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This is basically a writing diary where I write all kinds of stuff that will be immensely boring to anyone who stumbles across it.

So you should go back to Facebook.

Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. ---- Harry Lime

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Good writing day. Shook out all the kinks in the segue into the next plot coda.

I alternated between channeling June and taking practice tests for Tax Bwana certification: To think about: What if Marjorie had indicated she had EIC disallowed in the previous year.

Say wha?

I’m not exercising, which is wrong, wrong, wrong.

I am reading The Night Manager and watching the third season of The Last Kingdom. Leather; tattoos; long, long hair like the wings of an angel: Uhtred, what’s not to love?

Although given how Uhtred's women always seem to end up—either dead or in the Holy Orders—perhaps it's best for our DEEP ABIDING LUV to remain platonic.

I wimped on invitations to three Women’s Marches ‘cause we are supposed to get hammered by a blizzard.

I feel guilty because the blizzard's not supposed to hit till later this afternoon. But nothing had been organized for Poughkeepsie, and the thought of a blizzard hitting while I was driving either from Beacon or Hudson, or sitting on MetroNorth on my way back from the City—For the safety of our passengers, we will remain stalled on the tracks between Cold Springs and Garrison for the next eight hours until visibility improves—was a mighty disincentive.

###

Day Zero of THE BLIZZARD, Lois Lane texted. I have already eaten half the stuff I bought for the storm! Not gonna make it.
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It’s not that I don’t like poetry.

It’s that who can keep up with contemporary anything?

I mean, now that we’re in the era of eternity where nothing—no poem, no symphony, no YouTube video on applying lipliner, no op ed on the secret language of Trump’s red ties—ever disappears.

So, I had no idea who Mary Oliver was—because dayem! I need to learn how to apply lipliner!

Until she died.

And bits of her poetry started percolating up through the turgid prose of her obituaries:

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.


That voodoos of ambition gave me a genuine shiver.

This one is the best, though:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


Although to tell you the truth, I’ve never knelt down in the grass in my life. And why start now?

###

Else?

I wrote 800 words yesterday, and they were wrong, wrong, wrong, and even though I disapprove of editing in the act of writing, I had to 86 them ‘cause as exposition they went down the wrong path.

So that was a wasted day.

###

Overnight, hideous white stuff fell from the sky.

I wonder how Mary Oliver handled winter? I mean, it’s not like there’s grass to fall down on or grasshoppers to cradle during the winter.
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My lamas keep bringing me treats!

tsering


We’re still on Martin Luther King though next week we switch to Valentine’s Day.

Church was one of today’s vocabulary words.

“Do you know what a church is?” I asked Norbu.

“A Christian temple,” he said.

###

Ed strolled on by after I got home, and we chatted about taxes, and sealing wax, and kings for a couple of hours.

Pat is essentially gone for the next six months. Up in Providence, playing nanny to the new grandbaby Rowan (nice name!) and Ed is kind of lost without her. Which is good! To my mind, Ed complains entirely too much about Pat.

We were chatting about a mutual acquaintance. Was this mutual acquaintance depressed?

“Well, you know, I was trained as a social worker,” Ed said. “So, I never listen to what people say. I look at how they behave. And yeah—he’s depressed.”

June Miller ended up as a social worker, which is one of the reasons I wanted to write a novel about her. I mean, along with the Zelda Fitzgerald angle—Zelda’s more marketable than Scott these days—and the obvious appeal that the ultimate male-objectified heroine might have to the #MeToo crowd. Self-absorbed slut to compassionate social worker is a remarkable trajectory even if it does span 50 years.

Other than that, another grey day in a seemingly endless series of grey days.
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Dreamed I was living in a house with Barbara Angell and at least one of her impossibly beautiful sisters. I’d written her a check for $1,700 when I’d only meant to write her a check for $100. Seventeen hundred dollars was the extent of the money I had in my bank account, so I needed to get the money back, and I knew (of course!) that she would give me the money back: It was simply a matter of tracking her down. But that was difficult…

###

Watched Dangerous Edge last night, which is a documentary about the life of Graham Greene.

Did you know that the character of Harry Lime in The Third Man was based upon the real-life Kim Philby?

Or that the cast-off Mrs. Graham Green was the world’s leading authority on dollhouses?

The documentary featured interviews with John LeCarré (credited thus though his real name is David Cornwell) and Paul Theroux, two writers I admire extravagantly, so it was fun to put the faces and verbal delivery to the words on the page.

(In the fox chest, I have the complete oeuvre of John LeCarré, which I rescued from the Staatsburg Library two years ago after they’d decided to throw them all out. “Nobody reads him anymore,” the librarian told me! Maybe I should spend the next few weeks working my way through that.)

###

Writing ended up going very well indeed, though the characters veered off in a direction I hadn’t intended.

When I wrote my first novel, I remember, I had a mad crush on one of my characters, an alcoholic screenwriter with an amazing sense of humor. Funny—I cannot even remember the names of that character now.

And there was one day after I woke up from that dissociative fugue that I like to call The Zone when the dialogue I’d written for him was lodged in exactly the same place in my brain as my memories of real-life encounters.

Meaning: That while I knew perfectly well I hadn’t spent an afternoon talking with him, I kinda felt as though I’d spent an afternoon talking with him.

A very strange phenomenon!

Graham Greene wrote exactly 500 words a day. Never more. Never less.

If he was in the middle of a sentence when he got to the 500-work mark, he’d just put down his pen.

And resume writing that sentence the next day.
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Woke up this morning with such a strong sense of impending doom—not on a personal level; on the collective Team Human level—that I did something I haven’t done for 30 years: I cast an astro chart!

