Thursday, October 12, 2023

'Doing Him a Favor By Taking His Money'

Of all things, I have an anecdote – from a friend in Washington, D.C. He was visiting Second Story Books in that city earlier this week. The volumes in the outdoor stalls are priced at $4 each. My friend collects Lionel Trilling and he found a copy of Of This Time, Of That Place and Other Stories in hardcover, published posthumously in 1979. At the counter he realized he had left his wallet at home and asked the clerk if she could hold the book overnight for him until he returned with his wallet. She said no: against store policy. 

Meanwhile,” my friend writes, “the guy next in line behind me at the counter was waiting to purchase an early edition of a volume of Eliot’s poetry for $60 or $80, I forget which. Having overheard my conversation with the woman, he offered out of the blue to buy the Trilling book for me. At the time of the offer, he wasn’t aware that I had found the book on an outdoor stall and that it cost only $4.”


My friend thanked him for his generosity but, as I would have done, declined. The guy insisted. Also as I would have done, my friend finally said fine, but asked for his address so he could mail him a check.


“He made me feel as if I’d be doing him a favor by taking his money. So I finally gave in.  Now I consider myself to be a reasonably generous fellow, but I knew that if our positions had been reversed it wouldn't have occurred to me to buy the book for him. I left the store happy to have the Trilling volume but feeling a bit worse about myself.”


I would love to draw a grand conclusion about the thoughtfulness and generosity of – who? Readers? Washingtonians? Fans of T.S. Eliot? Maybe just one nice guy.

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