Monday, October 10, 2011

Stealing the Books of Blood

As a teen I read a lot of horror fiction.  A good part of my library
My copy of this book looks the same ... except
without the "By the author of ..."
was the works of Stephen King.  I read everything I could get my hands on, including interviews.  One name that kept popping up whenever King was asked about forthcoming writers worth reading was Clive Barker.  He was the future of horror.  I knew I had to keep an eye out for this Barker character.

It was almost the summer of 1986.  I was 15.  I had a job at a campground resort.  I sold fun.  We had a small campground store that had a paperback rack.  It was mostly Danielle Steel garbage and Mary Higgins Clark.  (I've tried reading one of Clark's books.  Garbage of the worst sort.)  Every once in a while you'd find a V.C. Andrews book, which drove all the intellectual teen girls wild.  But then, out of the blue, was one copy of the first volume in Clive Barker's Books of Blood.  Sweet mother of horror fiction.  There it was.  Taunting me.  A date stamp was at the top of the book.  May 26 1986.  The cheesy cover alluded to greater things inside.

I opened the book.  "The Midnight Meat Train."  "Pig Blood Blues."  These were story titles I could get behind.  "Sex, Death and Starshine" sounded like crap, but that didn't matter.  Here was the book I had wanted for far too long.  One problem.  It was $2.95.  A meager sum.  (Yes, paperbacks used to be under three bucks.)  I wasn't getting paid for a few days, however, and I was broke.  We had one copy.  Cue the dramatic music.

I figured I would be safe if I left it on the rack.  Books rarely sold, and when they did they were usually to those intellectual teen girls oh-so-sexy in their shorts as they lounged around the pool reading and inspiring teen erections.  (Really, what didn't inspire those?)  Or they sold to mothers who needed a break from the kids, and that break could be found in the steamy hetero world of Steel.

I couldn't risk it, though.  If some kid like me came in with his family, he would see it and snap it right up.  I could hide it behind another book ... one unlikely to sell quickly.  That had worked well for me in the past at my job and at various stores.  It wasn't foolproof, though.  All it took was someone pawning through the titles and nabbing it or seeing it was out of place and correcting that.  It could also be discovered by someone who, like me, was hip to the hiding trick.

That left me with one option.  Theft. 

I've done my share of shoplifting in my time.  These days I think the only thing really worth stealing is art.  I find it to be the ultimate compliment.  In my teen years, though, anything was fair game.  I did think about whether or not anything I took was worth the risk, however.  This Barker book caused me some great mental pains.

Stealing a book was almost unforgivable.  I would be denying someone else the right to read it.  I'd be doing the same thing if I bought it, but by stealing it I would be altering the social agreement that comes with capitalism.  If you have the means, you pay for it.  Otherwise you do without.  It wasn't food, and I wasn't starving.  It was a book, a book I could go to any local bookstore and find once I got my pay check.  I had wanted this for so long, though, that common sense and decency was taking a backseat to pure, unadulterated greed.  I wanted it.  I wanted it now.  And I didn't give a crap that I didn't have the cash.

"Steal me," the mask on the cover whispered in my mind.  "Take me home.  Caress me.  Smell my pages."

So I took it.  I read it.  I enjoyed it.  I have it to this day.  Admirable?  No.  Understandable?  Of course.  It was a moment of weakness mixed with fear.  It's the same feelings that put millions of people in debt with credit card companies. 

At least I bought the other volumes. 

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