Commentary Magazine


Losing Sight

How strange it is that I fairly often forget what has happened and get shocked back into awareness of it, over and over, each time as if it were a brand new happening. So the misery stays fresh and violent, when not obliviated in that curious closet I seem to have built for it.

It stays there—shy wicked chameleon beast—even as I ruminate more or less all day, like a cow on its cud, on other people’s worse sufferings. Type by type, name by name, many of course being known cases, mixed with the various mass horrors we take in by report. If we do take them in. Must get back to that some time—what we privileged ones, as we’re called (and are, oh yes!), ever do know of war, famine, torture, etc. As if it weren’t hard enough to consider the widows and others whose telephone numbers you know by heart, the bereaved parents, the friends struck by some nightmare disease.

Their faces parade in the kitchen sink, over the bed you still for some reason make each day, everywhere, all day. All the time you’re thinking which is worse, and how do they stand it, and why. Idiot gloom, not even playing at empathy. That it is not. It also serves no purpose, for them or for you. Just a question of thinking who you are luckier than. For God’s sake. That would be most of the world’s population, wouldn’t it?

Still, if so, what of it? You were following the obits anyway the last few years. It’s normal to congratulate yourself when somebody younger than you kicks off, especially suicides; moral as well as genetic superiority there. But keep on the track, my friend, if friend we can be to ourselves in such extremity. You’re afflicted now. You’ve got to cope or decide not to, isn’t that so? Then stop denying it, in your sneaky way. Open that closet. Face the facts.

Bullshit, as the children say. And by the way, “cope” is a viler word than that nowadays; very rapid diseases of language in our time. At the moment the warning I had in mind was just to watch the Pollyanna syndrome: sweet little me, so brave, better off than so many others, would gladly trade, give, something. Would NOT. Am NOT. This is HELL—out of the blue too ( ha, ha)—any worse you wouldn’t be hearing this much squeak out of me. Fact remains, does it not, I have extraordinary blessings to count, yes indeedy. Can walk, talk, cook. Have love and loving lovely family—no goons or cult-cranks or other disasters there. Am not lonely or hungry or mistreated by anybody I know of, and can still dial the telephone if it’s the shape I know, not one of those horrid new square pushbutton jobs

If it’s medical terms you want, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’ll never write or say the nasty words, so you know it’s not glaucoma, that’s only one word. It’s nothing I ever heard of before, though not too uncommon they say. Poor people. So I’m the lucky one again, beside a beautiful brook in Vermont and hearing Homer read aloud almost every night.

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Lapse there, a week or so. Things crawl along in some sort of development—good or bad, hard to tell; such matters seem to be up for redefinition, like everything else. Finding-cause-for-cheer-in-spite-of-it-all, or breaking into cheer without cause—like hives—hard to put down. And why want to, you might ask? Why not just be grateful for such a constitution, habit of pleasure in life, or whatever. Because it’s senseless, under these conditions; idiotic; that’s why. Like (just like?) neurotic depression I never could understand or feel much sympathy for, God forgive me.

Another thing to watch out for: “What difference does it make now,” no question mark. Betty S. and all the others with terminal this and that, lungs mainly, smoking cigarettes like crazy, like hooked teenagers. And why not? Will get to that. There must be a reason, of some Ethical Culture type. Anyway I feel there’s a reason and take that as evident, true-believer fashion. However, am still smoking myself, am holding a cigarette this minute and not bothering to argue that it’s not lungs in my case. The doctors won’t quite say it’s just as bad, or any better either. There are certain hints and suggestions—meaning they don’t know and on this particular point nobody is trying to find out. Funds lacking probably, maybe interest too.

Imagine. Here we are with all those marvelous instruments snooping around on Mars—Mars! War god! We’ve been getting a lot of him in the Iliad, under the name of Ares of course, and how upset he was by his own half-mortal son’s death—and right here at hand is this catastrophe to a little living organism called ME and they politely wash their hands of it, although no eleven-month journey, twenty-two round trip, is needed to look into it and there’s no question as to existence of life in it. None at all. I breathe, I laugh, with a little caution can even run, and it costs them no billions, not a red cent, to get the phenomenon under their cameras. Come here, Mars, they say, and off I go at my own or our own expense, good little planet-puppy, to this hospital and that, wherever they say. Not that they’re all fools or s.o.b.’s by any means. You hear about such doctors but mine have been dears, darlings—good kind people, probably bright too. They just don’t know. About me and all those others.

Which others? how many? who are they? how many stars on the way to Mars? Oh, those others. What a crux and puzzle they are suddenly. Their light and meaning and places in the firmament are all different. It can’t have happened overnight. I was too stricken at first; would cry when alone in the house, after having no reason to cry for twenty-four years. Or only one time and not for the old kind of reason then. Rather interesting experience, that slithery sort of wetness down the cheeks, not like any other water, more like new snakeskin, I imagine, when the old one has just been wrestled off against some good rough bark. Just a guess of course; I’ve never caressed a snake that I can remember, in any age of skin. N.B.: something to try, now that novelty is the order of the day—?

Who says? I mean, yes, everything’s different, that’s for sure, so call it novelty. But who says you have to accept it, experience it, still less relish it? Well, that’s possibly the whole point—that and those tricky baffling others in the new layout. Will get back to it in due course, if there is such a course.

Right now must get back to that neurotic cheerfulness I left back there, which other people find admirable or at least say they do. Noun: fortitude. Adjective: stoic (noun too), stoical, both commonly misused. Will have to ferret out fortitude. And another newcomer—normalcy. That one doesn’t belong on this page but I’m liable to forget, though I believe this misfortune has made me less, not more, forgetful. It would be in line with that false cheer to think so but it might be true. Even so, the benefit might be temporary, not to be counted on. So take all precautions possible, such as keeping kitchen utensils exactly where they belong, not relying on memory of having put one somewhere else last night. The very old must have to learn such habits, and, with different applications (poems known, memories of love or political history, significant names or numbers), people in forced labor camps and such—Gulag places.

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Those others again. It’s not time for them yet. I swear I’ll get to them but it’s not time. Am not ready. No, I didn’t mean to say that, would hate to admit it, I meant it would be self-indulgent here; messy. It’s not time in the sense of form.

As to normalcy, it’s not a notion I ever gave a bean about before, so must hurry and explain before it slips into the crawlspace again, where incidentally there are a few snakes, more than last year I think but not poisonous. It came in from a climatologist’s remarks in the paper the other day. I never heard of a climatologist before but these new breeds crop up all the time—anologist for everything. I’m becoming one myself, an expert on misfortune, eligible for a degree in same. Well, he said that what we of the last century or so have considered normal weather is not that at all. We’ve been spoiled rotten is the idea, and he has lots of dates and other data to prove it. We feel badly treated by droughts, floods, too hots and too colds, etc. because we and our grandparents, I forget how far back, have lived through a spell of abnormal decency weatherwise. We just have no idea what this planet can perpetrate when it gets back to normal.

