The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

IGNORING BOOKS AND STUFF: People like donating books to libraries, as I think I’ve mentioned somewhere here before; tossing a book into the garbage seems almost an act of sacrilege to them somehow; the Bible is a book, the Good Book, after all, and you wouldn’t think of tossing it into the trash next to that can of tuna you fed to the cat last night, and so for the same reason you wouldn’t think of tossing out those old Mickey Spillanes you’ve stored in the garage since Eisenhower was president. Mickey and the Bible may not be on the same level as books, but they are both books, and I’m sure we can all sympathize with the Bible at some level; you can’t really choose your relatives, after all, and there always one of these socially unacceptable guys in every family. So people donate the books to the library, even if the pages are so moldy you can squeeze penicillin out of the binding and the pages make your nose bleed, which is what happened to me this past weekend. A very nice old gentleman, a retired dentist, in fact, although one shouldn't hold that against him, recently donated a collection of hardcover P. G. Wodehouses to the library, and I took the opportunity to skim through The Code of the Woosters looking for the part where our hero Bertie Wooster tells Roderick Spode, the somewhat larger than life industrialist, if the life you measuring by is Shaquille O’Neal on the horizontal as well as on the perpendicular plane, and Leader of the Black Shorts (no, that is not a typo the spellchecker missed), a political party of often inchoate but generally right wing beliefs where to get off since he [Bertie] knows all about Eulalie. I will not ruin the surprise for those of you who have not read Wodehouse, but I can say that there are few things in English literature as satisfying as a good comeuppance expertly done, and Wodehouse is an expert.

This particular example of Wodehouse's expertise, however, came on pages turned dark brown by their acid content and covered with dust, mold, and roach or fly droppings, so much so that I had to hold the book whilst wearing gloves. I have never undertaken a scientific study of the no doubt numerous varieties of insect ordure so I cannot be certain of the biological provenance of the bug scat pitting the pages; and as I was perusing the part where Bertie runs headlong into his Aunt Dahlia with the enraged Mr. Spode in full pursuit wearing a knotted sheet and a painting of a man in a three-cornered hat and knee breeches talking with a woman chirruping with a bird that may or may not be an immediate relation, a bright spot of red suddenly appeared in the middle of the dark brown page, followed swiftly by two more. Feeling a sudden looseness in my nose, I immediately concluded that I was bleeding and immediately tested my hypothesis by blowing my nose into some tissues. Having proved to my satisfaction that the scientific method will work in almost any circumstance it might find itself, unlike some people I could mention if I felt uncharitable this morning, I then hurled the book across the room, where it struck the wall and disappeared in a cloud of acidic dust, which burned a two foot hole in the wall and exposed the ladies' room plumbing to rude and salacious comment. I held my head back to prevent the sanguinary nasal leakage from becoming a bloody flood, it being a scientific truth, first proposed by Johannes Kepler in 1612 and later proven conclusively in 1687 by Sir Isaac Newton in the first edition of the Principia Mathematica, that blood and spaghetti sauce have an intense magnetic attraction to clean white shirts of any religion. I cannot, of course, bleed all over all the books we want to get rid of here; if I tried there’d scarcely be enough blood left to get me through lunch on a regular basis. This is a good way to lose a lot of water weight, though, but on the whole I don’t believe I can recommend this particular diet to the serious weight watcher; the diet has a tendency to leave you light-headed and the money you save on food you will only spend on laundry.

So your modern librarian must be willing to throw out a great many books, even without bleeding on them, or they must be willing to simply ignore the ever-growing pile of donations. I am more or less in this second camp. There’s a bag of donated books sitting by the end of my desk, a bag of books that someone donated maybe a year and a half ago, and with any degree of luck I will continue to ignore it for another year and a half. They are oversized history books, for the most part, illustrated histories of World War II, yet another example of the all Hitler all the time mentality that dominates popular historical discourse in this country. There are two art books in the bag as well, one about Caravaggio and the other about Frida Kahlo, both of them missing several color plates, which makes me wonder why the donor even bothered to fob these off on us in the first place.

Now some librarians dislike piles of donated books; they don’t bother me at all. I am an excellent ignorer of donated books and much else besides; I think it’s in my nature to ignore things. I managed to get through my teenage years without once smoking a joint (stop laughing, you, yes, I mean you, smart guy!) or mouthing off to my parents or going through the usual adolescent Sturm und Drang my peers endured about almost everything you can think of; it was the 70’s, after all, so we all had an excuse, but somehow or other I came through it all with nary a psychic scratch, and I did it by simply not paying any attention to what was going on around me. I didn’t even concentrate on not noticing, since concentrating on not noticing something means you’re noticing it, which is a mistake all too many people made in those days. At the time my parents noticed that I never did my homework, and that my marks suffered greatly as a consequence, but I paid the matter no never mind at all. Compulsory education laws compels one’s attendance in a school between the ages of six and sixteen or seventeen, depending on where in the country you are, and as a law-abiding citizen I obeyed the law and went, but the notion of doing assigned schoolwork on my own time always struck me as way too ridiculous for words and so I never did it; if teachers want me to use my free time for schoolwork then they can pay me overtime for it, and time and a half on the weekends. Homework should be a feature of college life, where you’re in class voluntarily and for what your parents are paying to keep you in a good school you’d better come across with homework and good grades in between the bouts of political correctness and bobbing for apples in kegs of beer with topless coeds.

Ignoring things has helped me become the person I am today. If I treat one and all with some small degree of equanimity, except for encyclopedia and life insurance salesmen, it is because I know that this too shall pass if only I wait long enough. Once upon a time all the dry land in the world formed a single supercontinent called Panagaea or something to that effect, and this continent looked like it was going to last longer than a television soap opera, and it did, but not in the same place. The continents drifted apart with time, and no one thought to get them into therapy or who would take care of the kids after the breakup or any of the little things that signal that the relationship is over. No, they ignored the problem, which is usually but not always the best strategy, and now we have seven continents that won’t talk to each other without their lawyers present and frequent flyer miles for those who go from continent to continent and adult diapers for those incontinents that simply can’t wait to get home.

And so it will be for those donated books. If I wait long enough they will disappear; either the mold will consume them down to the last atom, and then, still hungry, they will start chewing on the carpet, or our happy little burg will divide right down the middle of Main Street and split away from the rest of North America like a stoned amoeba, leaving the books high and dry while the rest of us float down the river like Huck and Jim to a new and interesting life in the great metropolis to the south, or this egregious mold pit will collapse on top of these offending tomes during a massive earthquake, leaving me footloose and fancy-free as well as unemployed, and I will never have to think of those books again. It’s something to look forward to, it really is.


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