Revised, and with an update below.
The great naturalist and nature writer John Burroughs wandered these parts a century ago or so. He was born in 1837, died in 1921, his life overlapping those of my grandparents, which makes him in a way our contemporary. If we are lucky enough to have had older relatives, I mean people who were old when we were young, our memories---and our memories are the measure of our lives---extend back into their youths. There are teenagers who are, measured by their memories, a hundred years old.
I'm lucky in that my great-grandfather kept a notebook, so I have some memories that go back to 1903.
Most of Burroughs' writing describes sights and sounds, plants and animals and the seasonal activities of both, that I could see and hear everyday for myself if I had less lazy eyes and ears. But at least when I read his essays, I recognize things in glimpses.
Like Thoreau, Burroughs stuck close to home, preferring to explore his own small patch of ground thoroughly.
What a voyage is this we make without leaving for a night our own fireside! St Pierre well says that a sense of the power and mystery of nature shall spring up as fully in one's heart after he has made the circuit of his own field as after returning from a voyage around the world. I sit here amid the junipers of the Hudson, with purpose every year to go to Florida or to the West Indies or to the Pacific Coast, yet the seasons pass and I am still loitering, with a half-defined suspicion, perhaps, that if I remain quiet and keep a sharp lookout, these countries will come to me.
Burroughs, again like Thoreau, built a house for himself in the woods, but unlike Thoreau, Burroughs was a family man---though his marriage was unhappy---and a sociable one, and Slabsides is a proper house, meant to be fit for company. It still is. Visitors are welcome. Slabsides is a National Landmark and the 125 acres of land around it are a wildlife sanctuary---and it's only about a 40 minute drive from our house, a fact I only just found out or I'd have visited it at least once by now.
All I know is what I read in the newspapers and what I know about Slabsides I know from reading Wayne Hall's column in yesterday's Sunday Record.
Hall included some quotes from Burroughs' writings and this one struck me particularly.
Hardy, happy outlaw, the crow, how I love him! Alert, social, Republican, always able to look out for himself….
You can guess what word I stuck on.
I can't find the quote in my copy of John Burroughs' America, so I can't read it in context. I don't know if it was a throwaway line, or if Burroughs was being serious.
Obviously, in his mind, Republican was a compliment, at least when applied to crows.
Burroughs was born and grew to manhood before there was a Republican party. In fact, in his youth, there were Democrats who thought of themselves as Republicans, the word being favored by Jeffersonians as a self-description and personal boast.
I don't know what Burroughs' politics were. He was friendly with Theodore Roosevelt, but he was friends with Walt Whitman, an arch-Democrat.
Probably, Burroughs was not being partisan, one way or the other, and was using Republican as a synonym for American. Republicans these days are inclined to think of Republican and American as conditionally linked: To be a good American you must first be a Republican.
But once upon a time the word meant a citizen living under a particular form of government, not an idealogogue loyal to his betters because of their willingness to share a little power with him and cut his taxes and start wars he can root for as if they were sporting events.
Republican could be used as a compliment for Democrats the way democratic can be used as a compliment for Republicans today.
Republican described a person in opposition to a European.
In those days Americans thought of Europe as a continent of kings and peasants, of wolves and sheep who let themselves be devoured by the wolves and were grateful for the privilege. Since it was largely Catholic, it was also the place where the priests and the Pope did people's thinking for them. It was a land of ancient authorities, superstition, and spirit-crushing traditionalism, of unchecked aristocratic power and craven obedience.
Americans, in contrast, were self-reliant, independent, energetic, scientific, skeptical; willing to flout traditio when tradition got in the way of progress, and contemptuous of the privileges of wealth, rank, status, and ancient authorities.
Hence, the compliment in "outlaw" crows.
Americans defied. They stood up for themselves and they thought for themselves. They charted their own courses and they made sure they had a say in how their lives were run. They believed in equality and the essential dignity of all men and women. They did not let themselves be bossed around. They were Republican.
That's probably what Burroughs was celebrating when he called his crows Republicans.
But I suppose he could have been being partisan, as well.
In the 19th Century the Democratic Party was a strange two-headed monster. In the South it was the party of the old planter aristocracy, the slave-owning class.
But in the North it was the party of working men and artisans, skilled craftsmen and small business owners, who recognized early on that their best defense against the power and depredations of the moneyed elite was to join together in common cause. They formed trade associations---unions!---and they called upon the government, which they, having a curious notion that in a democratic republic the government was the people, that is they themselves, saw as their government with the job of protecting their rights and interests.
When riled they had a tendency to take to the streets and let the world know it.
Protest marches by the rabble always look to the ruling elites like riots. And unfortunately protest marches in the 19th Century had a habit of turning into riots.
Consequently, Republicans in Burroughs' day could and did tend to look at the Democratic Party as the party of slavers and mobs, of aristocrats and drones, and, because the Democrats were also the party of the immigrants, Irish and Italian in the main, Catholics, it was the party of the superstitious and the priest-ridden.
The Democrats then were, by Republican lights, European, throwbacks, atavists.
Republicans were American, progressive, forward-looking, the future and the hope of the world.
The Democrats were also the party of the corrupt city bosses who bought votes and obedience by giving the ignorant and the incompetent (or the poor and needy and the willing to work, depending on your point of view) jobs they hadn't earned and couldn't handle (again, an opinion that depended on your point of view). So Republicans could congratulate themselves on their honesty as well as their self-reliance by comparison.
I don't know, though.
Burroughs was a clear-eyed man. By the time he was an old man the Republican Party had been taken over by the bosses---the political bosses like Mark Hanna, Karl Rove's hero, and the financial bosses, the factory owners and rising class of big business types---and by the Babbitts and the preachers. It was the party of the clubbable man, the joiner, the insecure, status-seeking, greedy little man.
Burroughs' admirer and ally in the nascent conservation movement, Teddy Roosevelt, thought of himself as the representative Republican. The election of 1912 cured him of that idea.
It's getting harder and harder to remember that the conservation movement was a Republican idea and cause and that thrift and forebearance in all their forms, in regard to the land, to money, to personal behavior, were Republican virtues.
These days there are still Republicans you can compliment as republicans.
But their party is now what their great-great-great-grandparents would have called Democratic, and not as a compliment. It's the party of rank and status and wealth, the party of ancient authorities, the party of the preachers and the priest-ridden.
It's the party of the corrupt political boss in the person of Karl Rove.
It's the anti-science party. The party of superstition.
The House vote on the minimum wage proves that it's the party more concerned with the privileges and feelings of the 18 richest families than with the plight of millions of the working poor, and in that way it's the party of obedience and obiescence to the aristocrats not the party of the independent and the self-reliant.
It's the party of corporate welfare.
The party of the bosses and those whose ambition is to please the bosses.
It's a party that has banished all its crows.
Partisan that he was, Walt Whitman was using the word Democratic in his essay Democratic Vistas the way I think Burroughs was probably using Republican to describe his crows.
Last month, Time Magazine, as part of its ongoing mission to fawn over and flatter and appease Karl Rove, gave Rove space to pretend to be an admirer of Teddy Roosevelt while actually trying to put a shine on George Bush's reputation by turning Roosevelt into a proto-Bush Leaguer. Eric Pfeiffer explained the joke in the New Republic.
Link to TNR courtesy of Andrew Sullivan.
Update: After much enjoyable searching, reading, re-reading, and skimming, I finally found the crows quote in my copy of John Burroughs' America. I posted it here. You'll see that at least in this edition republican is spelled with a small r.
Watched an episode of Sex and the City late last night, "The Real Me," from Season Four, and went to bed thinking I would be writing a great post in the morning making brilliant connections between my thoughts about the show and David Denby's review of The Devil Wears Prada in the July 10 and 17 issue of the New Yorker.
In "The Real Me" fashionista wannabe Carrie is asked to be a model in a charity fashion show. She's reluctant to do it, even a bit appalled by the idea. She is not a model, she keeps telling anyone who will listen, which is just about nobody, she's a writer. She has set up a dichotomy between the two roles, model and writer, which for her represents the difference between a make-believe world and a world of truth-telling.
The world of fashion is about creating an image, a superficial, pretend self for the world to adore. Carrie's world, the world in which she is a writer, is where she gives her readers the real her and they are free to like her or not like her as they please, but they must recognize her as her, and not simply admire her as a beautiful display rack for some other artist's creations.
Writers are admired for what they make. Models are admired, primarily, for what other people can make of them.
But as things progress it becomes clear that Carrie's reluctance isn't all due to her artistic and spiritual integrity. There's also the false modesty of the secretly vain at work. Consciously, Carrie knows she does not look like a model. Secretly, she wishes she did. Below that, though, is the hope that she does and, a little more deeply buried but not totally repressed, is the happy, self-thrilling knowledge that she is beautiful and sexy and will look great out there on the runway.
In one of those aside moments when Carrie works on her column, she reveals that it is that knowledge she is resisting as a temptation. She writes about the myth of Narcissus, a myth of male self-love, but the episode is about the temptations of female narcissism. Carrie is afraid of falling in love with the image of herself as a model.
Which through the rest of the episode she then proceeds to do in fits and starts. Her fall from grace is nicely symbolized by her attraction to a photographer who is constantly taking her picture, keeping his camera between them so that instead of looking at him she is always looking into a kind of mirror, her own reflection held up for her to fall in love with.
That the photographer is more interested in taking pictures of the "real" Carrie and not the "model" Carrie adds to her confusion. Now her real self is being used against her. It's now another reflection for her to fall in love with instead of the true Carrie who can resist the allure of self-love.
Carrie succumbs at last to the point that when she is figuratively stripped of the beautiful blue cocktail dress she was supposed to wear and is sent out on stage essentially naked---she's wearing a flesh colored pair of panties with jewels on the crotch and a a long duster that has one button, right under the cleft of her pushed up breasts and pretty much covers nothing---she not only goes along, she throws herself into it with gusto.
She wants to be seen naked and applauded.
