Media Note:
Tell Me When It’s Over
25 February 2019

¶ Last night, I sat with Kathleen through the Academy Awards. Now, I haven’t been to the movies since I saw Get Out, two years ago, and I hadn’t seen any of the movies nominated for anything this year, not even on video. But that’s not why I wasn’t keen on watching the show. 

With my higher brain functions, I judged the presentation to be interesting, even historic. Lots of winners who were not white, Anglophone males! But no edgy backtalk to the unseen elephant in the room; the closest anyone got to hinting at Donald Trump’s existence, much less presidency, was Barbra Streisand’s statement that truth is very important just now. There was no flowery optimism about the impending harmoniousness of American life. There was, instead, deadpan Congressman John Lewis, attesting to the truth of American life as represented in Green Book. The show was full of such assertions, which were sometimes manifested as mere presence on the stage. As far as I could tell, winners for Bohemian Rhapsody gathered up their awards without trailing any mention, save in Rami Malek’s acceptance speech, of Freddy Mercury’s homosexuality. We have arrived at the era of the Love That Need Not Speak Its Name. All of which would be heartwarming, if one were not aware — if one’s head had not been plunged in the toilet boil — of the furious white supremacists who hope to recapture the country. 

My lower brain functions, and my body generally, did not fare so well. When the show was over, I felt hung over, or some phantom leftover of excessive drink, and complicit in the moeurs on exhibit. The physical incongruity of witty lines delivered by actors who aren’t themselves witty. The tedious and immodest lists of thankees. The ghastly, hideously scored orchestral flourishes. The three-ring apparel. The impropriety of an industry’s conducting its annual convention’s closing dinner as public entertainment. Worst of all — worst possibly because this ought to have felt best — the sense that the iPhone has brought about a terminal fatigue with the very idea of celebrity. Instead of relief, I was left with an intractable grime. 

As if the house weren’t already untidy enough.  

Convalescent Note:
Dying to Dust
22 February 2019

¶ When I decided to stop Drink two months ago (two months and a day, to be exact), I surmised that there would be some tough times ahead, and there have been, but they haven’t had anything to do with craving alcohol. What’s killing me is feeling the apartment get dustier and dustier. I can smell it. 

There is no way, unfortunately, to reconcile dusting with staying off my feet. I suppose I could sashay around with a feather duster, but that’s not my way. When I dust and polish a table, I take everything off of it, and then wipe everything with a damp cloth before putting it back. By my calculations, there are seven dustable surfaces in the bedroom, five in the foyer, five in the main sitting area, five in what I call the boudoir, beneath the living-room window, and three in the dining ell. It takes a little more than two hours make the rounds on a Saturday afternoon, as I’ve done for decades; make it two-and-a-half with the vacuuming. 

It’s not that I haven’t done any dusting since the infection set in, two months ago. It’s that I haven’t dared to do any in the past two weeks, since the podiatrist threatened me with amputations. As a result of taking his threats seriously, my right foot is only very slightly swollen now — really. The more I stay off my foot, the sooner I’ll be able to dust, I get that.

But waiting to be All Better is Killing Me. You could write your name or the date in my impatience. 

Reading Note:
Vigororous Vieux Jeu
21 February 2019

Harold Nicolson’s Kings, Courts and Monarchy was, essentially, an old-fashioned book when it was published by Simon and Schuster in 1962. Nicolson, who was in his late seventies at the time, had published something called Monarchy earlier the same year, in England; I presume that it was a collection of essays on kingship that had been prompted by the accession of Elizabeth II ten years earlier. (This would explain the final chapter, “Regalia,” a brisk but annotated program of the Coronation.) Nicolson was more an Edwardian than a historian; the authority conveyed by an Oxford degree (Balliol) seems to have allowed him to rummage through his recollections of secondary sources, refreshing his grip on what happened by a few privileged glimpses of ancient documents, and punt. He makes a complete hash of the Lombard kings of Italy — you’ll just have to take my word for it. He falls for the imposture of a well-known picture of Louis XIV and his “family.” But these are minor details; Kings, Courts and Monarchy is not intended to be held to strict account — partly because it is essentially Edwardian, too worldly for grubby pedantry. 

And partly because, for 1962, it is also a very new-fashioned book. Its text notwithstanding, Kings, Courts and Monarchy, as overhauled by S & S, is a profusely-illustrated coffee-table book, beating Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King — widely but apparently mistakenly regarded as the first of these productions — by four years. It’s true that there are only a few color plates, and that most of the pictures are old engravings or black-and-white (and very anachronistic) extracts from illuminated manuscripts, but the text is so suavely engaging, even — an old donnish trick — when it is tedious, that it all but apologizes for the bother of reading. I’m here to tell you that Kings, Courts and Monarchy is a book to be treasured by easily-bored aspirants to historical fluency. It was as just such a reader that I clasped this book to my bosom when it was given to me, as a Christmas present, in the year of its publication. I was still fourteen years old.

