Excerpt from “Zero Budget Christmas”

To help get you fully into the Christmas (shopping) spirit, here’s another excerpt from Zero-Budget Christmas. It makes a great gift! No, actually it doesn’t, because you can’t wrap it and it’s embarrassingly cheap. But, hey, buy it anyway!

The deal at 2nd and Charles is this: Bring in your old books, CDs, DVDs, video games, and assorted other media or electronics items, and they’ll buy them off of you for either cash or store credit. Store credit is the best deal because a) they pay you more if you take it in store credit, and b) you can use that store credit to shop in an enormous storehouse of books, CDs, DVDs, video games, and assorted other media and electronics items. As the store has grown, they’ve added more stuff like tshirts, comic books, musical instruments, and vintage vinyl records. It is, in essence, a used media superstore.

Are you hearing what I’m saying? It is nerdvana, and the only price of entry is you must offer as a sacrifice all the old junk that you don’t use anymore anyway.

For someone like me — someone with an extensive collection of unread and never-to-be-read books, coupled with an inborn desire to acquire new, never-to-be-read books — the orange sign of 2nd and Charles beckoned like an all-you-can-eat buffet sign beckons to a fat guy.

(And in case I forgot to mention, and you couldn’t guess already, I was also fairly loaded down with video games, DVDs, and CDs. There’s no need for us to go into my painful years trapped in the Columbia Record Club.)

I came home and told Rachel what I’d discovered. Rachel is what you would call a heavy reader in the same sense that the guy who cranks out donuts on the Krispy Kreme conveyor belt is a heavy baker. You could probably gauge her consumption of books with some unit of measure that’s used in the paper shredder industry to rate the quality of paper shredders. Linear feet per second, or something like that.

Suffice it to say, Rachel goes through a lot of books and wants to go through a lot more. Upon hearing the news, we were both giddy together and set about boxing up a whole lot of books to haul down to the store and get our credit account rolling.

And get it rolling we did. We rolled six boxes of assorted used media right into the 2nd and Charles lobby and up to the processing counter. On the other side of the counter was a bank of desks arranged like you’d see in a mail processing center or in a check clearinghouse in the old days when people other than your MeeMaw used paper checks: Two rows of tables with a conveyor belt running between them. At each table sat a hipster or a nerd. When someone brought in, say, a book, a clerk would place the book on the conveyor belt. When the book reached the table of an unoccupied hipster or nerd, he/she would take the book and, through some clairvoyant power, determine how much the store would pay for it.

In almost every case, the answer to how much the store would pay for a book was, “Not much.” However, they would always offer significantly more in store credit than they would pay in actual cash money. And if you brought in enough volume, as we had, the store credit could really add up.

After our first effort at selling books to 2nd and Charles, we ended up with north of $200 in store credit at a store that sold pretty much any kind of entertainment media you could ask for. We walked out feeling like we’d just broken the bank at a Vegas casino, planning our return in which we would scoop up wheelbarrowfuls of used paperbacks and two-year-old Playstation games.

Life happened, though, and we never got around to our big 2nd and Charles shopping extravaganza. So, our credit account sat there, waiting on its chance to shine.

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