Parking Lot Love

Parking Lot Love

I want to write about my love of parking lots but am lying in bed with two dogs lodged comfortably on either side of me, and because my roof is made of glass, I’m staring up at the bottom of a blue jay and a lot of clouds. I’m wondering what the hell ARE clouds. I know they are vapor, but really, that doesn’t cover it. These are big and burly and I wonder where they are headed at such a rapid rate. Now I hear a plane, and catch a silvery glimpse. I used to stare at the underside of jets to see what sex they were. Ridiculous, but I always checked them out. Meanwhile the blue jay flies off without my getting a good look.

It’s a hot morning. I get up. The dogs remain in bed.

I don’t love all parking lots. The ones you can see from space remind me of cemeteries. I don’t shop at the huge depressing malls. I never sit at Lowes, or Home Depot, or Target, or Walmart. Too many families unloading huge carts of stuff. Too much action. I love parking in the smaller lots at local stores, like the Hurley Ridge Market, where after shopping I can sit in my car unobserved and eat sushi. I love the parking lot at Sunfrost especially in summer when my car is parked amongst potted plants and trays of flowers. I’d rather sit in the car than at a picnic table, or by the side of a stream. What’s that about?

 

Well, first of all I’m alone but not lonely. I’m part of this community. Everybody shops. We buy food and toilet paper and brown sugar and light bulbs. We buy tomatoes and fresh corn and smoked trout, when feeling flush. I’m part of this community but I don’t have to engage, nobody looks inside my car. I’m invisible, cozy and contained. And of course there’s always the reward for having completed an errand. It’s possible to eat an entire coconut custard pie with your bare hands.

“Have you addressed the moment when people see you and think you are pathetic?” my friend Chuck asks.

“I don’t give a shit,” I say.

“If it weren’t for that,” he says, “I’d live in a parking lot.”

I must remember to ask him why. Is it the comfort of remaining committed to being uncommitted? Because there you are, having been somewhere, not yet on your way to the next thing. It’s a pause. The pause does not get nearly enough credit. Suspended animation.

“I am a thinker,” says Chuck. “I sit there and think of what I should be thinking.”

“You only do that so you can not think,” I say and expect he will reply with you know me a little too well, back off, but instead he says, “You experience and I think. You use it to remember the past.”

Well, no. Mostly I am sitting in the present. Anything is possible, though, I might turn the car around and go to the Albany Airport and fly away to Fiji to look for an old boyfriend who moved there. But now I’m working too hard at this. Really, I sit in the stillness that precedes whatever comes next. (Usually it’s driving home.)

But I am remembering my first favorite parking lot, so I guess Chuck is right. It was at the end of road where my grandmother lived in Amagansett. Indian Wells Highway stopped abruptly at the Atlantic Ocean, and at lunchtime there were always working men in pickup trucks eating sandwiches and watching the water. I used to know the names of cars, back then. I could tell a Chevy from a Ford from a Buick (they looked like sharks). I knew what a Studebaker looked like and a Nash Rambler and a Thunderbird and a Mustang. This was back in the day when Schellinger’s Well Drilling was still on Main Street, along with The Three Sisters Tearoom (or was it Two?) and Topping’s, which had groceries, a lunch counter and a lot of comics. On hurricane days, my family drove to the beach, parked, and stared at the insanely huge waves, perfectly safe from wind and water in our car, but all of us struck dumb.

A kind and generous friend has sent me a mix tape. I only listen to music in my car; I can’t afford to let that kind of energy loose in my house, so I drive to the Comeau and park in the lot where dog walkers head off across the field toward the woods. There are lots of other cars, people greeting each other, dogs leaping, their tails wagging furiously. I take the CD out carefully and stick it in. The sound is jacked as high as it will go. This is my kind of music.

Twenty-one songs. Nobody notices when my little car begins to shake, nobody notices when I burst out laughing and sing at the top of what’s left of my lungs, nobody notices when I bang on the steering wheel, nobody notices when now and then I burst into tears.

I guess there are some parked cars we never leave. Here I sit, almost seventy-three years old, part of me back in the parking lot of the Amagansett Beach fifty seven years ago. The sun is down. My boyfriend and I are in his old Hudson, and the car is rocking a little, and I’m wondering if it is possible to die from so much pleasure.

