A staple while in college was the “house book.” The book was your basic journal, the kind that can be purchased for a nominal price at any chain bookstore, and wherein we residents and guests could jot various observations. Not every house or apartment possessed one, this was college not some hippie commune, but the most populous locale, i.e. the one with the most party space and okay probably available drugs, was the locale of the tome. I came into possession of one, a purple velvet-covered journal, when my roommates and I moved into the pink house with maroon shag carpet, off of a dirt road, down the street from the cow pasture, where the local teens would forage shrooms and once sold us a batch of tea for a reasonable price. Before the purple book, fun to pet when on Ecstasy someone I think noted, our groupthink was collected in “the Mushroom Book” — which, naturally, was a bound journal with various fungi on the front.
The house book was the understood repository of random quotes, ideas or mind tangents, funny sayings or odd cartoon scribblings, the existential worries and “deep” thoughts and sincere bursts of emotion that burble up in the fecund minds of matriculating liberal arts majors with a penchant for pop culture and a taste for recreational drugs. We were not some sort of collegiate Algonquin Round Table, trading highly rehearsed barbs and bits of witticism. Usually we were too high or drunk or indifferent. But the book was useful as a catch-all for random thoughts or feeeeelings, or if someone dropped a needle-scratch/head-tilt/say-wha? quote in the middle of conversation. For example, K.T.: “I only take as much weed with me as I can eat.” Moments like that, then, the book was fished from the couch cushions or from the counter top for someone to write the line down. Or at parties, someone would scribble an observation or vent a grudge, the pen-and-ink of version of one of those reality show video confessional booths. Otherwise, the moment would be forgotten, tossed out like so many over-full ashtrays and empty beer bottles the next day, as stagnant as bongwater. (The velvet book, for a time, also became the repository for chicken recipes and wine ratings. It was versatile in its function.) (Speaking of tossing things out, there was a week when it had been so long that anyone had done dishes, we contemplated chucking the food-encrusted lot piling up in the sink and going to Wal-Mart to replace them, but sanity prevailed.)
Keep in mind, this is before the age of Facebook, when else we would be status-updating or twittering or the like on our laptops, but this was a veritable dark age. And though we took pictures, they were not digital ones, instantly uploaded online to validate the fact that we were at the party we knew we were at. Is it real or is it Memorex? Still! The impulse, really, is the same: to remember a moment in time that was “fun” or “cool” or angst-inducing or whatnot, and then to place it in a forum for public consumption. In this moment in time, it just happened to be in a book.
And flipping through the book again recently, I’m not necessarily struck by one item over another, no lost “million dollar idea” or philosophical “game-changer,” the quotes and doodles sometimes as cringe-worthy as an old high school journal. But they make me smile. What value, then? I suppose the value that one adds to a previously blank page, what was once empty is not? Something instead of nothing, however inane or innocent-seeming or wrong-headed or touching through the lens of time. Or just that I was there, we were there, like carving initials in a heart on an oak tree in the park. Either way.