Thursday, September 27, 2012

Two Twenties And Twelve Ones


One Sunday afternoon a number of years ago I was approached outside my house by a down-on-his-luck character who told me he was trying to buy a used car over on Pillsbury Avenue and had found himself fifty bucks short. He'd taken the bus from St. Paul to look at this car, he explained. He'd just gotten a job in Maplewood and was starting on Monday. He was clearly desperate, and seemed almost frantic. If he didn't get this car, he said, he would have no way to "drive backwards and forwards to work."

Backwards and forwards. That, I thought, felt like the way I usually come and go from work every day.

I'll admit, though, that I was a bit skeptical, so I offered to walk over with him to check out the car, figuring this character would balk and that would be the end of that. He didn't balk, however; if anything he responded with almost alarming enthusiasm to this offer, and we walked the several blocks to Pillsbury without much in the way of conversation passing between us.

And sure enough, there it was, some kind of white, four-door family car in the garage of a townhouse.

I found myself trying to negotiate with the car's owner. Couldn't he, I asked, do any better than $800? The man was emphatic. He had already agreed to shave the price down from $1000 to $800. He'd just listed the car on Wednesday, he said, and he was confident he would eventually find someone willing to pay his original asking price.

The potential buyer and I walked down to the end of the driveway and talked things over. Did I think it was a good deal? he asked.

I told him that he was unfortunately asking the wrong guy. It looked like a decent car, I said. He pulled a wad of rumpled cash from his pocket and counted it out. He was, in fact, $48 short.

I gave the guy his fifty dollars so that he would have a car to drive backwards and forwards to work. "Long may she run," I told him as I handed over the cash.

I left the two guys to complete the transaction, but as I walked away down the sidewalk the buyer scurried after me and asked for my name and address. I wrote this information for him on an index card and handed it over.

A week or so later I came home to find an envelope in my mailbox. The envelope contained two twenties, and twelve ones.

Last night I stopped into a SuperAmerica and as I was leaving I heard a voice behind me say, “How that’s Honda treating you?” When I turned to see the source of the voice, there was the backwards and forwards guy, putting gas in that same 1997 white Chevy Lumina that he’d bought the afternoon of our encounter. I didn’t recognize him, but he introduced himself and we made small talk for a couple minutes. He had a new job in Bloomington, he told me, driving a forklift. The Lumina had turned out to be a steal. I asked him something that I had been curious about for a long time: Why had he given me fifty-two dollars?

“I think that’s what you call interest,” he said, and laughed. “You gave me two dollars more than I needed, so I gave you two dollars more than you gave me.”

We said our goodbyes, and as I walked to my car I noticed the “Mitt Romney: Believe in America” sticker on his back bumper.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Second Fiddle, Fiddling



















I have a lot of time on my hands, and I recently discovered a new trick with (I like to imagine) some radical implications.

I've always wanted to be either a saint or at the very least some kind of hero, but the older I get the more it looks like I just don't have the proper makeup to pull it off. I'm not, I'm afraid, made of particularly sturdy stuff. I guess I've made my peace with the idea that sainthood and real heroism would be pretty taxing occupations, and all but impossible for a man who really doesn't much like to leave the house.

That said, I have resolved to do what I can, and  to look for opportunities for small acts of heroism and altruism in solitude. I've been experimenting --I can't sleep-- and I'm slowly learning how to pull things back from the past, to rewind time. It's tedious but gratifying work; editing, really, erasing little bits and pieces of history --a careless phrase or gesture, a rash impulse acted upon, a mistake here, a regret there. It's sort of like fishing in the past.

So far I've found that I'm limited to no more than twenty seconds at a time, and I can  reclaim these moments from every life but my own. Each night I coax brief segments of time through the dark crack at the bottom of my bedroom door, reeling them in at the end of a coil of dental floss that I wrap around my thumb.

It's possible that I've taken back some of your own time and erased little moments from your memory and life, but you'd likely never know it. As far as I can tell my efforts only manifest themselves in others as amnestic gaps; for some reason I also have been given to understand  that these same segments are simultaneously obliterated from the memories of every other person who might have been affected or impacted by whatever it was you might have said or done.

