I get to the main office/occasional-impromptu-bookstore around half past one. Rose is in the back room, consolidating tattered mass market paper backs into those cardboard trays beer sometimes comes in. You know the ones. The book sale we hosted last weekend kind of went bananas, and the three rooms we’ve taken over on the first floor, to flood with shelves and boxes and tables full of books, are a mess. Rose is a volunteer, probably in her 70′s, five foot nothing, round but nimble — an avid walker. I don’t really need her to be sorting through mass market paperbacks. I’d just as soon throw them all away — there’s certainly no dearth of them. But she’s restoring a semblance of order to the place, which is appreciated. And when I get to the point where I do need her to do something, she’ll do it. I couldn’t really ask for much more from a volunteer.
Rose once called me on a Friday night at around eight o’clock, just around dinnertime. I was in New York City for the weekend. I was, if you can believe it, eating dinner because, as mentioned, it was just around dinnertime. I was, moreover, eating a dinner that my, um, “friend” had prepared for me — the very first meal she had ever cooked for me, as a matter of fact. So, of course: phone number I don’t recognize from an area code in Massachusetts while I’m on a date? I better answer that call!
“Hi, Tom, it’s Rose.”
Rose, Rose… who on earth is Rose? Ohhh. Rose. ”Um, hi… Rose? What’s, uhm, up?” Waving to pretty lady across table, This will only be a second, promise.
“Well, I was thinking, I can get you all the leftover books from the library sale in Marblehead. Do you have a minute? You aren’t eating dinner or anything, are you?”
“No, yeah, no, it’s fine. I ju–”
“Well, what we could do is…”
It was only a couple minutes later, when Rose said something about how we could discuss her plan to get books “tomorrow” since I was “going to be at work” (she was thinking about stopping by the office to help set up the book sale, anyway, and why not kill two birds with one stone, right?), that I realized she probably didn’t really keep track of her weekdays all that well.
“I’m actually in New York City this weekend, Rose.” I made sure to emphasize how very weekend it was. “I probably won’t be back at work until Tuesday. But we can definitely talk about it then.”
“Oh, is today Friday already? Well, how about that, you’re right.”.
In the end the two of us did end up making the NYC-dinner-date-interrupting trip to Marblehead to salvage thirty boxes of unwanted books. I chauffeured in the company dump truck. “When you said you had a truck, you really meant it,” Rose said as she opened the door. I have rarely feared more for a person’s life than watching Rose try to climb into the passenger seat that day. It was like watching a grape trying to do the monkey bars. My plan was that if she let go of the oh-shit handle and started to fall, I’d grab her arm and hold her up. It’s only now that I realize I probably just would have dislocated her shoulder if that’d happened. Or, like, ripped the entire arm right off. You can pluck a stem from a grape pretty easily, after all.
So today, when I’ve finally finished sifting through a giant blue laundry hamper full of books and magazines books and three ring binders and books and video tapes and CDs and books, I ask Rose if she can give the mass-markets a rest and put all the non-fiction books I’ve boxed up onto the appropriate shelves in the non-fiction room. “I’ll wheel them in on the dolly and put the boxes on the tables. Can you just go through them and plop the books down where they belong?” (The volunteers have established a weird genre-bending, pseudo-Dewey decimal shelving system for the non-fiction room. I let them roll with it because it’s less work for me, and because it seems to make them happy. It’s all about the illusion of control, I guess.)
“Sure, yep. I can do that,” Rose says. And that’s exactly what we do.