I love this time of every year. We literally give out butt-spanking new, bestselling books for free! Absolutely free! No catch. No gimmick. No hidden gospel tracks to make us feel good about ourselves. Just walking up to random strangers and sharing the kind of good, old-fashioned bibliophilia that makes the heavens spin. This is now our third year of getting off our duffs and hitting the streets with the kind of brain candy you snort with your eyeballs. Do we love books? Yes. Do we love people? Sort-of. Do we love giving books to people? Now you're just trying to get me high.
This year we applied for two bestsellers between Matt and I: The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell, and The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Fiction and non-fiction. One is about how a study of the spread of disease yielded secrets about the tipping points in social change, and the other is about one dude surviving a killer disease that knocked off most of humanity. We thought about setting up shop outside the Center For Disease Control, but we were afraid of catching herpes. So...we just gave the books out in fast food joints and strip malls. The only kind of disease we hope people catch is a love-for-reading-flu. St. Louis, consider yourself infected!
We always start the Night Of the Book-lover-virus (NOB) with pictures (see below). In this case, we were beside my house and thought it would be cool if I lifted Matt up and had him hold the books for a photo--which didn't work because he was a friggin' heavy tubalard. The rest of our ritual includes partaking in a gourmet meal (Emperor's Palace buffet!), and then we head out with aching bellies full of sour energy. A good time was had by all.
1. Matt and I hold books
2. Bookmarks I created to insert in the books to help people dig in
3. Us trying to look cool.
4. The super-official ids we created to look professional so we didn't scare people off with my tattoo.
5. Da books.
6. Me trying to lift Matt up so he could stand on my shoulders and hold the books out for a picture.
7. Matt tries uses his wall-climbing skills (he's bred for his skills and magic) to scale the side of my house (fingertips only folks!) after I realize he's a tubalard (or that I'm weaker than I thought).
8. We finally figure how I can hold him for a half second for a clumsy picture without said books.
10. Our eager start at the theater before we realized it was closing and we had to move to other shops.
11. We did it! And had a great time.
Essay Title: Free Eyeballs
World Eyeball Night.
I carry a whole box full of freshly-harvested angles on the world. Ready to supplant all old eyeballs—retinas screen-burned with ghost images of fears and boredoms that never turn off.
My fellow giver and I have on our “Official Distributor” badges, and now recipients can sub out a tired viewpoint for one from Malcolm Gladwell or Peter Heller. Sometime at home or on the bus or a plane, the old eye will come out, probably easier than expected, and Gladwell’s or Heller’s will slide into the empty socket. It will feel peculiar at first, wheeling them around in their slight eccentricity. Flavored with another’s adventure. Recalibrating the cosmos. But the experience is accompanied by small waves of vague reminiscence. Like something you thought yourself once.
Some will choose one nicknamed “The Tipping Point” and see, really see, how a little idea well-placed, and a few minutes more of courage and hard work, can make a big change. Learn how to team up with Nature’s rhythms and human economy, not just steel oneself against the children stories—like Santa and the Easter Bunny—she pulls as pranks on new arrivals. Make life work better.
For others, “The Dog Stars”: don’t need an End-Of-the-World to know what’s going wrong. But it might be nice to see someone else struggle to eat and breathe for once. Someone who wasn’t fed happy-fat on a silver spoon. To witness how people with a center of planetary gravity play it. Maybe spark a new survival strategy. Be nice to know we’re not alone, that the lean ribs of someone else’s hardy existence are showing too. Make friends with them.
Ninety percent of life’s ills probably stem from staring out the same holes all our lives—mere pinholes when it comes to trying to see all there is to see. Even when there’s nothing to see, we project the nauseating samenesses into the blanks. We believe we see what we believe we have to see by dubious virtue of always having seen it. White-wall torture, and a horrible reason to keep staring if you ask me.
Wet-with-life perspectives I dole out this night, blood-ready organs still raw from the seeing! Hoping to revive those dying from same-sightedness.