Question: What the hell is going on?

2458499103475


Doesn’t look good…

Those red lines are squares and oppositions, which represent tensions. Saturn and Pluto, rather ominously, are close enough to be in conjunction, and I note they are getting cozier and cozier over the next two years.

Oh, dear.

The two planets coalign every 35 years or so, and often, this orientation coincides with violent reshuffling of power dynamics at the global level: The Saturn/Pluto conjunction in Cancer (there’s-no-place-like-home sign) in 1914 pretty well coincides with World War I; the conjunction in Leo (cue: You’re a shining star! No matter who you are!) coincided with the India/Pakistan partition and the attendant slaughter of half a million or so.

Not sure what exactly took place during the 1982 Libra conjunction. There were some territorial disputes—Britain declared war on Argentina; the U.S. invaded Grenada; Israel invaded Lebanon. Nothing too regime shattering. Possibly this has something to do with the essential nature of Libra as the Zodiac’s great mollifier.

Pluto and Saturn hook up exactly again on January 12, 2020 in Capricorn—which is eight days before the next Presidential inauguration in the States.

Saturn is the planet of constraint, repression, cracks in the foundation. Saturn entered Capricorn in 2008 as a herald of the global financial meltdown.

Pluto is the planet of metamorphosis. Note that “plutocracy” is a synonym for a ruling class distinguished only by its material wealth. One-percenters, anyone?

Anyway, I’m not sure whether we’re looking at an authoritarian clampdown á la 1984 or the rise of a new feudalism in which we all become vassals of multinational corporations, but this conjunction does not seem like a positive auger to me.

And yes, yes, I’m quite aware that the sun does not revolve around the earth and that, therefore, there is no scientific basis for astrology whatsoever.

Whether you give astrology any credence at all, I suppose, depends upon whether you believe that redactive science is the only possible explanation for the world around you.

###

Of course, the real reason I’m piddling around with this stuff is because I’m utterly blocked about What comes next? in the Work in Progress.

My writing method is kinda like making an afghan: I write scenes and scenes as inspiration takes me, but then comes the much drearier process of connecting those scenes. Writing those bridges. More architecture than juice. But if it isn't done, you’re stuck with a bunch of loose narrative threads.

What I really want to write is: And then they were all run over by a truck.

###

Watched True Detective 2.1 and 2.2 last night. As mindless entertainment, it’s okay, but I thought it was really poorly written. Superbly cast—Mahershala Ali may be the best actor I’ve ever seen—and extremely well directed. But, you know. I’m getting’ kinda tired of the American South as the ultimate Gothic trope. It's a big yawner.

My favorite TV right now is Travelers, all three seasons of which I’ve now watched in their entirety twice. It's hard to recommend it to anyone who isn't a hardcore science fiction fan, though, because the first season—which is necessary because set up— is merely Eh. Second and third seasons, though, are terrific.
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POST-DATED

IMG_1061


Lois Lane and I had a date to tour the Mesier Homestead, but now she’s come down with the flu or the creeping crud or whatever it is that’s knocked me out lo! these four days past. So I drove to Wappingers alone.

The Mesier Homestead turned out to be closed (dudes! update your fuckin’ website!), so instead I wandered around Wappingers, snapping photos of the weird shit in front of people's houses.

Some day, I’m gonna figure out why these shrinking, post-industrial towns, relics of some 19th century manufacturing boom, speak to me so loudly. But for now, I’m content just to spy on them.

IMG_1062


It felt good to be out and moving around even though it was stupidly cold, and I was underdressed.

###

Max called in the evening; first time we’d chatted since he got so weird about the tutoring thing.

I asked him about Christmas in Tustin.

“It was good,” he said. “It was good. We drove down to Joshua Tree and hiked around, so I got a firsthand look at how the government shutdown is affecting things. Oh! And I saw Beau.”

“Oh?”

“He came to the house for a little bit.”

“And how is Beau?”

“Not good,” Max said. “He’s homeless.”

WHAT?”

“Well. I mean. I guess technically he’s not homeless ‘cause he could live with Dad and MaryAnne. But he doesn’t want to.”

“When you say ‘homeless,’ what are you talking about? Is he sleeping on park benches?”

“Well, I guess he could be. But I think he’s living in a tent on a hillside somewhere.”

“Jesus,” I said. “Is he using?”

“He seemed clean,” Max said. “But in some ways, that’s more alarming.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well… psychosis.”

Oh.

The possibility that Beau could have severe mental problems had never so much as occurred to me. I mean, I totally understood his avoidance of Bill and MaryAnne—he’d been so much the goat in that particular nuclear family unit. But I’d pictured him avoiding them while living at least a marginally fulfilling life. The thought that Beau might be metamorphosing into Ted Kaczynski felt kind of unreal.

Oh, Beau!

I’d loved Beau when he was a kid.

I wondered if he remembered that at all? And then I thought, Probably not. We never remember the people who loved us when we were kids. Only the people who did us wrong.

IMG_1052


It was five degrees out when I woke up this morning. Five degrees! And so dry that when I pet the cats, I can practically see sparks.
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Dreamed I was at this hotel on the cliff with RTT and a bunch of other people including a 15 or so miniature dogs—and when I say “miniature dogs,” I don’t mean toys, I mean bonsai Newfoundlands.

The dogs were being horribly mistreated, not through any malice but because they were RTT’s responsibility, and RTT was simply too scatter-brained to anticipate their needs. Most of the dogs were puppies—like bacteria, bonsai Newfoundlands apparently have a very short reproductive cycle—and one of the puppies was a half Newfie/half wolf mix whom various people throughout the dream kept telling me had “homosexual tendencies.”

