397: When I was a kid, sometimes I’d look down as I walked and imagine I was flying. Everything on the ground became magnified in its smallness—rivulets of rain water in the gutter became mighty rivers abutting cliffs, grass a golf course, dirt a desert. I thought about this today as I came across the fork in the road, and then saw a half smoked cigarette as a limousine, followed by a lumber yard, and fall foliage in the snow.
Wee wee wee I flew all the way home.
398: I have nothing prepared for the 6th grade Science Fair. In desperation, I copy a diagram of the human brain onto a piece of oak-tag, and add some facts from the encyclopedia, including the similarity between the human brain and the sheep brain. I tell my mother I am going to make a brain out of paper maché, but my brain can’t get my hands to do it. The next day my mother brings home a sheep’s brain she got from the butcher. I display it next to the oak tag, and my table gets lots of attention.
399: From my 7th grade school notebook: “In Science we went over chemical equations and actions for how electricity is produced in a dry cell. I don’t get it at all. I doubt if I’ll ever get it.” Two years later, researching an idea for a science class project, I read that a copper wheel and magnets can turn on a light bulb. I start to get excited about electricity. I buy the material and meticulously follow the instructions, but the bulb stays dark. I have no choice but to turn it in anyway, with a short composition about how it works, knowing it doesn’t. The teacher is fascinated and beckons me to the front of the classroom. I hope for a miracle, and feign shock when nothing happens. The teacher consoles me, says this is what science is all about, and gives me an A, which makes me feel even more ashamed. After teaching creative writing for many years, I come to realize I earned that A.
400: Youth in Repose. December 1965, a blind date at a fraternity party rushing me, you were doing a favor by doubling with your friend, who soon disappeared upstairs with my friend. Lights went low, music simmered, liquor flowed, no place for strangers. You stewed. No choice but to go out into the chill night. We talked and laughed and stood close together creating warmth. You worried about your friend. We found them back downstairs, entwined on the couch, youth in repose. The room was free upstairs, but you said no, no, I can’t do that. You wrote me a couple of weeks later, a “thank you for a fun night,” told me about your Christmas visit home, the trimming of the tree, how nice to be with your family. I never answered, not looking for “fun nights.” Twenty years later your unusual last name jumps out of an obit page: a man, would be about your father’s age. I skim down to find your name among the survivors. I am truly sorry.
401: College Friday, the doorbell rings in Alicia, surprising me from New York. I think of all the ways my weekend will now be wonderful, but the most-lasting joy will not be the sex, the sharing of new records, the movie downtown, or the huge Chinese meal. It will be the eyes, her eyes when I wake in the middle of the night, large and brown, arms-length away, wide open, eyes in love.
402: From our correspondent on the scene. The ventriloquists’ civil war has turned ugly. Outside a club, a man in a midnight blue tuxedo leans over the weeping, smoldering remains of a wooden figure sheathed with tattered pieces of the same blue cloth. Nearby, a man in a white suit lies, limp, a goofy grin spanning his throat, which cackles as the blood gurgles.
403: My mother and I walk to the synagogue to see Grandpa Popowsky. I am four. She explains that it is against the rules for mommies to go near the grandpas at shul, so I will be the messenger. She hands me a piece of paper and nudges me into the large room. Men walk about aimlessly, heads bobbing, making strange sounds. The room is crowded but everyone seems alone. When I play make-believe—vroom vrooming with a toy car—occasionally I look around to make sure the world is where I left it, but my grandfather doesn’t pause, so I tug on his pants. “Avram”—he calls me by my Hebrew name—“is there trouble?” I want to play with the men, and my mother isn’t allowed to pull me away. But I am a good boy and give my grandfather the message. He pats me on the head and resumes his vrooming.
If I had vroomed with my grandfather, might I have received a message that would speak to me for the rest of my life?