Sunday, May 22, 2016

On a Shitty Toe and a Bloody Man






One morning, I looked down to my left foot and discovered that my great toe was covered with a viscous brown deposit that looked like excrement. It was 7:15 am and I had just come from bed. My feet and legs were bare. I was unable to account for the smear of brown on my toe. I pushed my foot in the direction of my dog, Frieda. The dog sniffed my foot suspiciously and, then, turned her black nose away in disgust.

I studied both feet and all my toes, but found excrement only on the great toe of my left foot. The shit was on the nail and the top part of my toe. I didn’t discover any excrement between any of toes or on the underside of my feet.

The condition was inexplicable. I had just come from bed and, certainly, there couldn’t be a hidden cache of shit concealed under the covers and sheets somewhere near the foot of my bed. Of course, there was a possibility that the dog had been derelict, had suffered an "accident" to put the thing euphemistically. Accordingly, after using a paper towel to wipe the shit-smear off my big toe, I retraced my steps carefully inspecting the floor and carpet. But there was nothing.

Perhaps, the atmosphere, in certain conditions, contains quantities of human or animal excrement that are suddenly, and without warning, excreted in small puffs or shit-bursts. Maybe, my toe had encountered one of those secretions of atmospheric excrement. Perhaps, there is a form of shit expelled by stars in certain phases, an interstellar diarrhea, that occasionally, rains down from outer space.

Of course, everyone has seen enigmatic, yard-wide dollops of shit, seemingly fallen from an immense height, and splattered across the landscape as a complex, many-pointed star of excrement. What is the cause of that phenomenon?




My eye delights in the swift, purposeful scurry of an ant across the warm sidewalk. Each ant hustling on its errand projects its tiny shadow on the white concrete. Viewed microscopically, I presume that those shadows are utterly complete, each small hair and scimitar-shaped mouth-part cast as an equally minute shadow on the ground. It is strange to think that the laws of optics and the same sort of shadow that I cast walking my dog, apply equally to creatures so tiny.

On this afternoon, I encounter fat black ants wearing silvery wings on their backs. The ants have not yet discovered that they are now winged beings and so they don’t fly. Instead, like their brothers and sisters, they scurry across the sidewalk, waddling swiftly to some goal that they have in mind. Why are the ants winged? I understand that there are such things as nuptial flights, but, surely, you will agree with me that it is a wonderful event, verging on the uncanny and miraculous, when a creature of the earth suddenly sprouts wings and makes ready to take flight across the green lawns speckled with dandelions.



I bought a slender volume of poetry by Ben Jonson selected by Thom Gunn. In that book, this poem appears:

My picture left in Scotland

I now think Love is rather deaf than blind,

For else it could not be

That she,

Whom I adore so much, should so slight me

And cast my love behind.

I’m sure my language to her was as sweet,

And every close did meet

In sentence of as subtle feet,

As hath the youngest He

That sits in shadow of Apollo’s tree.

O, but conscious fears,

That fly my thoughts between,

Tell me that she hath seen

My hundred of grey hairs,

Told seven and forty years

Read so much waste, as she cannot embrace

My mountain belly and my rocky face;

And all these through her eyes have stopp’d her ears.

Jonson reflects upon the fact that a young woman with whom he is enamored has demonstrated her disregard for him by leaving his portrait, presumably his gift to her, in Scotland. With wounded pride, the poet boasts that his verse is sweet and fresh and subtle, emerging from an imagination that will be forever young. But, of course, Jonson recognizes that the young are not so much impressed with poetic virtuosity as they are entranced by physical, youthful beauty. Jonson notes that his body as gone to "waste," that he is now fat with "mountain belly" and the gaunt craggy face of advancing age. His hundred grey hairs make obvious the fact that the poet is now 47, middle-aged and undesirable. Of course, the irony implicit in this masterful and moving poem is the fact that Jonson’s poetic skill has not aged, nor has it suffered any sort of "waste" – indeed, the complex dancing rhythms of the poem demonstrate that Jonson’s artistic powers are undiminished.

