Upkeep Note:
19 September 2018

¶ The lotus lamp, removed last May for restoration, has returned to its spot in the apartment. Of course it took longer than the month promised, but delivery has been on-and-off imminent for more than three weeks. Just putting an end to that mini-ordeal is welcome.

Although it has been repainted (lacquered, actually) in a deep, vegetable green, the lamp looks just as it did, so much so that I wonder what all the fuss was about. But that’s restoration for you. The two panels of capiz that had fallen out of the lotus-blossom shades (inevitably lost) have been so cunningly replaced that I have to remember how noticeable the empty spaces used to be: the lamp itself doesn’t tell me. It’s just what it ought to be, no more and no less. It looks like it no longer needs what it just had done to it. Because it doesn’t. Novelty in reverse. 

And now I have the luxury of overlooking I missed it. 

DVD Note:
Medi-Date at the Veni Villas
18 September 2018

¶ “What we need,” I said, “is a little fun. How about Blame It On the Bellboy?” “Great idea!” said Kathleen. 

Actually, we neither of us said any such thing. We’ve been married for nearly thirty-seven years, and what we did say would probably be unintelligible, or, even worse, silly and odd. But I did suggest watching Mark Herman’s farce, and Kathleen readily agreed. At least one of us tried to imitate Penelope Wilton saying “Rubbish” in a north-country accent.

Kathleen claims that we saw Blame It On the Bellboy in the theatre. I don’t think so. I can’t believe that it had a wide theatrical release in the States; only two of the stars, Dudley Moore and Brian Brown, were known over here at the time (and I’m not so sure about Brown). Well, then there’s Bronson Pinchot, whom we had never heard of — an SNL alum, apparently. But I rarely run into people who have seen this very funny film, or even heard of it. It’s a totally British lark. Even the gangsters and the hotel manager are played by actors born on the other side of the English Channel from Venice. If not, as in Andreas Katsulas’s case, the other side of the Atlantic. Part of the farce right there. 

Blame It On the Bellboy is a mistaken-identity extravaganza in which a hit man, a would-be Romeo, and a corporate gofer are all given the wrong envelope when they check into the Hotel Gabrielli — a real place, but by no means to be confused with the Danieli. An incompetent bellboy (Pinchot) is responsible for all the mixups, but the mercy of the film is that we don’t see too much of him. Dudley Moore, who is supposed to scope out a villa for his monstrous boss, shows up at the residence of the hitman’s target, where he, or someone like him, is unfortunately expected. Richard Griffiths, looking for love via an outfit called “Medi-Date,” hooks up instead with the divinely blonde Patsy Kinset, an agent for Veni Villas, a fast-buck developer whose structures quake when planes fly overhead. (Perhaps Mr O’Reilly from Fawlty Towers is the architect.) Brian Brown’s envelope contains a photograph of a sweetly smiling Penelope Wilton. He has never shot a woman before. The ensuing three plot-lines interrupt each other with exhilarating frequency. 

The gangsters don’t believe Dudley Moore when he insists that there has been a mistake; they produce instruments of torture and a suitcase bomb instead. Penelope Wilton notices that Brian Brown is following her around, captures his heart, and becomes his willing accessory in the attempt to recoup — but don’t ask. The important thing is that she discovers his shy, sweet side, and when she isn’t bucking him up with a cuppa homebrewed wisdom, she’s impersonating Ma Barker. (Brian Brown genially sends up his trademark strong, silent type.) As for Richard Griffiths and Patsy Kinset, their misunderstanding, rich as a fruitcake in saucy double-entendres, goes on for a preposterous amount of time, and is only cleared up by the surprise appearance of Alison Steadman, as Griffiths’s wife. Kinset plays this development for all it’s worth, effectively blackmailing Griffiths into paying £100,000 for a house he doesn’t want. “Oh Maurice, what a surpro-eeze!” squeals Steadman. It might be worth noting that Kinset is motivated by a saxophone and a speedboat.    

