Day Three: Canary in a Cathouse
One of the first things I ever collected were books by Kurt Vonnegut. This was a long time ago, and I nearly had them all. Except for Canary in A Cathouse. It’s a 1961 collection of short stories that was printed only once. When handed one to autograph at a talk in the early 1980’s, Kurt was overheard to say, “I wish I had one of these.”
This was pre-internet days, since Al Gore had yet to get us all online. So it was a more analog process. I checked bookstores, libraries, everywhere. IU’s copy was missing and declared “lost.”
At the time, I was working as a custodian at Indiana University in the Main Library (now the Wells Library). As an employee of IU, I could take two classes a semester for very little money, and it allowed me to whittle away at my college dropout status.
One evening I was in the stacks dusting off the shelves. There were concave tops on the stacks that collected dust and dirt. I was high up on the graduate side of the building, in an area that was likely Technology or Military Science books.
Something caught my duster. I climbed up higher to get a better look.
I was stunned.
There it was. The Holy Grail. The Big Kahuna. The pièce de résistance…Canary in a Cathouse!
It was library-bound, hardcover, dusty and beautiful.
I thumbed through it. Most of it looked familiar (all but one story is included in Welcome to the Monkey House). I went straight to the janitor’s closet and shoved it in my backpack. They already think it’s lost.
I went back to work.
But the little voice in my head (the one that parents work so hard to instill) started talking to me.
I kept working.
As night turned into morning (I worked from midnight to 8am) my conscience was in full-blown siren mode. I retrieved the book, went to a photocopier, copied the one story I hadn’t seen, the cover, title page, etc. Then I marched the book down to the circulation desk.
I handed it over, told them to absolutely NOT put it back on the shelf. As a collectors item, it wouldn’t last long. I hope they still have it.
Years later, some very dear friends gave me a copy for Christmas (Al Gore had finally gotten his act together by then).
So it goes…
September 29, 2015
From the window…