I had asked for it on my Christmas list. I believe that I had read about it in the Times Book Review, which I’d just started looking at. My parents, who may be forgiven for having had no idea where this was going, were actually impressed by the request. 

Harold Nicolson may not have been a scholar, but he was a man of the world with a gift for writing — a diplomat, in other words. Who but an habitué of the Foreign Office and the Quai d’Orsay would tell us, in the opening chapter about “The King as Magician,” that

It was in the Nemi grove moreover that Diana hid her mortal lover Hippolytus, giving him the name Viribius, and rejoicing in the vigor of his limbs. 

What would I have made of that final bit, had I read Kings, Courts and Monarchy when I got it? But I did not read it. Not as such. I looked at it a lot, and memorized most of the illustrations. (The mystical frontispiece of Leviathan has always stood in for the unpleasant politics of Hobbes, which I have not confronted directly.) I read the scurrilous passages about Heliogabalus, and a few other saucy nuggets. Nicolson’s eyewitness account of the regal self-possession of Alfonso XIII lodged in my brain and was never forgotten. Mostly, the book took a prominent place on the shelf, as if I still believed that it was a work of importance. I suppose that not reading it was the best preservative of that impression. Having finally just read it at the tender age of seventy-one, I see that the significance that it seemed to have as a book nearly sixty years ago is simply part of its significance as a memento of the first days of my adulthood. So it will go right back to its prominent place. 

“Rejoicing in the vigor of his limbs” — that can’t be better in Latin! 

New Normal Note:
Fat
20 February 2019

¶ Until I can resume walking wherever and whenever I want to, I shall have to be content with being free once again to jump in the shower as desired.

In the hospital, I was always hooked up to something, and, when I got home, I had to keep the PICC line dry. (It took a while to work up the courage to experiment with cling wrap.) Used to at least one and usually two showers a day, I thought I would mind doing without them more than I did. I suppose that it was part of being sick. But I began to long for a rinse toward the end. 

Now I don’t have to give it a thought. 

I’ve also returned to regular clothes. As noted, I’ve given up drink; have my trousers taken it up? They’re all so fat! They fall down until I can cinch them with a belt, which is not so easy. Ray Soleil says that I look like a garbage bag, at the waist anyway. Even Kathleen thinks it’s funny. But everyone agrees: “Don’t buy any new clothes.” Who knows which way I’ll settle? 

Treatment Note:
Surprise!
19 February 2019

It wasn’t on the schedule — so far as I knew. So far as I knew, it might have happened next week, which is when, according to my discharge papers (I’m sure without looking), the at-home infusions of Ceftriaxone were to  end. But they ended last night instead, without our even knowing. So, surprise, the PICC line was removed today. 

I had a call from the doctor with Infectious Diseases this morning, who told me that, as I was now infection-free — quite literally yesterday’s news, although not from her but from the dermatologist, who on a frolic and detour decided to run an independent blood test, despite having nothing to do with the treatment of my foot — the antibiotics might be stopped. Actually, this wasn’t a surprise to the people who were delivering the refrigerated antibiotics and other supplies every week, not even to the nurse (employed by them) who came by yesterday to change the dressing on my arm (where the PICC line went subcutaneous), as she has done every Monday for what seems like months, but in fact only four times, plus of course the initial visit at which she demonstrated all the necessary techniques to Kathleen. No, even she was not surprised, when she received the order to remove the PICC line only a day later.

It’s a good thing that she did come yesterday, though, because she occasioned one of Ray Soleil’s best quips ever. He was here setting up the knee-walker, and he sat at the table while the nurse did her thing. He and she turned out to be molto simpatichi, and they shared an equal (and equally mocking) incredulity when I expressed the surprise that I’d had at the hospital, when one of the residents made a point of cautioning me not to use the PICC line for any other purpose. “What would I use it for?” I asked. The resident hemmed and hawed and said that in the event of being re-admitted, it might be deemed convenient to use the line to infuse some other drug. The nurse and Ray burst out laughing. As nicely as possible — according to them — the resident had been advising me not to use the line for hard drugs. They knew all about this, Ray as well as the nurse, and they traded saucy tales about Emergency Room experiences (Ray took care of a good friend all the way through AIDS, to the very end). Besides, the nurse said, the PICC line was an “open line” that could be used not only for any antibiotic but for any medication. “So,” concluded Ray, “when it’s used for antibiotics, it’s an open line, but when it’s used for heroin, it’s a party line.”

But who under sixty remembers party lines?