Anyway, RTT and I had 45 minutes to check out. And the room was a mess, covered in tiny plops of shit. The bedclothes had been gnawed etc. I was hysterical wondering how I was gonna save face and cover for RTT at checkout time.

On top of all this, I had invited Booter for coffee and realized I had coffee beans but no grinder! So, I was knocking on doors of various other hotel guests, asking, Do you have a grinder? And having those hotel doors slammed in my face.

Into this mess came a veterinarian, apparently summoned by the hotel.

He was a tall, beautifully slender Brit just a few years younger than me with bare feet that looked somehow like shells. And the second we lay eyes upon each other, the vet and I felt this deep love for one another, so instead of caring for the bonsai Newfies, we spent the countdown till checkout talking about our mutual love of heroin and books!

We’d both done the heroin thing in our early 20s and decided—with some regret—that the cost/benefit analysis just didn’t support its use, so we’d sworn it off. There were still books, though! We were talking about how much we both loved Richard Powers when I woke up.

###

Dream was weird in two respects in that (a) I absolutely have dreamed about that hotel on the cliff before and (b) in real life, I don’t much like Richard Powers.

IMG_0857


Speaking of books, I bought a copy of Tom’s Midnight Garden for Atticus, so I reread it last night for the umpteenth quadrillion time before I have to give it to him today.

Such a beautiful book. That ending:

Afterwards, Aunt Gwen tried to describe to her husband that second parting between them. "He ran up to her, and they hugged each other as if they had known each other for years and years, instead of having only met for the first time this morning. There was something else, too, Alan, although I know you’ll say it sounds even more absurd… Of course, Mrs. Bartholomew’s such a shrunken little old woman, she’s hardly bigger than Tom anyway: but, you know, he put his arm right around her and he hugged her goodbye as if she were a little girl."

Atticus likes to read, and his parents are going through a horrendous divorce. Somebody needs to spoil that boy. Presents for no particular reason are in order.

I do have a thing for precocious kids between the ages of 10 and 12.
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Chapter 2

(i)

Henry Miller. That was his name. Henry Miller.
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Chapter 2 (continued)

(ii)

At odd intervals, never predictable, Marder requested my assistance entertaining certain business associates who required discreet diversion a safe distance away from the city.

I was well compensated. Florrie was not invited. The young women who were invited needed specific instruction of a type that I was particularly skilled at giving. Also, I was good at cards.

These entertainments took place in an enormous picturesque cottage on Manhasset Bay.

I was living a kind of double life. During the day, I functioned flawlessly in the roles Marder had assigned me. Hostess. Confidante. Panderer.

But when I was alone, I thought about Henry Miller. The hours we’d spent in each others’ company had taken on a kind of sunset glow like the final scenes in a book that had yet to be written.

On the last night we spent together before I left for Long Island, Henry Miller turned to me after several rounds of Manhattans and said, “You know the problem with me? I’m always falling in love with women like you.”

He had a deep, gravely voice that would bind him forever to the Brooklyn he talked about so incessantly that you might have thought Brooklyn was a woman he’d slept with and would never, ever get over.

In the mornings while the others slept, I’d walk along the beach. Wandering barefoot through the tidal bars, I’d pick up seashells and fragments of smooth brown seaglass, poke at the purple crabs that clung to the cordgrass tufts as the sea slowly ebbed. I had a decision to make, and it had to do Henry Miller: How much should I let myself to like him? Would I let myself like him?

He had an odd prescience: I had to grant him that. At some point during those mad verbal marathons, he’d actually talked about purple crabs as if defining this present small piece of my future for me: “It’s layered from magma to skyscraper, this earth, this planet. And every layer is balanced on the one that came before it, completely alien—new logics, new rules, new paradigms, new timing. You know the only creatures that can scuttle across each and every layer without losing their balance? Crabs!”

When he laughed, he made a sound like a dog’s bark.

Two days passed. Three days passed.

It didn’t start to get unpleasant until one of the young women developed a greenish discharge from her pussy. She blamed a business associate of Marder’s.

Unpleasantness was subdued but not entirely discharged by an exchange of money.

“Money is completely imaginary”, Henry Miller told me that first night. “The only real thing is art.”

Though the girl who was going to need that arsenic treatment seemed to believe money was real, too.
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Chapter 2 (continued)

(iii)

One of Marder’s business associates was named Atwood. Atwood was in railroads. Marder had asked me to pay special attention to Atwood.

On the fourth night, Atwood began to cry after participating in an act most men his age might have congratulated themselves for as it required youthful stamina.

Atwood didn’t want a cigar. Atwood didn’t want a shot of Canadian Club.

So I took him by the elbow, and I led him out onto one of the white house’s many wrought iron balustrades. He perked up when he saw the stars. Stars in the sky made Atwood happy.

“Look over here,” he said. “Look! Cassiopeia! And see over there? That’s the Big Dipper. The Indians called it the Great Plow.”

Stars in the sky didn’t make me happy, but for some reason, they reminded me of Henry Miller. And that made me happy.

Meanwhile, Atwood had taken a liking to me.

“What is your name, dear?”

“Marguerite,” I said.

“Marguerite, you don’t belong here,” Atwood said. “I knew that the moment I laid eyes on you. You’re something rare. You move like a princess. Swanlike. You glide.”

I lowered my eyes modestly. “I’m here to settle a debt.”

“A debt?”

