Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Can" B. Worth - Part Nine

"Can" B. Worth
Part Nine

            The History Department Office… was off the head of one hallway… that diverged from another hallway… that came from the rear entrance to the building… AND the hallway holding the locked dead professor’s office “number nine”.  My professional mental memo pad pleasingly noted that THIS LOCATION made office number nine a far and dead end journey from that history department office.  That means “Who’s going to …go there (number nine)?”.  And I noted that… that is WHY the old professor was in “number nine” to begin with; “get him out of the way”.  And THAT not only was fine logistics for me NOW but also… had allowed for the creation of that office contents over “for at least a century” to begin with.  I really should write the department a thank you note for providing such a splendid and remote space for the old professor to fill up totally NOT MOLESTED.
            It also helped buttress the risk management “who’s got a key?” issue for, again, “who’s going to go there?”.  In fact… I confided to myself… “WHO even knows THAT OFFICE is there TO go to?”.  My visit to the History Department Office affirmed this risk management buttress.
            The door was open.  The office was well lighted.  Big windows on one side.  A workstation desk at the front center… with no one in it.  Triangulating away were two more workstation desks with the one to the right having a woman at work upon it.  Continuing the triangulation away were… three doors to three offices… all closed.  I stepped to and stood before the head-of-the-pyramid first desk upon entering.  One is received THERE I assumed.
            The women in the right workstation behind stopped word processing, looked up and said “May I help?” in a familiar tone.
            “I am here to confirm the cleanout of office number nine for the attorney…”
            “Yes he just called you are all set you have the key the parking tags will not be issued until tomorrow morning.”
            “Oh.  Good.” I said walking over to her workstation from the front desk.  “When can I start?”
            “He said you were starting tomorrow”.
            “I mean what time can I start in the morning; how early?”
            “Oh.  Well.  The building is opens at SIX.  We don’t open the office until EIGHT.  You COULD start before we open.  The parking tags will not be here until eight.  But that doesn’t matter because no one is HERE before eight.”
            “I’d like to start at SEVEN.” I said now standing before her workstation.
            “Seven?  Fine.  Just come and get the parking tags when we open at eight.  I’ll tell the custodian you’ll be starting then.
            “Thank you.” I said… and did not move.  The woman peered over her glasses at me.
            There was a reason I didn’t move.  I’d discovered the reason way over at the front workstation.  To her workstation’s right was made up shelving holding a supply of different types of U. S. Postal Service box mailers.  Upon one stack of these and within the cavity of the shelf was a large four volume set of Victorian era books showing their …crimson Morocco leather and gilt gold spine ends.  Amidst the office supplies a person of rare books …could not miss them.  But I did not see them at first.  What I DID see from the front workstation was… an old, large, upside down HEINZ 57 tomato soup can… sitting before the box mailer shelf at the front right of the workstation.  “That’s Can’s can.” my mind had dutifully reported and… then summoned me hither.
            I moved.  I reached out toward the can rim and said “I didn’t KNOW Heinz made TOMATO soup.”
            “Neither did I.  But that’s an old can.” The woman said and QUICKLY REACHED ahead of me and PLUCKED the can away in her hand saying “I don’t think they make it anymore.”  She pivoted in her chair and set the can down on the floor among the boxed office clutter behind her.  “I have to get that out of here” she said.
            I gave that whole; the can, the pluck and the behind-on-the-floor placement a desperate grimace?  I hope not… but I probably did.  There was nothing to do; I COULDN’T say “THAT’S CAN’S CAN LET ME SEE IT”.  Nope; brings trouble.  The deal comes first.  I did look downward AT the can.  “It’s Can’s can” I mentally logged again.  And turned my attention to the …old books
            I bent over, downward and eyed UPWARD upon the RED AND GOLD spine ends to read “BRYANT’S POPULAR HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES”.  “A nothing” my mind reported.  The set IS a nothing in rare books.  SHE saw ME peering.  I scrambled verbiage:  “Those are BEAUTIFUL old BOOKS; JUST LIKE what MY WIFE WANTS.  THAT RED with GOLD!”
            “Yes those.  They are.  Beautiful.” The woman said with out moving from her slight-bent-forward typing poise with the over the glasses looking-at-me position.  SHE did NOT look at the books.
            “HANDSOME my wife calls THOSE.  That’s what she wants:  HANDSOME BOOKS; HANDSOME COPIES she says.
            “Handsome?” the woman said.
            “Handsome copy” that is what she says those ARE.”
            “Handsome… I guess.” she said and now looked at the books.
            AS she did that I reached forward to the first volume; Volume One, and… lifted it EXTRA SLOWLY AND CAREFULLY up and outward.  The woman said noting.  I opened the cover to title page it.  Inside the front cover on the front fly leaf was a crisp and fresh ballpoint note reading “TO THE HISTORY DEPARTMENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ******* WITH EVERLASTING AFFECTION CARL”.  The woman watched me read that.  I made NO anything and PROMPTLY opened to the title page:  “1881!  THAT IS OLD!” I said.
            “Yes.  Those are very old books.” she said with a release of tension.  I was already putting the volume …extra especially slowly and carefully… BACK.
            “HANDSOME COPY.” I said.  “OK:  TOMORROW AT SEVEN.  Good.  Thank you.”
            “Thank YOU.” She said as I turned… and walked away.  Down the hall to down the next hall to across the foyer to outside the building to inside the truck to back out and drive away.  I did NOT go to the office.  THAT could cause TROUBLE.  I HAVE the KEY.  All I have to do is… sweat the deal for …nineteen hours.w

