Books and Drizzle

As an amateur, I originally began this memoir just to exhale.

At the outset, two impediments impeded (can an impediment do anything but?)  which took some doing to overcome. First was the fact that a plebeian life in the class room for too long had splashed undiluted Clorox all over my previously colorful memory. And then, as a writer on purely technical matters, I found the change to a new mode of composition exceedingly difficult. Words have always been my friends, but unfortunately I had typecast them.

For whatever reason, these past several years I've seemed to develop a chronic case of hyperthymesia, and simultaneously words stopped giving me blue-balls.  Was it fate? Destiny? Magick? Synchronicity? Blind luck? Karma?

Maybe, although I beginning to think life is a circle; the closer we are to the end, the closer we are to the start. So, memories long thought inconsequential come flooding back and with greater clarity.

The barometric pressure has swung 180 degrees, to mix a metaphor on purpose simply to arrive at the punchline. I now inhale.

And recently, words have decided to take on so many different rôles. I'm reminded of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass:
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's all."
I am no longer Alice. With the formalities dispensed, let's roll away the stone.

There have always been two things that make me feel on top of the world, able to completely ignore the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, capable of ignoring disappointments in other people. They are:
  • bookstores
  • rain
I inherited these loves from my father. Rain at my boyhood home always meant that you went for walks, or at the very least threw open the windows before drifting asleep, tiny droplets splashing across your face. While Ma complained, Pa reveled in the drizzle.

By sixth grade, I was hooked on bookstores. I was so fortunate to grow up in an academic environment, just one block from the Iowa State University campus, easy walking distance to Dog Town, the little business district catering to the students. There were several bookstores, and every pharmacy or gift shop also sported racks of books and magazines. It was a reader's bonanza, and just five minutes on foot from home.

I still remember Father taking me to Wally's Pipe and Gift as a grade school student. Man, if I don't have memories of bald-headed Wally and that place! It was after dark, drizzly, with errant snowflakes blinding us from time to time as we traipsed down Knapp Street, turning north onto Stanton, then west onto Lincoln Way, eventually arriving at this literary paradise; the door twanged the overhead bell depending from an Archimedean spiral of blue spring gun metal to announce our arrival. We tucked in at once. While Pop poked through the book racks there (the shop actually had a very good selection), he turned me loose and said I could select something for myself, his treat that night. I took just as many pains as he did, poring over each volume one by one, reading the jackets, the author's biographies on the flyleaves, the reviewer's comments, etc., scanning what I thought might be representative paragraphs of the body.

In case you're wondering, the magazine racks also galvanized me and drew numerous furtive glances from time to time--bare naked ladies appealed then as now. What I  would have given for a pair of those spectacles advertised in the classifieds of Popular Mechanics, you know, the ones that let you look backwards! With them, I could salivate in protracted uninterrupted spells rather than take microsecond peeps trying to avoid detection of either Wally or my father. If it isn't clear, I never placed much stock in Matthew 5:28. But back to the books.

Eventually I homed in on H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. Father bought it for me without hesitation. I wish I could remember what he came home with that night. He was a genuine eccentric, so these fifty years later, I can only imagine it was something outré.

Oh, I was so proud! My own book of my own selection. Though we had tons of books in the house, and there was also constant
borrowing from the Public Library, those were always faits accomplis, not of my doing. Kind of like being married to Brigham Young. But here was a personal, private lover, mine alone. I tucked in at once that night and have been hooked on H. G. Wells ever since.

Two o'clock the following day in school, the sixth grade teacher, Mr. Cherry, announced that the next half-hour was to be "free reading time." Everyone else approached that blonde book cart with sloping shelves on hard rubber wheels to select something, but I proudly pulled out my own copy of Wells and was engrossed at once. After a few moments, Mr. Cherry approached me, removed the book from my hands, scrutinized the volume with a disdainful grimace and indicated he didn't think it appropriate reading for a lad my age. If truth be told, that made us equal: I didn't think it was fit for him either.

There were two outcomes of that assessment. First, my old man really told him where to get off the following day, and I was back to enjoying
The War of the Worlds. Second, by the time junior high had come and gone, I had perused every short story and most of the novels of Wells.

When will teachers ever learn that the sure way to make a book popular is by forbidding it?

Next installment: The World of Tomorrow

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