 

 

 

Sleeping Under the Stars

 

Sleeping Under the Stars

It’s been a while. I have done nothing, thought nothing, written nothing. I’ve been waiting around for the important thought, although I know better. I don’t have important thoughts. This is either a form of Zen, or pure laziness, but I can sit for hours thinking nothing in particular, looking at the four dogs sleeping on chairs and sofas and the sun moving across the rug. Now and then, for no obvious reason, they all rise howling and head for the door, returning a few minutes later to resume their positions. I am good at doing nothing, content, almost serene, but when I’m done doing nothing, I don’t know what to do.

I thought for a bit that my new bedroom on the first floor was worth a thought. Carolina could hardly make it up or down the stairs, and I was prone to falling. We moved into the sun porch on the first floor, glass walls, glass ceiling.  My son built a bed. I bought honey colored wooden blinds. The room is pretty, and unlike the rest of my house, still rather spare. The first night of our new sleeping quarters, Daphne barked from ten-thirty until three in the morning, unwilling even to enter our new space. Finally I gave up, and half-carrying old Carolina, we all went back upstairs to our old bed where Daphne promptly fell asleep.

Then the first time Daphne saw our reflection in the ceiling, she growled a series of blood-chilling growls until I turned off the light. She calmed down. Now she’s used to it. They are all used to it, it’s only me who has a hard time falling asleep in what Jennifer likes to call The Terrarium. It’s the sky. All those stars. The dark looming shape that is a tree above our heads. One night the moon shone so brightly I thought I had left a light on. That was disconcerting. Why does it bother me? It’s beautiful. Night is lovely, but sleeping in it, or under it, freaks me out.  I lie there imagining a great big hand reaching down, picking us all up, looking at us closely, then returning us to our bed.

The other night it occurred to me that when I die, those stars will still be up there. And they’ve already been dead for millions of years. I’ll never catch up.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Um, well, you can’t pursue happiness. You can’t buy it or drive it or live in it, you can’t eat it (well, maybe sometimes) you can’t hunt it down. We’ve turned the word into a commodity. This is not to say there aren’t lots of ways to feel good, but feeling good isn’t exactly happiness. Happy comes from a root that once meant simply luck, not good luck, not bad luck, just luck. Nothing you could grab onto or stick in your pocket, although god knows there are hundreds of superstitions with which we try and stack the deck in our favor.

If you’re lucky, happiness comes drifting through the open window, settles about your shoulders, and you wonder for a moment what is this strange feeling before realizing my god, this is happiness. You can’t keep it, but you can steep yourself in it for as long as it lasts, and be grateful.

On the other hand, sometimes happiness does the pursuing as it does me, happiness in the form of four dogs. Lying in bed with these animals pressed against me, feeling their warm bodies, touching the back of whichever animal is closest, I can feel something flowing back and forth, trust, maybe, and well, I think it’s happiness.

Early Mornings

I know it’s almost spring because the bed is full of grit and sand and gravel and grass, and Sadie is chewing branches instead of the furniture (most of which is now held together with duct tape). Varmints abound, and Cooper wakes at 4:13 every morning, howling to be let out. This wakes up the other dogs, who start barking, and after five minutes of this racket I get up, limp downstairs, and open the door. Much more howling commences, and I feel terrible for my neighbors. I turn on all the lights, pretending to be up on purpose, hoping it will look as though I am doing something important that can only be done at this hour. Lights blaze all over downstairs. If the neighbors look, they can see that at least I’m up too.

Sadie has completely demolished the plastic flap on the dog door, so the kitchen is open and inviting to anything that wants to slither or hop or fly or squeeze inside. I will have to do something about this. But not right now. Now I am staring at the huge glass bowl full of apples on the counter, thinking about my grandmother, Big Mom. We spent summers at her house in Amagansett. Big Mom made her applesauce with Granny Smith apples, using orange juice as the liquid, and it was so thick you could stand a spoon in it, and we ate it with heavy cream.

Big Mom got up at five every morning. She percolated her coffee for exactly fourteen minutes. She used evaporated milk and saccharin in her cup, and I was allowed coffee too, but saccharin only once a week. I got up when I heard her, and tiptoed after her down to the kitchen. I always sat in the old rocker while we talked about I don’t remember what, and the rocker creaked and the floor creaked under it.  After a while, the rest of the household started down for breakfast and the spell was broken.