She struts out onto the runway and...
Falls flat on her face.
It's a symbolic moment that's played so lightly that they get away with it. At that point, Carrie is Narcissus falling into his pool and drowning in his own image.
Carrie the model drowns.
Carrie the writer climbs out of the pool and finishes the walk---the limp, she's lost a shoe---down the runway. She is wildly applauded, especially by her friends, but for her spunk and grace and sense of humor, which is to say, for being naked in another way, she is baring her soul. She is a hit for being herself, not an image.
The other characters are tempted by narcissim too. Well, Samantha long ago gave in to that temptation. This is the pre-Smith Jared Sam, the lone wolf Sam, whose favorite sexual partner was always herself; all the men, and the occasional woman, she took to bed were surrogate Samanthas, specially equipped sex toys she needed because the regular forms of masturbation don't allow her to get as hands on with herself as she would like. Plus, she's not sastisfied with an audience of one.
In "The Real Me" Samantha decides to have nude photos taken of herself. Not to show anybody, but to have for herself to look at and admire.
Meanwhile, Miranda, told by a guy at her gym that he finds her sexy, falls immediately into the pool of self-love. She sets out to be as sexy as she wants to be but in the process makes him feel like nothing more than a mirror, in a neat gender reversal of the Narcissus and Echo story, except that the male Echo refuses to pine away, he just walks out on her.
This being Sex and the City, which always had as one of its chief virtues a refusal to judge its characters by anything like conventional ideas of right and wrong, Samantha suffers no consequences for her narcissism while Miranda is humiliated as a punishment for hers, the reasons being that A. Life is just unfair that way and B. Miranda's real "sin" is that in falling in love with an image of herself as a sexy babe she is betraying her true self.
The fatal flaw for Miranda, and Carrie, is not self-love, which is actually presented as healthy and desirable---Samantha's self-confidence is heroic, in its way---it's their failure to be "the real me." Miranda is sexier in a sweaty old t-shirt than in a little black dress showing lots of leg and cleavage because in the t-shirt she was being the real her and in the dress she was acting the part of a babe.
(Cynthia Nixon, not being Miranda, is sexier in a little black dress showing lots of leg and cleavage than in a sweaty old t-shirt.)
Charlotte, by the way, is tempted by a mirror too, but at the key moment she falls off the bed and out of the camera's view, so we don't know if she fainted at the sight of her own revealed beauty or if her real modesty, as opposed to Carrie's earlier false modesty, came along and tackled her and saved her from drowning in the pool, or if it was just one of those clutzy moments we're all prone to when we need to be at our most dignified.
Freud has something to say about that, I think.
At any rate, the brilliant connections I was going to make between that episode and Denby's review of The Devil Wears Prada were based on a mistake. I thought the director of "The Real Me," who was one of the executive producers of the series, Michael Patrick King, also directed the movie.
But The Devil Wears Prada was directed by David Frankel, who also worked on episodes of Sex and the City.
Still, there is a connection. And I'll make it.
Runway [the fashion magazine edited by Meryl Streep's imperious character Miranda] is the engine of desire—not the desire for sex, which the movie regards as relatively unimportant, but for power and for very beautiful things. The severity of the movie’s good taste is awesome...
When [Anne Hathaway's character, Streep's new assistant] Andy starts at Runway, she doesn’t care about any of this. Her indifference is an affront to the staff, and, early in the movie, [Streep delivers] a brilliant speech in which she explains the structural connection between a sample from a fashion house—a cerulean belt—that Andy laughs at and the frumpy sweater that Andy is wearing. It’s startling to hear the entire fashion world tied together as an economic unit—Adam Smith couldn’t have done better. Nigel (Stanley Tucci), Miranda’s second-in-command, completes Andy’s education. A superlative wit whose acid observations are infallibly correct, Nigel reaches into the magazine’s vast wardrobe room, where the samples are arrayed on racks, and dresses Andy in a Chanel jacket and boots and a Kristina Ti skirt. Narrowing his mouth and rolling his eyes, Tucci ventures into risky territory with this performance; his cackle and little dance when Nigel thinks that, at last, he has broken free of Miranda—whom he adores and loathes—is a classic moment. In scene after scene, Tucci brings out Hathaway’s confidence, both as actor and as character. Under Nigel’s guidance, and with the aid of Runway’s endless closet, Andy becomes a fashion princess. The rest of the movie asks whether she can assume this role without betraying herself.
The old Hollywood trick. Immerse the audience for two hours in a fairy tale world of beautiful people and lovely things and then assure us at the end that the characters, and the actors who play them, want nothing more than to leave the castle and go and live in the same little cottages at the far ends of the kingdom where we live.
Sex and the City never pulled that. It took the dreams and desires of its characters seriously and it expected us to understand why those dreams and desires were good and even admirable and worth realizing, if not for us, at least for the characters themselves.
Carrie’s love of the world of fashion, her desire for pretty clothes, and her wish to be part of the fashion scene are not satirized, criticized, or held in contempt by the writers. The denizens of the fashion world, the designers and models and hangers-on, are gently satirized, but as averagely fallible and silly human beings. What they do for a living is actually presented with a great deal of respect.
Carrie’s temptation is not from the pretty clothes or the glitzy fashion scene or the high-powered and highly creative, if nutty, fashion mavens. Her temptation is from within. She is her own temptress.
Sex and the City was passionately anti-Puritan. It celebrated joy in the form of material and bodily pleasures, of course, but it was also anti-Puritanical in the way he recognized that temptation and corruption were things we did to ourselves.
Puritans believe that the Devil works from the outside, which is why they are always attempting to stamp things out. They want to shut things down, censor them, close them, cover them up, in order to save us from temptation.
The devil wears Prada so Prada is evil.
But the anti-Puritan knows that the devil wears whatever we are wearing, including our own skin. The devil is inside. He, or she, isn’t standing at the tent flap beckoning to us and saying, “Come in, come in, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
The devil is in our heads saying, “Go on. You know you want to. You know you deserve it.”
Denby says in his review that Anne Hathaway's character has to choose between the high life and her sense of honor and her decency, a phony and sentimental choice.
Carrie has to choose between her vanity and her ambition. It's not the thing she wants---the object of desire which the Puritan always sees as the source of corruption---that's bad. It's what she's doing to herself as she sets about to get it.
Which is why the show has no problem, and is not contradicting anything, when it sends Carrie off to work for Vogue a few episodes later.
She gets where she wants to go by being a writer.
Despite the apparent cheap Hollywood cop-out at the end, I think I'd like to see The Devil Wears Prada, if for no other reason than this moment David Denby describes in his review:
This movie delivers an inordinate amount of pleasure, and, in the end, even Miranda escapes our censure. At a reception at the Metropolitan Museum, Streep wears a stunning off-the-shoulder black gown (by Valentino) that exposes a good deal of her beautiful pale flesh. As she turns her head sideways and points her sexy nose, she evokes John Singer Sargent’s most famous subject, the scandalous Madame X. At that moment, Miranda may still be a bitch, but she represents a distinct improvement: the haut-bourgeois ladies of the eighteen-eighties whom Sargent painted have been succeeded by professional women who look great and also run things.
Ok, leaving aside the question of whether it is actually better that these days the wives of the robber barons get to be robber barons themselves---Sargent didn't make his living painting the nobly poor---another attraction of the movie appears to be that it allows Streep's character to be a villainess because of what she does to other people and not for what she does for a living.
She's a Prada-wearing devil of a boss because she's a devil, not because she's a boss.
This is a change from female movie bosses of the past whose mere presence in the boardroom was presented as proof of their monstrosity. Real women didn't want or wield power.
In The Devil Wears Prada a woman doesn't turn into a monster when she turns into a boss. Streep's character would be a monster with or without a corner office. But power allows her to be the best monster she can be.
Denby compares Streep's performance to that of two other great actresses playing high-powered corporate executive types in a pair of classic films.
Miranda is a calculating monster—she has excised any remaining trace of softness from her temperament—but she understands her role in fashion so acutely that you can’t make fun of her. In all, this has to be the most devastating boss-lady performance in the history of cinema. By comparison, Faye Dunaway’s hysterics in “Network” come off as amusing freak-outs, and Sigourney Weaver in “Working Girl” is a coarse, leather-lunged shouter.
Denby's attributing the differences to Streep's superiority as an actress. Since I haven't seen the movie, I can't disagree. But I suspect he's being unfair to Dunaway and Weaver, who were handicapped by their writers and the attitudes of the eras in which their respective films were made.
I don't remember Weaver's character in Working Girl as a leather-lunged shouter, but she was a monster of ambition, selfishness, self-aggrandizement, and narcissim, so much so that it wasn't simply a case that you understood immediately why Harrison Ford's character wanted to be shed of her; you couldn't understand what he saw in her to begin with.
Shakespeare's Sister would probably reply, "The white lingerie, stupid!"
There were no other female executives in Working Girl to compare her with, so the implication, which might have been accidental, was that Weaver's character was what the business world regarded as the ideal in female bosses. Apparently, only narcissistic harridans need apply. Which is a way of saying that no decent woman would want to be a boss.
And Melanie Griffiths' character doesn't want to be one. She's forced by the plot into pretending to be one, and she's good at it, better than Weaver's character, but in the end she goes cheerfully back to her original ambition, which was just a simple junior executive trainee. Her ambition was never power, or even money, not a lot of money anyway. It was self-improvement. She was a Cinderella who wanted to live in a nice apartment of her own, but didn't care if she ever saw the inside of a castle.
It's really a very old fashioned movie, even for the 1980s.
Network isn't old fashioned in its view of women and their ambitions; its downright misogynistic.
Well, it was written by Paddy Chayefsky, whose misogyny was just a variation on his general misanthropy. But Dunaway's character is a monster out of a sexually insecure male's nightmare. She is a monster because she wants to be a man, and she's willing to turn men into women, if that's what it takes for her to be a man. Her desire for masculinity is symbolized by her masculine ambitions---she wants to be a boss---and her masculine sexual inclinations---she likes to be on top.
