short stories award
Buy 2 Get 1 Free
A short Story by Mat Wilson

I had scarcely walked in the door when I noticed a pile of books on the floor against the wall. My eye caught a glimpse of a book of short stories by Mark Twain with a $4 price tag. I began to read with fascination, every word fitted phrase packed with wit and meaning. The work of a genius at his best; I'd be the worst kind of fool to walk out without that gem. I then picked up a book of selected essays, lectures and poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I noted it contained an address delivered before the senior class in Divinity College, Cambridge, July 15, 1838. I wonder what he told them then? That read alone was worth the $4.95 price tag, so I placed it in my keepers pile. The third book I picked up that looked interesting, having whetted my taste for Mark Twain, was A Tramp Abroad, and the list price was $15.

The trouble with these buy 2 get 1 free deals is that you have to find three books of equal value, to take full advantage of the "freebie" offer because you have to pay for the two most expensive items and then, the third book is free. And thus, in effort to get the proper value of the advertised discount, I began to negotiate a suitable deal.

I placed the three books on the counter, which was actually a desk in the middle of the bookstore, and said, "If I give you eight dollars for these two, can I get this one for free?"
    "Of course," said the clerk, without a second thought, until he noted that the one I intended to receive without payment, had a $15 price tag. "Wait a minute", the clerk said. "I have to charge you fifteen dollars for that one."
    "But you said I could have it for free," I protested in jest.
    "No I didn't," he insisted.
    "I don't want to pay $15 for a book I may or may not read so I just want to take a good look at it before I decide to buy it, or else, to find a more suitable replacement."
    "No problem" he responded. "You can leave the other books here."
    And so, as I flipped through the pages and walked away, half-expecting to be called back, I said, "You know, you did say I could get all three for eight dollars."
    "No I didn't," he said tartly.
    "You did," I replied, "but I think it was entrapment."
    "Yes I did," he changed his mind like a conscientious witness under cross-examination.

I continued to browse through the pages, reading a passage here and there, and I felt like I was back in English class in high school, where I struggled to understand the point of all the points I was supposed to grasp. I was looking for enlightenment and entertainment, I was not prepared to invest the time that was necessary to dissect what appeared to be a brilliant novel like A Tramp Abroad. The genius packed in Mark Twain's short stories was irresistible and there was a certain degree of contempt in the overbearing familiarity of trying to find the time to read a novel like A Tramp Abroad, so I decided to drop the fifteen dollar purchase.

It would have been a shame to deprive another reader the opportunity to read the work of the Master and if I was merely going to purchase his work because I intended to pay no price, there was clearly no point.

A good book ought to be read, not hoarded or shelved for display. What is even more detestable is the shelving of bad books, for they are purchased at the cost of depriving the attention that all the good books deserve. Small decisions have big consequences.

And there I was, it was no big deal to spend twenty dollars or so for three good books, but it was not acceptable, if only two were going to be read. "I think I'll look for another four dollar book, I said to the clerk.
    "Sure" he said. "You might also want to check the one dollar bins outside."
   "Oh" I said surprised. I walked out with the expectation that I needed to have my eyes checked, and returned saying, "I don't see any bins outside."
   "They brought them in on account of the weather" blurted the clerk's assistant from the stepladder where she was adding books to the shelves.
   "Sorry, the bins have been moved to the window" the clerk said, pointing to a stack piled seven high.

I looked through the top bin, saw nothing of interest so I placed it on the floor beside the other six. My eye then caught the attention of Ellen Schrecker's The Age of McCarthyism, A Brief History with Documents. It looked like a fascinating read. The subject is stale, but documents? Documents are the evidence which gives us the opportunity to interpret historical events as accurately as possible, and the food of the historian fascinates me. And hell, for a single dollar, who can possibly resist? So I grabbed it and handed it to the clerk. "Here" I said, giving it to him. "I found this in the dollar bin and I'd like to purchase it as well, but I haven't finished looking."
    "No problem" he said, as he placed it on my ever-growing, reserved pile. There was nothing else of interest in the sixth bin, so I placed it atop the first and looked through the fifth. My eye caught the attention of a little book called "Prejudice" which contained three interesting essays on the subject. The deal-maker here was the fact that it was published by the Harvard Press and it was only 127 pages long. I was certain I would be able to find something of value regarding a subject, which is a common affliction, and I could certainly spare another dollar so I rushed to the clerk. "Here, here", I said, "I found another book in the dollar bin."
    "Very well" said the clerk, accepting my other golden find.

I went back and in the fourth bin, I found a book called "The American Dream in Black and White". This one was about the Clarence Thomas Hearings, published by Cornell University Press. Not something I would normally purchase, but it was only 158 pages, it contained documented evidence of the sort historians feed on, and of course, it was only a dollar.

I would never buy a book about the Hearings, but pure documentation always fascinates me, it made me consider the rather ignored fact that the salacious baggage of those who judge can be even more extreme than those who are judged, and that is a rather peculiar condition whose consequences have not been adequately deduced.

And so, I grabbed the book about the man who was allegedly too congenial to engage in sexual harassment, and I said, "Here, here, I have found the third of four." In the meantime, my mind was forming my exit strategy. If I managed to compile a four dollar value from the dollar bins, I should get them all for free because they would essentially match the free dollar value of purchasing two four dollar books. The clerk had already told me he would not do that, but I did not believe him on account of the fact that he was way too busy to argue.

For you see, after I purchased the third book, the clerk was engrossed in conversation with a friend who had walked in to pay a visit, and there comes a point when a third party to a closed encounter is simply a bother. They talked about the various firearms and ammunitions that are available for hunting Geese in the wild, and while their dazzling technical expertise was clearly a source of fascination for the so inclined, I was not particularly interested except to exploit the situation for my particular purposes. And so, as I searched through the final dollar bin, to locate book number four, my eye landed on the title "The Healing Power of Humor." I picked it up, without question would have gladly paid ten dollars for the find, and thus, I approached the clerk for the final kill. "I found my fourth book" I said. "Now I will gladly set it aside as well and continue to look for a single, four dollar value to match my two four dollar purchases, but seeing that you would rather get rid of me now, I am willing to pay you eight dollars for those two if you give me the four dollar books for free."
    "Certainly" he blurted enthusiastically. "I'll take eight dollars and I won't even charge you the tax." I handed him a twenty dollar bill, he happily returned twelve, and I walked out with six of the best books I have ever purchased.

You can't do that at Chapters.

NEXT: How Abraham Lincoln discovered the truth.



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