The dénouement is fast and fizzy. For the first time, all the characters are in the same scene. Hapless Dudley Moore can’t get the bomb’s remote to work until shortly after two of the goons realize that they both switched the tags on the suitcases. Their mistake means that Brian Brown gets a bonus.

Two favorite lines that mean nothing out of context: “Are you deaf as well as debauched?” and “Check it out, sister!”

Dissipation Note:
Wages of Sin
17 September 2018

¶ My old, old, old friend, Fossil Darling, was on vacation last week, and since he didn’t go anywhere he had lunch with me. Ray Soleil came, too, of course. We had a fine old time, and then Fossil went home, while Ray came back to the apartment for a cup of tea and more chitchat. Kathleen was in Austin, TX for a panel discussion on digital currency, so when Ray said goodbye, I didn’t have to think about getting dinner ready. Thinking about dinner might have reminded me to go to Fairway for a small but necessary shop.

Instead, I watched a pretty good movie that Ray brought over for me to borrow. It’s called The Window, and aside from a twerpy soundtrack and Bobby Driscoll’s little-kid shrilling (does anything become annoying quicker?), it’s really pretty good. Especially since this suspenseful New York City tenement drama is completely lacking in Noo Yawk voices. 

After The Window, I watched something else, and then something else, and only then did I realize that I would have to go to Fairway the next day — a Saturday. 

Need I say more? I was punished. 

Rep Note:
PB & J
14 September 2018

¶ Also regressing to childhood, Kathleen has decided that all she wants for dinner is a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Night after night. 

The jelly is Stonewall Kitchens’ Sour Cherry. I have learned to spoon it onto the bread and then press it out with the bowl of the spoon. I try to keep it away from the edges, because Kathleen enjoys her sandwiches on one of her grandmother’s loveseats in the living room, where she has established a nest of sorts.

Then, on with the Extra-Crunchy, Super-Chunky Skippy peanut butter. This I spread on with a knife.

The bread is Vermont Organic White. If there were some way to do peanut-butter-and-jelly without bread, Kathleen would prefer that.

Of course, she gets an Arnold Palmer to drink it down. 

Political Note:
Blotter Philosophy
13 September 2018

¶ Honeybees live in a perfect society. Everyone has a job to do, and they do it accordingly.

Heaven is in the details: not “willingly,” or even “dutifully,” just accordingly. Perhaps only a harried police officer — in this case, Patrolman Darren Mays, who, as a professional sideline, is a member of the NYPD’s beekeeping unit (it deals with swarms) — would put it quite that way.  

From the time of Plato onwards, it has been grudgingly conceded that earthly life would more closely approach paradise if everybody else would just do what is supposed to be done. The problem is that, unlike bees, human beings are tempted by their imaginations into acting otherwise

Later in the same issue of The New Yorker in which this Talk piece occurs, the eusociality of termites, estimable or not, is explored by Amia rinivasan. 

Rep Note:
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
12 September 2018

¶ As a sign of my regression to childhood, no dish appeals to me more than spaghetti alla carbonara. It’s a marriage too good for heaven. 

Spaghetti & Parmesan
Breakfast (Bacon and Egg)

To keep the dish from complete childishness, a nice clump of parsley leaves is minced with the bacon (two slices). This mixture is stirred into well-buttered spaghetti (a lot of it), and then an egg yolk, which usually breaks on contact, is dropped in. I stir all this up with a pasta fork, and toss it into a bowl. Parmesan served separately.

For years, I dutifully used pancetta, the unsmoked Italian bacon, a slice of which I would brown in a little butter. But then I tired of such sophistication, and now I much prefer good old American bacon, which I zap in the microwave. It’s not supermarket bacon, though, but Schaller & Weber’s breakfast bacon, thickly sliced. Two minutes. Just the other day, I bought a small Corelle platter for the purpose — when clean, it lives in the microwave; how great is that! The bacon goes onto one small piece of paper towel and is covered with another. 

