My motives for lending and borrowing are not what they seem. What I seek are connections; borrowed objects are my tendrils for reaching out to people. "Does that book interest you?" I say, watching the eyes of my math tutor wander to a book in my backpack. "Please borrow it. I no longer need it for class." "Did you say you had a vacuum?" I say to the girl down the hall. "Could I use it? My rug is filthy," (the vacuum justifies at least three separate visits: l) asking for the vacuum, 2) returning it the next day, 3) asking to borrow it a week later).
"I didn't know you liked Jimi Hendrix," I say to a girl at the park listening to a Walk Man. "Mind if I borrow it to make a copy?"
The five advantages of borrowing and lending: l) borrowed item as means to a person's (female's) phone number "so I know how to contact you." 2)borrowed item as obliging reciprocation. Once I borrow typewriter correction ribbon, I can insist that the lender come over and borrow my things anytime. 3) borrowed item as conversation filler. Walking through the school hallways, I slap my forehead, exclaiming "Stupid me! Once again I've forgotten Amy's book!" (Amy watches amusedly). 4) borrowed item as euphemism. Which of these two requests, sounds more elegant? A: "Is it all right if I stop by later on to visit?" Or B: "I need to return your German book. How about I come over and drop it off?" 5)borrowed item as pleasure-in-itself. How many albums I now have in my possession! How many books I've managed to read without buying! The only joys in life are free -- they are the joys that are borrowed.
Laurie was the borrower of my kitchen timer one weekend. When she returned it ("You see? I told you I'd return it"), I insisted she borrow Milan Kundera's "The Joke" (because she enjoyed "Unbearable Lightness"). So she did, and we became good friends. But you know how things happen. Her sharp tongue got on my nerves. And she wasn't very pleasant or pretty anyhow. Soon I stopped borrowing records and found excuses to avoid stopping by (" . . . so busy . . ." "Tests . . ." "Schedules so hectic . . ."). No big deal or anything. We just drifted apart, that's all. Then, one day, I needed the Kundera book. Damn, did she still have that? And didn't she have my Beethoven string quartet recording? I usually manage pretty well without the items I lend out -- I hardly ever notice they're missing -- but that moment I really could have used that book. I needed a certain quote from it for a paper. On the way home, I look for it in the library. But the book was already checked out (the bad thing about libraries: everything you want is already checked out). Sure, I could have called Laurie about it. But I didn't want to reopen that can of worms. Okay, the book cost six ninety five plus tax. Calculating my time as six dollars an hour, thirty minutes of driving to the bookstore equals eleven dollars. And then the record set, twenty five dollars. Compare that with the unease of talking to her again (estimated anxiety: eleven dollar's worth), the guilt of not having called sooner (eight dollars), and the movie I'd probably be persuaded to see with her (six dollars plus popcorn two dollars plus gas one dollar plus four dollars late night coffee and fifty cents tip). I call her up.
Her voice is different on the phone. She answers all my questions curtly; even her hello is functional and impersonal. Yes, she has the records and the Kundera. Yes, you can pick them up now if you like. I drive over, park and ring the doorbell. She opens it, holding a pile of long-lost belongings. "Here," she says, shoving them into my hands. "I can't talk. I'm watching a TV show." She shuts the door, but at this point, brusqueness is almost welcome.
Alisa was the big-breasted girl with the Solti recording of Shostakovich's "Lady MacBeth." Borrowing from her was like stealing candy from a little girl. "Sure you can borrow it," she said in her sweet generous voice at the party she was hosting. "I never knew you were an opera buff," I say. We talk for hours. I overhear Alisa's roommate asking, "Who's that guy she's been talking with?" I was in love with her. How could I resist the charms of someone who proclaimed Bruckner as the world's most exhilarating composer?
Two days later I call her. The Shostakovich opera, I said, was strange, haunting. But a brilliant performance. Did she know a famous horn quintet was playing at the museum and did she want to go? This week was bad, she said. Five days later I call again. Did she know Side B on her last record had a scratch and would she like accompanying me to the piano competition at the conservatory? She didn't recall the last record having a scratch, she said, but she wouldn't hold it against me. About the competition, she certainly wanted to go, but the weekend might be hard. She would call me later. Two days later she called (finally!), saying no, she was sorry, but that weekend was bad as well.