Walk a Mile: Paperback Profit Psychosis

I was standing outside a deli in Park Slope, Brooklyn on the day I went truly insane. Unemployed and desperate for money, my hobby of scouring the web for free books and reselling them had reached the point of bizarre.

The plan had been simple: find the free book ads online, pick them up, list them again on sites that allowed common folk such as me to sell used books and reap in the benefits. What started as a mere hobby turned into a 24/7 horror. I became obsessed with checking for ads and then checking my book sales. Every single night I would awake and respond to numerous ads and adjust my prices, doing anything I could to succeed in this endeavor.

My apartment was now filled–no, not filled–covered with books. There was a system in there somewhere, but for the most part, they were stacked almost to the ceiling. My dining room table, my dresser and yes, even my bed was graced with the prose of authors ranging from Danielle Steel to David Sedaris. I often slept on my couch, its armrests also merely a table for more books, laying in a fetal position at risk of knocking over my paper profits.

The post office fast became a friend and eventually, an enemy. I first walked in with 5-10 small packages. I was small potatoes then. After a few weeks of dollar signs, I expanded my productivity (aka website stalking) and purchased a laundry cart in order to drop off my nearly 80 packages a day to the poor folk at the collection office. The smiles, previously on each and every employee’s face as they recognized their loyal customer soon converted to daggers directed right at me and my cart of doom.

I didn’t stop there. Oh no, I wish I did. I began haunting every book store, Goodwill, and stoop in the five boroughs. With my handy-dandy smartphone, I could scan each book’s barcode and it told me immediately how much it was selling for online. I could spend hours scanning every book on the shelf and only find one worth pillaging, or I could spend only ten minutes and hit pay dirt: a college textbook! And it’s the most recent edition!

My cart and I rode the rails as far as Rockaway, often well into the next day. But it was worth it. I spent practically nothing mailing them, taking advantage of the USPS low book rate and was making pure profit. On my last day, I had over 3,000 books in my studio apartment. I was proud of this and felt accomplished.

The train ride to Park Slope would be my last in the book business. A nice couple was moving and they invited me to browse their collection. What a sight they must have seen: a 20-something with a shopping cart and a scary look in his eyes, drooling over their LSAT prep manuals. I went too far. The books overflowed from the cart and I was forced to drive it with one hand and hold a box with the other.

I made it a mere three blocks before coming to my senses. My arms ached. My head hurt from not sleeping.

“When did I even eat last?” I wondered.

I pulled my cart and dragged the box to the side of a deli and sat on the sidewalk, removing each book and scanning it to make sure it was even worth my time. The two piles I made grew taller than me and eventually surrounded me. I was now inhabiting a book fort, still furiously scanning and watching the sun set from the small opening above me. I was all alone and finally realized I was an absolute nutcase. I stood up, knocking over 10 or 12 books in the process and went into the deli for a drink. It was the sweetest liquid I ever tasted: it was freedom.

I asked for a pen, tape and paper and wrote down, “Free Books” on the white sheet of independence. The books were piled into the cart and the box neatly, and the sign was stuck to the front. I left my cart all alone, my best friend and partner in commerce. I abandoned my assets and caught a cab home.

The books still awaited me, and over the next few days I brought them all down to the lobby letting my neighbors know they were all up for grabs–even posting my own ad on Craig’s List, begging someone to take them all! My life (and apartment) have now returned to normal. I still have the urge to scan books when I see them, but I resist. I often wonder what became of my books in Park Slope and my cart, my buddy.

I like to think a poor wandering soul walked past my refuse and thought, “Hmm, this could be an easy way to make money,” then grabbed the contents and headed home to their formerly organized and sane life.

David J Meyer
B.A. in Creative Writing from wonderful, yet overpriced NYC school. Unequivocal mess. Moderate hit at parties. Feeling eater. Franzia aficionado. Haberdashery enthusiast. Way too much time on my hands.
  • http://www.theflounce.com AlexisO

    I loved this article! Your description of the post office and your cart of doom made me laugh! I hope to read more from you!

  • JulaiOhMy

    Ugh. I did this same thing with vintage clothes in college. “How much could I sell these polyester sailor pants for? Enough? Not enough? Do I need to tell them about the slight stain in the crotch? ETHICS?!”

  • lizliew

    Haa. Brilliant. Write more!