A swarthy, smiling guy wearing the distinctive UPS uniform came to the counter cluttered by books being offered to us. Christine and I cleared the incoming Mystery paperbacks and several British History hardbacks to make room for the customer who wanted to give us money, not take it from us. Outgoing always takes precedence over Incoming. It’s one of the axioms of secondhand bookselling. In the unlikely chance that the seller would question our priorities, I would reply, “The money he’s paying me enables me to be able to pay you for your books.”
UPS man set down a biography of Bob Dylan and several $1 books from our new Clearance shelves up front. He’s been in here several times, so I guess we could call him a Regular. We frequently give Regulars nicknames, and we’d already dubbed him “UPS Man”. (Many of our nicknames are not merely descriptive – and some not benign, though our “Smelly Man” is accurate, having once been asked to leave when another customer complained about him and left.)
He asked what the damage would be, which is a strange way to describe the process of buying one of humankind’s greatest inventions. But it would be even stranger – if more beatifically worshipful – if he had asked what the “blessing” would be for his desiderata. We on the inside of the counter would certainly view the incoming payment as a blessing.
The professional driver didn’t want to damage his assets more than eleven bucks, he said. The Dylan book itself was $8.26, so he set aside all but one of the Sale books to buy at another time.
Because one of the Sale books was on Indians, he started talking about his late wife who was half-Indian. The three of us pow-wowed about Indian spirituality and Indian burial grounds, of which there are many locally. After 10 minutes of chit-chat, he pulled out a $20-bill and said that in the spirit of our conversation, he was going to buy all the books.
I replied that in the spirit of the conversation I was going to throw in the four remaining sale books gratis. He was surprised, pleased, and appreciative.
I described how Linda and I liked to travel to Indian sites in the Southwest. We recently experienced part of New Mexico – as had our customer – where in Mesa Verde National Park we visited long-abandoned pueblos, and in Taos Pueblo, Pueblos still work and live. The Taos multi-storied adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years, the longest-continuously occupied building in America. (I wonder if UPS deliveries are welcome in that Pueblo?)
Who knows if UPS Man and we might have passed each other on the back roads around the pilgrimage site of Chimayo, though we would not have been one of the 30,000 devotees crawling on their knees from all over the state to experience Chimayo’s “Holy Dirt” at Easter.
Christine went back to figuring up an offer to the woman selling us books. An older woman, she was wearing OSU’s Scarlet and Gray. She said that she was gong to use whatever we offered her in Acorn credit to purchase paperbacks for her upcoming vacation to Denver. “I need at least two really good plane books, and a few to read while I’m visiting my son and daughter-in-law,” she said with a roll of her eyes. Ah what story was unremarked there?
Just then Downstairs Norman came upstairs to the counter. He and Brown started talking about the various local Indian mounds, including the mind-boggling Serpent Mound – a 1,348-foot-long, three-foot-high prehistoric effigy mound south of Columbus, which they’d both visited. Norman doesn’t get too many visitors as he’s preparing Internet orders for shipping, so when he gets a chance to chat with a customer, he jumps right into the conversation.
UPS Man showed his age as he began talking about how things have changed so much in America since the activist movements of the 60s. “We were often in sync with Native American thinking on such as spirituality and the environment.”
I silently nodded agreement, encouraging him to continue to travel down a shared memory lane.
Instead, he grinned widely and proclaimed, “I interviewed Jane Fonda back in the 70s when I was at Ohio State!”
Without being asked, he went on. “I worked as a reporter for ‘The Lantern’ (OSU’s daily student newspaper) while Fonda was a controversial part of the activist movement. It was my greatest moment as a reporter.” He smiled excitedly and said, “She had the passion!”
After that, he seemed suddenly to be in a hurry. I thought he’d come in on the way home after work, but perhaps he had that one last delivery in tony Marble Cliff, and had just now realized it after finding himself lost in Booktopia, our own bibliophilic archaeological site, with books going back to the early 16th century.
We use plastic and paper bags recycled by staff and customers. As I reached for a bag for Brown, I noticed that it was from Barnes & Noble. I quickly turned it inside out.
As I handed him his bagged treasures, I said, “I know you only as UPS man, and we like to get to know the names of our Regulars by name.
“I’m Salvatore,” he said, shaking my proffered hand. “But everyone calls me ‘Sam’”.
I replied, “Well thanks, Sam, for being a Regular in here, and helping to keep us in business.”
He replied, “Thank you, George, and thanks for your generosity today.
“May The Great Spirit Bless You.”