Thursday, July 23, 2020
Friday, July 17, 2020
Driving from Belfast, Maine back to Camden, I run into a sweep of fog. I’d been driving through full sunshine up until then. My car climbed and descended a small hill, and there it was: a white presence drifting over the hills and the road before me. The road is not a half-mile from the sea, so it makes sense. Still, a surprise.
Fog like this—not obscuring the road completely for the foreseeable future and so not striking fear in a driver—is a delight. Just enough white to be called fog and yet not enough to be perilous. Fog can be treacherous, but not today.
The fog is delicate, snowy, insubstantial; yet it’s there. I know it’s entirely water, yet, unlike water, how graceful and airy and white it is.
When fog moves, it often drifts, taking its good time, like a jellyfish being eased on by the current.
Sometimes, of course it stubbornly sits there, unmovable, the last person at the party.
The poet Marianne Moore writes about an ocean storm: “It is a privilege to see so / much confusion.” I think it’s a privilege to see this little world of fog. I bask in it.
After five minutes of driving, I’m through its presence and back in sunlight. Regrettably.
Was I seeing things?
Who knows why there was fog in just one short stretch of land and road and nowhere else? There’s a reason, of course. But I think if I knew that reason, the science that is, I’d be the less for it.
Leave me with my child-like wonder.
Saturday, July 11, 2020
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Friday, June 19, 2020
It's almost impossible for me to go through the day without telling a lie. I lie in order not to hurt someone, for example. Of course, the truth isn't necessarily called for when not asked for. But sometimes you're asked for it, and sometimes it's better not to provide it. If they ask you, are you going to tell your child she or he wasn't less than wonderful in the school recital? And if you do tell them they just weren't that good—which is the truth, mind you!—well, go live with the look on their face.
Someone asked playwright Tracy Letts what he says when he sees a play written by a friend that he thinks is awful and the friend asks him his opinion.
"I lie!" Letts said. "I lie magnificently!"
I agree with what one of Graham Greene's characters has to say about this: "The truth, he thought, has never been of any real value to any human being—it is a symbol for mathematicians to pursue. In human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths."
Of course, sometimes lying is despicable. If the intent is to deceive, to cause harm, simply to gain an advantage, well, it's ugly. Sometimes you have to tell the truth. You're a coward if you don't. I often fail here. I lie when I shouldn't. Not proud of that.
I side with Tennessee Williams. I trust his sense of morality. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Mitch confronts Blanche with some unsavory details about her past:
Mitch: You lied to me, Blanche.
TW was the same guy who said the worst sin is deliberate cruelty. And a lot of times a well-fabricated lie prevents me from being deliberately cruel. In those moments, I'm content to be a liar.
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Sunday, June 7, 2020
Sometime in the early 1980s, when I was living in New York City, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In those days, I went often. It was a sunny fall day. I climbed the familiar marble steps and walked into the main entrance hall. It’s a vast space. It was, as it always is, crowded with humanity. There were uncountable scattered individuals, and there were groups. I looked about absently, trying to decide what part of the museum I would explore that day, at which point I would enter.
I noticed a group directly in front of me. There were about fifteen people in the group, all of them, I could see, wearing name tags. For some reason, and now I wonder why, I walked closer to them. I saw that the tags read, “Cranbrook School Alumni.” My old school prep school! Surprised, I looked to see if I recognized any of them. I did not.
Then I heard a male voice. “Ok, let’s go!” it said commandingly. I turned my eyes toward the voice. Instantly, I knew who it was. It was Pete Dawkins. The great Pete Dawkins, West Point graduate, football legend, all-around hero and Cranbrook School alumnus. I had studied his face so carefully so many times when I was at Cranbrook that even with the gray hair he had now, I knew it was him. That chieftain, that granite-hewn face! And, it made sense, of course, that he was leading a group of alumni of the school he had once attended.
There he stood, the ultimate alumnus, leading the chosen few. What had they done to be part of this elite group? What had they promised? A personal tour by none other than the mythical Pete Dawkins. Just for an instant, I had the urge to walk up to him. I wanted to talk to him. I had some things I wanted to know about his time at Cranbrook. Did he know he had been used? Did he know he had been a lure? He raised an arm and waved the group forward, like the soldier he was. Then Pete Dawkins turned and began walking away, the group following eagerly behind him. I watched them move through the throng toward the heart of the museum, this gray-haired hero leading them. Very soon, they began to be swallowed up in the crowd. And then they vanished completely, as if they’d never been there.
My heart was pounding.
