Sunday, September 2, 2012

Of Secrecy, Books, Gulags, and Money

When I was a kid, I had a huge fascination with all things related to private investigation and espionage. I enjoyed solving puzzles and creating puzzles for others to solve. I also used to follow people for fun. Now, wait a second, before you label me some kind of creepy serial Peeping Tom, this is something I did only as a kid, not an adult; we're talking between the ages of nine and 14. But I would pick out someone, let's say, at the mall, or the zoological gardens, and follow them for as long as possible, trying to obtain as much information about them without being detected. It was a game of stealth, of tracking, and covert information gathering.

I also played around with walkie-talkies, binoculars, short wave radios, and listening devices, in particular, the Bionic Ear and booster set; something my dad bought in the '80s, allegedly as a tool for bird watching and hunting, but in reality, it was used to spy on people. I used to play with it, as young as six years old, listening in on the conversations of my drug dealing, domestic violence waging, neighbors. Yeah, my dad was way too young to be a father. Wait until you're at least 30, that's what I say, same for marriage, the twenties is no age for being married or having children. Just my opinion.

Well anyway, my interest in these things, concerning secrecy and investigation, I would say were primarily from my dad's influence, himself being a very secretive person. And yeah, a one time member of the John Birch Society. I'm not proud. What I learned most from my dad is not to trust people, at least not right away, not until you know them really well. Which means there is always a long filtering process, of careful discernment and character analysis, that you don't jump into relationships with people just because there appears to be an immediate attraction or compatibility. There is always a certain mental and emotional distancing, of sizing a person up, taking place in the background of all interactions, determining whether in fact this person can be trusted, or if they are a possible security risk, something that could take years to deduce. Yeah, such is the mental programming I endured under the tutelage of my dad, to even be thinking in these terms. Well, it is what it is, and it's pretty much second nature now.

Anyway, the whole pretext of this story was to share with you a memory I have of my father, pertaining to secrecy, that recently entered my mind completely out of the blue, without any thought of even writing about it here, at least not at first, but I thought I would, because there is no way I'm going to be able to publish 20 blog posts this month (part of my 30 day challenge) if I don't.

So, I'll get to the main story now.

Years back, while spending time with my dad (my parent's married young, and were already divorced by their mid-twenties) I remember perusing some reading material my dad had on hand, I forget what it was, but it was all about hiding stuff. You know, hidden rooms, home-made safes, objects intended to conceal their true purpose, used for hiding money and other valuables away from prying eyes.

One of the items that caught my interest, was how to make a book safe. Where you cut out a portion of a book, creating a hollow space to hide stuff in. I told my dad about my interest in doing so, but he didn't have a book for me to use, certainly nothing that he was willing to let me cut into, nor did I have an adequate book for that purpose. So I went to the thrift store on my own, which was just down the street from my dad's house, and bought a thick black hardcover book, for something like a quarter, that I thought would be perfect to use as a money safe. It was a book I had never heard of before, didn't recognize the author or the title, and as far as I knew it had no value, was just an old book that I had no intention of reading, and therefore had no problem cutting into it, using it for a safe.

I don't exactly recall my age at the time, but I was maybe around middle school age, 13 or 14. I take the book home, using a ruler measuring out a rectangular space to cut out, marking the dimensions in pencil, and I get to work, hoping to surprise my dad by doing it all myself. If I had pictures I would share them, but this was long before the days of digital cameras and blogs, and film photography was an expensive hobby, that I did not take any pictures of my finished book safe, and honestly do not remember what happened to it, whether I donated it, or what, I'm not sure. But I did complete it, and used it for over a decade, at one point storing as much as two thousand dollars in it at a time. It was fun. Also a good motivator to save, to see the pile of money accumulate in my book safe.

But the true gist of the story though, is what the title of the book was. Like I said, when I bought it at the thrift store some twenty years ago, I had no idea what it was, had never heard of it before. I assumed it was just a worthless throwaway book, having no historical significance whatsoever. I chose it purely because of its appearance, it was a large, thick and sturdy hardcover book, probably between 600 and 1000 pages long, that I thought would hold up well over several years of use, not to mention being a good size to store a nice pile of money in. Had I known the value of the book then, I never would have cut into it, instead I would have kept it in my personal collection to read. But I didn't, so instead of being a book to read, it was used purely as a safe to store money in.

Want to know the name of the book I used for my first homemade book safe?

It was The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a classic piece of Russian literature about the author's experience as a prisoner in the Soviet forced labor camp system. My dad knew the book, and what really stands out in my mind, was his reaction upon finding out that this was the book I chose to use as my money safe, and that I had already cut into it, and could not be saved as a book for reading. Particularly due to the fact that I was completely unfamiliar with the book and its subject matter, and yet gravitated to it anyway, he considered it a sign. That is what he said, with a superstitious aura of mystery and prophecy in the tone of his voice. That there was some other deeper archetypal message underlying the significance of this book, and the fact of it being not only used as a money safe, but also personally chosen and handpicked by someone completely unaware of the magnitude of its importance in the grand scheme of historical events.

That is the memory that stands out most, my dad's reaction, and those few words he said to me about it, about it being a sign of something, but what? I don't know. I still haven't read the book, but I most definitely will, more so now then ever.

*This is post 1 of 20, for my "Twenty Posts in 30 days Challenge", an impetus I created for myself as an encouragement to write more, and whose success will ultimately determine the future of this blog and where I go from here.