I'm sure you can see how useful my work might be, and how it might work towards restoring relationships and rebuilding bridges.

It's somewhat frustrating, I'll admit, that the people whose benefactor I am remain anonymous to me. I have brief, almost blinding flashes of recognition; I hear voices and see things, but everything happens at hyper-speed and in reverse, so the effect is very much like trying to make sense of a rapidly rewinding cassette or video tape.

I keep working at this project, though, and I'd very much like to build up my stamina to the point where I can extend these revisions to longer and longer stretches of time. In the next year I'm hoping to be able to reclaim entire days, and the ultimate goal, of course, is to be able to fine-tune this quite remarkable process so that I can erase substantial portions of my own life.

Most of it, in fact.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fifty Books

A week or so ago I went to a book release party at Micawber's Books in St. Paul. I don't get over there often enough, but the place is one of my favorite bookstores in the world, and Hans Weyandt is one of the co-owners and also one of the best bookslingers in the land. Coffee House Press has just published a book Hans compiled and edited: Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Bookstores. It's a terrific and entertaining book, but it's also a tribute to all those people who are in the trenches of independent bookstores every day, all over the country, spreading the word about books and authors you may not have heard of.

I don't really have anything new to add to the endless hand wringing about the purportedly imperiled state of bookstores like Micawber's, presses like Coffee House, and passionate, informed readers like the people who submitted lists to Hans. I can only say that browsing through Read This! --as I've been doing since I bought the book-- is a perfect antidote to all that poisonous yammering. I've been an obsessive reader since early childhood; I have worked in bookstores, and even, for a time, owned one. My house is full of more books than I will ever find the time to read. Even so, my copy of Read This! is already jammed with index cards on which I have scribbled the names of titles recommended by some of the twenty-five booksellers (there are actually more, I think, since some of the stores submitted tag-team efforts). These titles are all books I haven't read, and, in many cases, books I'd never heard of. And that's still the sort of thing that can both shame me and drive me to distraction.

Each store was allowed to submit a list of fifty books. Personal favorites, I suppose, or things they felt had been overlooked or underrated. Either way, it's clear that a lot of thought and care went into the process. The titles on these lists are all books that somebody loves enough that they desperately want to share them with other readers.

I don't spend much time in that world (booksellers, publishers, serious readers) anymore, but virtually every time I read a book that knocks my socks off, or reread a book that has stuck with me for years or decades, I want to push it on somebody. I almost never do, though. My reading habits are strange, and my tastes are probably peculiar. And, oddly enough, even though I am a compulsive list maker, I'd never sat down and tried to put together a list of my favorite books, or the books that played such huge roles in shaping who I am, how I see the world, and what I want from life.

Making an initial list turned out to be surprisingly easy. It didn't take me more than an hour to come up with something like seventy-five books, almost none of which --after setting the list aside for five days-- seemed expendable or engendered any second guessing. The real challenge, of course, was to narrow it down to fifty titles, and to stand pat. I could probably keep tacking new titles on every day for the rest of my life, but I feel pretty confident that the fifty books I ended up with are all essential to me, and have been rewarding enough that I have returned to them (or they have returned to me) again and again over many years and, in some instances, decades. I'm aware that there are very few books on this list from recent years, but that isn't because I'm not constantly reading new stuff or I'm not frequently impressed. Maybe in ten years the list will be radically different, but for some reason I don't believe that will be the case. A lot of these are the early books that made me want to be a writer, and there are also a bunch of later titles that have pushed me to keep trying.

But every single thing on the list is a book that I will love to the end of my days, and it's going to be very hard to displace any of them.

One final hedge: This could easily be a list made up entirely of children's books and photobooks; I've included some of the former and none of the latter, despite the fact that these days more than half of the time I spend with books is spent with books of photos, and I'm convinced that, increasingly, these books offer some of the purest and most passionate storytelling and magic being published today.