The really odd thing is that I am never too tired to make carbonara, even though it has lots of moving parts, considering the number of ingredients. Most of them go straight into the dishwasher before the pasta is even cooked. The rest go into the empty pasta pot, and soak through dinner. 

The best part is the satisfaction afterward, which can last for two or three hours. I could live on this, and maybe someday I will.

Rep Note:
Chef’s Salad
11 September 2018

It took Kathleen a long time to tell me that she doesn’t particularly care for chef’s salad. I started serving it about five years ago, and I suppose Kathleen gamely decided to give it a try. But enough was eventually enough.

I stopped making chef’s salads altogether. If I’d thought about it, I might have ventured that it was too much work to make a salad just for one. But this is silly. There might be many good reasons why it would be too much work to chop up the ingredients for a chef’s salad, but the number of people expected to enjoy the result is not one of them.

I have liked chef’s salad ever since being wowed by one at the Edwardian Room, the grand restaurant in the old Plaza. It was at a brunch or a lunch; my mother and sister were there, and presumably some other lady or ladies (but not my father), and, also presumably, we were all, or most of us, going to have chef’s salad. The salad was wheeled out on a cart, a glorious dome festooned with bits of egg white and parsley. The waiter spooned it onto dishes. The salad tasted like the dream of an everyday sandwich, but without the bread. The secret was the dressing, which bound all the flavors together in its own inscrutable zest. (I’ve never outgrown its appeal.) 

It was some sort of Russian dressing, I’m sure. Technically, a chef’s salad is simply whatever the chef feels like tossing in a bowl. When I was a boy, though, the ingredients, at least in the Northeast, were set: tiny cubes of ham, turkey, Swiss cheese and American cheese, a chopped hard-boiled egg, and iceberg lettuce. At least that is how I remember chef’s salads, until the creative Seventies reinvented everything. Now that I think of it, cubes of tongue were part of the deal, too. But I wouldn’t know where to buy tongue today. 

This evening, for some reason, I wanted to make a chef’s salad more than I worried about “going to all that trouble.” I also wanted to use up the ham and cheese and turkey and iceberg lettuce that I’d bought partly to make chef’s salad possible. Not to mention the bottle of Russian dressing that I made over a month ago. (It was still fine.) 

The one thing that I’d learned from making chef’s salad before is that skimping is the key to success. However much of any ingredient you think you need, use less. I cut a small circle off the edge of the iceberg, and chopped it up. Then I added what seemed minuscule amounts of the cubed items. (The tiny block of turkey was about the size of my pinkie.) I tossed in the chopped egg and added a light dose of dressing. For once, the salad did not look too big to eat, and it wasn’t.

As you might suspect, there was too much egg. Next time, I’ll see what it’s like to do without the egg altogether. There’s hard-boiled egg in the dressing, after all.

Music Note:
Rebuilding a Playlist I
10 September 2018

¶ One of my favorite playlists is centered on Brahms’s two sets of Liebeslieder Walzer, songs for vocal quartet (or chorus) with two-piano accompaniment. I’ve known the Liebeslieder since my teens and they have never failed to sweep me up. The older I get, the more intrigued I am by the wildly contrasting accompaniment to many of the songs (“Vom Gebirge,” for example).  Brahms poured a lot of invention into these ditties. 

The other works on the playlists are all agreeable and only occasionally unusual. There are a few that I didn’t know at all well when I put the playlist together. Some, like Beethoven’s Piano Trio, Op 70 No 2, I didn’t know at all. I’ve become rather crazy about the Trio’s third movement, with the descending piano figure that always reminds me of the quilting pattern, “Drunkard’s Path.” Some, like Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals, I knew but hadn’t heard very often. I think that I’m going to have to replace it. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s good for two listenings a year, maximum. 

Otherwise, I’m so fond of the playlist that I play it too often. 

So I’ve decided to construct a “matching” playlist, with another recording of the Liebeslieder and very close substitutions of everything else. Handel’s Keyboard Suite HWV 427 takes the place of the only other suite that I have that’s recorded by Angela Hewitt, HWV 433. Where Daniel Barenboim played Mozart’s K 570, he now plays K 533. (There’s a lot of piano in this playlist, including all four Chopin Ballades played in a row.)