There are several kinds of surprise registered in this little poem. First, Jonson is surprised and affrighted that the young woman does not desire him and that his poetic genius does not avail him anything with respect to winning the girl’s affection. Second, Jonson is surprised, I think, at the ravages that age has made to his body, the "waste" that the young woman will not embrace. Third, the poem registers the profound surprise that desire remains even though the body has become undesirable. And, of course, all of this is mitigated by a kind of surprise and boastful display that Jonson’s poetic prowess has not withered or become stale.




When I went to Walmart to buy the week’s groceries, I met a man in khaki uniform standing at the door. He was selling Buddy Poppies for Memorial Day. I bought one of the red imitation flowers and tangled it around a button on my shirt.

Later, after filling my cart with groceries, I hurried into the part of the store where toiletries are sold – I needed to buy a shaving razor. As I returned from that place, I saw a man staggering into the store, hurrying down the central aisle toward the back of the huge market. The man was middle-aged and balding and the top of his head was split open. Blood was pouring from his wounded scalp down onto his shoulders and chest. Further, his face was all covered with bright splotches of blood. The man’s eyes were wild and he walked with lopsided gait and, it seemed, that I was the only person who noticed him – only I paid any attention to the injured man. He seemed to be an employee and he was wearing an orange vest and I wondered what could have happened to him to cause the gashes to his scalp and the profuse bleeding around his ears and cheeks and splashing across his nose and the front of his jaw.

The man staggered down the aisle and, then, was gone.

I thought of Shakespeare’s lines about Banquo in Macbeth:

Safe in a ditch he bides

With twenty trenched gashes on his head
The least a death to nature...

The world is full of strange accidents, uncanny events, mysterious happenings. We go to bed young and wake up old. Crawling creatures suddenly sprout wings and fly.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Diary: Second Week of May -- Thrones




In Minnesota, at the time when lilacs bloom, there will come a day of perfect, tranquil equipoise. The sun will be denatured behind a cloud so that an even, steady light will illumine all things. In this diffuse light, objects do not cast a shadow. On such a day, the temperature of the air will be regulated so that there will be no difference between indoors and outside. No breeze stirs and so nothing moves. The trees and buildings seem engraved upon the air as if cut into a steel plate, silvery and motionless: you view the world around you as if it were an image viewed through a pinhole camera and cast upon an immense retinal surface in a pitchblack chamber. You move as in a dream, striding through a landscape that seems to be entirely interior – a great room carpeted by grass with its faded sky-blue dome supported by colonnades of trees.



On May 7, Julie and I visited my sister’s new house. The home overlooks a waterway in Northfield, a green park where there is a jogging trail running parallel to a canal. My sister offered us drinks and Vegan hors d’ouevres. Her house is tastefully decorated with intriguing and colorful paintings, everything neatly organized so that the rooms and their furnishings constitute a well-designed and efficient machine for good living. The guests sat in the spacious kitchen chatting. My sister lives with Bill T– , a man who was my track coach in High School. Bill T– said to me: "You seemed a lot younger than me when I was your coach." "I’m catching up on you rapidly," I replied. My sister served crackers decorated with some kind of Vegan cheese-spread – everything was surprisingly good. From my sister’s balcony above her garden, we could see across the valley to the ridge where the old towers of St. Olaf college rose over the homes and Northfield’s downtown, the place where Jesse James’ gang came to grief beside the well-regulated river running in its many-bridged groove between the mills now converted to boutiques and micro-breweries.

As the afternoon lengthened, we returned home, seventy miles or so, across the lush, wet prairie. Dark rain clouds were squeezing rain into the furrowed fields.



