Monday, December 14, 2009

A Spontaneous Evening

Usually, I never go out on weekday evenings. I've got to write, I've got the newsletter, I've got enough to do. But when there is the promise of books, I remember that the evening also exists in later hours, and I make sure there's some cash in my wallet.

Mom had an old walker to give to Goodwill. She started using it a few years ago and it's given her back problems all this time. Last Saturday, we stopped at Saugus Drugs, which is nothing like your Walgreens or your Rite Aid. No shiny tile floors, all carpet, and they also sell windchimes and figurines which sit in vertical glass cases. While Meridith and I were playing with recliners that moved up and down by remote, near the pharmacy counter in the back, Mom and Dad looked at the walkers behind us. I didn't listen to their entire conversation with the manager who eventually emerged at their request, since I was seeing how far up the recliner would go before I'd fall off, but the manager went in the back and found a walker Mom wanted. It was slightly defective, something about it not fully extending, but Mom took it, and the manager also gave a discount of about $20-$30.

There are two Goodwill locations in Santa Clarita. We only knew that one, a truck on Soledad Canyon Road, took dropoffs. The other, on Bouquet Canyon Road, a few minutes from our house as it turns out, is a full-on store with racks of clothes, recliners, golf clubs, mattresses, trinkets, coffee mugs, TVs, videotapes, CDs, and, most importantly, books. I woke up close to 3 p.m. today and hadn't planned on going out. I needed to get back to work on the book. But after Mom found out that to-be-discarded items could also be dropped off at that Goodwill store, I shaved the noticeable beginnings of an always-annoying-feeling beard and got dressed. And I had a spontaneous evening.

I thought it would be a little bit of a drive through the valley to the Goodwill store. I'd forgotten that Bouquet Canyon Road is a right from the exit of our development (we're in entrance 2 of Mountainview Estates), then straight on past La Petit Academy and the corner Circle K, keep going through two traffic lights, and finally across from 7-11 in a very cramped shopping center. Then a left turn in, past Rite Aid, a right turn, and there it is, not quite on the edge of the property, because of some sort of medical building next to it, but you get the feeling that the abyss must be nearby.

Just a few feet from the entrance to the Goodwill store, I spotted the books, to the far left in the store, facing shelves of coffee mugs, glass things, figurines too. I carried in Mom's former walker, left it at the counter, as the person at the register said to do, and I walked to the books, first looking at the VHS tapes, marveling at how much time had passed since I owned The Lion King and other Disney movies on videotape. I browsed the CDs as well, finding nothing that I wanted to own, and what might have interested me, such as a CD of Lenny Kravitz's hits (I used to own a copy), looked more scratched than I find reasonable. Then, the books.

I'm very discerning about what I want, but I don't know exactly what I want until I see what's available. As my eyes pass each title, there might be a word in the title or an author's name or something about the cover that trips that command in my brain to reach out and take that book from the shelf. Also the prices: 99 cents for softcover, $1.99 for hardcover.


Fahrenheit 451 ($0.99)
Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks ($0.99)
Love Letters and Two Other Plays: The Golden Age and What I Did Last Summer by A.R. Gurney ($0.99)
Damon Runyon by Jimmy Breslin ($1.99)
Tinsel by William Goldman ($1.99)
Old Songs in a New Cafe (Selected Essays) by Robert James Waller ($1.99)

And, before we left, after a final look at the books:

The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House by Bob Woodward ($1.99)

I don't remember going to Goodwill in Florida. I remember a few thrift stores, with instruments inside glass cases, and racks and racks of clothes nearly taking up the entire space of one store, and even then, I still gravitated to the books in those stores. I didn't notice anything else about those stores beyond my cursory glances, but I noticed a lot about the items in this store, such as the tiny Alaska ceramic cup my Mom bought to put bathroom cups in, in honor of Kitty, our beloved part miniature pinscher/part terrier, who we adopted from Alaska. The cup has a design of the state, blues and greens all around. But looking closer at what else was for sale, I saw a coconut-shaped storage container from a Catamaran Cruises company (I know there are many, but I forgot the name of this one), a coffee mug from the Ramada Express Hotel and Casino in Laughlin, Nevada, a coffee mug from West Virginia, and big candles with wicks far too low to be effective. These things really travel. As I walked those aisles, I wondered where these items had come from, where they had been in the houses they had once sat in. I looked at the house figurines, made in the United Kingdom, and wondered who had once loved these items, if they had spent time looking at it from all sides, staring at the windows and wondering about the kind of people who might live in such an abode. These things contain so many stories, yet mostly, previous owners cannot be found on any part of them. There are some stains, some chips, but it's not always enough to sense the person who owned the thing. The only commonality among all of it is that no one wanted them anymore. Either there was too much to move with from one state to another, or it was a gift someone didn't want, or someone had died and their family members, already deciding what they wanted from what remained of that person's life, brought those items to Goodwill. Looking at all those items, I don't see the people that brought them to Goodwill or even the people who owned them. Only shadows, really, and speculation.