Okay, here's my list (in no particular order):
  1. Sylvia Townsend Warner, Kingdoms of Elfin.
  2. James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket.
  3. George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London.
  4. Peter Guralnick, Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom.
  5. Lawrence Weschler, A Wanderer in a Perfect City.
  6. Kenneth Grahame, A Wind in the Willows.
  7. Anton Chekhov, Complete Stories.
  8. Charles Dickens, Bleak House.
  9. Stanley Elkin, The Dick Gibson Show.
  10. Robert Graves, The Greek Myths.
  11. Francis Parkman, France and England in North America.
  12. Czeslaw Milosz, Unattainable Earth.
  13. Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore.
  14. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night.
  15. James Wright, Shall We Gather at the River.
  16. William Maxwell, All the Days and Nights.
  17. E.L. Konigsburg. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
  18. David Maurer, The Big Con.
  19. Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire.
  20. Eudora Welty, Collected Stories.
  21. Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones.
  22. David Gates, Jernigan.
  23. Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey.
  24. Barry Hannah, Airships.
  25. Samuel Beckett, Three Novels.
  26. Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel.
  27. Cervantes, Don Quixote.
  28. Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.
  29. Alberto Manguel, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places.
  30. Judith Schalansky, Atlas of Remote Islands.
  31. William James, Varieties of Religious Experience.
  32. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy.
  33. Stanley Kunitz, The Collected Poems.
  34. Richard Flanagan, Gould's Book of Fish.
  35. John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces.
  36. Flann O'Brien, At Swim Two-Birds.
  37. Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language.
  38. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project.
  39. Djuna Barnes, Nightwood.
  40. Jane Bowles, Two Serious Ladies.
  41. Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet.
  42. George Orwell, Essays.
  43. Richard Price, Clockers.
  44. M.T. Anderson, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1.
  45. David Markson, Reader's Block.
  46. Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian.
  47. M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating.
  48. Denis Johnson, The Throne of the Third Heavens of the Nations Millennium General Assembly.
  49. W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz.
  50. Russell Edson, The Tunnel.
This is cheating, I know, but that turned out to be a lot tougher than I thought down the stretch, so here are some I had a very tough time leaving off:

At least one of Charles Portis's novels.
Robert Plunket's My Search for Warren Harding.
Frederick's Exley's A Fan's Notes.
The stories of Richard Yates.
The essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The Journals of Lewis and Clark.
William Gass's In the Heart of the Heart of the Country.
Edith Pearlman's Binocular Vision.
The Hardy Boy's Detective Handbook.
Norah Labiner's Miniatures.
Go, Dog, Go!
Roberto Bolano's 2666.
Gogol's Dead Souls.
Adam Haslett's You Are Not a Stranger Here.
Marilynne Robinson's Gilead.
Hawthorne Abendsen's The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.
The stories of William Trevor.
Rupert Thomson's The Insult.
James Joyce's Dubliners.
David Long's The Inhabited World.
Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon.
Karl Kraus's Dicta and Contradicta.
Art Pepper's Straight Life.

Thanks to Hans and all the booksellers who contributed to Read This!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Afterthought



















Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. --Euripedes

Euripedes was a nitpicker: Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they gleefully destroy.

The gods can wreck you on the installment plan, incrementally, step by fucking step. And, sure, madness is in their bag of tricks, but they have bigger, more wicked stuff up their sleeves than mere madness.

Let's say you're me.

But, no, let's don't say; I wouldn't wish that on you.

Seriously, though, this man: Me. What did I do to deserve my status as a wretched  mythological footnote?

I guess my sad history speaks for itself; those fuckers on Olympus toyed with me from the very beginning, making me the least distinguished, the only truly undistinguished member of a formidable family.

I struggled early and often to find an identity for myself, dwarfed, hobbled, and self-conscious in the shadows of my brothers, Prometheus and Atlas. Those were big shadows, and my parents compounded my frustrations by yoking me with an insult for a name: Epimetheus, or 'Afterthought,' this in deliberate contrast to my brother Prometheus ('Forethought').

I learned to live with this indignity, and the diminished expectations that went along with it. I thought I'd finally caught my lucky break when Hermes offered me Pandora's hand in marriage (only, of course, after Prometheus took a pass).

My bride was the first mortal woman, made to order by Jupiter and blessed with improvident gifts: beauty, elegance, poise, a natural eagerness to please. Sad sack that I was, I can't deny that Pandora made me wild with happiness.

