Post #52: The Voice of Inanimate Things

IMG_0341 (1)It’s perfect.  Like a verdant, ruffled mop of hair, the green strands sweeping and swaying in the breeze, I am sitting in a bravely untended and dearly loved velvety nest of grass.   Even if every presharpened color in my box of 64 Crayolas was a different shade of green I couldn’t color it all right. I dig my toes into the damp coolness as my neck cranes up and up and up for my face to reach toward the warmth and light. I am expanding, growing, shifting—yet rooted to the spot—until I’m called in for lunch.

My sandwich is cut into four neat little quarters, the carrots sticks stacked in a pack, the tomato soup perfectly portioned into exactly a dozen mouthfuls. Tiny bite, tiny bite, tiny bite. And then finally, at last, I’m done.

I go back outside. But where is it? What happened? The screen door smacks shut behind me. I am mystified and then bereft. My phantasmagoria of tangled green has vanished. In its place is arrayed a precise and formal tightly clipped regiment. A moment of inattention and it’s gone! But is it?   I take a deep breath and the suddenly essence of grass caresses my nose, expands my lungs and delightfully coats my tongue.

***

It’s so early that if the sun had a face it would be rubbing the sleep out of its eyes. So early that the neighborhood seems to snore in unison, so early that the paper hasn’t yet been slapped onto the front porch.   Doesn’t matter, time to go. Drag open the car door and climb into the vastness of the front bench seat. Hand crank the windows all the way down, doesn’t matter the chill. Slide from side to side, bumping the door with every right turn.

We know where to go! Where else would we go? This is the only store with lights this early on a Sunday morning.

My mother pulls open the door and we are embraced by a whoosh of steam. The bagels are just coming out of the ovens. They tumble from their trays into the wire baskets, like giddy bunches of children released from school. The New Yorker Onion Rolls, the bialys, the flaky ones are already done, slabs of Russian Coffee cake, the Crumb cakes, the sprinkle cookies are proudly lining up in the glass cases.

Our brown paper bag is crammed full with our hot bakers dozen. I get to hold it. The open bag warms my lap as we ride home. A generous schmear of hot bagel scent fills me almost to bursting!

***

The cloud of gently floral spice wafts down the stairs, meanders through the living room, makes a short stop into the dining room before emerging full blown into the kitchen. My elegant and beautifully pressed father, not a hair out of place, arrives in the room a few minutes later. He has been announced.

A riffle through the mail, a bolted shot of orange juice, a quick flick of his wrist to check his watch, and he’s on his way for the day.

But the scent lingers…

Years later, I will buy his cologne and wear it myself, just to keep him near me.

***

What ho, to the great outdoors! Crack of dawn a winter Saturday morning, I am bundled beyond recognition and wedged on the Blizzard Ski Bus on my way to Pine Knob or Mount Holly or Brighton. As we pick up speed the rhythm of telephone poles blur into a Kandinsky. The roads are slick, the slopes sure to be slicker. The bus bounces over the pot holes, fishtails crazily when we turn…or don’t. Cool kids sit in the back. I sit in the front.

At last we careen into the parking lot, there are the mountains looming icy and distant in front of us. Our bus is parked with dozens of other buses disgorging hundreds of skiers on the mountain like ants spilling over a jelly sandwich. Clumping down the bus steps in my ski boots, I take a deep breath of good clean mountain air.   I am ready!

Years later I am walking the streets of New York on a hot summer day. I pass a city bus and am baffled as suddenly I get a jolt of good clean mountain air, just like that of the snowy ski mountains. How can this be? A bit more investigation proves, of course that the “good clean mountain air” I associated with skiing was actually the heady and intoxicating exhaust of bus fumes.

***

As I type this the smells of a good dinner caress the house, melding with the comforting, slightly musty scent of old, beloved books and cats warming at the windows. I can breathe in a soft hint of wild strawberries and wince, only slightly as I catch a whiff of slightly stale socks. It’s all here. Mary Webb says it best in her marvelous essay The Spring of Joy when she notes that “fragrance is the voice of inanimate things.”