Monday, October 29, 2012

"Can" B. Worth - Part Eight

"Can" B. Worth
Part Eight

            Purchase offers are not fun.  I prefer them done quickly and briskly.  Standing in the hallway, I had the history professor TOUCHING my back while my front was TOUCHING the closed “CLICK” – LATCH office door WITH my left hand retrieving the key to this office door from my jacket pocket, putting it into the door’s keyhole and “click”-LOCK that door while… reverse butt-blocking-backup into HIM, who yielded backwards and… said “Your leaving?”
            “Time to report to Mr. Lawyer.” I said… as I turned leftward to face DOWN THE HALL and STEPPED AWAY in that direction.
            “I thought that… but… YOUR cleaning out… IT?
            “Not yet I’m not.” I said moving away.
            “To be… TODAY?”
            “Maybe ten minutes.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe never.”  I didn’t like saying the last:  The old “never say never”. 
            The history professor said something else:  “Door isn’t OFFICE LOCK?” or something like that.  I didn’t respond.  I paced right out of there
            Out of the next hall.  Through the foyer.  Out the rear door.  To where the college people’s cars were parked.  To where my truck was parked.  To where the lawyer was parked next to me.
            He wasn’t in his car.  I could see him… about sixty feet away in the middle of a green space (mowed lawn with meticulously maintained ornamental trees each having an aluminum identification tag stuck into the lawn before it).  He was facing the cars and verbally hammering into his cell phone while gesturing with his free arm.  He saw me and started walking toward me …still hammering the cell… .  At twenty steps his arm dropped the cell from his ear and he strode onward staring down at it and thumbing the buttons.  “Great” was my mental qualification of the …making the purchase offer setting developing before me.  He peered hard and downward at the phone, squinting.  “Email” I mentally stated.  His eyes came up and on me… at fifteen feet.
            “Delivering PROGRESS I hope.” He said.
            “Your done?”
            “LOCKED it?
            “Here’s the key.” I said raising it from my left pocket.
            “KEEP the key.  How much?”
            Just to help this moment a little bit I give notice that this is… very much NOT the first time I have purchase offered …the gentleman.  In fact without the heritage of all of the other purchase offers… and the follow through servicing of those purchase offers… including the smack-dab “I DON’T WANT IT”… I wouldn’t even be here.  HE knows MY roulette wheel SPINS and the purchase offer slot “varies” (his word).  I KNOW he knows THAT.  I KNOW I can …count on THAT.  HE thinks it’s all a mystery WHAT the purchase offer roulette slot IS …unless “it” (the purposed purchase offer lot) happens to be something HE thinks HE knows “IS GOOD” (20th century successful lawyer look brown faux rich looking furniture, decorative arts and… bland gold framed European – English “ART WORK AND PAINTINGS”.  That I “don’t want it” on that stuff… blows his mind.  So I told him all that stuff is “too good for me”, to get a better dealer (usually an auctioneer in the end) and… what great taste he has, etc. and et al.  “Show me the stuff you hate.” I tell him.  He does.  I thank him for doing that; he’s very professional.  This office lot is a perfect example of that kind of “pain in the ass” (his words) purchase lot.
I return to the purchase offer face off:  He’s at six feet away:
            “Twenty-two fifty.  CLEANED OUT by five.”
            “Can’t do that.  Tomorrow.  Twenty-two?”
            “FIVE.  Tomorrow?”
            “That’s your best?
            “I’m squeezing it”.
            “Squeeze it better?”
            “Eighteen fifty.”
            “Eighteen fifty?”
            “That’s what I want to pay.”
            “You didn’t like twenty-two five.”
            “I didn’t say THAT.  I said SQUEEZE IT”.