So far, I’ve completed the part of the playlist that stretches between the Liebeslieder; what precedes and follows them remains to be dealt with. There have been a few shocks along the way, such as discovering that I have only John Barbirolli’s recording of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, the same recording that taught me the work in high school. Perusing Arkivmusic’s offerings, I couldn’t settle on another. But I think it’s time to hear someone else’s performance. 

Clerical Note:
I’m Old-Fashioned
7 September 2018

¶ This is an old-fashioned household: I pay most of the bills by mail, which means writing checks. Since writing checks is unbearably tedious, I let Quicken do the job for me. That’s all I use Quicken for. I don’t even balance the check book anymore, because the bank has moved on, and no longer returns the negotiated checks.

Printing checks means turning the printer on and loading blank checks. There is more often than not some little drama accompanying this business. The printer is out of ink, or I forget how to load the checks, and the actual check numbers don’t correspond to my register.

When bills come in, I enter the amounts in a table in Evernote. The table already contains the names of the payees. I add up the figures in subtotals and a grand total. Then, when it’s time to pay the bills, I copy the information onto Quicken. This might look like unnecessary work, but I find that it isn’t: in Quicken, the payee slot is usually autofilled after I type two or three characters, and retyping the amounts strengthens my awareness of spending.

When the checks are printed, I note the actual check numbers in the Evernote table. I don’t bother correcting Quicken if I’ve loaded the checks incorrectly. I’m not going to re-open Quicken to find out whom I paid how much and when. I have the much more accessible table. 

I use a stamp to sign the checks. Much easier. 

When stuffing the envelopes, I still have to make a point, because I don’t yet have the habit, of not licking the envelopes until I’ve checked that they’re all loaded correctly, with the payee’s address visible in the window (and not the signature on my check), and also made sure that I didn’t stuff two checks in one envelope.

You’re probably asking, why for the love of Gutenberg don’t I bank online? But I already told you.

Picky Note:
Water Bottle
6 September 2018

¶ A long time ago, I discovered that if you take a thick ragg sock and fold it back, shin over foot, it makes a perfect sleeve for the 32-ounce Rubbermaid water bottle that features a straw with a flip-top mouthpiece built into the lid. The sock absorbs both condensation and spills, making it safe for a tote bag alongside books and magazines.

Not too much later, I stopped lugging a quart of water around every time I left the house, because there was usually plenty of water to be had wherever I was going. (I was now entering the era when I no longer drove, and in fact rarely left Manhattan Island.) The water-bottle-in-a-sock remained a part of my life, though, because when I discovered that the sock provided excellent insulation, keeping ice water icy for hours, I filled up the bottle every night and planted it on my nightstand. When morning came, I refill the bottle with fresh ice cubes. It’s great!

It’s great, except the mouth of the water bottle is just a tad too small to accommodate normal ice cubes. Smaller cubes would slide in easily, but they would also melt much faster, even with the insulation. Need I say that the ice trays are also made by Rubbermaid. 

What drives me crazy is the internal straw, which fits into a round socket on the bottom of the lid. It fits, but then it slips out, because there is nothing to hold it in place but friction. It would be much better if the straw and the socket were threaded. Another thing that would help would be to position the socket in the center of the lid, and not somewhat off-center. As it is, the straw rotates with the lid as I close it, and the resistance of the ice cubes pulls it out of the socket. It quite often takes three maddening tries to get the water bottle working.

The worst is when I pop a pill into my mouth and then find that the straw has slipped from the sock: no water!

I don’t know how long it took me to notice these design flaws — that is, to imagine actual improvements. The sock, however, has never let me down.

Library Note:
5 September 2018

¶ The latest addition to the book room is an industrial-strength aluminum mesh cart, almost too big to fit in the corner where I want to put it. One purpose of the cart is to make removing quantities of books from the book room relatively effortless. Only when stacks of books have been carted away will I be able to cull the bookcases, to make room for some if not all of the books on the cart. I have been saying for years that shelving a new book requires getting rid of an old one, but now it’s really true. A painful business. 

