Sunday, January 08, 2012

So I Own a Collector's Item

In the early 80s I was a big fan of Fran Lebowitz, the author of Metropolitan Life and Social Studies. I think my sister Julie introduced me to her books. "Spectacularly funny. Astringent, quietly misanthropic, and yet wise...Lebowitz writes with a spare and lucid pen." (That's part of a review on the back of Metropolitan Life. Whenever I hear the word "astringent," I think of Fran Lebowitz.)

I probably read Metropolitan Life 20 times and used to have the first paragraph of "My Day: An Introduction of Sorts" memorized: "12:35 p.m.--The phone rings. I am not amused. This is not my favorite way to wake up. My favorite way to wake up is to have a certain French movie star whisper to me softly at two-thirty in the afternoon that if I want to get to Sweden in time to pick up my Nobel Prize for Literature I had better ring for breakfast. This occurs rather less often than one might wish."

Lots of Fran Lebowitz lines are stuck in my head:

"I look around my apartment (a feat readily accomplished by simply glancing up)..."

"I get up feeling curiously unrefreshed.."

"To me the outdoors is what you must pass through in order to get from your apartment into a taxicab."

"Breakfast cereals that come in the same colors as polyester leisure suits make oversleeping a virtue."

"Always a godmother...never a god."

"Adolescence is the last stage in your life when you will be happy to hear that the phone is for you."

"Generally speaking, it is inhumane to detain a fleeting insight."

You get the idea.

In 1984 I was living in Portland, working as a word processor for consulting engineers. I think I made $1500 a month, which for back then wasn't too bad, considering rent was $235 and I probably spent 30 bucks a week on food. I splurged on all kinds of things that year -- flew to Houston to visit Julie, bought gobs of Christmas presents for relatives. I also bought season tickets to a lecture series featuring various eggheads and writers, most of whom I hadn't heard of, but one of whom was Fran Lebowitz! The ticket price included a post-lecture reception at the Portland Art Museum where you could have a fancy refreshment and shake hands with the speaker. I was atwitter. So I heard her speak, she was very funny, and I ate some scrumptious little raspberry cheesecakes afterwards. And I did meet Fran Lebowitz, but don't remember shaking her hand. She was short and was wearing a white shirt with french cuffs. I'd brought my paperback copy of Metropolitan Life and hardback copy of Social Studies for her to sign. She was nice enough to personalize them and draw a little frowny face smoking a cigarette in each book.

So that was the end of that. A year later I went back to school and was suddenly much more fiduciarily challenged. At one point I sold about a third of my books to Powell's Bookstore (I probably got about $75). Social Studies was in that group, but I hung on to Metropolitan Life as a sentimental token of Lebowitz worship. I think about Fran Lebowitz about once a decade now (she doesn't do much; she's as famous for not writing as for writing).

So here it is 30 years after I bought her books, and almost 30 years since I sold one of them for probably a buck. Last night, I wondered if there was anything in our house that could be sold on ebay for any amount of money that might be worth the trouble of putting it out there. (Our neighbor has a full-time job selling stuff on ebay. She said she makes more money doing this than she did as a nurse. Not that I'm looking for a new job. I just had a thought.) So I started looking through my old record collection. Nine Joni Mitchell albums and a bunch of other stuff from the 70s and early 80s. Tons of these albums were already plastered all over ebay, going for a few bucks each. Nah. What else. I looked through some old sheet music. How about an old Jule Styne Songbook (Special Collector's Edition!). There were a couple on Amazon already for about 40 bucks. Maybe.

I started looking through my books, then started plugging in random titles seeing how much they were going for. Five bucks, 10 bucks. I typed in Metropolitan Life and started scrolling down and saw one offered at $250.00. Wow. Why so much? I started looking around on other sites. Another place, Allington Antiquarian Books, was selling a first edition signed copy for $435. It said "Copies of the first edition (i.e. the first printing) are rather uncommon, signed copies of any printing are more uncommon still, and signed copies of the first edition, first printing, are hen's teeth." So my humble paperback copy of Metropolitan Life might be worth something, being signed and all.

Then I went to another site,, and looked around. Both books were for sale for various prices. Some were priced pretty steep. I saw a copy of Social Studies for $140. As I scrolled by that one, I saw the word "Denise" out of the corner of my eye and went back and looked closer. Click to enlarge and check it out:

That's the book I sold to Powell's in 1985! Now it's at a rare book store in Long Beach, California. I want my book back!

So I bought it. For $140.00 plus shipping and handling. It should be here in a week or so. Then I'll own TWO collector's items. I figured maybe my signed set of two might be worth more together than separately.

Today Joe said, "So let me get this straight. You were trying to figure out how to make money by selling stuff on ebay and you ended up spending $140?"

(Am I crazy?) Should I keep them or sell them?