            “I just did”
            “The wrong way”.
            “Not for ME.  There’s HOURS in that shit.  That’s not pretty in there.  That’s fifty years MESS.  And God know what too.”
            “EIGHTEEN FIFTY.  Squeezed.”
            “TWENTY-TWO FIFTY squeezed.
            “Your impossible:  NUT”.
            “You don’t have to do it.  What do you think?  It’s FREE?  I’m paying YOU money to clean out THAT SHIT PILE.”
            “That’s what you do.  I HIRE YOU TO DO THAT!”
            “SO HIRE ME.”
            “He has a wife you know.”
            I wrote the check.  I kept the key.  I promised to “TELL THE SECRETARY IN THE HISTORY OFFICE I’LL CALL HER RIGHT NOW. 
            “Don’t forget the PARKING TAGS I NEED THREE”.
            “Three?  Why three?”
            “Done by noon?”
            “Really?  Good.  Give the key back to the office.  LOCK THE DOOR.  Call my office.”  Mr. Lawyer was getting into his car.  He closed his door.  He didn’t look at me.  I stepped around the front of my truck.  He backed out and drove away.  I was alone… with an old dead professor emeritus’ office contents that I just spent two-K-plus on and… I COULDN’T EVEN GO IN TO IT AND START GETTING THE STUFF OUT OF THERE FOR …in twenty-four hours I would have the cleanout DONE… BUT:  “I have the key.  The keys: WHO HAS THE KEYS… to that office?”
            Twenty-four hours is a very, very, VERY long time to leave a purchased lot of antiques (and rare books) NOT GUARDED… especially if one doesn’t know “Who has a KEY?”
            There was nothing I could do about this… except “sweat it out”.  THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT THIS SITUATION-THAT-OCCURS-VERY-FREQUENTLY IN MY “estate buying”… except sweat it out.  OH do I HATE “sweating it out”.  But one has NO CHOICE for the simple route of assurance and safety is ATTRACT NO ATTENTION IN ANY WAY AT ALL…to a… the deal.  Attention attracted is TROUBLE.  “Risk” and “risk management” is the solution.  In the outside and benevolent world they have three day seminars on risk and risk management.  I burn risk and risk management as high octane fuel.  A three day seminar will do me no good.  I am ALWAYS in economic “fully exposed” free fall; jumping out of an airplane with a checkbook in my mouth (“better hope that sucker opens”).  Leaving that purchase lot “wide open” for, nearly exactly, twenty hours, was, for me… a classic “I HATE SWEATING IT OUT” normal.  If… one cannot write a check payment to an unattached third party (to the actual purchase lot) with NO anything including “a hand shake”, “promises-promises”, “paperwork” and “can I”… such is ‘not competitive’.  In fact, such is not even there… unless its such as “my aunt’s house (estate)” or a… some such phony setup. 
I went to the History Department office.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Lobster Catchers: A Rare Maine Book.

The Lobster Catchers:  A Rare Maine Book.

   “THE LOBSTER CATCHERS  A STORY OF THE COAST OF MAINE”.  James Otis, E. P. Dutton & Company, New York, (1900).  Original brown cloth with gilt gold title on the spine and front cover.  Black and white pictorial decoration on the front cover and black and white cartouche decoration on the spine.  Illustrated with engraved and photographic plates.  Top edge gilt. Attractive nasty neat 1900 personal private library notes and “from Uncle John…” inscription on front end papers and fly leaf.  All text compete, as issued and perfect.  (i)-vii, (viii), 1- 308 pp..  6” wide by 8 1/4” tall.  This copy is in particularly very good estate found collector grade fine condition being a clean, crisp and unshaken copy with fine interior, illustrations, end papers and covers noting the frontis tissue guard removed and otherwise only the most minor appropriate surface oxidation, spine end, corner wear, rubbing and lightest exposed cover soiling all appropriate to its age.  As found in a Thomaston, Maine estate.  $165.00

