404: 1993, hundreds of Woolworth’s are closing and thousands of generic parakeets will be released on noon of the final day. Scrawny blue and green twelve-dollar birds will scatter in downtown Las Vegas, uptown New York City, and suburban Lynbrook. They will be freed from their group homes, where they sleep leaning on each other like passengers on a midnight train in India. These are not the cream of the exotic bird crop; they are bred for volume, their markup too low to help keep Woolworth’s in flight. If you see one in your neighborhood, coax it home with seeds and love. Let it fly freely around the house, offer it food off your plate, teach it the words you’ve longed someone to say to you, and love it like you love the America that once was.
405: I overhear other people’s imaginary voices. Sometimes I do their biddings, which can be confusing when my imaginary voice gets garbled. What’s that you say? No way Jose! If that’s even my real name.
406: Long ago in America the Yankees got rained out and my little brother and I saw three Ape movies.
407: March 1967 Schenectady. After being up all night my roommate and I drive to Albany to watch the sun rise from a hilltop, but when we get there it has already become early. We have huge sleepy diner breakfasts, imagining what everyone will do all day. Back to Schenectady via winding back roads, my friend driving as I drift off. I awake to a bloody coat, shattered windshield, no pain. My friend moans, holding his stomach, no blood. He reaches out his hand, and I take it. Looking back at me from the rearview mirror is my shredded forehead, a small patch of my skull. A policeman wrestles the door open. Points a flashlight at me and says, “This one looks bad.” A few seconds (my time) later, I am being stitched up, floating serenely. A nurse hands me a phone and says, “Tell your mother you’re all right.” “Hi, mom, how are you?” I say, then remember my line and say “I’m all right.” The next day, with half of my face bandaged like Claude Rains in The Invisible Man, I remember I have a date—such a crush—to see Eric Andersen in Albany. I call her, explain my situation low-key not to alarm her, and she says, “Does that mean you’re cancelling on me?” My mother comes up to accompany me on the train home to New York. My father and five-year-old brother Philip meet us at the top of an escalator in Grand Central Station. Philip looks scared and my father reassures him, “It’s Alan.” Philip smiles kindly and says, “My brother’s name is Alan, too.”
408: Visiting the Liptons on Shelter Island, I turn off the bathroom light at 3 a.m. and realize my mistake after a few paces engulfed in darkness on this moonless night. Somewhere are two bedrooms and a steep set of stairs, perilous even in daylight. Erin sleeps in one bedroom, and Judy and Ed in the other, but my mind’s eye cannot map the room. I crawl inch by inch, hoping that my surroundings will be revealed by headlights from a passing car before I careen down the stairs. Maybe I should fall asleep until first light, but what if I toss and turn and wake up—if I wake up—at the bottom of the stairs? Finally, I find a wall, then a door, slightly ajar. I slither in and listen with all my ears’ might to the sounds of sleep—two discrete rhythms. I back out, and the location of the other room is illuminated by memory. I confidently but cautiously wend my way to our room and climb in safe beside my sleeping wife, eager to tell her of my epic journey.