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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Herb Benham

Last week, a package arrived in the mail. It was encased in cardboard and was approximately the size of a magazine but thicker and wider.

I saved it for later, when I had time to enjoy whatever was inside.

The package was not easy to open. It was bound tight with staples, glue and ribbed cardboard. I would have been better served with the Jaws of Life or a laser powerful enough to cut a hole in a grain silo rather than the dull scissors and the delicate letter opener that I employed.

If time had been of the essence, whatever was inside would have perished, rotted or exceeded its date of expiration.

I prevailed but not without wondering if I were losing tensile strength and would soon be calling on the neighbor boys to open jars of peanut butter.

I discarded the brown outer cardboard wrapping, which revealed a white inner sleeve. My heart skipped a beat. Printed on the sleeve was the stylish Apple logo.

The box was from one of my Bay Area brothers. My birthday was approaching. Might this be an early birthday gift?

I like presents. I'm not embarrassed by them. You're never too old for gifts, especially if you have a heart of gratitude.

I'd hoped somebody might give me a laptop. A laptop with a big spacious keyboard and an easy-to-read screen.

Derek had read my mind. We were brothers. "Brothers" is a powerful word. Brothers pass messages subliminally, as if they were not only blood but twins.

This was so thoughtful. Generous, too.

I teared up. Being a humble man, it was natural to think I was being rewarded for my modest expectations, which in this case did include a $1,200 laptop with that snappy Apple logo on it.

I wiped away the tears with the back of my hand. A new laptop. I had to be the luckiest man on earth.

The laptop was light but that's how they are building them these days. The 20-year-old Dell I had used before was heavier than the General Sherman tree.

I turned over the white Apple casing, delaying the moment when I would free the laptop from its sleeve to a chorus of oohs and aahs.

I tilted the package to the vertical position so that gravity would cause the contents to ease out. I could already feel the cool, smooth surface of the laptop.

I closed my eyes and out it slid. It was smooth, it was cool, it was ... a book. A book.

A book? I like books, but not when they are disguised as laptops. I like books that are not magic tricks.

Twins? I take it back. If we were twins, then we were separated at birth and for good reason.

My tears dried -- or not so much dried as get sucked back into my body as if they were a victim of reverse osmosis.

I turned over the white Apple sleeve to make sure it was a white Apple sleeve.

It was. At one time, the sleeve encased a laptop but somebody had that smooth, cool laptop and somebody else had a book disguised as a laptop.

Happy birthday, whoever you are. I will think about you when I am reading my new book. Think about you with all the generosity of spirit I can muster, which at this moment, is available in modest doses.

Contact Californian columnist Herb Benham at 395-7279 or hbenham@ His work appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays; the views expressed are his own.