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…


Rick Provine

September 29, 2015

From the window…


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