I close my eyes to sniff the fragrances of memory, to remember and most of all to keep it all close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post #51: Filmstrips

IMG_8678Filmstrips

A casual flick and the lights snap off. A thrilling zing pings through the darkened room, passing through each of us like jittery kernels hitting the hot oil. The machine whirrs, the sprockets spin, the audio crackles invitingly, black and white images flicker and blur on the screen in the front of the room. We are ready, so ready! The filmstrip is about to start. We are rapt and enraptured primed to sit tight and watch straight through from beginning to end.

Well of course. That’s how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it?

***

Scene 1: SRA

Brandishing jump ropes, the girls gather in tight little gaggles on the playground, their eyes hooded, arms folded identically tight. I circle like a hungry sparrow, swooping down by the teetertotters, sweeping around the swings, up to the monkey bars searching and searching for a few crumbs, a place to roost.   Finally I slip back to the empty classroom and take a seat. A deep breath and I dive right in: The SRA Reading Box. I am up to Silver, already, I am the only one! I start reading and in a moment the ugly florescent lights, the ridiculous yet scary duck and cover drills, the hardened faces of the girls fade away. Only one more level to the very top, on to Gold!

Scene 2: Nothing Revealed

Chalk clutched in her manicured fingers, Miss Borocks floats to the board, and with a flowing, florid script maps out the assignment:

“Write about your deepest fear.”

She smiles beatifically on the class, her eyes hovering on me as she mentions (again) that both she and I are left handed. We are the only ones.   She dots her “i” s with tiny hearts. I do not do that, I will not do that, I cannot believe anyone would do that. Ever.

I am not actually certain what my deepest fear is, but if I knew it I certainly was not about to write it in an essay for Miss Borocks.

So I return home and write an essay about fearing to write this essay, pouring over the dictionary to squeeze in as many obscure words as possible, sweating to make the essay unreadable in class. Please don’t read this in class.

Aha! I have revealed NOTHING! At least I don’t think I have.

Scene 3: Spring and Fall

I am curled up happily in hardbacked booth at Drake’s, Russian Caravan Tea unsipped and a grilled cinnamon roll untouched on my tray, my eyes prancing over the pages of poetry. I am reading Hopkins. Only the top of my mussed dark head is visible, but that’s enough:   I am spotted. Red-headed Mr. Kenworthy, my English professor, is hovering smilingly, tray in hand.

“May I join you?”

I nod nervously and my eyes dart back to my book but that’s it, I can’t read anything any more.

He squeezes into the booth and starts straighten his papers.   “You’re reading Hopkins,” he says, squinting at the title. Do you have a favorite?”

I do, of course. I love Spring and Fall.   I wonder if I’ve made a good choice.

 

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! ás the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you wíll weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It ís the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.

 

“What do you think of it?” he asks. He is drinking Russian Caravan as well.

I catch my breath then speak in all a rush, “It’s not simply about a child missing the beauty of the fall leaves, or about the loss of innocence, it’s that devastating last line: ‘It is Margaret you mourn for,’ it feels selfish to me. The little girl is not innocent so much as selfish.”

He pauses, “That’s extraordinary. I never thought of that before. Never heard it mentioned. ” He looks at me with a new found respect.

“Well,” I continue quickly, “I studied the poem in high school.” And just as quickly, his eyes cloud over and his attention shifts elsewhere.

I cringe into my cooling cup of tea. I neglect to say that what I had noted about the Hopkins was my own insight from high school as well.

Oh, how could I?

Scene 4: Stacked

I’m here at last! Shelved on the 9th floor at 50th and Third, happily fenced in my cubicle by pile after pile of teetery first editions.   The boxes come to us, the lowly assistants, first. We see the finished books before the editors, before the writers, before everyone! Only after we’ve gorged ourselves, then do we share.