Besides breakfast, lunch and supper, Big Mom made pale chocolate junket and  custard, my favorite, sprinkled with nutmeg, baked in glass ramekins. She made cakes covered with her special icing, butter cream, on top of which she dripped melted bitter chocolate.  I make them now for family birthdays. I remember the delicious smell when she simmered beef broth for the dogs. Big Mom’s dogs were treated royally. Her second dog, Clovis, was an enormous basset hound. The only place he would take a walk was on East Hampton’s Main Street. This was back in the day when the Marmador was still in business. The  Marmador was where we went for ice cream after the movies. Epstein’s was there too, stacked from floor to ceiling with anonymous boxes holding everything and anything you might want, and at the far end of the street, after White’s Pharmacy, was Mark Fore & Strike, where we got our summer bathing suits.

My Aunt Rhoda lived with Big Mom, and she and Clovis moseyed in the early mornings and evenings down the north side of East Hampton’s Main Street, while Big Mom followed them, or rather, accompanied them in her jeep. She drove at two miles an hour, or one mile an hour, and if the jeep stopped, so did Clovis. Rhoda carried a roll of pink toilet paper in her bag, and wiped Clovis’s behind after he pooped. Before Clovis they had had Winston, a bulldog. The story was that my Aunt Babbie had written to Mr. Churchill, sending a photograph of Winston, and he had replied saying he was honored. After Clovis came a series of pugs, I think, or maybe just one who lived and lived, named Tatiana.

Big Mom’s rocking chair has been mine for years. The wood was darkened with long use, the stuffing was coming out of the seat, the upholstery torn. My son Ralph took it apart, sanded and refinished the wood, and put it all back together. He had a friend reupholster it. I rocked my grandchildren there, as I had once rocked myself.

 

Naps Are Good

NAPS ARE GOOD

My first nap usually takes place an hour after getting up. This is my favorite. I have let the dogs out, fed them, looked at the paper, smoked a bunch of cigarettes and had at least seven espressos. (There is, by the way, less caffeine in an espresso than in a cup of dripped coffee because the water shoots in and out. At least in my Nespresso maker, about which do not get me started. The crema alone is worse the price.) I have also listened to an hour of NPR. When I head for the stairs, part of me thinks I am going to get dressed and start the day. The dogs know better. Before I have reached the landing, they are all already waiting in bed, except for Carolina. I sit down, thinking I will put on socks, but then I lie down (just for a minute), get under the comforter, and the dogs dive under too and snuggle up. Bliss. Daphne lays her legs over mine, Sadie curls up by my shoulder, and just as I get comfortable, Carolina starts barking, reminding me she wants to come upstairs too. I get out of bed, encourage her climb, lift her next to my pillow, and get back under the covers.

This is the most peaceful and productive part of the day. I begin to sink beneath whatever passes for consciousness. Napping is nothing like meditation. I am not emptying my mind, my mind is filling with words and phrases and half baked ideas, darting around like schools of fish. I welcome them. I am alas too lazy to leap to my feet and find a pen and paper, I try to have faith that when I wake up I’ll remember everything. This is good for a writer, especially a stalled writer because even if everything is forgotten, at least you know there’s a lot of stuff still in there, waiting for the right moment to be caught.

The earliest root for nap is doze. That doesn’t cover it. A nap is a noun, a nap is an oasis in an otherwise too productive or non-productive life. Naps are essential to well being, and besides, haven’t you earned one? I take several a day. They are almost all good for me. But there is the Bad Nap. You fall asleep late in the afternoon and wake up in the dark. First there is the question of what happened to the day? Next, is it tomorrow? The other more serious questions are where am I, and worse, what am I? That’s when you are aware of being some kind of consciousness, but with no clue as to whether you are bird, beast, fish, fowl, or vegetation. Those are the Bad Naps. This is why it is useful to be sleeping with dogs. They know exactly who you are, what you’re good for, and what time it is.

 

 

Falling

 

Falling

There is that long slow moment when you know you are falling. A split second of curiosity and excitement—what is going to happen? Followed by the fall itself. I fell in the Adirondacks last October. I fell down slippery wooden stairs, carrying a cup of coffee, barefoot in the dim morning. The coffee went flying and I tumbled down maybe four stairs to hit my head hard on a wooden bench. No blood, a bit of pain, it was over. Oddly, the fall cured me of the awful dizziness I had been experiencing for months, the sugar crystals in my inner ear having dislodged themselves were returned to their proper places. I know this is vague, but there is science in there somewhere. So I began recommending whacking yourself on the back of your head as a cure for whatever it’s called.

