Are Books Following You Around?

UCLABack in 1964 I packed my clothes in a small suitcase and my books and supplies in three orange crates (the cardboard ones with the full-fitting tops). Later that day my father dropped me off at the curb in front of the dormitory at the university and, because parking was forbidden, drove away leaving me to fend for myself in the big city. And it was only a day or two later that I realized that survival was the reality of the situation.

I had come up to the university a week or two early for the Freshman Orientation. I bunked with a guy from another part of the state that actually knew and revered my High School for its championship marching band (he was a Music major). But three days later the orientation was over, I was forced to move to another dormitory, and I realized I had more than a week to figure out how I was going to eat each day (food-service was not open yet) and whether I could withstand the terrors of Los Angeles. At least I had plenty of time to empty my three boxes of books and arrange them neatly on the built-in bookshelves.

For two years I moved in and out of the dormitory—summer vacations, Rose Bowl lockdowns, summer session at another college—and for the most part I moved those same three boxes in and out while at some time adding a fourth for all the new books I was collecting. Being an English Major I wanted to keep almost everything in my field but as far as those required science courses, I sold those books back as soon as the Final Exam was over.

In my Junior year I got married and moved to a small (but handily designed) studio apartment not far from campus. I began to collect more and more stuff but the centerpiece of my hoarding was still books and more books. The next year we moved to a real apartment a short bus-ride west of campus and those three or four boxes ended up in a large closet, not forgotten but seldom needed.

After graduation I went away to graduate school in the mid-west. My father put new retreads on the family station wagon and I packed what was now about eight boxes into the back with my precious guitar safely stowed and my mother tagging along for company on the road. Unfortunately, somewhere north of Phoenix it happened: a bolt loosened, the generator slipped on its armature, the belt loosened, the engine overheated, and the old family war-wagon died in the middle of the Arizona desert. Luckily the service station that towed in the car was looking out for me and my eight boxes, so I traded the station wagon and the new retreads for a ride back to Phoenix. In Phoenix I watched the Chicago Democratic National Convention on television and packed up my eight boxes to be shipped to me when I got settled in St. Louis.

ArchFor the first and last time I flew first-class from Sky Harbor to Lambert Field. When I arrived, it was just like when I was a Freshman: where to go, what to eat, is this a dangerous neighborhood?

I took a room in a shared home that looked like it came straight out of Meet Me In St. Louis and when my wife came to join me we moved to a third floor walk-up near the university. The boxes came with me. I even added a few.

Chased by the draft board, struggling with Beowulf and Old English, and getting a little squirrelly in my mind watching my typing squiggle and threaten my sanity, we packed up the new VW we had bought—boxes in the back, boxes on the roof, boxes over at air freight—and headed for my wife’s homeland, New York City. We ended up in New Jersey where I went to work for TPC and she commuted into Manhattan. My in-laws moved to a friendly apartment and we took over their barely serviceable garden apartment. The boxes again were in a closet (they were getting used to the dark).

Unexpectedly, my wife cleaned out all the bank accounts, maxed the credit cards, and took off for Europe. When she came back a few months later, I had paid off the credit cards, opened a new bank account in my name only, and moved my precious boxes into a old house that rented a room to me on a weekly basis. I really had nothing and the draft board was chasing after me so you might consider this a low point in my life. But I didn’t get drafted and sent away to Vietnam, my job was still waiting for me when I returned from three days at AFIPS being poked and prodded, and before too long, my girlfriend and I moved into a nice new apartment on the north side of Newark which we furnished from the Hamburger’s warehouse sales.

Time went on. I got remarried, bought a house with beaucoup de rooms and a basement for my boxes of books, got divorced again, moved my boxes to a condo, then an apartment, and eventually into a house with my new girlfriend. From there we bought another house and eventually retired together here in Hilton Head. Those three boxes I started life with had grown to over thirty boxes of books. I had built-in bookshelves installed in the office of this little house and put most of my books on the shelves, three rows deeps. Then my eyesight began to betray me.

alligatorNow I have most of my library conveniently contained in my iPad or on one of my computers. I’m gradually replacing the books with digital editions I can increase the font size and read conveniently. My last donation was a couple-hundred Penguin Classics to the library (I’ll never be able to read that fine print again).

My daughter tells me I’m getting to the stage where she’s going to have to move me into her house and take care of me. She may be right but I still have some work to do to pare down all those years of collecting stuff. If I calculate correctly, I should be able to leave this house with three boxes of books and a small suitcase of clothes.

2 thoughts on “Are Books Following You Around?

  1. I’m never gonna move again, I’ve told my hubby that they’ll have to carry me out boots first. I’m 71 and still healthy and strong enough to ride a motorcycle when I feel the urge, drive and read as much as I like. So at the moment I am not planning on going anywhere, but one has to plan for weakening health and eyesight, which if seems Mike has done admirably well.


  2. Wow, Mike. Thanks for sharing.

    I remember the glory days of packing everything in a car. My first husband traveled for a living. He would stay in a town anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months depending on the work to be done there. It was easy just to pick up and move – clothes, linens and some kitchen equipment. I didn’t try to take books then, but depended on the public libraries. The books came later. After living in one house for twenty years, you can imagine the number of books. I’ve moved twice since then with mega books left behind each time.


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