Thursday, December 07, 2006

Long Lost Thoughts

I was sitting here at my desk one day, really minding much of nothing as is par for an idle Wednesday with nothing due on the immediate horizon, and it suddenly occurred to me that I had forgotten something, something that I had left behind. You know the feeling in the gut of your stomach that you’ve misplaced something: You’re walking down the street thinking everything is right with the world and suddenly, it hits you that you left a jacket at your parents’ house, a book at the train station, your briefcase at the office…that the iron’s on. For me, the day’s ruined until I can find the missing item or replace it with a suitable facsimile. That anxiety alone is pressure enough for me to have rarely ever lost anything during my life; that and I am very careful with my belongings.

What I had forgotten so long ago was something quite similar to what you’re reading right now. Unless you know me and know where to look, the odds are really good that you’ve stumbled upon my site by mere accident, a chance encounter with the “next blog” button perhaps, so it goes without saying that, save for a few strangers, everyone reading this hasn’t really discovered this page… as I showed you were to look and now you read it through obligation. And for those of you who read this in lieu of picking up the phone and talking to me, then you know more about me than I could ever share in person. Sadly it seems, my thoughts and this Digital Me are much more interesting than the real thing.

And that is what I had forgotten.

Since I was a kid, I have always been fascinated by the concept of posterity, the unknown future and the people that leave behind clues about who they were, what they were like and how the world around them functions. Pioneer 10 is a great example, a spaceship launched in the late 70s for the twofold purpose to take a few pictures of some of the outlying planets and then amble out of the solar system in the vastly remote chance of stumbling into another life form. It’s like dropping a thimble into the ocean in California and hoping that it not only reaches Japan, but that somebody will be able to spot it (when they’re not even looking for it), pick it up and use it to find their way to California. That’s Pioneer 10’s ultimate mission, only multiply the span of the Pacific Ocean by a million and you have the scope of the optimism involved.

Couple that with my enthrallment with buried treasure, secret codes and hidden messages, pirates’ booty, Pharaohs gold, bank robbers of the old west, cryptologists during World War II, spies of any era, and anything that has some hint of cloak and daggers is my enthusiasm for all the secrets that people squirrel away in hidden places for others to find. Recently I read about a Donald Trachte (whom you may know as the illustrator for the comic strip “Henry”). He purchased a painting from his neighbor in Arlington, Vermont, for $900 in 1960, and in 1973, he and his wife were going through a bitter divorce. He had a copy of the painting made and tucked the original one (along with some other paintings) behind a fake wall in his home office, no doubt, hiding it from his soon-to-be ex-wife. Perhaps he forgot about it or he just didn’t want anyone to know, but he died last year and while his sons were cleaning out his house, the found the painting. So, who was his neighbor? None other than Norman Rockwell, and the painting “Breaking Home Ties” sold for 15.4 million a couple of weeks ago at Sotheby’s. Now that’s hidden treasure!

And that is what I had forgotten. Strangely, it struck me suddenly out of the blue, so I decided to take an afternoon to see if it could be found, something I had “squirreled away” nearly 17 years ago.

I took U.S. History my Junior year at Glendora High School, and I was always interested in the subject so I decided to overlook the fact that the teacher had been instructing for a number of years and the presentation of the material, to be kind, had staled somewhat. This was monumentally evident in something we called “busy work,” that in-class pop quiz or impromptu essay assignment that teachers spring up when they are nursing a hangover or preoccupied with romantic thoughts of the Physics teacher or what have you. The class was an “accelerated,” International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced Placement (AP) course which meant it was full of university hopefuls none too concerned about padding their GPA with an easy class, so I was delighted to discover “busy work” as a time to do other things, like homework for the next class or scribbling in my journal. But it isn’t like we sat back and accepted the fact that we were going to sit there and waste our time with rote memorization tricks about the state capitals or who is the secretary of what department; several of my classmates, at first, blurted “busy work” through a concealing cough when it was evident we were about to be employed in such mindless time-bending activity. Then, perhaps steeled by a sense of intellectual superiority to the rest of the school (remember, IB/AP), we were brazened by the lack of challenge busy work offered and began to defy the assignments, arguing that we wished for something more demanding of our knowledge.

However, “busy work” prevailed, as always.

Most of the truly galling “busy work” occurred during our frequent visits to the library, where we’d spend five minutes of a 55-minute period completing the assignment and the rest of the time goofing off with our friends. Most times, during the library excursions, I took this time to write pseudo-journal entries on lined loose-leaf paper.

