Thursday, May 28, 2009

Friday Night at the Thrift Store

Sometimes a girl just has to get away.

Sanity is really worth something these days, so to hang on to what little she had left after a long and frustrating week, she decides to make a break for it. She can't go too far with only a set of car keys and $17. She offers no details as she makes a quick exit, leaving everyone in the house looking confused and maybe even a little frightened . . .

And on that breezy Friday night, I landed in the book section of the local thrift store.

I stood there, trying to justify the purchase of a half-dozen paperbacks that I could check out for free at the library, and a young woman in either her late teens or early 20s walked by, pushing an umbrella stroller that held a half-dressed toddler. She was practically shouting, "I love non-fiction. I don't read no fiction 'cause non-fiction is much better. I am a READER, you know. I love me a good book. So find me something in non-fiction. I can just read and read and read . . . " And she kept talking as she walked, her voice trailing off behind the racks of LPs and National Geographics.

And she may or may not have been wearing pants.

Either her tank top was oversized, or she was wearing a swimsuit cover-up with no swimsuit, but whatever the case, there was no evidence of bottoms. Just . . . a bottom. Maybe she was so busy reading non-fiction that she forgot her pants.

I waited until she was long gone so that I could turn to a fellow shopper and make a smart-aleck comment disguised as a sincere question. "Hey, was that girl wearing pants?" And as I spoke, I realized I was talking to the girl's friend, who smarted right back, "Uh, yes, she is wearing pants," like I was so stupid for asking.

I was about to lecture her about not letting her friend go all about town with no pants, but I had bigger fish to fry, as to my left was a mom helping her children find some quality novels for their leisure time. It was like something out of the movies. Peter Parker is standing on a street corner, minding his own business, maybe reading the newspaper, and a pedestrian yells, "Somebody! Help! A bad guy is holding up the bank, and he has hostages!" And then Peter Parker transforms into Spiderman to break through the plate glass window and save the day.

The mom was practically shouting. "Here. Read a page of this, and if you like that page, then you know it's a good book. That's what works for me." And I held my hands behind my back and bit my lip because the mom was handing her 10-year-old daughter a very used copy of Sweet Valley High - Power Play.

Now I don't write the New York Times Book Review, but I do know a little something about literature and paperbacks and what is appropriate for 10-year-old girls and how some parents should stick to meal planning and not summer reading planning.

And as I was thinking of how best to approach this family and let them know that they are sadly off base when it comes to summer reading lists and that DHR is just a phone call away, the mom squealed, "Oh, you'll LOVE this! These Mary-Kate and Ashley books are GOOD." The little girl looked a little embarrassed. Angelic, with curly blonde hair and slight smile, but embarrassed still.

I tried to worm into their conversation, maybe offer a little intervention. But when the mom didn't take my bait, I waited for her to be distracted by a Captain Underpants or maybe a flashing light. And then I dove right in to save the kid.

I felt like a pervert offering candy. "Pssst . . . little girl . . . come here. I have a little girl your age, and one of her favorite books is Homer Price. See? Right here. I'll bet you would like it. And look -- here's The Magician's Nephew. I'll bet you saw the movie The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe , right? And so . . ."

As if it had been scripted, the mom sneered at me and took the frightened little girl by the hand and said, "C'mon. Let's go . . ." And I am sad to report that she had a stack of Sweet Valley High books under her arm as they headed to check-out.

I felt like such a failure. I tried; I really, really tried. Poor kid and her summer at Sweet Valley High.

But it gave me an idea. Just as some do-gooders might hang outside the package store or corner bar to talk to customers about mending their ways, maybe a similar approach would work in the book section of the thrift store. A new mission for the ages. We could position ourselves throughout fiction and non-fiction (where the bottomless readers migrate) and really make a difference in our communities. We could wear the shoulder radios -- you know, to intimidate the offenders and beef up communication. A show of unity, too.

"Mary Kate and Ashley, Two of a Kind - Shore Thing at 3 o'clock . . . over. . ."

"Roger that . . . And we have a Goosebumps at 9 o'clock . . . over. . ."

"I'm going in . . . over . . ."

"I've got your back . . . over . . ."