The next day, I drove with my daughter Angelica up to Eden Prairie. Family members had gathered to celebrate both Mother’s Day as well as my mother’s upcoming 80th birthday. We left Austin an hour early so that I could make a detour to Prince’s compound at Paisley Park. My daughter and I inspected the fence woven with memorials and tributes to the artist and, then, we drove to my mother’s house. The family meal was contentious but not unpleasant. My mother shed tears after reciting the prayer. Several fat crows sat on her deck and feasted on leftovers. The neighborhood has become wild: deer amble about people’s backyards and there are gawky, loud wild turkeys occupying the strips of thicket and brush near the water-features at the shopping malls. Coyotes make sorties into town and kill neighborhood cats.

May 8 is also Julie’s birthday and I had bowl of large shrimp marinating in Italian dressing and soy sauce in the refrigerator at home. After leaving my mother’s place, we went to a local grocery where I bought Julie a couple of fudge and caramel cheesecakes. Julie had gone to her mother’s house in Albert Lea for the day.

There was too much food at my mother’s house and so leftovers were packed and wrapped so that I could carry them home. My car smelled of potato salad and fried chicken.



Two days later, I was seated in a restaurant atop a casino in Phoenix, Arizona. The casino is called "The Talking Stick Resort," an oasis on the otherwise dusty and barren Pima (Tohono Ood’ham) Indian reservation adjacent to Scottsdale. The restaurant is called "Orange Skies" and it is expensive as well as famous for its 14th floor vistas across the desert to the mountains where the sun is scheduled to set on a daily basis for the appreciation of its patrons.

I am member of the Board of Directors of a corporation that holds its annual meeting in Phoenix. We arrived from rainy Minneapolis around noon and came to the resort in rental cars. Above Phoenix, the skies were completely blue, a vast warm awning of that color devoid of any clouds. The casino stood a couple hundred yards from a driving range where a great net hung slumped between pylons as tall as a ten-story building. Beyond the driving range, an emerald-colored golf-course was snuggled against the sphinx-like flanks of mountains the color of baked red brick.

Rooms and dining and the front desk were all accessed through a navel-shaped indentation central to the building and unlit except for the flare and lurid jabber of gambling machines. Exhausted-looking people in tennis shoes and white shorts were leaning against the one-armed bandits where Filipino waitresses in scanty black costumes sashayed back and forth carrying trays of drinks. On the path to the hotel rooms, a "cultural exhibit" occupied a niche in one of the walls – some elegantly woven baskets ornamented with geometric patterns and a few cases of reddish pottery. The lobby near the conference rooms was decorated with images of the old Pima reservation: people squatting outside three-foot high wigwams made of cactus and thorns, grizzled old women leaning over metates to crush corn, a couple of mostly naked men, squat and swarthy sulking among the stones and barren gravel of a vast and remorseless desert. These images were splashed with acrylic and, in some cases, multiplied, silk-screened in series like one of Andy Warhol’s pictures of Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor with each cell drizzled over with a different bright color – it was incongruous to see old black-and-white pictures of squalor and desolation afforded this glamorous treatment.

We had a working lunch in one of the large conference rooms and, then, a man was summoned to open bottles – beer and wine was distributed and the owner of the company had a Bloody Mary. There was another afternoon session with more drinks and, then, we met in "Orange Skies" for our evening feast accompanied by the sunset.

Bottles of wine were brought to the table, opened, and their corks sniffed. Then, the wine was poured into snifters. The food on the menu was mostly Beast – that is loin of elk, bison, wild boar, wagyu beef, immense, hubcap-sized pork chops. Everyone got drunk. I found myself in a position of honor, next to the owner of the company, and facing out of the window into the dull, white shield of the sun. The sun was pasted into the sky a couple degrees above one of the jagged mountains, an angular ridge inclining in sawtooths up to a summit that was entirely barren with slopes covered with reddish-grey gravel. The mountain looked like a child’s idea of a mountain, all sheer cliffs and ragged, pointy peaks. Because I was facing the sun and because the sun was extraordinarily bright, my eyes burned and, when I tried to read the menu with its lists of beast, I could not read the letters printed there. Someone announced that the sun was about to set, news that I greeted with relief because of the glare afflicting my eyes and, then, momentarily, the blinding light became worse, more vivid and brutal, when the louvers on the outside of the building were reversed and the semi-opaque curtains raised – it was as if a wonderful show were about to begin and the Filipino waitresses pouring red and white wine at our table paused in their task for a moment to look up and out over the desert to the stony ridge and the big molten drop of fire burning down into its heights.

