?” she asked.
“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary. I’m just browsing for a moment.” Before I could take another step I found a book I wanted—City of Thieves by David Benioff. Generally booksellers have a rule—No WWII books. Dozens of them come out each year, they’re all six hundred pages, and they’re all “amazing.” But this was David Benioff, creator of my favorite show, plus it wasn’t just a WWII novel—it was comedic, and most importantly it was short. For four dollars it was a steal. I turned to leave. Before I could take another step I found a first edition copy of Bluebeard by Vonnegut. A first edition Vonnegut novel set in the Hamptons? His protagonist was an Abstract Expressionist for Christ’s sake? These were not coincidences they were signs. My knowledge was no longer subconscious but visceral: I am in deep trouble here; a sitting duck. I added Bluebeard to my nascent collection and looked back at the elderly woman. Guiltily I said, “I think I’ll take you up on that offer.”
In “History—WWII” I found a barely used hardcover of Erik Larson’s In the Garden of the Beasts. In “Mythology,” a veritable bible: Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. Given the density of the LVIS biblical canon, I had to browse with the same ferocity I employed when shopping for clothes. As I moved through the titles, my justifications grow increasingly flimsy. Remains of the Day? I did really like that one Ishiguro book… 100 Years of Solitude? If I buy it maybe people will stop yelling at me to read it…
By the time I finished my knees were sore. My stack was twelve books high and totaled sixty-eight dollars. I sighed.
“What’s wrong dearie?”
“I came here for clothes and spent twice as much on books.”
She smiles at me. “And that’s why you’re upset? I’d be upset at the opposite.”
“Yeah, thanks.” And her kindness did make me feel better. “I actually work at the bookstore down the street,” I continued as if to justify my fleecing their shelves like a madman. “My one day off from the book store and I spend most of the day staring at books!” She offered a chuckle so I added: “Its like the busman’s holiday.” And now she stared at me blankly. “Ya know?” I continued, “like on the bus driver’s day off he um… uh… he rides the bus.” Then I realized that for most of the conversation she’d been offering me my credit card. It was definitely time to go.
On my way out I passed the clothing cashier from earlier. She recognized me. She’s shocked I’m still here, and I realized that I had been here quite a while. Too long really. I check my phone for the first time in ages and stifle a curse. I’d been browsing for hours—blew right past my parking time. I imagine the ticket waiting on my windshield. This second-hand shopping spree just got a lot more expensive.
I stepped outside into the harsh sunlight with my shopping bags. Like a brick the thick air hit me. I walked down the lawn squinting towards my car, scanning the windshield for tickets. There weren’t any yet, and as I got closer my cautious optimism grew, until… finally—YES! HELL YES! No parking ticket after all, even an hour past the deadline! Inexplicably I felt as though I’d somehow gamed the system, outsmarted them, the chalk-stick people. As if their missing my traffic violation was the direct result of my cunning skills. I laughed out loud to myself—a madman, but a triumphant one.
This shopping trip may not have been a resounding success, however I did get some good deals. Not to mention avoiding the chalk officers and getting to keep my eighty-bucks. At this point my books-purchased pile is still much more robust than my books-completed pile, but there are worse ways to spend a paycheck. 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.