Archive for October, 2007

What I'm Reading/In the Book Review

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

What I’m reading now: in addition to Blanning on Europe and Doidge on the Brain, and Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book, I find a few new titles in my bedside pile. There are two books that Miss G brought to me on the eve of my surgery (actually, she brought me the Doidge as well) that happened to be published or authored by a friend, Marissa Walsh. Then there is another brain book, Daniel J Levitan’s This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, a book about which a friend of mine has waxed extremely enthusiastic; a short book about God and the West, Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God; and the new Tom Perrotta, The Abstinence Teacher. I wish I didn’t know which one I’ll finish first.

Also in the pile is Ian Bradley’s indispensable Oxford Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan. That’s not its official title, which is why I haven’t italicized it; rather, it’s close to what I call the book: “the Oxford G and S.” I’ve had this out because Kathleen and I have been listening to The Mikado a lot. Just now, this feast of absurdity has seemed to make a lot of sense to us. Although I cannot hear Katisha wail, “May not a cheated maiden die?” without actually sympathizing with her romantic disappointment. How ridiculous is that? Why do we need Bradley, you ask, when the insides of our eyelids are less familiar than The Mikado? Because neither of us can ever remember that what sounds like “all of her” is actually “all aver,” as in Pish-Tush’s

She’ll toddle off, as all aver,
With the Lord High Executioner.

It’s not one of Gilbert’s strongest lines. As for this week’s Book Review:

¶ Century’s Playlist.

Old Friends

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

[Midday in Manhattan; Telephone call between Yorkville and Tribeca*] 

Me: You’ve never seen Infamous?

Fossil Darling: I’ve never seen Infamous. Do you have it?

Me: Of course.

FD: Then I’ll borrow it from you.

Me: Sorry; I don’t lend books or DVDs anymore.

FD: You lend them to me.

Me: You can come over here and watch it. We’ll have popcorn.

FD: I don’t want to spend that much time with you.

Me: You admit it!

[Mutual ROTFLOL - as adapted for gents in their sixties]

* Fossil Darling works in Tribeca.

Orpheus at Carnegie Hall: Brahms and Schoenberg

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Orpheus launched its new Carnegie Hall season last week with one of the strangest concerts that, in my experience, it has ever offered. The idea, I can see, was chaste enough: Brahms and Schoenberg. Vienna, in other words, Central. (Never forget that Schoenberg not only orchestrated Brahms’s first piano quartet – brilliantly, but with bold strokes that would have caused Brahms to burn the MS of the original in a vain attempt at prophylaxis – but that he also authored an important essay, “Brahms the Progressive,” in which he sniffed out all sorts of “modern” irregularities” in the older composer’s harmonies.) Unfortunately, the works scheduled for the first half of the concert were the wrong Brahms and the wrong Schoenberg. The latter’s Chamber Symphony should not appear anywhere near Brahms (who would undoubtedly burn Schoenberg’s MS as well), and, as for the Hungarian Dances that started thing off, they were Unearned Rewards. I love the Hungarian Dances – who does not – but, as with fine chocolates, I can’t swallow more than three at once at the absolute maximum. At least Orpheus got that right: there were only three dances.

As for the second half, let me just say that Allan Kozinn’s review in the Times, although entitled “One Pianist, One Orchestra, No Conductor,” never touched on what made the performance of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto different from all the ones that we’ve sat through with conductors. I think that a word or two on that subject just might have been order. As you’ll be able to tell from the new page at Portico.

¶ Brahms and Schoenberg, with pianist Yefim Bronfman.

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Books on Monday: The Uncommon Reader

Monday, October 29th, 2007

One of Alan Bennett’s knacks, among many, is the ability to turn out short works of fiction that really do seem to deserve separate printing, in slim little books that slip easily into pockets. What might seem a scam with other writers is perfectly unobjectionable in Mr Bennett’s case. I hope that he is not laughing at us for thinking so.

¶ The Uncommon Reader.

