[gerald’s dining room. a relatively barren and disheveled interior. gerald, an elderly gentleman, is alone in the room, sitting, standing, pacing, reading, writing, on the computer, whatever- this sequence is left up to the actor's discretion. approx. 3 minutes pass. then, a knock on the door. gerald hears, looks over, but does not respond. he continues whatever it is he is doing. 4 or 5 seconds later, karl enters with an armload of books. he greets gerald and walks over to the table and deposits the stack of books on the table, where 7 or 8 stacks already are]
K<<< ok, sir, this is the last of them…do you mind if I get myself a glass of water?
(gerald gestures toward kitchen. karl withdraws, pours glass of water from faucet, and returns to dining room, taking several long gulps.)
G<<< (wearily) so you really couldn’t get your hands on any boxes…you expect me to believe that?...you want me to believe that?... or are you in fact that disorganized? or is it that you don’t believe in boxes? don’t believe in the validity or essence of boxes?... who knows?...maybe you just like doing things the unconventional way.
K<<< (pause) sir, it’s not so much that I couldn’t get my hands on any boxes as that I didn’t have enough time. ok? I just didn’t allow enough time. I apologize. jack needed to come by earlier than the time we’d agreed upon, and I didn’t have enough time to go get boxes. you’re right, sir. I should have planned ahead better.
G<<< so you just carried them armload by armload down to his pickup truck and stacked them in loose? a giant bathtub of books? is that it? books sloshing around as you drove out here on ill-kept country roads?
K<<< well, sir, in my opinion, this doesn’t constitute…
G<<< what, son? doesn’t constitute what?
K<<< doesn’t constitute an especially large collection of books.
G<<< that is an entirely subjective and irrelevant matter, young man. and besides, even if your collection comprised a measly 5 or 6 paperbacks...
K<<< well, does it s/
G<<< please don’t interrupt me, son…even if your collection comprised a measly 5 or 6 paperbacks...well, I don’t know…you young people adhere to different organizational principles these days.
K<<< does it strike you as a lot of books?
G<<< (pause) I’d rather not say at this moment.
K<<< fair enough, sir. but compared to your collection, you have to admit, this is a very modest amount. almost piddly, actually.
G<<< (pause) no comment.
K<<< sure, no problem…so, anyways, you said you wanted to see the books themselves before deciding one way or another. (pause) well...here they are, sir…what do you think? do you want me to stick around and answer questions? make suggestions? would you rather I leave and come back later? just tell me what you want, sir. (pause) tell me what you want me to do.
G<<< well, in that case, I’d like you to go out to the shed and bring in the gasoline can. I’d like you to thoroughly douse all these books and me along with them, light a match, take your leave, and forget that any of this ever happened. scrub your memory clean, son. re-enter mainstream society…(pause- karl confused and stuttering something)… ok, yes, I suppose I did say at some point that I wanted to see the infernal books before reaching any decisions…and, yes, here they are now, as you so kindly pointed out...thanks for that guidance, son…the sequence is progressing quite nicely. you’re an unusual young man, and I can’t say that I totally understand or admire your principles of organization or transport but I still think we might be able to work something out. (pause) why don’t you take off your coat and sit down for awhile? don’t worry, I won’t keep you long… yes, now that I think of it, you probably can be of assistance. (pause) so…first off…who would you say is responsible for all of these books?
K<<< what do you mean, sir?
G<<< just answer the question in the way that makes most sense to you. who, karl, would you say is responsible for all of these books?
K<<< do you mean the authors?
K<<< the booksellers? (pause) the previous owners? the publishers?
G<<< answer the question in the way that you feel is most relevant to your unique situation. you, a distinct and troubled human being linked to a distinct and troubled collection of books.
K<<< uh, ok…well…a few of them were my parents’…a few stretch back to my boyhood... many of them I acquired at used book stores in Chicago, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Madison- a few chain bookstores, also. a few university bookstores… um, let’s see…an old roommate of mine several years ago decided to leave the country impulsively and left quite a few of his books behind, with the instructions to do whatever we liked with them. I incorporated maybe 30 from him. (pause) maybe another thirty I bought online. a few other random sources. a few gifts. a few garage sales. a few abandoned houses out in the middle of nowhere.
