The week before last, a postcard arrived informing me in bureaucratic type that the book of my life was ready and where I could pick it up.
Time: Saturday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Please present this card along with one (1) form of legal ID
You probably remember the Barlow Community Center as Central Methodist, the big church downtown where Locust merges with Main. We used to have chess club meetings there, before the Methodists sold the building to the city and moved out to Kallendar Heights (south of the mall) to a bigger building with a gym. (You broke Chris Coster's nose during a church league volleyball tournament out there, remember?)
I talked Cathy into driving me down there and the fact that I bought breakfast did nothing for her mood. Get there early, she kept saying, but I wasn't sure I could face it on an empty stomach. She also groused about the fact that we had to park three blocks away. A little walking won't kill us, I said and then added, Or will it? She didn't appreciate the joke.
By the time we got there, the line had already reached the door. Inside, in what used to be the Fellowship Hall, it was like Election Day: a group of older ladies sat behind a line of folding tables. I recognized the one who took my card and put a mark next to my name in a binder. It was Shirley, the little woman who used to drive the bookmobile. She didn't seem to recognize me but her glasses were a lot thicker than they were back then. I said thank you when she handed back my numbered chit and when she looked up to say you're welcome and I saw the milky gleam of cataracts.
So what happens is you take the numbered chit upstairs to the old sanctuary (they use it for lectures and concerts now) and file past a group of wooly-eared old men on "the stage" pulling books out of numbered cardboard boxes.
They look so ordinary. No dust jacket, nothing on the spine, but open it up and there's your name and birth date on the title page. I thumbed through mine most of the way back in the car and I pretty much ignored everything else I had intended to do that weekend. I paid no bills, the laundry went unwashed, and the hinge on the hall closet door still squeaks. Cathy called a couple times, probably about some Israeli movie she wanted to see, but I didn't pick up.
I would have felt guilty about it if this wasn't exactly what happened when her book arrived. She moped around her apartment for days with her brow furrowed, flipping back and forth between the table of contents and the index at the back trying to make sense of something in the middle. And within a week the same thing that happened to her book happened to mine: The binding came apart and the pages started to fall out. Half of them aren't even numbered, and when they are, the numbers don't always match the index. Same thing with the endnotes. And today I noticed that the print on the pages of my book is starting to fade, just like Cathy's did. She's been using her old pages for grocery lists, bookmarks or coasters.
So when your postcard arrives, if they manage to find your new address, you might consider just throwing it out. I hear that the unclaimed books get recycled.