However, I found part of my childhood there: A particular set of stencils with letters, numbers, shapes of airplanes, ships, and some animals. Living in Florida at that time, I never thought about California or any other state in the country, except the one time we all flew to New Jersey in 1994 to visit Dad's grandmother, who was in the hospital. When I saw those stencils this time, I was surprised they existed anywhere else. Here they were, with "Gina" written in crayon on the front of the box, which looked ragged. I wonder when Gina outgrew them.

Dad decided to drive to Newhall before we went to the 99 Cents Only store, and there, amidst the narrow roads and aged buildings, we found the Newhall library, which looked like a Wayne Szalinski-designed building. The parking lot couldn't possibly fit everyone who wanted to go there, though judging by how many people live in Newhall, and thinking of those who are apt to go to the Canyon Country and Valencia libraries, completely ignoring this section of the valley (and there are thousands), the parking lot might very well be adequate. But looking inside from the car, wow. Those shelves looked like you'd have to insert yourself into a stick figure maker before navigating them. I could already smell the must that had to be lingering in there. Not sure now if we're going there on Saturday after we leave the Canyon Country library, though I wouldn't raise a fuss if we didn't. Mom thought the Newhall library we'd see was the one to be built. She thought it had been built already, but that's not going to happen for a long time, and by the time it does, we'll likely be residents of Nevada.

The 99 Cents Only store presented a bounty of Minute Maid fruit punch in an overgrown juice box, small boxes of granola cereal, Lipton Brisk Tea in big bottles, and Best Foods' Honey Mustard (Hellmann's for those of you living east of the Rockies), which might be interesting for a change since I always buy Ralph's-branded honey mustard. Typical stuff shipped from Inter-American Foods in Cincinnati, Ohio. Of the many things I miss about Florida, I sorely miss the Publix supermarket and the items they'd make on their own in Central Florida, such as eggnog, milk, and ice cream, though I'm not sure if they ever made their own mustard. It's possible, but growing up in Florida, I was always keen on mayonnaise for ham and cheese, ketchup for beef bologna. I never noticed if one of the brands of mustard sold there was their own.

Then, In-N-Out. Wonderful, wonderful In-N-Out. I didn't care that it was getting close to 7 p.m., that I still had the newsletter, that many essays in the book still loomed, that I'd forgotten to Tivo Jeopardy. I loved the evening so far, and a 3x3 burger (3 patties, 3 slices of cheese) was the best way to continue my uninhibited happiness. French fries and a strawberry shake, too. Fries for Meridith and Mom as well, and I think Mom just had a cheeseburger, while Meridith had a double-double (2 patties, 2 slices of cheese). Completely satisfying. It's what all the days of one's life were made for.

I'm nearly done with the newsletter, having started late, yet I don't feel like continuing to read that Carole Landis biography. I don't feel like organizing the essays I still have to write. I want to scoop up all the books I bought at Goodwill and figure out which to read first. But it's 2:04 a.m. and reality has set in again. Less than three hours before I extract myself from the online world and my work on this computer and try for a few pages, or 20 or 30, in the latest library book I'm reading, which is The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009, always reliably edited by Dave Eggers. After I'm done writing my share of this book, I'm going to begin signing up for online courses through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in pursuit of a bachelor's degree in professional aeronautics, but I'm also going to make sure I spend a lot less time on here. It's convenient to put my thoughts down here, but sometimes I miss keeping a journal. That should be concurrent with this, and I do bring a composition book with me in the car, but the books I bring, the New Yorker issue I haven't read yet (I'm all the way back on November 9), I don't feel compelled to pick up my pen and write a few thoughts. The last time I regularly used a journal was in early February 2006 when Dad and I went to Sacramento to tour the state capitol as part of a group from a business education organization. On a highway there, I jotted down my observations of a truck carrying an open-air load of carrots and, on the way back, touring part of Hearst Castle, and picking up two pies from the bakery at Casa de Fruta in Hollister, facing stunning dark green hills. Couldn't and wouldn't forget any of that.

I'd like to have many more evenings just like this one. But for now, it's impossible to simply throw off whatever I have to do in favor of pure pleasure. Maybe after this book is done.