I am like voracious Saturn in the Goya, almost wishing I could greedily devour them all, page by delicious page. All for me, all for me, all for me!

Then my empty stomach rumbles—my slender wallet holds little more than subway fare.   What else to do? Oh right! Simply read and reread the cookbooks — Julia Child, Patricia Wells, Maida Heatter — ravenously, gluttonously, insatiably dreaming of dinners— paychecks—- to come.

Scene 5: The DK Pocket Books

Oh they loved them so very much. So small and compact they could hold them in their tiny hands. And so they did, carrying them everywhere, to their twin beds, to the car, to the bathtub, to the playroom, to the playground. Some pages were gritty from the sandbox, other warped from being accidentally left out in the rain. They carried them and they hugged them and they kissed them and they read them. The DK Pocket Books, from Insects to Volcanos, Dinosaurs to Earth Facts, Ancient Rome to Reptiles.

Tiny bursts of knowledge for very tiny boys. Watching them I learned more than I ever did from any book I had ever read.

***

We are primed to watch the filmstrips of our lives moving in a herky-jerky fashion forward progression, thing to thing to thing. And yet, when we flick the switch for the rewind, the film sometimes sticks. It’s blurry.   Where were we?

That’s okay. Look back more closely though and the scenes start to glow golden and gemlike as the segmented jewels of a Klimt. Refocus. Watch them again and again. Like a shaken tin box of fancy cookies, your scenes have left their frilly paper trappings and jumble together. Pick through them, taste them: they can still be sweet.   After all, they are yours to relive, rethink, reexperience, retell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EUDAEMONIA: Post #50

FullSizeRender (3)Oh it was swank, it really was! In one fluid motion the black jacketed waiter lofted the glass from his tray and set it down decisively before me. A tall, elegant flute, full of tiny bubbles cavorting in endless games of tag, a drinkable lava lamp, The Lawrence Welk Show in a glass, my very first Kir Royale.

The bubbles exploded on my tongue with a cool sizzle, the taste an intoxicating and lingering blend of memory and possibility…

***

I am reading, my eyes bobbing through the paragraphs like a motorboat nipping over the waves when the word fairly leaps out at me and plants itself in front of me, hands on hips. chin jutting out, stomping it’s foot for my attention. Eudaemonia. Eudaemonia? I stop and pronounce it once slowly and then over and over again, instantly loving the roll of the syllables over my tongue. It is an effervescent word, at once joyous and musical and I find myself embracing it like a long lost friend, wrapping my whole self around it even before I know what it means. For a little while, I just leave it that way. Then finally, I look it up.

Eudaemonia. From the ancient Greek. A complete and flourishing life. I pause for a moment. But of course.

I sit on the edge of my chair on the cusp of a miracle. A small miracle maybe, but a miracle nonetheless. Two years, a hundred weeks, every other Tuesday without fail, my fiftieth post. I’m pleased, I’m proud, I’m astonished, to tell you the truth. But let’s face it, this moment is merely a flourish. A quick little “ta da” and let’s move on.   Because, of course, it’s the continuity that enraptures me and the continuity that really counts.   Flourishing, not the flourish. Flourishing takes time. Flourishing takes a lifetime.

If you think of living as a constant succession of flourishes it’s nice I suppose to occasionally gather all the blooms and arrange them in a carefully constructed display. But to truly flourish, it’s important to leave some blooms to grow, even if they need to be left to the vagaries of the wind and the rain and sometimes the far too hot sun, am I right?   There is always renewal. Why else to call them perennials?

For all of us human flowers to flourish I think our personal gardens need to be seeded with connection and kindness, watered with contemplation and memory. It’s why I”m writing. Perhaps too heavy handed a metaphor? Forgive me. But I mean it. My intentions are good here. Here’s a prime opportunity for you: Be kind to me on this one.

In my romance of the word Eudaemonia (oh, how I love to say this word!) I am finding that one part of this short definition is catching me a bit off balance. A complete and flourishing life.

