Friday, January 25, 2013

The answer you seek is 42

Carl and I (your faithful used book buyers and keepers of the mysteries of the basement) get a small handful of questions pretty regularly. Like, um, maybe the same three questions about 100 times a day, minimum. So for your enlightenment and edification, here is a handy dandy Best of UBC FAQ.

1) Where is the bathroom?
We don't have one. The staff is contractually obligated to "hold it." But we've partnered with Peet's and Starbucks to offer you the finest in public restroom technology.

2) How does it work?
Buying books is a fairly painless process. You bring in books you want to sell between Wednesday and Saturday, 10 AM - 4 PM. We look through the books and choose the ones we think we can resell. Based on things like condition, what our customers ask for, how rare it is to see a book come across our counter, and in general whether a book is interesting or timely. If we aren't interested in it, you have to take it with you, the way you came. It still belongs to you. We did not buy it.

3) How do you know which books?
This doesn't sound like a complete sentence but it is quite literally the exact sentence I hear more often than "How are you?" or "Have a nice day!" or "Have you read all these books?" Carl and I work here a cumulative 80 hours a week. I've done so for nearly 2 years, Carl's been at it off and on for 11 years since the Used Book Cellar even opened. That is a lot of hours seeing books come in, pricing each book, shelving each book and seeing which ones leave. It's our full time job. It's just about the only thing we do. We just know. Of course we mess up (dollar cart, much?) But on the whole we "know which books" because we have a lot of practice at our jobs. Just like bakers know how to make bread rise, or surgeons know how to slice ya.

4) Do you make house calls?
Carl: "So right after I became the assistant used buyer, maybe like the first week of buying, this guy with a very pleasant voice and, I assume, demeanor, calls and asks us if we would be so kind as to come to his house and look at his books. This was, I think, the first time we've ever received this request so the other book buyer and I sort of looked at each other, shrugged, and drew straws to see who would go. Obviously I drew the wrong straw because the next thing I know I'm knocking on the door of someone's basement dungeon lair. A rather sweet looking elderly gent opens the door in something akin to a chiffon robe for elderly gents. A little creepy but whatever. I've seen some things in my lifetime. So I walk in and he shows me his book collection. Really awesome stuff. I ask if these are the ones he's looking to unload and says "Good heavens, no." and then he proceeds to walk me down this hallway that opens up to a typical basement setting: furnace, metal shelves of tools and such, a fading bulb of light. In the middle of the room are three rows of Trader Joe's bags (ten to a row) lined up perfectly and filled with books. He says something about an urgent call and backs out of the room slowly. A little too slowly. I remember wondering if he dead-bolted the door from the outside. I begin seeking escape routes. There are none. So I shrug (a common occurrence) and get down to business. I breeze through the three rows in record time. Looking over my shoulder for any errant chloroform rags. After about 20 minutes I rustle together enough books that I hope will get me out alive. I slink over to the door and jiggle the handle and lo and behold its unlocked. I walk down the hall saying "hello?" like an idiot and I find him sitting in the kitchen drinking a glass of wine. I say I'm all set and hold up the bags and he dismisses me with a flick of his hand. I let myself out. I trek back to work, tally everything up, call his number, and get his machine. That was like six years ago; never heard from him again. Somewhere, maybe on the internet, there is a video of me looking through books while alternating between sweating and trying to unlock a window. So the answer is no, we do not make house calls."

If you have any more questions, post them in the comments and we'll get back to you!

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