Then I fell this morning tripping over a shoe, headed for the door to let the dogs out before they peed on a rug. I hit my knee and somehow also about six toes, and I lay there on my back howling in irritation and surprise and disappointment in myself. Sadie was nervous and attended to me but the others just wanted me to get up and do what they needed me to do. I was delighted not to have broken anything or hurt my head in some bad way. But it was hard to get up. Finally I rolled over, and creakily I rose to my feet, and out the dogs went while I comforted myself with four espressos and three cigarettes.

This last interminable winter was the first time I’d ever been truly careful, the first time I’d actually been afraid of a fall. This means I really am an old lady now. I kind of like the moment preceding the fall itself, when you realize you have no control over what’s going to happen, and no choice. It gives me a taste of mortality. A reminder of whatever role the inevitable plays in life. A bit of humility, too. But to trip over a single brown shoe?

A significant fall is no doubt lurking somewhere in my future. It is possible to catch a toe on my left foot in the pajama cuff of my right and almost fall. It is possible to skid on the wet kitchen floor and almost fall. One of these days it will be down the stairs. So I’m going to move my bedroom from upstairs to the sun porch on the first floor, and lessen the number of times I sleepily descend or ascend the stairs. It will be especially good for my old dog, Carolina, who is ever and ever more nervous to make the climb. She can neither get on nor off my bed without help, and it takes a few tries before she actually makes it up the stairs. I watch her begin cautiously, thinking too hard, one paw and another, giving up, walking a small circle, and trying again. She needs encouragement and momentum and I provide both. But she slid down a few stairs one morning and her back legs splayed out and she couldn’t get up again. It was awful. When I tried to lift her body up, she protested, whimpering. I put bathmats under her back feet to give her some purchase, but it took her fifteen minutes. I never want a repeat of that.

I ordered venetian blinds for the sun room to cut the sun, and a machine that provides both heat and cool. My son Ralph is building me a bed which will be low to the ground and Carolina will have no trouble. I might though. I might need some kind of hoist to lift me up. Arthritis is bad in the morning. But the rain on the glass roof is going to be lovely, and the birds visible, and the trees above my head. Some day soon.

Flying

FLYING

 

This past winter, long and cold, I found birds in my house on three separate occasions. The little fat ones with rosy brown breasts, and stiletto beaks. A bird in your house is said to be the harbinger of death. I have given up on superstition, all that knocking on wood, never stirring with a knife, not pushing an empty rocking chair; my strict adherence to these rules never kept those I love from harm. I said to hell with that a long time ago. The birds didn’t send a shiver of fear though me, although they were a worry. They needed to be outside, safe.

The first bird was sitting on the back of my favorite chair when I got home from a class. My presence made it frantic and the little thing began banging into windows. I opened the side door, letting in icy air, and five minutes later, after mistaking everything else for the way out, I saw it sitting on the threshold, as if contemplating the choice, half in, half out. I gave it a little encouragement with a small blue towel, and off it flew. A month later, I found a second bird flying around the living room, my hound dog Cooper howling away. I managed to coax it into the sunroom, I shut Cooper out, and I slid open the porch door. This one left right away, flying up into the branches of a white pine. Then late one afternoon I came upstairs to find yet a third bird perched on a copy of the Collected Poems of WH Auden in the bookcase of my office. How on earth were they getting in? How to help this one out? There were no windows I could open, no door to the outside, and I didn’t want to scare it to death, a real possibility. So I left the office door open, went downstairs and hoped for the best. I never saw it again, but I haven’t taken Auden out of the bookcase.

My mother flew between the lions at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street six feet off the ground. One of my daughters flies like Superman, arms outstretched. After taking long high hops, she rises and soars. An old friend pretends he is a riding a bicycle until he takes off into the sky, where the furious pedaling motion continues. I don’t do sky, and I never soar. I lean back into air, find the position I assume in the ocean: knees and shoulders above water, the bulk of me in a sitting posture, arms swishing by my sides. If it’s a good dream, I begin to rise, and little by little I float higher and higher until I touch the ceiling. There is always a ceiling. It’s not about how high, it’s that I can do it at all. The process involves effort and effortlessness, a precise combination. There is usually an audience. Sometimes I fail, but I never fall. The descent is gradual, a leak in the balloon. The old story is if you dream you are falling and actually hit bottom, you’re dead.