G<<< (pause) any stolen books here, by chance?
K<<< (pause) yes. there were a few indiscretions.
G<<< can you give me a sense of how many?
K<<< 4 or 5, maybe
G<<< well, which was it? 4 or 5?
K<<< (pause) 5- 5 thefts in all.
G<<< and how did you manage to keep that number so low?
K<<< does that number strike you as low, sir? (Gerald shrugs) I felt pretty horrible after each one. particularly the last one. it was a college library. I was already getting financial aid. and then to steal from the library on top of that. it felt pretty sleazy.
G<<< understandable. understandable. (pause) you returned the book, I presume?
G<<< and why is that?
K<<< it was damaged.
G<<< damaged beyond all human repair?
K<<< pretty much, sir.
G<<< (pause) are these stolen volumes here among these piles?
K<<< let me see…uh…2 of them, yes.
G<<< and the other three?
K<<< abandoned gradually over the years.
G<<< how does one abandon books gradually?
K<<< ok, you’re right…I’ll rephrase that…I lost interest over time, gradually, and then one day just abandoned them. gave them away. or left them behind.
G<<< wasted thefts, then. gratuitous.
K<<< yes. absolutely wasted, immoral, and sickening.
G<<< would you be willing to reveal those titles?
K<<< (pause) honestly, sir, if you wouldn’t mind…I’d prefer not to share that right now…
G<<< but maybe later?
K<<< maybe later.
G< fair enough, fair enough. 2 can play at that game, I suppose …how many books total would you say you have abandoned over the years?
K<<< wow- that’s not easy to say…let me think for a minute…
G<<< take as much time as you need, son. we’re not in any hurry here, are we?
K<<< (45 second pause) I’ve probably abandoned about twice as many as are on this table right now.
G<<< and why was that?
K<<< like I said, a loss of interest…of relevance…
G<<< to the point you could no longer even bear the mere sight of them-
K<<< something like that, yes…or like in the present situation, when there are moving and storage concerns, and these streamlining decisions are essentially forced upon one- sometimes in stressful circumstances when one isn’t thinking entirely clearly.
G<<< forced upon one, and then, in turn, perhaps, forced upon others.
K<<< I don’t know if I’d put it that way, sir.
G<<< well then, how would you put it, young man?
K<<< well, I said forced upon me, because I’m the one who has to move or downsize or whatever- I can appeal to others for help, but I can’t really force them to do anything. It’s essentially my problem. the pressure is on me to find a solution.
G<<< you might coerce others then- is that fair?
K<<< I’m not sure…it depends, I suppose…but no, coercion is not the word I would choose.
G<<< of course it isn’t the word you would choose. you would most likely choose the words that put your actions in the most favorable light.
K<<< I suppose there’s some truth to that, sir.
G<<< so you aren’t tying to coerce me in any way, shape, or form-
K<<< sir, no. absolutely not. I’m simply making an offer or suggestion. an offer or suggestion that very well might be to your benefit.
G<<< but it might be to your benefit also.
K<<< yes, I agree- there is some self-interest involved.
G<<< enlightened self-interest, perhaps?
K<<< sir, that’s a term I am no longer comfortable using.
G<<< fair enough…I agree that it is a pretty sickening term…I presume you have downsized already as a result of this latest housing transition?
K<<< yes sir, I have. There has already been considerable downsizing.
G<<< so what stands here before us represents the cream of the crop?
K<<< the cream as I take it to be these days, I suppose.
G<<< what do you mean by that?
K<<< I mean that my ideas of importance or relevance can shift fairly quickly. Whether I will regard these particular books as the cream of the crop in several years is uncertain.
G<<< but neither will you disown them entirely.
K<<< no, not necessarily. again, it depends.
G<<< depends on me, I dare say.
K<<< in part, yes.
G<<< in what part does it not?