I was barely past trading baseball cards when I saw Network for the first time and that scene, in which Dunaway throws William Holden over on his back, climbs on top of him, and comes almost immediately with a roar, and then rushes out of bed, was the first explicit sex scene I had ever seen.
And young as I was I recognized immediately that that scene was giving me very bad advice.
Not to slight the missionary position, but the best view is to be had from down below. Ever since junior high, when I first learned that there was more than one way to go about sex, I believed that if the point was to get a girl naked, then wouldn't you want to arrange things so you could see the girl naked?
By that logic, the missionary position doesn't even provide the second or third best views.
Done right, it provides the best eye to eye and lip to lip contact, and therefore is not to be neglected. But seeing her is a big part of the fun, or would be, as far as I was concerned back then, when my voice changed and my skin cleared up and I grew several inches and Peggy Hynes finally started to take me seriously.
It wasn't until I met Sally Gilhooley, though, long after my voice changed, my skin cleared up, I grew several inches, and having Peggy Hynes take me seriously had proven more trouble than it was worth, that my expectations about the view were proven to be right on.
If it's wrong for the woman to want to be on top, I reasoned, then it's wrong for the guy to care about seeing who he happens to be screwing at the moment.
So when I saw that scene in Network I knew it at once for what it was.
This is bullshit, I said to myself, probably the first time I used the word correctly. From there it was an easy logical step to concluding the whole movie was bullshit, an opinion I hold to this day.
Network is a pile of woman-hating, man-hating, America-hating bullshit. Contrived, phony, joyless, humorless, and basically all about how right Paddy Chayefsky was to despise everybody and everything except Paddy Chayefsky.
The idea that hell is other people is a Puritanical notion.
Network is a film made by and for Puritans.
The Hospital was worse.
Haven't written much about the Mets this season, even though they're having their best year since 1988. Been afraid of jinxing them. Twelve games up on the Braves going into August looks like an insurmountable lead.
But back in 1951 the Giants were 13 and a half back of the Dodgers in mid-August and Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca can tell you how much that mattered by October 3rd. Starting on August 12, the Giants won 16 in a row.
So I'm not predicting anything and I'm placing no bets.
But it's sure been fun so far. And this year's Mets have to be the most likeable Mets team ever.
I liked the '86 club, the whole crew, even Roger McDowell and Kevin Mitchell. But I can see how from another point of view---say that of an Astros fan or a Red Sox fan---Hernandez and Carter and Darryl and Doc and Ray Knight might have been hard to warm up to.
How could you not have liked Howard Johnson though?
You had to love the pre-Phillies, pre-bulked up Nails. I liked Lenny when he was with the Phillies and bulked up too, but when he was with the Mets, watching him play center like he was in a war zone, you expected that any game now he was going to kill himself running through the wall or diving for a blooper to shallow right center so hard he'd have saved the club money on burying him.
I remember a game in mid-season when he had to come way in to catch a ball he had no business even getting close to---in fact, I think it's even in the rule book: Balls hit to that exact spot behind second base are to be considered automatic bloop singles; no player shall waste time or energy or risk injury trying to catch said balls nor shall any manager fine, chew out, bench, or otherwise punish a center fielder who observes such a ball on its way up and down and recognizes its uncatchability and stays back waiting to play it on the hop---but Lenny got to it on the run and, still running towards the infield, dug it out of his glove and fired it home, nailing the runner who was confidently coming in from third. It's a wonder Dykstra's arm didn't come off and fly with it to the plate.
"Just your routine double play," observed a laughing Tim McCarver.
I loved the '69 Mets, but I don't really remember them, except through a nostalgic haze. They were my first true baseball love and that was the first year I really followed a team from spring training through the World Series. Tom Seaver was, and still is, my baseball hero. After Willie Mays, of course.
And I suppose the '62 Amazin's were likeable, the way a nearsighted dog is likeable. You feel sorry for it and can't help admiring its grit as it keeps bumping into the same tree as it chases after the neighbor's cat again and again.
"Can't anybody here play this game?" Casey Stengel asked in dismay. But a couple of his players could, including Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, who was wrapping up his career in New York, managing to keep some of his dignity while the clown show bumbled about the field all around him.
Mets had an infielder at the time, must have been Elio Chacon, who didn't speak English, or who forgot what English he knew during the excitement of a game. As I heard Ashburn tell it, it was routine when a ball was hit to shallow center and both Ashburn and Chacon were going after it for Chacon not to hear or understand Ashburn shouting "I got it! I got it!" and veer off. He'd crash right into Ashburn and the ball would go dribbling away.
So Ashburn decided he needed to learn how to say "I got it" in Spanish, which is "Yo lo tengo!"
Next game, ball's hit their way, Chacon goes out, Asburn comes in, Ashburn shouts, "You lo tengo! Yo lo tengo!"
Chacon pulls up to let Ashburn take it.
And the left fielder runs Ashburn down.
Nobody wonders if the guys on this year's team can play the game.
And they all seem like good guys too. Cliff Floyd's grumpy, but then some part of him is always broken or bruised so you have to excuse him and even like him in his grumpiness.
But one of my favorites is Jose Valentin. It's always fun to see a formerly good player make a comeback after everybody else had decided his career's over. Michael Geffner had an excellent story on Valentin in the Times Herald Record Monday. Begins:
For more than a month at the beginning of the season, Jose Valentin felt so buried near the bottom of the Mets' roster that he considered the most extreme scenario almost daily: walking unannounced into Willie Randolph's office and letting it all out. Telling his manager, eyeball-to-eyeball, man-to-man, that he simply can't take it anymore.
That he can't perform being used so little and feeling during each rare at-bat like he has to do so much. And that he's not ready to drift off into career obscurity yet, as nothing more than a late-inning pinch-hitter.
"The frustration got really bad for awhile," Valentin admitted while sitting by his locker, his head dipped slightly and his moustache a flat line. "I was calling everybody. My father. My agent. My friends. I needed to tell people close to me, so I wouldn't do something crazy.
"I was so unhappy. It hurt so much to put on the uniform every day and not do anything. But, because we were winning, I made sure not to show it to my teammates.
"The thing is, I thought I had signed up to be a regular backup here, not a pinch-hitter getting one at-bat every now and then. I never did that before. And if that was going to be my role, I didn't want to be here."
He paused before adding: "Every day, I was getting angrier and angrier. At myself, the situation, everything."
Read the story. It's a profile of patience, perseverence, and self-control. And there's a happy ending.
I'm telling you. You gotta like these guys.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The excerpt below from my story "Her Life" is the last one I'm going to post. I'll explain why in a minute.
If you'd like to read all the excerpts in sequence---close to sequence; there's a scene missing---here's a table of contents:
Kathy and her sister share their thoughts on love.
Thanks very much to all of you who left comments or wrote in about the story. I appreciate your help and encouragement. And I'm sorry I have to cut things off two scenes short of the ending. But here's the deal.
I posted the first excerpt, This should have been her happy ending, with no plans to post any more. It was meant as introduction to my Cape blogging and that was all. Vanity got the better of me, though, so I kept going. The problem is, I'm afraid that if I post the whole thing online I won't ever be able to sell it to a magazine. Not that there's a chance of that in the immediate future, but it's always been the goal.
I'd like to just offer to email everybody who wants one a copy then, but there's an important part of me that rebels at the idea of giving away my fiction for free.
Blogging is different. You start up a webpage you are volunteering to do the work for free. Donations are always gratefully accepted and I'd like to sell more ads, but I don't expect either. (Thanks again, though, to all who have chipped in in the past!) But it's different with my fiction. It's not your concern, but writing stories is what I set out to do when I set out to be a writer. It's worked out that my non-fiction and journalism, and now my blogging, are what I've spent most of my time at a keyboard doing, but that's because I offended a teacher back in college who turned out to be a witch and put a curse on me, a story I'll save for a rainy day.
Telling tales, though, is my real love. So it's a point of pride with me that I treat it differently from my regular blogging.
I've thought about this carefully, and I've come up with a plan.
The plan is this: If you'd like to read the rest of the story, you can have it for a donation of $2 to the tip jar in the upper right corner of the page.
Hold on! There's more.
Since I'm springing this on you and I've already posted most of the story, I will send you all of Her Life plus another story, Paper and Dust.
There's still more. For a donation of $10 I will send you both stories and a story a month for the next 12 months.
And I'll tell you something. I'm pretty good at this. Her Life is my favorite story, but it isn't my best.
At any rate, here's how it will work. If you pay through Amazon, make sure you click on the button to let me know who you are and give me your email address. PayPal automatically does that. Also include a note telling me what file format you'd like the story sent in, WordPerfect, Word, or RTF. I'm working on creating PDF files of both stories too, but that won't be ready until the weekend. If you're willing to wait, let me know.
If you'd prefer to pay by check or money order, please make them payable to E. Reilly, and send them to Lance Mannion, PO Box 263, New Paltz, NY 12561.
I will also be glad to send hard copies by snail mail, autographed even, although I can't imagine anyone really wanting one. My autograph, that is. Make sure you include your address and add $1.50 for postage.
Of course, if you'd like to donate and don't want the stories, leave a note saying no thanks at PayPal and leave your donation anonymous at Amazon.
I'm sorry for not being sorry about doing this. But as Wodehouse says, " Poets, as a class, are business men. Shakespeare describes the poet's eye as rolling in a fine frenzy from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven, and giving to airy nothing a local habitation and a name, but in practice you will find that one corner of that eye is generally glued on the royalty returns."
Thanks again for your support and patience and, whether or not you donate, thanks very much for reading my blog.
“What did you say the last name was?” The girl at the hostess’ desk ran her finger down the list of reservations in her book.
“Doyle.” Kathy couldn’t believe it. How could this girl work at the same place as Robby and not know him? How could you come so close to him every day and not be aware of him?
“He works here?”
“We have a lot of people on the staff. I don’t know half the guys on the grounds crew.”
