the remainder pile

Shortly after I moved into my first apartment in Cambridge, my roommate Lani told be about Carl, our neighbor across the hall. Lani and her boyfriend were making dinner in the kitchen, and they collectively gave me the rundown:

“Have you met Carl yet?”
Apparently he was a big deal in the ’60s, some big revolutionary.”
“Really?!?” I said.
“Yeah, Google him, you’ll see.”

I did, and discovered that he was president of the Students for a Democratic Society and had given a famous speech in Washington, D.C. I foggily recalled what I knew about SDS from college, marveled that this guy was my neighbor, and didn’t really think about it anymore.

Months, maybe even a year passed. There was a knock on the door one day, and there was Carl, asking me to pick up his copies of the New York Times while he was out of town. I obliged, and was about to close the door when he said, “Tufts, huh,” reading my sweatshirt. When I told him I was an English major and a writer, he asked me if I wanted to write a book.
“Some day, maybe,” I said.
He told me he had written several books and was even working on one right then, something about Texans versus the terrorists. “You do all this work, and the books just wind up in the remainder pile.” Every time I browse the remainders at a bookstore, I think of this.

I walked to the supermarket on Sunday, and passed a box of free books, commonplace in a neighborhood where students are constantly moving in and out. On the way home, I paused at the box; there was some good stuff in there. Stories by Woody Allen, maybe an Ann Tyler or two. Then, I spotted Carl’s name on one of them. Impulsively, I snatched it up and placed it in my grocery bag. I only saw that it had been a library book.
Upon examining the book more closely at home, I saw that it had come from the Los Angeles County Library System, and had been checked out a total of four times between 1970 and 1989. On the back, it was stamped “DISCARD,” and was dated “Oct. 24, 1990.” I wondered about Carl and his remainder piles, and whether he had something to do with this book traveling all this way, not only from L.A., but at least a block and a half from the building where we had been neighbors.

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