Why You Shouldn't Use Books As Safe-Deposit Boxes
I have a bad habit of hiding important documents inside books. I probably got this idiotic idea from, yes, a book, probably some junk mystery novel where the hero finds the final clue tucked between the pages of some forgotton (but somehow symbolic) tome. I think the first time I tried this myself was back in the 7th grade, when I was sick with love for this adorable girl but couldn't quite find the right way to declare my intentions. We were in the library researching for a report and I knew there was this particular book she would have to use. So I wrote this note telling her how she made my heart sing, my soul soar, etc, and craftily tucked it inside the cover.
The note went over like gangbusters. She found it, she read it, and a few moments later she was sharing it with a gaggle of her girlfriends. She was smiling. She was blushing. I have to give myself credit here--I'm not bad at all with words. I may be a big, dumb, pathetic galoot who gets tongue-tied when speaking to members of the fair sex, but put a pen in my hand (or a keyboard on my lap) and my words elicit giggles and sighs. I'm good.
Unfortunately for my seventh-grade self, there was one word I'd forgotten to include on that note--my goddam name
. My beloved knew that SOMEBODY thought she was the ultimate in femininity, but his exact identity remained a secret. And that's the way I kept it, for a day at least. For one thing, I was too embarassed now to have everyone know that such passion burned inside my heart. When I wrote the note I figured she'd read it, keep the contents to herself, and then approach me a bit later to say that she felt the exact same way about me. Eternal bliss would naturally follow. But having EVERYONE know what I wrote put my feet in the freezer.
Of course keeping something like this a secret, especially in the jungle that is the American junior-high school, is impossible. I forget now if I admitted authorship or if that legion of Nancy Drews sussed it out, but by the time we arrived in the library the next day everyone knew who wrote the note. The girl I wrote it to never acknowledged my existence. She didn't talk to me, she didn't look at me, she didn't share the same plane of consciousness as me. There was no "me", as either an objective or subjective reality.
That hurt for about...six years. Odd that after that she and I got to be friends and remain that way today. I was just thinking about her the other day, how I haven't talked to her in a long time. Think I'll send her an email once I finish this.
You might think this little episode might've killed any thought of hiding stuff in books, but you'd be wrong. Let's not forget that the actual hiding of the note had been a HUGE success. She'd been surprised. She'd been delighted. She LOVED it. The only problem was that the note had come from...me. Pardon me while I open a bottle of wine and drink it in one gulp.
I went to college at Penn State, where Pattee Library holds millions and millions of volumes. If I wanted to impress a girl by hiding a note in THERE she might die of old age before finding it, so I abandoned using books as flirtation devices and instead employed them for my own purposes. My freshman year came immediately after Penn State won the national championship, and so my football ticket was an incredibly important piece of paper. Don't know how they do it now, but back then you presented your ticket at the gate, they used a paper-punch to notch out the game you were attending, and you used that same ticket all year.
Anyway, to keep my ticket safe from whatever gangs or crews or syndicates might prowl Happy Valley ripping off tickets, I put mine inside one of the books on my shelf. Clever, yes? But as with my seventh-grade declaration of love, I made one mistake. I put my ticket inside a book while I was deep in my cups. Blitzed. Wasted. And as often happens when you've had a few too many, the memory of past events gets a bit fuzzy.
Flash forward two weeks, and the Nittany Lions are taking on Alabama in a nationally-televised game starting at 8PM. We've been drinking all day. We're ready to scream our heads off. Plus it'd been raining all day and promised to rain all night, which only served to whip us all into an even greater state of rage against all things Crimson.
My gang gathered to make the trek up to Beaver Stadium...and I couldn't find my ticket. It took me a few moments to remember back to that drunken night when I put my ticket in a "safe" place and realize that place was inside one of my books. But which one? I didn't have THAT many on my dorm-room shelf, but we were ready to go, and YOU try flipping through 10,000 pages when you're drunk and impatient. Plus the ticket was just a thin piece of laminated paper, easy to miss if your riffling is out-of-control.
Turns out the ticket was secreted in my dictionary, though I didn't find it until my second pass through it. And the Penn State went out and got killed by Bama. It wasn't a good night.
Out of college and a mature, responsible adult, I stopped sticking important papers inside books. Like a grown-up, I kept my documents in clearly-labeled folders--hell, after I bought my house I went out and got a file cabinet
. But five years later we put the house up for sale and I started throwing out everything I didn't want to move, and that damned file cabinet was high on the list. I found that one of the things I now wanted out of life was to not have so much crap that needed to be kept in a goddam file cabinet.
But there were a few piece of paper I absolutely had to have, and one of them was my birth certificate. I'd been keeping that in the nightstand by my bed, but when I cleaned that out to move it I had to do something with my birth certificate. How to keep it safe for the move? Of course, stick in in a book.
But which book? The most obvious candidates were the ones I had close at hand, and the one I selected was Ace on the River
by Barry Greenstein. It was an ideal choice--it wasn't a book I might throw away or give to the library, it was the perfect size to secure my BC, and the book's glossy pages would protect it like sheets of acetate.