How can any life be considered complete? There are always mistakes we make, connections dropped, opportunities squandered no matter how exemplary some of us may be. All life, each one magnificently messy, cannot be tied up in a nice neat package and considered “complete.” And if one of the key elements to a good life is connection, as I am certain that it is, there isn’t completion but continuity. It’s our attempt that matters, our links with others that form an ongoing chain from the past to us to the future.

“However,” said the great gourmet and writer Brillat-Savarin in The Physiology of Taste, “I have lived long enough to know that each generation says the same thing and is inevitably laughed at by the next one.”

Hmm.   Some generational connections are a bit difficult then, but I maintain they are connections nonetheless. We continue to play the game.

And so to return to my Kir Royale. A new glass, filled to the brim, is placed before me. I still love the bubbles swirling through space! It’s as if each tiny sphere is set to burst with thrilling possibility!

I raise the glass high in a toast to all of us, a small flourish in our quests for flourishing lives.

 

 

 

Post #49: Diving Deep

FullSizeRender (3)

I was so little that reading still meant whispering words out loud when on whim I dove headfirst into the pages, down down down, deeper and deeper and deeper. There seemed to be no bottom, no ending, to it all. But who wanted one?   I’d never felt anything like it, the phrases pressing and swelling around me, ideas glowing like an Atolla Jellyfish, a Clusterwink Snail, these incredible luminescent creatures of the murky and mysterious deep. I almost didn’t know where to look first, riffling the pages this way and that. But like one born to it, little by little I learned to slice through the waves of words with shark like precision. Or was I more like a whale, opening my jaws wide to feed with words like millions of plankton slucing over my tongue to nourish my whole self? It was all there, confronting me, challenging me, inviting me. Sometimes reading I would find that I was actually holding my breath—my excitement so great that I’d forgotten to come up for air. That font of knowledge, that cornucopia of thought, that mélange of ideas right there in our living room. There it was: The World Book Encyclopedia.

My goal was simple. I just needed to know everything.

***

And so I’d dip in a random:

How wrenching that Beethoven was completely deaf and couldn’t even hear his 9th symphony performed, nor listen to the rapturous applause!

Did F.W. Woolworth really build his “Tower of Nickels and Dimes” out of nickels and dimes?

If the Egyptians mummified their pets, it meant that they adored them, right?

How on earth did Nellie Bly pack for an 80-day trip around the world in her tiny handbag?

My heart ached for Elizabeth I, her hair thinned, her life shortened from a lead based make up.

My spirit soared with George M. Cohan’s lyrics to Give My Regards to Broadway!

***

Bits and pieces, everything this way and that way. I never knew what I would find, what I would learn, what I would think what page my eye would fall on.

Each breath of knowledge became a pinpoint on my own personal map, a zigzagged line of inquiry. But to what purpose was I collecting all of this? And where, exactly was it leading me?

I wasn’t sure. I just knew that I needed to know. Or try to know.

It was a shock, really.

At some point I realized that beyond the World Book the universe of knowledge was constantly expanding, making my childhood quest to know everything both absurd and Sisyphean. But you have to wonder, is a task really Sisyphean if it’s a joy?

And so the quest continues. I read and read and read. There is no end. Because I hope that somewhere in that lovely pile up of facts and ideas, my hodgepodge collection of pocketed, billeted and cherished tidbits will be there when I need them most. I’ll be ready to extract just the right phrase at just the right moment when someone needs it.

This is not a simple goal. But in some ways it is everything, after all.

 

Post #48: Night Itself

IMG_1374You hear it first. Really, how could you miss it?

It sweeps through with the breathtaking blur of Gene Krupa’s flailing sticks badgering and barumphing at the skins, cajoling wave after wave and whoosh after whoosh of sound. Millions of tiny jubilant splashes in a muscular trill, a cacophonous drumroll of rain.

The truth is I wasn’t expecting the storm at all. As always, it was night itself I was after.