Convalescent Note:
Greatly Reduced
15 February 2019

¶ Having taken the podiatrist’s stern commands to heart, I was gratified this morning to see that the swelling at the base of my big toe was greatly reduced. Reading between the flurries of partial information that I get from the doctors, I gather that the foot is no longer infected. The wound has to heal, though, and that’s entirely up to me: stay off your foot. I find myself almost limping, as if in pain. As if, by pretending that my foot hurt, I might hasten the healing. 

Mere hours after Monday’s terrifying appointment, I ordered a few items to help me stay off my foot, among them a wheeled stool, which Ray Soleil assembled this morning, and which turned out to be something of a bust. My visions of whizzing from the bedroom to the bookroom, and around the bookroom — tiny distances all — were obviated by my weight, which, will also greatly reduced, remains excessive. While the stool supports me, its plastic casters revolve only grudglingly. I decided to use it as a footstool. It was not very expensive, considering the panicked state in which I chose it. I am still waiting for a “knee walker” to arrive, a more substantial piece of equipment that, for my purposes, will allow me to do things in the kitchen (stirring pots, mixing ingredients) while staying off my foot

I try to spend two hours each afternoon in bed (instead of sitting in my reading chair with my foot up), because it gives me the feeling that I am doing my Utmost to — you know. It is also very relaxing (a new experience), and I usually fall asleep over whatever I’m reading. All the better. Sleep makes the foot happy — I can tell somehow. 

Meanwhile, it’s Ray, and not I, who hangs up the old bedspread and the thermal blanket in the attic closet. The bedspread, which went off to the laundry a disgrace, has come back brilliantly white. But the miracle cost plenty.  

Régime Note:
Aubade
14 February 2019

¶ Never have I been so impatient, not for the warmer weather that Spring brings, but for the light.

Often, I wake up between six and seven, waiting for brightness between the slats of the Venetian blinds. The day begins when I can read without a lamp — whether or not I get up then. And it ends when the light dies. The difficulty is that I don’t know what to do with the evenings, now that I don’t drink. (Trying not to be aware of evenings as such is a help.) By the time night falls, I have done enough reading for the day; I can’t really think anymore. That was always the excuse for pouring a glass of wine at about seven — and keeping the glass filled. I don’t miss the wine, but I do miss the tidal change, the official time off.

A great part of me simply wants to go to bed when it gets dark. But Kathleen comes home, and we have some sort of dinner. (My repertoire is even more limited than it already was by the need to keep off my feet.) And as midnight approaches, I feel the old anxiety about getting to sleep, even though for weeks now I have had no trouble at all dropping off within half an hour of taking a pill. With the drink, it used to be chancy — the drink, which had once made falling asleep (passing out) easy, took to scrambling my brain so badly that no pill could calm it down. I worry that remembering those awful hours will keep me awake, but it doesn’t. 

Morse and Lewis have been a great help, filling up the time between dinner and bedtime. But I wish I could feel something like this new happiness of morning at the other end of the day.

What It’s All About Note:
Sex in the Workplace
13 February 2019

¶ Having done with Inspector Morse, we have sailed into Lewis, and I must say that I rather prefer the later series. No matter how violent or otherwise exciting, the episodes are quieter, because Morse is not ranting about minor matters. The raillery between Lewis and his sergeant, Hathaway, alternates patterns established in Morse even to the point of being overtly friendly. And of course everyone knows about the Internet — for better or worse. 

What astonishes us is Rebecca Front’s wardrobe. Taking the place James Grout’s Superintendent Strange, a man as unfashionable as he was substantial, Front’s Superintendent Innocent is not only shapely but always dressed to go out. In fact, she can be counted on to wear garments with necklines that Kathleen and I consider totally inappropriate for the professional environment of a police station. We wonder if a Point is being Made: women have the right to be as sexy at work as they feel.

Talking about this, I shared with Kathleen last week’s idea, that while men want one thing for different reasons, women want different things for one reason. The one thing for men is, very simply, orgasm. I haven’t got quite the right word for the one thing for women, but it has something to do with integrity, or integration, or completeness. A facetious way of putting it would be that women want Everything, but in a variety of wrappings. For some women, being sexy is part of Everything, while for others it really isn’t, and not just because they disapprove.

Men’s many reasons include gross pleasure, power, revenge, and — though often overlooked — contentment. Contentment is a kind of Everything. 

Convalescent Note:
May I?
12 February 2019

¶ Because of the snow, Kathleen worked at home today. She had brought her computer from the office in anticipation.

Throughout the day, but sparingly, I interrupted her, to play a game of Elementary School. If I wanted to go somewhere or to do something, I asked Kathleen’s permission.

— May I go into the book room and sit at the computer for a while?

— May I go into the kitchen to make a sandwich?

