books, CDs, and coins -- Oh My!
3 September, 2000

Dear Friend,

. . . It's history! Throw it out! Get rid of it!
. . . We all have voices in our heads. Some, who consider themselves sane, can't hear them. Others hear the voices but can't tell whether the voices are inside their head or out. These people often consider themselves sane, even if we do not. Me, like most of you, hear the voices but know them for what they are.
. . . It's history! Throw it out! Get rid of it!
. . . That's the sort of stuff I've been hearing today as I unpack boxes full of stuff. In spite of the voices telling me to throw out the junk because it is worthless, much of it I'm keeping. If you're reading this on my website -- http://users.snip.net/~schweers/090300.htm -- you'll see at the top a photo of the eight-foot-long bookshelves I'm filling with books, CDs, and coins. What you can't see is the stuff I have, in fact, trashed.
. . . When I told the Rev. Janne Osborne that I was spending the day contemplating how disposable things are, she recounted a story worth repeating here.
. . . Janne talked about her mother's death. One of the last things Janne's mother said before she died was, "Don't worry about that stuff. It's not important." She had been talking with Janne about her possessions. Janne's mother knew she was dying. It gave her perspective on the worth of possessions. She died that night.
. . . That same night, the same night her mother died, Janne's house burned down. Janne lost most of her possessions.
. . . Some of the stuff I'm unpacking has been in boxes for nine months. I could easily do without it for nine more months, or ninety. All the same, I'm glad to have it out on the bookshelves surrounding me. It warms my heart.
books and trophies
. . . Some of the stuff nobody would throw away -- the coins, for example. Back in high school, when I was practicing being invisible and asocial, I spent Friday nights working on my coin collection. I'd get fifty dollars in pennies and look through them one by one, looking for keepers. As a result, I have all the Lincoln wheat pennies from 1909 to 1958 except for the rarest, the 1909-S VDB. I've got some Indian head pennies, too, dating back to the Civil War.
. . . Actually, people do throw away coins. At Longwood Gardens and hundreds of other sites, you'll see coins people have thrown into water with a wish. We may think ourselves as modern but here is as primitive a form of sacrifice as you can ask for.
. . . Last week my friend Paul was in Philadelphia and we spent a day playing tourists. The grave of Ben Franklin, we discovered, is covered with pennies. People throw pennies on his grave out of respect. The grave, by the way, is across the street from the U.S. Mint, where millions of pennies are struck every day.
. . . This ritual at Franklin's grave is not easily understood. People, I'm told, throw pennies on his grave in memory of something he once said -- "A penny saved is a penny earned." Would not a more fitting memorial be to take a penny and put it in a savings account?
. . . That's just what I did. I deposited into my savings account a steel penny minted in Philadelphia in 1943. Copper was in short supply that year; so, to support the war effort, steel was used in pennies instead of copper.
. . . Aside from the coins, little else on the shelves around me is of obvious worth. For example, since April of 1982, I have been keeping a journal, something I do fitfully. At the moment, volume 29 is almost full. If I die and become famous, perhaps these journals, which take up most of a shelf, will be worth something someday.
. . . Just for grins, let's see what was going on ten years ago today. Oh, yes. As I walked into my office, a naked man greeted me and asked if I needed help with the boxes I was carrying. But that's another story.
. . . One volume of my journal is not on the shelf - number thirteen. It's not that I'm superstitious. It was stolen.
. . . In 1989 I parked my car in a downtown alley and ran upstairs to my studio. It was late, after midnight. When I walked out of the studio, two hip young men in their early twenties where standing next to my car, acting like cats that had just gotten caught with their paws in the cookie jar.
. . . Very slowly, nonchalantly, the two men strolled away from the car, down the alley. The interior light was on in my car. The glove compartment was open.
. . . Very slowly, nonchalantly, I followed the two men down the alley. They were cool, taking their time. I was cool, taking my time.
. . . When they got to the end of the alley they turned right. As they turned right, one man turned his head ever so slightly to see what was behind them. They had gone thirty yards without looking. They were cool. But then they looked. What they saw was me, not ten yards behind them. They took off running.
. . . By the time I rounded the corner, they had rounded the next corner.
The only thing missing from my car was my journal. Why would these two men have taken that? They must have been agents for the FBI, the CIA, or the Trilateral Commission. What's your guess?
. . . Of almost no value on my book shelves are my 22- and 12-year-old typeface samples. I have a 1978 four-volume set from Type Films of Chicago and a 1988 three-volume set from Pro-Type of San Antonio. Of some possible value is a 1968 two-volume boxed set from the firm of Joh. Enschedé en Zonen Grafische Inrichting N.V. in Haarlem, Holland.
. . . As for my other books, there's the 1970 World Book Encyclopedia that's worth five dollars and the 1924 Bufton's Universal Cyclopaedia worth fifteen. The other books I've kept not so much for reference as in reverence. Seeing them on the shelves reminds me of their contents and of the good will that went into their creation.

. . . Then there's one shelf, full of small objects that remind me of friends or travels. That's the photo above. Some of the stuff on that shelf is downright goofy, including a Disney(R) Goofy(R) horn given on the occasion of my fiftieth birthday. The horn was on a cane, something I have kept as well. I'll need it and the horn before long. Just don't get in my way!
. . . The most recent addition to the shelf deserves a web-page all to itself. It's a bright red heart-shaped box sent to me by "The Dancing Virgins of the Dead Sea Café." In it are small paper constructions, one from each of the "virgins." They had gathered together last month in New Mexico to create collages under the tutelage of Mary McCleary, a phenomenal artist from (where else?) Nacogdoches, Texas. (Take a look at http://www.imagejournal.org/mcclearyart.html.)
. . . My "library" is open for your edification and enjoyment. Spend a delightful hour with Edward Tufte's Visual Display of Quantitative Information or with Jerry Jankowski's Mostly Happy Clip Art of the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties (volumes one AND two).
. . . Find adventure in Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You'll Go or in William Garnett's Aerial Photographs. Discover the story of our tumultuous past in Petr Beckmann's A History of Pi.
. . . See you soon!
. . . Admission is only a penny. (If you can, make it a 1909-S VDB.)

Photos from the Arden Fair
Saturday, September 2, 2000
Once a year the Arden Club raises funds with a street fair. This was the 93rd.

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