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At My Kitchen Table: Friends From Afar

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

This afternoon, Kathleen and I had brunch at the museum with Jean Ruaud, of Mnémoglyphes - the blogger from a foreign capital to whom I alluded the other day – and his nephew, André-François Ruaud. André is the publisher of Les moutons électriques,  an imprint that he manages at Lyon, and that has just issued Les nombreuses vies de Maigret, a collection of essays and other materials devoted to Georges Simenon’s most celebrated creation. Among other contributions, there is a portfolio of photographs taken by Jean. If you have ever visited any of his sites over the years, particularly Empreintes, his ‘Fotoblog,’ you know that Jean Ruaud is one of the most gifted amateur photographers on the planet. (Actually, with the publication of Les nombreuses vies de Maigret, he is no longer an amateur.) Jean and André are in New York at the moment to collaborate on an upcoming project that promises to be very interesting to fans of another famous fictional detective – and I leave it to Jean to fill in the blanks as he sees fit.

When did I first encounter Jean’s blog at the time, Douze lunes? During the summer or early autumn of 2004, I think, right before I launched the first Daily Blague. Over the years, Jean and I have broached the idea of meeting in person, either here or in Paris, often enough for me to begin to wonder if we might actually ever get together. (At our end, Kathleen has been so tied up with work for the past few years that we’ve only managed brief escapes at Thanksgiving. As it happened, we spent the Thanksgiving of 2003, somewhat before I met Jean online, in Paris, and we were not inclined to revisit the City of Light in late November anytime soon – considering that one of the key points of winter travel for Kathleen is plenty of soleil. In Paris that year, it was miserably rainy the entire time we were there.) In the end, it was probably inevitable that the decline of the dollar ordained that the meeting would take place in New York.

Jean was very generous with his time, for me met not once but twice. How I wish that my French were in better shape! I ventured a few mistake-riddled phrases, but stuck to English out of sheer humanitarian concern for Jean’s sensibilities. Among other things, we talked about Jean’s really very interesting job, which I would describe by likening him, in a way at least, to the subjects of Andrés last and forthcoming books. But when Kathleen turned to Jean and said, “RJ tells me that you’re a detective!” Jean all but hid his head under the tablecloth in embarrassment. Really, he is much too modest. All I will say is this: come to think of it, I won’t. 

Kathleen and I hope that Jean and André enjoyed getting together as much as we did. As Confucius says… I was going to quote Confucius in French, but it’s quite different, and my classical Chinese isn’t up to deciding who’s more faithful, Simon Leys (in English) or Séraphin Couvreur. Compare:

To have friends coming from afar: is this not a delight?

Si des amis viennent de loin recevoir ses leçons, n’éprouve-t-il pas une grande joie ?

Who said anything about leçons? My joie, however, was grande indeed.

Friday Movies: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

For the first time in a long time, I came home for lunch after the movies. I didn’t go to Jacques, as usual when I’m doing in Soho – although I did stop in at McNally Forbes to pick up a book for a friend. I could have gone on down Prince Street to the bistro, but I wasn’t really in the mood, so I headed north on Mulberry Street and just caught the Uptown Six. When I got home, I made myself a hot dog – just one. Not all that long ago, I would never make fewer than three hot dogs for lunch. More recently, I contented myself with two. Sometime in August, I decided that one would do.

I suspect that the prospect of sipping on martinis at lunch in a French-style bistro was a powerful draw. I don’t worry that finding myself in a bistro will alter my resolve to avoid hard liquor. But somehow, without the one, the other is no longer so compelling.

Sidney Lumet’s movie, though – now that was compelling.

¶ Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.

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Friday Front: John Feffer on China's Next Move

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Has anything in the world changed more in the past quarter century than China? And yet one wonders: has China changed at all? John Feffer’s review of six recent books about China and what it’s up to is better, I suspect, than any of the books themselves.

¶ John Feffer on China’s Next Move.