“He works on the boats.”
“That’s why! I never see those guys.”
She wasn’t all that pretty. Kathy didn’t think so anyway. Thin, with a long face and a long nose, perfect but rather large teeth. The dress she had on was nothing special either, a tube of cotton held up by her tiny breasts. Kathy had the better figure, better legs. Her khaki shorts were from a catalog company girls like this bought all their clothes from and her yellow top with the spaghetti straps was pretty—you couldn’t really tell it came from Sears. Like the girl she was braless. But the girl carried herself with a confidence that made you feel as if she was beautiful, and her hair, which fell thick and straight to the middle of her back, was brindled six shades of brown and gold. Kathy suspected that if any guys saw them together she’d be the one turned invisible.
“Here,” the girl said at last. “Your reservation’s not until seven-thirty.”
Kathy resisted the urge to say, I can tell time. “He was going to meet me here right after he got off work.”
“Oh. Well. You can wait for him in the bar, or you might want to try the dorm.”
If Robby had been in the restaurant, he’d have been waiting for her right there. Kathy hurried through the French doors and walked with her head down straight on through the bar and out another set of French doors onto the terrace by the pool. The yacht club owned a complex of buildings on Nantucket Sound. The restaurant and bar, in a rambling old mansion with many cedar-shingled additions, room after room filled with table after table of tourist family after tourist family, were open to the public. Down by the water, at the far edge of the manicured lawn that sloped away from the pool was the boathouse and a private dining room and pub for members. Kathy drifted across the lawn a ways, then turned, went through a gate in the tall hedges, and found herself back in the parking lot, looking at her car—Robby’s car, the SUV he’d inherited from his parents when they’d traded up to a Land Rover and which he had loaned her for the day so she could drive up to Nauset with Kara and Charlie (A year in jail had made Stephen too sun-sensitive to go to the beach with them, thank God.)—and next to the car, but running toward her, was a beautiful young man with a goatee whom for one heartbeat she mistook for Robby.
He was one of the parking valets who had stopped her in the driveway on her way in. Tall, broad-shouldered, in sky blue polo shirts with the yacht club’s insignia embroidered on the breast, they’d stood, one on either side of the car, and leaned in at the windows, demanding her keys, not as if offering to do her a service, but as if taking a toy from a careless child. She asked the running valet where to find the dorm, but he blew by her before he could answer. He turned around, however, and backpedaled up the driveway long enough to point, waving his finger in the direction of a long three-story building behind a line of trees at the edge of the property. Then he faced himself uphill again and hustled off, as if parking cars was a competitive sport, which, for these guys, Kathy guessed, it probably was.
There was another not really beautiful but beautiful somehow anyway girl with golden hair sitting behind a counter in the front hall of the dorm. This one did know Robby, although she corrected Kathy when she asked for his room number. “Oh, you mean Rob. Room 15, top of the stairs.”
The door to Room 15 opened on another goatee on another handsome face over another perfect body. This body was naked except for a thin pair of gym shorts that were less modest than a fig leaf would have been. The boy’s hair was wet and his skin glistened as if he’d just come from the shower. He cradled a lacrosse stick, holding it across his chest like a soldier’s rifle, and, although there was absolutely no other resemblance, Kathy couldn’t help thinking of the guard outside the Wizard’s palace in the Emerald City. Nobody gets to see the great Robby! Not nobody! Not no-how!
“The D-Man!” Robby’s roommate said after a pause, having responded at first to her asking for Robby with a quizzical frown. “He’s still on the docks.”
“Kathy. Right. I almost said Kelly. Where do you go to school again?”
The boy nodded. “That’s right. You want to wait for him?” He made no move to get out of her way.
“No, thanks.” She started off down the hall, but the boy called after her. “When you find him?”
“Tell him to call his fucking father.”
“Is there something wrong?”
“Fuck if I know. Guy’s just been calling like every fifteen minutes.”
She saw him, on the last boat tied up at the end of the pier, the low sun behind him, lashing something down.
“Robby?” she said, shading her eyes.
He straightened but did not look around at the sound of her voice. Another Not-Robby. This was getting depressing.
“Hello?” she said. The boy came to the rail. “Have you seen—“ She didn’t know how to ask for him. “Rob, Robby Doyle?”
Was she the only one in the world who called him by his right name? “I guess.”
The boy pointed out across the harbor. “He took his crayons and coloring books and went thataway.”
From Wednesday's Times-Herald Record.
Slate Hill - The bent windshield wipers annoyed her. The sex toy glued to her windshield back in June made her furious. But finding a horse's head in her swimming pool yesterday hit Wawayanda Councilwoman Gail Soro right where she lives.
It left her angry and frightened last night, as state police scoured the Orange County town for suspects. They were treating it as a case of harassment and trespassing, at the very least.
Soro and her husband, Ed, were in the pool until about 8:30 p.m. Monday night. Yesterday morning, they noticed the water looked a bit dark. They thought that an animal might have died in the pool.
Ed Soro grabbed the skimmer, raised a dark object from a corner of the pool and called out to his wife as he dragged it to the surface: "That's a horse's head."
She quickly went back into their house. "I was hysterical," she recalled last night.
As the day went on, her hysterics gave way to anger. The stunt with the windshield wipers and the sex toy both happened at Wawayanda Town Hall, where Soro is the lone Democrat on the five-member Town Board.
But the horse's head was brought to their home, while they slept, where their grandchildren come over to swim.
Plus, there's the symbolism.
The symbolism is cinematic, of course. Everybody involved immediately thought of The Godfather. Read the rest of Oliver Mackson's story.
Today's follow-up is here.
If it happened to most anyone else in this town of about 8,000, they could hunker down. They could hold their silence and let the state police investigate what they're treating as a case of harassment and trespassing, and maybe animal cruelty.
But Gail Soro is on the Town Board in the Town of Wawayanda, and someone in the public eye can't hunker down for long. "The shock is wearing off, and the reality is setting in," she said yesterday. "I want to get these SOBs."
Looking for a motive? It's politics, what else?
Soro was elected in 2003 with former Supervisor Wayne Skinner after a nasty campaign.
Skinner, with Soro as his ally, tried to overhaul the town's planning, putting through a controversial one-year building moratorium in 2005.
Opponents called out Skinner and Soro frequently for what they called financial mismanagement and retaliation against those who disagreed with them.
Public meetings got ugly. Residents have called the sniping "embarrassing" and material for Saturday Night Live.
Last year Skinner's brother, also a councilman, lost his Republican primary. Then Skinner and other Democrats got wiped out in the general election, leaving Soro alone on the board.
Now there's an irreverent, antagonizing blog called "Gails Gotta Go!" targeting Soro in the next town election in 2007.
"This blog is a instrument of venting the frustrations of residents of Wawayanda at Ms. Soro's antics," the blogger wrote. In an e-mail yesterday to the Times Herald-Record, the blogger, who refused to identifty him or herself, denied any connection to the horse head.
The Soros say they have a pretty good idea of who's responsible, but it's a small town, and they don't like getting sued any more than anyone else. So they kept their suspicions to themselves yesterday, as state police canvassed neighbors and ran down leads.
The Soros doubt they'll ever swim in their pool again. Yesterday, Ed Soro said, "I was thinking if it got hot again today, I could go in the pool."
He looked at the pool and the stain and said, "Yeah. Right."
The real me.
Mannion. Lance Mannion.
No. Wait. I'm sorry. This is the real me.
"Who did the President, who killed Kennedy. Fuck, man! It's a mystery, it's a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma! The fuckin' shooters don't even know, don't you get it?!"
While back I did a post asking readers, Who'd play you in the movies?
I gave my own choices to play Lance Mannion.
Keifer Sutherland and William Hurt.
Turns out I was way off. MyHeritage.com, a geneology site, has a feature that will tell you what celebrities you most resemble.
Upload a photo of yourself and their computer scans their data base to find celebrities with features like yours. The software's designed to help people tracing their family trees find resemblances between themselves and possible relatives.
It's quick and it's easy and I did it and now I can tell you.
I look like Pierce Brosnan.
Or Joe Pesci.
There's a set of twins separated at birth.
Honest to God, those are my top two matches.
The site doesn't explain what the software looks for in deciding who you look like. Let me be quick to assure you that when it picked Pesci as a match for me it wasn't going by hairline. The picture they're using of him is from My Cousin Vinny.
For Brosnan and me they must have used an algorithm that matches for charm, sex appeal, and the ability to look good in a dinner jacket.
The feature gives you half a dozen close matches, so I also look like Ernest Borgnine, mathematician Alan Turing, English soccer great Bobby Charlton, and Bono.
The feature does not limit recognitions to your own gender either. But only one woman turned up resembling me.
I'm kind of proud of that one.
Make sure you click on the arrow in the bottom right corner of your results window to see more than the first match.
So I'm picking up the ten year old from day camp this afternoon...
Camp rules on this are clear. Parents must sign the kids out. There was a woman counsellor with a clipboard at the head of the path leading to the parking lot ready and waiting. I was the first up the path. I walked up to her, opened my mouth to tell her who I was and what kid I was taking out of there, and right under my elbow a mother ducked in ahead of me and said brusquely to the counsellor, "Billy Precious leaving with his mom."
The counsellor, who, I should mention, is the mother of one of the campers, did not say to Billy's mom, "Just a minute, ma'am, this gentleman's ahead of you and in fact you interrupted him." She said, "Billy Precious? Ok!" and checked him off.
I went to speak again, and another mother cut in around me on the other side. "I'm Johnny Dearheart's mom, and I've got him, ok?"
The counsellor again forgot me and checked off Johnny Dearheart.
"I'm Jack Man---"
"Tommy and Timmy Angelcheeks are here and we're leaving now. Say goodbye, boys!"
"Tommy and Timmy!" said the counsellor. "Check!"
I tried again. "Jack M----"
"Hi! We're going now!"
"Oh, you're Robby Wonderful's mom?"
"Yes, aren't I lucky?"
