Grab Bag #030

San Francisco newspaper memories from a debris box.

Grab Bag #030
San Francisco newspaper memories from a debris box.
I will be remembered after my death by my children and some few friends. I may figure as a footnote in a book or two. So be it. Mortality is The Great Fact. Let us respect it as such.
— Charles McCabe

I have my own house to empty, but the books grabbed my eye and arrested my stride.

They threw in broken chairs, cassette tapes, and old suit coats on hangers. Whoever had ordered the debris box estimated well, as the man’s life reached a tidy height just short of the lip. Based on the coats, he was shortish. I am not, and resting my forearms on the metal edge I picked over the musty pile.

debris box

There were dozens of books, many splayed out, wrapped in identical brown-paper covers.

I learned to cut and fold grocery bags into covers while in grade school at Star of the Sea. We made them to protect our English textbooks and our reward was the opportunity to decorate the covers as we pleased. Rather than our crayoned animals and airplanes, this gentleman chose author-and-title labels applied to the spines with paste. 

I couldn’t make snap judgements because they all looked alike. I reached for every rough cover and read each title. German type in some, world politics, antique furniture guides, metaphysics…slips of paper and clippings poked out from the edges. The man was a news gleaner and note-taker like me.

I took two smaller ones with labels reading “Swift Gulliver’s Travels” and “Parkman The Oregon Trail,” as well as a slightly larger one, “Boswell’s London Journey 1762–1763.” What would be called classics at one time in one world. As I said, I have my own house to clear out, so I left the rest reluctantly. 

Back home, I opened Gulliver’s Travels and found some mysterious receipts (PCC SAN FRAN CA 962 APO), scraps with some hand-scrawled definitions (“fear of walking beyond a certain distance from home: agoraphobia”), and three clipped San Francisco Chronicle columns by Charles McCabe from 1967, 1973, and 1977. All were about Jonathan Swift. There was also a 1984 Newsweek review of a Swift biography.


Here was the old Internet. The search engine was your eyes scanning a bookshelf. Selecting and opening “Gulliver’s Travels” linked you to four hits about the famous Irish writer, all tipped into his best-known work.