K<<< in the part whereby you are not necessarily my only option for storage.
G<<< huh…for some reason I imagined I was the choice of last resort.
K<<< no, sir- not even close.
G<<< am I your first choice, then, young man?
K<<< pretty much.
G<<< “pretty much”…”pretty much”… what does that mean exactly?
K<<< it means, let’s see….it means that as much as I’d like to add my books to your library, I knew there would be some initial complications, and then maybe more complications further on down the road.
G<<< what “complications” are you referring to?
K<<< well, all these preliminary negotiations, for one thing. all these questions…a little difficulty and vagueness on your part, perhaps…a little bit of condescension, maybe… for example, your request that Jack park all the way back there on the other side of the field…basically, the scrutiny that I knew I was setting myself up for by asking this of you.
G<<< you think I’m scrutinizing you?
K<<< to a certain extent.
G<<< Karl, enough with all these vague modern expressions! and you accuse me of vagueness! To a certain extent? what does that mean, exactly?
K<<< ok- right here! that question! that is exactly what I’m referring to! scrutinizing my language. scrutinizing my motives. scrutnizing my prospects. scrutinizing my methods. picking apart every last thing that I say. asking questions that you already know the answers to perfectly well.
G<<< but my dear boy, you are proposing that I form a relationship with some of these methods and prospects. perhaps even a long-term relationship. You suggest that I am pulling you into some sort of web, but I maintain that, in fact, the reverse operation is happening. you strike me as the spidery element in this little transaction. do you really expect me to just agree to all your whims, moment to moment, without pauses for reflection, integration, and further information-gathering?
K<<< no sir, I do not. I don’t expect that at all. I actually appreciate your scrutiny. it demonstrates a certain amount of seriousness and care on your part.
G<<< and yet, you said just a moment ago, I was not necessarily your first choice-
K<<< did I say that?
G<<< in so many words, yes.
K<<< well, I misspoke, then. you are.
G<<< and you want me to sort thru all these volumes and decide for myself which ones I want?
K<<< well, that’s one way one doing it…look sir, I want you to go about it however you like. I’m happy to let you make all the decisions. and if you don’t want any part of these books I will gladly take them away and never bother you about them again.
G<<< you would take them away when, exactly?
K<<< whenever you wished.
G<<< what if I wished it right now?
K<<< then I would oblige you right now.
G<<< but hasn’t Jack already left with his pickup truck?
K<<< he could return very quickly.
G<<< how quickly?
K<<< I don’t know exactly- (pause) do you want me to try and call his cell phone right now?
G<<< yes, maybe you should.
K<<< ok- no problem.
(karl takes out cell phone and calls jack. get’s jack’s voice mail. leaves message-
K<<< (into phone) hey, Jack- this is Karl. um, I’m still here at Gerald’s. we’re still in the process of determining which books, if any, he wants. In case he doesn’t want any of them, or perhaps just a very few, he was wondering exactly when I could get them back out of here. I told him we could probably find a time soon… so, look, I’ll just get back to you when I know more for sure what he wants. ok- thanks again for helping this afternoon. bye…(puts phone away) wow...that seemed like a pretty meaningless message.
G<<< is Jack your only option in the world when it comes to the carting around of your library?
K<<< no, not necessarily.
G<<< so maybe you could try someone else?
K<<< sure, sure, I could try someone else- so are you saying then that you know you don’t want any of these?
G<<< no, I’m not saying that at all.
K<<< well then do I have to make all of these transportation inquiries now? if I knew what you wanted or didn’t want I could go about my own planning more efficiently.
G<<< fair enough, fair enough. you need some sort of information from me…ok…let me think for a second…I’m the one who has information and you’re the one who needs or wants information…I should share or provide some information…(pause)…ok…I think I get it now… so you really are determined to part with all of these volumes?
K<<< as much as I hate to- yes- for the time being, sir- yes. I have no other real choice. I have to abandon the commune this weekend. tomorrow. I am no longer welcome there. if I’m not gone by Monday the police will be notified. the director says I am a bad influence on the children’s development.
G<<< well, he’s probably right.
K<<< (pause) look, I’m not sure what to say about that. in any case, I would have left of my own accord very soon. he just happened to approach me first.
G<<< why not leave your books at the commune?
K<<< I’ve already been told that that’s not an option.
G<<< and if you left them there anyway?
K<<< I was informed they would be burned in the firepit. they actually made this point very emphatically. noone would be allowed to claim any of the books for themselves, their friends, or other parties. they would all be destroyed in the firepit. they seem to believe the books are contaminated somehow.
G<<< wow…that’s straight out of Don Quixote.
K<<< yes- I pointed that out to the director.
G<<< and his response?
K<<< he hadn’t read it, but said it was on his list of things to do in retirement.
G<<< do they keep pretty busy at that commune?
K<<< uh, yes, as a matter of fact. they keep incredibly busy.
G<<< I’m surprised you lasted there as long as you did.
K<<< I’m surprised also.
G<<< so everyone seems to agree that this is a good transition for all parties involved.
K<<< yes- that seems to be the consensus.
G<<< even though you still don’t know where you’re going to live.
K<<< that’s correct. as soon as I find a home for my books I’ll able to focus all my attention on that.
G<<< you can’t tackle both problems at once?
K<<< not very effectively, no.
G<<< you don’t even have a clue as to where you’re going to live?
K<<< there are a couple rooming houses in Chicago that wouldn’t be so bad for awhile.
G<<< (pause) son, you’re not thinking about another period of wandering, are you?
K<<< not particularly. (pause) but even if I were, what would it matter to you?
G<<< it wouldn’t matter a great deal to me. you’re a relatively sturdy fellow. I’m sure you’ll figure out something. but the fact remains that you have approached me, you have brought me into your confidence, you have outlined some of your problems and even asked me for personal help. in an oblique way, sir, you have brought me into your own private affairs. I think that I am entitled to a few questions of my own.
K<<< by all means sir, by all means. ask me whatever you want.
G<<< (pause) you have proposed to leave your books or at least some of them with me. well and good. well intentioned. well thought thru. well considered. suppose then, for the sake of argument, I accept a certain number of them. tell me- honestly- what are the chances you would ever come back for them?
K<<< I think the chances are pretty high.
G<<< and what- for the sake of argument- yes, young man, let’s just put all our cards on the table, shall we- what if, hypothetically speaking, I were to become attached to them in the meantime? and, more importantly, what if I started to depend on them for my own work as an author?
K<<< you mean as in research?
G<<< precisely. you have indeed followed my thread. what if certain of your books were to become indispensable to me in the course of a certain long term project I might soon be inaugurating?
K<<< well, sir, I can’t think of anything more appropriate. I mean, to think that some of my books might actually come in handy for you- it is the best possible outcome.
G<<< and yet…and yet…what if, when you return for them, from whatever vague wanderings I feel certain you are about to embark upon, you discover that my project is still very much underway and that a significant number of your volumes are still indispensable to me?
K<<< that would be no problem at all, sir. you could use whatever books you needed for as long as you needed.
G<<< even if the project were to last until the very last stage of my life?
K<<< that would not be a problem, sir.
G<<< you are aware, I suppose, of the ancient Egyptian practice of burying the dead with objects that were dear to them that they may wish to have handy during the trek to the afterlife?
K<<< somewhat aware, yes-
G<<< and if I were to inform you that this practice somewhat appeals to me?
K<<< no problem, sir. these are very personal decisions that we all have to make for ourselves.
G<<< so, in a sense, then, you are offering me these books for the long term.
K<<< whatever term is appropriate. what ever term works out best for you.
G<<< so then- just to be clear- just to be absolutely transparent- you are suggesting, in essence, that I incorporate these books- your books- into my own library. perhaps even into my own burial chamber.
K<<< (uncomfortable pause) yes- that is precisely what I am suggesting.
G<<< and should you ever return for them, at whatever near or distant point in the future- we will determine at that particular time which ones, if any, might have become indispensable to me in the course of my own ongoing research.
K<<< sir, that sounds like a prefect arrangement to me.
G<<< and if, upon your return, it is discovered that none of them are in the least bit indispensable, you will box them up and remove them immediately, never to bother me again with similar requests in the future?
K<<< you have my word, sir. I agree to all your terms and conditions.
G<<< (pause) (looking over the books) so what do we have here, anyway?
K<<< oh, it’s a relatively diverse assortment.
G<<< what do you mean, “relatively” diverse?
K<<< uh, I guess I mean that I’ve seen other assortments that were much more random than mine.
G<<< as well as assortments that were much more uniform or predictable.
K<<< yes…hence the word, “relatively”-
G<<< relatively diverse.
K<<< I think that’s a fair overall designation.
G<<< are there certain categories that predominate?
K<<< yeah, I would probably say that the humanities dominate.
G<<< are you including the social sciences under that heading?
K<<< I am.
G<<< just rattle off a few actual categories.
K<<< OK, there’s some psychology, some history, some sociology/critical theory, philosophy, random essays- quite a bit of randomness, actually. and then some fiction and a few volumes of poetry.
G<<< doesn’t sound that diverse to me, young man.
K<<< (pause) you know, you’re right…it isn’t. it’s a pretty straightforward collection.
G<<< well, sir, you’ve surveyed my shelves before, I believe- do you think these books will be relevant? will they complement in any way my own personal stash?
K<<< yes I do, sir, absolutely.
G<<< look, Karl- there’s a lot of factors swirling about here- you’re obviously a troubled young man and these books, whether you like it or not, invariably reflect a certain amount of that trouble. a significant amount, it might be. I need to have a much closer look. I need to inspect the actual volumes. the wear and tear. the inscriptions. the marginalia, the underlining, the obscure notes in the end pages. you’re a troubled young man. I knew it from the first moment I met you. it’s no surprise to me that you were asked to abandon your post at the commune. why or how they ever invited you to join forces with them in the first place- I don’t know- it might be better for all parties concerned to just stack your volumes up in the basement, to just heap them up willy-nilly, in a great sprawling pile- after all, you didn’t bring any boxes- you’d probably even prefer it that way- it’s almost as if you were deliberately invoking a sense of pure chaos…of avalanche…wanted to burn your books in the firepit…Christ, you must have made quite an impression…corrupting the minds of the children…yes, an almost unforgivable sin…their guardians need to steer them well away from influences such as yourself…yes, guardians almost always know what is best for their youngsters…they have an intuitive feel, don’t you know…they shape their youngsters like putty…a lot for the system to process, to integrate…and now you’re here, with your volumes, and your veiled allusions to wandering…wandering for several years thru an almost impenetrable darkness…the magazine field and stream sometimes talks about this…a so-called “return to the wilderness”…deep, uncharted, primordial…with nary a guidebook to assist the feeble and most likely faltering traveler…young man- let’s pause for a moment in these deliberations and play a few quick hands of dalkey?
G<<< yeah, that card game we played the first night you were over here…
K<<< (hesitant) oh, sure, sure…I remember…I didn’t know it was called dalkey.
G<<< well, it is…I wonder if my neighbor Jason would be interested in joining us.
K<<< by all means- get him over here-
G<<< mind if I borrow your cell phone for a moment?
K<<< no problem. (hands phone over to Gerald)
G<<< (Gerald dials, waits) Jason- hey- this is Gerald. Yeah, I’m using my friend Karl’s cell phone. (pause) oh, no reason. he’s an open-hearted lad. looking to go in for another spell of aimless wandering. (pause) I don’t know. I didn’t ask him…that seems a little too personal, Jason…look, we were thinking about playing a few hands of dalkey and were wondering if you wanted to join us- (pause) oh, probably sometime in the next 5 or ten minutes… really? great. we’ll see you then…ok. bye. (hangs us, hands phone back to Karl) He suggested we play a few hands by ourselves until he gets here in about 15 minutes.
K<<< sounds good. where should we play?