"Look at that," someone said. And the sun slid, without further ado, into some sort of secret slot in the mountains. There was a moment of silence and, then, everyone expressed appreciation and I thought – is that all there is? It is just the sun turning liquid on the horizon, then, flowing into the earth, just the sun setting over my neighbor’s house in the winter time amid a shed of pole-like barren trees, just the sun going down over the slaughterhouse factory in the town where I live. The talk to turned PETA and someone said that the animal right’s activists were nothing more than terrorists. More wine was poured. I happened to look up from my plate of beast and saw that the western sky had become resplendent with orange and purplish streamers of light, ribbons of glory extending upward into the cerulean blue of the western sky, the outline of the mountain now a fierce spine with its gravelly vertebral bodies leaking reddish radiance into the heavens. No one was paying any attention to this sky-spectacle. The subject was now politics. The boss went around the table and asked everyone for whom they would vote this November in the presidential election. One after another, the assembled men said: "Trump!" When the question came around to me, the boss said: "I think I know John’s answer." Everyone laughed. "I won’t vote of either," I said. "But I guess I would have to vote for Hillary as opposed to Trump." Everyone sneered at me. Outside, it had become quite dark.



Here is what I don’t like: I abhor hustling to an airport to catch an earlier flight back to Minneapolis. Whenever I am with hard-driving businessmen or lawyers, they always scramble to book seats on earlier flights than those originally scheduled if time permits. It seems a point of pride with such people to not waste time lingering in an airport. To the contrary, if the schedule has become flexible, if things have gone well and the meeting has been shorter than planned or the depositions less time-consuming, then, you must access the apps on your cell-phone that offer you access to the major air carriers, must re-book for an earlier flight, and, then, must travel at high, and, even, reckless speed to the airport to make the flight now imminent only an hour or so in the future. Before departing for Arizona, I predicted that the Wednesday meeting in Phoenix would go more quickly than planned, that there would be an opportunity to scurry to the airport three hours before the scheduled flight and, of course, improve the time by flying out of Arizona earlier – an objective particularly attractive to my traveling companions because, of course, they were sports enthusiasts to a man and there were several interesting and important athletic competitions scheduled for that evening in their respective home-towns.

And, of course, thus it transpired: the meeting adjourned before noon and there were, in fact, flights back to Dallas and Minneapolis scheduled for 1:20 pm and, thus, with a little luck, and traffic permitting, and the TSA lines less fearsome at mid-day, there was just the possiblity that my colleagues might board their earlier flights and get home in time to tune into the games that interested them. I said that I was in no particular rush to get back to Minnesota and offered to return one of the rental cars to the lots remote from the airport, dubbed Sky-Harbor, so that the others would have a better chance of making their new, earlier flights.

We drove to the airport and I took over the wheel in the big SUV after the others had extracted their luggage from the vehicle. I followed one of the shuttle buses through a labyrinth of lanes and turns and ramps to exit the airport and, then, reach a boulevard lined with saguaro cactus that led to the rental car return lots.

The airport in the early afternoon was very quiet. The TSA officers stood around gabbing about football games. A couple of old ladies in wheelchairs were being treated as potential terrorists and a big Mexican family tried to pass through security with their pockets full of cell-phones and pocket knives. I reached the gate just in time to see the doors closed on the flight to Minneapolis now harboring my colleagues.

For a long time, I sat near a big window looking at the palm trees beyond the runways, the Sky-Chef vans loading trays into planes, the men and women in orange vests directing traffic, and the faraway mountains silhouetted against the sun.

I had made a copy of Ibsen’s The League of Youth to carry with me before leaving Minneapolis and I found a secluded place to sit and read.



Over the wing, I saw grey desert, ridged with volcanic dikes. A dam impounded an elongated meander of silvery water cupped between brown buttes.