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On the Satisfaction of Honest Fatigue

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

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The moon glimmers through thin clouds over Astoria.

In the event, I got to sleep fairly quickly last night. I even turned out the lamp on my bedside table, something that I’ve been loath to do lately, because it has felt like a kind of burial alive. I got up early this morning as well, excited by the prospect of my big day.

After a delightful lunch at the Bateau Ivre, I quick-marched to the hospital for the Remicade infusion, arriving only minutes late. For the most part, I read The View From Castle Rock while I sat in the chemo chair, finding the book both comfortable and disturbing. When the infusion was over, I checked in with Kathleen, who was headed off to a late night at the printer, and decided to walk home along the river. It was very peaceful – because it was very chilly. I wished for a pair of gloves!

At 81st Street, I climbed the long flight of stairs with two intermediate landings and caught my breath as I continued along the Finley Walk. By the time I left the park, I was tired enough to consider hailing a taxi to carry me the few remaining blocks. I did get home on my own steam, but even though I was very hungry and quite in the mood for a ham-and-cheese sandwich (as if I hadn’t had a croque monsieur at lunch!), I had no choice but to sit still for a little while before tackling the cold cuts. Among other matters, I had to decide on the color of Nano that I want. It’s impossible, because I don’t want any of them. I’ll settle, I suppose, for the brushed black. Kathleen and I agreed that we do not live on the same planet as the apparently quite anemic people for whom Apple selected its iPod colors.

In the course of our morning badinage, something that Kathleen said prompted me to interject, “A steal at eleven hundred dollars!” I’ve no idea what it was that she said, but now there’s nothing for it but to watch Rear Window, the film from which that remark comes. Speaking of films, I remembered to click the “Tomorrow” button before I checked movie possibilities for tomorrow morning. Good thing, too; for a moment there, I thought that there was nothing worth seeing besides Reservation Road. I am happy to report that La Vie en Rose has finally disappeared from the Angelika’s screens; now, will it please appear on DVD so that I can watch it over and over and over at home.

Morning News: the Syllabus in Wilmette

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

At last: a news item from our own corner of the Blogosphere, not yet reported in the Times.

Mig at Metamorphosism has made a queasy discovery. Clicking on the link in his entry, “I was afraid of this,” (“Welcome to the canon”) will take you to a sort of Internet syllabus for the Fourth Grade Marine Biology Unit at the Wilmette [Illinois] public schools. You will find a table filled with the names of various fish. Click on “Flying Fish 2,” and you’re back at Metamorphosism, for Mig’s drolly mock-scientific entry. Among the “facts” noted about the flying fish:

This sounds an awful lot like surfing, which is done for fun, not to escape predators, man.

As the entry proceeds, it becomes ever more mired in yearning existential uncertainty.

[The flying fish] wonders, did walks calm its father this much? Walks at night? Are they as good as walks at dawn, the flying fish wonders. Because the light at dawn, not bad man. The clarity, the shine of the world. The swans. The way ducks look small and insufficient next to a swan, although they probably think the swans are way too big and prone to bird flu and a bad color – white – that gets dirty way too easy, while the swans maybe think, eat my wake, duck.

Let’s see, do any of my law school friends have kids in these schools? It’s a possibility – although grandchildren are getting to be more likely. Or we could try to get a saving note to Mr Elman.

Up Late

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

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Really, I ought to be in bed, or at least sitting quietly with a book (Alice Munro’s The View From Castle Rock, which has captured my reader’s interest because I waited until I thought that it would). I most certainly ought not to be hanging over the computer, even with a mug of hot chocolate. The chocolate is delicious, but any soporific effects are bound to be countered by the buzz of writing even a simple entry such as this one.

I’m in the middle of a swirling week, really a quite extraordinarily busy one after weeks of quiet – and I’m loving it. Tomorrow (later today, I should say) holds a great treat in store, and I’m not talking about the Remicade infusion that I can just, shy of three months since the last one, feel the need of. Remicade is a miracle, not a treat. The treat is meeting a long-time correspondent and fellow blogger who lives in a foreign capital. More than that I shall not say, not, at least, without said blogger’s permission.

