This summer when I could bear to look at it no more, I resolved to replace my bedroom carpet that had suffered uncomplaining years of mud from visitors and scratching from cats. I consulted a friend who had recently also shopped for carpeting. He was happy with the outcome but forgot to mention that there are about five hundred thousand choice of carpets. I went to his recommended store and stepped back when I got sight of the samples surrounding the salesman's desk,
He escorted me to two. "Why these?" I asked.
"They're the best at a reasonable price," he said, assuring me that he did not work on commission.
Since I wanted to prolong the search no more, I said, 'OK, I'll go with that one."
Surprise filled the young salesman's face -- maybe he isn't used to easy customers. I signed up for wall-to-wall covering in chocolate brown and left set on telling Amy, my cat, to aim her nails elsewhere.
The carpet project mushroomed, as these things do. My bedroom, where I more or less live, had accumulated a startling amount of things: a sizable desk, an etagere with books and records and photos, a TV set and stand, even a small loveseat beside a bed and dresser. Every movable thing in that room would need to be moved when the carpet installers came. Needed was a ruthless exam to decide what I could as well... maybe better even... live without.
The desk gave up letters that I shouldn't have ever kept, and old papers and clips whose purpose isn't easy to assign. I had also accumulated a hundred or so photos placed around the room, most of people who looked better then than they -- we -- do today. Chucking some of those wasn't hard.
Then came books. I was no great reader as a kid and have tried to make up for it since. The room has a bookcase built by a lady carpenter friend in which I've crowded fiction and nonfiction in smart order. The etagere houses one shelf for gay books and one below it for Hebrew and religious-themed books. (They live, I hope, in reasonable harmony.) I know some of the gay authors and didn't want to dispose of their works anymore than I hope they would dispose of mine. And some religious books were penned by a distinguished professor I also know. But multiple editions of the Hebrew Bible seemed showy since I'm not particularly religious. Out.
Anyone who has set forth to clean out books knows that the job can lead to hours of re-examining. I have a tattered copy of King Lear saved from college way back, with parts underlined, likely what I thought I should study for a test. That stays. Likewise, The Brothers Karamazov that I read as an adult having read it in college and, to my dismay, not remembered doing so. As an apology to Dostoevsky, it remains.
I've kept two books of verse that I was given decades ago and, through many moves, managed not to misplace. The first is Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. I took the book down, leafed through it and smiled to find the early color illustrations as luminous as when the book was published. By old habit, I turned to the poems I liked best as a boy: "When I was sick and lay a bed, I had two pillows at my head, and all my toys beside me lay to keep me happy all the day." No way does that go.
The other book is When We Were Very Young by A.A.. Milne with drawings of E.H. Shepard. That book is inscribed by Rose Keeper, my mother's lifelong friend, dated 1938, when I was around the age of Christopher Robin, to whom Milne dedicates his book. The pages are blotted and stained, but the faded blue binding has stubbornly hung on, and I'm reminded of playing critic when at age seven or eight I ranked different poems at the front of the book. Teddy Bear took best in book. "A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise. Our teddy is short and fat, which is not to be wondered at..." That's a book that was and is loved and often republished. But I'll keep my old copy, which I replace on its shelf.
By at least partly by luck, I've held on to the sweet but not sappy poems of Stevenson and Milne. They became occupants of my library before I had one, and i'll be happy to take them to the grave.
Well, that reverie didn't advance preparation for the carpet installers, but they came anyway and Amy fled and hid for hours when they blasted the loudest vacuum cleaner in captivity. Eventually she reappeared and decided she likes the new carpet -- it's friendly and soft. I do too.
Stanley E. Ely writes about books and cats in his own new book, "Life Up Close" in paperback and ebook.
Follow Stanley Ely on Twitter: www.twitter.com/StanleyEly