“Not my debt. My father’s debt. He made some business investments. Unwise business investments he wouldn’t normally have made, but Mama—she’s so ill, and Papa thought this was a sure way to make the money she’d need for treatment except it didn’t work out.” I swallowed loudly. “He borrowed the money from Mr. Marder, and then when he couldn’t pay him back, Mr. Marder said he needn’t pay it back if he… If I…” I blinked several times rapidly. “Do you have a cigarette?”

Atwood had his gold cigarette case out in a jiffy. His gold lighter too, encrusted with stones that glittered more like rubies than like garnets, though one never knows without a loupe.

“But that’s an outrage!” he declared.

I shrugged weakly. “I love my father, Mr. Atwood.”

“If I had a daughter, I wish she could be as good and brave as you! Here – “ He reached into his pocket, stuffed a note into my hand. What denomination? It wouldn’t do to look. “It’s not much—“

“It’s too much—“

“I’m going to have a word with that Marder—“

“No, no! Please. He’ll take it out in horrible ways if he knows I’ve told anyone—“

I let Atwood soothe my tears. He had stubby fingers, and his breath was very sour when he kissed me on the cheek.

“You’re a good man! I could tell that the instant I laid eyes on you!” I murmured over and over again.

“You stay here!” I said when his breathing finally turned hard and rhythmical. “I want to remember you looking at the stars! The stars you love! Promise me you’ll stay right here. Looking at the stars!”

He promised.

Atwood’s bedroom was on the second floor. Small chamber paneled in wood. Brushes aligned on a mirrored mahogany chiffonier. Lithograph of the HMS Victory hanging on the wall.

I had perhaps five minutes, I calculated, before Atwood returned to the bedroom.

The rules of the game said I could take one thing but that I had to leave one thing behind.

Next to the brushes stood a small oval box. Looked to be made of sterling silver. I picked up the box, fingered it expertly, searching for the hidden latch. It was a matchstick holder! I wanted to laugh. A fifty-dollar reliquary for a one-cent trifle!

He could have lost it in oh so many places throughout the evening, shuffling between the table, and the smoking parlor, and the boudoir where Marder’s female guests waited to perform their tricks. He could even have lost it on the balustrade where he showed me the stars that made him so happy.

I left a piece of black velvet ribbon. Its nap was almost worn off; I’d been using it to tie a broken stay on my corset. If Atwood discovered the ribbon, he’d imagine it fallen from the uniform of one of the maids. No doubt he’d complain, and the maid would get a bad reference.

I hurried away from Atwood’s room.
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Chapter 2 (continued)

(iv)

It was Saturday when I got back to the Montague Street flat. Florrie was snoring on the divan, naked except for a fake mustache. I wondered how much trouble it had taken her to stick that mustache to her upper lip. How much it would hurt when the time came to rip it off.

Poor Florrie.

On the side table next to the divan sat a bottle with a broken neck. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut, hard to get since the passage of the Volstead Act. The bottle top with its cork still intact lay in a wet splotch on the Persian carpet; around it lay smaller glass shards, a dirty chemise, a pair of drawers, a few trampled flowers. Marder was very proud of that Persian carpet.

Poor Marder.

The party had spilled over onto other surfaces as well. Crock jugs upended, an unidentifiable delicacy that looked like tiny pickled legs in a pool of melting aspic. Two naked bodies entwined on my bed.

Such valuables as I owned, I kept in my bedroom. In a secret compartment in my vanity, which sprang open when I stroked a wooden spring with just the right pressure. Florrie didn’t know this, of course, or she would have robbed me long ago. There was no point in getting mad at Florrie for entertaining strangers in my bedroom: She’d cry, I’d feel badly, and she’d just do it again the next time I went away. In any event, the secret compartment was untouched; my little treasures intact, my little secrets unbreached.

As quietly as I could, so as not to disturb the naked strangers, I hit the hidden spring, deposited the silver matchbox , withdrew 50 dollars. The strangers smelled like garlic and ammonia. The smell of sex.

Back in the drawing room, Florrie had awakened. Was sipping gingerly from the bottle’s broken neck. “You were gone for a long time,” she said.

I shrugged. “Four days. Not so long. I’ll teach you how to open a champagne bottle properly so that you’re prepared next time.”

“I know how to open a champagne bottle,” said Florrie.

“I had to see my mother,” I said. “She’s very ill. She thinks I’m at Wellesley College, and I had to pretend I had no way of getting back. That was the only way my mother would let me stay and take care of her, you see. The whole family is depending upon the education I’m getting at Wellesley College.”

“The education you’re getting at Wellesley College!” Florrie snorted.

“They sacrificed a lot to send me there,” I said. “I feel badly that my ambitions lie in other directions, but the important thing is that I have the opportunity to better myself and to help them. You need to clean this place up, Florrie. I’ll do what I can for you with Marder, but I’m not sure what he’ll want to do –“

“Don’t tell him!”

“I have to, Florrie,” I said. “It’s the honest thing to do.”

“He won’t kick me out, will he? I’ll give you—I’ll make it worth your while!”

“Those schnorrers on my bed, Florrie? Get them out. Now,” I said, walking toward the door. As I turned around to close it, I saw Florrie scrambling for her undergarments.
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Chapter 2 (continued)

(v)

Skinny, blond teenage boy was standing on the front porch of the Bensonhurst house when I got there. I didn’t recognize him. Thought at first he was related to the current family of Poles on the ground floor. Something in his eyes looked familiar, though. Right. My brother, Eddie. It wasn’t hard to imagine that so much time had gone by, but it was hard to imagine that the people I’d left behind had changed. I was supposed to change, but they were supposed to stay exactly the same.

