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Strove to find a way to punch people in the face by using the Internet.

10/28/2003

DIARY OF INDIGNITIES
Oct. 25, 2003: Now, I’m just a simple old country boy without a lot of your fancy book-learnin’, but I’m pretty sure that I once heard something about that Dante feller planning on making Gainesville’s Friends of the Library Book Sale the eleventh or twelfth circle of Hell in his famous book All Your Dead Friends and Relatives and Pets are Burning Eternally in God’s Lake of Fire.

For those not living in Gainesville, the Friends of the Library Book Sale is held twice a year at special times; when the moon is full, the wolfbane blooms and the spirits of the restless dead return to exact their terrible vengeance on the living. Ostensibly, the event sells books and donates the money to various programs at the local public library, including such favorites as the Vegan Astrology for Self-Righteous Lesbians class, that construction-paper Anne Frank diorama they put up at Christmas, the ongoing Sleepy Bum Round-Up, the Parents: Leave Your Loud, Illiterate, Surly Children Here All Day While You Hit the Crack House initiative and the special weekend appearances by Batshit Crazy Fat Black Guy Who Says Hello to Everyone. Funding from the book sale has also gone towards buying up every available copy of Pluto Nash on betamax for the library’s extensive archives as well as underwriting subscriptions to favorite magazines such as White Belt, Crocheting Without Hands and Southern Nostalgia for Segregation.

In execution, though, the book sale doesn’t really resemble a book sale as much as it does a steel-cage, no-disqualification wrasslin’ battle royal held at the Senior Citizen Special Olympics. “Man,” you’re thinking, “Sign me up! I’d sure like me a piece of those goddamned senior citizens!” No, no, no. Simmer down, there, Remo Williams. While not necessarily physically tough, the book-sale patrons can overwhelm anyone with sheer numbers. People come from miles and miles around to mob this thing, and they’re especially determined, often showing up several hours before the 4 a.m. opening time to mutter obscenities at imaginary antagonists and vibrate in anticipation.

Okay, to be fair, the sale patrons aren’t all old. Plenty of miserable hippies attend to buy books on organic Volkswagen repair and ensure the place reeks of patchouli and armpits, and the record bins always have a nice glut of star-tattooed hipsters clotted around ‘em searching for ironic two-dollar Dexy’s Midnight Runners albums they can play at their “old wave” DJ gig, something everyone with a star tattoo and messy black hair apparently has.

I’d say a full 10 or 15 percent of the crowd actually consists of children. They’re my favorite, both because it’s heartening to see such young folks aglow with a sincere love of reading and also because they’re a lot easier to shove out of the way when you need to dive in and grab some good shit before some other motherfucker gets it.

Ah yes, the shoving. Plenty of shoving at the book sale. In fact, pretty much any pretense towards being a polite, contributing member of society is dropped upon entry. The heritage of hundreds - if not thousands - of years of civilized development just sloughs off like so many flakes of dandruff the instant people walk in the door. And begin stabbing each other in the genitals with rusty hypodermic needles while desperately trying to snatch that last copy of The Bible Code’s Chicken Soup for Oprah or Cornholing for Dummies.

One year - and I’m even not making this part up - I was standing in the middle of the rabid throng and trying to decide which section to peruse next, guns or porn, and how best to navigate through all the mess when one little wretched gnome put his gnarled hand on my chest and, head down, tried to shove me out of his way. I stared down at the top of his mottled, crusty head in disbelief as he applied all the pressure he could muster, breaking out in an oily sweat from the effort and grunting, “Nnnnnng! Nnnnnnng!”

Now, I’m admittedly a lot more goofy than fearsome, but I’m motherfucking 6’ 2”, 230 pounds and covered in prison-quality tattoos of shit like pirate flags and Misfits record covers. And I couldn’t believe this little troll thought he could just shove me aside, like normal people do to cripples. Actually, I don’t think the frenzied little monster even knew what he was doing. After a minute or two of pushing, he looked up, saw me glaring at him, gasped and scuttled off into the crowd while I pondered what book could possibly be worth entering into this kind of madhouse. (Turns out that year it was a pristine, first-edition copy of Spalding’s Field Guide to North American Homos.)

Mentioning porn reminds me of something that happened at the sale a few years ago: they really do have a porn section, kind of… Off in one discrete, roped-off corner they always have a few tables stacked with shit like collections of bawdy limericks and copies of that infamously randy men’s magazine, Esquire. Mostly I ignore this section, because frankly there just ain’t anything in there that can out-dirty the dirty stuff in my head or on the Internet, but this particular year I had spent about two minutes casually sorting through its piles of Sports Illustrated 1986 Swimsuit Special and tattered, jism-stained biographies of Dr. Ruth while looking for cool old Playboys or whatever when I heard someone call out my name.

