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.

 

 

 

 

 

Post #45: Sfumato

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I fell in love with a book. And through that book, I fell in love with the world.

It was a gentle summer city night. City dark isn’t really dark at all but actually more of a sfumato, mysterious, entrancing, and lit by the soft buzzy glow of streetlamps. The Strand, that warm and inviting forest of books, beckoned and as always I was enraptured and ensnared.

It was in the relative gloom of the subterranean levels that I found it.

The cover, pedestrian. The title, bland. The book, heavy and ponderous.

The Green Treasury

I wanted it.  And so I bought it.

***

I live in a lovely, idealized checkerboard world, each precision piece in place. No moves without proper consideration.   Squared up, spruced up lawns all mowed to a brush cut precision. Color-coordinated flowers and precise, paint by the number backyards. Double jumping is frowned upon.

What is there wild and wondrous to see here? Nothing, I am certain. So I curl up inside and allow the pages of my book to cleave open a view to magnificent, pulsing worlds, from the rainforests of Peru to the gardens of Japan, from the mountains of the Sierra to the marshes of England.

*John Muir clings to a branch to ride out a windstorm in the forests of California.

*William Henry Hudson dreams of thistle down on the South American Pampas.

*Richard Jeffries wanders the still wild natural world at the doorstep of London.

*Gilbert White listens to the sound of crickets in Hampshire.

*Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher hears the calls of the wolves in remote British Columbia.

I want it. I want it all. I want it desperately. But there is nothing to see here.

***

On Sunday afternoon I glance out the kitchen window and spot a dense and ponderous sky above. At last! I pry myself out of the house, and wedge myself in a corner of the porch. Glass of wine in hand, I am ready for the show.

The air is moist and anticipatory and the charcoal clouds are thick and wooly, so low I feel as if I could hold them, squeeze them. If I did, would it open a deluge, a spray or spill?

Nothing is moving. Or is it? The wind is coming in gulps and sighs, shaking the branches and the leaves like row after row of beaded curtains, like a hula dancer’s hips, like so many maracas in a mariachi band.

The branches jitter and twitch, anticipating the thrum of the rainfall to come.

But not yet! The clouds bend and curl through the sky, a long twist of old movie film, a wordless soliloquy, coiling above. Suddenly, the wind exults and breaks free like a mass of children released from a day of school, with a power that makes ripples through the grass and re-parts my hair.

It’s time! I am so ready for the rain; eyes squeezed shut, face turned upward. But it doesn’t happen. Instead I feel warmth on my cheeks. Instead, the sun cleaved through he cloud cover. The blast of wind is now a mere breeze.

I catch my breath.

I sit very still, here, in the place I was certain there was nothing of interest to see, nothing to feel, nothing to experience. I am wrong. Here it is. The sky has come to me. Or perhaps I’m just ready to see it.

“There is no need for a faraway fairyland, for the earth is a mystery before us.”

–William T. Davis

But of course.

And at last I too am caught up and embraced by the sfumato of the clouds, right here, right outside my own doorway.

 

Post #44: For Safekeeping

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I should have done it ages ago. But I wouldn’t and I couldn’t. Tattered copies of Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World crammed between Mrs. Dalloway and The Aenid. The lumpy lovingly handmade paper mache cat perched next to a Nambe bowl. A bubble wand safely stored with the Wedgewood. The Kindergarten art elementary art show winner displayed with the same pride as the Audubon print. My world is swirled with touch points of memory wherever I look. I’ve kept it all very close.

We tend to think of memory as a snapshot in time, don’t we? We tell ourselves the same soothing, wonderful stories again and again. We need them, we need them so badly as every day we’re carried further and further way from points in time.

With rising panic we keep reaching back and back, our vision blurring into the distance. We could forget! What if we forget? And then what?

*a flattened box of Maizecorn tucked into the bookshelf from the first game at The Big House we attended all together.

*Three individual copies of Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs (one for each), a book read so many times that the two of us were certain the text was stamped into our being for all eternity.

*a very small pair of thick-lensed, gold-rimmed spectacles, for one who was squinty and bookish even in third grade.

*The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, Hot Wheels version.

*A gallon-sized jug of green Tabasco Sauce, long finished.

*a golden bowl, filled to the brim with yellowing paper fortunes.

On a whim, I dig all the way to the bottom. And they are still there.

***

On Sunday night we are all together at a Chinese restaurant like days of old. Plates of steamed dumplings, sizzling platters of exotic vegetables, mound after mound of white rice. Everything but fortune cookies.

When they were very small it was a conceit of mine that whatever they would ask for I would be able to pull magician like from my bag, as If I were always ready to be an audience member for Let’s Make a Deal. Playing cards, tiny cars, bagels, you name it. I was always prepared.

Once more, for the sake of memory. From my bag I brought out their very first fortune cookie fortunes, decades old, carefully marked with their names and the year.

If I think back in time I can no longer remember what they were wearing or what the weather was like or what was on TV the nights they first opened those cookies. But I wonder, what if memory is meant to be malleable, less like a snapshot and more like a Cezanne, the image diffuse and changeable and endlessly lovely?

I can’t remember back clearly so many years. But do know the looks of surprise and love on their faces when they each slipped those old fortunes into their wallets. For safe keeping, of course.