— Do you think it would be a good idea if I put on those new shoes? (The podiatrist had said that I ought to wear shoes — a simple-seeming instruction that was problematic at best, given my collection of old shoes that never really fit to begin with and new shoes that haven’t been broken in yet because I’m supposed to stay off my feet.)

Kathleen invariably approved my requests, probably because they were carefully considered, and, also, not very frequent. I did not ask anything like 

— Would it be okay to vacuum the rug in the foyer? 

— Do you think I could bake a cake? 

I asked because I really wanted her opinion. If I went to sit at the computer, or to make a sandwich, would that be too great a breach of the rule about staying off my feet? It is a difficult rule to apply — unless, of course, it comes with a wheelchair, or a pair of crutches at least.

Naturally, I had to be on my feet to make today’s appointment with the Infectious Disease specialists, whom, like the podiatrist, I had not seen since my stay in the hospital. Tomorrow, I will have to get to the dermatologist’s office somehow. How do you get to a taxi, if not on your feet? 

I am looking forward to Thursday, when I won’t have to go anywhere. 

Recovery Note:
Riot Act
11 February 2019

¶ I am home, not in the hospital. I have just written an entry describing what the podiatrist said, but I think that I will keep that to myself, and just celebrate the fact that I am at home, for the time being. I have to work a bit harder at keeping off my right foot. “Walk less.” 

Write more. And I have!

Footwear Note:
Three Pairs
8 February 2019

¶ I wore three different pairs of shoes today.

First, I put on the grey cloth slip-ons that I bought from a big-guy outfit shortly after coming home from the hospital. Then I went to Fairway and did the shopping. I meant to kick off the shoes the moment I got home, but while waiting for the grocery delivery I got involved with baking madeleines. One thing led to another, and by the time I took off the slip-ons, I’d been wearing them for nearly three hours. Not a good idea, although no harm seemed to be done. The shoes are extra-wide, but they don’t particularly feel it, not yet.

Second, I donned the driving mocs, with woven-leather insteps that both Kathleen and Ray Soleil thought only old Italian men would wear, especially when carrying bocce balls (Walter offered to buy me some gold chains). What dreadful snobs! I think the mocs are perfectly nice, especially as they have  low vamps and are easy to get into, even for my swollen foot. The errand this time was briefer, but I got fully dressed for it. I’ve been living in comfy fleece trousers, but I put on dress pants for this occasion, to go with the dress socks that the mocs seemed to require. The waist of the pants stood out an inch from the waist of me, which was gratifying, and I slipped into a sportsjacket that I’ve been dreaming of wearing again for more than ten years. All this to cross the street to Schaller & Weber. The line at the counter was no shorter than it had been on my way home from Fairway, but I wasn’t carrying ice cream this time, and I wasn’t worried about missing the grocery delivery. The driving mocs came from an online source called Hitchcock Wide Shoes, or something like that. If I’d known about it, I’d never have developed this infection. The swelling, by the way, does seem to go down, slowly but perceptibly; Kathleen is very pleased. I hope that the podiatrist will be, too, when I see him on Monday. I hate to think about what-if-he-isn’t.

Third, I wore my bedroom slippers to go downstairs to pick up the laundry. I still had the dress socks on and was enjoying a day off from the ragg sock that I’ve just about worn to death. (The small hole at the toe is is not shrinking.) It was obvious that the right slipper is not wide enough and probably never will be. “Wide” — just one “E” — doesn’t cut it. Or rather, it does.

Cortisol Note:
Temperate
7 February 2019

When I sat down at the desk today, I was informed  that an accident involving a cable in New Jersey had disabled this site — along with lots of others, I presume. It was not fixed until tomorrow.

I did not rave or rail; I did not feel put out in the slightest. I worked on the writing project instead. Remarks that I might have made about Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake Is Missing, which I watched during yesterday’s nap, flew right out of my head. I had seen the movie only once before, and remembered it a little differently. I’d forgotten just how certifiable Keir Dullea’s character is. and Noël Coward didn’t seem so creepy. But Laurence Olivier’s performance was as uncharacteristically mellow as I recalled. I’ll have to watch it again, just to see if he raises his voice even once. Ray Soleil, when I mentioned this later, credited the actor’s subdued demeanor to Marilyn Monroe, with whom he had just made a film (directing as well as acting) that fell far short of “box-office hit.” But I think that Olivier cannily recognized that there was already a surfeit of hysteria in the Preminger’s movie. 

Or perhaps he was simply reacting against The Zombies, a Beatles knock-off band that is shown gyrating and inspiring dance-floor gyrations on a television in a pub. Kathleen tells me that The Zombies weren’t so bad, really; she even bought one of their records.

Pizza Note:
San Matteo
6 February 2019

¶ When I went to order a pizza from Vinnie’s the other night, this newly-discovered source of good but ordinary pie was not taking orders, nor was the phone answered. You tell me.