I turned and walked out of the museum, down the stone steps, and away from the throng, so I could breathe.[Please read the rest of the story here: https://medium.com/@richgood711/becoming-pete-dawkins-4073cff4bb7c]
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
And I not only wept, I wailed, throwing out desperate question after desperate question. I don't know the answers. Why? Why did it end up like this?
The complete vulnerability, nakedness, all of it poured out of my eyes and throat.
And afterward—you all know this—stunned and exhausted, wrung out, nothing left, nothing.
No answers. But surrender. Blessed surrender.
The release of those pent-up feelings, overcoming the instinct to keep in control, for God's sake, not to mention the sense, in my case at least, that it's unmanly to cry—to break past that and let it happen. Finally.
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Thursday, May 21, 2020
But now the city is saying testing is free, and there are no lines at the following locations...
So this morning I go to CrescentCare Health Clinic on Elysian Fields to be tested.
The test area is in the clinic's indoor parking lot. I'm wearing a mask. I'm met by a man wearing a mask who asks me if I have any symptoms. "Well, I've had a cough for about three weeks, and I get tired in the afternoon," I say. I feel sheepish saying this. It's just a damn cough.
I'm directed to the far side of the parking lot where there is a table staffed by two masked people seated with computers. One gets up and walks to me. They ask me a few questions about symptoms, take a snap of my ID and insurance card and give me a form to fill out. I sit and fill it out, answering the same questions I have a zillion times before. One, though, I have never seen before: "Do you identify as straight, gay...." I stopped reading. WTF? I leave it unanswered.
There is only person ahead of me, seated at a discreet distance. There are three testing areas behind the greeting desk that look like large polling booths. Blue curtains drawn shut. A few people in scrubs and cloth masks plus those plastic SWAT team-like shields over their face.
I'm called. A man beckons me to one of the booths, pulls aside the curtain and asks me sit down. It's a simple plastic chair. There is a mobile AC unit (high today 82 degrees) and a standing mechanical gizmo.
The doctor enters. He gives me his name, which, unfortunately, I immediately forget. He takes my temperature (98.6), oxygen (good). Then he reaches for the infamous long Q-tip, or whatever it's called.
"I assume you know about this," he says, holding up the long probe.
"It looks like it."
"The best thing to do is to bend your head way back and look up to the ceiling. I take a sample from both nostrils."
He shoves the thing down my nose to my throat. No, it doesn't feel great, but it's over in a blink. I can think of many tests where things are shoved up you that are a lot worse.
"You'll get your results in two days," he says.
The first guy comes back. "Let me verify your phone number. Is it...."
"646-267...," I say.
"Oh, a New Yorker," the doctor says. 646 is a New York City area code. "I have a 917 code," he says, another classic NYC area code.
"Did you do your training in New York?" I ask.
"Yes. At NYU." New York University.
"Oh, so at Bellevue?"
"Yes." I can see his eyes brighten even through his plastic shield.
"A friend of mine who is a doctor says that if she were gravely ill, that's the hospital she'd want to be taken to."
I could write a entire post about Bellevue. Most people have heard of it, but what they probably think of is a place for the mentally ill. It has that capacity, but the hospital is far more than that. It's the oldest public hospital in the U.S., for one thing. It's a public hospital—not a private one for the rich. I lived in New York for thirty-five years, and for most of that time, I had a bicycle. I would ride my bike past the hospital from time to time. It's at First Avenue, between 27th and 28th Streets, not a very interesting part of the city. The only major landmark nearby is the Midtown Tunnel. New York has a few lost areas, little pockets that are sad, featureless, devoid of energy, style, spirit, and a distinct culture. Not every part of the city is memorable. I would venture to say not that many New Yorkers, save the sick, have even seen this hospital.
It always seems, for me at least, that all roads lead to New York. I only talk to the doctor a few minutes—he has important things to do, after all—but in those minutes I feel like I'm speaking my native language again while for years having to speak another language in a country not my own. The pull of the city is fierce, still.
Sunday, May 17, 2020
Monday, May 11, 2020
Sunday, May 10, 2020
My mother holding me, age 7 weeks
Holding her twins with me pondering. She had three children within eleven months
In Old Greenwich, CT, sometime in the 1970s
The only time my mother saw my daughter, Becky
Saturday, May 2, 2020
When I walked to my car earlier, about 6am, dawn was at term. Birth was imminent. The morning was rife with the anticipation of the sun's arrival. But it was still below the horizon. I breathed in the air. It was as fresh as can be, newly minted, glorious, and it tasted delicious. This early morning air, uncorrupted by anything—cars, trucks, dogs, people—is pure. It's heady, and when I took great whiffs into my lungs, it was as if I were drinking from the fountain of youth. Three of four deep lungfuls, and I was younger, stronger, healthier. It wasn't going to last long, this 100% purity, this essence of new—cool, sweet and invigorating. Soon the sun would rise and slowly warm the air, relieving it of its coolness. Soon cars would pass by, corrupting it with noise and odors.
