It was so mindlessly easy to just throw shit out the other day. Broken black metal table lamp bought by ex-boyfriend's mom at an Ikea in New Jersey that spent five years rusting in the garage after the cat peed on it? (The lamp, not the mom, not the Ikea. I *heart* grammar.) I think I can let go of that now, thanks.
Ugly clothing, broken toys, garbage, trash, warped melted tapes, fucking useless broken wedding presents, all of it, ALL OF IT OUT.
Except the books. By God, not the books.
Will I ever finish Infinite Jest? No. Will I keep it forever, as its pages yellow and its paperback cover curls toward the sky until it's unfit to stop a door, because I got it free from a bookstore I was working at, and was supposed to read so I could talk it up with customers, but never did, and so couldn't, and still feel guilty and delude myself into thinking I might still finish it one day? YES.
Remaindered hardcover of Tender Mercies that I only hold onto because I met Rosellen Brown at a writer's conference once and she broke the news to me that Donald Barthelme had died? HAVE TO KEEP THAT.
Autographed copy of You Bright and Risen Angels, of which I haven't even read the first page? IT MUST NEVER LEAVE MY POSSESSION.
Here's why. Because way back when I was piling everything I owned into a Toyota Previa to drive it from NY to CA, exboyfriend and his Ikea-shopping-mom strongly encouraged me to draw a line between "fun to have" and "can't live without." And so I had to make several Sophie's Choicelike decisions, the most ill-considered of which was to keep paperback signed You Bright and Risen Angels and leave behind hardcover signed Surrender the Pink in Ikea-shopping-mom's basement. "I'll get it later," I rationalized; "I'll just ask her to mail it out when we get there."
Pretentiously, I assumed William T. Vollman would have more value to me in the long run than Carrie Fisher. Completely discounting the fact that Carrie Fisher had personally signed the book TO ME, AT HER BOOK PARTY, the invitation to which exboyfriend and I had received as a costs-nothing reward from our manager for long hours toiling down in the stock room of our little downtown bookstore. Still wearing the unsightly, dusty thrift-store dress and clompy boots that I'd been wearing all day to slice open boxes and sticker books, exboyfriend and I found ourselves standing outside a private club in midtown Manhattan. Just a huge oak door with no sign. A rent-a-cop finally poked his head out, checked our invitations, and let us in, and the next thing I knew we were drinking martinis with Philip Glass and Liz Smith. Well, not with. More like in proximity to.
Exboyfriend, being pretty much without scruple when it comes to chatting up celebrities, quickly nabbed a copy of The Book that was standing next to a plant, and flirtatiously proffered it to The Author to sign. Oh, they had quite a little chat, they did. I'm not sure how he got her to sign it to me, as I was busy being embarrassed in a corner, but she did it with a flourishing smirk, and with a friendly hi-de-ho she was off to shmooze someone who actually mattered.
But exboyfriend wouldn't stop there, oh no. Lauren Bacall was sitting in a booth surrounded by five well-groomed, studly, courtier types. Exboyfriend walked right up, book clutched to chest, and obsequiously squeaked, "Excuse me, Miss Bacall?" Really, his voice went up an octave, and all conversation at the table stopped as he was appraised and instantly found lacking by five gay, gay, fabulously gay men. Miss Bacall turned to see who dared interrupt the fun, and you can imagine she looked somewhat like a lioness contemplating a tasty and inconviently chattering lemur. The whole evening was becoming an exercize in agony for me, but exboyfriend apparently didn't have a nerve in his body because he actually laid down some line about her being the brightest star in the firmament, something so painfully retarded that I guess he won her over with sheer stupidity, because she looked at him for a second, and then she laughed. That big smoky, whiskey-colored, I-fucked-Humphrey-Bogart-AND-Jason-Robards laugh. Then all the fags relaxed, too, and went on talking amongst themselves. Thus emboldened, exboyfriend held out Carrie Fisher's book and asked Lauren Bacall to sign it, too.
Now the expression changed from regal purring cat to Okay, I'm done with you. "It's not my book, it's Carrie's," she said flatly, and turned away. But for some reason the Head Fag had taken a shine to exboyfriend (he was always getting hit on by gay men, I guess he learned to take advantage) and he said to her, "Oh, but you're listed in the index, you could sign it there," and he flipped to the back and showed her. So under the filtered sunlight of the flock's admiration, she grudgingly signed the book, too.
Exboyfriend thanked her, winked at his new boyfriend, and let me drag him off. Then he gave the book to me and we had one more drink, and then we got on a train and went back downtown where we belonged. I put the book on my shelf and didn't read it, wrapped up as I was at the time in pretending to read Roland Barthes. And then we moved to California and broke up. And is that book still in his mom's basement, thirteen years later? Or did it wind up in a church rummage sale? Is it now on the bookshelf of a Rumson dowager, or is it halfway to mulch in Fresh Kills?
I don't know. I still have William T. Vollman to keep me warm, but he's wearing his Ice Shirt and he's not doing a very good job. And as my attention span has dulled down to the length of a Tom and Jerry cartoon, I guess I'll just have to dust off that VHS copy of Postcards From the Edge, mix a margarita, and wait for naptime.