When I found out I was going to Aruba I had to find my birth certificate to make the trip. Now, when I moved, it was a busy time. An emotional time, too. I didn't remember where I put the damned thing. But when I closed my eyes and calmly tried to recall where that blasted piece of paper was, a vision of Barry Greenstein floated up in my mind's eye. Went to the shelf, gave the book a flip, et voila
! Maybe at long last I'm getting the hang of this.
So last night, after I wrote my whiny post about how poker isn't going too good for me (and it got even worse today) I went to my shelf looking for something to read before I nodded off. I rarely go straight to bed; I read a few minutes until my eyes grow heavy. I just wanted something I could dig into for a few minutes and maybe pick up the next few nights as well.
The book I selected was one I haven't looked at for maybe 10 years--Psychotic Reactions and Carburator Dung
by Lester Bangs. I read it for a criticism class in college and probably re-read it at least a dozen times after that. A collection of essays, record and band reviews, fiction...it's impossible to categorize. One of my favorite books.
But one I hadn't read for a long time. Don't know why--maybe I read it so much in my twenties that I burned myself out on it. But when I saw that bright-yellow spine sticking out on the shelf my synapses twitched and I grabbed it. Reading Lester Bangs probably isn't the best way to get your mind ready for rest, but it was pushing 2AM and I was pretty much beat.
Got settled under the covers, flipped past Greil Marcus's introduction...and a sliver of paper fluttered into my lap. It was more than a scrap I might've used as a bookmark, and as I picked it up I saw there was writing on the other side. I flipped it over and saw it was a phone number, written in a feminine hand. And, like Proust nibbling his madeleine, I remembered exactly how I acquired it.
I'd just started working at this big departement store downtown, and until you were there a few months you had to go to HR and get a card so you could use your employee discount. The HR person I talked every Friday was a girl who was pretty and smart and funny...you know, out of my league. And because she was out of my league I felt no pressure being around her, and I'd spend an extra ten minutes or so up there talking to her. Best part of my week.
So a few weeks later a woman I work with tells me there's this girl she knows who "likes" me. We never really leave junior-high, do we? I ask who it is, but she won't tell me. She wants me to guess. I have no idea, so like 2 hours go by with no success and I'm about ready to throw her down the escalator if she doesn't cough up the name. When she does, and tells me it's that girl from HR, I about burst into song. Too good to be true.
So the next day I'm in the cafeteria reading Psychotic Reactions and Carburator Dung
, and she sees me and comes over. She sees the, uh, colorful title of the book and asks what it's about, and when I tell her she says, "It's hard to believe that YOU would be reading something like that". I said something about not judging a book by it's cover.
We finally get to talking about the game of 20 Questions I played the day before. Now, how cool is this? A girl I'm crazy about is crazy enough about me to stoop to the sort of childish games I
usually rely on. So like a sap I tell her I like her too, blah blah blah, and then she hits me with the right hook--"I guess you don't know that I have a boyfriend."
No, didn't know that. She'd been "with" a guy since high school. Been waiting for him to do the right thing and give her a ring. But he hadn't, and recently she'd been thinking it was time to move on. Thinking about it. Not sure. So here I am in this limbo state wondering where we go from here.
So we agree that maybe, at some time in the future, we should possibly give consideration about theoretically going on a date. Well, it wasn't that definite. Obviously she was very confused, and so was I, but whaddya gonna do?
She digs in her purse and tears the back off an envelope and scribbles down her phone number. She asks me to maybe call her over the weekend so we could talk. OK, talking is good. I took her phone number and stuck it in the pages of my book. When she left she was smiling, and so was I. "Love is a battlefield" said the noted philosopher Pat Benatar. I'd call her that weekend and we'd figure a few things out.
I left the book at work. Left her phone number in the book. Could not call her unlisted number that weekend. Was batshit crazy the whole time.
Now I'm not going to say that, had I called her that weekend, she and I would've lived happily ever after. She and I did go out a few times, we went to lunch at least once or twice a week for about a year. When I explained why I didn't call her, she accepted my explaination and wasn't upset.
But. She and her boyfriend DID talk that weekend, and she decided to stick with him. By leaving her phone number inside Bangs's book, I didn't even give myself a chance. And when her phone number fluttered into my lap last night it gave me a king-sized dose of the heebie-jeebies. I didn't fall asleep until like 3:30. Too weird, man. Too weird. It wasn't so much thinking about her, or what might've been. It was just...too weird. If the past is gonna sneak up on you and slap you in the face, it shouldn't happen at 2AM when you're under the covers. I wasn't prepared.
About five years after I changed jobs I ran into that girl again. She was doing some contract work for our bank and was in my building for a few months. It was good to see her, and one day we went to lunch and I told her about my recent engagement (which failed to cut her to the quick) and asked the leading question, "So, when did you get married?" She hadn't. She was with the same guy, still waiting for the right time to get married. They'd set and broken three wedding dates. What might've, but probably wouldn't, have been.
I'm looking at the bookshelf in my living room right now. Scores of books. Old books, new books. Probably nothing between all those covers except the words the authors put there themselves. I think I'll go ahead and believe that and resist the urge to go searching for lost treasure.