             “Perhaps it is SILLY but… the FAMILY has kept all his books in his library cabinet just the way HE kept them since he died.  I’ve never dared touch them EVER during my whole life!”  She; the eldest granddaughter, really HAD never “touch them EVER” and did not break tradition here before me.  Squatting down, it was I who… eyed them; the spine ends… after opening the locked-with-the-key-in-the-lock double glass door short bookcase-cabinet.  I slowly reach for one book’s spine back top and… slowly slid it outward… and stopped before it was out… and slide it back in.
             “NOW what do I do?” my mind blistered for …I didn’t need to TOUCH any of these old books EITHER.  I JUST NEEDED TO BUY THEM, get them out of there and …LEAVE.  The anarchy of the estate trade purchasing play script touched to ignite the three dimensional chaos of …never ending, always changing and never repeating… estate setting… and that ignited a third bomb of ...dark, cold, wet, rainy, fall and late morning nearing lunch time in a dark, cold, creeping moist and rain spattering against the windows… dead Grandfather’s turned OFF, closed up …and now the… FAMILY’S estate… to raise the radical black flag in my mind of… including the CABINET in the offer TOO.  So I said out loud without rising or turning to face the Granddaughter “One thousand six hundred FIFTY dollars with the bookcase”.
            Silence.  Then a foot-ish shuffling noise on the floor behind me.  Then “Well; that would be fine.” stated to my back by the Granddaughter.
            This… rare Maine book was in that cabinet.

             I have read this book, although not this copy… cover to cover.  It was the photographic illustrations that gripped me with concern that this “juvenile” …wasn’t one.  It is one; a juvenile…and it isn’t one.  It’s a juvenile because it’s about a boy, a girl, some bad boys, a rich man, mother, brothers and sisters and an Uncle whose a minister.  Behind that is the Maine coast, lobstering, lobster men, lobster boats, lobster business and… these are shown in the photographic illustrations.  The boy’s plight, plot and adventures are laid out in text strings that never windup in the end and were evidently designed to create a series upon this single first effort should this “juvenile” take off with youthful readers.  It didn’t.  It is obscure, forgotten and rare.
            Delightfully the story is otherwise a crash course portrayal of a middleman nitch of the lobster catcher industry.  This book is NOT about one man going out in a little boat and “pulling his traps”.  It’s about a bigger steam powered boat that travels about the coastline and islands buying up these single men’s “catches” of 200 to 2000 …bartered for in PENNIES… lobsters, loading them on to the boat and dashing this full boat load of these purchased lobsters to the …wholesale market dealer on shore who ships by train in large wooden barrels full of ice packed lobsters “WEST”.  Far west.  Fast.  They must be sold on shore before (1) the lobsters eat each other (for real) and (2) the price per lobster (in PENNIES) “goes down”.  The story lays this whole circa 1880-1900 lobster middleman’s world out… bare knuckle and in dollars and cents.  That makes this book… wonderful Maine coast occupational history.  And a rare Maine book.

            End of conversation.  Except for one point; a tragic point:  This book, in rare book collection sensibilities… is best and beautiful… as a “condition freak” collector’s “FINE” condition “copy”.  Preferably “super fine”.  This is because it is one of those “old books” that doesn’t appeal to the eye …and diminishes in appeal rapidly… as its condition strays from “super fine”.  A “fine” copy is yummy to the eye.  Otherwise its beauty as an old book drops …and so does interest.  I know of what I write because… I am a dealer and… I am NOT a condition freak.  Most of the Americana I handle avoids the “perfect fine condition” issue by its very nature.  SO WHEN I SAY THIS BOOK IS “best” “in fine condition” I mean what I say.  Most of the few copies that pop up in the market are in bad condition.  Because of this the “know of” and appreciation of this …rare Maine book… is furthered wanting.