Eddie had been 10 years old when I left home. Now he was 15. He’d always been a watchful boy, an outsider within the family, and on the playground, that kid with the runny nose and untied shoes, studying all the other children while they worked their laces into perfect bunny ears and double knots.

Eddie was obviously bored with whatever mission he’d been assigned. He cracked his knuckles. He whistled without making a sound. Mission must have to do with that packet of envelopes that lay on the stoop beside him, I thought.

“Sammy says June Mansfield is you,” said Eddie.

“Easier to pronounce than Iulia Smerth,” I said, lunging.

Eddie laughed and snatched the packet up. “She didn’t tell me to give them to you. She just told me: Get rid of them.”

“If you give them to me, you will be getting rid of them,” I said.

“That’s not what she meant.”

“Oh, you think so, Karnak? How’d you know I was coming?”

“I’m not stupid, June Mansfield. Is this Henry Miller guy for real? We read some of the letters. Me and Sammy. My love, you are Jupiter, a planet whose gravitational pull is enormous. How is it, then, that your moons and satellites don't so much as ripple your tides—“

“Give those to me,” I said.

“Does that kind of line really work?”

“Now, Eddie. I want them now.”

“Hey! I’m trying to improve my mind. Weren’t you always telling me to improve my mind?”

“He’s a writer,” I said.

“He wants to know all about the day you first read Dostoyevsky,” Eddie said. “Where you were sitting. What you were eating. What color drawers you were wearing.”

“He’s a writer, Eddie. That’s what writers do. They collect details.”

“Zane Grey doesn’t care what color drawers you’re wearing.”

“What do you want to do with your life, Eddie?” I asked. “Be a draper like Papa?”

“Hell, no,” my brother said. “I want to do whatever I have to do to get the hell out of this place. Beyond that, I don’t much care.”

“Where do you want to go?”

“Some place where there’s a lot of space.”

I sighed. “I’ll help you any way I can. I mean that. But right now, give me those letters.”

He did.

Henry Miller’s letters were enclosed in those translucent envelopes designed for sending mail to Europe or to Asia or to other places that were very, very far away. I wondered if he thought Bensonhurst was very, very far away. There was also a package wrapped in brown paper and string. A book.

“First time, he knocked on the door,” Eddie said. “Mama came out and screamed at him. So then he began standing across the street. Just standing and staring. That made Mama even crazier.”

“I’ll tell him to stop,” I said. “I’ll tell him not to come here anymore. Look. Here’s some money. Give it to her. Don’t tell her it’s from me.”

“There you go again,” Eddie said. He spoke Jiddisch. He was cross. “I told you: I’m not stupid.

“You think I’m stupid. You think she’s stupid. Everyone’s stupid but you and Henry Miller, I suppose. But see, here’s the thing, Iulia: We’re not stupid. She knows where the money comes from. And you know what she uses it for? Every Shabbat, she takes a match to it. She burns your money to light the Shabbat candles.”

“Then you keep the money,” I whispered in English.

And I fled.
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Chapter 2 (continued)

(vi)

When you don’t know how you feel about someone, and you haven’t seen him in a while, you lie to yourself about what he looks like. In my mind, Henry Miller had grown quite handsome.

So I was shocked to see how plain he looked, how small, how insignificant, huddled in the recess between the drugstore’s two display windows, checking his watch, then two seconds later, checking it again. He clutched a limp bouquet of roses; his fingers looked freakishly slender, his hands looked abnormally small. I almost turned around and fled. I don’t know why I didn’t.

Instead, I waved to him airily from the other side of the street. He didn’t see me. Too busy checking that watch. I sauntered through the traffic, never minding to make sure the cars would stop—they always did—and stood six feet away from him. He still didn’t see me.

“Excuse me, Mister,” I said. “Do you happen to have the time?”

He began to smile the pleasant smile of someone who genuinely enjoys dispensing small kindnesses, and then he recognized me.

“I wasn’t sure you’d come,” he said.

“That makes two of us,” I said. “But here I am. Where would you like to go?”

He studied the display of Egyptian cigarettes and the sign for Velvet Kind Pure Ice Cream in the drugstore window. He snuck a shy sideways glance at my shoes. “These are for you,” he said, shoving the flowers toward me.

“We’ll go to Jimmy Kelly’s,” I said.

We took a cab to Sullivan Street where a blacksmith shop had recently been converted into a speakeasy by Mr. Kelly who, as a Captain in Greenwich Village’s Tammany Machine, was immune from prosecutors intent upon enforcing the Volstead Act. The place served genuine Canadian booze and featured a floorshow of sorts. Florrie had danced there briefly, but the tips were better at the Orpheum.

“And how have you been?” I asked magnanimously once my bourbon was in front of me.

“Well, you know. I’ve been working. And I’ve been writing letters to you.”

“Where to you work?”

He laughed. “Oh, your basic portal to hell, cunningly disguised as a profit-making enterprise. I like to call it the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company. It calls itself Western Union.”

“What do you do there?”

“I listen to the shit that’s served up to me with a pleasant if somewhat vacant smile upon my lips,” he said. “I understand that the sounds I’m forced to endure are the little bleating noises that well-intentioned herbivores make as they gather round their Serengeti waterhole and that I, too, am an herbivore. I bleat when I’m required to bleat, and I forbear.”

What effective rejoinder was there to that? “You should be a writer,” I said.

He laughed. “I like to talk, and I like to read. Does that mean I’d like to write?”

“If you write what you like to read the way you like to talk,” I said.

“Let’s dance,” he said.