"Yes, you are. We all love Robby here."
"Thanks. Bye now!"
One more time. This time I gave it my all.
"Say that again?"
"I'm afraid to. I'm afraid if I keep talking another mother's going to cut in front of me and you'll ignore me again to take care of her."
"I'm Jack Mannion's dad. We're going now."
"Ok." And she'd barely got her pencil to the paper to check us off before two other mothers were telling her they were there.
This happens to me all the time. Anytime I am out somewhere with the boys but without the blonde. I become invisible to mothers.
Since they were babies, no matter where I've taken them, to the zoo, to the playground, to the library, to school, Cub Scout meetings, chess club, swimming lessons, I have been shunned by the mothers of the other children there, some of whom, the children, I mean, were friends with my kids.
The mothers leave me out of conversations they are holding right next to me. The don't respond when I say hello, unless it's with the barest and most perfunctory of nods. They look right through me if I'm standing between them and their kids or another mom.
The only time the mothers pay attention to me is when they need something---a door opened, a dropped item picked up, a kid brought down from a height his mother's too short to rescue him from, the time, an answer to a question about starting times, ending times, prices, sign-ups, or equipment required.
Grandmothers love me.
And young women gush and flirt and giggle and otherwise chat me up.
(For the record, I am not deluding myself on that score. I know that I am being treated like what they see me as, somebody's dad, which means old and basically harmless.)
I've had this phenomenon explained to me in different ways.
I'm trespassing on their turf.
They assume that any man spending time with his kids in public must be doing it under a court order.
They're so busy and harried and distracted, chasing after their own kids they don't have the time or energy to notice the presence of another adult. (Then how is they manage to see each other and fall into conversations with other moms?)
They resent me because I'm doing what they wish their own husbands would do and since their husbands aren't there to take it out on they take it out on me as representative of my gender even though the reason they're filled with resentment is that I am not representative.
I look like a dangerous weirdo.
But I haven't heard any theories more persuasive than my own, which is that fathers are invisible.
But I'm all ears, if you've got a better one.
To be revised with the addition of fiddler crabs. Part one is below, here.
The ten-year old has declared this The Summer of Lighthouse Beach, because we spent more time there this year than he remembers having done on other vacations.
I think of it as the summer of seals and invisible foxes.
The teenager is trying not to think of it as the summer of the pink jellyfish.
Something in my description in my post Tricksters in the night of the animal cry outside the window the other night struck a chord in fightingdem, who's a regular visitor to the Mannion Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary and he wrote in wondering if what Uncle Merlin and I thought was a coyote might have been a fox instead.
I had been asleep about an hour one night when I heard this screaming sound outside my bedroom window. Thinking Cheney had been shooting someone in the face again and I had slept through the shotgun blast I looked out the window only to see my cat streaking up the steps of the deck. I went downstairs to let the cat in, but in the morning did a little search on google because I had been seeing foxes in the neighborhood for awhile. The links to the "cry" sound of the fox was dead on.
He sent along a link to a page of fox calls and cries.
Son of a gun.
Now I really wish I'd caught up with it or at least gotten close enough to see. I've been on the lookout for foxes on the Cape for years, since I read any essay by my favorite Cape Cod writer, Robert Finch, just before the blonde and I came here for our honeymoon.
The essay's called "Foxes on the March." It's included in Finch's collection, Common Ground. In the essay he describes the doings of a family of foxes he met on a salt marsh up in Orleans in behind the dunes at Nauset Beach. It happened that our bed and breakfast was right by Nauset so I spent a lot of time---well, as much time as a guy on his honeymoon wants or dares to spend away from his bride---wandering that marsh, on the lookout for those foxes and scenes like this one Finch saw:
Spread out on the new green of the marsh hay was an entire fox family, two adults and four pups, in full view. The vixen and her pups were together on one side of the little tidal creek near the edge of hte marsh, while the father sat alone on the other side, watching them. The female was colored like the male, reddish in front, shading to dark gray, nearly black, on her rear parts, with a long , thick, white-tipped tail. The pups were all reddish-blond, like the one I had seen the morning before sitting by its den. The mother lay on her side licking one of the pups all over, while a second stood nearby waiting its turn. A few yards away, closer to us, the other pair wer play-fighting and rough-tumbling in the wet, glistening grass.
In all the years since I've met up with only one other fox besides the invisible one I tracked into the grumpy neighbor's driveway last week. This one was in the parking lot behind a restaurant on a Sunday morning, and it wasn't doing anything cute or wild or particularly foxy. It was eyeing a garbage can, just like any stray canine would. A car pulling out of the lot chased it away.
One of the reasons we spent more time at Lighthouse Beach and avoided our other regular swimming hole at Oyster Pond this year is that on our first visit to the beach there the teenager was stung by a jellyfish.
It was a pink jellyfish, not to be confused with the Portuguese Man-of-War, which will drift up this way in warm weather and whose lazy intrusions have closed beaches along Nantucket Sound this year. A Portuguese Man-of-War isn't a true jellyfish. It isn't even an it. It's a they. They're a they.
According to Dorothy Sterling in The Outer Lands, an indispensible guide to the natural history of the Cape, the islands, and the Cape's geologic cousin, Long Island, a Portuguese Man-of-War is:
actually a complex colony of animals made up of sevaral different kinds of individuals. Although it is often hard to tell where one individual ends and the other begins, some are responsible for capturing food, others for eating, and still others for defense and reproduction.
The Portuguese Man of War's "stinging cells contain the most powerful poison known in marine animals" but the sting of a pink jellyfish is not anything to sneeze at.
Oyster Pond has always been home to moon jellies. Pink jellyfish, however, seem to come and go. This is one of those years when they've come and brought their friends.
In cold northern waters, where they can stretch out and be themselves, pink jellyfish---which are also known as red jellyfish and Lion's Mane---can grow to be eight feet in diameter, their tentacles two hundred feet long. Along the Cape, though, they don't get much bigger than a foot across, and in Oyster Pond they're small enough to fit in a Mason jar.
Still, you don't want even one of the tiny pond-dwelling ones to sting you, and the teenager warned us about them when he spotted a couple while we were swimming off the raft out in the pond.
The jellyfish got him as we were swimming back in towards the beach.
He said it felt like a half dozen bees had stung him up and down his forearm. Fortunately, the lifeguards had some meat tenderizer in their first aid kit and that did the trick. Within half an hour, the teenager was wading out into the shallows with his net and specimen jar, determined to exact some revenge.
I try not to let my imagination get ahead of things and start planning the boys' future careers for them. I hope that their talents and inclinations and good sense will take them down paths to jobs that will make them happy and secure and encourage whatever interest or enthusiasm has captured them at the moment, figuring that one day one of these will be the one that marks them for its own.
But if he decides that's what he wants to do, the teenager will make a fine field biologist. He has excellent vision and is a keen observer. He remembers everything. And he likes animals, all kinds, even the many-legged, creepier kind. He is cautious but not afraid. A couple summers ago we went up to the Audubon Sanctuary in Wellfleet for a presentation on lizards and reptiles featuring...lizards and reptiles, the latter being mostly snakes and turtles, including a snapping turtle of uncertain temper.
In addition to the snakes, turtles, iguanas, and company, the zoologist running the show had brought along a special, extra-species guest star. He asked for a volunteer to come up and pet it and hold it. Only one kid put up his hand.
No more fiddler crabs this year. No more jellyfish, no more seals or coyotes, foxes, or ospreys. We leave the Cape in the morning.
Regular, mostly animal-free blogging will resume Monday.
Time for one last night time coffee run.
The scene that follows the previous installment of my short story, Her Life, is too long and talky to post here. So I'm skipping ahead to the next scene.
All night long the bar in the low-ceilinged room upstairs at Coleman’s had been packed. Finally, only a few minutes before last call, it was beginning to clear out. Bone-weary, sad, hot, and irritable, Kathy leaned on the bar with her chin on her fists and stared across the room and out through the open terrace doors. The umbrellaed tables outside were empty. All except one. And at that one sat three college girls celebrating one of their birthdays with a fourth round of Cajun martinis. Kathy accused them of blocking the breeze.
“Look what the cat dragged in,” Kara brayed. She stood behind Stephen, her arms around his shoulders, her breasts flattened against his back, and leered at her sister. “Daiquiri for me.” She got a kick out of having Kathy wait on her. Kara must have dragged Stephen in here just to annoy her. Stephen hated Coleman’s. All the fish nets and plastic starfish, the tourist kids picking out lobsters they’d be too grossed out to eat from the tanks downstairs—That’s us, he liked to say, All us locals, we’re on the menu. Fucking catch of the day’s what we are. Fucking lobsters in a pot. No other reason to exist 'cept to make their vacations fun. Worth a post card. "Come see the colorful locals in their native habitat, fawning all over us for fucking minium wage."
“Don’t seem surprised to see me.”
“Figured I’d turn up, huh?”
“Have a way of doing that, don’t I?”
“Doesn’t he look great?” Kara sat herself down on the stool next to Stephen, turned toward him, with her legs crossed and her chin cupped hin her hand and her elbow resting on her knee, so that she leaned forward, her tits practically spilling out her blouse. She tucked her foot under his leg and rubbed it up and down along the back of his calf. Catching Kathy’s glaring eye, she said, “I’m not going to share.”
Stephen said, “Could look at me, you know. Been over a year.”
“I remember what you look like,” Kathy replied.
“Couldn’t get me out of your mind, that it? Dreaming about me the whole time? Orgasms waking you up at night, visions of my handsome face make you sit up screaming my name?”
“That was me,” Kara said.
“Good to see you again, Kath.” He flashed his Aren’t I Devastating grin. Usually it bought him no arguments. Kathy said, “Wish I could say the same.”
“Oh man! I’m hurt. I’m truly hurt!”
“Kathy,” Kara said, “Our drinks.”
What could she do? They were customers. Customers said fetch, she fetched.
