i'm half a subway commute, maybe fifteen minutes, into roger angell's "this old man" (a new yorker piece from a few weeks ago on life at 93). it's already the best thing i've read this year, what peter hay might have called "a charm against the jackals."
I’ve endured a few knocks but missed worse. I know how lucky I am, and secretly tap wood, greet the day, and grab a sneaky pleasure from my survival at long odds. The pains and insults are bearable. My conversation may be full of holes and pauses, but I’ve learned to dispatch a private Apache scout ahead into the next sentence, the one coming up, to see if there are any vacant names or verbs in the landscape up there. If he sends back a warning, I’ll pause meaningfully, duh, until something else comes to mind.

On the other hand, I’ve not yet forgotten Keats or Dick Cheney or what’s waiting for me at the dry cleaner’s today. As of right now, I’m not Christopher Hitchens or Tony Judt or Nora Ephron; I’m not dead and not yet mindless in a reliable upstate facility. Decline and disaster impend, but my thoughts don’t linger there. It shouldn’t surprise me if at this time next week I’m surrounded by family, gathered on short notice—they’re sad and shocked but also a little pissed off to be here—to help decide, after what’s happened, what’s to be done with me now. It must be this hovering knowledge, that two-ton safe swaying on a frayed rope just over my head, that makes everyone so glad to see me again. “How great you’re looking! Wow, tell me your secret!” they kindly cry when they happen upon me crossing the street or exiting a dinghy or departing an X-ray room, while the little balloon over their heads reads, “Holy shit—he’s still vertical!”

Let’s move on. A smooth fox terrier of ours named Harry was full of surprises. Wildly sociable, like others of his breed, he grew a fraction more reserved in maturity, and learned to cultivate a separate wagging acquaintance with each fresh visitor or old pal he came upon in the living room. If friends had come for dinner, he’d arise from an evening nap and leisurely tour the table in imitation of a three-star headwaiter: Everything O.K. here? Is there anything we could bring you? How was the crème brûlée? Terriers aren’t water dogs, but Harry enjoyed kayaking in Maine, sitting like a figurehead between my knees for an hour or more and scoping out the passing cormorant or yachtsman. Back in the city, he established his personality and dashing good looks on the neighborhood to the extent that a local artist executed a striking head-on portrait in pointillist oils, based on a snapshot of him she’d sneaked in Central Park. Harry took his leave (another surprise) on a June afternoon three years ago, a few days after his eighth birthday. Alone in our fifth-floor apartment, as was usual during working hours, he became unhinged by a noisy thunderstorm and went out a front window left a quarter open on a muggy day. I knew him well and could summon up his feelings during the brief moments of that leap: the welcome coolness of rain on his muzzle and shoulders, the excitement of air and space around his outstretched body.
i'm scaling back on crying at my desk on my lunch break and won't unpack why angell undoes me, but i do suggest clasping his essay to you before going underground.


LPC said...

I loved that piece. Almost sent it to my papa, he who so loves baseball, but that would have made my cry:).plenty

lauren said...

aw, it shouldn't make you cry, for your dad is immortal, as is my dad (you hear me, dads?).

lauren said...

there are things i want to say about this essay and how it stands up to, say, didion's blue nights or magical thinking, but i'm guessing i should finish it first.

Rachel said...

I'll have to get D to set that one aside for me. Although the terrier out the window bit could well leave me living in an airless apartment for the rest of Circe's life.

I might finally get back to the New Yorker. I stopped altogether out of guilt because I wasn't managing to read them cover to cover and keep up. D struggles valiantly and he is currently 3 months behind. He only gets pre-bed reading time, though, and I have no such excuse (just an unwillingness to switch gears when I'm in the middle of a book, which I always am). This morning I tossed one in my bag and told myself I'd only read the stories that grabbed me, so maybe I can learn to live with that compromise.