His dancing hadn’t improved any in the four days we’d been apart. In between tromping on my insteps and fighting off the impulse to clamp his moist and slightly trembling hand more firmly upon my rump, he kept up a stream of sotto voce stories about the other couples in Jimmy Kelly’s polished glide zone. That one was a prostitute and her pimp. That one there was a gambler and the missionary who’d sworn to reform him. Those two were transvestites—the one in the three-button suit was the lady, the one in the plunging gown was the man. There was Adolph Hitler who’d flown secretly to New York to keep a secret rendezvous with Florence Harding—she’d stood him up. I laughed.

I don’t like to laugh, but I couldn’t help it.

The more I laughed, the more relaxed he became. The more relaxed he became, the more tense I became.

We drank more bourbon. A lot more bourbon.

“Tell me about yourself,” he asked. And then, he laughed. “That’s such an awkward request. Don’t tell me about yourself. Let me tell you about yourself.”

“But you don’t know anything about me,” I said.

“I know English isn’t your native language. I know you grew up among strangers. I know no one has ever loved you the way you deserve to be loved. That’s a start, isn’t it?”

A man three tables away was staring at us. Staring at me. I could tell he was a Jew. Impeccably got up in pearl-grey pinstripes and an immaculate white shirt with a high-buttoned collar. A white linen handkerchief peeking from the pocket of his suit jacket. Sitting alone at his table. Staring at me. Had he followed me there?

“We need to leave,” I said to Henry Miller.

“Leave?” he said.

“You need to pay,” I told him.

“Pay?”

I pushed him hard, and he almost fell off his chair.

“But I only have a couple of dollars on me,” he said mildly.

“Give them a check,” I suggested. “You’re here with me. They’ll accept it.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that. But, you see, I don’t own a checkbook. In fact, my only asset is my salary. Also”—he looked at me sideways—“I’m married. I have a kid. I might as well make a clean breast of it to you.”

“I see,” I said.

He held up a single finger. “But I never run out of ideas. In fact, I have one now. Do you know if there’s a telephone in this establishment?”

“There is a coin-operated booth near the facilities.”

“Excuse me for just one moment then.” He made me a little bow as he rose from his chair, and he lurched off in the direction of the bar.

If Henry Miller didn’t return, I thought, I would have to approach the man in the pinstriped suit. Now that I thought about it, the man in the pinstriped suit looked like that Jewish millionaire from Rivington Street, the man my mother fancied from the old neighborhood. The man my mother thought was giving her money except that I was the one giving her money, and my head was swirling from too much bourbon, too many foxtrots underneath the scalloped dome with its glistening chandelier that swirled over Jimmy Kelly’s dance floor. He wasn’t real though, was he? That millionaire? Could you lie someone into existence?

“It’s going to be fine,” Henry Miller told me, crashing back to the table. “Although it may take a few moments. Would you like to dance some more?”

“No!”

“No? What’s wrong, June?”

“Wrong? Why nothing. Nothing. Except—“ I was surprised to find myself gasping for breath. “I’m not who you think I am. You think I’m a taxi dancer. That I sell myself. But I’m a gypsy. From an old, old family. From an ancient line that dates back to before the time of the Romans. No one will ever own me—“

“Stop,” Henry begged, and he reached over and took my hand. “I think you’re brilliant,” he said simply.

An old man in an ill-fitting blue uniform and a billed cap with a satchel slung over one shoulder marched up to our table and handed Henry a crisp stack of bills. “Western Union” read the metal badge on the old man’s cap

“Creighton!” whooped Henry. It was amazing how quickly he could pass from the depths of tortured emotion to the good-humored bonhomie of a foot solider a safe distance from the war. “And how’s business? Saved any lost souls recently?”

“A few, Miller. A few. Likely, I’ll save yours, too, if you’re not careful.”

“Oh, I’m always careful, Creighton. Prudence and Circumspection—my second and third names.”

The old man shot a shrewd, disapproving look my way. “Likely you’re not, but the Good Lord loves you just the same. Say, Miller, will a half C be enough? Just say the word. Because I’d be proud to lend you something out of me own pocket. It would be a pleasure to be of assistance to you.”

“Why, I will say a word, and that word will be, ‘Thank you.’ Two words: ‘Thank you, brother.”

Three words, I thought.

The old man pressed more bills into Henry’s hands. He didn’t look at me again.

Henry grabbed the money and settled the bill, left a generous tip for the waiter. He shook hands with the waiter. And with the manager. And with the assistant manager, the cigarette girl, the hat check girl. The bouncer yawning over a cigarette, he pounded on the shoulder, standing on the tips of his toes to murmur something into the giant man’s ear that made him spit with laughter.

Prairie dawn breaks over the roofs of the tenements, warehouses, factories, and dilapidated warehouses of the West Village. Henry sits a respectful six inches away from me in the back seat of the cab. He has the audacity to smile at me.

“But this is what you really want, isn’t it?” I say, and I stick my hand down the front of his pants. He gasps. His cock jumps and spits, but his eyes look dazed. I unbutton his fly, make the necessary arrangements in my own underclothing. Straddle him.

The cab takes a sharp corner too fast: Henry’s teeth knock against my teeth. I hear a crack. He groans and gives a little shake. Withdraws.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” he say.

“Don’t stop,” I say.

He nods, still dazed. The base of his cock is slick and slippery; I squeeze it, and he begins to engorge. He thrusts it into me; the cab takes another corner.

Out the back window of the cab, I spy a grand black car. Brilliant chrome wings jut out from a circular emblem on its elongated hood. A Duesenberg. You have to be rich to drive a Duesenberg. I can’t quite make out the driver’s face. I hide my face in Henry’s shoulder, but it’s too late: The driver has seen me.