There was, though, that damned box, which was a torment to my curiosity. Presented to me in tandem with my wife, the box was a thing of beauty in its own right, ornate, delicately crafted, and glittering with jewels. It came with a strict prohibition, of course; I was expressly forbidden from ever opening the box. Day after day and night after night it sat there on our mantel, emitting noises that were alternately disturbing and enticing. Some of the time it rattled and hummed like an old radiator; other times it purred, a steady, almost comforting wash of white noise.

Despite what you might have heard, it was I who opened that box, not Pandora. I don't suppose I need to tell you that I was roaring drunk on Old Style at the time. That was, as you would surely imagine, a terrible moment, chaotic, disturbing, beyond frightful. I don't like to remember the things that boiled up out of the box, even though I am still confronted by those memories --and their living, enduring presence in the world-- every single day. Ceaseless affliction and misery, is how you often hear the contents of the box described, and I can ensure you that there's nothing in the way of overstatement in that description.

You also may have heard that in the midst of all the chaos my wife had the presence of mind to lunge from the couch and clamp the lid back on the box.

Here is where I'm not sure what to tell you. Pandora obviously did not move quickly enough. Perhaps, however, she moved too swiftly, or shouldn't have moved at all. Because when we finally collapsed together in the shag carpeting of our living room and surveyed the enormity of the disaster our marriage had made of this world, we were aware of a sound still emanating from within the box, a noise that sounded eerily like a beating heart. It seemed hope --and hope alone-- had not managed to escape from Pandora's box.

And I ask you now: what does that mean? Should we choose to see this bit of information as cause for optimism, or despair? Is hope still present and accessible, or locked away forever?

I'm afraid that I, who have been turned into a monkey by the gods and banished to the island of Pithecusa, am unfortunately in no position to answer such difficult questions.

Friday, September 14, 2012

From My Forthcoming Book, "It Was Pure Hell: The Story Of A Show Biz Partnership In The Shadows Of Fame"

From 1957 through 1974, Richard "Fitz" Fitzgerald and Walter "Krome" Krominski spent an average of 200 nights a year on the road. Performing as Fitz and Krome, the two men --who had met as students at Northwestern University-- were both talented singers, dancers, and comedians, and their family-friendly variety show was a popular staple at theaters, nightclubs, and auditoriums all over America.

An alternate title for my oral history of the Fitz and Krome odyssey might well have been "Close But No Cigar," as there is no question that the duo spent their career largely in the shadows of other similar shows and more famous performing duos (Martin and Lewis, most obviously, but there was scads of other competition during their heyday). There were numerous close calls with genuine celebrity: an early movie for Paramount --They Went That Away!-- was a flop, and two television pilots (for NBC and CBS) were ultimately rejected. Walter Krominsky insisted to the end of his days that he and Fitz had developed and pitched the original idea for Laugh-In (their working title, he told me, had been Laugh It Off), only to be passed over in the end for Rowan and Martin. Finally, near the end of their careers, Fitz and Krome hosted an afternoon game show, Whaddaya Know?, on ABC, but the program was cancelled after one season.

I saw Fitz and Krome twice during my childhood. My hometown had an annual "Artist Series," a subscription-based calendar of programming that brought in national and regional touring acts to perform in the high school auditorium. Most of these performers (The Fred Waring Singers, Ferrante and Teicher, Al Hirt) were grim fare for a pre-adolescent boy with extreme attention deficit disorder, but I found Fitz and Krome entertaining and fascinating on multiple levels. The last time I saw them --this, I've surmised, would have been very near the end of their partnership-- there was a palpably desperate energy to their show, something manic and scattershot that in the intervening years I've come to recognize as a precursor to much of the entertainment that I have loved as an adult. "At the end," Walter Krominski told me, "it was pretty clear the writing was on the wall, and I think there was a Katie-bar-the-door approach. We had a good cast of young people --probably the best, most eager we ever had-- and we were just trying to toss off everything we had left."

The following is from more than 100 hours of interviews I conducted with Krominski, who was then living in Scottsdale, Arizona. He died in 2011 at the age of 84.

I traveled with that sorry son of a bitch for more than fifteen years, and ever time we came back --right from the beginning-- I'd tell anybody who would listen that I was done.

The problem was that neither of us could make a fucking dime on our own; if both of our names weren't on the marquee they couldn't sell a dozen tickets. Together, right to the end, we still put the keisters in the seats.

