Maura begins lobbying earlier each morning. Our two-and-a-half year-old Siberian Husky does not care how much I’m enjoying Dennis Prager’s Happiness is a Serious Problem. She’s a dog. She does not understand that I would like to reach a good stopping point. Come on, Maura. The chapters are real short in this book. Just a minute and I’ll change from pajamas to running pants.
The Sun is rising; it’s time for me to finish my reading-stretching multitasking and take her for our run. Who knows what we’ll find today?
My favorite part of each morning with Maura is the randomness. I’ve started letting her decide which direction we’ll go, when we’ll start a sprint, and which turns we’ll take. When we’ve gone a reasonable distance (usually a little bit further each day) then I’ll finally direct her to start leading us toward home. Sometimes I’ll nudge her in one direction over another or hold her back from an item that really has no business going into her mouth.
The surprising side effect of our routine is the phenomenon I reveal in this week’s article: we keep finding interesting stuff! And every time I acquire some new book or handwritten note the unanswerable questions sprout up like toadstools. I wonder who owns these items. Did they abandon them intentionally or are they frantically looking for something they’ve lost? We’re not likely to ever find out. And that’s OK.
For my original acquisition: three books that are probably alright but I doubt I’ll ever read…
These three titles were the first items I ever brought home from a walk. It was maybe three months ago when Maura and I came across a much bigger pile of trendy fiction dumped in front of the sidewalk of one of the more expensive apartments in the neighborhood.
I decided to grab these three because they were the authors I knew best. I’d read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity while in high school and of course knew the John Cusack film (probably one of the more overrated of hipster films.) And perhaps April might like a copy of The Time Traveler’s Wife? I’d really liked the movie. (Hugh Jackman was badass.) And wasn’t David Sedaris popular amongst NPR listeners? <sarcasm> Yes, a very high priority title to read indeed. </sarcasm>.
But a part of me feels a little bit haunted holding onto the books. Why was this collection of trendy Gen-X and Boomer literature just abandoned in the street? A woman had to be the owner. How many men would buy The Time Traveler’s Wife? And there were too many Oprah’s Book Club selections. It was odd that someone would abandon such an expensive assortment of fairly recent books.
Did the owner get into a fight with her significant other? Did they break up? Did he throw out her books? Were they chucked out the window from the apartment above? Or were they dumped there by a bitter boyfriend returning the books she left at his place across town?
The books had no distinguishing marks inside — no names or highlights or receipts-as-bookmarks. So we’ll never know.
But the next book I would find had a name most PJM readers will know well: William F. Buckley, Jr…
I did not expect to continue finding piles of abandoned books on our walks. But a few weeks later another one manifested.
This time Maura and I walked through a more modest neighborhood and the pile was much less valuable. This collection contained mostly romance novels and cheap paperbacks from the 1970s. One gem did jump out though: a William F. Buckley Jr., Blackford Oakes novel.
This book appeared to be a first edition from the early ’80s — 1982. I wonder how many people may have actually read this copy since it rolled off the presses three decades ago, two years before my birth. Any? Was it a book that circulated amongst thrift shops, lent from friend to friend? Or was it just buried and never enjoyed by anyone?
My third book discovery was when things started to get spooky…
Again a few weeks passed and again Maura and I discover a pile of books. This time, though, we stood in front of one of the abandoned houses in the neighborhood. And the assortment here was the bottom of the barrel. Outdated electronics manuals from the 1970s and old college science textbooks made up most of the titles. Except for this old green book with a broken cover.
The title page:
A shot of the second half’s table of contents gives a feel for the book’s occult themes:
Marie Corelli was a popular British novelist from the 1880s through the 1920s but few readers know her today. Attempt to read some of her work and you’ll understand why:
I’m even more curious about who — if anyone — could have ever attempted to read Ardath (which you can download for free from Amazon here.) This book doesn’t have a date when it was printed and I cannot find a similar edition online. It does not appear to be worth anything — it says $1.50 in pencil on the inside and is in lousy condition — but I still wonder about the perhaps 75-100 year odyssey the book took before ending up in a pile of obsolete computer manuals.
The next item I would find would be decoded by the Tatler’s smart readership.
November 28 produced the biggest haul yet. First, early on in our walk, Maura and I discovered this note written in a language I could not decipher:
I uploaded the image to the Tatler and several commenters eventually figured it out.
Thanks Kristen, who provides perhaps the best translation:
my dad called me urgently into the room to decipher this. it’s cursive hebrew. really bad handwriting.
2. organize clothing
3. burn disk of photos
4. go open the photos
5. bring “רדיסה”–cant quite make that out
6. buy the book for you (looks more like “אותו’ (you) to me than “אמא’ (mom) )
7. take photos
8. pack and weigh
Next would be my most valuable haul ever, which I’m actually looking to return to its owner who surely misses his eccentric property…
As Maura and I were heading back home we came across a plastic bag. Inside were two collections of unusual items.