I moved on. Or rather, I moved back, this time making a more considered effort to give San Matteo a try. San Matteo had turned me down at the beginning of the quest, when I was told that I lived outside its delivery area. It seemed that I might have been trying to order from the 81st location, which isn’t that far away — but it’s one block more distant than the location on 90th Street. Having made sure that I was dealing with 90th Street, I ordered something with mushrooms and prosciutto. The order was handled by Slice, which made use of all the information that I had provided for ordering from Vinnie’s — a rare instance of online convenience. 

The pizza was Wow. I was reminded of the upscale pizzeria on Third Avenue, Loui Loui, where I had many an agreeable lunch in bygone days. I was reminded of the place that Megan ordered from when she lived on Avenue C. “Why can’t we have pizza this good on the Upper East Side?” I would whine, to which Megan would give a look that was less than a hundred–percent smug-free. Well, now we do have pizza this good. We’ve had it for a while (San Matteo didn’t exactly open yesterday). And now I’m enjoying it. 

San Matteo’s crust is light and soft and a bit charred at the edges — it would be delicious by itself. I can’t tell you why the rest of the ingredients made such a good pizza, because I’ve tried them all myself, and the result has never been better than passable. Not entirely okay. If I could copy San Matteo’s tomato sauce, I’d be halfway to real satisfaction. Their juicy, flavorful mushrooms were cooked, I conclude, separately, and were strewn on the pizza the moment it came out of the oven, not before. 

Kathleen is not crazy about prosciutto, so, when I ordered another pizza this evening, I asked in the “special instructions” box for sausage to be substituted in its place. I had no idea if this would work, but I was glad that I gave it a try, because the pizza that arrived was dotted with discs of sausage and no ham. I would prefer the prosciutto, but tonight’s pizza was just as scrumptious as the first one. 

Poor Vinnie’s. Were they having an off night, or did they go out of business all of a sudden? I wonder if I’ll ever find out. 

Reading Note:
In the Land of Id
5 February 2019

I’ve just read an unfavorable — I really want to say nasty — review of a book that I’ve been reading with keen interest. The book is Kristen Roupenian’s You Know You Want This, a collection of stories that contains “Cat Person,” the electrifying account of a bad date that, in case you’ve been struggling without your reading glasses for a year, appeared in December 2017 in The New Yorker, when #MeToo was taking up all the oxygen in the room, and immediately caught everyone’s attention. What made “Cat Person” arresting to me wasn’t so much the narrator’s plight — she discovers that the man with whom she has agreed to have sex expects her to behave like a porn kitty — as the state of the man’s imagination, which I would describe as extremely degraded if that did not suggest a former, healthier condition. “Cat Person” suggested that a generation of men (at least one) has grown into sexuality with the idea that dirty movies in which women are barely distinguishable from inflatable dolls are humanly normative: this is how it’s done. Expectations are both overly-processed and inadequately self-aware. There is too much “thinking,” but none of it is about the right things. The fantasies that enable Roupenian’s men to achieve orgasm, no matter how tightly contained, seem malignant and dangerous: the longest of the stories, “The Good Guy,” had me not only thinking of Ted Bundy but feeling that I understood him. 

Lauren Oyler’s grumpy dissatisfaction with Roupenian’s collection — her review appears in the current issue of the London Review of Books (41/3) — never crystallizes in a discrete statement, but is diffused throughout her remarks. It is clear enough that Roupenian has missed or ignored an important point about feminism and sex, but Oyler doesn’t tell us what this point is. Which is no surprise. For fifty years at least, we have been waking up to the fact that everything that we were taught about sex for the last two thousand years was not the whole picture but only the male half of it; one can only hope — and I mean this seriously, not as a mockery — that it will not take another millennium to learn about the other half. After all, our recent discovery about men and sex didn’t actually involve learning anything about men or sex, except that sex is different for women. No one, I fear, is in a position to speak helpfully, much less authoritatively, about what women want. The most we can say is that, while most men seem to desire one thing, the interests of women are varied, and we may suspect that some women will find the desires of other women to be as alien as the desires of men. That this seems to be the case with Oyler’s take on Roupenian is suggested by the following fragment: “the stories are written in a smug tone.” Smug amounts to dismissal without a judgment. 