The man in the pinstripes from the club.

Henry shudders and stills.

“Wait, wait,” I beg.

“The sun’s coming up, June,” Henry tells me gently.

“Please, please –“

He works his hand into my crotch. Relief. But when I open my eyes again, the car is still right on our tail.

“Someone’s following us,” I tell Henry. “No, don’t look. Driver, please. Go faster.”

“Lady, I’m juicin’ her as much as I can,” says the driver. “Can’t give her anymore. I got a wife and kid at home.”

“June, June, the girl in the moon,” says Henry, “who eats my heart with a rusty spoon. Everything is jake. Everything is fine –“

But he was lying.
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Dreamed that I was at some sort of house party, hosted (I think) by the extended Hare clan (my first husband’s family.) We were in the process of moving the party from a hotel to another location—Santa Cruz? My hosts were allocating transportation: “And you, P, will ride with X—“

X turned out to be this very handsome, well-spoken young man who was a law student at the University of Indiana. (In real life, I don’t think there is a University of Indiana.)

Before I could leave, I wanted to make sure my camera was operating optimally. I had somehow unfolded it so that it looked like one of those pop-up greeting cards. And I found myself utterly incapable of folding it back up so that it looked (and functioned) like a camera.

X was waiting very patiently, but I realized it must be a complete drag for him to wait on me, an elderly woman, so I just crammed the unfolded camera into a pocket.

“My son is taking the California Bar!” I told X—my attempt to build a social bridge!—and X evinced pleasant interest in this fact, but I thought to myself, Why did you say that? Nobody cares about you or your son.

We got to the maybe-Santa Cruz, and I followed X into his apartment. X introduced me to his wife—I was shocked he had a wife, he was so young! His wife was German, very beautiful. “Was it hard for you to learn English?” I asked, which she misheard as, “How many children do you have?”

She started telling me that she and X did not want children, and I was mortified because in the absence of toddler cars, random toys, associated clutter, I would never ask people I did not know about their “children.” I would consider it a rude question.

Suddenly, I had the idea that X and his wife were waiting for me to leave their apartment. Clearly, there was no continuation of the Hare family festivities here.

Left and stumbled across a ceramic plaque in the middle of a highway with a humorous quip dedicated to Annie Steinhardt’s Pizza (Annie’s my aunt.) I wanted to take a photograph of it to text to Annie.

Then I started thinking of all the other times I had visited Santa Cruz, what my visitation rituals had been. First I would visit Annie, then I would visit Janet & Rik—Janet and Rik lived up a country road on a steep hill, and the map of the road was somehow superimposed over my dream-memory of the steep road.

And then I thought: But Rik is dead

When I woke up, I thought, I’ve dreamed that map-cum-visual of the steep road many, many times before.

Though I don’t know whether I actually have.

And also, Rik and Janet never lived in Santa Cruz.

###

Fourth day of extremely bor-r-r-r-r-ing illness. My lungs are clear! I can exhale without sounding like, Dere’s a train comin’ down da track!

Gonna give myself one more day of house arrest, though.

Did a lot of scribbling on the Work in Progress, so felt entirely virtuous.

My composition method is quilt-like. I will write huge chunks of exposition entirely out of order. And then I will have to think of some way to sew those chunks together. I worry when the seams show.

I write like I read, which is to say nonlinearly: After I get 50 pages into a novel, I will quite often flip to the end and begin reading it backwards. Suspense i.e. What happens next? has never been very important to me.
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(i)

We were both liars. Confabulators. Prevaricators. When we chased the sun across the sky, we never caught up with it.

We recognized each other right away.

There’s the story you’re telling, but then, there’s the story you’re leaving out. Facts are only points of connection, after all; a way of sourcing the many, many other things that might be true.

I think that’s what sealed our connection.

My God! You breathe oxygen! So do I. We both snap on two and four. We both wake up in the middle of the night because we’re never convinced we are where we’re supposed to be.

It has to be love.

What else could it be?

###

What else would I want to know if I were you?

(ii)

Jan. 11th, 2019 11:52 am
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(ii)

After my mother kicked me out of the dark Bensonhurst apartment that served as my family’s home, I lived with Florrie. In an apartment on Montague Street, a ground floor flat in an ancient brownstone with French doors that opened on to a skinny little garden wedge filled with weeds and whatever else grew from the seeds dropped from the shit of the pigeons that perched on the building’s eaves. The back room off the garden got a lot of light in the late afternoons, and sometimes I sat naked there to wallow in the light.

The man who owned the flat was called Marder. He extracted certain favors from Florrie and from me as a condition of residence. As Marder was in his late sixties and in poor health, these favors were never onerous.

I kept on giving money to my mother. She’d sat shiva for me. Pretended I was dead. But, of course, she went right on taking the money.

My family hadn’t always lived in Bensonhurst. The mezuzah in the decorative case fixed to right of the battered front door had come all the way from Galicia, and before that, Romania. My father was fond of telling us that the sheath that held the parchment was pulverized coral from the Red Sea and that the mezuzah itself was inscribed from pigments made from the blood of my grandfather and great grandfather, and their grandfathers and great grandfathers, in a line that descended straight back to the first Galitzianers who found their way to the grasslands from the high desert of the Holy Land.

Perhaps I inherited my love of lies from my father.

My mother struggled hard to keep the faith. My brothers and sisters? Not so much. Once when I was 15, my mother pinched my arms so hard when she caught me reading Germinal on the fire escape one Shabbat that she left a fat yellow bruise on my flesh. Then she slapped my face.