I used to think flying dreams meant sex in some fashion, something Freudian to take the fun out of it. Freud thought everything was about sex or death. I prefer to think everything is about flying, including sex and death. I believe lots of people, given the choice, would choose taking to the sky over rolling around, at least part of the time. I remember sitting on the corrugated iron roof of a garage in New Orleans when we were all small, holding an open umbrella, waiting for the courage to jump off and drift to earth. I remember running as fast as I could down a long hill, hoping to be airborne. I’d try again, and again, and if it didn’t work, and of course it didn’t, there was always the next time.

The other night I dreamed I was floating on my back down a hallway, at gurney height, feet first, and it occurred to me that since someone was guiding me, I had probably died. I didn’t know where we were headed, but no matter. There was no bright white light, no door ahead with a sunny glow,  but I was flying, and still aloft.

 

 

Bad Dog

Bad Dog

Sadie used to live next door. The man who took care of her couldn’t keep her in the yard. She craved freedom, I guess. He put in a stockade fence. She got out. He buried cement blocks under the fence. She got out. He put chicken wire on top of the fence. She got out. He sat on the roof for three hours, watching to see how she did it. She stayed in.

She came trotting over here if I was home. She jumped into my lap if I was sitting outside. She pushed through the dog door if I was inside. She once arrived breathless with two inches of chewed off leash still attached to her collar. How not to love a dog like this? She barked loudly one dark rainy night, and I found her on the kitchen steps, soaked and shivering. I let her in, dried her off, and she slept with us. It was a lovely night.

But she had once been found miles away on the Wittenberg Road barking at somebody’s chickens. She had been seen wandering down Route 212, which is a busy road. I worried about her. Every time her owner picked her up, I worried about the next time she’d escape. What if I was away? I began wondering how I could secretly just keep her. But I couldn’t come up with a decent plan.

Her owner loved her too, and was determined to outfox her.  “I’ll take her,” I began suggesting, when I sensed his growing frustration.  “I have the underground fence and she’ll be safe.” He shook his head, taking the reluctant little thing home. “What if she gets hit by a car?” I said, desperate.  “Well,” said this otherwise perfectly nice man,  “If she gets hit, she gets hit. Then that’s her fate.” I grumbled to all my kids. How could anyone say such a thing? But he had been struggling for years to keep her safe. He was getting calls from neighbors, from police, from the ASPCA. It was so clear to me that I should adopt her, why couldn’t he see this?  I offered three hundred dollars for the scamp. But  he was not going to be bested by a little black dog that weighed maybe eighteen pounds. He nicknamed her Houdini and took her home, time after time.

Then one day he called. I could have her. School was starting, he teaches at night, and couldn’t possibly keep running to pick her up wherever she was that wasn’t here with me. He said I was probably better for her than the pound, where he had once, in exasperation, threatened to take her. She was mine? Sadie was mine? I had a moment  of elation and terror. What had I gotten myself into?

Sadie has been here almost a year. According to her vet records, she is half lab and half boxer. I see no sign of either.  She has chewed up two sofas, four chairs, innumerable socks and several books. She destroyed four ottomans. Anything left on the floor is hers, including rugs, and I warn visitors not to take off their shoes. She ate three comforters, once Daphne’s specialty. She nips the back legs of whichever dog is in front of her on the way downstairs. She relentlessly teases Daphne, who went from pup to matron almost over night. When another dog seeks attention, she sidles him or her out of the way. If Daphne gets on my lap (and Daphne is a big girl) Sadie jumps up too, and they find a way to share me as I struggle to breathe. As I read this over I don’t know how I stand it. If I didn’t love this dog so much, she’d be dead.

My friend Nona suggested I get her a Thundershirt. This is a comfy soft jacket that fits the way swaddling clothes fit, and is meant to make an anxious dog feel safe.  It worked for two days. Then I taught an afternoon class, was gone for hours, and came home to find a cushion off the little rose colored chair in hundreds of pieces. I’m not sure Sadie is an anxious dog, exactly. She just doesn’t like it when I leave. Maybe as several people have suggested, she needs Prozac. Maybe she needs a crate, or training, or spring to arrive. Meanwhile, I use a spray bottle of water to stop her when she won’t quit bothering Daphne. It works pretty well.

