Bob Tumbler was fleeing his wife and himself in his old book room. He saw his shadow. He knew what it was that he saw. It wasn’t a shadow. HE was the shadow and the shadow of that... that he cast... was... real. Because of that he always kept the door to his rare book room closed. He preferred to keep one of the windows (in the rare book room) open. His wife would always go in there and close the window. “Later”. She did that for over fifty years. That window in the book room was closed when I started to clean it out. I opened it... and then closed it when I was done. “STUFFY IN HERE” I said when her eyes went for the window. “I’ll CLOSE IT WHEN I’M DONE.” I said. I did that.
Arlington St. John never saw his shadow. In his rare book room. He was fleeing... but it was not from rare books. Rooms. Shelves. Locked cabinets. Or saltines and cheese. It was as if he was a ‘normal person’; a non-rare book person. They don’t have shadows. I know you won’t believe me. But it’s true. If your not a rare book buff... try finding your shadow. If you are a rare book buff... then you know what I’m talking about. That’s why the door to your rare book room is closed. Right?
Books are burned. Readers are beheaded. That is the complete history of rare book collecting. That is the shadow. I close the book room door. Then: My books are not burned. I am not beheaded. When one is inside one’s old book room...‘don’t open the door’. It’s as simple as that. I, often, can hear books burning and readers being beheaded outside the closed door of the rare book room. But I ‘don’t want to see’. So I don’t open the door.
If Arlington is fleeing... and doesn’t cast a shadow... in his rare book room... and doesn’t know this... and that this does go on for... his... eternity... will I ‘get his rare books’?
Arlington talked to me about Emily Post and... Emily Dickinson. “What the Hell is that about?” you say. I’ll explain it. Emily Post tells one where to put the ashtrays out in a 1950’s living room. Emily Dickinson tell one where to put one’s ashes after one is dead. (‘Tied up in bundles at the back of the bottom dresser drawer’). That’s what I was doing at Arlington’s; ‘sitted’ in his rare book room. That simple. Of course I was getting his mother’s stuff from the boxes but... her stuff was just the same as the rare books in the cabinets: Rotten. But... understand... “I can sell that”. I can sell the rotten books too. That’s a point here. Arlington’s an asshole but he’s not as big an asshole as the people who buy his mother’s rotten stuff. Or is he as big an asshole as the people who buy his rotten books. He didn’t BUY those books. He inherited them. All he can do with them is keep them under lock and key or... sell them. You see... without me... Arlington is actually stuck with his rotten books... in the locked cabinets in
HIS rare book room. Though there was no shadow with Arlington... there was his worn collars. That’s right: I saw him wearing those worn out collar shirts... all the time. ‘Sitted’. Standing up. At book fairs. Bothering people. Bothering rare book buffs. Ruining modest sales for me by mumbling rubbish (Part Two). I saw... myself, with my eyes, those worn collar shirts. I never said anything. About them. Ever. No one did.
That’s because every one of us (rare book men) knew what they mean. Means. Arlington was fleeing. That was his shadow; the worn collars... he wore his summary judgment... that we could all ‘see’... ‘his shadow’:
“SIX MORE WEEKS OF RARE BOOK COLLECTING”. Over and over. I went ‘over’ (to his rare book room) and ‘sitted’. The next day I sold the stuff I purloined from that ‘visit’. But I never ‘purloined’ Arlington. That’s important for Arlington ‘in this’. He was actually ‘that good’... even though he was a rotten book collector and a ...rotten man. He sat in his rare book room at his rare book desk... like a man; stood the ground. Like a man. He never erased a penciled price in any of the rare books in the locked cabinets (Part Two, at the end). Get it?
It doesn’t matter if you do. This (essay) isn’t about you. Your ‘normal people’. You don’t have a rare book room.
Your not fleeing.
You are not a shadow.
That casts a shadow.
You burn books.
You don’t read books.
You do stuff like charge your cell phone and look up and down the street
If you collect books like that... you will collect really,
Bad books. They will be worse than ‘rotten’ books and you will not even
Being a rotten book collector.
Even if you buy a house with a room in it that you fill with your ‘books’ you
We (rare book buffs) can tell
By the spine ends... of your collected books ‘however’ you have them...
From forty feet away
That they are bad books. Not ‘rotten’ books. ‘Bad’ books.
You didn’t even know where to put your ashes after you are dead until I
WROTE IT DOWN FOR YOU;
What Arlington St. John philosophized to me in HIS
Rare book room.
He’s THAT GOOD.
Want to find out that ‘more’? Try this one:
Arlington... in his top left drawer on the ‘his left’ side of his desk kept... remember I asked you not to forget these desk drawers? (Part Four) Ok... he kept... in THAT drawer... against the back side of the drawer front... always... for as long as I knew him and IT WAS THERE WHEN I... opened the drawer under the supervision of the housekeeper... after he was dead: HIS
Silver Spoon. The THAT silver spoon that HE (Arlington St. John) ‘was born with’ ‘in his mouth’. Right there. He kept it. That spoon right there. He knew it, of course... what it was (is; it’s still around) and that it was there. And showed it to me... the first time... by lifting it out of the drawer and handing it to me. It had his name on it. And his birth date. Tiny but elegant.
That’s not the end of this story. We were conversing... prior to this drawer opening and handing moment...: I’ll get to that. But... when he handed off... he says. Actually... he says and then asks: “Very few people who had them still have them. You know. (He emphasized the ‘You know.’). Most who did have them don’t have them. Maybe they lost them? No... they were negligent. Souls. That’s the way they live; lost or negligent... souls. Once they had it all. Then they lost it. All. Do you still have your silver spoon?”
There was a pause... across the desk top... of the rare book desk... in the rare book room... of Arlington St. John. He close scrutinized I. We were ‘sitted’ ‘opposite’. Then I said:
“I have mine; my silver spoon.”
“Really? You know where it is?
“Where do you keep yours?”
“Down in the bottom of my work bag... in the truck.”
“Your truck? Outside? You have it with you?”
“Why do you have it with you?”
“I never know when I might have to show it to someone.”
“God that’s great! Go get it. I want to see it.”
I did. Mine has my namesakes; my grandfather to my father... to me... too... engraved “on it”.
“God that’s great.” He said again. “God that is just great. Carry it with you. That is just a great way to do it.”. He says all that to me while we are ‘sitted’ in his rare book room. He’s wearing one of the worn collar shirts. “That is just great” he said again. “Most have lost theirs you know. They never forgive me for bringing it up. SPEAKS VOLUMES they say in book collecting. That’s what they say. Isn’t it?”
So here is a rotten man and a rotten book collector speaking to me of silver spoons, placement of one’s ashes and ... placement of ash trays... wearing old worn collar shirts... that are a shadow... of his shadow... that HE sees... while we are ‘sitted’ in his ‘rare book room’ at his ‘rare book desk’ sipping over iced smidgeons of crummy old whiskey with three china cabinets full of ‘rare books’ ‘shelved’ that his
Bought and he inherited.
Or did someone else buy them?
“You don’t know who bought them?” I had said just before we... exchanged...
Silver spoons legacies.