I always resented it more than he did. I mean, I wrote 80 percent of the material. At least. Granted, Dick was a better dancer and I didn't have the pipes he did, but he'd already learned that he wasn't quite good enough or handsome enough to make it on his own in Hollywood or on Broadway. He would have been a regional dinner theater headliner, at best. He needed that contrast and friction we had. I knew what he brought to the table, and what my role was, and I played up that difference by being deliberately worse than I was. Because I was actually no slouch myself. You think it's easy to sing flat or sharp on purpose? Or to always be a half or quarter step behind on the dance numbers? It isn't. It wasn't. It was even harder when I was always shooting him those panicked glances for comic effect, or pretending to be out of breath. That shit took a lot of work, a lot of practice, and a lot of concentration. Dick couldn't have done it, and he wouldn't have done it. Too proud.

He was, of course, famous for botching lines; crowds thought it was side-splittingly funny, but I can assure you it was never deliberate.

Dick was a genuine drip. I mean, seriously, the real deal. As flaky as they come. Whenever anybody wrote about Fitz and Krome, Dick was always portrayed as the nicest, most sincere guy in the world. And maybe he was, but he was a simpleton. I can't say he was ever mean or spiteful, but that much niceness gets to be manipulative. Still, I guess what you saw was very much what you got with Dick.

I had an edge to me, I don't deny it. I still do. I had to be the bad cop. I was always the negotiator, of course, and it was up to me to make sure we got paid. Even now I'll occasionally stumble across some interview with Dick --invariably one of those "Where Are They Now?" things-- and he never fails to tell whoever the hell he's talking to that he was always having so much fun that he would have done it for free, and I don't doubt that he would have; his wife came from money, and Dick was one of those guys who just lived for attention. Nobody could ever laugh hard enough or clap loud enough for me, but it was enough for Dick to have a roomful of people staring at him.

When we were traveling the man never stopped talking. Never. Stopped. Talking. He would talk to anyone. We missed planes because he couldn't stop talking. And he was one of those fussy guys who just had to be difficult, but he didn't ever think he was being difficult and he could get away with it because he was such a nice guy. You can go ahead and note that I put air quotes around that last phrase.

Here's one favorite Dick Fitzgerald story: We're someplace in the Midwest --Rockford, I think-- and we go into this Chinese restaurant near our hotel. Dick spends fifteen minutes studying the goddamn menu and asking questions, and then he asks if he can get the curry shrimp, but with pork instead of shrimp, and teriyaki sauce instead of curry. Teriyaki! That's fucking Japanese, for Christ's sake! The menu's got like 500 things on there, but Dick can't find one thing that is fine as is. And the damn thing is, they made it for him!

Why the hell would you order curry shrimp if you didn't want curry shrimp? After they brought our food I kept asking him, 'How's your curry shrimp, buddy?' And he just kept shoveling it into his face and saying, 'Oh, it's delicious!' He didn't even know I was giving him a hard time.

The bottom line is really this: the guy was the dimmest 1000-watt bulb you'd ever meet.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Butterflies Walk


I've had one too many fucking nickels pulled out of my ear, the younger of the two men said.

He was sitting on the floor, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, pajama bottoms, and badly worn bedroom slippers. He had declined the offer of a seat on the sofa, choosing instead to slump down against the wall and cross one leg over the other at the knee. He was nervously jostling the slipper on his left foot, slipping it on and off and tapping along to some beat in his head or blood.

Butterflies walk, he said.

They fly, the older man said.

But they must also sometimes walk. Some of them probably spend a good deal of time walking.

The older man shrugged, removed his glasses, and placed them upside down on his desk.

To play the game in this jerkwater town you have to be able to serve shit on a paper plate, the younger man said. You won’t be recognized by the in-crowd unless you have the personality of a game show host or a daft concierge.

I’m not sure that’s true, the older man said.

You’re in the business of not being sure, the younger man said. You have no idea how much this shit wears me out.

What shit is that?

This query was followed by a prolonged silence. The older man eventually repeated  the question. What shit is that? he asked.

Oh, the younger man said, I think you know what shit I'm talking about.

