"It's a book," I said. "Let me keep
my goddam book."
September 18, 2003
Coming home from the Mission District of San Francisco
one night, I was stopped by two fellows on the street and accosted
money. They were two young fellows
and they looked more scared than me. I guess I am being mugged, I thought.
All right, I thought, I'll try to follow the procedure. I had lived
in the city for
nearly two years and I was used to people asking me for money. It happened
often in the neighborhood where I lived and in other parts of the
city as well. It
did not seem like too different a thing from that. Sometimes you were asked
and sometimes it was taken. It was certainly unjust, but I couldn't
doing either the asking or the taking unless they needed to.
They took the fifteen dollars I had and I asked if I could keep
my wallet and they dropped it on the ground. One of them saw that
I had a bulge in my pocket
and he asked me what I had there. It was an old little paperback that I had
bought at a used-book store on Valencia Street. I had gone out
into the city and I had
not had a friend to talk with or a girl to walk along with, but I had found
a previously unknown book by a writer whom I loved. It was good
enough for me.
A book like that was the world. I knew only a few people in the
city. I had a hundred friends but they were all under the age of
the kids at the
school where I worked. But a book like that helped me to rest assured that
everything was going in a good direction, that a night out
in the city by myself and all
the people I saw along the way, the ones laughing in restaurants and the
ones sitting on the bus and the ones sitting on the street without
any place to
go, and a walk in the morning through a poor neighborhood and
the kids at the school
and the feeling that the time there gave me, the one that I wondered if
I would ever be able to explain to anybody, I would rest assured
that all of it would
come to something in the end. That was how it was with a book.
I looked up at the fellow who had said it. "It's a book," I said. "Let
me keep my goddam book."
I had not cared about the money. I had earned it but there were
probably some advantages I had had in life that had made me the
one with the job
and them the
ones stealing. But I was prepared to fight them for the book. They did
not know what it was to me. They didn't know that I was a guy who could
like I didn't have much in this city, but that reading a book I could
feel like I had everything.
Well, they didn't give two figs that I had a book in my pocket.
Literature was not one of their immediate concerns. They walked
off, counting my
they turned into an alley. There was nothing to do but walk up the
street to the bus stop. I was pretty glad that I still had the
book. I pulled
it out of
my pocket and looked at it. It smelled old and good. I looked through
it and read enough to know that the main idea in it was that life was
which was a main idea that I agreed with. I supposed that being mugged
fell under that too.
I got on the bus and sitting among the people,
I felt foolish to have gotten worked up about the book. I remembered
how the two fellows
me puzzledly just then. But at the same time, it was the foolishness
that was me. It was the
foolishness of a man out in the city by himself again. It was the
foolishness of a man leaving his home and his family and coming
to the city and
looking all over for something and in the end finding it more than
In that way it was not foolish at all.
I came home and before going to bed I read the first story in
the book. It was just as I'd expected. The story smoothed out the
incident was nothing
but an incident, and I was interested in it as that. I told myself
should still call the police tomorrow because it was good for
them to know that such
things were occurring and to know where they were occurring.
It smoothed out the night and everything else, and I was happy
fall into the
soft night of
sleep again, and eager for another morning of looking at the
world with open eyes, all of it that it was possible for one man
Do you want to know the name of the book I bought that night?
It was 31 Selected Stories from Inhale and Exhale, by William
Saroyan (Books for Libraries, 1972).
was a very
and I would be happy to lend it to anybody.
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