Everyone has rules they live by and one of my primary ones is, if you really want something and it's either unique or in short supply, buy it. Don't wait, don't worry about the price, and don't even tell yourself you'll come back later. Just buy it.
The reason for this rule is if you don't get it and later decide to but can't find one, you'll be doing some serious kicking yourself in the keester for a good while.
I learned this lesson the way I learn all my lessons - the hard way.
I was in India and saw a soapstone carving of a cobra that was breathtakingly beautiful. I can't remember the price, but it was a pittance by our standards.
Unfortunately, by then, I'd been in India a couple of months and I was thinking in terms of rupees, not dollars. And in rupees, it was expensive. So I decided to heck with it, I'd find one later on in my travels. Of course, I didn't.
Ironically, years later I found a similar one in a shop in England, but passed it up for two reasons. One, it cost about 40 times as much as the one in India, and two it would've been an eternal reminder of my stupidity.
I'd like to say I never again passed up a rare thing I wanted, but it's not true. In fact, I just repeated that absurdity last week.
On Saturday there was a postcard and book sale at the railroad station. I like postcards, and I love books, so I was definitely going. But when I got to the sale a bunch of factors conspired to make me not in my right mind. First, chores had held me up, so I got to the sale at its very end. Second, afterward I had to do more chores, and they occupied my mind, not the sale. And third, the day was hotter than the hubs of hell.
I went into the station drenched in sweat and completely distracted, making everything swim before my eyes. I looked at some of the postcards, but couldn't focus on any of them. Then I went over to the bookstall and had a look-see. Again, I skimmed the wares, and picked up only one book to look at.
It was a small, thick volume entitled "The Observer's Book of Automobiles." I'd never seen one before, nor had I ever even heard of it, so just out of curiosity I flipped through it. It was a funky little compendium published in England showing every car made in the world that year (1955), with pictures and good technical descriptions of each one.
Something about the book intrigued me, but given my state of mind I didn't pay attention to my Little Inner Voice, which kept saying, "Buy it." Instead, I sweated and spaced out a bit more. Then I looked at the price and saw it was $30.
"Thirty bucks?" I said to myself. "That's too much to throw away on a whim."
"Yo, shmendrick," said my LIV, "Just quit thinking and buy it. You'll be sorry if you don't."
Ultimately, I ignored my Little Inner Voice, put the book back, and left.
When I got home, I realized, I did want the book - both my rule and LIV were right and I was wrong. I tore back down to the station, but the sale was over and all the vendors were gone.
I went to the ticket counter and asked the clerk if she knew any of the vendors. She didn't.
I gave myself a couple of swift mental keester-kicks and then went to Plan B (which was pretty pretentious, since I'd had no Plan A).
Plan B? I called Phil Gallos.
Why Phil? I knew he had some connection with the Adirondack railroad, though I'd no idea what it was. Maybe he was on a committee of some sort or had gone to railroad meetings, or maybe he'd once freed a fair damsel who'd been tied to the tracks. Surely, I hoped, he knew something about the railroad peeps.
He did. While he knew nothing about the sale or the sellers, he did know who to call - Chris Brescia.
Of course, Chris Brescia!
If there's anything Chris doesn't know about our railroad, it might be the titles of the naturist mags kept under the magazine stand back in The Good Old Days. Then again, he just might know them.
I called Chris and he knew exactly who the bookseller was - Ted Comstock. And as The Fates would have it, Ted not only lives in town but is in the phone book as well.
When I got a hold of Ted, he told me he was going to another sale, but he'd put the book aside and I could pick it up when he got back, which I did. But it was no simple mercantile transaction.
... and found
First, since I know nothing about the used book market or the people involved, I asked questions galore about both, which Ted gladly answered and which I found fascinating. In addition to selling old and rare books and ephemera, Ted appraises art, he brokers guideboats and is one of the most knowledgeable people I've met about Things and People Adirondack.
We chatted a bunch while I kept looking at all the books. Finally, I did what I'd come there for and checked out the car book. It was perfect: There were all the cars as I'd remembered them - with curves, chrome and class, before cars began to turn into the indistinguishable (and undistinguished) plastic boxes we're stuck with today.
I gave Ted two twenties, and he went to get change. I looked around some more, and suddenly spotted a book called "Adirondack Mountain Adventure" by Arthur L. Bensen. I checked it out. It was the story of Frontier Town - Arthur Bensen was its creator and owner.
If you ever went to Frontier Town, you'd remember it as one of the most wonderful adventures any kid ever had. If you never went there, it'd be futile to explain its greatness, though I'll try.
It was a theme park in North Hudson, but not a glitzy, slick or shlocky one. Bensen opened it in 1952 and while starting small, kept adding all sorts of attractions, till at its peak it had 300 full-time employees plus every kind of cowboy adventure anyone could imagine. There were gunfights at high noon on the main street and rides in a 100-year-old stagecoach (which just happened to get held up by outlaws, mid-ride). There was a rodeo, a steam locomotive, even a jail whose prisoner was punished in a dunking chair. There were shops of all sorts, from a candle maker to a blacksmith, and of course an old-time general store where we tenderfeet could stock up on cap pistols, cowboy hats, rock candy and other Western necessities.
The more I looked through the book, the more details I recalled of what had been one of the happiest times of my life. I was so lost in the book and so awash in nostalgia, I completely forgot about Ted till he spoke.
"Here's your change," he said.
"Keep it," I said.
A look of confusion crossed his face.
I held up the Frontier Town book.
"I'm getting this one as well," I said, which I did.
And I did it without waiting to hear even the tiniest peep from my Little Inner Voice.