Every Monday I stock books at the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Thrift Store. Usually it takes a couple of hours to put out the donations and neaten up, and there's always a new story to tell: someone did something over the weekend, or a family member is visiting, or something. It's that community thing.
But today, Monday May 9, 2011, was the strangest Monday ever - most of the strangeness of a serious nature.
The lead volunteer in the book area is Charlotte - she's been doing the gig forever, but needs to take a couple of weeks off to move her and her husband to an assisted living facility in Bellevue. We talked today and I agreed that next Monday I'd help her & her boys load the truck. It's just what you do in a situation like that. It can't really make the situation good but it can make it less bad.
Then Don came in. Normally he's quite cheery and outgoing, and even today, he was cheerful for a normal person, but he had a most extraordinary story: his partner's mother found dead a guy to whom she'd been renting a room. It was very distressing for everyone involved, and there was still quite a bit of work to do at that house involving cleanup. There wasn't much I could do but offer sympathy; I don't think Hallmark makes a card that would really fit but still, you want to do something.
I was about to go (had all my shopping done and the car loaded) when the Once Sold Tales truck arrived. This seemed unusual, since we're accumulating books for the big book sale next weekend, but the driver assured me he'd been told to come and pick up some boxes. I wanted to consult with a manager (...since I absolutely do not do anything related to handling money; I'm a volunteer book guy, not a money guy ...) but we were short-staffed due to Don's emergency. The junior manager running things seemed curiously distracted, and happy to let me just pick which boxes would go - I figure the ones that were marked "X" would be o.k. to go.
At some point, I don't quite recall when, I saw a woman with a couple of rolled-up rugs walking in the parking lot, obviously having exited the store. One of the staff called to her, and she started explaining that she was just going to lay them outdoors to look at the color. This sounded kind of crazy (...although all sorts of crazy things do happen...) because there isn't any place in the parking lot to do that; maybe one might be able to roll open a rug on the walk next to the door, but the parking lot would be a terrible place to try to lay out a rug. Besides, you shouldn't take anything out of the store except with careful approval from a manager (e.g. sometimes people will test out a bike, with permission).
Eventually the police showed up, and it finally sunk into my thick head that this was a much more serious matter than my book thing (...I hope I may be forgiven for being book-oriented, but I really should have figured this out sooner.) Eventually the boxes of books that were unsuitable for the booksale got loaded to OST, and the driven went in to see about writing a check, and it was time for me to go. The police, the likely shoplifter and Susan that store boss (who had just arrived presumably from home) were more than enough people for the situation.
One more thing happened. Last Saturday, someone had donated a half-dozen Korean/English instructional books. I set them in the book carts for casual browser - it didn't seem likely they'd sell but you never know. Today (Monday) a lady came and asked about them; she'd donated a small dictionary that had been her mother's. It didn't have any commercial value (language books sell very slowly!) and, anyway, typically, we let people undonate items so long as we're sure that's what's going on, and it didn't seem likely anyone would know about this particular donation except the donator herself. However, I couldn't find that book! I found several other Koren books, which she confirmed as the missing books, but the little dictionary I couldn't find. She left before I could invite her to leave a phone number in care it turned up - for I was sure that I'd seen just what she was talking about, but due to its small size, it was probably in some backwash of mass market paperbacks. And, sure enough, that very book surfaced - in a pile of books from Saturday that I hadn't stocked, because they were an extra challenge at the end of the day. Susan, the store boss, confirmed that in this situation, we'd give the book back, but now the problem was: how to I get this back to her when I don't even know her name? I looked in several of her books until I saw a named writen inslie. I looked up that name on the internet, and sure enough, there was one on Mercer Island! I left a voicemeail message, and was rewarded with a callback. Soon the book was back in the hands of its original owner's daughter, which was a moment of positiveness in a very strange day