Chasing the Suburban Dragon – Dutch Simmons

Browsing through the stacks of used books at a Goodwill thrift store is a guilty pleasure. Like being in a local dog shelter, I’d love to turn everyone loose and bring them home with me if possible. Every time I moved and was forced to downsize, parting with any books was Sophie’s Choice redux; each was a beloved child that held gossamer thin tethers to my heart. I didn’t understand how others could part with theirs without a moment’s hesitation.

In the store’s sallow fluorescent lighting, they glisten with an almost pornographic lilt. Glossy-colored spines preen and offer come hitherto glances of what lay between the stiff hardback covers. I scour the alphabetized shelves for hidden gems amongst the bloated rows of Grisham, Patterson, and Steel- names that rolled off like a monolithic ambulance chasing law firm. Irving, McCarthy, Palahniuk, and Welsh called out to me with muffled voices.

Stacks of Miller, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald tossed away by divorced parents ridding their downsized condos of their kid’s high school books that were never appreciated at the time. Somewhere, Camus was rolling over in his grave, laughing at the irony of living forever in complete oblivion.

A copy of Brett Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero peaked out. Winked at me and beckoned to help me recall my wayward youth. My teen years in the 80s forged a moody adult whose musical tastes remained transfixed by the likes of The Smiths, Joy Division, and New Order. Cautionary tale or not, I loved the wanton sex and drug use that permeated the book. The idea of the thrilling irresponsibility that the shackles of adulthood no longer permitted.

Flipping through the copy, I noticed it was signed on one of the inner pages.

Dear Kelly and David-

As always, thanks for another wonderful weekend on the lake.
These life affirming excursions are the highlight of our year!
Until next year!

Ellen and Pete

I turned the sentences over and over. I became a voyeur outside of some cabin nestled lakeside and hidden by towering pines that shielded the couples as they skinny dipped and dodged swarms of mosquitos as thick as molasses. Drunken nights by the fire where joints were passed and inhibitions were lowered before they shared the intimacies of the flesh with reckless abandon.

At some point there must have been a falling out. Some unspoken boundary was violated; frayed tethers finally snapped. A meandering four hour car ride back to some planned development in pregnant silence. The passive aggressive changing of the satellite radio station shattering the silence.

Perhaps there was a sickness or death and the book was too much of a talisman to bear? A constant symbol of mortality or a permanent tombstone in the middle of a suburban living room where new friendships were being made as wine was poured with a heavy hand.

The reasoning didn’t matter; Less Than Zero had outlived its usefulness and was cast away. It held enough intrinsic or sentimental value to avoid the blue recycling bin and made it to a Goodwill donation site. Similar to not wanting to put a beloved pet that had become a nuisance down and instead releasing it to the wild, hoping for the best.

Whatever had transpired, the weekends were a thing of the past. The magical respite from the tedium of the suburbs was no more.

I ran my fingers over the cover with a newfound sense of affection before returning it to the shelves and leaving empty-handed.

It was as good a time as any to reread my own copy at home.