Some will wonder if this is a true story and I will be happy to say that is. For this reason, I have changed the name of my male companion and only hope that he thinks of this story as a compliment. Have I piqued your interest? 🙂 Without further ado, here is my visit to Walden Pond.
I wandered through Walden Pond trying to find my date. No, his name was not Henry, nor was it David.
His name was Lucas, and he drove me to Walden Pond Books on Grand Avenue for the second part of our date. Earlier, we started the evening at an upscale vegetarian restaurant. Lucas was cleansing his body of all meat and asked me if I wouldn’t mind doing the same, at least for the evening. I hesitated at first, considering my Filipino carnivorous upbringing. In my experience, veggies were always on the side of: a side of green beans for your ground beef, veggies (in)side of eggrolls. But veggies side-by-side and beside itself, seemed absurd. I eventually agreed to his choice of dining because I wanted to impress him with my worldliness and openness to all things.
I peeked between the aisles of the bookstore. With each step I could hear my stomach growl. I was hungry. The white tofu micro-green concoction was hardly a meal. Lucas chomped heartily and happily about life in the East Coast, while I had done my best to keep my food down and smile at the same time.
And now it seemed he had lost his away amid the stacks. And I had lost my date. “This is no way to treat a date,” I grumbled. But I realized that he had taken me here because he knew I’d enjoy it. I gave up the search party and began navigating Walden Pond instead. I crisscrossed from aisle to aisle, scanning the spines and inhaling the damp and weathered smell of years and dust. I gently took a red leather-bound off the shelf and opened it carefully. It reminded me of my lolo, my grandfather. It looked like one of the books he had rescued.
While Manila burned in the midst of World War II and everyone fled the city, my lolo, like a madman, went into the flames and into the Manila public library. With his bare hands, he gathered all the books he could. They were handed down to my father, and then eventually to me.
The red leather-bound that I held reminded me of the 1930 Almanac that we frequently referred to while I was growing up. When we first arrived to the U.S., my brother and I referred to the Star Spangled Banner to help my mom with her citizenship test. But among the books my favorite was a collection of poetry containing works by Keats, Shakespeare, Shelley and other classic poets. It lay on my lamp stand and I’d fall asleep to it at night. It was falling apart at the seams, but it was the sole reminder of a man I’d never known, but whose passion for literature I intimately understood.
What drives a man to walk into an inferno to save books? That sort of madness always intrigued me. It reminded me of what Jack Kerouac once said, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” I wondered if I could ever have that same, dizzying, self-sacrificing madness.
What I had been doing with my life had been anything but mad. Just that semester I had dropped my English major. My parents were worried about my choice of career. The occupation of ‘writer’ didn’t seem to resonate well at family gatherings. Aside from that, they were struggling to pay for my tuition. I wish I had been smarter to earn more scholarships. I wish I had been smarter to get into a cheaper, public university. Mostly I felt guilty for wasting my parents’ money on what they thought of as a hobby. After plenty of deliberation, I chose Communications; a major that would allow me to write but sounded a bit more respectable.
At night though, after all the essays had been written and the studying done, I’d reach for my journal. Like a secret a lover, I’d return there and nourish my longing for writing. I wondered if there would ever be a chance for me to truly pursue my creative urges.
I returned the leather-bound and explored some more. I walked where I was compelled, side-stepping the owners’ giant huskies, Amos and Kip, and around couples snickering at Freud’s obsessions. Somewhere on the corner of Self-Help and Religious, I stumbled on a title called, “Work: Making a Life, Making a Living.”
I opened it up to the introduction.
A Native American Legend
The gods, just before the creation of the world, deliberated where they should hide the secret of life. One god suggested hiding it on the peak of the highest mountain. But another said that humans, in their curiosity would find a way to trek there. Another suggested they hide it in the depths of the ocean. Again, they argued that humans would somehow find a way to even go there. One god finally suggested they hide the secret of life inside the human heart. That way, they would never think to search there.
What did work have to do with the secret of life? I paused to think about what it could mean. I could feel my lolo through the pages, beckoning and calling with a different kind of fire.
“Find anything good?”
“No, not really,” as I quickly shelved the book. “Did you get anything?”
Lucas proudly brandished a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. I smirked and commended him on his choice.
“Are you sure you don’t want to grab that book? You seemed really into it.”
“No it’s ok. I already have it in here,” and valiantly placed my hand over my heart.
He looked at me, puzzled and pulled the book from the shelf. “You have ‘work’ in your heart?”
I laughed and thought, perhaps it would have been better to have Henry David as my date. Maybe even Jack. I’m sure they would’ve sat and shared a burger with me.