The land below was entirely barren. It looked to me like photographs that had been taken of the surface of Mars and, then, beamed back to Earth. The plain was reddish and stretched to the horizon, scuffed below with enigmatic ray-shaped lines. Striations marked extinct river beds. Little lamb-like clouds hung in the air, tethered to their shadows projected on the featureless plains below. In the sky, the clouds seemed to have soft edges but their shadows made stark silhouettes against the naked plain, angular geometries cast down on the earth.

The landscape changed: mountains and badlands. East of the Rockies, there were more clouds but these were low-lying, close to the grey plain, ruffled spills of white that seemed to adhere to the earth.

The plane cut through the darkening air and landed a half-hour after sunset at the airport in Minneapolis.

A few miles south of the Twin Cities, I encountered dense fog. The edges of the road were invisible and distances were impossible to evaluate. I found a semi-truck plowing through the mist and latched myself onto the vehicle’s rear, drafting behind the big, brightly lit rig all the way to Owatonna where I picked-up another guide to lead me down to the intersection with I-90. There were no trucks to follow eastward to the Austin exit and so I made my way home slowly.

Austin was drowned in fog. The street lamps were encased in orbs of yellow, glowing mist and the lanes all ended in walls of white ground-fog.



The next afternoon, I drove to St. Paul again with my daughter Angelica. We ate at a Russian restaurant, Moscow on the Hill, and, then, drove down Grand Avenue to pick up some food at Kozlowski’s delicatessen. Returning to downtown St. Paul, we parked in the cliff-side ramps across from the sports arena. The city seemed mostly deserted. As we walked to the opera, we passed the square white walls of the downtown library, an overgrown Italian palazzo as decorous as a mausoleum, its back and sidewalls devoid of any windows overlooking the street and park. I told my daughter that I had spent the happiest hours of my childhood in that vast library. Every two weeks, my father brought us into town from New Brighton and we browsed among the books for several hours in the St. Paul public library – in those days, the St. Paul Hotel was, more or less, derelict and the great, gloomy tower of the Federal Courthouse cast its medieval shadow over Rice Park, cold darkness that oppressed the bums sleeping on the cast-iron benches among the leafless trees and waterless fountains. As we walked to our car with our bags of books, we steered gingerly between the panhandlers and drunks in the park. The library was always warm and brightly lit with a steel scaffolding shoved up against one side of the high, ornate reading room. The scaffolding contained stacks and rose from floor level to the coffered ceiling and I recall that it was always fascinating to me to climb to the highest level of those stacks and, then, inspect minute details of the painted and stucco ornament poised high over the floor where the tops of the walls intersected with the ceiling. Some anonymous artisan had painted floral patterns on stucco molding so high that it would not have been visible from the floor. On that upper stack, you might remove a book from a high shelf only to find plaster acanthus, painted to simulate gold leaf, behind that volume. Forty feet below, on the terrazzo floor, a tunnel led through the stacks to a glass door, the entrance to the mysterious James J. Hill reference library – beyond that glass door, you could see a guard desk that was always unoccupied on the weekends and, then, a dark corridor leading toward another tall wooden door, thresholds always devoid of both staff or patrons on those long-ago Saturday mornings. I always wondered what pass-word secured access to that library. What glorious volumes were preserved beyond those doors, what incunabula and illuminated manuscripts, what atlases of the invisible world and necromantic tomes bound in human skin were shelved in that Reference Library? Clearly, these books were something out of the ordinary, beyond all quotidian experience, because kept within the hidden recesses of that forbidden library. (Fifty years later, I saw people attending a wedding reception gathered outside the separate front entrance to the James J. Hill Reference library. Apparently, the place had been rented out for the gathering and some of the groomsmen and bridesmaids were drinking beer in cans on the marble steps leading into the Reference Library. A strobe light flickered beyond the door inside the library itself. I must confess that I felt a frisson of horror that the library was being desecrated in this way.)

