The secret of the day was that I never yielded to the voice that said, “Take it easy. Take the day off. Take the rest of the day off. Rest.” It’s the hardest thing in life — when life isn’t actually hard, that is — to decide when to listen to this voice and when to ignore it. Sometimes, perseverance is foolishness, and it only makes things worse. Yesterday, though, I was in touch with myself, or so it seemed; I could count on what I felt. I had a long list of things to get through, and I got through it.
This is not to say that the voice wasn’t insistent. The day began with dithering. I’d made a date to see A Single Man with Quatorze at eleven. He wouldn’t mind very much if I canceled, but I didn’t like to do it. And that is really the only reason why I went to the movies yesterday. I’d really rather have stayed home.
For once, I left the house in plenty of time. I usually leave in just-enough time, but this means that Quatorze is already there (wherever “there” is) when I show up, and thus I’m at least late for him. I was lucky with the trains. A downtown 6 was pulling out of the station when I got through the turnstiles, but an express came along soon enough for us to pass it at Grand Central — it came in as we left. We passed another train just before 33rd Street. When the express reached Union Square, a local train’s doors were closed just as ours were opened, a virtual insult of sorts. I made my way to the forward tip of the platform. (To minimize travel time to the Angelika from uptown, you want to be in the first car of a 6 Train when it pulls into Bleecker Street. This puts you directly under Houston Street, two blocks east of the theatre. Subway configuration allows you to cover one of these two blocks underground.) Who should appear, just as that train from 33rd Street arrived, but Quatorze himself. It was too cold for walking!
To say that I was glad to see Tom Ford’s movie would be wrong, but I might as well say at the outset that, by the end of the day, I was very glad that I had seen it. When the movie was over, I realized that I’d picked up a great deal of very misleading buzz about the film. The combination of waiting for things that weren’t in fact going to happen while acclimating the filmmaker’s extremely dry style was a bit wilting. If someone had straightforwardly assured me that A Single Man is about the loss of a beloved companion, period, then I’d have enjoyed sitting through it a great deal more than I did. I hope that whatever I write about this picture (in the next couple of days, as usual) spares at least one viewer the unnecessary awkwardness of my experience.
Once the false, anticipated Single Man was replaced the actual, viewed oad been replaced by the actual, viewed one, I began to steep in it. As the narrative makes fairly plain near the beginning, George Falconer, the hero of A Single Man, intends this day to be his last. This brings an intensity and zest to his routine experiences that are said to come if you life each day as though it were going to be your last. Many, many worthwhile things would never be undertaken if we all lived as though the day were going to be our last — there would certainly be no literature, not even shopping lists — and I did not go about pretending any such thing. But I let myself get caught up in the draft of the film, increasingly as the day wore on.
There was no time for the long lunch in which Quatorze and I usually indulge after the movies. We boarded a 6 Train at Bleecker Street and rode up to 68th, where we came to ground two blocks south of Neil’s Coffee Shop, mentioned in gossip columnist Liz Smith’s list of eateries that she would miss hanging out in when she retired, and the only one where you would not expect to find a white tablecloth. We sat in the back of the back. Quatorze asked me how the burgers are there, and I ought to have said that I didn’t know. If I had known, I would have told him that they’re like the monsters at Jackson Hole, great mounds of barely bound ground meat that must be eaten with knife and fork. Quatorze offered it up graciously. We did not dally, but paid the bill and walked the two blocks over to Gracious Home.
We’ll be here all day if I get talking about Gracious Home. I love Gracious Home, of course, but I’ve come to prefer the quieter (and less exiguous) aisles at the big Feldman’s on Carnegie Hill. I couldn’t be sure, however, that Feldman’s would carry one of the three “musts” on my shopping list (the others being candles and cocktail napkins): a three-way fluorescent light bulb. Three way incandescent bulbs aren’t easy to find, and I’ve never spotted a three-way fluorescent anywhere but at Gracious Home. So Quatorze and I plunged in. Needless to say, we came out with a lot more than those three items. (We even found a nostalgic wall clock for Fossil Darling’s kitchen, which Quatorze has been all-but-renovating.) We were, indeed, carrying too much to carry back to my place on foot.