***

Drive-in Movie: 1965

it was the pajama ride of our dreams. The three of us rattled around the expanse of backseat like kernels sizzling in a popper. We had pillows but no one was going to waste time sleeping. It was just getting dark as my Dad pulled into a parking spot and fitted the receiver onto his window. We made it! The dancing hot dog on the screen said there was just enough time to get to the snack bar. Hurry, hurry, hurry! We wanted Good ’n Plenty! We wanted Milky Ways! We wanted Raisinettes! We got a box of popcorn. For the three of us. To share.   If I stood up I from my spot in the backseat I could almost see the bottom half of Mary Poppins through the front window. No, we were not going to lay out on the hood of the car like those other people.

I turned my back to the movie and instead looked out the slanted rear window. I could see the whole sky, black as licorice. There were stars. They sparkled like Sno-Caps.   My very own snack bar, my very own show.

***

Oak Park Boulevard: 1967

It was all wrong, completely wrong, totally wrong. Which of course made it feel so very right.

A quick scissor kick (I was learning to swim) and I was free of the covers. The summer darkness in the house was damp and foggy. I gingerly felt my way to my hearts desire, left conveniently on the floor. There it was! I had it.

Light sliced from the bathroom and slanted through my doorway just so. I was drawn to it like a nightgowned moth. Very carefully, very quietly I cracked it open.   Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! I loved this so much. I couldn’t wait until morning. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle had an upside down house.   You could jump over doorways! You could swing down stairs! You could sit around her chandeliers and pretend they were campfires! An upside down world where everything was just right.

Looking out at the comfort of the darkness I wished that night was day and day was night. An upside down world where everything was just right.

***

Wawa, Canada: 1972

We were not exactly roughing it, unless you consider roughing it taking an overnight on the camp bus and pitching a tarp in a local trailer park. Grudgingly we took a walk into town to forage for food, proudly procuring a few Coffee Crisps, several Mackintosh Toffees, a whole salami, and a can of Pringles. We hoarded this stash shamelessly. But it was going to be okay. We just might survive our time in the wild.

I waited until it was dark and everyone else was asleep. Silently I untwisted from my sleeping bag and crept from the bus. With small, stealthy steps I quickly made my way down the path to the lake. The dark around me was dense and verdant, packed with muffled sound. I kept my flashlight beam low. Then I snapped it off. Why would I need it? The whole sky above was massed with stars, a swirling and twirling marching band before my eyes!

No one would ever believe it. I had found Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in Wawa, Canada.

***

Dominos Pizza, Ann Arbor, 1981

He pounded furiously, stretched gently, then casually flung them into the air and then down the line. Dough after dough. Never missed!   I was the toppings girl, plunging my hands into various vats of pepperoni and onion and mushrooms as if I was playing a never ending game of Whackamole. Sausage was awful and sticky. I had to keep plunging my fists into the olive juice just so I could scrape it off my hands.   I dreamed of graduating to saucing and cheesing. But not just yet.

I got off at 2 am.  It wasn’t at all quiet. Let’s get real: here at night any night percolated with adventure! But I headed for home. My plan was to be up and out by 8 am. Because that’s the quiet time here. I grabbed it.

Had my Piggle-Wiggle dream come true?

***

Riverside Drive: 1993

They are so tiny, so very small. “I’ve bought chickens bigger than that!” someone squawked as I hurried anxiously past with the double stroller. I know. They were identically fed from droppers, one boy in my arms, his brother in a rocker. I switched their places every 15 minutes. It took over an hour to feed them, each time every time. They had to eat every three hours around the clock. They took turns sleeping but they were too small to know that there was no turn left for me. Day and night blended to charcoal.

Around the corner, Big Nick Burger lit up the dark. Everything you could wish for hot and ready 24 hours a day. I wanted it. We were, after all, in the city that never sleeps! All I had to do is get off the couch…

***

Our House: Just now

The storm itself has taken a breath but the rain continues, a ready steady strum. At last the night is what I was looking for, deep and velvety and enveloping.

