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.


anne patterson's 'graced with light' installation

i sing of northern california, where blanket coats lie dreaming in under-bed storage and the locals apologize for 60-degree evenings! i was inconsolable when what many called the prettiest snowstorm of the season hit new york city just as i made my first trip across the fog-swaddled new bay bridge (predictably, i prefer the clunky old bay bridge - this latest tech boom can suck it). nearly inconsolable, really, as it's hard to fixate on the weather when one's little sister is about to bring one's niece into the world. it's terrible to have to concede that a little sister has had sex, but it's wonderful to help throw a shower for her and her baby.

i sing of adolescence that echoes down through the decades! i turned into a snarling teenager on friday after my mother and i blew our last chance to gather shower supplies at the san francisco flower mart and i had to scavenge for arrangement components in the mylar wasteland that is sacramento-area grocery stores on valentine's day (when whole foods said they'd have "plenty of flowers," they meant they'd have "plenty of pre-arranged roses"). i knew even as i sniped that i was being cruel, but i couldn't hide how bitter i was that she didn't know what i needed. a few days later we wept in each other's arms on the curb at the airport, and i asked her to forgive me for moving so far away. it's been a week of strange demonstrations.

i sing of things we can't know. my sister's baby is tiny, and though her doctors' tests haven't revealed anything sinister, they can't reassure us that the little one will be alright in there until her due date next month; if today's sonogram indicates that she's slipped into the fifth percentile for weight, they will take her out this weekend. little one, you don't have to see the blooms i brought for your mother. i want them long dead by the time you come to us.

we climbed the hill to grace cathedral on thursday afternoon and walked beneath anne patterson's 'graced with light,' an installation of nearly 20 miles of ribbon that "carry our prayers, dreams and wishes skyward, and, in turn, grace streams down the ribbons to us." i watched rainbows creep across the indoor labyrinth and wondered what it would mean if i lit a candle in the chapel. i decided to fill my sister's house with flowers.


textile detail at OCMA

I'd practise translation so much that I could say many things, at least the sort of things that typically I'd say in my own language. Comprehension, however, was another thing altogether. After I'd presented my own carefully displayed sentence like a diamond necklace on black velvet, the other speaker, the French person, would throw his sentence at me like a handful of wet sand. It would sting so badly that I'd wince, and an instant later I would wonder what had just happened to me.


At Marie-Claude's dinners no one spoke in any predictable way. They were all intellectuals and writers who I learned had to show how ironic they could be, how droll, how quickly and easily they could anticipate every objection their interlocutors might make. The advancement of a simple idea or piece of information was not the object. The task was to show they were civilized beings who caught every allusion. They were capable of enclosing linguistic brackets inside conversational parentheses.

Moreover, they interrupted constantly which, it amazed me to learn, was not considered rude in Paris. Madame de Staël in her book about Germany had written that German was not a proper language for intelligent conversation since you had to wait till the end of the sentence to hear the verb and couldn't interrupt.

(edmund white, from "american vogue," granta 126)


Hay was a genuine polymath, well before his time in the easy way in which he could slip and slide between subjects; his curiosity was sincere and led him down green alleys and into largely unexplored spaces, though this was a trait that did him no favours with commercial art galleries trapped in the over-simplification of genres. He was a Dissenter in the Blake tradition, a visionary who believed in the power of art to combat the sacrilege of developers and planners and all who lay waste to the places people value most: "Ultimately, all I want to do is to make something of beauty and pleasure as a charm against the jackals."

(from adam stout and annabel eatherley's obituary for peter hay in the independent, 09.05.03)


monday morning, east river

there was a fire at the delancey street station this morning, so i walked through chinatown to catch another train. i could make like the crowds and slush and rolling into the office looking like alice cooper were terrible, but who am i kidding? this weather is fantastic.