Why don't we make an attempt to narrow it down, the older man said. Perhaps we could isolate some specific things that are wearing you out.

Shit, the younger man said. The shit. The shit on paper plates. This shit. We've been over this before.

Well, the older man said, the problem as I see it is that we never seem to get beyond this same general complaint. I think you need to dig a bit deeper into things.

Into the shit? the younger man asked.

If that's how you choose to think about it, yes.

What is this music? the younger man asked.

It's Animal Collective.

I beg you to turn it the fuck off, the younger man said.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Might. Might Not


The little house with its peeling paint and mossy shingles was set well back from the street and appeared to be floating in a sea of saffron grass bleached by the sun and burnished by the fleeting sweep of twilight.

It was hot. There wasn't a shadow left in which to take refuge, and there wasn't a single thing moving in any direction.

If you stood in the middle of the street you would hear the unreal, thrumming silence of dusk in a dead-end place and you'd smell the rain that would creep in after darkness fell. If you stood still and listened hard you could probably hear the surf of truck traffic on the highway at the edge of town. And if you stood there long enough you might eventually see a child aboard a bicycle glide silently like a dream fragment through the intersection at the end of the block.

You might.

But you might not. There weren't a lot of children around anymore.

If you took a few steps up the front sidewalk you'd smell the cigarette smoke that was drifting in almost rhythmic waves through the window screen. And if you were bored or curious or crazy enough to press your face to the screen you'd see an unfinished jigsaw puzzle spread out on a card table, a windmill and a field of red tulips shot full of jagged holes. You'd see an orange plastic ashtray with a burning cigarette wedged in one of the badly-stained slots, and an abandoned game of Solitaire lined up on a coffee table. An old woman would be sitting there in a faded sun dress imprinted with a pattern of what might even have been sunflowers. Across the room from her, sitting utterly still in a recliner, his bare feet just jutting into the left side of the frame (you'd have to move or crane your neck to take him all in), would be a shirtless man wearing nothing but boxer shorts and holding a pistol in his lap.

From some corner you couldn't see you'd hear the disconsolate burst of a television laugh track.

You wouldn't necessarily know this, though, so I'll tell you: That man has on occasion fired his gun, but he’s been waiting his whole life to really shoot something.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Motel News


The little town in which I once upon a time found myself had a surprisingly nice public library where I could spend a couple hours checking my email, reading the newspaper, and browsing through books on local history.

At the back of this library there was a spacious and sunny enclosed porch that jutted out over what might have been either a lake or a swollen river. I could have probably found the answer to that question  in one of the local history books, I suppose, but I was distracted.

Through the big glass windows of this porch I stood and watched as they dragged a body out of the lake or river almost directly beneath me.

I was in the midst of a long drift at the time, and couldn't have told you where I was if you'd pasted my mugshot on a wall map that had all of the place names printed in big, black letters. I saw them drag that body out of the water, though. It was hard to miss that. I saw them heave the body from the water and drag it through the tall grass along the bank. You couldn't really tell what it was other than, unmistakably, a body. The guys who did the dragging were wearing plastic gloves, and there were a lot of guys wearing plastic gloves; it seemed like everybody that was standing around wanted to have a hand in pulling that body from the water.

They rolled the body into a shiny black bag and I watched as they wheeled the shiny black bag away and tucked it inside an ambulance.

It was a small town, that much I know, and every cop, firefighter, and news reporter in town was down there, as well as the usual mob of kids on bikes and old folks out walking dogs.

Later, on the local TV station, I heard the body had been some eighty-three-year-old woman. I was on the bed in a motel room when I learned this news. They said it appeared the woman had been in the water for quite a long time; months, they said. They knew her name, and showed a photo of her on the screen, a shot that looked like it might have been from a church directory.

A little fucking town like that and nobody had even reported her missing. I think it was at that precise moment –as I was staring at the photo of a smiling old woman—that I decided it was time to go home.

On any number of occasions I have learned that if you fall off this planet you can fall for a long time, and much of that time you won't even feel like you're falling. Gravity is sometimes brutal, but it's at the very least a sort of connection and a binding, and as such is mostly a beautiful thing, and beautiful things are blessings.

So I guess this is the advice I can offer you today: Hold on.