There is no noise to speak of. There is so much to hear. I’m listening…

Dawn always catches me by surprise.

Post #47: The Cartographer of Malleable Memory

IMG_1854I scribbed and scrawed and scratched and scroobed. At first with those thick lavender elementary school trainer pencils, sometimes with a nothing more than a nubble of broken crayon. In flowing royal blue fountain pen ink or a smudgy stub of pencil. I dreamed of typing in a tree house but instead I scribbled in backseats or on busses, while wedged behind a fliptop schoolhouse desk or hunched over a sticky kitchen table.

Like Livingston on a lifelong safari, I am off to capture the prize.

My middle finger is marked by a callous from gripping the pencil so earnestly, even desperately, my hands are forever stained with ink. Scraps of paper, half finished notebooks, missives tucked into books. Tantalizing clues and ciphers and keys! All for me.

The cartographer of malleable memory, I am making a map.

***

BRAVE: Oak Park Boulevard

Ah ha! Nobody is watching. My moment has come. I kick my tennis shoes off into the summer grass and gingerly ease my feet onto the hot sidewalk. I am expecting a sizzle but it doesn’t happen. Step by step by step. I can do it! Like the firewalkers that boldly skitter over hot coals I am brave enough to walk the fiery pavements of Oak Park Boulevard with my bare feet! But even so I make certain to step carefully over every single crack. Because I love my mother very much.

***

AWAY: Hudson’s Department Store

Like a moveable steel Everest it loomed imploringly before me.   Each step rising up and up and up and then somehow folding away into some mysterious and inviting heavenly realm. Where did it go, where did it lead? I had no idea. All it took was just one tiny step and I was on my way, lofted upwards on a moveable stairway to adventure! As my mother turns I wave and then, in an instant, I am out of sight.

***

BEAUTY: The Beauty Parlor near Coolidge

It’s Friday and all the ladies are there ready to be made behived and beautiful. With enough hairspray the hairdo will last for the whole week. Each lady swathed in a plastic apron, they face their mirrors without ever making faces, and they sit in chairs that spin without ever spinning wildly. How do they do it? The air is thick with chatter and cumulous clouds of hairspray. But if we are quiet, there is a quarter for each of us.

In the corner, in the back is the Soda Machine! My sisters and I stand transfixed. Red Pop or Orange or Rock n Rye?

I am the oldest so I already know which is best. Without hesitation I drop in my quarter and twist the dial. In a moment a tall bottle of Faygo Grape is in my hand.

I swig right from the bottle and I think maybe that being made beautiful just might be worth it.

***

VICTORY: Camp Walden, Girls 9

High noon on a sunny day. We are inside, of course. That’s where the real action is. The floors are hard and swept and smooth.   You could bounce a quarter off my hospital-cornered bunk. I know. I tried. I am toe to toe with my halter-topped, feathered-haired adversary. I’ve got this. Then with one practiced hand I knock the jacks into a perfect arc and with the other I flourish the ball in the air. My left hand sweeps through the maze and in a flash it’s all over.   I am the official jacks champion of Girls 9.

***

WELCOME: Kingswood

The Oldsmobile pulls around the circle. I get out and the car pulls away. I am here. Knee socks and loafers, pale blue blouse and a brown jumper with pockets. I desperately need the pockets, where else can I put my nervous hands? I walk up the steps and pull open the doors. I am in the Green Lobby, a simple name for a space so exquisitely beautiful no fancy words could hope to ever do it justice. My heart skips a beat and then it almost explodes from my chest. How can this be?  How can you come home to a place you’ve never been to before? But I have. At that moment I know part of me will never leave. Or perhaps it is that this wonderful place will never really leave me.

***

BELONG: Carnegie Deli, New York City

Sunday morning, 8 AM, Seventh Avenue. The doors of Carnegie Deli are unlocked before my eyes. Where are the crowds? I cannot figure out where everyone is. Don’t all real New Yorkers rush out at pre dawn hours on Sunday mornings?

