Spark Note:
Pod Person
9 April 2019

¶ For two weeks now, if not longer, the dining table has been graced by a couple of piles that any smart person would sweep right into a garbage bag and be done with. I am hoping to sweep them into something else: right now, my thinking is settling on a cubic Amaretto di Saronno tin. (Yes, we’ve still got two of these, ubiquitous in the late Seventies and early Eighties, although one is missing its lid.) But I have to know, before I commit, where the tin is going to be put.

One is a pile of virgin postcards, purchased by our parents in later life. The ones that Kathleen’s father gave her when her mother died (and he was “cleaning out” by giving everything to his daughter to deal with, and guess who got stuck with that job) feature sights of Bavaria and Virginia. There’s one of the Hall of Mirrors at Ludwig II’s replica of Versailles, which it does resemble, but with an added element of horror that brings The Shining to mind. In the current American climate, the photographs of Old Dominion patrician homes seem obscurely but palpably racist, as if carrying a scent. 

The ones that my stepmother gave me after my father died were purchased in Britain and Ireland, on one of their coach trips there. (I think that there were two.) Even more than the other set, these views of Edinburgh and Dublin seem to come from an earlier time. The color of the postcard of the garden front of Blenheim is strangely washed out, enough to suggest hand-tinting.

The other is a pile of old Polaroids. Not so old that they’re black-and-white, but dating from the late Seventies. Most of them show the gang of graduate students with whom a few law students like myself shared a dormitory on what used to be the “religious” side of a lake at Notre Dame. (I stayed for two of the three years.) One of the grads was from the start a very close friend; he would be my best man when I married Kathleen. He died several years ago of early-onset Alzheimer’s, after a few years of silence that I mistakenly attributed to our disagreements about the second President Bush.

There’s one photo of me that I can barely talk about — so I’ve propped it up against the cache-pot in which I deposit new mail every day. What it says to me has changed completely in the past couple of months. It used to be a picture of me when I was young and trim and, arguably, cool. I’m wearing a brand-new jacket, purchased in the men’s shop at the Greenbrier Hotel, that I would wear if I could still fit into it, and a pair of dark aviator sunglasses that complements my broad grin. Looking at it used to make me feel wistful. Now it fills me with relief and a sense of close escape, because that person is gone. The Polaroid captures the pod person that for so many decades I drank in order to be, in order to muzzle the growls of my impatient mind that made other people so uncomfortable. I didn’t want them to like me; I just wanted them not to bite first. Now that I am too old to be bitten without giving gross provocation, I don’t need to be that fellow anymore, which is how I lost fifty pounds, and just might fit into that jacket again, if I still had it. Which is not to say that I would wear it. 

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