Reading Oyler’s take on the stories, I was aware that I myself didn’t really read them as stories. The sequence of events that leads Margot into Robert’s bedroom, in “Cat Person,” did not interest me very much; it was merely unpleasant. What interested me was the unveiling of Robert’s pathetic failure to grasp (or even to guess at) the erotic possibilities of generosity. Roupenian’s stories are essentially portraits. Composed in words, they necessary unfold over time, both the reader’s and the narrative’s, but the climax is not an event but rather the display of a muddled, flawed character. The picture of this character is composed rather like a painting: there is no moment of surprise, no unexpected reversal. Because of the subject matter, it’s true, the tales are embedded in the possibility that terrible things might happen, but even where terrible things are alleged to happen, as in the sensationally well-put-together opening story, “Bad Boy,” they happen only in the reader’s imagination, and appear to have no mortal consequences. If we worry about Margot’s safety in Robert’s house, we come away with the vague feeling that we have given Robert more credit than he deserves.

Twenty years ago or more, You Know You Want This would have been hailed — or denounced — as a book about people behaving badly. (Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior, for example.) Bad behavior is certainly a salient in Roupenian’s stories, but it strikes me as confused rather than intentional. Lust is a swamp in which Roupenian’s people lose their way, mostly during adolescence, when pathways are beaten in shame and ignorance. Having stated the current justification for writing about sex (it enables analysis of gender and power), Oyler hauls in a colorful metaphor, writing that Roupenian “attempts to jump on this bandwagon and at the same time tip it over. She ends up driving it in a circle.” But it is Roupenian’s characters who are stuck in circles. For all their analysis and experimentation, they cannot figure out how reconcile their carnal desires with their everyday personae. They joke and tease; they interrogate with irony. But they are never funny, nor even amusing. Because the cancer that afflicts them is static and will not kill them, we cannot even feel particularly sorry for them. What we feel sorry for (or about) is the world that has failed to guide them, that has left them to their own inadequate devices. The consolation of musing on some eternal (or at least persistent) human condition is also denied us: these stories are very much about the pathologies of Now, of possibly allergic reactions, say, to the smartphone. Many amazing things have become possible in recent years, and we are still so amazed that we are powerless to prevent ourselves from being destroyed by them. The bandwagon is full of striking faces that may turn out to have the horribly discordant monotony of clowns. 

Ambulatory Note:
Dithyramb
4 February 2019

Ever since coming home from the hospital, about three weeks ago, I’ve been acting on the assumption that I ought to keep my right (infected) foot elevated whenever possible. I don’t recall that anyone actually told me to do this, but the proposition seems to be confirmed every morning when I get up and see that a night in bed has greatly reduced the swelling. But there’s more to bed than mere elevation: I am also asleep, and sleep, I think, works its own magic. In any case, keeping my foot up during the day, mostly on a hassock that is very nearly the height of the seat of my reading chair, appears to accomplish nothing. This morning, in fact, my foot seemed to swell a bit while I sat reading the Times. I take it that most of the daily swelling is a kind of edema, rubbish-bearing fluid pooling in my foot (and no longer in my calf or ankle) whenever I am upright. The actual infected bits are a little swollen, too, but less and less every day. It’s not difficult anymore to distinguish one kind of swelling from the other. 

Nevertheless, I try to stay off my feet, and this only makes me more aware of being on them, again and again throughout the day, as I tend to this or that bit of “necessary” housekeeping. I do a great deal of standing in the kitchen, just like anybody else who cooks, and I think I can tell that it is more taxing than sitting at the computer (with my feet also on the floor). But what bothers me most is the getting up and down all the time. For all intents and purposes, I feel altogether healthy, better than ever thanks to the alcohol cutoff, and it’s boring to the point of physical unpleasantness to stay seated in my chair when there are “things to do.” I manage to do a great deal while seated, but, whatever the task, I have to fetch what I’m going to work on (a disorganized drawer, say) and then put it away when I’m done. Bear in mind that one disorganized drawer yields from three to six or more piles of sorted crap, quite aside from whatever remains in the drawer. These piles have to removed from the area around my reading chair and put somewhere. A lot of getting up, walking, and standing around is involved in all of that.

Then there is the forgotten item. I sit down at the desk with everything but — my phone, my water bottle, a paper towel to use as a napkin, something. I have to get it and bring it back. I feel as though I am always on my feet, that sitting down in my reading chair with my right leg propped on the hassock is itself a kind of walking around, up-down, up-down. I am left with the strong impression that my life is amazingly disorganized, or my living, perhaps I should say. My perambulations, taken each by each, are not very productive. 

This is yet another thing that computers, and now smartphones, ought to be good at. You ought to be able to let them follow you around for a couple of days, after which they ought to provide you with more efficient itineraries. Sadly, though, our digital devices are still manufactured more to be sold than to be used, and we’re still behaving more like children at Christmas than as adults on Labor Day. 

Rep Note:
Schnitzel
1 February 2019

¶ Wiener Schnitzel — breaded veal scallops, sautéed quickly in clarified butter — is a nice treat, but to be honest it does not taste much like veal, or anything else. Chicken breasts do a better job of standing up to the breading and the frying. But there is a hole in even the most flavorful chicken, a blandness that tempts us to oversalt it, even when, as with schnitzel, there is plenty of salt in the breading. To counter this, I had the idea of coating the breasts with a primer of mustard. I put about a teaspoon of Dijon mustard in a small bowl and then used a pastry brush to apply a very light coat to the moist chicken. Really, there were more streaks than there was mustard.

