388: In my small writer-in-residence cabin at Interlochen, I live as if I have several rooms, working wherever I wind up: curling up in corners, prone by the fireplace, perching by the window, or sometimes even at my desk. There are times when I am desperate for a paper clip—a modicum of organization is all I need, but I need it badly and instantaneously, and relocating to locate one is an onerous and potentially work-killing task. But the thing about paper clips is that you stop needing one about as quickly and often as you start to need one, so I tend to toss newly-detached paper clips willy-nilly. I make a cool discovery: Once the cabin is primed, whenever I need a paper clip all I have to do is feel along the floor or table without even taking my eyes off my work. Most first-time visitors will graciously stoop to pick one off the floor only to be rebuffed: “Please put that back where you found it.”
389: On my lap is a large manila envelope containing my mother’s x-rays. I picked them up from one doctor, and am taking them for a second opinion. This is the kind of opinion only some people are entitled to. The envelope is open at one end, with an indent in the middle from which protrudes the tip of the x-rays, for smooth removal. Held to light, this film tells a story, in a language foreign to me. We have been told that the story is a sad one. The new translator concurs.
390: Are we on the wrong road? Or the right one, but only up to a point that we have passed? Or haven’t we gone far enough? This car speeding past us into our future might know. Or the oncoming lights on cars going back in our time.
391: In college, my Sex, Censorship, and Literature class is visited by Dwight Macdonald. He leafs through one of the skin magazines the professor keeps on hand for class consideration and says, “You know who these girls are? They’re hookers, that’s who they are. That’s where they get them.” After class, I show him one of my pieces and he points out that the character I am profiling doesn’t change (a concept I will continue to wrestle with as a writer and teacher). I tell him I’m doing a series on protest movements for the student newspaper, and he says, “I’d like to see them. Send them to me at The New Yorker.” I never do (oh why oh why?). That night, after a few drinks, he asks me to take him to the Vale Cemetery, to search for the grave of Captain Mordecai Myers, who, I learn, was a mayor of Schenectady, and, more importantly, Robert Lowell’s great-great-grandfather (“Poor sheepdog in wolf’s clothing!”). We scamper in and out of cemetery lanes for what increasingly becomes clear is a mission with little chance of success. Still, I thoroughly enjoy playing Peter Lorre to Dwight Macdonald’s Sydney Greenstreet.
392: To rehabilitate my runner’s knee, I buy a bottom-of-the-line stationary bike. Its only bell or whistle is a speedometer/pedometer (not even a bell), which brings me memories of the Christmas bicycle I got as a kid (my father carrying one for my sister and one for me off the back of my uncle’s truck). By the time the pedometer reaches 500, the bike squeaks and changes resistance unpredictably. That is all right with me, just like riding on rugged terrain. I set myself distance goals, measuring miles on a map: Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel boarding house in Asheville; Elvis’s Sun Sessions in Memphis; Cisco singing Woody in Oklahoma. The bike gets squeakier and balkier, bothering Erin so much that I can’t ride while she is home. “Get a new bike,” she complains, but I have to finish my journey. I triumphantly cross the Golden Gate bridge and glide to a halt outside the City Lights Bookstore. I don’t think the bike could have made it another mile. I remove the pedometer to keep like a medal, and lovingly deposit the carcass in the garbage heap on the street. I proudly show off my medal to Erin, who asks me how many kilometers there are in a mile. I am somewhere in the desert, with no way out.
393: I am staying with Gay and Art on Martha’s Vineyard, late August. I have gotten up the courage to go riding with Gay; my horse is named Sundance, and Gay assures me that he is too old and sweet to gallop off with me hanging on to the rein for dear life. As we trundle through the brush, flies keep bothering Sundance. I shoo them away and in gratitude Sundance seems to be more responsive to my amateurish requests. Gay and her horse lead Sundance and me out onto the empty beach, where the late-afternoon sun glints off Tisbury Great Pond. We can hear the nearby ocean, which Gay grew up calling The Big Waves. A man appears in the distance and waves us over. I’m concerned that we are breaking an ordinance, but Gay doesn’t seem worried as we trot closer. When we are within shouting distance, he says, “I just wanted to make sure you two know how beautiful you look.”