The drunk guy showed up a little past three in the afternoon, when business at the bookstore starts to slow down. I know he was drunk because he told me, right off the bat: “I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m pretty wasted right now.” I shrugged. It was a blazing hot day, part of the crushingly humid heat wave that made summer 2010 such a trial. Nothing was moving outside the store. On a day like that, drinking yourself into a stupor wasn’t the worst thing you could do.
For a guy who was blinking, owl-eyed drunk, he was pretty articulate. “I just finished an engineering exam and I wanna read something different,” he said. “I don’t wanna beach book. It has to be something demanding.”
“Nonfiction?” I asked.
“Nonfiction,” he said. “I’m reading a lot of philosophy right now.”
Engineering and philosophy? “Have you read Jacob Bronowski?” I asked him.
“No. Don’t know him.”
We headed to the cool of the back room. I plucked The Ascent of Man off the philosophy shelf.
“He was a trained scientist but his first books were about poetry and William Blake,” I said. “He was all about how the spirit of science and asking questions was the best defense against dogma and evil.”
“That sounds interesting,” he said. I handed him the book.
We went back to the front. I rang up the sale, wrapped the book up, and handed it to him.
“Keep it here, okay?” he asked. “I going to Charlie Brown’s for some more drinks. I don’t want the book to get messed up.”
“No problem,” I said. I stuck the book on a shelf behind the counter and watched him head out the door. He didn’t stumble or trip. Some people are like that when they’re really drunk.
That was well over a month ago and the drunk guy has yet to return. The Ascent of Man remains in its spot. I wonder if the drunk guy is sober now. Does he even remember buying the book?