Perhaps I did four or five of such one-page entries, and lacking any place to keep them—perhaps even then I was interested in posterity (after all, I wrapped a nickel in a piece of paper with my name and the date and threw it up on top of the p/a speaker in Mr. Gonzalez’s Spanish class my Freshman year in the hopes that I could come back many years from then and find it again)—I shoved them into a large book on the shelf behind me. And since I was a tremendous creature of habit then as well as now, I always sat in the same chair at the same table in the southwest corner of the library, near the Audio/Visual section on the other side of the bookcases.

What were they about? What did I write about those long many years ago? Who knows, as I only remember one entry, and that was a lamentation of the fact that pretty girls can usually get what they want as long as they flash their big blue eyes and flip back their hair in that flirting manner they learned from somewhere. It stemmed from a girl (who will remain nameless) asking to borrow a couple of dollars for lunch, and when I said no—I never had more than two dollars to my name at any given time before I was 20 years old—she got miffy and stormed off in a huff. That deserved preservation in my eyes.

And suddenly the memory of that day, for reasons inexplicable to me, came flooding back into my head and I was curious to know if that book was still there, still holding the secrets that I had written. There was nothing stopping me from looking, right?

It had been 17 years since I last saw them. I remembered the general area where the book I stashed them in should be and I remembered what I thought was the title, “Celebrity,” a choice I made most arrogantly and egocentrically, thinking I might become one in the future and it would be poetic for my biographer to find some of my early thoughts in writing hidden in a book at my Alma Mater called “Celebrity.”

I remembered “Celebrity” being blue and I remembered the book was oddly large enough so the pages I wrote snuggled nice and flat within the book. But I didn’t know who wrote it.

The campus of Glendora High School hadn’t changed much in the last 15 years since I graduated, but there were subtle differences that stood out as I walked across campus. The Drama Department had moved to its new location by the student parking lot, and I thought it would have been nice to play Orin the Dentist on a new stage, and walking by the Teacher Lounge didn’t invoke the gag reflex from the exhaust fans blowing out cigarette smoke.

The most outstanding difference was that they remodeled the library. Which figures, of course. I spoke with the librarian, the very same one I gave a hard time when I wanted to see the “banned books” list, insisting that there was a list somewhere of classics like “Huckleberry Fin” that they decided was too un-politically correct for impressionable minds to read. She looked up what I thought was the title and it wasn’t listed in the database, so my luck was waning. On top of which, she informed, the library’s collection of books was culled quite a bit during the remodeling some years ago, and everything was rearranged.

I asked her if it was okay that I poke around for what amounts to a quixotic pipedream of finding the right book after so many years, and she seemed as if she wanted me to find it as much as I did. I guess the daily life of a librarian must not be filled with strange requests and odd visits, much as this one. In the corner of the library that I usual sat, now stands a large TV, and over the wall from that are banks of computers where the A/V storage had previously been. No wonder they had to get rid of so many books, I contemplated sadly, to make way for computers… it’s a Fahrenheit 451 of a different nature.

A big blue book with the title “Celebrity” was nowhere to be found on that wall, but as I scanned the shelves in the corner, near the television, a book caught my eye. Blue, somewhat large, and the word “celebrity” emblazoned across the spine.

I had found it. Improbable though it may have been, I actually found it after nearly two decades. Quickly I yanked the book from the shelf and thumbed through the pages.

It was empty. No lined pages filled with my familiar chicken scratchings clung into the tomb. Disappointment replaced anticipation, and one thing bothered me when I first reached for it. The book wasn’t big enough. If I had put them in there, I would have had to of folded them in half, something I don’t remember doing. Instead of being what’s known as an imperial octavo (yeah, that’s right, I know old fashioned book sizes, so what?), which is roughly 8x11, it was smaller, perhaps a medium octavo, about 6x9. And I remembered that it had a dust jacket with the title in large bold letters across the front. This book didn’t have that.

There are three theories as to what happened: 1) They had two copies of the book and during the remodeling they figured they didn’t need the bigger one so they discarded it along with my prose; 2) Someone found them and promptly threw them in the trash where they probably belonged; or 3) It was the wrong book. Any of these could be the case, and I’ll have no way of ever knowing.

Perhaps I’m better off not reading what I had to say as a young know-it-all kid of 17. I’m sure I would just be embarrassed, much in the same way I will be after reading this 20 years from now.

It will remain, as always, a lost memory.

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