Tuesday night posed a challenge: my first night out since giving up the martinis. The occasion was the first Orpheus-at-Carnegie concert of the season, which I’ll write up presently (as soon as I’ve seen what the Times has to say about it). In the old days, I’d have gone straight from Carnegie Hall to the Brooklyn Diner, not as much as a block away, for a dinner of Eggs Benedict and three martinis. Then I’d hop in a taxi (or, if the taxis just weren’t driving by, the subway) and go home – where I very well might have another martini. Eventually, I would pour myself into bed, but I wouldn’t remember doing so.

Last night, I went to the Brooklyn Diner first. The place was packed, so I sat at the bar. I ordered Pigs in a Blanket, an appetizer that will serve as dinner for me, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I had a second glass of wine, paid the bill, and left. Then, for reasons that I don’t care to discuss, I had a third glass of wine in the bar at Carnegie Hall, just before the concert. It was a that-or-else glass of wine, and I regretted it very much during the second half of the program, because my eyes kept wanting to close. This would never do, as, for reasons that I’ll enumerate when I write about the concert, I intended to pay the closest attention. I triumphed, but it was a struggle. When I got home, I did not have a fourth glass of wine. I had hot chocolate instead, and I was soon very sleepy. But then, I wasn’t at the computer.

Amplification: I was not at the computer trying out a new HTML editor.

May the morning sun kiss you and keep you warm and dry all day. In the absence of sunlight (such as I’m afraid we’re expecting), my good wishes will have to do.

PS: Even Monday brings treats, one of them an iPod Nano. It’s the model for me, I’m told. I can’t imagine actually using it, though – it seems, like Facebook and Capri pants, so age-inappropriate!

¶ See Me Now.

What I'm Reading/In the Book Review

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

After a few short and piquant fictions (The Uncommon Reader, What’s for Dinner?), I resolved to sink my teeth into something that would keep me for a while, Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book, as newly translated by Maureen Freely. One does not rush through Mr Pamuk’s rich, semi-Dostoevskyan novels, even when their autobiographical aspects are familiar from other books (Istanbul, for example). I’m also working my way through Tim Blanning’s The Pursuit of Glory, which so far is solidly pedestrian (although very well-written). Finally (for the moment), there’s Alice Munro’s collection of old family stories, with the missing bits filled in by the author’s imagination. Meta-nonfiction? Fiction, schmiction. The View from Castle Rock reads like the vintage Munro that it is.

As for this week’s Book Review, there are lots of Yeses, and more Noes than Maybes. Among the Noes is Alice Sebold’s second novel, which, appropriately enough given its plot, is currently being dismembered by a school of barracuda critics who deplored the success of The Lovely Bones. Ms Sebold will be lucky to have her work appear in the fifteenth Library of America collection of crime fiction, when it appears in fifty years.

¶ True Believers.

Organ Treats

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Anthony Newman’s organ recital at Holy Trinity Church, which is practically next door, was a lovely way to begin the season, and at some point today there will appear at the end of this entry a link to more substantive remarks than I’m prepared to make at the moment (having just put the Book Review review “to bed”). If I tell you that the surprise hit of the program for me was one of Mozart’s Epistle Sonatas, you’ll quite rightly think me daft – at least until I explain.

Not that my attention to the music ever flagged, but as has happened at other recitals at Holy Trinity, I couldn’t help being charmed by the interior, which is more reminiscent of a large parish in a small town than of a grand Gothic cathedral in its aspirations, into fantasies of joining the congregation. I could sit in the back, wearing the attitude of a staunch catachumen. And I could sing the hymns. (During a trio of French baroque characteristic pieces – including Rameau’s very famous Poule - I copied out the words to a hymn that I’m sure was an Abolitionist favorite: “In Christ there is no East or West.”) But I’d be coming at Episcopalianism from a pole opposite that of Eric Patton’s starting point, having been brought up Roman Catholic and not Unitarian. (I’d link to Eric’s blog, but it’s too depressing: he’s discontinuing it.) I’d be sure to show up only very sporadically, and never for vestigial services such as the Blessing of the Animals, if indeed they have such an event at Holy Trinity.