If the owner would like to name the two other titles, the color of the bag they were in found in, and an email address he can be reached at then that would be wonderful.
I have several of these titles on DVD, including the Criterion version of 400 Blows. It’s too bad that I don’t have a laserdisc player — then if I was in an especially geeky mood I could hook them both up to the same TV simultaneously and compare the difference in visual quality.
Perhaps those were the plans of the person who lost their bag. Maybe tomorrow Maura and I will come across an abandoned laserdisc player.
But these grandparents of the Blu Ray weren’t the only movie-related paraphernalia in the bag.
Also included was a collection of six directors coasters — all heavily used. The first I saw was the one above, of, ugh, Roman Polanski. Others include Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Spike Lee, Tim Burton, and Quentin Tarantino.
To see more of the coasters or to purchase your own set (if any are still available) click here.
The plus-side of the owner not reclaiming his items is that I can continue using the third item in the collection…
Yes, in addition to the laserdiscs and coasters there was an almost brand-new yoga mat. Quite a useful score.
With the next item discovered again a creepy feeling emerges: was someone getting scammed?
On December first, only a block South of where I’d found the cursive Hebrew note, I discovered this folded playing card. Were some friends playing a card game together? Or was somebody playing three card monte on an unsuspecting mark? I fear the latter given given the specific card and its fold…
The next item found that day would be more hopeful…
Also found this two-sided piece of children’s art:
What does it mean the way the eyes are diamond-shaped like that? And how come the tall man’s face is blotted with pink splotches?
The next day I would discover another paper treasure…
By the next day – December 2 – I was actually heading out with Maura each morning with a sense of wonder of what we might find. This discarded fruit sign, with letters peeling off and two fantastic red apples, called out to me. I had to fold it up carefully because my initial attempts to roll it up caused letters to spill out all over the wet sidewalk.
These apples are well done. I wonder if whoever made them does any other art? Do they know that they have talent?
Or am I seeing something that isn’t there? Maybe they were just cut out and assembled based off of a pattern and their maker does not have any specific abilities that might someday elevate them to do more than sell apples. Or perhaps they’re more than content with providing their community with organic produce. Maybe instead of an image of a struggling apple seller, they’re actually the owner of the farm.
And finally, the last item is a reminder that we’re still on the West Coast…
And on December 3 — Saturday morning’s run — Maura and I acquired this sticker, peeled off a telephone poll.
Regarding it I have only one speculation: Of all the “progressive” causes which might inspire one to vandalize public property with an obnoxious sticker… Fox News? What does it say about someone that this is the issue that they get their rocks off over the most?
If there’s some point to be made here (and I’m not sure there is) then perhaps it’s this: just because we’re presented with a choice it does not mean we always have to make a decision. Not every choice is as important as we might initially think. In the case of our morning runs it doesn’t really matter which direction we go so the most interesting decision is to just let Maura decide.
Lately I’ve tried to do this more often with everything. When presented with a choice that I supposedly have to make, instead of just weighing the options between A, B, C, and D I’ve started also asking, “Is this decision really something that’s important enough to be worth thinking about? Are the potential benefits of A over B really so significant that I need to clutter my head with worrying?”
(For the political expression of this thought, see this point from my column last week where I argued that a campaign’s strategy is more important for victory than its candidate or his ideology.)
So now when we go to a restaurant I’m much less interested in the menu. If it’s a quick bite at a fast food joint I’ve started picking items randomly. If it’s a sit-down restaurant I’ve started relying on waiters more for their recommendations, asking them what they personally liked the most. In some cases where their suggestions all sound intriguing I’ve asked them to just pick one and surprise me when they bring out the plate.
Some may think that this approach to dining — and living — would yield diminishing returns. By knowing my own tastes more and picking what I want am I not more likely to have a satisfying meal? No. Because picking items which I’ve enjoyed from past experience is no guarantee that I’ll appreciate them again or the experience won’t have a negative effect. All my life I’ve loved barbecue babyback ribs and often choose to order them at restaurants. But what happens when I order a rack — perhaps even from a reliable place which I enjoy regularly — and somehow it’s cooked improperly, causing me to spend all night vomiting? The experience might be so unpleasant that henceforth the very thought of ribs would produce waves of nausea.
My runs with Maura follow the same principles. There are so many potential routes we could take and who knows if one path we enjoyed will even yield the same returns tomorrow? Every day is a mystery. So why not just embrace it and follow her lead?
I hope you will consider reading some of my previous PJM articles on politics, counterculture, and life: