June 16, 2011

Lost and found

I looked out the window, and seeing no wind, decided it was a good day for 
biking. The county library was my destination, some four miles away. I wanted 
to return my two Thomas McGuanes and pick up a couple more. I had read a 
story of his in an old New Yorker and was now reading his books. He writes of 
the West, the Northwest, ranching and fishing, the Florida Keys, but he’s gritty 
and urbane. Saul Bellow called him a magician. He’ll write a paragraph, a 
sentence, that you go back and reread for sheer delight. “The spring sunshine 
boomed off the car colors.”
I tipped my bike against the building. “Nice bike,” said Pete, as I loaded the 
books into the spring jaw of the carrier behind the seat. “You look like another 
Lance Armstrong.”
“Lance Armstrong has his problems,” I said.
 “He sure does,” said Pete. “A lot of problems.”
Feeling happy that I was just myself, I set off in the warm still morning. Like 
bicyclists everywhere, I want it both ways: to be accorded the rights of a vehicle 
in traffic, to be treated like a pedestrian at crosswalks and intersections. I’d 
annoy me if I were a driver. My route is a mix of streets, sidewalks, jumped 
medians, parking lots, and alleys. Soon the long north leg of the ride stretched 
out before me.
But I had turned north too soon, forgetting that the library’s street, in this 
municipal maze of streets and canals, does not connect with the boulevard I’d 
chosen. Distracted by the trivia along the way, and the internal monologue it 
evoked, I didn’t realized my mistake until intersections I began to suspect were
well to the north were crossed. Vain hope sustained me a bit longer. Then the
grandeur of Midpoint Parkway drew near and the gig was up. My chagrin was
somewhat offset by the realization of how far I’d biked without getting winded. 
turned the bike around and reached back to adjust the books. They were not
Now twice exasperated, I scanned my memory for evidence of a bump and a 
thud, and finding a number of likely suspects, set off in the direction I’d come. It 
was a long way back. I wondered if the library would charge me full price for the 
books, or just a fine. I entertained the idea of checking out a couple more 
McGuanes before the lost books came due. My foremost thought was that 
whoever found the books would be nice and return them to the library. The only 
person I’d actually encountered along the way was an angry looking youth on a 
moped who had almost run me off the sidewalk. I hoped he had turned off 
somewhere before finding the books. I came to a service truck, still blocking the 
sidewalk, in the driveway of somebody’s house; I replicated my detour into the 
street, scanning for “Gallatin Canyon.” Not there. Several blocks later, an 
overturned trash can was still blocking the sidewalk; I detoured bumpily onto the 
same lawn, but didn’t see “The Cadence Of Grass.”
“Finders keepers,” my mother once chirped when, at age seven, I brought 
home a bag of groceries that I had found abandoned at a bus stop on the way 
back from school. What my father viewed skeptically as near-larceny, my 
mother saw as divine providence. I agreed with her, and had an Oedipal rush: I 
too was an accomplished provider for my family. Its karmic implications now 
rippled across a half-century. I sighed with resignation. Perhaps the finder and 
keeper of those books would stash them in a family bookcase where they would 
inspire future generations for generations to come. But I could also imagine 
them being picked up off the sidewalk by some heedless person, roughly 
thumbed, found uninteresting, and tossed into the next trash can on the curb.
Nearing home now, I looked up and saw a young man approaching from a 
block away, the first pedestrian I’d seen in this city disinclined to walk. He was 
not carrying anything, including my books. I came to the intersection, looked 
down, and there was The Cadence Of Grass, untouched by hand or tire, and its 
companion, Gallatin Canyon, tented ethereally on the pavement. Immersed in
the marvel of the moment as I gathered up the books, I don’t remember having 
noticed the young man as he passed. We have entertained, and disregarded, 
angels unawares.