Another Superlative

It’s ingenuity I admire, even when it’s ingenuity in a bad cause. It’s the kid who tells his mother that he was so taking his nap as all good little boys should, that a tiger got in and tore the wrapping paper on the Christmas presents in the closet, where he, as a good boy, didn’t even know they were.

That’s just improvisation. But when his mother asks, “How did a tiger get into the house in December?” and the boy says, “I don’t know. I was taking my nap,” THAT’S ingenuity.

Now, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s ingenuity in a bad cause, but I have witness any number of ingenious schemes to stack more books in a house or apartment than one might think possible, or desirable. I have seen books double-stacked on a shelf. I have seen bookcases completely double-stacked with boxes of books on the floor in front of them.

I have seen boxes of books gathered into regular little stacks so a tablecloth could go over them, making the stack into an end table. I have found beds completely supported by stacks of books.  I have seen books neatly stacked between the mattress and springs on a bed in the guest bedroom. (Not good for the covers if someone sleeps in the bed. Whether it’s good for the person sleeping in the bed is a matter of individual spinal columns.)

An unfinished attic in Evanston was able to store books, even without a floor. The owner got bookends and lined the books up on the overhead crossbeams. File cabinets can of course be made into book repositories, and so can unused ovens. I knew a man who unplugged his stove so he could stack books on the burners without fear. Walk in closets, unused saunas, and openings in the wall formerly known as fireplaces have been turned over to book storage. Someone told me of a noted collector who had his bed built into a window well so he could use all available floor space for books. I didn’t see that—I only heard—but just to be sociable I took their word.

But recently, I helped clean out an estate. It took some time, but we got the books in the pantry, the bedrooms, the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen. I have learned my lesson: I got up on a stool to check the tops of bookcases; I got down on all fours and peered under the beds. I looked in the closets and the kitchen cupboards, and even, daringly, peeked into the medicine cabinet. We had every book available.

Three days later, I got a call. “I hate to break this to you,” said the executor of the estate. “But we’ve found more books.”

“Storage locker?” I sighed.

“In that closet in the middle bedroom,” she said.

“But I looked there! We checked all the shelves and took everything off the floor!”

“Wait ‘til you see.”

Ingenuity: that’s what it was. When I got there, I was taken to the closet. It was empty except for the clothes on hangers, hanging from the iron rod that ran the length of the closet. The executor chortled at the expression on my face. “Look!” she said, pushing hangers aside.

Half a dozen leather tote bags filled with small books had been hung on hangers and set in among the clothes. Most garments are soft and pliable: they had simply accepted these newcomers which took up space in the middle of the row by filling the space around them. This presented an uninterrupted row of garments that would fool anybody including, since the books were all ten to twenty years old, probably the owner, who probably forgot they were there.

I offer this to all of you out there who have significant others who complain, “When are you going to get some of these books out of here?” There’s your answer: ingenuity.

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