Then what happened?

“Looks like you found what you were looking for.”

He gave a sheepish grin. “Could be,” he said, dropping his books on the front counter.

It was Friday evening and not very busy. We stay open later on Friday nights, ‘til 8:30 or 9. On this particular Friday, there were only 2 or 3 customers, beside us, in the shop.

“Can I ask a favor of you?” He had leaned over the counter and dropped his voice. No one was going to overhear us. Still, he wanted to be sure that this conversation stayed between us.

“Well, of course.”

I leaned over the counter too. It gave the impression that we were being conspiratorial; really I was just trying to hear him better.

“I just moved to town about a month ago, and I don’t really know anyone in York.”

I nodded, knowingly.

“There’s a girl in here that I find very attractive. When she comes up to the counter with her books, would you give her a note from me?”

I straightened up and looked at him over the top of my glasses, in silence, for a second. He seemed to be mid-20s; clean cut. More importantly, he had brought Arthur Conan Doyle up to the counter…a sure mark of someone with potential.

“Um, I’m not quite sure who you mean.”

“She’s the one with the long, dark hair and the white blouse.”

I knew who he meant. This guy had good taste.

“Well, you can leave her a note yourself, sir. This stack of books here is her pile.”

I handed him a note pad and a pen and stepped away, finding something to keep myself busy. When he was done, he read the note over and nodded to himself and slipped it into the stack. He let out a long, slow breath and settled up. I wished him luck as he was walking out the door. He didn’t look back.

I confess that I snuck a quick look. It suggested that if she was comfortable, she should text him. He left a name and a number.

About 10 or 15 minutes later, she came up to the counter and I noticed that there was no ring on her finger. So I told her that she had an admirer and he had left a note for her.

She smiled. “Really?”

“Yes. Really.”

She read the note and, still smiling, folded it and put it in her purse. I noticed that her eyebrows gave a little bounce. She then paid me for her books and walked out into the night.

I really wonder what happened next.

Give Me A Book That Will Change My Life

“Give me a book,” he said, “that will change my life.”

He was a student at one of the local colleges, in his junior year (that’s a guess). I’m not sure of his major, although he did tend to gravitate to the psychology and philosophy shelves. He’d been in the shop before. Not really a regular, but I do remember seeing him once or twice.

And today he seemed to be on a bit of a mission.

“I need to get motivated. What I am doing now isn’t working, and I need to find something else that will move me into a different direction.”

“So give me a book that will change my life.”

That’s asking rather a lot from a book. But he was serious, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Maybe I should have handed him a treatise on differing philosophic or theological world-views. Maybe I should have given him something on Einstein or Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Or The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran; that’s a big one. Or just told him to read almost anything by Shakespeare. But I didn’t.

Nor did I ask him a lot of questions; maybe I should have. Instead, a vision of another college junior looking to change directions flashed into my head.

Suddenly it was 1975 again. That was my third year in a little private college, and perhaps the most confusing year of my life. Many of the universal truths that I had simply accepted up to that point somehow had dissipated. Unfortunately, nothing had as yet appeared to take their place.

So I was looking for a change of direction at that point, too. It wasn’t a panic thing, but it was certainly a quest.

But not a quest for someone else’s answers. I was looking for my own. I didn’t want anyone to tell me what to think or what to do, and I honestly didn’t want to know what someone else had come up with. This was something I really wanted to figure it out myself.

And it all revolved around a simple, yet somehow eloquent, question: “Huh?” That pretty much fit every situation where I found myself.

So, I will admit: I was projecting my own quest upon this earnest young man. For all I know, he just wanted instructions for a better way to do his laundry. That’s not what he got.

Instead, we went to the Science Fiction section and I handed him a book that I wish someone had handed to me.
reality
Good science fiction starts with an absurd premise (obviously, we cannot travel between the stars). But if you accept that premise, everything that happens afterward flows naturally (if we could travel between the stars…what would we find? Who would we find?).

What is important about science fiction is not the story. Rather, what is important is the very act of accepting the absurd, for this act of acceptance requires a profound suspense of disbelief.

More than that, it requires non-linear thinking. Thoughts and ideas and concepts racing between stars or bouncing off, and perhaps breaking, the boundaries of space and time. New concepts of what is, and is not, and what could be, real. New constructs; new ways of evaluating our own space and time.

And it is precisely non-linear thinking that my young customer was seeking (although he may not have realized it). I wasn’t about to give him a new direction; he probably would have rejected, wisely, anything along those lines that I had suggested. Instead, I was going to give him a new way of finding his own direction.

I handed him Time Enough For Love by Robert A. Heinlein.

Heinlein was probably the best of those who have written in this genre, and this was (in my opinion) his best work. (I won’t tell you the plot. But I will say that if you don’t know it, I envy you for what you have yet to discover.)

If all goes well, he may have just spent the best $3.50 of his life.

On the other hand, he no longer has the change he needs to do his laundry. Either way, his life just changed.

That’s my job.