How the Donation That Wasn’t Started the Great Bookcase Chase

If we could retain Perry Mason to investigate our story, he’d call it the Case of the Missing Bookcases.

It involves the usual number of suspicious characters: my wife, my French daughter-in-law, my grandson Chris, my granddaughter Adriana, my granddaughter’s girlfriend and the Salvation Army.

My son Doug and my daughter-in-law, Jacqueline, have recently remodeled, and they had two four-shelf bookcases left over. They were bookcases that we had given them when we remodeled.

My wife is obsessed with bookcases. I have 3,000 books and she has 1,000 cookbooks, which are in mint condition since they have rarely been consulted.


She has never recovered from the loss of two war-surplus bookcases that she had worked hard to rehabilitate. They were of sturdy oak and had glass doors and were painted Army green. She sanded and stained and varnished them until they were restored to their original elegance. However, they were damaged in one of our earthquakes years ago and, without asking her, I gave them to a young man who said he could repair them. She has never forgiven me.

So when she asked Jacqueline if we could have the two bookcases we had given them, I did not protest. Jacqueline said she had called the Salvation Army to pick up several things, but she would withhold the bookcases when the pick-up truck came.

Then came the phone call from Jacqueline. She was distraught. The Salvation Army had come that morning after she had gone to work. Her son, home alone, did not know that she meant to keep the two bookcases and to not let the Salvation Army take them.

She was furious with him. He was furious with her for not telling him. When my granddaughter came home, she was furious because she had promised the bookcases to a friend.


Jacqueline called my wife to tell her the bad news. By now my wife was adamant. She said she would go to the Salvation Army, find the bookcases and buy them back.

The Salvation Army’s Pasadena depot is on Del Mar. My wife and I drove there and went inside to look for the bookcases. The depot was full of clean, good-looking furniture and household goods of all kinds. I sank into an easy chair while my wife told her story to a clerk. Then I spotted a sign that said: “PLEASE Do Not Sit on Furniture.” Feeling guilty, I eased myself out of the chair and stood waiting.

The clerk told my wife that the truck had not yet returned, and when it did, the articles it had picked up would be placed in an adjoining warehouse and distributed to one of the Army’s several retail depots.

“Let’s forget it,” I told my wife.


“No,” she said. “I’m coming back in the morning.”

By then I thought it was hopeless. The bookcases were beyond recall. Early the next morning, she went back to the depot. She looked through a nondescript inventory of castoffs, but our bookcases were not among them. Finally she saw a man wheeling in a load on a truck. There were our two bookcases. She told the man our story. She told him she wanted to buy them back--but how?

He said we would have to wait until they were delivered to the retail depot and priced. Later that morning my wife went back. She found the bookcases. They were priced at $35 each. The clerk told her this situation often happened. It was the Salvation Army’s policy not to charge for returning items when donors changed their minds. But we could make a donation if we liked. My wife made a donation of $50 and we got the bookcases back.

Meanwhile, my wife and I are remodeling again. She has no shower curtain in her bathroom and our kitchen sink is lying on the patio. She showers in the other bathroom, of course, but we are getting tired of washing dishes in it.


There are piles of books all over the house. Being a columnist for a newspaper of large circulation, I receive numerous promotional copies of books from their publishers.

Mostly they are books I will never read--"how-to” books about how to have a better marriage and how to succeed in business without trying. My most recent batch includes “Finally Getting It Right: From Addictive Love to the Real Thing”; “Peer Marriage: How Love Between Equals Really Works”; “The Gift of Fatherhood,” and “To the Golden Cities: Pursuing the American Jewish Dream in Miami and L.A.”

Meanwhile, I think I’ll go back to the depot and buy the easy chair I was sitting in when that sign shamed me out of it. It was very comfortable, and if we ever get our house back together, I’ll put it in my bedroom to watch television from, or maybe I’ll read “Finally Getting It Right” in it.