Another purpose of the cart is to hold the books that I am sort-of reading at the moment. And also piles of books related to current projects, for example, writing about Chinese characters.

There is the terrible danger that the cart will accumulate permanent deposits. I’ll have to work hard to avoid that. Just saying “hard work” is depressing — I’ve been so bad at it lately. 

Reading Note:
4 September 2018

¶ I’m in the middle of re-reading My Name Is Red, perhaps still Orhan Pamuk’s best-known novel. When I read it the first time, almost twenty years ago, I was so dazed by its exotic setting and its barrage of unfamiliar details that I understood very little of the story. I had never been to Istanbul, and I was accordingly ignorant of Turkey and its history. My understanding of Ottoman culture was fairly limited to Mozart’s Seraglio. I actually came away thinking that I never did find out whose name was Red. 

So, although I remember a few things — the early scene in which Black, on horseback, sees Shekure at her window, his view somewhat obstructed by a pomegranate tree, engraved itself on my memory as a miniature in its own right — I’m effectively reading it for the first time, capable of appreciating the ongoing discussions of matters such as style and originality, not to mention the nature of representational art. The principal male characters are all engaged in the production of “book arts,” a term that tips off the modern reader to the fact that, in the Sultanate of the late sixteenth-century, there was no comfortable place for stand-alone painting. Some of these artists are struggling with the very different conception of art to be seen in Venice, which one of them has visited, astonished by the distinctiveness of the many portraits on its palazzos’ walls. 

The first chapter is narrated by a corpse, a victim of the crisis of modernity that crackles all the way through the novel, and that is crackling still..

August 2018

More Decrepitude:
Appellation Out Of Control
31 August 2018

¶ For more than a week, I’ve to struggle to remember what to call Kathleen’s favorite drink, the mixture of Pekoe tea and lemonade known as — Armand Hammer?

Now, I’m no longer struggling. I’ve adopted my mistake. I say it without noticing. 

Is it because I’ve never been keen on golf? Is it just to get back at Fossil Darling, who always refers to the champion as “Arnie,” as though they were pals? (I have never been heard to refer to a certain singer as “Flicka,” even though I met her long ago, in her Octavian, and my radio days.) Is it because the tycoon’s great-grandson is appearing on Broadway?

You tell me. At dinner, Kathleen thanked me for her Arnold Hammer. I believe that it was not a slip.

Video Note:
The Party
30 August 2018

Here it was, the end of August, and I hadn’t used my free-rental coupon for the month. So, after getting a haircut, I went round the corner to the Video Room and picked up Sally Potter’s The Party, which I had noticed on an earlier visit. Since it stars Kristin Scott Thomas, I was very interested. 

It’s an interesting picture, to say the least, but what may make it unforgettable to me is that it settles once and for all the actress’s last name. It is Scott Thomas. I’ve been trying to determine this from various Internet searches for ages, but the results have always been inconclusive, tending to favor just plain Thomas. But the credits at the end of The Party resolve the ambiguity. The cast is listed in alphabetical order, and Kristin Scott Thomas’s name appears before Timothy Spall’s. So there. 

Perhaps it was nothing more complicated than the fact that this story about a social gathering that goes amok is filmed in black-and-white, but I found it impossible not to recall Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a comparison/contrast that only made The Party all the funnier, in its blackety-black way. I was almost always laughing, even though nothing was happening that the characters would find remotely amusing.

Perhaps it was the antics with the gun, introduced to the scene by Cillian Murphy’s character, a sweaty, coke-snorting banker who shows up alone because his wife has been delayed, and then discovered by Ms Scott Thomas’s, who is shown pointing it at the camera through her front door, both at the beginning, when we have no idea what her problem is, and at the end, when we remember that the wife was running late.