Kathleen says that it will be all right, though, to give $25 or so to the organ fund. I keep thinking of the organ as new, but in fact Anthony Newman – that’s right, last night’s organist – inaurgurated it twenty years ago, and it’s in need of serious maintenance. Not that it sounds it.

¶ Anthony Newman at Holy Trinity.

Central Park in the Dark

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Here’s a view of Midtown from the top of the Great Lawn in Central Park – which is not a lawn at all but a constellation of softball diamonds. It’s pathetic of me to point this out in such a teensy photo, but the Chrysler Building is the fourth speck of light from the left. On the right, you can see the lighting at the top of the TimeWarner Center, which I had never noticed before. I don’t know why, but it gives the towers an air of mad-scientist laboratory. Lights in the attic – that sort of look.

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All photographs by Kathleen Moriarty.

What a silly boy I was. I thought that, after an early dinner, we would come home in plenty of time for me to sit down at the computer and dash off a Sunday entry about our walk across Central Park and our lovely meal at Nice-Matin with Kathleen’s client (who happens also to be our personal friend), Jim. The walk and the meal were indeed lovely, but I was an all-but-weeping basket case by the time that Kathleen poured me into a taxi and took me home, where I went to bed on the spot.

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The towers of Central Park West.

Perhaps I’d overdone it. I had gotten up at something close to five in the morning and waded through no end of New York Times - including three editions that dated back to my hospital stay, a month ago.  (Don’t think it was a waste of time; I clipped three interesting articles!) I also read a lot of James Schuyler’s recently re-issued What’s for Dinner?, a novel that I look forward to recommending more fully. And I made breakfast-in-bed for Kathleen. Later, after lunch, we tackled a very disorganized closet – you know what that’s like. Kathleen stood on a step-ladder and handed things down from an  almost inaccessible top shelf, which we promptly stocked with old tax records and such that had been taking up prime lower shelves. There are still a few piles of stuff to deal with in the blue room, but not as many as I feared there would be. Several cubic feet of stuff were tossed.

Then we went for our first walk, our regulation Sunday constitutional: down 86th Street to Carl Schurz Park and the flagstaff next to Gracie Mansion. Then the promenade to and from the head of the Finley Walk at 81st Street, a view that, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll have seen perhaps once too often. Then homewards from the flagstaff, this time via Holy Trinity Church on 88th Street, to check to see whether Anthony Newman’s organ recital (!) is scheduled for tonight or for Wednesday night (I somehow remembered an even-numbered date) (it’s tonight). I was pretty tired when we got back to the apartment, but a little over an hour later I was cool and spruce and ready for another stroll. I hailed a taxi to take us to Fifth Avenue, not so much to save the walk as to put us in the Park before night fully fell. I have Photoshopped Kathleen’s images in order to give an idea of what the light was like at about six-forty.

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The Beresford, partially under wraps.

I cannot deny that dinner was all the more delicious for being expensed. Jim, who lives in San Sebastián when he is not on a plane or in a hotel room (or at his flat in the West Eighties, which we were to have visited after dinner had I been a little stronger), has acquired an expertise in Spanish wine, and what a dope I feel now for not have made note of the excellent choice that he and the sommelier arrived at last night. All I can say is that it was a Rioja, possibly an Alta Rioja, and that it had the ethereal qualities that I associate with the very best Burgundies – although it tasted nothing like a French wine. Kathleen was quietly impressed with me for cutting off the pouring of a second glass – not absolutely altogether, but right after a few thimblefuls had dribbled in. 

And so to …. [yawn!].

