The past few weeks I've been having periodic odd interactions with one of those people I can't tell if they're straight up homeless, or just really, really low functioning and probably a bit mental. He's dingy, but not filthy. He's edgy, but has so far held it together in the shop. He's got a grubby knapsack with a broken strap, but it's relatively small and not stuffed full of old plastic bags, empty bottles & dirty clothes.
And he buys books regularly, which is were the oddness blossoms.
I sell a many, many books to our downtown population of elderly pensioners with their dismal fixed incomes, homeless creek dwellers & borderline/group home folks. None of them have any money & all of them have endless empty hours to fill, which is where our sale cart comes in. The way books have been deluging us the past few years quite a lot of decent stuff gets relegated to the sale cart- we didn't buy it, we don't have space for it, so if someone leaves it with us...onto the cart it goes. It's evolved into a resource for locals who's only abundant resource is free time, and has exhibited a parasitic relationship with the ever-shrinking hours of the public library just up the road- the fewer hours they open, the more books we sell.
But while this fellow fits the profile of one of our sale cart regulars in nearly all particulars, that's not where he shops. He likes science, and physics, and astronomy, and those books rarely wind up on the cart..
Our dance goes like this.
He comes in with his dilapidated bag and asks if I want him to leave it at the counter, and I say naw.
He asks about some facet of his basic interests, and I direct him to the same section I always direct him to because he's only ever interested in the three subjects.
Then I go back to my business, and he settles in to scouring the shelves for anywhere from fifteen minutes to two hours.
Eventually he comes up with a few pocket books, no less than two, no more than four..
He's never explicitly asked me for a discount. What he does is turn out his pocket and spread his financial resources across the counter, usually a few wadded up dollar bills, a small mound of quarters, some dimes & nickles and an awful lot of pennies.
I ring up the books and recite the total to him, and he starts counting.
He's always short but not by much, and as he counts ripples of concern, fear, hope and misery sweep across his face.
What's to be done?
He spent at least an hour picking out the books, they're always interesting books and impressing a book dealer with your small stack of pocket books is a notable feat. Few people these days understand that the strength of a well stocked used bookstore lies not in finding the specific thing you want but in the related oddities you inevitably happen across during the search. After hours spent disappointing tourists by not having the latest Game of Thrones, or 1984, or whichever book has temporarily caught the gaze of the red rimmed eye of the greater mediaverse lately it's pleasant to find someone who understands how to use the shop.
Even if they are half crazy.
So when he reaches the end of his counting, the crumpled dollars supported by insufficient columns of small change, I inevitably press the 'total' key and say