            What I’ve found even odder… is that Maine scholarship mention of “THE LOBSTER CATCHERS” is, TOO, wanting.  Usually, in the world of Maine rare books, Maine scholars always way, way, way off and away manage to find a “most obscure” tidbit of historic reference, note it, clearly report on it and… shelve it in their bibliography for all to see.  With this book, I find “zero” for this actually dependable root & route of reference for this Maine coastal GEM of an old book.  Example?  The Martin & Lipfert, Maine Maritime Museum, Bath, Maine, “LOBSTERING AND THE MAINE COAST”; a somewhat line in the sand and certainly “best” reference study to the old Maine coast lobstering trade… not only does not include any mention of this book but also doesn’t include any treatment of the nitch middle market that Otis’ “THE LOBSTER CATCHERS” is about.  Most soundly on Otis, they not only do not include him in their bibliography but their bibliography does …not even have ONE reference under the letter “O”.  They have references under “N” and under “P”, but none for “O”.  Certainly this assures that “THE LOBSTER CATCHERS” is …a rare Maine book.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Can" B. Worth - Part Seven

"Can" B. Worth
Part Seven

            In the antiques business… and the rare book trade… there is a fine line between time and intrigue.  The rule I follow is “do business now – look at it (any and all objects) later”.  With my pretended and timed purchase offer inspection in its closing minutes to making the actual purchase offer… successfully… it is NOT good to …stop.  But I did.  Because it was Sam.
            Sam Patch, who one may amply summarize by a few internet search buttons, is the source of the slogan utterance “Some things may be done as well as others”.  That actually applies right here right now.  I was “time up” battened down and buckled up for my “buy it” offer inclusive of …bending through the phony inspection maze …without setting off the smoke alarm of the history professor.  “Yep.” and I just have to close the drawer, shoehorn past that drawer and to the office door, then step outside and CLOSE and LOCK THAT DOOR.  All the while smiling and saying “WHAT A NICE DAY IT IS!” to this …about to be locked out of the old dead emeritus’ office forever… chum… I’d picked up.
            Stopping this freight train was not smart.  Especially as the stoppage cause was instigated BY my new chum.  But, again, I DID stop.  Because it was Sam.
            The problem with Sam is that once one configures the jumping Sam AND his slogan into the Americana of one’s life, including rare book dealing, two black holes become before thee.  First there is the Americana enigma of Sam Patch jumping from waterfalls to make a living, drowning after a short career doing that and his flaunting this occupation with “Some things may be done as well as others”.  An original, proverbial …and bare bones… American shooting star.  The second is that there is very, very… VERY little Sam Patch “material” (rare bookseller’s term for old books, pamphlets, broadsides, ephemera, et al,) “around”.  One such as myself may know of Sam, his jumping AND his slogan and… not ever “see anything” as a rare Americana specialist “since (first learning of Sam in) high school”.  Looking down at the page’s head title AND seeing the next pages headers carrying Sam’s name AND seeing a “Biography” as a ballad-poem printed below AFTER a printed introduction DID NOT stop me as much as the FULL PAGE INSERTED WOODCUT ILLUSTRATION PRINTED PLATE of Sam in the middle of the Genesee River (Rochester, N.Y.) waterfall “his last jump” inclusive of tiny stick figure spectators way up at the fall’s top… .
            The pretend-time-up buzzer went off in my brain as that same brain… FELL IN LOVE… with this “stupid print” of “stupid man” drowning.

            “Can ALWAYS showed EVERYONE THAT!” said the history professor to MY before him discovery of the woodcut plate.
            “This?” I said tilting the exposed plate toward him.
            “That.  He loved Sam Patch.  I never could understand THAT.  I still do not understand WHY Sam Patch”.
            “Some things may be done as well as others.” I said.
            “THAT’S what HE SAID Sam said ALL THE TIME”.
            “But its true.” I said.
            “It’s stupid.” the professor said.
            I looked up at the professor from the book.  I looked at him in the eyes.  He looked at me.  “This is stupid?” I said vaguely gesturing, with two hands on the book, to the …packed and stacked box filled to the ZENITH… office.  “THIS office IS that slogan”.
            “This office?  THIS?” said the professor gesturing with one hand to all the surrounding stack up.
            “Yep” I said… retreating.  “This guy was a NUT.” I continued and… closed the book and tossed it gently back into the drawer.  I was intentionally inconclusive as to WHO; Can or Sam, was “a NUT”.  I bent down and picked up the second book. I raised it revealing a thicker, in wastebasket condition, Victorian brown publisher’s cloth “spine perished” old book.  I title paged it:  “Curzon” my mind identified.  “Monasteries; his second book- a zero” my mind continued.  “He was reading it?” my mind finalized.
            I, with no comment, quickly tossed THAT book back into the drawer.  It didn’t land well; flopping open to the center of the text with the binding separating at these pages.  I didn’t care.  My time was up.