Perhaps was Mr Spall’s ability to project immobilizing shock. (We learn to like his character better when he is wide-eyed and silent.)

It couldn’t possibly have been Bruno Ganz’s impersonation of a smarmy New Age life coach, one whose ineffective ministrations are bluntly shown up by Ms Scott Thomas’s application of CPR. Could it? Maybe I ought to mention here that Ms Scott Thomas plays a successful politician who is throwing herself a little victory party. Hurr-oops! 

The three actresses whom I haven’t yet mentioned inject another kind of humor, which depends not on pratfalls but on the viewer’s judgment. Their characters all reveal themselves to be insufferable, but stylishly so, so that we’re happy to watch as long as we’re sure that they can’t see us. Patricia Clarkson and Cherry Jones play old friends of the new minister, inexplicably but unobjectionably American. They’re veteran sparring partners, and what keeps them each going is a self-filling tank of self-esteem. Both performances carry a whiff of the possibility that the ladies are really just making fun of themselves. 

Emily Mortimer plays Ms Jones’s partner. She arrives with the news that their procreative project has implanted her with the embryos of three little boys, and she sulks as only Emily Mortimer can when her lover seems less than pleased. Don’t worry; it doesn’t last very long: an inadvertent revelation sautées it into sizzling indignation. You can’t watch this film without realizing that life would run much better if we could altogether do without girls and boys, and just settle for emerging, at some attractive, early-twenties age, from a vending machine. 

The Party is very short, just a little over an hour. This is super, because it is the Sachertorte of dark farces, and any more would be too much. I had a great time, but then I wasn’t held up. 

Book Note:
From Major to Minor
29 August 2018

¶ During Kathleen’s visit to her father, he handed her a book that he thought I might like, a biography of Cole Porter by William McBrien. Kathleen actually wondered if we, thinking that her late mother might like to read it, had sent it in the first place. (Someone sent it; there was a packing slip from a local Barnes & Noble. The slip was undated, and the price a hefty third-off discount.) She brought it back with her, and, not having anything else to grip my attention (and needing, I’m afraid, to be gripped), I gobbled it up in three days. 

I’m glad to be done with it. It was packed with information, much of it familiar but now laid out in order, and for that reason useful to have read. But I did not enjoy it. There was something about McBrien’s tone that put me off — a readiness, perhaps, to take statements at face value; an inability to suppress spicy but irrelevant details (such as the murdered wife in the bathtub, “still in use”). Worse, Porter’s love-life, notwithstanding the roster of lovers, was never explored. It seemed to be enough to say that he was homosexual and leave it at that. Many of Porter’s best songs are charged by a sense of the impermanence of love, sometimes even by an anticipated regret, but this cannot be chalked down to the simple fact that he was gay, because such facts are never simple. It may be true that Porter insinuated the language of genteel closeted culture into his spate of popular ballads, but his quite peculiar blend of the thrills of abandonment and the anxieties of affection — reflected also in his love letters — requires more consideration than McBrien gives it.

The biographer is equally binary, on-off, yes/no, about Porter’s two important relations with women, his mother and his wife. McBrien repeats that mutual adoration characterized both of them, but I never saw anything more than convenient arrangements. Katie Cole Porter doubtless had all the positive feelings that a mother might have for a talented child, but I doubt that Porter’s response was much more than well-bred good manners, coated with a shellacking of sentimental eyewash. That’s all there seems to have been on both sides of his marriage to Linda Lee, a woman fifteen years his senior whom he saved from the embarrassment of unmarried (but divorced) matronhood. Linda is said to have been beautiful, but there is no evidence of this in the book’s photographs, few of which, for that matter, include her. (And even then, she is usually obscured by a shadow or a hat.) I would venture further to say that Linda, although stylish, was a Victorian woman without whose primness Cole’s lollipop would have tasted flat. He is said to have been devastated by her death in 1953 (he died eleven years later), but, if so, his blowing up her beloved house in the Berkshires, so that the converted stable that he occupied — McBrien even calls it a “garçonnière” — could be moved onto its foundations for the sake of a better view, is a very odd demonstration of affection.   

