Monday, January 14, 2013

A Crate of Wonders

During our first year in Santa Clarita, at the apartment in Valencia, I took the garbage to the dumpster one evening, opened the massive white metal door, and faced yet again the choice of throwing the garbage into the dumpster on the left or the dumpster on the right.

I've long forgotten the choice because I didn't see the dumpsters when I opened the door. I saw a squat chest of drawers to be picked up by those working the garbage truck, whenever that would be. I didn't want the drawers, but I wanted to see if they were empty or if whoever had gotten rid of this chest had left something behind.

I opened each drawer and my jaw dropped and rolled. In two of these drawers were books!

I immediately went on the hunt. Was there anything I wanted to read, any author I had not read yet who might interest me because of the copy on the back?

I distinctly remember two books I chose: An anthology called Closers: Great American Writers on the Art of Selling edited by Mike Tronnes, and Little Green Men by Christopher Buckley. I also chose a few others, but in nine years, those titles have long disappeared from my memory. I think I gave them up when we moved from the apartment to the house in Saugus.

I never read Little Green Men, giving it up alongside those other unnamed books, though I have read Buckley's Boomsday, No Way to Treat a First Lady, and The White House Mess. Little Green Men may come by one day, but not lately and not in the near future.

Out of all the authors I read in Santa Clarita, outside of Charles Bukowski and a few others who are part of my permanent collection, Mike Tronnes has been with me the longest time, when I checked out his other anthology, Literary Las Vegas: The Best Writing about America's Most Fabulous City out of the Valencia branch of the then-County of Los Angeles library system, before the Santa Clarita City Council broke off the three Santa Clarita-based branches from the system to form its own library district. I didn't get all the way through the book then, most likely distracted by other books, but a year before we moved, I bought a copy for myself and read it in preparation for becoming a resident of this indeed fabulous city.

In fact, before I began writing this post, inspired after coming back from walking the dogs, I thought about Closers, and realized that I hadn't read that all the way through either. And I had moved from Valencia to Saugus with the copy I picked out of that chest of drawers. I gave that up, too, when I realized later on in Saugus that I had way too many books in my room, a product I realize now of hating where I was living, of having nothing to do in that cursed valley. So a little while ago, I bought a paperback edition of Closers to finally read all the way through.

The first time I visited Pacific Islands in Henderson, on the way back to Santa Clarita after leaving the Galleria at Sunset mall, I saw that the complex had dumpsters, and I hoped that if I lived there one day, I would eventually find either another chest of drawers with books in them for me to riffle through and see what I want, or at least a box full of books with which to do the same. I wanted that Valencia experience again, that excitement of finding books that belonged to no library, that I didn't have to buy. In some respects, books should be free, and here was the best way, books temporarily left to the elements, for anyone to find who wants them. I know the flipside of it, that it's awful that books were left to the garbage truck, to be crunched, crushed, squashed, spines popped and pages torn. But there was little I could do then. I couldn't rescue all the books, and some of them in those drawers looked like they were beyond saving.

It was the same when I walked Kitty about an hour ago and saw, next to the long, red dumpster that includes a gate that's another entrance to the senior mobile home park side, a crate of books. A crate of old books in two stacks. There were a few ancient law books in there, a crossword puzzle dictionary, and novels that were hard to understand, hard to know what they were. My wish for more literary situations like this had been granted (even though I still hope for the same at Pacific Islands), but it didn't look like there was much for me.

Digging a little deeper into the stacks with one hand while Kitty's leash was wrapped around my other hand, I found a novel called Moviola by Garson Kanin, the late screenwriter extraordinaire. It's a fictionalized account of the start of the movie industry all the way through to the present day, which in this case was the 1970s, and it looks like it's about the sale of MGM through a fictional lens, the main character being B.J. Farber, who's selling his famous studio. Surprisingly, I've never heard of this one, and since it's about movies, it's for me.

Upon finding another novel I wanted to read, called C.B. Greenfield: The Tanglewood Murder, I began to think that I had stumbled upon a crate that was on the senior mobile home park side. I think very few people of my generation would know who Garson Kanin was, but this other novel was written by Lucille Kallen, who wrote for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. As I walked back with Tigger after finding that second novel (I found Moviola when I was walking Kitty, and went back when I was walking Tigger), I thought to myself that Anne De Salvo must have represented Kallen when she played Alice Miller in My Favorite Year, being that My Favorite Year was inspired by the production of Your Show of Shows. What other members of my generation would think of that so readily? This crate had to have come from that side because the dumpster is over here now instead of over there as it was during the holidays. Perhaps one of the seniors over there drove through the opening that separates the parks (the gate's locked at night. The entrance to the senior park is on another street) and dropped off the crate before they went out to wherever their errands took them, or maybe it was a family member who did that.

I had hoped to find more, but two is a good start and possibly presages what might come at Pacific Islands, that I might find readers there who offer treasures in boxes next to the dumpsters. I do wish people would donate them to Goodwill instead of me finding them. Yes, these two books found a temporary home with me which may be for longer depending on how they are, but what about the other books sitting in that crate? The law books might be well out of date and how old was that crossword puzzle dictionary? But different people are interested in different things, and if these books were at a Goodwill or some other donation center with a store attached, someone else might have gotten some use out of them.

I don't know how much faith to have in such a hope, though. A while ago, I wrote about returning Loser to the bookshelves in the clubhouse, and every time I've gone back to the bookshelves on my way to seeing if the mail came, it's always been there. Even today when I stopped by and picked up three books (including If Books Could Kill by Kate Carlisle, which I learned is the second in her Bibliophile series. I've got to start somewhere. After all, I learned also that C.B. Greenfield: The Tanglewood Murder is the second in Kallen's series), Loser was still where I returned it. It makes me wonder exactly how many people read in Las Vegas, but also makes me more motivated to hopefully instill a desire to read in the middle school students I'll see if I get that job as a library assistant. There needs to be more readers in Las Vegas. How else is the boundless creativity in this city expected to last?

Even though I'd prefer that those books be at a donation center of some kind for those who need them, I hope for more at Pacific Islands. We're going there tomorrow to begin the process of securing an apartment there before we're finished here at Valley Vista in September, so maybe, besides the train tracks, I'll see if there's anything near the dumpsters in those areas. Or maybe not. I'll stick with the train tracks because I don't want to make a bad impression. But once we're firmly established, I'm going to hunt once in a while. Sometimes when I'm taking out the garbage and recycling to one of the dumpsters (one of the dumpsters is for recycling, which I love, unlike here, where you throw out everything for the garbage truck to pick up), and sometimes just when I'm walking around the property.