Not yet. For a half-hour or so I could breathe in pure optimism, hope, youth. Better than the rarest wine, a gift to my lungs.
A breath of fresh air.
Somewhere in Walden, Thoreau declares that he never smoked tobacco or, for that matter, had any kind of artificial stimulus.
What, he asked himself—and us—got him going?
Thoreau, you, me, everybody.
Sunday, April 26, 2020
Her mother was a children's book editor, so she brought home scores of books. Many I'd never heard of. I really hadn't had much experience since my own kid days reading The Little Engine That Could a zillion years earlier.
I don't know of any child who doesn't like being read to. I mean young children, who can fit easily in your lap or are alert in their crib when you start to read to them.
And I can think of few things I did as a parent that I loved more than reading to my daughter.
She was quiet, eyes following the pictures, listening to the words. These were stories, and they held her attention. More than that, they aroused her imagination. And I was the one reading to her. We were both in this together. The idea that she could be so captivated, so enthralled by a book, that she wanted me to turn the pages, was simple and exciting.
I began to see her tastes! She liked certain books more than others. Why? I didn't know. It was just thrilling that she had preferences. That spoke to her being an individual, which, in the end, was something so good to see as a parent. Or it was for me, at least.
It's bedtime. She's still in her crib. So, maybe she's a year and a half? I'm sitting in a chair next to her crib with a book. I lower the outside rail so I can show her the book more easily. What is the book? Let's say The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, the same person who wrote Goodnight, Moon. I love this book, and I want my daughter to know the story.
She has the flaming-est red hair you've ever seen. She's been fed, bathed and changed. Essential needs met. She's in her one-sy. On her back. All she has to do is look and listen. And while she does, she does little things with her body, one of which is to put her foot in her mouth, which looks incredibly natural and even beneficial.
"Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away," the book begins. I turn the pages, one by one, and read the words, changing my voice and intonation to match the characters. Then, at last, bunny reunited with his mother, I close the book. "The end," I say. I say this every time I finish reading her a book. "Ok, sweetheart, it's time to go to sleep," I say.
She doesn't look tired. "Read another!" she says.
Saturday, April 18, 2020
Breathing, to start. Maybe, like me, you aren't a Buddhist, or especially mindful, and so weren't paying a lot of attention to your breathing. But now perhaps you are. Still breathing. Pretty good deal, isn't it?
Then there's the sky. Wide and gray or blue, or white and blue, it's there. This majestic semicircle. Always changing, providing a new palette. A fresh drama of curiously-shaped clouds that move sometimes, sometimes don't. A sky that can be a wide wash of gray or a clear azure. That can erupt in jagged white bolts followed by jump-inducing thunder. A sky that can send our roots rain.
Let me not forget light. I mean the opposite of darkness. The slow drawing aside of the night's curtain every morning to reveal the sun's emergence. Not much is reliable these days. In fact, is anything reliable? The sun is. I use its steadfastness every day to give me an anchor. Once again, there it is. Climbing upward. Unfaltering.
The senses. W.H. Auden called them "Precious Five." Sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste. What these times have made abundantly clear is that death is real, it's near, it's possible. The place I put death in my daily life before this was somewhere in the remote part of the Outer Banks of my mind. Not anymore. So, seeing things. Smelling things. Tasting things, touching and hearing things. With gratitude.
If this situation has done anything, it's stopped time. Or slowed it down considerably. Forced not to do most everything we used to do, we're left to observe and experience what is directly before us, in every sense.
For those of us who are not sick or struggling, a gift many of us had forgotten.
I am walking in the city of Paris for the first time. It is 1972. I am twenty-seven years old. I will be living here for six months.
I have never seen streets like these, some wind and curve and some are straight but all of them have buildings of such stateliness and accomplishment on either side. I don't recognize some of the smells. I don't recognize the way the phones work, the Metro, the busses, how you buy things. This goes beyond language. I don't understand that all women in shops must be addressed as "Madame." It is uncomfortable but liberating. I am liberated from the notion, so beaten into my head, that America is the best and only place there is. I look around at the river Seine, and I see the Pont Neuf, and the Rue St. Jacques and the beautiful older women so confident and purposeful, and my real education begins.