Then I dredged the breasts in flour, as usual, dipped them in egg, and rolled them in seasoned breadcrumbs. After a few hours in the fridge (covered loosely with wrap), they were ready for the frypan. (One of the advantages of any battered-meat dish is that it can be prepared well in advance, leaving only the brief cooking time to occupy the cook at dinnertime.)

In the finished dish, the mustard was undetectable as such, but the overall flavor was rather more lively. I wonder if the parsley that I usually add to the breadcrumbs would be more effective if minced by itself and stirred into the mustard. 

January 2019

Nap Note:
La Belle Paméla
31 January 2019

¶ Yesterday was the first day of convalescence that didn’t seem odd, that I didn’t feel adrift. I had a to-do list, and I got everything on it done, except for changing a $20 bill for two tens so that I can finally complete our Christmas present to grandson Will. It was idiotically satisfying to check things off. 

As a result of all the activity, my foot was fairly swollen last night, and, as usual, I found it hard to believe that a night’s sleep, stretched out in bed, would really undo that, but it did, as usual. The result of this see-sawing is that I feel optimistic in the morning and a pessimistic at bedtime. Maybe it isn’t the see-sawing; what could be more natural than to feel hopeful in the morning and fearful in the dark? Slowly, bit by bit, the foot appears to be returning to normal. The daily infusions appear to be doing their job. I never manage to stay off my feet as much as I think I ought to do, but it doesn’t seem to have any lasting effect. I am waiting for some extra-wide canvas shoes to arrive from an online outfit that specializes in wide shoes for men (which I will need anyway, even after the infection is completely vanquished), so that I can stop wearing a now-shapeless rag sock on my right foot while my left is more comfortably shod in a slipper.

But the absence of oddness, I know, had a lot to do with getting used to the absence of drink. It isn’t so much the drink, which so far I don’t crave and don’t even much think of (except at moments in the evenings when water begins to taste insipid), as it is the consequences of not drinking, viz a clear head. Having a clear head all day means that I don’t spend time stumbling around with a mild headache or reproving myself for a mite of overindulgence (as if overindulgence were the problem). I don’t throw up my hands and give up for the day, resigning myself to being good for nothing. I don’t do all sorts of negative things that used to take up a lot of time. What do I do with that time? 

On my to-do list yesterday was “nap, 3-6.” The idea was not to go to sleep but to get into bed and watch a movie. Getting into bed for two hours — the three hours scheduled on the to-do list indicated a time frame, not a duration — kept me off my feet, and the movie gave my reading-and-writing eyes a break. I watched François Truffaut’s La Nuit Américaine, which I’ve seen only once before. (It’s called Day for Night here.) Why just now for a second look? Many reasons. Jacqueline Bisset, of course; she’s at her most gravely beautiful, as ravishing as Charlotte Rampling but altogether without the discontent and hostility. Graham Greene — did you know that the novelist has a cameo role? He plays some sort of insurance adjuster, and he delivers his one long line as if he were the most constipated habitué of Clubland, impossible to imagine chatting with Shirley Hazzard on Capri, much less dwelling on the thorns of Catholic faith. More seriously, Nuit is a droll movie about the weariness of filmmaking that is never quite funny. It ought to be funny — think of Madame Séverine blowing take after take of a lengthy scene by opening a closet door instead of the right one — but one is driven mad with sympathetic exasperation that, even more madly, the director, Ferrand, does not share. Truffaut himself plays Ferrand, as a figure of almost insane buoyancy and infinite adaptability, someone who does a great deal of cajoling, but  but who never resorts to authoritative diktat — not with the actors, anyway. Is that how Truffaut really worked? Finally, I was hypnotized by the title of Ferrand’s film: Je Vous Présente Paméla. I’d been mumbling this over and over for days. 

Also on my list was an errand to Fairway to buy lemons, for Kathleen’s Arnold Palmers. Somehow I’d forgotten to put lemons on Tuesday’s shopping list. I went early, and was rewarded with an almost empty store. Temperatures were at a record low, but I managed the short expedition without too much discomfort. I wore the other slipper, of course, not the sock,

And I typed up all those writing project notes before they became incomprehensible. It was only because I had read them over several times the day before that I was able to decipher them at all.