After a tiring day of destruction, she sits on my lap and puts her forepaws on my chest. Then she stares intently at my face. She licks my nose. Sometimes she snorts directly into my nose and I get a brief and mysterious high. When we go to bed, she fits herself in the crook of my arm, lays her head on my shoulder.

And she sleeps.

 

Confession

I wear the same clothes day after day. Those nice gray pants (the ones that still fit), the soft gray pullover, the hooded gray jacket, my pretty pink scarf. Socks when I find them. This winter is long and I turn the heat off at night. I love a cold room and I sleep with three dogs, two whirring fans, one open window, and the air conditioner, so rather than shiver in the icy morning, I put the gray pants, gray pullover, gray jacket and pink scarf back on over my pajamas. This reduces the morning fuss to almost nothing.  When bedtime rolls around, off come the clothes and there I am already in pajamas.

I feel like a rocket scientist.

This weekend I traveled to visit my kids Jennifer and Ralph in Boston, where it was colder than at home, and only one dog to go around. I slept in everything I had on. I had brought a suitcase, but never changed out of or into anything. For four days I wore my gray pants, my gray pullover, my gray jacket, my pink scarf and, way underneath, my pajamas.  I hoped neither my son nor my daughter noticed my lack of what can only be called personal hygiene, but there were twins and lego and movies and take-out and pasta and my daughter’s good dog, lily. There were ceremonies and thrift shop purchases and high winds. There was a morning at church during which an unkempt man strolled down the aisle shouting, “It’s a done deal! It’s a done deal!” and nobody arrested him.  We all spent a busy few days, had a lot of fun, and nobody seemed to cop to the fact that the only thing I removed all weekend were my shoes.

I drove home apprehensive of the greeting I would get from my dogs. Sometimes they make you pay. But my daughter Catherine and her family had taken care of them for four days, and reported nothing amiss. I pulled into the driveway and they came rushing out the dog door, all four of them tumbling over each other to get to me, barking and jumping and yipping and leaping.  Sadie trembled with happiness.

I took a quick nap (still in all my clothes) untroubled by the damp blankets that smelled vaguely of pee. The dogs were nestling close to me, it was only a vague smell, and I was happy to be home. By the time I woke up, I was a walking health department violation. I got into the shower, and all I can say is no wonder baptism involves water.  I was becoming a new person. The water was hot, and reminded me of showers I took when I was thirteen. At that age, I was moved and upset by the sufferings of Jesus, and I would let the shower run hot and hotter, and hotter, whispering “for Jesus.”  Doubtless there was some dark psychological reason for this troubling behavior, probably to do with sex, but the time to examine this kind of thing is long past.  Anyway, I washed my hair and dried myself off and began looking for clean clothes and found some. Then I stripped the bed. It had been quite a while, what with one thing and another. There was nothing really too hideous on the sheets, and I had grown used to the comforting doggy smell that permeated everything, but enough was enough. I could not justify sleeping under pee, no matter how faint the smell.

At moments like this I remember my Aunt Rhoda. She lived with Bigmom, our grandmother, her mother, all her life. After Bigmom died she was alone in a big old house, her constant companion being her pug Tatiana, who slept with her. Rhoda was probably the age I am now. May she forgive me for the times I looked at the small brown streaks on her sheets, blankets covered with Tatiana’s dog hair, her own unclean nightgown. “Did you see that?” I would whisper, horrified, to my sisters. I get it now. Dogs rule. Comfort and warmth and affection, and to hell with the rest.

only place to put this

In high school there was a sweet quiet girl with one distinction. She probably had many more, but this was what I noticed. Some days she had breasts and some days she didn’t. I accepted this without question, although it was a wonder to me.  I had never heard of falsies.

I think this had something to do with becoming a writer, but can’t make the connection.

getting nowhere

This is why I write. Something happened or is happening that needs to be understood. I write about what I’m trying to figure out, and then life goes on, more happens, and that gets woven into the original starting point, and it somehow becomes one thing from several, or maybe several things from one. And of course other stuff occurs to me along the way—what I see, what my conversations suddenly consist of, all the bits and pieces of ordinary life that become more significant, or downright hilarious, in the context of the more serious journey to clarity. It’s like being sticky and wherever you go, something else clings to your coat.