My traveling companion and I have somehow managed to find an apartment on the villa d'Alésia, in the 14th arrondissement. It is a sculptor's studio with tall opaque glass windows that face the street and can be thrown open to let the world come in.
We live in a neighborhood where there is a wine store where you get your litre bottles, without labels, filled with wine that costs .50cts a bottle. There is a butcher shop that sells only horsemeat.
I, like so many thousands of others through the years, discover that I've never eaten bread before. That I never understood the idea of individual dignity in a café. That I didn't see the nobleness of a life as a waiter. That I didn't understand time, that Notre Dame existed as it does now in the 14th century. That building began in the 12th century. How can I process time like that?
All of this is mine for the months I live in Paris.
This city completes me, as the writer James Salter wrote. It makes me the person I was meant to be. I am coming to the place I have never been before but to which I have always belonged.
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
New York, 1985. A sharp fall Saturday. Early afternoon. The air smelled cool and delicious. It was invigorating, like a shot of pure oxygen. I was walking up Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village when I saw her. She was standing on the corner of Eleventh Street about a block away. I could see her curly red hair in all its wild abundance, a crimson beacon. She was unmistakable. She didn’t recognize me at first, but as I got closer, her face became bright, as if it were a sun emerging from behind a cloud.
It was about 1pm. I would never have seen her out before eleven. She was nocturnal. When you saw her in the daytime, it was as if you’d awakened a sleeping owl. Daytime was alien to her. It always seemed as if she were adapting to it. The expression, “groping in the dark” needed to be “groping in the light” for Pamela.
“Taking a walk. Such an incredible day. What about you?”
She continued her half-convincing lament. “I’m a goner. I’m like a teenager. I can’t think straight. Help me. I’m his sex slave. It’s pathetic.” She laughed at herself.
Sunday, April 12, 2020
Sunday, March 15, 2020
I'm sitting at a coffee shop on Royal Street in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, not far from the French Quarter. It's 9am on a Sunday. Aside from me, two people are here, not including the owner and the barista. It's early, though, for this city. I asked the owner, Fred, how business was. "Not bad." But he's not complacent. He's sanitizing the hell out of tables and door handles. Will he shut down? "I may have to."
1400 miles away, in New York City, my daughter lives. I was supposed to see her one-woman show last week, but she urged me not to come. It would make her too anxious to have me there. I'm 74. Prime real estate for the virus. So, I didn't go, missing an event a father shouldn't miss. I know. There are a lot more serious situations. Thousands like mine, many much worse.
Do I feel guilty asking the gods to take special care of my daughter, to protect her, and to guard her from harm?
Saturday, March 7, 2020
They're of two sorts, IMO. One are the writers who draw form their minds. To wit: Corneille and Racine. Voltaire and Sartre. I think many French see themselves as intellectual aristocrats, and that's one reason they worship those dudes.
But the other great French writers, those who write from the heart—not without great skill and mental prowess—are the giants, to my mind.
At the pinnacle, Molière and Balzac.
I doubt anyone would contest Balzac. But I would wager most French wouldn't place Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, aka, Molière, at the very top. I'm on shaky ground, of course, not being French. How dare I! Well, as the French say, enfoiré! Roughly translated—well, look it up.
One reason, I think, is because Molière is funny. Comic writers have always securely occupied a second rung in literature, never the first. Which is fucking ridiculous.
But who is not one of the greatest writers who ever lived if not Cervantes, a comic writer to the marrow?
To wit. In his play, Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid), a doctor is trying to woo a young woman. To entice her, he proposes:
"...I invite you to come see one of these days, to amuse yourself, the dissection of a woman, about whom I'll lecture."
The woman's servant drily replies:
"A very agreeable amusement. There are some who would take their lady love to a play, but a dissection is something much more gallant."
|A scene from an American production of The Imaginary Invalid|
In fact, Le Malade imaginaire was Molière's last play. Sick with TB, he insisted, in true theatrical tradition, that the show must go on. He collapsed and died shortly thereafter. He was refused burial in sacred ground because he was an actor. WTF? Never mind that he was also an author. 144 years later, the French woke up and had his remains transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery.
What I would give to see what he would do with our present times.
Sunday, March 1, 2020
Necklace of Princess Sithathoryunet, ca. 1880 B.C., Middle Kingdom, Egypt
"From Williamsburg Bridge" Edward Hopper 1928
Etruscan bronze chariot, 6th century B.C.
Textile by El Anatsui, Ghana, 2006
We see enough of ourselves at our worst.
It's helpful, once every while, to see ourselves at our best.