I made a pot of tea and resolved that Quatorze and I would chat in a civilized manner for an hour, and for an hour only; at four o’clock, I’d change into work clothes and start tidying the bedroom. Quatorze would be perfectly welcome to stay and talk, but I would get to work. I tidy the bedroom on Friday afternoons now so that Kathleen can sleep in on Saturday, or spend the whole day there if she feels it, without holding up domestic routines. (To the extent that they are flexible, domestic routines are onerous.) I calculated that, if I worked briskly, I could get through the bedroom in time to shower and dress and get myself to Crawford Doyle before closing time at six, in order to pick up some books that I’d ordered. Then I would return a DVD to the Video Room, before heading to the Museum for a chamber concert at seven.
Shortly after four o’clock, the teapot was empty, and I got up to refill it. Quatorze decided that it was time for him to head across town to Fossil’s, so I had to decide what to listen to while I dusted and vacuumed. (I had changed the sheets on Thursday night. Pretty soon, I’ll be doing some bit of housework every day, and the pace of life will be more even than it is now. I’m looking forward to that.) In the day’s spirit of just getting on with things, I listened to the large rump of Don Giovanni that I hadn’t heard during last weekend’s housework. I threw on some shorts and went through the bedroom like a white tornado.
Not stopping long enough to think, I dressed and went out and caught a taxi and, no thanks to heavy traffic on 86th Street, got to Crawford Doyle at 5:50, in time to collect my books. Then I walked three blocks in the wrong direction (from the Museum) and returned Four Christmases, which Kathleen and I had watched for the first time the night before; in exchange, I picked up Cheri, which I also hadn’t seen. It was at this point that thinking functions kicked in, and I realized that I had never blown out the scented votive candle in the bedroom that I light whenever I’m cleaning the room. What could happen? But I was wracked by the disapproval that both Kathleen and Quatorze would voice if they knew. So I had to go back home, which I did on foot. I blew out the candle, bundled up the laundry, took an ancient chicken pot pie from Eli’s out of the freezer, and popped it into the oven (200º — what could happen?). I took the laundry down to the valet and went out to hail another cab. This time, there was no traffic, so I had time to troll the Museum bookstore. I’d have been happier to miss this part of the day. On the sale tables, I saw only books that I have already bought but not opened. It was disgusting.
The chamber recital will also be written up elsewhere, but, if you don’t mind, I’ll anticipate. Perhaps because of A Single Man, I sensed a valedictory note throughout the evening, as if this were the final appearance of the Metropolitan Museum Artists in Concert. For the first time in my experience, Edward Arron, the cellist who serves as the group’s artistic coordinator, made no preliminary or explanatory remarks; he didn’t say anything at all. The first half of the program jiggered between the interesting and the extraordinary (more anon); I had dithered about going to the concert just as I’d dithered about the movie, and once again I had decided that I owed it other people (in this case the musicians) to show up. If I had taken the trouble to preview the program, though, I might well have stayed home. The program lacked shelf appeal for me. Happily, I didn’t take the trouble, so there I was in my seat, after the interval, for a magnificent performance of music that I don’t really know, the first of Fauré’s two piano quartets. Was it just the hangover of Tom Ford’s movie that made this genially exquisite masterpiece sound like exactly the right choice for a final presentation? I’d have been in tears, if the day hadn’t become an object lesson in pleasure and good fortune. While the concert lasted, I enjoyed it. I’d worry about future events later.
As I left the Museum in the floodlighted, frigid air, I left my gloves in my pocket while I called Kathleen and arranged to meet her at the New Panorama for dinner. It did not seem that life could get any better than this, and yet I knew that it was as good as it was precisely because there had been earlier moments that pointed in the same direction. We enjoy and love life because we have enjoyed and loved it. If you live long enough, the love that you have lost teaches you how to love what you have.