May. 10th, 2008

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Usually, during those months of the Spring and Summer that the weather is very nice, working at the bookstore is not overly trying work. In fact, it gets quite relaxed, since on an average day, perhaps four people stop by, two which might buy books. While this is incredibly sad news for the secondhand book business, on the days that I'm feeling lazy it's great news for me.

To be honest, yesterday didn't start out this way. In fact, there was a man at the door before I was even officially open. Luckily, I had counted all the money already and could let him in. He browsed for a bit, bought some books, and all was right with the world. It being such a nice warm day and the bookstore being quite chilly because no sunlight reaches inside, I took a nice chair and put it out back so I could sit in the sun, read my book, and get a tan, all the while being able to see the door from where I was sitting.

And so the day progressed. A couple of people wandered in, barely bought any books, Tonny came by, we drank some coffee. All very congenial, and slow, and nice. But I guess I should've seen the trouble coming with the man who entered the bookstore when Tonny was still there. Him being hearing-impaired, he was a little hard to understand sometimes, but other than that, he was perfectly sane. Except that, instead looking at books, he sat down at some point - after some general chatting with Tonny and myself - to somewhat aggravatedly talk about how he had a trauma from living in Aduard for four years, because the reformed Christians wouldn't let him as a fourteen-year-old play with the other kids his age, because they thought something was wrong with him. He was also rather aggravated by the amount of students in the city, citing the example of a party in the apartment above him. Needless to say, he left without buying any books.

Now, all of this is still within the parameters of normality when it comes to the bookstore. Especially the secondhand book business tends to attract people that lack easy definition. I am loath to call them weirdos, because most of them are very nice. Not that I'm implying that all weirdos are bastards, of course.

After this, Tonny left, and I reclaimed my spot in the sun, suffering through the first 100 pages of Potiki. Around 4:30, a tall, thin, grey-haired man came in. I'd say he was in his mid- to late forties. He told me the following: a while ago, he'd come to the bookstore to buy a book, but when he returned home (which he claimed was in Zwolle) he found that he'd bought the wrong book. He sent his father to return the book, who while he was at the store, also bought some other books. However, in the hubbub of buying and exchanging, the money for the first, wrongly acquired book was not returned to this man's father. The proprietor of the store had told this man to come back whenever he was in Groningen again, and he would get his money back. When I asked the man if he had had dealing with a man or a woman (my father or Tonny) he claimed it was a man. Not ever having heard anything about this, I set about trying to find a communication from my father about this incident in the unruly stack of papers that lies on the right side of the desk. Not having found anything, I decided to call Tonny, hoping she would know more. Tonny told me to check the notebook that we keep for things like these, but that, too, was unhelpful. She then advised to backcheck the regular notebook that we keep for recording the sales, hoping my father had made a note in there. The man said that it had been about two and a half months since this incident took place. But alas, no note from my father was found. When we asked the man how much the book had cost, he said that it had cost 24,95.

This really should have been my first warning.

We don't have prices like that. We have 25, or 20, or sometimes small prices like 3,50, but we don't have prices ending in 95 cents, or 99. So I told the man that it must have been 25, and he agreed. However, not having been able to find any communication from my father, I didn't quite know what to do. Some might advise me to call my father, but he is in Italy, so calling him for something like this would have been unnecessarily costly. I then said to Tonny that perhaps it was a good idea to write down this man's bank account number, so we could figure out what had happened and then transfer the money to him. At this, the man became somewhat irate and started talking loudly about how he was not going to do that, because that could have been done before, and he'd come all the way from Zwolle and that this was all sort of stupid. When Tonny heard this, she told me to give the man the money and make a note of it in the regular notebook, saying we'd figure it out later. Satisfied, the man left and I proceeded to help the customer that had come in during the exchange. When he, too, had left, and I had resumed my puttering around, my brain suddenly switched on and I realized that I'd been scammed.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I've been the victim of a conman.

I called Tonny back to tell her of my suspicions, and she said that she had had the exact same feeling, but upon hearing the man's tone of voice when I started talking about his bank account number, felt it was safer to instruct me to give him the money.

Unfortunately, the day was not over yet. While I was talking to Tonny, another customer came in, and asked to see a book. What book isn't relevant, and what he said about it isn't really either, but what he left with was somewhat curious. As he stood by the door, after he'd had a look at some of our books on gypsies, he said: "I'm going to tell you something that I hope will be a lesson of sorts to you. I think the black race is the best race, followed by the gypsies, which you're supposed to call Roma or Gitanos, and then by the white race, which really isn't much good at all. I hope you learn something from this." And with that, he left. Interesting.

A little bit later, another man came. I'd gone back to sit outside, but whenever I customer comes in, I sit behind the desk again, so they don't have to call me if they have a question or wish to make a purchase. I greeted the man, the man greeted back, made a comment about how cool the bookstore was (temperature-wise, that is) and sat down in one of the chairs on the opposite side of the desk. And proceeded to be quiet. Having quite had my fill of strange people, I was wary of this man and looked to the very sharp scissors lying across the desk, gauging how quickly I could grab them. The man said some things about how there were very few places in the city you could have a bit of a sitdown, buried his face in his hands several times, explained how he'd hoped to see Tonny, smoked his rolled cigarette. It was at this point that I realized that the man was drunk. Not ridiculously so, but just enough to have slow movements and slightly slurred speech. He didn't smell, or looked particularly dishevelled (although his shirt was open just a bit too much), so I was confident that he wasn't a bum. Also he had fancy sunglasses and a cellphone. Luckily, at that point he said something that allowed me to break the ice, because he commented on how in him I had the weirdest customer of the day, to which I was chirpily able to reply that he was not, after which I told him the story of the conman. After that, we continued talking rather congenially, even though he completely slammed my literary tastes and told me to read Nabokov, Turgenev, Katherine Mansfield and Michael Herr. He told me his name and gave me his phone number so I could pass it on to Tonny.

All in all, I think I've hit my quota of "interesting" people for the rest of the season. I hope that today, only normal, sane and sober people will come to the bookstore, buying expensive books in large quantities. Maybe a handsome man or two. Maybe some friends (hint, hint).

However, at the very least there is one thing I take away from instances like these: my social skills get a thorough workout.


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