Of course I was an ideal recipient of that piece of scholarship, being the type quick to leap at analogy. It’s obvious that the idea of human life that some of us lucky ones grew up with—but never mind pounding it in. I just said it was obvious, didn’t I? I admitted it. So don’t ask me to kick myself for having cracked and splintered under this lightning bolt. God damn it, it was news, unprecedented and intolerable as Jonathan Edwards said of the Last Judgment it so strongly resembles (really he said unavoidable and intolerable, less apt here). Only I thought—perhaps still think, will have to mull over that—that I had not, repeat not, earned it by any wickedness, that is any wickedness beyond the normal. And so there we are back to you, nuisance, interloper. Go away; get under there with the snakes. I’m sick of you. I want to enjoy my pain.

Like hell. I meant like hell I do, but OK, take it the other way—this hell, so oddly lacking in physical pain, so quiet, decorous, almost beneficent you might say. Enjoy it? Well, I suppose a person might pay to be crazy, from some things that would be relief. But am not there yet, nor even considering it. Am not crazy, ergo do not enjoy what is not just unenjoyable but way over the other end of the scale. To hell with normalcy—tragic, piddling, dreary, whatever the humanologists want to call it.

I just want to understand what’s happening. Those fits of cheer, those new crawling Others—no, not new, but they didn’t use to come through the floor this way, as though expecting to be caressed. Novelty; springtime of loss, of grief; as new as next year’s row of hyacinths. (The pinks ones small and pale last April, must remember to do something for them.)

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One way to be useful to society: keep out from underfoot. Plain time-killing not so effective; I’ve tried it; I know.

Phone call from Mike F.’s—well, widow of sorts, though they’d been apart for a year—to say (1) she’s getting married again, and (2) their little girl, going on two-and-a-half now, who was with him and was thrown in an alley when he was killed by the mugger in New Haven last year, has had permanent brain damage. Nothing to be done. Will have to be in an institution. It’s almost the anniversary of that event; he had been here with the baby just before, the Irish in him still going strong. Actually that was a couple of generations back but the wit and grin and long upper lip were right off the boat. Don’t know why she felt the need to phone. We never got to know her well; different Irish type, fiercely ambitious. He was the one we loved. He was twenty-seven.

But the other Others, all children of grief and woe naturally, that’s why they’re here. Older, bona fide widows for one bunch, as far as eye can see, and widowers, less of a crowd but as large in loss, some of them; and those tortured by living love or lack of it; those born defective, and their parents. John M., in his sixties, eight years in perfect clarity of mind, watching his nerve ends decay; asking, “What books would you read in my situation?” Couldn’t hold one or keep it propped up. Not my case. Pickers through garbage cans. Sleepers in doorways. I know them. They are talking to me. Because of my trouble, of course; puts me in their camp, on pretty crummy grounds, some would think; never mind.

I forgot to ask our philosopher friend the other night if he considered his métier—discipline they say now, a word I’ll have no truck with, I wonder when it came in—in any case, if he thought of philosophy as in any way bearing on the will to live in adversity. I suppose he’d have to say yes of course, but I doubt it, I mean to the extent of its doing anybody any good. I think they keep their brainy games separate from even their own arthritis, like children playing Kala or Monopoly, all those pretty beans and printed slips that keep getting spilled on the closet floor. No, no, for God’s sake—speaking for us afflicted of the earth (snicker there in the wings), give us religion every time. I can’t go so far as to ask to believe it, but that’s just a matter of temperament and my bad luck. Snicker, that is, at the nerve—my putting myself in their class, presuming to move in their set. Like a matter of yachts. Ours is a lot grander than yours, costs more to maintain too. As if it were my fault I wasn’t born rich in infirmity and sorrow and never happened to acquire much along the way, until now. OK, I’m a beginner in their field (discipline?), but they should be charitable. I’ll agree to be a non-resident member of the club but I’m in, whether they snub me or not.

Ears churlish about music these days. I resent its being pushed forward, not by anybody, just by the situation, as such a new kind of necessity—lifesaver, alternative to what’s lost. Perhaps will get it back where it belongs some day, to being positive pleasure, not a bloody consolation. Overpowering scene of Achilles’ immortal horses standing with their heads dropping to the ground as they weep, literally shed tears, over the death of Patroclus. Then Zeus’s lovely meditation as he pities them in their grief, wishing he hadn’t given them to Peleus and condemned them to “ache” so for the fate of poor mankind, although themselves immortal. “Poor things. . . .” Nothing, he says, is so sad to look on as human beings.

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Letter from Arthur T. saying, along with sympathy for my plight, that we have to learn to grow old. Quotes nice piece of Chinese wisdom to that effect. (Ah, but I’d been howling all this time, I’m not old, nowhere near that old, and come from long-lived people. Was counting on at least twenty more good years, thought I would learn to some small degree the tricks of my trade.) His beloved Polly, he writes, has had some strange after-effects from open-heart surgery and lost I don’t know just what of her faculties, but her flute-playing for one thing, and marvelous memory for music are gone.

Yes, we must learn. I don’t know what, or how, or why. We must. Something. It set me back hard. Ashamed? I don’t know. Shame can be self-indulgence too.

Count your blessings, so many people say, meaning not offspring per se—that would be a laugh, considering one we had to hear about yesterday—but our darling specific Prodge and Ennie who happen to be here this long lovely summer of such exquisite pain—adjustment I suppose it’s called. And oh I do count them, one two, one two, all the livelong day, and confess, though it’s the out thing this year, to having sung praises unto Nature and the goddess Fortune for every day of their lives, and make finger-signs of a Sicilian sort against the banana peels that life could strew on their steep paths. They run so fast, they aim so far, they never look. This business has made everything precarious. Must control that. Of course we would wish for them never to grow old, that’s only natural and another aspect of the gods (Homeric) that makes good sense. That some beings at least be imagined as we would wish to imagine our children—alive, young, and beautiful forever. Takes some of the curse off what’s called being down to earth. The Grecian urn syndrome. But scratch that reference. Things are bad enough without Keats dying at twenty-five.

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I locked the cat in here by mistake yesterday, now she wants to go out and can’t understand why I don’t stop the rain. I am supposed to be able to do that. A drizzle she would brave but this is a downpour. I hold the screen door open to give her the impossible choice, she draws back puzzled and saddened and alternates between rubbing against me—to ingratiate me or comfort herself? perhaps both—and meowing piteously. I am the God That Failed, i.e., like all gods, according to Hoyle. Now she is all bunched up on her haunches, staring motionless through the bottom of the screen at the inimical element. I would love to know what she remembers of the two or three terrible adventures in her past, and the others we never knew about. I realize there are certain differences between her and me, even on a day like this. She’s a skillful and shameless killer for one thing.

Must remember to get back to time-killing. That was a terrible adventure, for several months. Haven’t yet got a perfect grasp of the subject. Or it might just be too unpleasant to dive into. You could get the bends. So we continue, the gray-and-white cat and I, to dree our weirds. Looked that up the other day, I mean somebody did for me. “Weird” OK, meaning of course fate, as in adj. weird sisters. In dictionaries at hand no “dree.” It could be crooning or weaving or just counting as with beads. Do wish I’d spent my time better when times were better, when there was time—and all that: the most boring human wail. But I mean it modestly. Just wish I had memorized a big dictionary.

It was more the world’s weird I had in mind so recently, riding the ski lifts, nothing like age and adversity. They—

Lord, what did I say there? The words bring that dog-howl to my throat, like months ago. I never figured on that conjunction. Sure, hundreds of better skiers flew by; I admired, no reason to envy; was never a star, was doing about as well as ever and loving it, barring certain nasty days and patches and a couple of hitches on crutches. Figured I’d stop without regret some far-off day when timidity got to outweigh pleasure. But I see now, those hateful words were needed. Stick to business. The theme is Affliction. But my dear lady, you’re only dealing with a physical disability, sudden and mysterious to be sure, but not very dire as such things go, not likely to be total (as in totaling a car), nor even involving any physical pain, furthermore occurring among those blessings that are so joyously to be counted. “Ghastly deprivation,” “hideous handicap,” say the letters from friends. I said, “But Doctor, what you’re telling me is to me a lot worse than death.” It was no lie. If you’re totaled, does it matter if wheels and a fender are still good for scrap? Run along to the junkyard, get it over with. This knack I’ve been developing, of keeping out from underfoot, as distinguished from pure time-killing in the first months, may not be all that dependable. Leaving brook, woods, hanging iron lamp when the leaves fall may knock it into a cocked hat, whatever that is, evidently something like broken pitcher or smashed VW. Question: in a question of killing time, can there be earlier and more recent months? Must reflect. Might lead to grasp of Theory of Relativity, or at least international dateline.

O saisons, o châteaux! Did I ever abuse the heart’s wild intake of certain joy and wonder, a counter-radiance, in all that white-gold splendor as we glide heavenward, God’s grandeur in shook foil around us past the screen of obscenities on the plexiglass—woods and packed slope of such different handling in the brilliance, as unlike as hawk-skilled skiers swooping are from the brute crashers-down or the simply cautious or inexperienced who make their turns like ferryboats—did I let love, of motion and bright air, be more than was fitting, for it to lead to this far faster shadowing-in? Not quite the passing-over, the trépas Rimbaud brought his bonheur to, but such a squeeze and slowing.

1 was all wrong about “dree.” Education, lovely goddess, where have you been hiding from me? Oh seasons of longing, oh castles of regret! It means “to suffer,” “to endure,” transitive. So the cat and I, dreeing our weirds as we watch the awful rain, are not counting or reciting anything but just putting up with our fate as best we can.

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Am I getting used to it? But I don’t want to! Oh, I don’t understand anything. So maybe that’s what I don’t want and am so brilliantly (?) dodging: understanding anything. Maybe I was lying back there, falling into that humdrum boast; how humiliating. People are always claiming they want to understand (“l’horreur de ne pas comprendre”), but really, when you think about it, it’s got to be a lie most often, one of those flattering self-delusions or run-of-the-mill masochism. No sense to it at all. What on earth would keep us going if we understood? Ergo, understanding or the attempt at it is the cardinal sin. Right? Imagine if an Olympic athlete tried to understand what he was doing—everybody’d think he was cracked, get the valium, call the shrink. At the very least he’d fall and hurt himself. The thing is to (1) enjoy the experience, and (2) try to be better than somebody else, no matter what the sacrifice. (Bullock’s entrails best, on appropriate altar.)

Sounds cynical, and that I’m not, just somewhat shaky on my flippers these days, so there must be a flaw in the reasoning, if any reasoning has occurred. These moods and thoughts depend a lot on weather and time of day and in that nice old saying, which side of the bed you got up on. If both sides wrong, no point to it, that must be why you never hear it any more.

Question, in short, of animal spirits. Élan vital. How bizarre if that were the whole story. Well, it isn’t, but I’m in no mood to play at discussing why. Weather unsettled again, wrong time of day, wrong side of bed. It’s all so serious. Can’t seem to get that through my head; or am not constituted for it. If so, tant mieux. A lot of good people have died laughing. Get back to business, to hell with imponderables, that’s the American way: ours not to question why, ours but to do and die, etc.

Storm gathering and slowly circling all day—a too heavy load of dirty sheets, some soiled nearly to black, still going round and round, in a machine that keeps promising breakdown or breakthrough every minute. Patches of bright blue show now and then in the rips and interstices, and brief shafts of Wagnerian sunlight that die out with the next sluggish spin, as do the ominous spells of wind, all sound and fury. How curious that there’s so little weather in Homer, except at sea.

Last night a bobcat was screeching bloody murder, just up from the brook, I wonder what about. Like Achilles when the river Scamander rises in wrath at his carnage and takes off after him. Rivers are gods too, it’s wise to remember. But it was no river that did Mike F. in in New Haven, exactly a year ago. In these stories of ours doom has gone bananas, is lumbering about like a headless monster; there’s nothing to make us respect it. It is we, not Achilles, who must cry anguish by the brook or river bank.

The mugger was sixteen, convicted of another murder a year before, out on weekend parole. Very poor family; low IQ, low everything; a nobody; the kind Mike had been working for.

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Charmed days, all of these. Charmed summer altogether, a bolt of precious silk shaken out sky-high, all ripples of many-colored happiness. Hey, what is this? stick to the subject. OK, it’s not forgotten. But meanwhile, as usual after guests and all those bunks slept in, I’ve hung a lineful of sheets, etc., and among the hues of that fancier fabric, see above, the white is more fascinating than all the flags of the UN. More useful too, but I’m speaking of what’s to be rejoiced over. That includes old Priam’s stupendous visit to Achilles in his tent by the ships, to beg for Hector’s body so that he may be properly mourned and taken away by fire, not eaten by dogs and kites. Scene of awful sorrow and worse coming after the last page—the twelfth day dawning when the battle for Troy will resume—but rejoice we do at there being paper with such words on it, and here in our small enclave at the reading aloud, new bond and pleasure all these weeks. We all know it, not forgeting it’s the booby prize, brought on by my plight, but just the same as splendid as all Priam’s gifts to the killer of his son.

Charmed days. Scary ones. I dread the leaves turning. Hated coming to the last line of the book. “So they performed the funeral rites of Hector, tamer of horses.” But now we’ll start the Odyssey and see how far we get.

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I find I mind the new clumsiness, and even the humiliating fear of hurting oneself—by burning, cutting, stumbling—less than the new kinds of ignorance, being cut off from so many sources of fact and opinion one was scarcely aware of being nourished by, it was so natural to have them. Magazines for one. All sorts, even silly or otherwise annoying; they keep your wits working. I can foresee becoming a mental cripple and already have fallen into sneaky little ways of covering up for not being on the ball, not having kept up, having missed this and that. It goes in geometric progression. You lose interest, then will, I suppose, then capacity. My godmother became sly that way toward the end. I would say, “Would you like me to bring your supper out here on the terrace?”—this in one of the rest homes, or whatever they call them, when she was no longer able to visit anyone—and she would say with a canny gleam, “What would you like?” although of course I wouldn’t be eating there. It was just to conceal that she didn’t quite know where she was and whether it was supper or breakfast time and whether a tray on the terrace was possible or permissible. Or if a meal was in order at all; perhaps she had already had it, or was supposed never to eat again. She wouldn’t have minded any of these possibilities, especially the last, only hated being caught in a stupidity. I understand.

Yet in the beginning, the aspect most like some form of insanity—or so I imagine—almost made me laugh. It was interesting. I think I’d have laughed if it hadn’t been for the slight nausea it produced. Cars zooming down at you from the sky or up from out of the ground, a highway seen from a train window turned into a roller-coaster better than anything in Coney Island, no straight lines anywhere, doors and windows wiggling, columns teetering each at a different angle—perilous but funny, quite a new conception in architecture; and every face a grotesque. Your own dear husband bends to kiss you, with a huge crooked mouth coming out of his ear and two noses or none. Naturally you laugh, and hurt his feelings. But that was the “active” phase, only a few weeks. Lines are straight again. Now we’re down to (I can’t resist it, horror in language has its own charm) the nitty-gritty. No, I take that back, there are limits even to horror, I mean in its power to charm. That one’s just plain atrocity. Make it brass tacks or that old standby, reality, dull but honest and reliable, or anything you like. Whatever we’re down to, the comedy has gone out of it. For laughs will have to look elsewhere, try harder.

Not that I think insanity is funny. That’s too outdated, went out with race and Polish jokes, except in the worst sixth-grade set. No, the whacky world I saw for a while was funny because of a whale of a difference from the real thing, at least I hope so—hope there’s a difference, hope that’s why it was funny. I never thought the cars were flying out of the air or the ground, or buildings being made to topple, with the sole intent of injuring me, or with any reference to me whatever. It was perfectly clear to me, roller-coaster and all, that they didn’t even know I existed, just like a lot of doctors and nurses. So, having known people who do think planes are being sent to buzz them and the TV set in the hospital room is being repaired at 6 A.M. out of specific animosity, I gathered I was sane and could laugh, through my tears, at the odd aspect of things. The tears weren’t all that frequent either; let’s not exaggerate.

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That next phase, though, of time-killing, that might be more borderline. On this subject the Iliad’s no help, none I can think of at the moment. The thing is not to confuse time-killing with boredom, easy to do when one’s a newborn babe at both. They’re not the same thing at all, but those months when I applied myself to that discipline—art? social science?—I admit I did get bored, through lack of skill. Not so the couple warming themselves in the ski lodge one sub-zero afternoon.

Season-pass people but not from nearby, far from it. An amiable chatty pair with a son of eleven and middle-bracket equipment, not the kind who hog space by the fire or bump boiling coffee over your hand, make trails a menace and any lodge an inferno. That brutish arrogance had taken so little in their case, they didn’t even seem to notice it. Every weekend all winter the easy-natured family drive twelve hours from and back to New Jersey like millions of others from whatever home base they need that desperately to flee, ostensibly for about eight hours at a sport they may be no great shakes at—weren’t in this instance.

The woman and I were more or less in each other’s laps by the fire and she had just helped me mop the coffee from my parka and given suggestions for the burn. “But I should think,” I said, “that you’d have to spend all the rest of the week getting over one weekend and getting ready for the next one.” “We do!” A sudden smile illumined her face, as if I’d hit on the happiest aspect of the marriage and a very happy one indeed, redolent of many sorts of contentment. The husband, an electrician I think, of Scandinavian cast, also nodded in beaming confirmation. “There’s all the laundry and the food things to put away and wash up and the mess in the car”—she made it sound more and more gratifying—“and usually there’s a tire or a ski-edge or a zipper or something to get fixed. And by then it’s Thursday”—the word Thursday brought a new glow of delight to both their faces—“and I have to market and get some cooking done ahead for the weekend, because everything has to be packed and ready before we go to work Friday, except a few last-minute freezer things. . . .” She ended on a little note of triumph, well aware that a less modest one would have been justified. “And here we are!” We expatiated together on times of abominable road or skiing conditions, mountain all ice as it nearly was that day, fatal pile-ups, and highways closed from blizzards, etc., none of which had yet kept them from their appointed round, and then the husband summed up with an insight little short of majestic, though keeping the smile and commonplace tone of voice befitting the occasion. He said—how could one ever forget it?—“It makes the winter go faster.”

Oh yes indeed it must! and the goal is but the grave. Not an uncommon view of it, but no ordinary mortal’s lips uttered the brilliant capsule of words. That had to be some god or goddess in disguise, perhaps the gray-eyed one herself, speaking for two seconds across the rude, steaming scene, among the thick-padded gloves spread out to thaw and noses and toes being massaged back to sentience.

Art, discipline, science my foot. That was time-killing of such expertise, only the deepest innate wisdom could account for it, and try as I might to emulate it in my months of effort, I had to admit failure. I’m shallow, just wasn’t born with the gift, but it took a lot of hard work to make me realize it. I strained the budget with phone bills, called people I hadn’t thought about in years, talked to closer friends half an hour instead of three minutes; thought up dinners that would take hours to prepare, whether with any benefit in taste experience or not; vacuumed room after room without let or mercy. “How nice your house looks!” people exclaimed to my dismay or worse. A dull rage filled me at these kind remarks, about the quiches and boysenberry tarts and crepes Genevieve too. I wanted to bash such friends’ faces in with a skillet or vacuum the hair off their heads—not that some didn’t have worse troubles of their own. One becomes unfair, another form of derangement.

The difficulty, I saw at last, was in not having a blueprint. If you’re going to kill time, without either habit or native talent to direct you, you must lay out its shape very precisely, not let it straggle all over the place so you’re giving it a whack here or a kick or a bite there without serious results; next thing you know it’s spreading out before you with as many hours a day as ever. Retired people, used to office or some other regular regime, are said to have the same trouble. So I made a chart, just mentally but still a careful one, of minutes, seasons, and the rest of it, but every night some ghost of my old self must have been down in the great hall unraveling it, to keep the suitors at bay, as if a lifelong occupation might some day by miracle return.

It will pass, our Christian Scientist friends said a while ago; it’s only temporary, and we spoke no more of it, can’t think how it happened to get mentioned at all. You don’t discuss venom with snake-handlers or statistics with sociologists or structure with structuralists. From each according to his need, and more power to them all. If it’s Error they’d have me in, I couldn’t agree more, only on specific causes and effects I can’t get around to envying their certainties. Doubt remains a luxury I won’t do without.

Time wouldn’t stay on my chart, kept crawling off the edges and all over. I gave up and for a while drifted disconsolately, without even that incentive.

____________

 

I forgot to say the laundry line is exceedingly high, put up originally for boat sails—from upstairs porch to way up in a big maple—and that’s why the sheets can wave so beautifully, no doubling to cramp their swing or mar the patterns of sunlight. A stiff wind has risen, making a wild chase of tree shadows as sharp as the sheets. The brook has taken on a strange urgency now in its Houdini speeds and skills in afternoon brightness. Perhaps it’s because there’s so little left of summer that I’m taken by a fearful appetite to understand it, see it all in every second’s change, not miss a rock or eddy, swallow it whole if I could.

Impatience in other ways. Some leaves are already falling in this wind. Can’t wait for Odysseus to get to Ithaca and be recognized by his dog and kill the suitors and all the rest of it, but we’ll have to wait. Telemachus is just sneaking out at night for the ship to go look for him. A lot has to happen before we get him home, including a great change of expectations line by line on our part after the very different grip of the Iliad.

Memo: am not lonely, penniless, in pain, alcoholic, or even overweight. Might be all of those some day, and totally blind or deaf too. Many people are, not just in old age, all or most of their lives. But then why? . . . And therein lies the basis of all religions. However, a clergyman who loves fishing is quoted as saying, “There is no clear line between trout fishing and religion.” Protestant, of course.

At lunch in Saratoga yesterday an old acquaintance said eagerly, yes, how great it would be to hear Homer aloud, “on the radio for instance,” and I was abashed at our luck for three months now, hearing it as we have. Not just one person to another either, often five or six or more, each one’s voice and laughter or whatever response—and how strong and ready they can’t help being—becoming integral to the story as they should be. Yes, radio or records would be something and are what the life-means of most of us could afford; we too have no such luxury to take for granted.

Lucky, lucky; all very well to say. . . . Yet I do know it, and bless and love it, this luck of mine, of ours. And have kept out from underfoot, a modest accomplishment.

____________

 

The wild geese flying over. Cars rushing by, more every time we come back, so many new houses up the road. God help us—sometimes I almost understand those three words. Almighty Zeus, give us favorable winds. I cried again, once, waking in the middle of the night. Frustration at every turn, all day, everything just too impossible. Always loved fall best and thought this one would destroy me, whatever that might mean. Destroy will, spirit, I suppose, curiosity. Oh yes, I was spoiled all summer and how well I knew it and the re-shuffle it would cost later. But minded most what I hadn’t foreseen—a moment’s positive pride, almost pleasure, in overcoming the handicap in some trivial regard. Gee, look at me, I’m not so helpless after all. Psychologists say that’s the healthy attitude, what all the mental-health pros preach and try to inculcate, and I say to hell with them. That’s the one moment I despise myself for. If I need lies to cheer me, I’ll take gloom. Affliction—any loss of faculties or what gave life sense—is abominable; admit it; wail, rail, shake your fist—that’s what I call healthy.

Indefinitely? You want to go on raging like that for maybe twenty-some years?

No.

Well then. You said a while back you didn’t want to get used to it.

Certainly not. Categorically.

So you reject the only three alternatives. (1) Get used to it, meaning resigned, maybe just forgetting part of every day how different your expectations once were. (2) Be cheerful, think of the good blah blah blah as per therapy manual (I guess, have never seen one). (3) Keep raging. Of course there’s a fourth, blowing your brains out, which you don’t seem to be considering for some reason. Do you really mean to say that if you didn’t love your family, or have one, you’d think some gup about the human race in its ruinous proliferation was sufficient argument against suicide?

Don’t be ridiculous. Anybody who’s against abortion and birth control has to be a criminal idiot. Still, I’m evidently a child willy-nilly of the Greco-Roman-Christian tradition, along with any other of similar parti-pris. Once the child is born, life is supposed to be let’s say secularly sacred; certainly there’s peril to more than the principals in doing away with it. Suicide and murder both do poison the air, you know, I’d say about equally, like one of those gases escaping from certain chemical plants.

But look, those alternatives—there isn’t just a front door; there may be several, plus windows, and cracks here and there too. The lady in this case can boast of all that and what’s more a dog door, the plastic-fan type, through which she has sometimes had to reach for the lock burglar-fashion, with hooked wires, etc., when the key had been left inside. Faced by thorny questions, as by lack of a key, she is adept at the by-pass and the Approach Circuitous.

____________

 

In this instance, returning as usual in September to a Connecticut house left immaculate by model summer tenants, she was, I won’t say saved but spun around, brought up short, by (1) the chicanery of repairmen, and (2) the sufferings of friends. Cancer mostly and no regard for age or income. We’ve cleared the decks pretty much of TB, smallpox, polio, to make way for this, and now medical research comes, or in recent years has come, under that term of abhorrence in Washington—programs. It would take funds, and brains, and education to furnish the brains. Out of taxpayers’ money! Unthinkable. They’d rather take their chances; it’s a lottery, not everybody gets hit, some still die of old age. So build up the “private sector” instead (used to be called business) and everything will be hunky-dory.

Another angle on that sector, or segment, though geometry must have some more exact term for what’s nearly the whole pie, comes in with the repairmen. I said they did a lot to restore my shattered spirits, and so they did, by the technique of the counter-irritant. Nothing like a good fit of specific frustration and fury for chasing out the amorphous kind, or doldrums. In the presence of a General Westix serviceman a doldrum cannot survive; it shrivels, utterly defeated. I say GW only to single out one from the twenty-six similar incidents of the same week. Any other would do as well, involving a bent car fender, leaking boiler, malfunctioning thermostat, racking cough in washing machine, sulking vacuum cleaner that would only exhale, a fire- and burglar-alarm system that brought the police cars Monday when a fly crossed its line of vision and stayed mum as a clam Tuesday for half a kitchen in flames (no burglars that week), etc. Never mind the de-humidifier that had turned itself into a sprinkler or the mystery well that appeared in the cellar, the work of some peevish nymph I believe; at least I distinctly heard a female voice from there telling us to get out of our own house if we didn’t like it. Like it? We love it! We’ve spent twenty-four years and sweat of our brows by the bucketful molding it to our hearts’ desire. I just wish I had a degree from M.I.T. and the gray-eyed goddess Athena a little more on my side.

It was just the clock on the stove I wanted fixed, because the way things are now it’s the only one in the house I can tell time by. Clock, I said to the woman on the GW phone; nothing else, don’t want the timer, never have used it, only have it because I couldn’t get the stove without it even though it cost extra. So now I said again, very clearly, just clock. She said minimum charge $14.95. I said that’s a lot for a kitchen clock, I could get one for $7.50—that was a few days ago, they’re $8.95 now—but I need it so all right.

The main or perhaps only qualification for suburban servicemen is being tall and personable; there must be sidelines to the job that I wouldn’t know about. The tall personable young man strode haughtily to the kitchen, miffed from the start to find a housewife, in bathrobe all right—it was 8:30 A.M.—;but considerably over thirty, He pulled the stove out two inches, gave it a poke on the upper rear, pushed it back and said, “We don’t repair clocks. We only replace the whole timer unit. $71.” I repressed the relevant piece of my mind and said the voice on the GW telephone should have told me that. He got a bit more sourpussed and made out a bill for $19.95. I said he’d been in the house exactly ninety seconds and done nothing, and if that wasn’t minimal I didn’t know what was; anyhow I wasn’t going to pay ten cents still less any $19.95 or $14.95 when they had no business sending him in the first place. He said would I sign the invoice. I said no. Am still waiting for an upper-echelon voice to call back as promised. Of course we’ll get the bill for $19.95 anyway, but I just want to ask a few personal questions, like the name of the president of the corp., and what ski lifts does he patronize; I’ve often shared lift cars with that type over the years and had some interesting conversations.

Still, that’s nothing to body-repair shops and their recondite arrangements with insurance companies. There’s a Polyphemus for you; get in that cave and they’ll have you for dinner. Wednesday for a few minutes I considered a version of the Odysseus ruse. While they were inside adding on another $100 I would slip under the car, give it a push and with agility born of desperation, like the mariners under the one-eyed giant’s sheep, hang onto the axle for dear life while the car rolled down the hill, away from that robbers’ den. But they must have suspected something and came out too soon.

By Thursday so much else of the same sort had happened, and the bank account was so depleted, I was just glad to be alive, which was the point of this narrative. A miracle, you might say. Something does move in mysterious ways its wonders to perform, and logical positivism or negativism to circumvent. The cat came back too, a matter for rejoicing. I had searched hours along the road, having suffered too many griefs from it even in earlier years, when it was nothing like now.

Our very dear friend Yuri, eighty, is dying and the hospital won’t let him do it peacefully. Has been in agony for days.

____________

 

Violent ambivalence toward all my new toys—and the next time I hear the word “aids” I intend to misbehave. Paraplegics can’t like it much either, at least the first year or two. Salesmen’s word, and I wish all my friends so lucrative a business. House strewn with these new objects, big, little, black, white, portable, importable. Great fish-eyes leering up from beside bed or telephone, or bending from spring-controlled neck at end of metal tendril rooted in weighted base on the floor, announcing it’s there to stay. Baby googlies giggling at bottom of purse, crawling around bureau drawers, liable to turn up asleep in a glove or anywhere. Big Momma loosens a spring, leans toward your armchair, turning on monstrous illumination like smile of hired sympathy: “How’s it going today, Lovey? And what a lovely day it is! Well, here I am to help you, now let’s see. . . .” Shit. Knock it over if you could. No, costs too much. Just ignore its personality, try to use it, and remember you were showing off all these things with a certain childish pride to a visitor only yesterday.

Bad piece of timing by the darling doctor in this matter, his only mistake as far as I know. He brought it up too soon. I wasn’t ready, family either, tears theirs that time; one had misunderstood on the previous visit, thought there was hope. I knew better, but even so when I heard him sending me to Dr. Zero the bottom fell out. On Dr. Z.’s door the sign reads, “Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch ’entrate”; somebody has pasted two or three Happy stickers around it, grin line in stupid circle face, revolting product of current national schmaltz. Philosopher friend was right; he said some truths better not told. At least not without subtle preparation, and few are born that subtle.

So eventually got through Dr. Z.’s door, more dead than alive; others in same or worse condition in waiting room, some very young. Breezy fellow—dept.-store Santa Claus, cajole the kiddies, get them smiling like the stickers on the door, which maybe he put up himself. And little by little acquired the hateful things, when the rest of me wasn’t looking, and more hatefully could sometimes reach for them without hate, as people do with an ordinary pair of glasses. Thus is custom established and rebellion gnawed away, exactly as under political dictatorship.

That was going on all summer, but no occasion then for other angers and self-denigrations that arise on any foray into the city. The saleslady, the girl at the cafeteria counter treat you like an idiot, so you feel like one. The affliction apparently doesn’t show, or not enough. The sign, arrow, price tag, cottage cheese versus fruit salad are right under your nose. Naturally you cringe before these people, when not wanting to beat the bejeesus out of them instead. But look who’s complaining at their rudeness and unkindness. You wouldn’t want to exchange your life and mind for theirs, would you? you think they have no grievances of their own? As to the pariah bit, it would be worse in Latin countries. Cripples, any physical defect or deformity, bad luck, avoided like plague; no mercy, can’t afford it. Something to be said for that, at least sanctioned by ancient superstition as against our offhand meanness; you’d know where you stood.

Better perhaps to be needing cane and seeing-eye dog? No, muggers go for that; the cafeteria worker would be still nastier. “They ought to go someplace else, not come here bothering us, right at the worst lunch hour too. They got their own places to go eat, people like that.” Have they? where? what kind of places? New stage. New influx of Others. Pretty soon might be allowed in the front door of the club.

This Is Your Hell. Keep It Happy.

For another grinning circle the summer didn’t include, we move to an undersea setting. This one is called the Foggy Snorkel. Go into crowded room, many well-known, even good friends, all weeds and corals now until a few inches away, rather pretty. “What’s she gotten so uppity about?” Do you hear it or just think you do? Can’t go around explaining. If all there were to go on about their ailments! One woman is doing so. Ex-wit, ex-beauty, ex-excellent company; years of tranquilizers have caught up with her, at fifty a wreck, obsessed with misdeeds of doctors, wrong diagnoses; smile overstretched in panic, about to burst, eyes too, from excess voltage. People murmur sympathy, edge away. If she had the nerve she’d be up on a chair, a soap-box, addressing the whole gathering, scrawny as she has become, hideous with levity. “Am I dying? is that it? But I don’t know how, I’m not ready, I never learned anything like that! Is my husband already looking around for somebody else to marry? He’s so handsome and brilliant, he wouldn’t have any trouble. Does anybody care? Am I boring you?”

She is probably not under mortal sentence for the moment, but several are who must be there among the shifting fronds, and you long to speak to them, about that if they chose or about nothing in particular. You radiate affectionate warmth on a high-gloss, thin-brained male stranger, much as a mallet might come down on a box of peanut brittle. Both smiles crumble loudly; an animosity is born. “Oh excuse me, I thought you were. . . .” Then a worse kind of mistake, just from too much swimming, or fear of morays among the rocks. You ask Doris, a foot away and familiar for years, if Joe is there too. “Joe?” She decomposes; no candy here; the result this time is more like overcooked hominy, as in view of long mutual esteem she seems willing to assume any features that might fill the bill. She not only isn’t and doesn’t much resemble Doris, they don’t even like each other. She is and always has been Sophie, as you knew perfectly well except for that slip of the brain, and her husband is your old skiing companion, Bob; she also has a son you know well named John; perhaps you meant him? “No, no. . . .” You smile sheepishly and flee, promising to explain some other time, which of course you won’t, even if the subtle rift doesn’t grow to permanent crevasse.

So you’ve turned into a liar too, and these aren’t white lies. They’re the brownish orange of a half-withered tangerine.

Come to think of it, though, Doris and Sophie do have a good deal in common. Same age and height more or less, both daughters of well-known musicians, had similar marital difficulties at one time. It was a natural enough mistake, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?

____________

 

Chill rain, hard all day, the kind that always beats down everything but the chrysanthemums. I rush out and rescue all I can of the others, to take to Yuri’s funeral.

I wonder if being able to see straight lines again might be, partly at least, a matter of psychological correction. The retina might still be registering waves and wobbles—Samson pulling the columns down, everything just about to go—but learned from the brain a kind of simultaneous translation. Probably not, but if true would be fascinating, and then you’d wonder if just the human brain could do it or if animals could be that smart too. Some might be more so, with the help of other capacities we lack. But of course the role of interpretation goes way beyond any such mechanics, however complex; takes you into every deep water there is. The cat, who shares my study in Vermont but never here, has just come in with a small squeak of announcement, approached for a touch of corroboration and is now lying watchfully by the door. She must have known I was puzzling over her cerebral powers. Or may just feel lonely, or want lunch.

Stayed up too late several nights, the end of the Odyssey had us so enthralled. A good deal of slapstick by Athena in there, along with the wonderful drawn-out suspense. You get wondering if the floor of the hall was of wood. It wasn’t. It was earthen and when the few loyal survivors are cleaning up the mess they do it with hoes. Penelope won’t be permitted to wake up from the bizarre sleep Athena has cast on her, and see the room and—after twenty years, at least!—Odysseus, until it is all proper and decent again. It’s not considered right for women to admire male prowess these days, but I wish she could have seen her husband’s arrow whizzing through those twelve axe-halve sockets, I really do.

Am barely a novice in affliction as I hope I’ve known all along and said before. Y.’s death leaves the real thing, bad enough for us his many friends but for Nora, some years younger than he, the massive blow. She said they were both reading Proust when he fell ill, and now she didn’t feel like getting on with it. Or with any highbrow bookfare for a while, I would think. There are surely times when any little attention-waster is all that can serve. But if any, it might be Homer who could reward and not repel the wounded mind with no comfort of religion to call on. Because he was not alone in moving so wisely in the depths; in some sense he must have had all Greeks of quite a few centuries with him, or they would not have heard him so eagerly and loved him so long. The worst that life could do was a knowledge shared, as we share now a fear of criminals in dark streets, only that involves only tragedy, not any tragic view of life. For that you have to have a common aspiration toward all that the Greeks meant by beauty as well.

Mike F.’s little daughter, we’ve just heard, has died in the institution.

____________

 

I notice, with surprise, that I see a good deal better at breakfast-time, not every day but usually. With my fancy light can even read a few lines of newsprint then, laboriously—but still; later in the day can’t even get headlines. Some days I forget for a minute or two even to be thrilled by it and read a paragraph as if none of this had happened and force of habit were still operative. Then I remember and have to guard against crazy hope. It comes, you can’t help it, it’s the secret of Lourdes and what filled me with loathing of that place fourteen years ago; also caused permanent rupture with a devout French Catholic acquaintance we visited in the country the same evening. But didn’t you find it beautiful? she asked, or rather asseverated, and I said no, I guessed I was too Protestant, I found it quite repulsive. We have never met again, but that might be partly because we gave her little grandson the mumps, unintentionally. I mean we might have done that on purpose if we’d thought of it but we honestly didn’t.

Fight this wild breakfast-time joy, you know it’s insane, will bring you nothing but worse misery. However, there’s a little technical trick connected with it that can be useful, maybe even in a small way remedial. I find if things are quiet in the house—no repairmen at the door, nobody charging through to read the electric meter for an office that’s going to overcharge more every week for whatever he tells them: all these angles of life figure—and I deliberately make myself quiet, breathe deeply, shut out annoyances, avoid looking at the clock (new, $12.89, on the wall), I can read the words quite a lot better. A discovery like that would send a good many people to the nearest guru, if they weren’t hooked that way already, and I wouldn’t argue with them. I’ll just stick with the facts myself, insofar as I can latch onto them.

One of them is the stupid game of Suppose, applying only to afflictions of the body. A lot of energy and time go into this game, unbeknownst to the player most often; many odd moments dribble into it, which the mind could put to better use. It would be better if we acknowledged it and said, sorry, between eleven and twelve I can’t see anybody, can’t go to the hairdresser, I’ll be playing Suppose. It’s like Mah-Jong—I guess, haven’t played that since I was twelve. Each player has a teak, or in the cheap set cardboard, rack on the table in front of him, and draws from a pile, a sort of Pandora’s box, of chips marked with all sorts and degrees of disease and accident. Points are given not for cheering up, since that invites hypocrisy and eludes scorekeeping, but just for appropriate supposings, and to quote the rule book for all such games, the player with the most points at the end wins. (Underpaid writers take note: there’s always a call for lucid, imaginative prose in commerce—excuse me, in the private sector.) One prohibition is supposing you’re dead, or were never born.

If you’ve lost a leg you can suppose it was both. If lungs are the trouble, suppose it’s your mind. If it’s mind—but then a friendly rival can drop you a hint, with gestures, so you won’t disgrace yourself. If you have plain diabetes or hepatitis you obviously choose the newly developed varieties, the medication for which has shrunk you to a height of two feet. And so forth. If things really couldn’t be worse—but there are some conditions most people don’t like to play with, since you’re not allowed to bring in subsidiary factors such as love, religion, or finances. This is a game for the more or less up-and-about, as a more sociable and less time-wasting form of what they’re going to do anyway, that is, supposing how much worse it could be.

As I do. When not studying the contrary. Or more rarely, forgetting about it. Like settling into a new house, not nearly as pleasant as the one you loved so long and were forced to leave. Rotten luck, no point pretending otherwise, and the verb “settle” has unfortunate connotations—of unreliable landfill under the building, of accommodation to less, of the preposition “down” as applied to marriage and “up” for paying a bill. Nevertheless, in this new house it appears that one does eventually settle, up, down, or sideways; just skip the pep talks and that false cheer we were going to examine and it might work out pretty well.

The cheer idea, by the way, didn’t get dropped like a stitch but for cause. Too controversial, might get some people’s backs up and we wouldn’t want to do that, would we? Good spirits in adversity, chin up, keep smiling, that’s one of our most sacred cows. I rather resented the slurs on it myself. False? neurotic? so you can’t even feel good for a few minutes without berating yourself? There’s our Scylla and Charybdis in a nutshell—Shrinksburg on one side, that’s the whirlpool (some nut!) and Fat Sap grinning from the cliff on the other. I suggest a compromise. Keeping Affliction squarely in the foreground, let’s say a few smiles a day won’t be put down as too abnormally neurotic, just so the patient, I mean protagonist, sufferer, citizen, retains a good healthy capacity for gloom and despair at the same time, privately and nationally.

____________

 

Hectic days, too much N.Y. for one week, but useful. Music mainly, and friends, keep us from jibbering on the sidewalk or slipping off one side or another, where the tide runs so fast. Ears relenting somewhat, simply couldn’t go on being so peevish, just to spite another member of the team; one of these days might know why they make what they do of Mahler’s ups and downs. And what a profusion of wonderful young players! Parlous times and all, there they are, another blessing to count. Have also seen some of the mighty of great age—well, no, one is a kid in his upper seventies; two men, two women; sculptor, painter, writer, civil libertarian. Can’t speak for business and politics, they’re another (“another ballgame” I will say only under torture) ballgame. You don’t think infirmities around such people and their grand lifetimes’ works.

Ashamed, at no such venerable age, whatever the repairman may think, to be dwelling on mine? Not really, just not all that interested in the subject any more. Odd. Other people’s far worse misfortunes didn’t have that effect. What does is strong, work-obsessed, fun-loving, high-IQ types—preferably also gorgeous-looking at any age, scintillating, madly generous, athletic, and not overly egomaniacal, but you can’t have everything—who barge along full steam to the end, whenever that may be, and don’t quite give the thumb to adversity, which would be indelicate, but don’t wear it on their sleeves.

So from some of that Homeric exposure and reflection, plus the excitement of leaf-life these past ten days or so, something I meant to record has rather lost its juice. Actually the leaves called for more attention—did they always in October?—in case one should be seeing less of them another year, though it seems that’s not inevitable. Anyway, whether it is or not has become rather insignificant. Or at least—let’s not overdo this, remember the terms of the compromise—it’s not as easy as it was to hang on to, or re-create, or sympathize with, the rage and grief of months ago. I think February or March. It was to go something like this.

But goddammit it Doctor, can’t you understand, I can’t read! I can’t read! Why should I want to live like that? Yes I know, it’s not your business what I will or won’t settle for, I’m only saying it because you’re one of the few really good guys left in your profession. You’re old-fashioned, you think people are people, you’re wonderful. That shitty little technician down there at the hospital with those blazing lights in my eyes so I couldn’t stand it and I blinked, I mean my eyelids did, there’s such a thing as reflexes I suppose, and you know what he said? You won’t believe it. He said, “Keep your eyes open, please.” I said, “I can’t.” He said, “You’re making a less than adequate effort.” I said, “Can’t you talk English? Where did you learn that TV-Watergate-Special hogwash verbiage anyhow? The English for what you’re trying to say is ‘Try harder.’ Even one of the biggies in the private sector knows that much.” I hope I said it. At the next machine I started bawling buckets, film ruined I guess, couldn’t care less. That one, jerk number two, said, “We’ll have the pictures in about two weeks.” I said, “Where do you come from? where were you brought up? I’m losing my vision not by the day, by the hour, and you know damn well there’s no picture on earth it takes two weeks to develop. We get them from Mars in ten minutes.” That was a shot in the dark; maybe it’s two minutes.

We got them the next day and I might as well have spared my breath, except for the public-service aspect.

Long ago—about seven months. The leaves we’re scuffling through hadn’t begun to show their first baby-green. Now their brown remains are thick on the lawn, brown pine needles too; some people don’t realize how much conifers shed, in a stiff wind. Must get out and rake. Also feed or replace the pink hyacinths, and cut back the rampant vines we find strangling half our trees every fall—bittersweet, poison ivy, honeysuckle, multiflora roses, and one I never can remember the name of, with big, nearly round leaves and wicked thorns. That and the poison ivy are indigenous with a vengeance, but some of the others, in our innocence years ago and needing ground cover, we actually paid money for, via mail order, they looked so good in the ads. Between them they’d take over the state of Connecticut and Manhattan too in no time if we weren’t all keeping after them.

And then for heaven’s sake, gods willing, by hook, crook, or Trojan horse (electronic?), to work. Keeping out from underfoot has served its purpose, but as Homer so sublimely teaches, enough’s enough. Trouble is, those googlies, etc. make slow going; you need twice as many hours in a day. Not that you didn’t anyway.

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