The worst of it is, I slept until eight-thirty this morning, a now-unconscionable hour. Guess I was tired.  

Books on Monday: Fathers and Sons

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Alexander Waugh has written two books, Time and God, and, now, a third, about material that’s considerably less remote and abstract. Every review of his “autobiography of a family” – reconstructed largely from family letters – has outlined an irresistibly strange story, beginning with “the Brute” and going on to describe one of the odder cases of paternal devotion. And that’s before we even get to the most famous Waugh of all – a character who, as he did in his family, spends his youth on the margins, as a Not Very Important Person. It is a sign of Mr Waugh’s accomplishment that his book is utterly free of “setting the record straight.” (Nor does he pretend to let it “speak for itself.”) Books like this are usually epiphenomena, trivially traveling in the wake of more important work. But Fathers and Sons would be a great book even if the author’s grandfather were no better known than his great-grandfather. If anything, readers curious to know more about the best comic novelist of the Twentieth Century may be in for a disappointment; this book does not hang on a dead writer’s fame. It promises, rather, great things for that of a living writer, namely, the author.

¶ Fathers and Sons.

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Friday Movies: We Own the Night

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

It was going to be either Lust – Caution, showing at eleven, or We Own the Night, at a quarter past, depending on when I got to the Landmark Sunshine Theatre on Houston Street. Unfortunately, that’s not how it was going to be, though, because I’d neglected to click “Tomorrow” when I’d consulted the Internet on Thursday night for showtimes. In the event, it was Lust – Caution at noon, and We Own the Night at a quarter to. Given the later starting times, I chose We Own the Night, as the far shorter film. Hic transit important aesthetic decisions.

After lunch, I went round to my favorite bistro, to find it packed. Never had I seen such a crowd there on one of my Friday afternoon forays into NoLIta. What’s more, many of the patrons were speaking French and carrying shopping bags. The falling dollar ends up improving the Manhattan ambience. I love the French, but as linings go, this one is bronze at best, not silver.

¶ We Own the Night.

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Good News on the Remicade Front

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Whatever brought on this morning’s thick dream, it was not yesterday’s good news. In the late afternoon, I walked down the the Hospital for Special Surgery to see Dr Steven K Magid, rheumatologist to the stars but also to me, so that he could examine the surgical incisions (the operation was a month ago today) to make sure that they were completely “closed up.” Only then might I schedule my next Remicade infusioin. The odd thing about Remicade, sort of, is that you have to be in perfect health to absorb it – perfect, that is, except for the condition that sent you to the Infusion Therapy Unit in the first place.

Dr Magid pronounced the wound “beautiful,” a word that Kathleen has also used when changing bandages. (We’ve done without the bandages for about a week, but when she took a look on Wednesday and repeated herself, I got on the phone to make the doctor’s appointment.) The first item of business this morning is to make an appointment for the earliest possible opening. I’m slightly overdue for the next infusion, and I know from experience that going just a few days too long means turning from a coach into a pumpkin.

When I said this to Sarah, the nurse in the Infusion Therapy Unit who just told me a minute ago that infusion bookings will open at nine, she replied (with her quick Irish wit), “Well, now, that’ll be just in time for Hallowe’en.”

Clotted Dream

Friday, October 19th, 2007

As a rule, I don’t share my dreams. I think it’s boring and rude. For a long time, dreams were not a problem, because heavy drinking buries dreams. Whether you have them but can’t remember them (like so much else) or don’t have them in the first place, I can’t say, but now that I’m down to a glass or two of wine – and last night, I never got to the second one; I was too sleepy, even though I was fired up by the season finale of Mad Men – I dream all the time, and I’ve been having some corkers. To contradict the old hymn again – last time, it was about the East River – some of these corkers do not “fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day.” Au contraire. They hang around all morning, like the overupholstered ghosts of Freud’s first patients.

