Thursday, October 10, 2002

In San Francisco this evening, Sarah and myself stumbled across a box of treasure at the crossroads of Valencia and 20th streets - whereupon sits a small out post of literary heaven called Dog Eared Books. The treasure came in the form of a box of interesting free books. We walked away with the following used novels under our arms (three by men named John, two more by men named Charles and Carl respectively!):

Native Tongue by Carl Hiaasen

The Cider House Rules by John Irving

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The Ebony Tower by John Fowles

The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

and Rumour Has it by Charles Dickinson

All these plus three small press chapbook/zine publications.

One of these latter, a slender little volume called Anatomies by Dan Featherston, contained a rare find of it's own in the form of a personal note, seemingly written by the author and signed Dan. The message, black ink penned in a legible hand (reminds me of my own in the way it forms letters with sharp lines and billowing curves) on purple construction paper, reads in part:

Hi Brian,

Hope this reaches you - recent work, Anatomies.

A book that we (Sarah and me) purchased at a used book store in St. Augustine a couple of years ago contained a handwritten note on the inner sleeve. This book, Great Theatrical Disasters, is a riotous collection of. . . well. . . great theatrical disasters. The message was signed in a tidy cursive (which, despite the name of it's author, looks nothing like my abominable cursive scrawl):

Merry Christmas 1983

and was apparently a dedication to an actor:

May you have enough "disasters" to keep you laughing, but few enough to keep you employed.

Whenever I come across something like this in a used book it sets my mind to wondering. Just how did this book, gifted to somebody, end up in my possession?

Multiple possibilities appear equally likely. The Featherston book, mailed judging by that opening line, never reached the intended recipient but was stolen from the mail. The recipient of the gifted book died some time after receiving it and the tome found it's way to a used book store. The recipient moved and sold the book in an effort to make space and a little extra cash. A friend borrowed the book from the recipient, moved, and ultimately gave it to a girl he dated four times whose brother works at the book shop where I found it. Or, perhaps in the case of the theatrical Christmas gift, the book was lost in holiday wrappings after opening, found by a garbage man who is barely literate and eventually sold - after riding around in the cab of his truck for five months.

Maybe all the scenarios aren't so likely, after all.

But then, consider yourself - a mass of flesh and blood no more solid than the spaces between the atoms which form that mass of flesh and blood that calls itself "I". A brain moving around on legs and lungs thinking about itself. Not a very likely scenario either, now that I think of it.

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