First stop: Dobb’s Tire & Auto. Talked to the manager. The technicians come shuffling out, one by one, from the sweltering shop-oven of parts and problems. Hands knuckle-busted and gristle-built from full-body torque on bolts and lug nuts, and setting one’s chest deep against an impact wrench. Huddled together as if to deter the universe from spotting a protruding limb to latch on to.
I display the new Life-Filters. New-Life filters.
They hesitate. Perhaps wondering, “What’s with the eyeball? Does it contain a secret that can get me out of from under people’s cars and looking down on them from one of the skyscrapers downtown? There’d better be something in those flimsy things built better than Hondas. Need something greater than the density of car metal that daily breaks my skin and warps my bones. Something like that I could take into me, fuse it with the load-bearing bones, knees, and fingernails. Push back against the universe. Give it hell.”
They listen to my description of which is which. They watch each other. They each slowly approach and point to, not take just yet, the one they might want. They wait for a price. For the catch. For me to preach my sermon, or pitch my product. Nope. I reach over and toss an eyeball to each.
Yep. That’s it. Someone from the outside cares.
They smile, grateful for a kindness. Or a cure.
We walk through retail stores getting ready to close. Directing our gifts to employees who know by now that things for sale are mostly just price tags. People are buying the tags. Everybody in retail knows this as they sweep the floors at night and unpack boxes of duplicates. Tags make you feel you finally have something worth something.
Pier One Imports. Closing shift. Quiet as dusted dishes. Quiet as an urn. We’re greeted from the back, and we tender our ocular wares. The manager calls her friend, stocking in the back somewhere. They are absolutely giddy to hear their choices, which are still only two, but more than they’ve had all day. The customer isn’t right this time. They are right. They choose their best-possible world, given the circumstances, for the first time. Whole vistas will appear and disappear with a blink of their new eyes. They want to know all about World Eyeball Night, so they can find some being to be grateful to. “Thank you for your eyes.”
They were right to feel grateful. These eyeballs have seen things. Blue waters and skies of pure potential. Yellow suns of morning-hope. White stars of guiding dreams. Black nights of coffin-sorrow and loneliness. Grey ash softly falling on peeling, ruined cities. Pink flesh scraped thin against the stony earth. Brown fur of dead friendship. Warm purple of delicate but deeply cheerful bruises.
These sights are uploaded direct into another mind, forcing a perspective and a feeling that would be incompatible, perhaps, with the old world; but the alarms of ideological incursion are stuffed with cotton for just a few experimental moments. Losing a lost world is the double negative of finding one.
We drop in at Smashburger. End of the night. Last order taken. I saunter up, but the look on my face tells the cashier and table-cleaner to relax. Like I’m a friend who saw what they were going through. We smile at each other. One laughs as if I’ve seen how hard she has worked, and how little it paid off.
I offer rinsed perception, free of fry-and-burger grease. A new start. See it another way. The entire world. The whole thing beginning to end. Over and over until you find what you are looking for. And THAT—what you are looking for—again and again, until you’re ready to complicate things with a different look. The old world hemorrhages when the old eyeball is plucked out, replaced with another’s. The old—forgotten—until you’re ready to remember and rebuild it.
“If you only knew the kind of night we had. The order that we just busted our asses on a minute before you walked in. This feels like it was worth it. Like we’re being rewarded.”
I am brought behind the counter to call my offer through the order window. The 16-year-old grill-master pokes his head out of a grease-globuled cloud of steam rising from smashing beef on a hot grill. He chooses. I hand him his glimpse past the hanging receipts.
At the end of the night my box of eyeballs has run out.
I wish I could have taken all the worn out ones and recycled them. Eyes change with the living. Passed to the next person, they change again. Enrich with each interchange. You’re only stuck with the ones you die with.
A boxful of eyeballs goes a long way. Line your shelves with them. Carry a pocketful. Ready for when you reach the limits of your positivity, honesty, courage, hope, options, solutions. Pop in another’s eye. Look again.
Sometimes everything hangs on another look. Sometimes everything hangs on another’s look.