The effect of these representations was to diminish my sympathy for Cole Porter, who seems as a result, especially after the riding accident that crippled him in 1937, to have been a rather incompetent hedonist. Happily, this is not the point. Although McBrien doesn’t strike me as astute writer about music, he quotes enough of Porter’s lyrics to induce involuntary but voiceless sing-alongs. The music redeems all of Porter’s failings, which, after all, would not be so great if one were not invading his privacy. 

Decrepitude Note:
Turning Pages
28 August 2018

¶ I have discovered what I think is the second-worse thing that can happen to a reader’s five senses: I am having a terrible time turning pages, whether in books, magazines, or newspapers. Age seems the only explanation. My hands are certainly unsteady. And my skin is very dry. I wash my hands too often to keep them hydrated, and of course one can’t go spoiling books with lotions. Sometimes even moistening my fingertips accomplishes nothing.

I’m seeing the dermatologist next week (for another burnout on my forehead). Maybe I’ll remember to ask her.

Banquet Note:
Simple Dinner
27 August 2018

On Saturday night, my last alone, I brined, battered, and fried four chicken thighs. One was on the large side, but the others were small enough so that I could eat all four. That was dinner: just the chicken and no distractions. A bit disgraceful, I’ll admit, but hardly sluggish. 

Because I did not stand over the chicken as it was a cooking, it got a bit black in places. But it was still delicious, and juicy to the point of just plain wet inside the scrumptious crust. There was just enough cayenne in the batter to intensify and prolong the aftertaste.

I dined early enough so that the peanut oil was cool enough to pour back into its plastic bottles for disposal. Everything else but the bones went into the dishwasher. 

New York Note:
Helping Hands
24 August 2018

¶ When I did a big shop at Fairway last week, I forgot to buy bread. “I’ll just run in and out,” I thought, imagining a quick trip across the street.

It sounds easy, running in and out of Fairway; people do it all the time. They stand on the express line with two or three items in their handbaskets, or perhaps just a baguette in their hands. The express line usually moves pretty quickly, but there’s no getting around that one is in Fairway, an overcrowded dodgem-car souk out of Dante. Quick trips may actually occur, early in the morning or late at night, but I wouldn’t count on one.

So the bread got company on the list in my head, and the visit was postponed for over a week. I wasn’t planning on a big shop, but somehow my bill came to seven dollars short of the free-delivery cutoff. This was really unexpected. I hadn’t separated the things (such as ice cream) that I would have to carry home if I splurged on delivery. Nor was I up to running back a few steps for a piece of cheese that would pay for the delivery. So I carried the stuff home myself. 

I had bought a lot of liquids (a quart of milk, a dozen lemons, two bottles of Planters peanut oil, and of course that ice cream), so the bags were heavy from the start. Since I no longer have the stamina to carry heavy things for an entire minute without moaning, mere heaviness soon gave way to crucification. It took about four minutes to reach the building’s front door. The nicest of the doormen asked me if I needed help, and for once I said yes. I thought that he would take the bags to the elevator, which would be a nice break, but in fact he took them to my front door. Was I ever grateful!

Inertial Note:
Weekend Alone
23 August 2018

Kathleen is off to see her father, who lives in North Carolina. He is hale and hearty at 94. Owing to one thing and another, it has been a while since her last visit.

As always, I begin by intending to distract myself from her absence by undertaking some overdue project, such as dealing with the piles of books in the bookroom, which are now more striking than the books in the shelves. Why must books all be so thick! There is no room for any of them in the bookcases now. but perhaps I can cull a few sacred cows — books that I have always owned, many of them my first expensive cloth-bound treasures — that ought to be let go. But this will make room for only a dozen books at most. I suspect that it’s the new books that will have to be weeded.

Daydreaming about getting all this good work done has usually faded by the time Kathleen lands at wherever she’s going, drubbed by myriad worries about her arriving in one piece. I’ll doubtless spend the weekend reading and watching movies.