One winter, just about 20 years ago, a storm surge sent a wave up and over the sandbar that had protected Lighthouse Beach from the open ocean. When the wave receeded it drew itself backwards like a saw and made a cut in the sandbar. It wasn't much, the shallowest of trenches, but it was enough.
Each succeeding wave sent water spilling down through the sandbar, digging the trench deeper and wider and it wasn't long before the bar was broken in half and then completely swamped and then sunk and then erased. The headlands were now wide open to the sea, and the sea went to work.
The bottoms of three streets that had ended at the formerly placid backwater lagoon were carved away. A half dozen homes were undermined, swamped, demolished, and carried off on the waves.
This happened in less than an instant of time measured in a geologic time. In human time it took several months. Slow as the process might have been tracked on a calender, it was inexorable. There was nothing the people who owned the houses could do but watch their property being eaten by the sea.
Another big storm came along four years later and dredged the new channel deeper, opening up that stretch of land under the lighthouse even more nakedly to the ocean.
But when the Atlantic was finally done deconstructing it began to build. What it built was beach. (This is pure figure of speech. Building beaches is also a form of unbuilding. Sand that's dumped here has been torn away from somewhere else, and it's only here on a rest stop anyway. Eventually---there are a more than a few millennia in that eventually, of course---everything that is now Cape Cod will be piled up against the southern New Jersey coast.) A big, wide, gorgeous, sandy, post card picture of a beach. But a changing beach. The ocean won't leave it alone.
Every year we return to a rearrangement of shoreline. I mentioned this year that the beach now has a curve it didn't have before. It swings outward towards Portugal where it used to run parallel to the Iberian coast. There's also a second point, this one closer in to the Lighthouse and an acre of shallows between it and the next jut. Monday, the Mannions and Uncle Merlin walked out from the new, first point and out across those shallows, aiming at the high surf crashing on the far point where the boys intended to give their boogie boards a workout.
It's a good hike, and takes time, especially if you're stopping every dozen yards to swim. By the time we were halfway between points a fog from Nantucket Sound had rounded around the elbow of the Cape and we walked into it.
Uncle Merlin decided that with the air suddenly so much cooler he'd be more comfortable if he just swam for it. He's a powerful swimmer and with a few strokes had pulled himself out of sight, lost to us in the fog. He wasn't worried about actually being lost. But he began to hear a roaring that sounded to him like the two-cycle engine of a jet ski. Then something broke up out of the water ahead of him.
The big, black head of a seal.
Then the breeze shifted, the fog shredded, and he saw that the water was full of big, black heads, and beyond them was a small island that was black with big, fat, tubular bodies, dozens of them.
Uncle Merlin decided it would be a good time to stop swimming.
We had caught up with him, by this time, and the five of us spent the better part of an hour alternately watching seals through the binoculars and swimming in the low breakers.
We didn't sing to them, although commenter ajay recommends it, having serendaded seals himself in his time.
...they like anything melodic. We always tried Scots songs and hymns when I was a kid. The seals used to get interested, swim closer inshore and sing back. Very eerie experience.
Thirty years ago, almost all the gray seals had been driven off the Cape. Too many people, too many boats, too few fish. It's estimated that there were as few as twenty left in the 1970s.
Conservation, habitat protection, regulated fishing, and, probably, some natural selection have combined so that now the seals' numbers are reckoned to be around 6000 on the Monomoy Islands, which is just south of Lighthouse Beach.
Seals attract attention.
Not just people's attention.
As I said, we were out there Monday. On Saturday somebody else was out there enjoying the seals.
On Saturday, Paul Bremser was at Chatham's Lighthouse Beach preparing to go surfing. He had one leg into his wetsuit when he heard someone yell, ''Shark!''
He looked up to see a big fin circling a seal, just beyond the breakers about 75 feet away.
''After it came around in a full circle, the shark came off from the back side and cut him in half with one bite,'' said Bremser, a commercial fishermen with 28 years of experience fishing out of Chatham. The seal tried to swim away as a pool of blood spread around it. The shark went down, then the seal dropped out of sight.
''It's a classic, textbook, attack pattern for a great white,'' said Greg Skomal, shark expert for the state Division of Marine Fisheries.
The sight of a great white shark hunting down seals among swimmers and surfers is not comforting and could be the start of a disturbing trend.
That's from Tuesday's Cape Cod Times.
''With an increasing seal population, in all likelihood we may see a redistribution of white sharks to target that,'' Skomal said.
Two years ago, Skomal tagged a 14-foot, 1,700-pound great white that was trapped in a shallow lagoon and coastal waters off Naushon Island for two weeks.
But, he noted, great whites are still extremely rare in our waters. No great white has ever been hooked in the 19 years of the Martha's Vineyard shark fishing tournament, with more than 200 vessels participating each year. And Skomal has been trying in vain for two years to find another great white to tag, after the tag fell off the Naushon beast soon after it was freed.
In hundreds of years, Massachusetts has had only three possible attacks by great whites, the last one in 1938 in Buzzards Bay.
''You don't have very high attacks on people, even in South Africa (where there are far more sharks),'' Skomal said.
Chatham Town Administrator William Hinchey said the town had increased patrols on land and sea following the incident Saturday, but had seen no evidence of sharks in the area. He said the town would continue beefed-up patrolling into the near future.
Skomal ruled out seal eaters like the Greenland shark, which prefers deeper, colder waters far offshore, and the tiger shark, a tropical species found 60 miles or more out in the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream.
He said he would be coming to Chatham to look for the shark and tag it.
End of Part One.
Chatham began battening down the spiritual hatches yesterday afternoon, preparing for Tropical Storm Beryl to do its worst to our collective mood as well as to roofs, windows, and boats. Conversations finished up and down Main Street with, "Stay dry," and "Don't get blown away." A happy TV guy interviewing tourists out in front of the bookstore was thrilled by the possibility Beryl was going to knock us all six ways from Sunday and fill our shoes with water.
"I love weather!" he exclaimed to a couple he had frozen in front of his camera and he threw an arm over the woman's shoulder and pulled her to him for a hug.
At 10:30 last night I went out to find a cup of coffee and get a feel for what might be blowing in. The air was heavy and humid but there was no wind and although the sky was clouded over, the clouds were high, and there were breaks where stars shone through. But the streets felt swept of people, and the shops emptier and darker than usual for this time of night. And Daisy's, my late night hope for coffeee, had closed earlier, a handwritten note taped to the front door apologizing for that---insincerely, I thought.
Fortunately, the Anytime Cafe was living up to its name---it doesn't always, there have been plenty of times when I've gone there and it's been closed---and put into port there. There were no other customers. A tall, burly, boyish college worked the counter and a there was a waitress still on the clock, dark-haired, pale, with a comical grin, but pretty and with an air of practicality and skill---someone who knew how to do her job well and got a kick out of it. Both greeted me cheerfully, with no sign that they felt cheated out of a chance to close up early by the arrival of another customer.
While the counter guy was getting my coffee, another employee, another college kid, skinny, with thick wavy hair and wearing a long apron came out from the back room pushing a broom that he leant on for a second to watch the silent TV on the wall. Colorful arrows swirled and darted over a green map of the New England coastline.
I asked the counter guy if he'd heard the latest forecast. He said he hadn't been paying attention. The TV had been on mute. He, the waitress, and I had a short conversation about how trying to follow the weather news on TV can be maddening, frustrating, and useless. No matter how much you tell yourself that that this storm might be the storm, the weatherfolk and news chatterers have cried wolf so many times that you just can't help tuning it out.
The counter guy said that the news people are all afraid that another Katrina will blow up and they'll miss getting the jump on the competition in covering it. He remembered how a few summers back sharks were all over the news the way hurricanes have been this year. There'd been a couple of shark attacks in local waters and the TV news types went on Jaws watch 24/7.
Turned out, according to the counter guy, there were fewer shark attacks than average that summer.
Heading down Main St with my cup of coffee I came upon a small crowd on the sidwalk looking up at the second floor porch of a storefront where another TV crew had set up. A reporter was waiting to go live. The lights were on, spilling enough onto the street below that the crowd down there was as brightly illuminated as the reporter himself, and the cameraman was waiting with his camera shouldered and aimed.
The reporter was not the same guy I saw hugging tourists earlier. He was younger, thinner---very thin, in fact, with a narrow, sharp-featured face, all nose and long jawline under his baseball cap. He held his mic at the ready and was moving his jaw side to side, compressing his lips comically, loosening up his talking muscles.
A couple of long mintues pass and then, without any signal that we civilians could hear, the reporter wore an earphone, he started talking to the camera. He was good at it. He treated the lens as if it was the eyes of whatever anchor he was connected to back at the station---at one point he missed something the anchor said and, asking for the question to be repeated, leaned his head toward the camera as if it was talking and he needed to get in closer to hear it better.
Turned out he had nothing to report. All he could do was talk about the weather the Cape has had, the tropical wetness that turned New England into a terrarium all spring. "There's no correlation," he was quick to point out, not wanting to be caught predicting anything. "But it's often the case that the patterns of the spring will continue through July and August." Which was to say that hot, wet, muggy Junes have been followed by hot, wet, muggy summers during which there have been hurricanes and tropical storms and there have been hurricanes and tropical storms in other summers too and around here most hot, wet, muggy summers go by without the Cape sinking or washing or blowing away.
But in other developments: the reporter switched gears and topics instantly and smoothly. "We got to spend the day with the Harbor Master!"
Cut to tape.
This morning was cloudy and blustery with signs that there'd been rain in the night. I walked down to the beach. The storm, what there'd been of it, had left behind three TV news trucks, with their satellite dishes raised. There was a crew down on the beach, standing on the water's edge, a power cable snaking down the stairs and out to them across the sand. The crew from the second truck had gotten permission from the Coast Guard to set up in the lighthouse. The cameraman, a young man with a ballcap on backwards was away from his equipment, leaning on his arms on the glass and staring morosely out at the not very wild ocean.
The third crew were in their truck drinking coffee and glaring out at the beach and the awful bleakness of a non-story undeveloping before them.