I sit uncomfortably on a bentwood chairs at one of the long tables and I wrestle with a menu that is as massive as the Ruben’s Triptych.   Pen and pad in hand the bow-tied, black-jacketed waiter is waiting. And waiting.

I panic. So I order the first things that come into my head.

In a few moments he places a warm baked apple and hunk of Russian Coffee Cake in front of me.   I take a few bites and I start to relax at last. It is very good.

When I look up to pay my bill three other people have ordered exactly the same thing.

I have done it. I belong.

***

SEALED: Haagen-Dazs, The Upper West Side

We stood there together, our noses pressed against the glass case. I hardly knew him. So will it be chocolate or mint chip or strawberry or mango? Rum raisin or butterscotch or fudge Ripple or plain vanilla? Cup or a cone? Sprinkles or sauce? Can an ice cream choice define you? Of course it can.

“I’d like an egg cream,” I said. His eyes, behind his round tortoise shell glasses, were wide.   “That’s amazing,” he said. “Me too.”   The kiss, and the life together that follows, is especially sweet.

***

JOY: Riverdale, 16th floor

The identical little people in identical pajamas were so small they couldn’t stand for more than a few seconds without toppling over onto each other. That didn’t matter. They fell down they got up, they fell down they got up again. And they laughed, a rich and rollicking and rolling laugh that blended into a jazz trumpet duet that would have knocked Old Satchmo, Louis Armstrong himself, back on his heels. My oh my!

We never got the joke. Just the joy.

***

MEMORY LANE: Around the corner

He traveled that route like a tiny King in a Yankee cap. Perched proudly in his green wagon he had the presence and bearing of Caesar himself. I pulled the wagon. Down the street, around the corner and a curve through a cave of trees, back and forth day after day to take his brothers to  elementary school. It was my job, but small as he was, he was certain it was his.

Then when he was old enough, for a time he walked with them. And then, older still and the only brother left, he walked Memory Lane alone.

Except for this last time. It was his last day on this beloved path at this beloved school. He asked me to walk with him. No wagon necessary. I did. We walked the path together one more time.

And in front of everyone he held my hand.

***

For me memory isn’t solid at all but truly more like shimmery green jello. I love jello. It shifts in the light. It wobbles. It changes. Memory I think is meant to be stretched, sometimes reshuffled or perhaps rolled like dice from a cup to continuously recreate the treasure map of a happy life. Follow the dots wherever they lead again and again on a zig zagged path to happiness.

.

 

Post #46: Windows

IMG_3637Early Morning: Michigan

Up the stairs, first room to the right. You’re there.  A perfect little shoebox of a room. So small you can stand in the middle and almost touch all four walls. A tousled bed, the floor a comfy nest of sweaters and board games and books. Harriet the Spy and Eloise always invitingly on the top layer.

Little Miss No Name, with her ragged dress and removable tear, sits reproachfully in a corner. I whisked her away from the commercial where she was barefoot in the snow and selling matches, but I can’t love her.

TV Guide has been thoroughly scanned and circled in excited anticipation of a Sunday afternoon or late night rendezvous with Bette Davis, Fred Astaire or Judy Garland.

It’s still dark. I wedge myself in the tiny space between the bureau and the wall and wait. Gold-rimmed glasses crooked on my nose, my eyes are just level with the windowsill. I look out and there it is.   With a wave of warmth, the sunlight rolls into the sky.

***

Morning: Queens, New York

The plane banks steeply and all of a sudden there it is! Like a platter of delicious canapés, the buildings are close to enough to reach out and grab. I want them so badly, I want them all. Lorenz Hart’s “Isle of joy” spilling out into my arms as I reach for my suitcase.

I’m finally here.

On the taxi ride in I make note of all the dry cleaners on 2nd Avenue. Just in case.