            Curzon is “Hon. Robert Curzon, Jun.” who brings a spicy tidbit to the reader of rare book selling, dealing and purloining literature.  English, a man of leisure, Curzon went hunting very ancient manuscript books in the “Levant” in the first half of the 19th century, was successful doing that and …wrote a book about doing it.  Of the trio of “selling, dealing and purloining” above, he purloined and the book is about that.  Not only is it a not-so-lost-anymore classic and a “true and spicy to read”, it has always… and continues to be… a some-where-along-the-way… discovered and must read for a well rounded rare book collector or dealer.  Again, a spicy read… about old books purloined from exotic locations that …is not going to happen ever again… or happen in BOOK FORM ever again.  THIS “Curzon” being his second book about the same subject “pails” compared with the first.  This man; “Can”… I QUICKLY understood… had this book drawered there because he was trying to “poke at it” to see if on the odd chance “they are wrong about it” and MAYBE there is something in this one that’s spicy TOO?  The actual market for the two books tells all; the first book is six to eight hundred.  This second… eighty-five (dollars) is “to much”.  BUT TO ME… the discovery of this “last book looked at” during my “inspection”… fit PERFECTLY into my … purchase offer “inspection summary”.  Tossed back into it’s “drawered” poise, it could wait there until I …owned IT and EVERYTHING ELSE.  “TIME TO GO!” I announced as the drawer bumped shut and my butt wedged around the desk’s side as I used my whole approaching body to…force the history professor to backup OUT OF THE OFFICE and into the hallway.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Can" B. Worth - Part Six

"Can" B. Worth
Part Six

            My left hand gripped that drawer handle to the desk’s file drawer below… and pulled.  It opened easily; gliding open.  The history professor too… glided OVER the desk… in a bend-at-the-waist… so to head and nose above… this opening drawer.  He could not see beyond the far back of the drawer’s bottom while I, viewing downward from above… could see all of the drawer’s interior.
            “CAN’S CAN IS IN THERE!” the professor said in a robust burst-forth tone of statement and definition.  As I was already looking downward and into the drawer this verbiage hit my upper right side as the left side merged with my eye focusing to  …see only… two smaller old books (as dark forms) upon… shallow stacked and scrunched down old papers.
            “Can can?” I said as my mind said “old… book book”.
            “CAN’S CAN; the CAN in there!”
            “Can in there?”
            “The CAN”.
            “There’s no can.”
            “The CAN is CAN’s CAN.”
            “There’s no can.” I said looking up upon the… further endeavoring to bend forward over the desk history professor
            “NO CAN?” he said.
            “No can.” I said.
            He bent as far as possible so he could actually see most of the drawer.  “No can.” He said.  “But Can’s CAN is ALWAYS there.  Right THERE”.
            “No can.” I said after actually looking back down into what was a fairly EMPTY drawer.
            “Gone?” the history professor said.
            “You say?” I said looking back at him.
            “Never GONE.  Why now?”
            “A can?”
            “HIS CAN; Can’s can.  THE CAN.  HIS CAN.”
            “A can he used?”
            “NO:  THE CAN”. He said in an… imploring tone.
            “I don’t see one.” I said in a …firm tone.  “Why?”
            “He kept HIS CAN there:  The CAN!”
            Here a “dawning on me” occurred of minor dot to dot connecting; can, a TIN can, that was Carlton B. Worth’s tin can so was for some reason in THIS drawer but NOT THERE NOW but was HIS “can” so therefore “Can’s CAN” for …that’s why this professor calls him “CAN”.  That is… “CAN” is a shortened nickname from Carlton based on his “CAN” that was suppose to be in this drawer.  “Why the can? I said and regretted it.
            “WELL that WAS HIS way of lecturing THEM about THEIR FOOLISHNESS.” Said the professor straightening back up and directing his erect-all AT ME in a way that lumped ME into “THEIR FOOLISHNESS”.
            I took the bait:  “Lecturing them?”
            “His CAN story.  He be listening to them.  He HATED ‘their slow murmur of disconnected speak derived self spooning mush at me from between their ears’ as he called it.  He’d open the drawer, take out the can and but it between them on the desk
            “A can?  Of what?”
            “It is an empty can.  It is an old empty can of tomato soup.”
            “Tomato soup?” I said.
            “Yes.  A larger old can.  HEINZ 57 Tomato Soup.  UP side down.  He’d originally opened it up side down.
            “Up side down?”
            “Yes.  Then he’d tell them how this was the first can of soup he ever bought.  How he was twelve.  How he got a job loading grain at the store in town.  How he was working in a cold rain.  How wet he was.  HOW COLD he was.  How hungry.  HOW he went into the store and bought the soup with the money he’d just earned.  How he opened the can and heated the soup on the store’s stove.  How he mixed in milk and drank as much of the soup has he could.  How much better he felt.  How the store owner saw him do all this.  How owner came over to him and spoke to him about it saying that he’d seen him earn the money in the cold and then spend it on the hot soup.  He told Can that by doing that the soup would ‘stick with him for life’.  How he, Can, forever after has KEPT the can to remind him and how that reminder of seeing the can has guided him to a successful career and fine life.  He’d tell the student that story.  Then he’d put the can back in the drawer and dismiss the student.  Most of them bucked-up after that.  We’d all say we wanted to barrow his can to use on our own students.”