“This day is for honoring the Lord,” she hissed. “Who gave you this book?”

“I found it,” I said.

“You found it where?”

“The Lord is good to me, Mama,” I said. “He puts things out for me in easy reach. Blessed is the our God who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us.”

The Lord had left Germinal out on a scarred wooden desk in a room at Girls’ High School, positioning Mr. O’Flaherty, the Girls’ High’s janitor, just behind it. Mr. O’Flaherty’s fly was unbuttoned, and he was breathing hard.

“Ya like books, girlie?” Mr. O’Flaherty asked.

“I do,” I said.

“The buttons on yer shirt,” he said. “Open them.”

I smiled at Mr. O’Flaherty, and as carefree as you please, I undid the buttons of my long white middy blouse. Underneath, my shimmy was grey from too many washings. “My bubies are hot, Mr. O’Flaherty,” I said. “Do you mind if I let them out for air?”

His hand fumbled at his fly. “Bend over,” he said. “Let me see your bubies knock against each other. I want to see them sway. And put your hand there, on your nips, your big round whore nips –“

When he finished fumbling, I slipped my shimmy back over my head, did up the buttons of my middy. One button had a fraying thread; I would have to sew it on more tightly that night.

The janitor could barely lift his eyes. I thought perhaps he might go out and hang himself after he left the room. I thought of his big, soft, white, hairless body swaying gently on a rope slung from the rafters and suppressed a smile.

“I like to read, Mr. O’Flaherty,” I informed him. “Zola is a particular favorite of mine. I like Dostoyevsky, too. And Thomas Hardy. But Dickens? No. I don’t like Dickens. Can you remember that?”

Mr. O’Flaherty gibbered something. And there might have been many more books except that my mother, who saw little merit in reading on any day of the week but no merit at all in reading on Shabbos, snatched Germinal from my hands.

I didn’t stop smiling.

“On Shabbos, we do not read,” my mother said. Her voice trembled. I imagine she wanted to slap me again. “We do not read, we do not speak frivolously. We do not handle money. We do not light fires. We think about the ways we can serve God.”

She spoke in Jiddisch, which was the language we spoke at home, the only language that either of my parents could speak with any authority.

“I’m sorry that I lied to you,” I said to my mother. “A teacher gave me this book. Then he died. By his own hand. But before he died, he gave me this book, and I feel that I serve God by reading it. By understanding.”

Meesa Masheena,” said my mother. If it hadn’t been Shabbos, she would have spat.

(iii)

Jan. 11th, 2019 11:51 am
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(iii)

Germinal and my (many) subsequent encounters with Mr. O’Flaherty did serve to convince me there were easier ways to get what I wanted than by becoming a teacher, which was what Girls’ High School was preparing me to do.

Easier ways than by becoming a presser like my father or by sewing piecework like my mother. Slaving over other people’s dirty rags! No. That was not a life for me.

That species of labor, as I saw it then, was merely a variant of pushing carts through underground mines.
In a place where they were brought together through shameful impulses reverberating into stifled need, without the infrastructure of economic hierarchy, human beings were infinitely tractable, easily charmed.

There was simply more room for advancement.

As I saw it then.

iv

Jan. 11th, 2019 11:50 am
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(iv)

After she kicked me out, my mother chanted prayers for the dead. God, full of mercy, who dwells in the heights, provide a sure rest to the soul of Yisraela daughter of Zeev...

But I was a rebellious ghost. On Saturdays—not every Saturday, but Saturdays enough—I took the subway to Bensonhurst. The subway was new then. I felt very modern.

My family occupied the upstairs portions of a shabby, tarbox house. A duplex. The bottom was occupied by a Polish family. A new Polish family every six months or so. Poles don’t like Jews; so, they try to limit their exposure.

I left the money by the front door and its mezuzuh in a tin box that had once contained Kyriazi Freres cigarettes from Egypt. Fifty dollars. Sometimes more. Marder liked Egyptian cigarettes.

Then I’d go back down the creaky stairs and sit on the stoop, smoking. For half an hour. Sometimes less. Never longer. The streets were always empty on Saturdays. The shops were closed. Sometimes the door to the downstairs apartment would open, and a Polish man in a dirty undershirt would glare. At the quiet street. At me. I’d smile. That was the spring I taught myself how to blow smoke rings. I’d throw my head back and blow perfect smoke rings for the Polish man in the sweat-stained undershirt.

When I went back up the stairs to retrieve the tin, it was always empty.

v

Jan. 11th, 2019 11:48 am
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(v)

I often wondered what my mother told herself about that money. I was dead to her, and she was so convinced of the venomous strength of her own wrath that she would never have allowed herself to imagine for a single moment that the money came from me.

I thought, perhaps, my mother envisioned herself as the heroine of a beautiful story:

One day, a millionaire, driving by the old Adath Jashurun synagogue on Rivington Street, had seen my mother leaving schul, her loveliness undiminished—even enhanced—by the tichel riding low over her forehead as well as by the poverty, the years of grinding labor, the birth and nurturance of five ungrateful children, the incompetence of a fumbling husband. Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies…

Being a millionaire, he was good at math and had done the calculations: Price far above rubies, divided by fifty-two weeks of the year, multiplied by all the remaining years of a long and righteous life…

Or perhaps it wasn’t a millionaire, but G-d Himself who’d chosen to reward her in this way. First step in a lengthy apotheosis! It would culminate in Shamayim, as Ruth, Esther, and Miriam scampered forth from the swirling ethers to claim my mother as their sister.

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