Play-Doh and The Death Of SocratesThomas Beller
We were making our way home for lunch when we passed a crowd of people outside the rear entrance to library.
We had taken the back way. The secret way. Old brick walls. Narrow alleys. One has the enjoyably existential name, “Blanc Place.”
He likes the back way. It takes us through the schol which is across the street from his Pre-K. He always refers to “the man” as we make our way through the parking lot of this school. The man who, “loves you.”
It took a while for me to grasp that this refered to the Statue of Jesus at the edge of the parking lot. He is enrolled at Pre-K where they sing “Shabbat Hey!” on Fridays, but someone there must have introduced him to the Jesus statue and its virtues. I am all for it. He’s getting a well rounded education.
The crowd of people was standing by the garage where they hold the used book sales. I got closer, curious, holding the boy in my arms, and saw that the crowd was comprised of two distinct groups.
One group was a bunch of teenage girls in light blue T-shirts, part of some charitable organization, religeious it seemed. The other group were young men in yellow T-shirts. Their shirts had the words “jail,” and “community service,” though it’s possible I just imagined the “jail.” Some kind of very low grade chain gang perhaps? Some were smoking, and one had a towel wrapped around his head as he worked to transfer the boxes from the stacks in front of the garage to a waiting truck. The boy, perceptive as ever, and eager to use his words, pointed and said, “towel on head.”
A crowd of small time offenders sweating on a hot day, a mob of teenage girls. Another day in New Orleans.
I asked one of the girls what was going on.
She didn’t really know. They were all standing around. Maybe they had helped pack the boxes?
One of the other girls explained to me that all these books were being shipped off to be pulped.
The labels on the boxes said “Better World Books.”
The address was in Indiana. I thought it was sinister and perverse that a company that specialized in pulping books should be called Better World Books, but it turns out this is a used bookstore. Unreliable information everywhere.
We passed a large dumpster filled with books.
“Dirty! Dirty!!” said the boy as I peered into the dumpster and raised my hand as though to pluck a book out. I wasn’t sure if he was imitating what we say when he reaches for the trashcan, or if in fact he was trying to give me helpful advice, warning me off this unwise decision of reaching into the trash. I was aware that I might be modeling bad behavior here.
But I was too busy being upset about all these books in a dumpster. I know libraries deaccession all the time. Maybe these are the ones that had adamantly refused to sell year after year. Room had to be made for the new books. Still.
Amongst the scattered paperbacks I saw, or I should say, uncovered with my hand, two interesting titles.
One was a book by John Hersey, “A Single Pebble. ” It was set in Japan. Hersey is the famous author of “Hiroshima,” about the effects of the Atomic bomb on that city, that the New Yorker devoted an entire issue to in 1948. A Single Pebble, seemed to be fiction set in Japan. I took the book. The next thing I saw was a Penguin edition of “The Last Days of Socrates.” I took that too.
“These are good books,” I told my boy. He looked dubious.
I made a promise that I would read them and not simply let them accumulate forever in my house. This sort of accumulating impulse, when it comes to printed matter, is both totally understandable, and a worrisome development. Left unchecked it can create a sort of madness.
But these were very slender books, I rationalized as I continued on. I was still carrying the boy. He asked to read one of the books. I handed him one.
“It’s called the ‘Death of Socrates,'” I said. “It’s by a guy called Plato. ”
He looked at the pages and then the cover.
“Play-Doh face,” he said.
“Exactly!” I said.
And that is the end of the story, until I actually read one of these two books, which I will try to do, just for the sake of completing the circle. Although, if you think about it, The circle won’t be completed for another 15 or 20 or 40 years, until that boy picks up one of those books and reads it himself. And even then it will just be the beginning of a new circle.