It happened as I was leaving the English grad computer lab in Wheeler Hall to hold office hours. I was a wee bit early, so I wasn't hurrying. As I descended the southeast stairwell, I noticed a little black Moleskine notebook on the landing.
Hey, I thought, with dazzling acuity. Somebody dropped a notebook.
It was facing me as I descended, right side up, as if it wanted to be read right then and there. It seemed to cry out, "Find me! Give me a home!"
Naturally, my first thought was to return the notebook to the owner. Perhaps there would be identifying marks within.
So I picked the notebook up.
This sounds easier than it was, because I was loaded down on both arms with my laptop and several books from my recent library-scouting (a good session - Amy Kaplan and Eric Sundquist, notably, were actually in the stacks where I looked for them).
So I grabbed the notebook with one hand and then teetered my way back up to a standing position, hoping to God I wouldn't fall, break my laptop, and thereby lose all my orals notes. Or injure myself.
I paused a moment before opening it. Opening someone else's notebook seems like a terrible transgression, even if you're doing it to return the notebook to its rightful owner. It almost seems more respectful to just keep the notebook, permanently unopened, in some safe place.
But I opened the notebook anyway, sliding away the elastic band that kept it closed. A page fell open, and I caught a snatch of text:
I'm tired of acting like a goddamn angst-ridden teenager.
Whoops, I thought, embarrassed. I quickly flipped to the very front of the notebook, shielding the writing from my eyes, which read wherever they fall. Someone's private thoughts.
The private thoughts of an undergraduate, apparently, in one of those hands that looks half-formed - as though the person hadn't even come into his own handwriting quite yet.
The title page, if I may call it that, held, in the same half-formed handwriting: a name, a phone number, and a dollar amount for the reward offered for returning the notebook, viz. ten dollars.
The notebook company had provided places to fill in this information. Nonetheless, it almost seemed to me as though the notebook had been begun precisely in order to get lost, be found, and be returned.
I headed back to the computer lab and called the number inside the notebook. An automated voice announced that I had reached the voice mail of (phone number). So impersonal. Flustered, I told the machines at the other end that I had ... somebody's... notebook, that it had been lost, and that I'd leave it for him in the English office.
I get nervous leaving voice messages, even with friends, and I have no idea whether any of it came out clearly in my rush to finish. But I hope so, since the book is out of my hands now. I gave it to Sarah in the English office, incoherently explaining the situation. I was a little embarrassed, because I wasn't sure she'd take kindly to the idea of acting as a lost-and-found. She took the book from me, however.
"It's fine," she said. "I'll hang onto it here."
And the little book circulated out of my world, just like that.
I left the building a little dissatisfied. I'll never know if the mysterious young owner understood my voicemail message, or even received it. I'll never know whether he got back his little notebook of private thoughts. But five minutes was all I could spare out of my life. It really was. So I pushed on.
I held my office hours at Caffe Strada, as usual, and spoke with a smattering of B- students (somehow it's always the B- students who agitate to have their grades changed -- not the Cs and Ds so much). I got to thinking that these students were the notebook-owner's peers -- his friends, maybe? Or perfect strangers to him, who perhaps have the same private thoughts as he?
It's funny how we people glide by each other in the dark, never quite knowing who's near.