This morning’s dream, the odder details of which I’ve just poured out to a friend who happened to be awake and on chat, was, I see, about adolescent acceptance, something that eluded me completely when I was young, mostly because I didn’t know what to accept. I sometimes rather bumblingly confused my longing with homosexuality, but what I wanted wasn’t love or touch or release but simple understanding. “Simple” – ha! There was nothing simple about me then. (There still isn’t, but I’ve sanded down the surfaces a bit.) God Almighty could not, probably, have convinced me that I was a person of worth, even though I myself had no doubt that I was a walking gold standard of worthiness. I wanted companionship – and coronation. As I say, “simple.”

Most of the dream took place in a ruined mansion near Prospect Park. The grounds were extensive but also wildly overgrown, and both house and garden were littered with broken debris. This was the retreat of my friend, X. Well, I knew X and X knew me, but (as in life) I was not part of X’s circle, most of which was also on hand. How annoying that was! X’s friends (in the dream) were sullen and hostile, like the party guests in a Bergman nightmare. Some were beautiful. Some were dweeby. All were men. I had gone out to Brooklyn to rent a tuxedo from X, but it was a bad day for that, he told me (and how wicked I was to show up unannounced), because he was “at home.”

Beneath all the new-wave filigree, the flotsam and jetsam of sophisticated, “pointless” Sixties movies, my dream was about the different but much more ordinary boredom of putting up with a friend’s friends as a way of getting closer to the friend. (Very adolescent, but see also Swann in Love.) At one point, however, I found myself alone in the house. I wrote a note to X.* I have no idea what the note said, but I did begin the first sentence with X’s name, followed by a comma – only I addressed him as “Y,” another real-life friend. (“Simple.”) When I began the second sentence with an identical apostrophe, I remembered reading recently that to begin successive sentences with the addressee’s name is a sign of the most desperate and hopeless love; the writer’s only next move is murder-suicide. Unable to continue but also unable to tear up what I had written, I sat at the flimsy old escritoire, paralyzed in deep humiliation.

It isn’t what woke me up, but that’s enough for now. Doctor, what do you think it means?

* Of course; more Proust! Why be in the same room with someone, however madly desired, when you can write notes to him from another room?

Friday Front: Bob Herbert on Afro-American Self-Sabotage

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Bob Herbert’s  column on Tuesday was unusually inspiring. As a rule, I agree with his commentary on the plight of Afro-Americans so completely and with so much sadness that I glance over it quickly, nodding uselessly, but this time my mind quickly filled up with all the important things that, for perfectly good reasons of his own, the columnist was glossing over as not, for the moment, directly relevant.

The older I get, and the longer I look, the more obvious to me it becomes that making America a better place for blacks will make America a better place for everybody else, as well. So I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I write from a position not of high-minded idealism but of enlightened self-interest. No points for me.

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Morning News: A Word on Child Care Costs

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Gail Collins is absolutely right.

We aren’t going to solve the problem [of child care] during this presidential contest, but it is absolutely nuts that it isn’t a topic of discussion – or even of election-year pandering.

Do read her column in today’s Times, “None Dare Call It Child Care*.” It got me to thinking. Let’s get out a piece of paper and pencil and try to write down ten reasons why “child care” is such an open sore. Everybody recognizes the cause of the problem (few middle class families can support themselves on one spouse’s income alone), and its side-effects (poorly paid, unlicensed caregivers) are certainly well known. What’s the problem?

(Continue reading at Portico.)

Have I Told You?

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

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Have I ever told you that the Queensboro Bridge is my favorite bridge? In the world, I think, but certainly in New York. Everybody has a favorite. The suspension bridges are certainly more popular. The Queensborough is a plain old cantilever bridge, but it goes out of its way to capture some suspension-bridge slopes. And those crazy, firework-ey Saul Steinberg finials!

How about this fine cargo ship, the Caribbean.

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Except, er, it’s actually a barge. See the tugboat at the back? It’s a barge, and an empty barge at that. Let me tell you, that thing was traveling!

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¶ “Wellsperger’s” Models: A Second Look.