            “That’s it?” I said… hoping that the saga of Can’s can… was over.  I promoted that hope by reaching down and retrieving the near old book.  “Blue boards half calf” my mind spoke.  “No title (on spine)” it continued as the book rose in my hand
            “I WONDER where it IS?” said the professor.

            I stood up with the book, faced him, said nothing, looked down at the book and …title paged it:  “MAJOR JACK DOWNING” appeared, with his finger in his nose, on the frontis plate while the title page next to it prefixed that name with “LIFE AND WRITINGS”.  My eye dropped to the imprint… date… “1834”.  “Second Edition” it said above that date and I SAID THAT TOO.  I never find “a first” edition.  I ALWAYS find “later editions”.  I am NOT a Seba Smith (author) “Down East Maine” “written in local dialect” “rustic threadbare satirical humor” …buff.  I see the book, find the book, buy the book, sell the book.  Although attributed as a core source of the school of “Yankee humor, I find it… unreadable.  The only copy of the book to get excited about is an “1833” first edition.  THOSE are hard to find.  And all I have to read is …the date.  I prepared to… pitch the worthless old book… back into the drawer.

            “THAT’S SAM PATCH!” said the history professor.
            “Sam Patch?” I said holding the book open and looking up.
            “Can’s SAM PATCH.”
            “Can’s DOWNING!” I SAID lifting the book upward.
            “NO:  PATCH.  SAM PATCH.  That’s THAT BOOK!” he shot back.
            “No… MAJOR DOWNING” I said showing the book’s exposed title page to him.
            “SAM PATCH” he said and… TOOK the book from my hands, reversed it, thumbed it, stopped at an open page and turned the book back to me.  I took it back and peered down at the open page to read a head title “MAJOR DOWNING’S BIOGRAPHY OF SAM PATCH THE JUMPER”.

Friday, October 12, 2012

"Can" B. Worth - Part Five

"Can B. Worth"
Part Five

            My extending hand, scrutinized by four eyeballs, passed the center drawer, dipped below the desktop edge and, with left handed sweep, reached, gripped, pulled upon and opened …the smooth sliding far left top drawer.  Out it came, back to my left.  The four eyeballs ceased tracking the hand and halted in expectation examination of the rapidly exposed shallow drawer’s contents.
            Paper clips, stapler, scissor, pen, pencil, partially eaten roll of old wintergreen Life Saviors, eraser, Kleenex packet, old Kit-Kat candy bar and a single glove occupying the fore drawer and thinning toward the back to expose empty drawer bottom… THERE FINDS… one old book upon a handful (3) of pamphlets.
            The hesitation of finding the visual end of the reach-pull-open-see… drawer… and that drawer’s open sea of… nothing-to-see… but another old book butted against the rear of a drawer otherwise filled with… no treasure… and only… “unworthy of comment”… iota DID NOT stop my eyeball pair from disregarding the other eyeball pair and message-send-me “OLD BOOK PICK IT UP”.