At the Ordway Theater, Angelica and I saw the world-premiere of the opera, The Shining. There was a single intermission and I sat on a bench in the lobby watching the people pass. In the show, zombie-like ghosts pirouetted and pranced, spectral figures wearing garments from the twenties, Gatsby-revenants: tattered flappers with pallid faces and lurid red highlights under their eyes, ghost-gangsters with Tommy guns, a chubby transvestite naked except for a black brassiere and panties. This spectacle educated my eye to see the grotesque in the sold-out audience gathered in the theater. Opera tickets are expensive and its patrons are mostly superannuated esthetes: ancient and skeletal cavaliers squire old women displaying yards of withered cleavage, fat and cynical queens sit among perfumed ephebes – clothing doesn’t match the bodies that it covers; fashionable garments hang loosely on cadaverous victims of various cancers and there are odd whiskers and tufts of hair on display. It is mortuary display of vanity, every bit as ghostly (and ghastly) I suppose as the decadence exposed on the stage.

After the opera, I drove for a half-hour. We stopped at a Holiday Inn in Lakeville, a big fortress-like compound crowning a ridge a quarter-mile to the east of the freeway. (I have driven past that motel weekly, sometimes twice weekly, for more than twenty years but never ventured into the maze of frontage roads and one-way lanes leading to its forbidding entrance.) Exiting the freeway, I was quickly lost within a few hundred yards of the big motel. Green and red lights hidden in the lawn smeared the grim facade with lurid highlights.

"This is like the Overlook Hotel," I said to Angelica.

We found ourselves in a misty cul-de-sac next to a tulip-shaped water-tower above the hotel.

"This is one of those places that you can see but not reach," I said.

A sinister pick-up truck dogged me, flashing high-beams against the back of my vehicle. The truck trailed me up to the barren sidewalk leading into the motel.

Someone was squatting outside the Holiday Inn, cell-phone pressed to his ear, smoking a cigarette. Inside the motel, the lobby was a poor-man’s Alhambra, all moorish arches and glistening Mediterranean tile and little fountain that made a desolate splashing sound like offal falling into a toilet bowl.





The next morning, we left the motel at 7:30 and drove over the frontage roads to a big McDonald’s surrounded by several acres of parking lot where semi-tractor-trailer rigs were massed in tight, vibrating formations. We ordered at the drive-through intercom and, then, advanced to the window.

The woman at the window had only a couple of teeth in her jaw and they were misshapen and crooked. She said: "The lady ahead of you bought your breakfast."


"She does it sometimes, usually once a week," the woman with the snaggled teeth said. She grinned at me. "She told me she would pay for your breakfast too."

"That’s extremely nice of her," I said.

The snaggle-toothed woman handed me our breakfast burritos and my sausage egg McMuffin with diet Coke.

"I don’t deserve this," I told the woman behind the window.

"She often pays for the meal of the car behind her," the woman said.

I wondered why I should be the beneficiary of this kindness and not the woman with the crooked and ruined teeth working at the window. A vague feeling of shame suffused me.

"This is really remarkable," I said.

The generous woman in the vehicle ahead of me sped across the parking lot, vanishing into traffic at a stoplight on the boulevard. She was driving a shiny black vehicle, perhaps, a BMW.

We followed the frontage roads to the highway and edged into the traffic on the interstate. Angelica reminded me that it was Friday the 13th of May.



Once, many years ago, I drove on a remote highway west of the main range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The road rose steadily toward a mountain pass and there was no traffic – the nearest towns were thirty or forty miles away and they were not villages so much as intersections with a gas station and store selling liquor and bait and, perhaps, a couple trailer houses with jeeps parked alongside them. Neither the highway nor the pass were menacing – a river rushed through the broad valley that inclined toward peaks connected by a wooded saddle. There were no switchbacks and no precipices – the highway simply climbed at a gentle gradient toward the distant ridge where the pine forests were veined with golden aspen. Several miles below the pass, I stopped at a wayside rest near the river. A few glacial boulders decorated with lichen stood in the meadow and the stream coursed downward, breaking over a ladder-like cascade. The mountains at the head of the valley faced one another and they looked like great white thrones emblazoned by the setting sun.

