Saturday, June 23, 2007

Dumb Things I've Done (9 in an occasional series)

I'm taking advantage of the public library system to read books I used to check out all the time when I was a kid or books that I never got a chance to find. It's pretty sweet. I'm picking up some today, in fact.

My wife, angel that she is, has bought me a number of prized books from my childhood as gifts, even managing to secure a copy of How to Draw Super Heroes. This is in addition to Superman From the 30s to the 70s, the follow-up that expanded to include the 80s, and The Great Superman Book (which, I hear, is being rereleased soon) among others.

It's relatively easy (if you know where to look) to find such things these days; my wife is an expert at it. But when I was younger, in the days before eBay and online shopping, it wasn't as easy.

Thus, I feel I must relate my tale of shame.

In junior high school, I was big Trekkie geek. I got started in earnest around the time Star Trek IV came out. I had seen The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock in the theaters (one at a birthday party), but despite my dad telling me that I'd like the reruns of the old show, I wasn't really interested in it then.

I made up for it.

Every trip to a book store yielded another paperback or two, and I watched the reruns every chance I got, which at the time, was pretty often, as it was on multiple times on multiple channels.

One of my favorite books was the Star Fleet Technical Manual. It was reissued during the big Star Trek hoopla in 1986, which, in addition to being the year Star Trek IV was released, was also the 20th anniversary of the show's debut.

I pored over the drawings of the various ships, phasers, uniforms, etc. I busted out my tablet of graph paper and did my best at replicating the Enterprise.

Later, when Star Trek IV was released on video, I begged my parents to buy it. This was before you could just go on down to Wal-Mart or Target (or Gemco, for that matter) and pick up a movie for 10 bucks or less. That said, The Voyage Home was a steal at a MSRP of $29.99 (I think).

No, not mine. Mine's in storage. But it hung over my bed for a long time, thus ensuring I'd be the only occupant of said bed.I somehow managed to nab the promotional inflatable Enterprise that hung from the ceiling at my local Waldenbooks, but the sweetest thing was that James Doohan was coming to my hometown to promote the release. It was a sign. I had to go. I've got some pictures from that here.

I graduated from eighth grade, and one of the things my parents got me as a graduation present was the classic Trek episode, "Spectre of the Gun."

It wasn't too long before I decided to beg my parents to take me to a Star Trek convention. I think it was the summer of 1988, just before I started high school. There was one in Sacramento, and while I didn't win tickets from a radio contest (God help me, I tried. The contest required you to make up words to the Star Trek theme--and sing them), we still managed to go.

I was excited to see the guests (I think they were Marina Sirtis, Majel Barrett and Walter Koenig, but the few cons I went to have all blended together in my head), but when I saw the dealers' tables, I went nuts.

There was Star Trek stuff that I'd never heard of or imagined existed. And on one table was the original Star Fleet Technical Manual, in its hard black plastic slipcover. It was selling for $100, so naturally, I just had to be content with looking at it. Even with all my powers of persuasion, it would have been nigh impossible to convince my parents to help me buy a book that, aside from the cover, I essentially already had.

My usual refrain when pestering my parents to buy some odd pop-culture item was "But it'll be worth money someday." While I'd like to think I was envisioning an online auction site where, indeed, people could cash in on all the lame crap they have lying around the house, in reality, I was a kid trying to get what I wanted.

Surely, my great brain would figure something out.

A while later at the library, I saw the book on a shelf. It was missing its black cover, so it was just a red-covered softback. That got me thinking, though. Maybe there was another copy in the system. Sure enough, there was. And after a trip to the main branch of the library system, I was able to at least hold in my hands an original copy of the Star Fleet Technical Manual.

As I showed it to my friend, Ken, I lamented that this was as close as I'd come to an original copy of the book.

"Too bad they don't let you buy books from the library," he said.

"Yeah, the only time you do that is when you lose them," I replied. Midway through that sentence, my great brain came up with the perfect plan.

If I told the library that I lost the book, I reasoned, I'd have to pay to replace it. They'd get a copy of the reprinted version, and no one would be missing anything. Especially given that there were two other copies in the system already.

It made sense to a 13-year-old.

On my next trip to the library, I gathered up my courage (I somehow thought they'd see through my cunning attempt to trick them) and went to the circulation desk.

"I have to pay for a book I lost," I said, looking disappointed.

"I can make a notation on your record so you can have a little more time to try to find it. They usually turn up after a while. That way you won't have to pay for the book."

"No," I said, trying not to sound too eager. "I've looked everywhere it could possibly be. I can't find it anywhere. I'll just pay for it."

"Okay," she said, "let me look it up in the system to see how much the replacement fee is."

I was prepared to pay the 20 bucks or whatever the current version was going for. That still put me 80 bucks ahead. That was the beauty of my plan. I tried to maintain my doleful expression despite being proud of my own cleverness.

"That'll be $7.95," she said apologetically.


"Seven dollars and ninety-five cents. I'm sorry."

My ill-gotten gains. Note the residue from where I removed the library sticker.As I forked over a ten, I realized that $7.95 was the cover price of the book when it came out in 1975 (I've also seen one that was $6.95, but mine says that it's a first edition, so who knows?). I tried my hardest to look disappointed. I at least managed to hold out until I was out of the librarian's line of sight.

For just less than $8, I had the book I wanted.

Still, it didn't take too long for guilt to set in, so I vowed not to do it again. And even if I wanted to, a few years later, most of the libraries around me instituted a flat book-replacement fee.

The book is still on my shelf, and I feel a little guilty every time I crack it open. I have, however, given lots of money to libraries since then, so I think I've made up for my $7.95.

To dissuade anyone out there from embarking on a life of crime, I should point out that I just looked for the book on eBay, and it goes for as low as $6.99 (not including shipping) for a Buy It Now auction and starts at 99 cents for a regular auction.

Remember, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one). Most of the time, anyhow.