August 18, 2003

Oregon City Public Library System
1234 Somewhere Street
Oregon City, Oregon 95555

To Whom It May Concern:

Enclosed please find one library copy of Jill Sobule's "Happy Town" CD, due date 11-21-98.

You probably don't remember me, but I'm the crazy lady who checked this CD out seven times during the summer and fall of 1998.  At the time I was working at The Knife Factory, just down the street from your Hilltop branch.  I used to spend my weekday lunch hours in the rear of the library, next to the laminating machine, weeping over books about divorce and alcoholism and HTML; on Saturday mornings I would ride the #32 from my apartment across town and haunt your music shelves for hours, before ducking into Lucky's next door to pick up my Saturday night box of wine.  I'd never even heard of Jill Sobule until I discovered a copy of "Happy Town" in your CD bins. I checked it out mainly because I thought it looked intriguing ... and because copying library CDs to cassette was the only way I could afford to add to my music collection that year ... and because I'd already checked out everything ELSE in your library at that point. (Loved the John Lennon tribute album. Loved Collective Soul, Sarah Hickman, Jennifer Warnes, the Celtic Christmas stuff. Didn't much care for John Prine, but at least I gave him a shot.)  

"Happy Town" swiftly became the background music of my life that year. Sobule's songs of depression, loneliness, revenge, dysfunctional relationships -- all sung in her thin sweet voice, set to quirky instrumental arrangements -- spoke to my heart like nothing else that year. The first time I played the CD, I literally had to stop cooking my hangover breakfast and plop down in the middle of my kitchen floor to listen to the words. By the time I got to the last song, I was weeping freely into my overcooked Breakfast Scramble. I was just so amazed to hear somebody giving musical voice to all the things I was feeling at the time. "I'm free!" she sang exultantly. "It's just me. I'm FREE! Nobody but ME!" (And then, the nearly subliminal subtext: "I'm free. Help me.")

A few months later, when I was struggling through the dark early days of alcohol withdrawal, "Happy Town"' became the soundtrack of my recovery effort. Songs that had struck me as amusingly dark and cynical, at the height of my dysfunction -- 'dark' and 'cynical' being qualities I worked very hard to cultivate in myself -- now seemed hopeful and wise and personal.

"I don't wanna to get bitter," she sang. "I don't wanna get cruel. I don't wanna get old before I have to."

My husband likes to tell people that Jill Sobule is responsible for the two of us getting together. And he's partly right. I signed onto AOL one night towards the end of that summer -- I'd been listening to "Happy Town" pretty much non-stop for weeks, at that point -- and I saw my old cyber pal DRaftervoi lingering at the top of my Buddy List. Even though we hadn't spoken to each other in months, I immediately fired off an instant message to him. He was one of three people online who I considered to be something of a musical expert, and I wanted to ask him about my new favorite CD. "Jill Sobule: straight or gay?" I typed, by way of opener. No greeting. No preamble. No 'Hi how've you been?' or 'Remember me?' or 'Sorry I haven't acknowledged your existence for the last twelve months.' He answered me immediately -- "Who's Jill Sobule??" -- and this led to an interesting discussion about music ... which led to an interesting discussion about the twists and turns our lives had taken since last we spoke (him: separated and sober, me: drunk and divorced) ... which led to an interesting discussion about alcoholism and recovery and changing your life for the better.

Which led, some weeks later, to me packing everything I owned into the back of a rickety U-Haul and moving to California.

I didn't mean to take the Jill Sobule CD with me when I moved out of the Tree House. Honestly, I didn't. I returned most of the other books and CDs I still had kicking around -- everything except a battered copy of "Netscape Navigator for Dummies," which I couldn't find anywhere: I think I may have thrown it out my third-story window  -- but I think that "Happy Town" just got tossed into the general mishmash of books and music and photos and life memorabilia crammed into the back of the U-Haul. David discovered it when we were unpacking me in California, later that week. 

"We should send this back to the library," he said. 

Right from the very beginning, he's always made me do stuff I probably wouldn't have thought to do on my own: eating more fruits and vegetables, for instance, or watching Jackie Chan movies, or being nice to earnestly snooty young waitresses who call me "Ma'am" and automatically serve me Diet Pepsi instead of the Regular Pepsi I actually ordered. In this instance I agreed with him, though, and I set "Happy Town"' off to one side, with the intention of mailing it back to you the very next time we were at the Post Office ...

... and then I promptly forgot all about it for the next five years.

In the meantime, I purchased my own copy of the CD almost as soon as I settled in California. Right away David took me to Berkeley and introduced me to Amoeba Records, where I picked up a mint condition copy of "Happy Town" for three bucks (along with a mint condition copy of the Collective Soul CD, the Jennifer Warnes CD, the John Lennon tribute and the Sarah Hickman CD).  In the five years since then, "Happy Town" has continued to enjoy heavy rotation on my personal musical playlist. I'm not sure, but I think it may even be my favorite album of all time. It certainly fits all the Favorite Album of All Time criteria: it came along at a point in my life when I needed it most ... it holds up even after repeated listenings ... AND I am unable to listen to just one song on the album: I must listen to the whole thing, straight through from beginning to end. 

It wasn't until this past weekend, when my husband and I were digging through the box of old CDs we've stashed under the computer desk, looking for good Berkeley bartering material, that we ran across the old library copy of "Happy Town."

"Ahem," David said quietly. And he handed me the CD with a look that clearly said Now's the time.

So here is your copy of "Happy Town" back, finally. Thank you for introducing me to my favorite album of all time. My husband packaged it up for mailing -- he found your address off the Internet -- and I will be personally handing it to our nice mailman at work, later today. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to see that it's still in very good condition: except for a couple of scratches on the jewel case -- and a teeny-tiny cheap chablis stain on the liner notes -- it is none the worse for the wear. I am also enclosing five dollars to help mitigate any outstanding late fees I may have incurred over the past five years. I realize that at your standard rate of 25 cents per day, I probably owe you something closer to $456.25. But I'm hoping that you'll be so impressed with my honesty and my forthrightness and my integrity and stuff that you'll forgive me for taking so long to send it back to you, and that you'll waive the rest of the fine, and that you'll permanently remove my name from your Ten Most Wanted List.

If you do ... I promise I'll keep looking for that copy of "Netscape Navigator for Dummies." Deal?

Very Sincerely Yours,

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and no, this doesn't mean that the tictac public library system
gets their hall & oates album back.