I look up, and standing there is, of all people, my insane mother. I’m holding the section’s one legitimately dirty item, a copy of Penthouse Forum from 1978 with the pages open to a story about giving a dog a blowjob or something, and she proceeds to introduce me to her six or seven elderly female friends. I put down the magazine and actually have to reach across the rope separating the dangerous, disgusting perverts like myself from the nice, well adjusted patrons with the ability to form normal relationships to shake each of their hands, tainting each of them with my filth while they fix rigid, insincere smiles, pretend not to notice that I’m Caligula and make mental plans to go wash off the dried orgy juice as soon as humanly possible

To tell the truth, it kind of turned me on.

Anyway, this particular go-around was pretty much more of the same. I always tell myself I’m not going to go, and I always do. I get punched by 112-year-old lepers, poked in the eyes and gonads with the huge cardboard boxes everybody totes around and head-butted by hysterical, book-mad Star Trek fans who have the all grooming skills of comic shop employees. Or is that the other way around?

Regardless, at the sale I know I can count on flinching when some cheese-stuffed housewife next to me suddenly squeals with delight at scoring a copy of Flowers in the Attic for a buck. I know at some point I’ll mistakenly make eye contact with one of the drooling spastics left to fidget in the corner or wander through the crowd unattended and feel my IQ drop 15 points. I’ll rub shoulders with 400-pound D&D players and other men with ponytails. I’ll wince as various rocket scientists loudly recommend Angela’s Ashes or drone on about John Grisham and Mary Higgins Clark. If, while browsing, I leave two inches between me and a shelf or table, some circus contortionist will slip into the space and grab all the books I want while I’m left staring at the back of his head.

Inevitably, I’ll get rammed with a wheelchair or something, stumble and accidentally knock over a stack of books being sorted in the middle of a busy thoroughfare by some bespectacled, hostile, beige, 45-year-old James Taylor fan of indeterminate sexuality. I’ll eventually grab eight or 10 books and wait in line an hour to pay for ‘em. And I’ll get home and at least one of ‘em will be something I already have.

This year they had initiated a challenging little puzzle for everyone and asked people queuing up to pay to separate into two lines, one for people with checks and one for people with cash. It gets a little confusing, seeing as the lines snake around the huge warehouse for at least six miles, crossing each other and looping back on themselves multiple times. Occasionally one of the volunteers, friendly folks who happily devote their time in return for the judge not sending them to prison for raping the comatose (or whatever), would walk up and down the lines, making sure people were being herded into the proper group.

One guy, a squat little runt in a loud Hawaiian shirt who kind of looked like if Francis Ford Coppola had a sort of midget-y thing going on, had apparently missed the constant, megaphone-delivered announcements about the necessity of getting in the right line. Not long after I began the internal debate over whether the handful of books I had were worth another 30 minutes or so of waiting in this stuffy, loud hellhole (a debate I engage in halfway through the line every single time I go), Coppola is informed that he’s in the wrong group.

It’s actually kind of understandable how this idiot managed to not hear the line announcements, despite the fact they’re being regularly delivered at brain-splitting volume. See, Coppola has the most remarkably thick patch of coarse, black hair covering his entire ear. The fucking thing looks like a piece of bread with mold growing all over it. You could probably put Motorhead in his fucking ear and he wouldn’t hear it.

So anyway, instead off getting in the correct line, or just trying to work something out, Coppola starts loudly berating the volunteer: “What?! What are you gonna do?! What goddamn difference does it make what line I’m in?!” The volunteer keeps his cool, but this human wart keeps it up. People are trying to ignore him, but he keeps getting louder and more insulting. He’s at least nine or 10 people away from me, so I can’t actually reach out and grab him, but I start glaring at him with all of my might and trying to will him to shut up with the power of my mind.

Meanwhile, he’s ignoring me and continuing: “What?! What?! Are you gonna not take my goddamned money?! My money’s no good?! What?!” The volunteer throws his hands up and starts walking away. I’m fantasizing about what I’d tell him if he was in line next to me: “Look here, pubic ear, if you want to keep all of your blood inside of your body you’re going to shut your loud fucking Francis Ford Coppola-ass mouth and wait in line without complaint like a proper sheep, just like everyone else is doing. Because, so help me God, if I have to listen to one more stupid, diseased word out of you, I’m going smash your balls between two volumes of that there Encyclopedia Britannica so hard that your grandchildren will turn blue and die.”

Eventually the skidmark, sensing the murderous mood of the crowd, settles down and goes back to grooming his homemade earmuffs. I return to my patient wait, struggling to tamp down a barrage of panic attacks and trying not to stare at the awesome boobies of the 16-year-old emo girls standing in front of me. Or at least to trying to not look too obvious while I’m doing it. Hmm, I wonder if those little darlings would like an escort to the “adult” section… Ahem. Well.

Anyway, after another seven hours of pain, humiliation and oxygen deprivation I pay for my books. Emerging into the sunlight, I gasp at the beauty of the sky and the trees and burst into tears. My clothes have turned to rags and my hair is gray. (Well, that happened before I went, but still.) I kneel and kiss the ground, sobbing. I can’t remember my name, but I know that I’ll regain that, and the ability to feed myself, as the horror eventually recedes.

After I get home, I notice one of the books I bought, Redbirds by the talented, disgraced journalist and author Rick Bragg, is a retitled British edition of something I already have. Fuck.

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