At the edge of the mountains, near Pueblo, Colorado, I looked down from 35,000 feet onto Blanca Peak. The massif is an outlier, separate from the principal range. I could see the high, white peak, the cliffs guarding the summit, and the broad flanks of the mountain cradling great slumps of snow. This is Tsisnassjini, the holy mountain of the Navajo, standing sentinel on the edge of the world, the White Shell mountain. Also separate from the main range, I could see to the north the serrated crest of the Spanish peaks, glorious with snow as well. These mountains also looked like thrones, tipped with the fire of the sunset, vast terraced heights where divine beings might have their conclaves. I thought of the silence of the high country, the shadows of the stone pinnacles lengthening as the sun set, the breath of cold wind trembling in the aspens, and the dark groves of the pines. From this height I could see no trace of human habitation anywhere on the mountains or the barren, sandy plain between the great domes of rock and snow. The world was vast and uninhabited.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

On Paisley Park




The pop musician, Prince, was apparently a pragmatic man. The logic behind the location of his recording studio qua concert hall and living compound in west Chanhassen is clear: the complex is immediately west of the international airport, a completely straight shot on Interstate 494 with an exit continuing west on Highway 5. In 1988, freeways in the southwest Twin Cities metro were relatively uncongested – at most times of day, a traveler westbound on 494 from the airport would encounter only light traffic. And west of the big looping bend that the freeway makes to the north, where the exit ramp rolled down to the two-lane blacktop in Eden Prairie, highway 5 would have been rural, empty, a passageway between swamps vibrant with birds and little pothole lakes in shady valleys. There would have been corn fields showing yellow tassels in August and dairy farms with century-old barns on the hillsides. The steeple of the Catholic church in Chanhassen would have been the tallest structure in this part of the suburbs and a traveler west-bound to Paisley Park would glimpse the old cemetery filled with the graves of German and Bohemian pioneers under the field rock walls of the sanctuary. The trip from the airport to Prince’s studio would have required less than a half-hour without the complication of entering any cities – in those days, there would have been two (or three at the most) traffic lights on west Highway 5.

Of course today, the city has sprawled westward another dozen miles beyond the edge of the suburbs where Paisley Park was located in 1988. Traffic congests and creeps stop/start westward from Highway 100 in west Bloomington out to the old Vikings training camp in Eden Prairie and the exits to the mall. The ramp downslope to Highway 5 still sluices traffic efficiently onto the westbound highway, but the pleasant hills and dairy farms are all gone now, replaced by big box stores and car dealerships and anonymous-looking corporate headquarters, "graceless growth." The marshes have been drained and converted into narrow and limpid water features discreetly screened by cattails between the parking lots of francise restaurants, Perkins and Applebees and Boston Market freestanding in front of strip malls and gated communities. I never knew exactly where Prince’s compound was located and, so, I think I have probably driven by it twenty or more times without paying any attention at all to the structure – it’s just another corporate building, a windowless three-story white facade with a pretentious entry over which there is the spike of a little chalk-colored pyramid; the entrance juts out into the parking lot at an acute angle to the featureless office building and to the east of the large structure, there is a curious round tower shaped like a fat silo and also faced with some kind of practical building material, white walls smooth and easily cleaned it seems, as if made from a hard, resilient polyvinyl of some sort.

