continued The Bookman's operating budget, about $100,000 per year, comes mostly from a handful of philanthropists whose praises Herman will sing for hours if you let him. The rest of it comes from what Herman calls "maximiz[ing] dollar flow. The way we do that is when I buy huge collections, I let dealers go through the books because the dealers have the expertise."
While he describes this process of selling more valuable books to dealers who resell them at higher prices in their bookshops, a tall blonde woman about 45 walks into the warehouse. Herman greets her and asks how he can help her. "I met you at the swap meet," she says. "You said you might be able to sell me some hardcovers." The woman, it turns out, is a swap-meeter who sells modern hardcover novels at swap-meets around town. Herman has plenty he'd like to sell her. "I usually ask for five dollars a box," he tells her.
"The rains have been killing me lately," she replies, "and I'm really short on cash. Can you do $4 a box?"
Herman turns on the old-world charm. "You seem like a nice lady, and pretty too. I can live with $4."
With that, he helps her load a dozen boxes onto the warehouse lift. When she's gone, he hustles down two flights of concrete stairs to the parking lot behind the building, where a silver van with the license plate BOOKMN 1 is parked. "I loaded a few boxes in here this morning," he says. "I've got to make a drop and a pickup."
The first stop is the Neil Good homeless drop-in center in East Village. On the way, Herman explains the deal he just struck with the swap-meet blonde. "Modern hardback novels -- the Danielle Steel and John Grisham books you bought for $25 or $30 at Barnes & Noble a couple of years ago -- I can't give them to the prisons or to the schools. So I box them up and people like that lady come and buy them by the box from me. Then they sell them for a buck apiece at the swap meet."
"I've got another guy who comes into the warehouse," he adds, "we call him the colored-book man. He comes and picks out books by the color to use for TV and movie sets and for interior designers to use in their rooms."
At the Neil Good center, Herman parks the car with windows down and doors unlocked, despite the fact that he had a van stolen once. "I always do that," he explains. "It shows respect for these people. You've got to give respect to get it."
Inside the center, Herman points to a four-by-four-foot bookshelf bearing a dozen paperbacks on its three shelves. "Need to restock," Herman says. None of the 30 homeless people sitting around the convenience-store-sized room are reading; most of them are giving their full attention to a 50-inch television along one wall. Herman, moving at a brisk pace, unloads half a dozen boxes from the back of the van, then drives over to the Alpha Project homeless shelter -- which is housed in a circus-type tent, 150 feet long, erected on a closed street just east of Petco Park -- to check the book-giveaway shelf inside the tent. Twenty or so books stand on the top shelf. After chatting with the staff a while, Herman steers the Bookman van to nearby City College, where he pulls down a driveway between the college and San Diego High School. Just inside a gate on the City College campus, a double set of wooden shelves 20 feet long stands empty. "Two days ago these shelves were completely full of books," he says. "I drop off a lot of books here for the students to pick up for free."
The Bookman's last stop is at the Delaney Book Service warehouse in the Morena area. There, after a minute's flirtation with the female employees, he picks up a dozen boxes of children's books.
He's back at the warehouse by 11:00 a.m., where his three volunteer crew members, Lenny Pearlman, Don Schulz, and Darrel Sims -- nicknamed the Elf, the Kid (because he's the youngest), and the Southern Illinois boy, respectively -- are busy sorting books. "This is my amazing crew," Herman says. "They are all volunteers. They work for the same kudos that I get: the hugs and the handshakes and the respect of people that we serve."