Sunday, October 21, 2012

Saturday as Clean-Up Day

     A photo on the wall: Golf trip with friends to St. Andrews

The carpet installer left a mess behind him. I didn’t realize how much dust pulling up old carpet can raise. All my wonderful books should have been covered. My bad! But now, I get to laze around on a Saturday morning and dust them one by one – these books I love – these books I’ve shelved because I couldn’t part with them after getting so involved in them and liking them so. Barbara Streisand entertains me as I work.
by Charlie Leck

No tough blogging today. This is only a short, personal essay in which I reminisce about younger days. Silly stuff! Move on if you’ll be embarrassed.

On the little Bose CD player downstairs, a bunch of my old, old CDs are lined up to entertain me as I work.

“People who like people
Are the luckiest people on earth!”

I’m trying to figure out how to move a bunch of my old CDs over to my iPod, which will play in my car and with which I’ll also be able to take all these favorites traveling with me, just by toting along this little contraption. The music I’m listening too says everything I guess about my age. Young people don’t like these kinds of songs anymore, but they sort of raised me and matured me and continue to mean an awful lot to me.

I’m cleaning my study this morning and putting all the furniture back into it. Next comes the new window treatments!

It’s so nice working up here while Barbara entertains me with Second Hand Rose… I’ll dust all the bookshelves and the hanging pictures and photographs, and Barbara sings on – song after song of Barbara’s Great Hits. What a way to spend a Saturday morning.

“Stuff in our apartment came from Father’s store
Even the clothes I’m wearing, someone wore before…”

What a wonderful performer she was! She put her soul into her songs and I can remember having the stereo speakers stuck in an open window of my house, just behind the screen, blasting her voice out into the yard as I raked the leaves.

“Free again…
Back to being free again…
Back to bein’ on my own…”

I wasn’t big on attending live performances, but if ever there was an entertainer I would have enjoyed hearing in person, it would have been Barbara… and Louie Armstrong, too.

“Don’t tell not to live…
Don’t tell me not to fly…
Don’t bring around a cloud
to rain on my parade…”

“Happy Days,” Barbara belts out at the beginning of a song, and the crowd goes crazy with screams, whistling and applause. “Happy days are here again!’

You bet they are, Barbara. You can bet on it! I’m working through my Vonnegut collection now, laughing about memories as I carefully dust each one and slide it where it belongs on the shelves. Elliot Rosewater! What a guy! All first editions these Vonnegut volumes! Carefully hunted down in bookstores from that lovely one along the Saint Croix River to that grand and expensive one on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.

Carly Simon is keeping me company now – Greatest Hits Live!
“Nobody does it better…
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it half as good as you…
Baby, you’re the best!”

All the John Updike novels and essays get shelved here, just above Vonnegut. One by one I dust them lovingly. They’re nearly all first edition, too, except for Rabbit Run, of course. The asking price for that was just so – well – silly, I guess! “A good investment,” each book seller would tell me, but I never bought these books as investments. I bought them to be here around me – ready, when I called them, to slide into my hands again and open themselves to me.

“You’re so vain,
Probably think this song is about you!
You’re so vain,
You probably think this song is about you!
You’re so vain,
I’ll bet you think this song is about you, don’t you? Don’t you?”

The Tim O’Brien books go over here, just to the left. How incredible were the first two O’Brien books I read! Do you remember them? The Things They Carried! Oh, my! That one deserved another reading – and another. And then I read it again with a teenager from France who was writing an essay about it for an English equivalency test at an East Coast college he wanted to get into. He struggled with it. My wife and I would go walking with him and read it with him as we walked.

“It’s more than just his weapons and the things in his backpack,” my wife explained to him. “It’s the things in his heart, his mind and his soul as well. It’s his fears and sorrows and bad memories – his dreams and hopes, too.” The youngest did well on the essay and was admitted.

Carly sings on…

“Do the walls come down
When you think of me?
Do your eyes grow dim?
Do the walls come down
When you think of me?
Do you let me in?”

And then O’Brien wrote Lake in the Woods. It was also about the things one carried also. The memories of butchery in Vietnam come back for a young Senator. What a book! I could never part with thee.

Some books are meant to be passed along – given away to one who will find it challenging and good. Some books can’t be removed from one’s memories or soul – and my stay here on the shelves with me.

Here’s the Thomas Hardy shelf. Hardy taught me how to read. The first A+ I ever got in college came on an essay I wrote about Tess of the D’Urbervilles. And then I couldn’t stop reading Hardy and I devoured novel after novel and then went back again to read them over. Jude the Obscure. Gracious! How could one both write and tell stories better than Hardy? The Mayor of Casterbridge!

Pete Seeger’s plucking away now. I’ll bet he read Hardy. He’s a Hardy kind of guy. He plays Coal Creek March on that banjo of his and you can hear the creek babbling along and moving rapidly away. Neat stuff!

“Oh what a beautiful city!
Oh what a beautiful city!
It must be the children
That Moses led!
Twelve gates to the city!
Oh, my Lord!
When I get there,
We’ll sing and shout!”

The books look fine again. The leather Hemingway collection is bright and shiny after the dusting. Have I ever read anything better than Old Man and the Sea? No, I never have.

Now, I take down and dust the precious, little poster some young woman gave me years and years ago. She read something I wrote and cried. It touched me. She said I should spend my life writing. I told her it didn’t feed the kids. It took so much time to write. And what if no one thought it good enough to buy? It would be such a waste.

“It wasn’t to Hardy or Hemingway,” she replied so easily.

“No, but they hadn’t kids to feed or child support payments to make. I’m sure they didn’t!”

She wanted me to hang the clever, attractive little poster of a quill pen and a jar of ink; and the words: “A poet can survive anything but a typo!”


“Yes, anything?”

I don’t even remember her all that clearly and that’s a shame on me! I only remember that I wrote a sentence, once, that made her cry.

And Erika and Jenny’s photo goes here! Cynthia’s here! And this happy photo of Anne, in France – in front of Chez Evette – goes here. I hold it in my hand for the longest time, looking at it and remembering what it was like to love her as a young, strong fellow. I put the photograph in a place where I’ll see it every day and each day it will make me smile.

“I love you more now than then – then, when I did not think I could love you more!”

Linda Ronstadt is belting them out now…

“That’ll be the day when you say goodbye!
That’ll be the day when you make me cry!”

I’m hanging the rest of the photographs and prints now. I wouldn’t let the architect build the shelves any higher because I have to have photographs, paintings and prints around me. They each mean something or mark something in my life. They’re memories.

I’m ready for the big furniture now, but I can’t handle that kind of work anymore. I’ll have to wait ‘til Monday, when they come back to work at the farm.

There’s a new Barbara Streisand biography, Hello Gorgeous, by William J. Mann, on the market.
(Here’s a Washington Post review of the book!)

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