First day, first job, The Random House building at Third Avenue and 50th Street. Terrified of being late, I am instead, hours early. I creep around the corner and anchor myself at a coffee shop counter for an unwanted second breakfast. Finally it’s almost time to go. But as I attempt to fold The New York Times like a native, the stool spins and suddenly my half finished bagel sprouts wings, only to crash land buttered side down in the middle of my lap.

With twenty minutes to go, no dry cleaner in the world can save me now. But I am in New York, home of magic and dreams! One hundred and eighty degree turn and I land in the opulent, lilac scented Waldorf Astoria ladies room, fully armed with a newly purchased can of K2R Spot Remover.

Moments before 9 am I am ready, peering anxiously through the glass windows of one of the most storied publishing houses of all.

I am so afraid. But I’ve arrived.

***

Lunchtime: Manhattan

There are no windows on the 8th floor where I work, glamorously huddled before my typewriter tapping out Knopf’s royal blue labels and serious correspondence on thick, buttery sheets of paper. The Xerox machine and I are on very intimate terms. The halls are filled with nervous heroes: Julia Child, Placido Domingo,  Joseph Heller. We never knew who those elevator doors would part to reveal.  But their well-known faces are uniformly anxious: all confidence rests completely with their quirky and self-possessed red-pen wielding editors. Everyone knows true immortality rests on the printed page.

Alone, I squeeze in for a concrete seat in a vest pocket park, and unwrap a sandwich. Talk swarms through the air, clouding the tiny space but none of it comes from me. There is no one to talk to. Doesn’t matter. I have a plan! Later I will swing through the revolving doors with a forward P and a backward P and enter the “lobby which is enormously large with marble pillars and ladies in it.” I will go everywhere and do everything because, as Eloise intones, “Oh my Lord, there is so much to do. Tomorrow I think I’ll pour a pitcher of water down the mail chute.”

Oh I wish I could!

As I slowly return to my cubicle I can just see the sun reflecting from the windows, cutting through the buildings.

***

Late Afternoon: Riverdale, The Bronx

If you lean in tight and crane your neck just so you can almost see the edge of my Broadway Boogie Woogie in the distance, as it continues to percolate through the jungle gym of Manhattan. But I know it’s far away. Every day it feels so much further. As if we are now on another planet.

Pay attention! The better view is straight across through the vast open windows of the sixteenth floor. The Hudson churns by and over on the other side New Jersey actually looks welcoming and green, just like they always promise.

Laundry Mountain has been ascended, Sesame Street is over, the scooter race down the hall completed, the pile of books have been read and read and read once more. Night is coming.   I pluck the two tiny boys from their spinning Dizzy Discs. And together we look out the big window.

“Ah,” they point and sigh and sing, “The moon! The moooooon! The mooooooooon!”

It shines through the window on all of us. Our faces glow.

***

Early Evening: Westchester

Determinedly I grip the wheel, eyes on the road. I drive hither and thither, catapulting from parking structure to parking lot, picking up, dropping off, driving this way and that. Queen of the Roads, I have a personal parking spot everywhere I go: Middle School to the Mall, Trader Joe’s to Target.

The backseat is layered like a bean and guacamole cheese dip with Lego boxes and Pokémon cards, comic books and Crazy Bones. We are ready! We have everything we need.  Now there are three little boys.

Through the window, my strong left arm is burnished a deep, dark brown.  I don’t have time to look out, but it doesn’t matter. I can still feel the sun.

**

Evening: Westchester

A beloved and happy place, all duct taped together, all full of love. Our house.  Day after day I ping pong my way through the rooms with scarcely a glance at the walls or a look out the windows. All the boys are home, safe and happy. It’s them I want to see. Let the cats commandeer the windows. They are bravely keeping watch.

Then, no matter how much I’ve prepared, when I least expect it, they have gone again. It’s quiet here. Alone, I gently take a soft cloth to the slightly smeary windows. I rub gently and peer outside. The sun is still there. I can still feel the warmth. I need it.

Through all of my windows, I look out to look in.