Riddle: what do you get when you combine an overtired klutz, an avid reader of 40 years, and a person’s observation that a particular bookshelf looks more than a mite unsteady on its feet?
Answer: I think we all know how this is going to turn out.
There’s moving in, and then there’s the preparation-slash-cleaning-slash-chaos in the scant few days before my mother-in-law will be here for a visit. She’s happy to get out of frigid, overcast Michigan, but to give her something more than a dusty bedroom in our cold basement I had a few things to do around the house. I also procured a can of light blue paint from my very friendly neighborhood Sherman Williams store. However many professional painters there are in Walla Walla, I’m pretty sure all of them had congregated there when I made my visit last Saturday. I even felt a bit out of place, like a bare-bellied Sneech, without any schmears of paint on my clothing. All I needed was a neon sign over my head declaring “BOUGIE, BOUGIE” in a blinking fashion.
I have painted many a room, middle class amateur or not, so I know what I’m doing with the blue masking tape, drop cloths, roller brushes and 2-inch flat cut hand brushes. I know whether I’ll need primer or not, paint thinner, and how many gallons just from gauging the surface area. I’m not the master wallpaper hanger like my mother is, but need an interior paint job and I’ve got it covered.
Perhaps I was a little overconfident. We’ve got these textured walls in this house in the living room and dining room, like a redux of some 1970s stucco. It’s not my preference, but it fades away after a while, like so much static. What I didn’t realize was that it’s much more difficult to paint. I was a newbie all over again, needing to figure out how much color to put on the roller. It does not go on evenly, and it seems to require a lot more pushing on the handle. By the time I’d made it halfway around the dining room, my arms needed a rest.
I put my tools away carefully and went downstairs to flatten several empty boxes, and get them into the basement storage. We have more storage in this house than we had in living area in our Seattle apartment. I broke through the tape on the cardboard and stacked them up next to me, planning on carrying them to the shelves in another part of the basement. One box had some heavy hardcover books in it still, so I grabbed a few and plunked them onto the top shelf of a metal bookcase Susanne brought with her when we moved in together. We have something like 60 boxes of books, and she is always after me to cull through them. But I can’t decide which to give away; it’s like Sophie’s Choice. But in book form. And sans Nazis.
My literary theory books from graduate school? No way. Every book on trans anything that I’ve ever purchased? I can’t abide that, come on. The Stephen King hardbacks that I bought, one by one, from the public library in Myrtle Beach where I’d spend my childhood summers? Those are practically reference books. I’ve ditched the Naiad romance novels already, and even so I miss a little bit seeing Katherine Forrest pinched next to Don Delillo. I enjoy creative shelving. Maybe I don’t need that unauthorized biography of Carol Burnett anymore, it’s true, but on its own it doesn’t take up much space. Don’t even think about asking me to get rid of either of my two copies of Trash by Dorothy Allison. I taught it twice so I have two copies, and I earned those two copies, darn it.
I laid Harry Potter IV, V, and VI on the top shelf, and turned around to grab another fistful of books when the 7-foot cabinet came twisting and crashing down onto me, depositing four decades and several hundred pounds of reading in an ignoble heap. My copy of the first printing of Thinner with the fake author photo of Richard Bachman. A dog-eared copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Lies My Sister Told Me. Pope Joan. Stones from the River. The Left Hand of Darkness. Stranger in a Strange Land. Classics. These are the narratives I return to when I’m waking, when I sleep, the ones I fear sounding worse than, and the tales to which I aspire to be a quarter as good.
Some of them are crushed, some bent. They may have appreciated that I squealed in shock and then misery when the metal failed. I’ll pick them up and brush them off with silent apologies, and well, I still have the dining room to finish painting. Susanne asked if I was willing to let go of any books in light of this tiny catastrophe, but she knows my answer already, I’m sure. Now that we’ve had this trauma together, I’m all the more committed to them.