I am, as usual, agog at what you have given us—a boxful of old radio programs on CD, two small sets of collectible game cards, boxes of opera scores, and three cookbooks signed by Charlie Trotter—but I cannot help being just a little cast down by the thought of what you did NOT bring us.
No, I am not going on about that signed First Folio or your Gutenberg Bible. These are mere pipe dreams, and we aren’t allowed to smoke pipes inside the library. I’m talking about the things I KNOW YOU HAD, and yet decided not to give us when you brought in your collection of World War II movies.
I don’t mind so much when a box comes in labeled “Old Kitchen Towels” and I find that, after all, it contains your collection of Lous L’Amour novels. It’s when, as happened a few years ago, I get nothing but mysteries in a box whose lid said “Love Letters: Burn” that I start to whine. It’s a long shot, but I MIGHT have gotten more money for burnable love letters than I did for those books.
But it’s not just the impulse to make money that brings on the disappointment. Sometimes it’s because I will never know the answer to the mystery. Do YOU like reading an Inspector Problexe caper with the last chapter torn out? That’s how I felt when someone donated a box on which they had written, in black marker, “Angels: Christmas and Regular”. I’ve been worrying about that ever since.
Another poor soul who deals in used books told me the most frightening thing he sees in his workaday life is a box with “EB” written on the side. This means he is getting yet another Encyclopaedia Britannica. I feel it is more frightening to find that someone has left boxes at our Donation Missile marked “#345”, “#344” and “#343”. This suggests that I will be hearing more—much more—from this jolly donor.
But fear is a part of the job. So is frustration, I suppose, but really. Isn’t a Book Fair Manager’s life frustrating enough, with that lonely volume 2 of that book from 1729 and that signed copy of The DaVinci Code which has had the signed page ripped out, without adding a big box labeled “Nebraska Maps, 1800s” that is actually filled with children’s books thrown away by a local middle school? Yes, I can certainly sell the books, but the maps of Cornhusker Territory would have been more fun.
What was IN this box labeled “OLD OCPs”? Odd Cat Pictures? Oatmeal Cream Pies? This one over here isn’t a very big box: could it really have held many “Fragile Glass Shades”? Or does that say “Fragile Glass Slides”? Could you have written something on the side of the box to finish the story? I presume this box was FOR “VALERIE” and didn’t actually contain “VALERIE”, but who knows? Maybe “VALERIE” was the name of Grandpa’s Steiff Teddy Bear or that Berliner Talking Doll from 1888. I’ll never know.
Reality is, of course, sometimes a let-down. When you gave me that big, heavy box labeled “Divorce Papers, Box 1”, it was actually full of legal papers and statements and photo albums which made for rather dull reading. I did TRY to convince a few institutions in keeping them as historical documents, but they wouldn’t bite. And I sold those boxes marked “Photo Albums”, but I haven’t heard yet whether the buyer has contacted the Art Institute or anybody else to stage an exhibition of your work.
Still, it’s the potential. The things you didn’t give us taunt and tempt from the sides of your reused boxes. I sometimes think you write those labels solely to torment us with the might-have-beens. Like this one, so seasonal and so…so basically useful. This is the box which once contained, it says, “Halloween Candy Bucket– AND GREAT BIG SPIDER”.
Oh well. Back to Britannica.