Niente Note:
De Minimis
30 January 2019

¶ Every once in a while, it must be acknowledged that There Is Nothing To Report. It wouldn’t be true to say that nothing happened today — something is always happening — but it is very much the case that nothing was achieved. No little stories came to a conclusion. One might say that lots of little stories began, or at least a few, but whether they’ll prove to be interesting stories won’t be clear for a while. Working on the writing project, for example, I turned for the first time in decades to a spiral-bound notebook, and I filled the first page with my illegible scrawl. (As soon as I’m done here, I have to type out the handwritten notes, while I still have an idea of what they were meant to say.) It was part of developing a method for working on the writing project that breaks with years of relying exclusively on the computer. The writing project has revealed a certain incompatibility with screens and keyboards and a need for paper and pencils. It must not be imagined that I am going to draft a lengthy document in longhand. But the method that I am developing will make use of old technologies as well as new. 

Aren’t you dying to know more? 

We did order another pizza from Vinnie’s, the place around the corner that I mentioned last week. This time, I figured out how to ask for mushrooms along with pepperoni, and ordering was once again extremely simple. The pizza arrived right in the middle of the infusion, but we were not too discombobulated because yesterday’s infusion was also interrupted by a delivery — by the delivery, as it happened, of this week’s medical supplies (including the antibiotic syringes, which keep in the refrigerator).

I wish I could figure out how to make my homemade pizzas taste like Vinnie’s, or at least make them share that basic pizzeria flavor that I happen to like. I understand that the whole point of homemade pizza is to avoid that flavor, which is why I’ve given up on homemade for the time being. Kathleen tells me that I’m crazy, that my pizzas taste great, but the fact remains that I don’t like them.

After the pizza, we watched “Deceived by Flight,” the Inspector Morse episode involving cricket and cocaine. Although I’ve seen it more often than most, and know every twist and turn, it’s always good to see Jane Hooker. And the pile-up of comeuppance at the end is not unsatisfying.

Staple Note:
Parmesan
29 January 2019

¶ Ray Soleil talked me into venturing forth on an errand to Fairway yesterday. He seemed to think that I needed to get a little exercise, even if it was only a walk across the street and back. (Was it that, or the scrum at Fairway, that left me almost weeping with exhaustion when we returned to the apartment?) I wasn’t entirely sure that it was a good idea, because my right foot is still just a bit too swollen to fit into its slipper comfortably, but I agreed with him about the exercise. Even more, I wanted to go to the store myself, instead of sending Ray with a list, and I wanted to pay for my purchases myself, instead of sending Ray to impersonate me with the credit card. Ray had “gotten away” with doing that once, but I spent the entire time he was gone frothing with anxiety. 

Although the store was jammed, and my list was not short, we were on the checkout line within half an hour. As we turned into the final stretch, I put a hunk of reggiano parmegiano in the cart. For some reason, Fairway has a cardboard bin of plastic-wrapped wedges of the cheese right there at the corner of the long rear lane of the store and the aisle that leads to the registers. Why there? It’s the other side of the aisle that is lined with pieces of all sorts of different cheeses. The racks beyond the bins of Parmesan are filled with soups and spreads and ready-made sandwiches. And why is Parmesan given the impulse-buy treatment? It’s pretty pricey for pickup on a whim. And it was a whim, really, that seemed to motivate the attractive young woman just ahead of us to toy with and finally carry off a piece of the (to me) indispensable foodstuff. Falling into conversation with Ray, who had been helping me to decide just how big a hunk I wanted, she said that she had been “thinking about” Parmesan cheese all week, or at least since she read an article about its many health benefits. Ray said that he had read the article, too; when I put in that I’d missed it, he told me that it was online, which I suppose was an explanation. (I’ve grown very sparing about online reading.) Ray and the young woman fell into listing all the alleged benefits of Parmesan, making it sound like the El Dorado of nutrition. I said that I’d eat it if it were toxic. 

Later in the day, Ray sent me a link to Amanda Ruggeri’s parmesan piece. I learned that, on top of all the easily-digestible proteins, the vitamins and the minerals, Parmesan boasts a rind that is not only a great flavor-enhancer for stews and soups (I knew that) but also a balm for teething babies! It made me want to have another grandchild, just to see if it works. 

Did you by any chance see, years ago, Julia Sweeney’s one-woman show, God Said, Ha!? If you did, don’t you agree that the funniest of so many funny lines in that basically rather dark monologue was Sweeney’s mimicking of her mother, who was bemused by the piece of Parmesan in Sweeney’s fridge? “You don’t have to go to all that trouble,” the mother wailed in her broad Midwestern voice. “It comes already grated in a little green can!” In the audience, we all said “Ha ha ha!” Ruggeri tells us that the stuff in the little green can is marketed, in Europe, as “Parmesello.” Even so, when I was a kid, long before I knew any better, I was crazy about the stuff. Adulterated with wood pulp though it may have been, Kraft’s parmesello and butter were all that I would tolerate on spaghetti.