I suppose books should be dusted after 18 years, but it was not something I was planning. I’m way behind on about a dozen different things. Dusting the books was not a priority. (I’m speaking quite literally here of dusting books, not “cooking” books or some other accounting esoterica.) But somehow, in a weak moment, I had agreed it was time to replace my put-’em-up-myself-on-brackets bookshelves with molding-adorned professional built-ins, not unlike the way Jerry agreed to wear the low-talker’s “puffy shirt” on the Today Show.
(Translation for the Seinfeld-deprived: She was a low-talker, so Jerry and Elaine couldn’t hear a word she said. Eventually, they gave up trying and just smiled and agreed at what they took to be the appropriate places. One of the things Jerry apparently agreed to, without knowing it, was to wear the puffy shirt. And may I say, to further confound those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, or how Seinfeld could possibly command $1 million an episode, and the others $600,000 apiece: Hey! I think they’re worth every penny of it. Now just give the writers a raise.)
Anyway, getting built-in bookshelves meant taking down all the books from the old shelves and after a week or so, dusting them off and putting them back in the new shelves. Not a small job. But the side benefit, of course, is coming across so many long-forgotten pieces of one’s life.
One thing I came across was the little file box from the eighth grade in which I kept neatly typed three-by-five index cards for the book I was writing on Attila the Hun. (It’s pronounced AT-ill-ah, even though nobody does, and my book, aged twelve, began: “Like demons out of hell, they came …” speaking here of the Huns, who used to “cook” their meat by putting slabs of it between themselves and their horses’ backs and then galloping off to loot and pillage.) So there was this box, filled with alphabetical cards I had neatly typed 38 years earlier (“Acatziri, a tribe imperfectly subdued by Attila,” “Addac, king of the Alans in Lusitania (around Portugal). He died about 418, in battle against Wallia” . . . ). I have never hidden the fact I was a strange child. And as you can imagine, looking at it now for the first time in decades, I was struck by the passage of time and by the absurdity of my pursuit (no, I did not complete, let alone publish, my book on Attila — at 12, I didn’t even have an agent), but mainly, I was struck by the note I had apparently typed to myself, with some urgency. Indeed, it was the urgency rather than the note itself that struck me. It was the first card (alphabetical order be damned), and it was headed: IMPORTANT IMPORTANT, once in black with red underline, once in red with black underline:
SEE HODGKIN’S MAP, PAGE 568, VOL I., PART II. NOTE: THAT THEY USED A HIGHWAY ETC. !!!!!!!!!! NOTE WHICH ONE !!!!!!! NOTE WHERE IT LEADS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hodgkin’s was a wonderful 19th century three-volume history I had found at a rare bookstore. I seem to have deduced from one of its maps the route Attila would have taken on his way to or from some battle. And — lest I forget this world-shaking discovery (the Huns were thought to have come teeming down over the hills, I think, not to have taken highways) — I had pounded away on my old manual Olympia typewriter this card: IMPORTANT IMPORTANT.
Can you imagine if, at 12, I had put the same passion into learning about computers?
I had not planned to tell you any of this. I had planned to tell you about a few of the financial books I dusted off. Please come back Monday.
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One governor's best advice to another: Never screw up on a slow news day.~.
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