G<<< oh, I think this table would work best. (indicating the table that is completely covered by Karl’s books)
K<<< is there room?
G<<< yeah, just shove those books off to the side.
K<<< (uncertain) but there’s really no room off to the side.
G<<< no, I meant off to the side of the table.
K<<< restack them off to the side?
G<<< no- better to just shove them off and let them fall in a heap.
K<<< look, I don’t mind restacking them somewhere.
G<<< I’m sure you don’t, young fellow. I’m sure you’d restack them with a great deal of verve and panache. but I would really prefer to see and hear them falling to the floor in a heap. that doesn’t interest you in the slightest?
K<<< not really.
G<<< what could I do to convince you?
K<<< (awkward pause) what about agreeing to keep the books without any more deliberation?
G<<< done. well and good. let’s shake on it, shall we? ok, then, let’s get on with it-
K<<< ok, sir- (still uncertain) just push them off onto the floor?
G<<< exactly, my boy- just push them off onto the floor!
(with a bewildered air about him, slowly shoves the books onto the floor.)
G<<< ok- splendid- you really are a strange and confusing young man- let’s get started, why don’t we- I’ll be right back with the cards- (he disappears offstage for a minute and then returns with an armload of books, which he sets down at the table. Karl is already seated there. Gerald begins to deal out the books as if they were playing cards, leaves the remainder between them, with one facing up as if in a discard pile. Karl takes it, arranges it in his hand, and discards. (elaborate game of calling out titles and page numbers, and reading aloud. for no reason, Gerald pauses and speaks)
G<<< son, it was always my hope that you would eventually dive into activity.
K<<< what do you mean, sir?
G<<< I mean, simply, dive or plunge into activity. think of all the people you know. think all of the people you used to know. for example, at the commune- every one of them, I’m willing to bet, embraced some form or type of activity.
K<<< well, of course, sir, no question- we all have to have our activities…we are born into activity…aren’t we?...life is defined by activity…there’s no question about it, sir…this is the realm of activity…the people at the commune made it perfectly, even painfully clear…yes, the sense of…I don’t know what you would call it…togetherness…the sense that, yes, people do enjoy the prospect of activity…oh, so many kinds of activity! so many reasons to gather together! the people there sometimes elected to engage in frank and forthright conversation…they didn’t need any particular topic…there was always something at hand…and sir, I think you’re absolutely right…it had quite a bit to do with activity…it’s no surprise they asked me to leave…I didn’t really attend many gatherings…sir, I don’t know how often you elect to look out of your window…I know you care a lot about those barren fields…I know you care a lot about wilderness…I know your neighbor Jason also cares a lot about wilderness…
G<<< young man, how can you possibly presume to know what jason cares about?
K<<< I’ve seen him down by the harbor. I’ve seen his little encampment.
G<<< and on that basis you assume that he cares about uncharted wilderness?
K<<< well, what other basis does he have for his life of incessant activity? I admire his fortitude. he’s creating a whole new society down there. a very small one, of course, but still- he had tremendous enthusiasm.
G<<< exactly, young man. he’s not the one with the problems. I was referring just now to you, and my wish that you could find your way back into the world of embodied human activity. it’s a fabulous world, simple fellow. it’s the appropriate kind of world for a young man of your talents. never mind whatever you’ve been reading in field and stream. that publication, I fear, is most definitely on its way out. people today prefer a much wider range of activity. this is what I was referring to when I said that you seemed to be wandering thru damn near impenetrable darkness. now maybe the folks at the commune came down a little bit hard on you. but no matter. use the tension of this housing crisis to spur on new and improved forms activity. and look, if you don’t want to go to gatherings, well then, for christ’s sake, don’t go to gatherings! and if you don’t want to engage in conversation, well then, for jehovah’s sake, don’t engage in any more conversation! if you do end up lost in uncharted wilderness, you won’t have many options as far as those things are concerned anyways. some type of activity will be required of you, most certainly, but right now it’s hard to say exactly what that will be. you’re walking a fine line right now- you’ll just have to figure things out as you go, I suppose.
(they return to their card game)