By the time I came back with the blonde and the boys an hour later, the trucks were gone. The wind had died and the clouds were breaking up. There were some good sized breakers but that was just hide tide.
Seacoast towns and fishing villages like Chatham have to be wary of storms, and if a hurricane comes along forcing the Cape to be evacuated, it'd be a nightmare. But the weather news these days is just a matter of improvised storm watches. TV covers weather all the time as if catastrophe lurks in every stray cloud and any snowflake might be the start of a historic blizzard. I've often wondered who the audience for all this weather news is.
Now I know.
It's Tom Watson.
Tom, a self-confessed lightningphobe, is convinced that nature is out to get him, and it's out to get him with the most determination and most cruelty in summertime, as he reports in The Isobar Scene.
On top of the bluffs across the Mill Pond there's a house that used to be owned by David Angell, a writer and producer for Cheers and a co-creator of Fraiser, who was onboard one of the two planes that slammed into the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Angell and his wife, who was on the plane too, were in the middle of renovating the house when they died.
For the next two summers the house sat vacant and unfinished. Outer walls were left unsided, sheathed in plywood, window frames were blank, the frame of an extension stood bare and, although I'm tempted to call it skeletal, it simply looked like what it was, an organized pile of neglected lumber.
The Angells had no children. No one I asked seemed to know if there were any heirs or what would happen to the house now. Whenever people talked about it, the concensus was always that the house would never be completed or occupied. Someone could be counted on to say something like, "They'll never sell it now" or "I wouldn't live there. How could anybody, knowing..."
This is the kind of thing that's said about houses where some tragedy has occured, usually a grisly murder. People who don't believe in curses or ghosts will shudder at the very idea of living there. Their own imaginations would haunt them well enough, without anything having to reach out through their TV screens to grab them.
But, outside of the movies, I've never seen or even heard of a house with a bloody history being left permanently abandoned. Shortly before I moved to Fort Wayne there was a double homicide in the neighborhood where the blonde had found us an apartment. A gay couple was murdered in their living room by a thug one of them had met in a bar and brought home. For weeks afterwards the yellow police tape was left wrapped around the house. Then, one day, it was gone and there were cars in the driveway and lights on in the windows at night.
By 2004, work had begun again on the Angells' house and that summer we could see lights on inside when we went down to the dock and looked across the pond at night. There are three big houses close together on that bluff, and this morning I was walking by the pond and I couldn't even remember which house was that house, and of course there's nothing about it to tell me which it is. Its awful history is just a story now. The house is alive with some other family's summer memories.
This is as it should be. The earth belongs to the living, as Jefferson liked to say, the dead are not even things.
The story of the house's revitalization always makes me think of a story from Thoreau's journals, a Cape Cod story, as it happens. Here it is.
June 18, 1857. A youngish man came into Small's with a thick outside coat, when a girl asked where he got that coat. He answered that it was taken off a man that came ashore dead, and he had worn it a year or more. The girls or young ladies expressed surprise that he should be willing to wear it and said, 'You'd not dare to go to sea with that coat on.' But he answered that he might just as well embark in that coat as any other.
Continued from here.
He wasn’t asleep when she returned. The light on her dresser was on and he was kneeling up on the bed, dialing the phone on the night stand.
“Who are you calling?”
“You made me nervous. I want to make sure he’s not going to come walking in on us.”
Kathy didn’t say it, but she thought it was a good idea, calling to check. It’d be just her luck, Charlie barging in, all weepy and full of loneliness and self-pity, and there she is, in bed with the guy he’s decided is his new best friend. She angled her way from the door to the foot of the bed and stood by the window, pretending to look out. Really she was peeking back over her shoulder to admire Robby’s body.
“That was my sister,” she said.
“What did you hear?”
“Just voices. Why? Were you talking about me?”
He knew she was watching. He straightened himself up on his knees, squared his shoulders, tightened his ass. His back was three-quarters to her. Still, she could see him growing aroused. She almost laughed out loud at his vanity, and would have if she had not found it so appealing and if she had not been made breathless by the sight of him. Kathy had never been with anybody this perfect. And Robby had never had a woman who cared that he was beautiful. In his world, despite all the classes they took on “gender issues” and all the bullshit they spouted about sexual equality, women received and men gave. All the admiration flowed one way. Girls he knew expected their boyfriends to be gorgeous the way they expected them to be pre-law or pre-med or future MBAs. The men they dated were accessories to their own beautiful bodies, jewelry that called attention to the wearers. Over the course of eight summers, Kathy had waited tables with dozens of these girls and she had come to the conclusion that they would all be just as content to be made love to by their own bedroom mirrors. When they looked at a guy like Robby, they saw only their own reflections. For girls like that, Robby stripped for sex the way he stripped for work at the yacht club. Kathy was the first woman who admitted getting wet at the sight of him, and he was taking advantage of the fact. Not that she minded.
“He’s not picking up,” Robby announced with a worried frown.
Kathy sat down on the bed. “Forget Charlie. He shows, he shows. What do we care? What does he care?” She shrugged off her robe. Robby looked at her and smiled.
“Maybe he’s asleep. I’ll let it ring a couple more times.”
She let her eyes drift over him and onto the print on the wall behind him. She’d driven the nail for it in the perfect spot, so that it hung there at eye level for any guy kneeling behind her. She called it her Japanese etching, although it wasn’t so much an etching as a cartoon. And it probably wasn’t Japanese. It was just that all the characters in it were naked samurai warriors and naked geisha girls.
It'd been a joke birthday present from Kara, who hadn't believed she'd have the nerve to hang the thing.
Some guys got a kick out of it. It inspired them. Some guys never even noticed. A couple had laughed out loud. One guy it had turned off completely. Turtled him right up. He fell back on the bed cursing her. Called her sick and twisted and a crazy bitch. When she laughed at that, he tried to hit her. But since he was using his good hand to cover his crotch, he swung at her weakly, like a girl, and barely clipped her. She’d thought about taking the picture down after that.
She’d never gotten around to it.
Earlier tonight she'd been glad.
Robby'd liked it.
He said it symbolized something about her.
“What? That I’m a Japanese whore with a thing for S and M?”
No! Not at all, he said.
“Well, to tell you the truth, I’ve got a little of that in me. You ever decide I deserve to be punished—“
He was talking about her soul, he said. Choosing that picture, where she picked to hang it, it was a work of conceptual art.
“Go to hell!”
“I mean it. You have the soul of an artist.”
But she was laughing. And he did mean it. After they tried following the examples of some of the samurai and geishas, finding only one couple that wasn’t recommending the impossible, and then lay there holding onto each other, Kathy thinking she might still be coming as she tried to regain control of her breathing and wondering how she had lucked into this one, he talked to her about the Asian collection at the MFA up in Boston and described his favorite paintings, most of which were by Chinese not Japanese artists. But there was one painter, not so old, though his style was ancient in some ways, very modern in others, an influence on the Impressionists, Monet owned copies of his prints, he was Japanese. Would she like to go up to Boston some time, to the museum, let him show her what he was talking about?
If someone had asked her that even two hours ago she’d have said she couldn’t think of anything more boring.
“Yes,” she'd said, “Yes, I would like that very much.”
Now she frowned at the pure-white geishas and the hung-like-horses samurai.
A work of conceptual art, my ass! The picture was stupid. And she was stupid for hanging it there. He didn’t know her. If he thought she had the soul of an artist, he didn’t know her at all. He looked at her, he saw somebody else, somebody more like the girls he was used to. The someone he thought she was was all in his head, he’d made her up. When he left the Cape at the end of the summer he’d take his invented Kathy with him and never for a moment miss the body he’d left behind.
Robby slammed down the phone. He grinned. “I woke him up. We’re safe. Hey! What’s wrong?”
“Charlie. My sister.” She sighed, wiped the tears out from behind the lenses of her glasses. “Robby. Do you know how old I am?”
He shrugged. He hadn’t thought about it. “Twenty, twenty-one.”
“I wish. And you're sweet. Or blind. Or a liar. I’m twenty-six.”
“Really? My sister’s twenty-six.”
“Don’t tell her that.”
“I’m twenty-six, and I’ve been married.”
“No kidding? What happened? Didn’t work out?”
“Puts a lot of stress on your marriage when your husband’s in jail.”
“My ex-husband, he’s sort of a criminal.”
“What sort of criminal?”
“Robbery. Burglary. He hit a cop once.”
“Wow. No wonder you divorced him.”
“That’s not why. I mean. It was one reason. He was screwing around on me, too. But you know what? That wasn’t it either. I would have put up with that, that’s how dumb I was, am. But he.” This next piece of news was going to be a lot tougher to deliver. “He hit my daughter.”
She leaned back across the bed, her head touching the wall. She ran her finger over her belly. “Didn’t you notice the scar? That’s from my Caesarian. I got pregnant my junior year in high school."
“Was he the father?”
“No. The father was some other guy. He was never in the picture.”
“Where is she? I didn’t see any signs, you know? That a kid lives here?”
“I send her to live with my mother in Plymouth during the summers. I just work too much, you know? The diner every day, Coleman’s on the weekends. When school’s out I can’t keep track of her. Charlie calls her the Reverse Fresh Air Fund kid.”
“I don’t know. My mother didn’t do such a good job with me and my sister, did she?”
“She did fine with you. I think so anyway.”
Robby made his way over to her. He knelt beside her, staring at her belly, not showing off anymore, and, she couldn’t help noticing, definitely drooping.
“So now you know what an idiot I am, huh?”
Robby shook his head. He took her hand and placed it on him. Then he bent and ran his finger along the scar, tracing the path he was about to follow with his kisses.
When I talk about solitude, I am really talking also about making space for that intense, hungry face at the window, starved cat, starved person. It is making space to be there.---May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude.
I like to think that as a writer I'm an extrovert, spending most of my time at my keyboard or notebook out and about in the world, so to speak, and not all that interested in chronicling the inside of my own head.