            This my left hand, in retreat from the drawer handle, did.  A CRISP and “FINE”  in blind stamp decorated brown publisher’s cloth, “6mo” “not too thick”, was the hand’s purloining.  With this hand retrieving and rising my eyes did a rare bookman’s spine end glance; “gilt title read DEXTER”, within the sliced AND DICED second of time to allow the eyeballs to skip-back to the pamphlet stack top TOO to see the word “PICKLE” revealed at the top pamphlet’s title head… .
            Am I crazy or “NO” for I am attempting to convey HOW VERY FAST the rare book “of value” appraisal has taken place AND IS ALREADY moving on to “totaling it up” (“Can B. Worth”) while my idiot companion’s second set of “he doesn’t know” eyes falters and has “fallen back”.  I knew the books; the one in my hand and the top pamphlet; “OH”.  I said.
            The historian did not know.  He stood there staring at… the Kit-Kat Bar?  “Dexter” I said to the spine end of the octavo and… title paged it without more than a flutter glance for I KNEW THAT title already but “CONDITION” was my actual “TAKE IT” for it was a “FINE CRISP” of a tome usually found “ratty” and worn.  My eyeballs continued to take-action-eyeball-speak to ME saying “NICE” and to “PICK UP” to my left hand roving toward the pamphlets.  Several old postcards spilled from the flat space between the tome’s title page and the front cover of the… “old book”.  Seeing them to be “old Dexter’s mansion” well known to me my right thumb pushed them back into the book.
            The three pamphlet stack of “PICKLE” rose in my left while the “DEXTER” remained suspended in my right.  My eyeballs READ the top pamphlet’s imprint date (the publisher/printers  “date at the bottom”) “1848” as my left thumb tucked in and pushed the “each” pamphlet below DOWNWARD just enough to show “title” and “imprint” WITHOUT displaying this effort “to gain knowledge”.  The result?  Two “same title” “PICKLE” with “1847” and “1838”.  All three, therefore in summary being, LATER editions of Timothy Dexter’s “A PICKLE FOR THE KNOWING ONES” with the “old book” being the classic 1858 “LIFE OF” Timothy “Newburyport” and “Boston”.  Therefore:  A rare book collector’s “CLUTCH” of the “Eccentric”.  How “eccentric” is STILL debated.

            BACK into the drawer’s BACK and butted BACK went the left handed pamphlets followed by the right handed “LIFE OF” and the drawer …left handed… gracefully… CLOSED.  “Done” in MY rare bookman’s “MOVE ON” “ten minutes left” (?) time slot because “I KNEW”.  I give a paragraph now, between drawers, so those reading may “know too?”.
            Timothy Dexter IS the historic “eccentric” “writer” and “wealthy” “successful” sailing ship era “merchant” of Newburyport, Massachusetts.  The internet will supply a reader with ALL.  Quickly:  Of low and poor “largely uneducated” origins he married well enough to capitalize a merchant start that took off due to the perpetual reversal of should-fail-and-bankrupt-him trades that, remarkably, ALWAYS turned HIS WAY for “large gain” so creating him to be a “one of the very successful merchants” of the village IN SPITE OF LOATHING and class dismissal by the other… mostly NOT as successful merchants.  Shunned, excluded and “a buffoon”, he, through his singular perspective of his… self taught not educated vantage… went on to build his grand mansion, write his legacy memoir “A PICKLE” and stride the Newbury street in fine garb with his little doggie (the HE DESIGNED woodcut illustration on the copies of pickle in the photographs).  He revenge of legacy is a classic Old New England fixture.  It began while he was alive, continued after his death and has silently become permanent ever since with the classic support of those who “like” assuring and those who …do not… further assuring… by assuring… that they DO NOT “like”.  Today, he has long and largely “distanced” ALL other of his Newburyport merchant peers.  The designation of “eccentric” be but a… quoting Dexter in a different context… “peper and solt it as thay plese”.  I have long been with Dexter.  To be a “not with” I feel may be a personal peril.
            The little quote above is a choice morsel of Dexter’s merchant minding.  His first and excessively rare edition of “PICKLE” not only was written as the quote’s spelling suggests but …had no punctuation.  His shunning fellows latched upon THAT.  Dexter, in his second and ever after editions, changed and corrected NOTHING but added two pages of punctuation at the end of the pamphlet so that the reader may “peper and solt it as thay plese”.  That charm of merchant genius extends throughout ALL of Dexter’s legacy and… “rare books”.