The puzzle is usually something big, and on the catastrophic side, but not always. Often it is nothing more than a curiosity, like a pebble you turn over and over in your pocket. You know how it feels in your fingers, you know the smooth and the cool and the shape and the color, you never tire of it, but it remains a pebble. Or a hard candy you roll around in your mouth, noting how it changes, getting smaller, and sometimes sharper, until it disappears.

Once in a while it is something of no consequence whatsoever, but it nags at me and won’t shut up.  Some months ago I caught sight of myself in a good light, seeing far too much rouge, lipstick elsewhere than my mouth, and clunky bits of blue eyeliner stuck to my lower lids. I reminded myself of another old woman I knew whose cheeks got pinker and shinier with every passing year. I attributed that to her failing eyesight and since my eyesight is failing too, I bought a magnifying mirror so as to never again leave the house looking like an old lady clown. I set out my various rouges and lipsticks and blue eyeliner pencil, settled into a comfy chair, and looked into the mirror. It was like traveling to another country. The immortal words of the great editor Marshall Best sprang to mind: “You can’t polish shit.”

So I didn’t try. I accepted the universe and put the makeup away.

From now on, I would present myself as I am. What’s the point of aging if you can’t look like who you are? But the funny thing was that when I went barefaced into the world (the world being Bread Alone), I felt as if I were wearing a mask.  There I was, just little old me, naked of face but in disguise. Almost a stranger to myself. Older women are invisible, I’m used to that. (A friend recalled sitting in a diner with her pancakes while right next to her, in the adjoining booth, well within earshot, two men planned a murder.)  Maybe it was that without makeup there was no bright image to live up to. I didn’t smile if I didn’t feel like smiling, I felt no need to adjust my expression in pleasing ways. What did this mean? Is it me I’ve been fooling? Is my default position a stone face? Am the old me or the new me? Anyway, I’ve gone round and round with this conundrum and I have gotten nowhere. It is still just a pebble, but it’s in my shoe.

a little deaf

Once on a plane ride I sat next to an elderly gentleman. My definition of “elderly” has changed radically in the past ten years; I am seventy-two and swing between feeling either middle-aged or 13. I have to remind myself I’m only middle-aged if I live to be (god forbid) 144. Anyway, he was friendly and pleasant, and looked to be in his late seventies, and although I usually simulate sleep by closing the eye closest to the person I don’t want to talk to, I found myself curious and engaged. He had such excellent manners. The plane was noisy and it was hard to hear well, but he asked me what I did and I said I was a writer. He asked me how long I had been a waiter and I said since I was forty-eight. I caught on to his misunderstanding when he began to describe his favorite restaurants in Albany. When I asked him what he did, I thought he said he was an elevator engineer. I have always been claustrophobic in elevators and went on about that for a while until I noticed the puzzled look on his face. Later it turned out he was retired, but had spent his life in elementary education. I never corrected his mistake. At my age, I have no need to set the record straight.

below the ice

The ice began melting yesterday, after rain. Most of the black snow is gone. Bits of the past five months have begun to appear. The top of a carrot, discarded by my dogs, who once loved them.  Whole packages of carrots would disappear off the counter, taken outside by one dog or another, and eaten. Then they got sick of carrots. Now it’s cheese, or rolls, or sticks of butter, anything good I leave unattended. Last night I made my new favorite thing, a bun stuffed with ham and muenster, thrown into a pan where a little safflower oil is smoking, pressed down, turned, covered, and cooked for a minute or two. The almost burned roll is so delicious, it crunches. But I only got to make one, because Daphne got hold of the muenster. I love Daphne, and she loves me, but she is a dog, she will growl at me to protect her winnings and I don’t want to get into that. When faced with this kind of moment, when the wild wakes up, I leave it lay where Jesus flung it (as they say). Later all eighty pounds of Daphne will climb into my lap as I try to read the paper, but never mind. She settles herself, all four legs poking into my stomach like pogo sticks until she gets comfortable, then Sadie, a mere 20 pounds, joins her. Somehow we all fit, although the paper is now on the floor.

Also appearing just under the ice are twists of tin foil, licked clean of what might once have been a cupcake, or scraps of cookie dough. Also, I must report, an awful lot of poop. If we get another thaw, maybe I’ll find my daughter’s cell phone, my moonstone ring, and the flashlight. Snow is forecast for today but sign of it so far.  Oh wait. There’s a book, uncovering itself. Lawrence of Arabia, beginning to appear under the melting drifts of snow.