A delusional thought for a blogger, and a three-minute random browse through my archives would turn up a dozen proofs of how I'm kidding myself.
But at least when I'm down here I do more looking outward than inward. I make sure of that.
Every year when we come to the Cape one of the first things I do, if not at the bookstore around the corner our first night in town, then at the library the next afternoon, is find a book I haven't read yet about Cape Cod. Then I settle down to read as much as I can of it in a night to fill my head with all the information I can about the Cape, reminding myself of stuff I already knew and, with luck, discovering lots I didn't, about the people here, the history, the geography, the flora and fauna, and the weather.
This gives me a checklist of things to keep my eyes open for, and the rest of the vacation I'm on the lookout for whatever it was that I picked up from that book. I don't always find the same things the author found, but I find something.
The first book that inspired and guided me this way was, naturally, Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau.
I read that one the first time when I was in college and it inspired me to drag two of my friends down here one October weekend and follow Thoreau's path up the beach from Eastham to Provincetown. That's about a 30 mile walk, and slow going on sand. And it turned out that one of the things I failed to learn from Thoreau, although it seems impossible that I missed this, was that he hadn't walked the whole way in two days. He had done it over the course of several visits.
I staggered into Provincetown all alone, my two friends having given up, left the beach, and put out their thumbs just before Wellfleet.
I can still recreate that walk step for step, though, and an awful lot that I've learned since about the Cape I learned trying to find in other books the names and explanations for all that I saw along the way.
I re-read Cape Cod just before the blonde and I got married and I brought it along on our honeymoon, along with the book that is still my favorite, Common Ground by Robert Finch.
His Outlands is just about as good.
Finch is to my mind the best of the Cape Cod writers, although John Hay is a close enough second that I find I often prefer to re-read his books to Finch's. That may be just because I think I've committed Finch's essays to memory and I "re-read" every time I take a walk here.
Over the years I've put together a small library of about twenty books about the Cape and I've probably read about half as many more that I've borrowed from the real library. I could read a hundred more and not feel I've come close to being done, but, amazingly, and dismayingly, I've had a hard time this year settling on a book.
I thought I had one. Darwin's Audubon by Gerald Weissman. The books I choose to read don't have to be specifically or exclusively about Cape Cod; they just have to have a Cape connection and offer me some guidance in finding my way around here and knowing what to look for. Weissman is a physician, biochemist, and professor of medicine who writes generally about science and medicine, but he used to work at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole and the essays in the first of his books I read, The Woods Hole Cantanta, although not all about Cape Cod, were informed by his experiences in Woods Hole, both as a scientist and a summer resident.
But Darwin's Audubon hasn't grabbed me so far. The Cape seems very far away from the essays I've read. It's interesting to know that Darwin thought of Audubon as being a scientist and not just an artist with an eye for birds and relied on his work when writing The Origin of the Species. But it's not information I've been able to take to the beach with me, even when I've been watching the birds there.
I almost switched to A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson. But it didn't take much skimming for me to realize that this was not a book about Cape Cod, it was a book about being Joan Anderson alone with herself on Cape Cod, and I was not part of the intended audience, the book's aimed at women who want to be alone with themselves on Cape Cod.
Might have been unfair of me to dismiss it out of hand as a woman's book, but it didn't help that the book jacket made clear that Anderson has developed a cottage industry based around her books of self-help for women who have suddenly found themselves, mostly by way of divorce, apparently, alone with their thoughts for long periods of time and who like it that way.
What is it about women, I asked myself as I put A Year By the Sea back in its place on the shelf in the bookstore, that makes them so enamoured of the idea of solitude?
And why are they so interested in telling each other about it?
Seems an oxymoronic pursuit.
Men don't do that. Solitude drives men mad. Maroon a man on a desert island and he'll either go out of his mind in a hurry or he'll find ways of not being alone. He will come home with long tales of the lives of breadfruit.
Strand a woman on a desert island and after she gets over her ecstatic feelings she'll build a desk in the most secluded spot she can find and spend her days writing with a pen made from seagull's feather in ink made from berry juice about how she's amazed herself with all the wonders she's discovered while exploring the depths of her own heart and soul.
And after she's rescued her book will be the bestseller.
This was a ridiculously sexist thought and just plain stupid of me, considering that the very first grownup book of nonfiction I ever read was Walden.
And it was especially dumb when one of the classics of Cape Cod literature, Henry Beston's The Outermost House, a love letter to solitude if ever there was one, was right there, face out on the shelf.
As it happens, I don't particularly like The Outermost House, too much of weather reporting, both outside Beston's shack and inside his head, and at any rate in some ways it's not a chronicle of solitude as much as it's the story of a would-be recluse who's a failure at his calling and spends most of his time on the lookout for interruptions to his solitude.
But still I have this prejudice. Women writers want to be alone with their thoughts in order to write about their thoughts. It's not that men don't want to be alone with their thoughts; it's that they want to write about the things going outside their windows while they are thinking.
Partly this prejudice is based on what the women I know have said about their desire to be alone. It seems to me that women have a harder time finding time to themselves. The demands of their marriages or partnerships, their feelings of duty to their parents and children and friends won't leave them alone.
Their very friendships with each other offer no relief.
Women don't seem to have the ability that men have of being friends without talking.
If I were more persuaded by evolutionary psychology I would say that this is because of the way gender roles evolved in hunter-gatherer societies. Gathering is a very social activity, you have to talk about what you're picking, compare your finds to others', plus there's time to talk and no reason to be quiet as you're not going to scare away the nuts and berries. And the children are along and they need to be entertained and scolded and fussed over.
Meanwhile, a man who couldn't keep his mouth shut while out hunting was a postive danger to himself, the rest of the party, and the community.
But whether or not what people had to do to survive 10,000 years ago has a determining influence over how people behave now is beside the point. The point---my point---is that it seems to me that women's lives are to a greater degree than men's a matter of contiunal enforced sociability, so it shouldn't be any wonder that the desire for time alone, for quiet, for the chance to keep company solely with one's own self and listen, for once, only to the voices inside and not to the chatter of others, should be strong and attractive to the point of compelling.
It's hard for me to imagine a man walking out of his marriage just to be alone for a while, as Anderson did.
But I can not only imagine women doing it, I've known women who have or who have wanted to.
My prejudice that women who find themselves alone at last are then compelled to write about it, which is a way of saying talk about it, is based on one woman.
I am here alone for the first time in weeks, to take up my "real" life again at last. This is what is strange---that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time along in which to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened. Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet I taste it fully only when I am alone here and "the house and I resume old conversations"
I've had a longstanding prejudice against May Sarton, and it's because for years I kept confusing her with Anne Sexton.
My prejudice against Sexton is probably unfair too, but what I've read of her and her work have made me think of her as a dangerous narcissist and narcissism, even when it's expressed through sexual adventuring, is boring. I don't like Henry Miller either. Somehow I got it into my head that Sarton was Sexton, or very much like her, so I avoided reading her poetry, her novels, and, most energetically, her journals.
But on top of my anti-Sarton as Sexton bias, was my belief that her journals were women's books, like Joan Anderson's, extended descriptions of what she observed after a day staring into the mirror of her own soul.
The value of solitude---one of its values---is, of course, that there is nothing to cushion against attacks from within, just as there is nothing to help balance at times of particular stress or depression. A few moments of desultory conversation with dear Arnold Miner, when he comes to take the trash may calm an inner storm. But the storm, painful as it is, might have had some truth in it. So sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination if one can live through it, attentive to what it exposes or demands.
I've often thought of spending a year on the Cape. I've been here for parts of all four seasons, but I would like to be here for the whole of all of them, to observe each one through the course of its development and watch as one blends into the next. When I think of myself doing this, after having won the lottery so that I can afford it, I see myself living not here in Chatham, but farther out, up beyond Wellfleet, but not all the way to Provincetown, somewhere around Truro, I guess, which is to say I see myself in a small cottage in what's the loneliest and most untrafficked part of the Cape even in summer. In the winter out there, without having to try too hard, you can go a week without seeing another human being.
This is a dream of solitude. And, bet on it, I'd be writing about it the whole time. Now, it's not the alone-ness I want. I want the lack of distractions so that I can concentrate harder on the things I usually only get to observe cursorily and in passing when we're here on vacation.
I don't see myself as being truly alone even. The blonde and the boys are there and not there, I feel their company even though I don't see them beside me. They're probably down here in Chatham, and I'm dropping in on them regularly, which sounds like I'd be cheating on the whole experiment, doesn't it?
But it's almost impossible to be alone anywhere, even if you're dilligent about withdrawing into solitude.
And now it is time that I laid aside, at least for a few hours a day, the world that pours in here from outside, and resumed my own life in this nunnery where one woman meditates alone. But there is no way of "laying aside" a knock at the door.
May Sarton's Journal of a Solitude is really a chronicle of solitude contstantly interrupted. She opens the book by telling about her friend and handyman Perley Cole's slow dying in a nursing home and her visits to him there as she did her best to keep him company in his last days. Entry after entry that follows is about Sarton's escaping either from solitude into company or from company back into solitidue, so much so that how to manage being with company seems to be the real theme of the book.
By now you've probably guessed that I've found my Cape book.
Sarton wrote Journal of a Solitude in New Hampshire, and except what cultural and geography and history New Hampshire and the Cape share in being parts of New England, there isn't anything specifically about here that I can learn from reading about there.
But I'm learning a lot, nevertheless.
About writing, which is good.
About the stupidity of my own prejudices, which is better.
The blonde likes to sleep in a bit when we're down here, rising just in time to organize us and get us out the door to whatever adventure we've scheduled for the day. But this morning she was up early for her. I suggested that she take the opportunity to go for a long walk or a bike ride.
She was suspicious of my solicitude.
"Why are you pushing me out the door?" she wanted to know.
"I just thought you'd like some time alone," I said, with loving understanding. "I know how you women crave and need time to yourselves."
"It's not women who build Fortresses of Solitude," she said.