Robin is OCD, or has OCD, or whatever the preferred nomenclature is for people with obsessive compulsive disorder. At our first book sale, last September in the basement of a church where I do most of my work, she told me as much.
“I just, I go down there, and everything’s out of order and all over the place!” she said, visibly exasperated. Robin is short, wiry, and birdlike. She has a white mid-sixties Beatles’ haircut, thick rimmed shields for glasses, and she never looks you in the eye when she talks. She walks with a pronounced limp, but I’ve never asked her about it because I don’t want to come across as rude.
“We didn’t have time to organize it,” I explained at the time. This was last September, Indian Summer, a sunny Saturday afternoon, and I was telling Robin the truth. The day of the sale it was Marc and me, a chapel filled with chairs , my dungeon on the other side of the church basement stacked to the ceilings with books, and eight hours to set the whole thing up for opening night. We did not concern ourselves with putting all of the Harry Potters with the other Harry Potters. We concerned ourselves with hauling ass.
Robin was having none of it. “Listen, when I go to a book sale I don’t want to be looking all over the place trying to find what I want. That’s just crazy! I’m OCD, and I swear,” she said, shaking her head, “I just want to go around organizing everything! It’s like a madhouse down there!” At the time, I took her complaints to be a minor annoyance on an otherwise beautiful late summer day. But my boss, manning the cash register, had heard it all downstairs before me, and she had signed Robin on as a volunteer for our next book sale.
These days, Robin devotes her time to the kids’ room. She spends hours upon hours putting, say, the Full House collection of Mary-Kate and Ashley stories in chronological order. She has an R.L. Stine section, a parenting section, a boardbook section arranged according to the genus and species of the title animal. Which is to say, it is under control in the kids’ room, because Robin is on top of that shit. When we had a group of twenty Raytheon HR volunteers come in to physically put all of the boxed books on the shelves… when Robin came in the day after that, with everything misplaced and disorganized and crazy — but, crucially now, on the shelves – well, she just about fainted. And then she spent the next three days in that little 8×12 box, putting everything in its right place for the sale.
Today I put a rock between the back door and the doorjamb, not just because it’s nice out, but because Robin can’t handle stairs well and the rear entrance only has one little step. She’s due to arrive at noon, and I’ve been clearing out bins all morning, boxing things up for her to fiddle with. She doesn’t ask for much. None of the volunteers do. When my boss and I sat down with them for the first time and asked them what they might like to make their volunteer time a bit more pleasant, they were only so extravagant as to request a radio. I haven’t heard them listen to it once.
“Hey, Robin,” I greet her as she walks in. “How are ya?”
“I’m good, Tom. How are you?”
“Oh, you know. Books, books, books.”
She laughs, awkward.
“I’ve got three or four boxes waiting for you in the other room, and I’ll have another one for you before I take off for the day,” I tell her.
“Great. I guess I’ll get right to it, then,” Robin says.
When I bring the last box in for her a little while later, I notice that “The Te of Piglet,” companion/follow-up to “The Tao of Pooh,” is sitting on a table beside her purse. “This is actually an adult book,” I say.
“Oh, I know,” Robin says, trails off, and turns a bit red. I realize that she’s planning to take it home with her, and that she probably feels like she’s just been caught stealing. Let me put it to you like this: if you come to my bookstore and alphabetize books for free for fifteen hours a week, you can have a “Te of Piglet” whenever you please.
“You should check it out, I’ve heard good things,” I say. “‘The Tao of Pooh’ is supposed to be good, too.” I head to the door and wave. “Have a good weekend, Robin. Thanks for all your help.”