On Mother’s day 2016, about three weeks after Prince’s death, a small jam of traffic is standing at the stoplight on Audubon Road, the cross-street that names Paisley Park’s address. The cyclone fence around the buildings located on the south side of Highway 5 and across a frontage road is densely decorated with purple mementos, balloons half-dead or dying, banks of decaying flowers and innumerable small pictures and placards woven into the wire. Traffic is directed off Highway 5 by right turn to the north into a conveniently located parking lot for the Carver County park surrounding Lake Ann. Left turn onto Audubon is forbidden – the intersection is blocked by a row of sawhorse-shaped orange barricades. A neatly lettered and official-looking sign points the way to "Memorial Parking" and, at the crossroads with the frontage road running along the south side of Highway 5 another sign directs traffic to "Memorial Overflow Parking." From the Lake Ann parking lot, a paved trail leads past some tennis courts down to a pedestrian underpass, an arched way that burrows under Highway 5 and surfaces as sidewalk running parallel to the frontage road on the south side of the four-lane highway. Another sidewalk ascends a slight rise toward the intersection between the south frontage road and Audubon – this sidewalk runs parallel to the north elevation of Paisley Park, the square-cut panels of white plastic glistening in the sun about 50 yards beyond the decorated fence. On the other side of the fence, protected from the crowd, a few mature and dignified evergreens rooted in redwood and cedar mulch cast shade over the empty lot where Prince’s employees once parked their cars. At the corner of the fence, a locked gate keeps the curious out of the compound – just beyond the gate, there is a car marked as private security aggressively parked kitty-corner to the entrance, something distressing about the angle that the car makes with the entrance boulevard, an indication that the vehicle is not merely parked but also positioned so as to block and obstruct – this might remind visitors about the way that the "little red corvette" was parked in that song.

I guess I should have known

By the way you parked your car sideways

That it wouldn’t last

You’re the kinda person

That believes in makin’ out once
Love ‘em and leave ‘em fast...

The Lake Ann parking lot is mostly full – suburban SUVs and vans. The atmosphere in the lot is cautiously festive. It reminds me of parking at the zoo: trim mothers in white tennis outfits unloading strollers from the backs of their vehicles, small children loitering between cars and complaining loudly that they are thirsty or hungry, families setting off along the paths toward the attraction, grass trampled and brown along the most direct routes to Prince’s compound. Some vehicles are cautiously backing, others prowling the lot looking for spaces, mothers unfolding their strollers, adults all wearing sunglasses against the glare hanging in the bright, hazy air – the north country is burning and the smoke has migrated to the Cities and sky wears a pale pall.

On the curving walls of the arched underpass, people have written memorial slogans, little clouds of words penciled on the whitewashed surface. A single votive candle decorated with the Virgin Mary sits against the wall and there is a small shrine at one under of the tunnel. The sidewalk climbs up to the long fence festooned with purple decorations. People are gathered there, inspecting the objects suspended in the wire. The site is no longer about mourning. Rather, everyone is now focused on studying the artifacts that the mourners have left – it is self-reflexive, a mirror reflecting a mirror; the people quietly whispering to one another on the sidewalk parallel to the decorated fence are mostly concerned with the memorials and not the loss that they signify, although both elements are entwined. The helium balloons affixed to the fence have gone flat, and now hang sourly wrinkled, like the skins shed by some kind of globular reptile. There are many pancaked balloons like withered purple shields tangled in the fence alongside drawings and paintings of Prince – curiously, there are almost no photographs, but instead hand-sketches, some of them bearing verse inscriptions, tapestries showing Prince on his motorcycle or writhing over his guitar, innumerable flowers and xeroxed copies of songs and lyrics, some huge sheets of cardboard entirely covered with minuscule signatures, a sort of registry by the locked gate and the sinister security car parked sideways just inside the fence. A couple of trees near the fenceline have been decorated with tinsel and purple Christmas tree ornaments and close to the gate an elaborate display has as its centerpiece a box of twinkies and cans of spaghettios. People peruse the fence-line looking for things that interest them and, sometimes, they step back and away from the sidewalk, into the marshy strip of boulevard to take pictures with their I-Pads and cellphones. The white ramparts of Paisley Park are expressionless. Two little girls who look like they were born around 2008 are signing the cardboard sheets.

Angelica and I walk up the sidewalk to Audubon. The fence extends a long way to the south and it is all patched and tangled with purple and there are people admiring the fence, most of them dressed in white clothing as if for a picnic, a long, sober, soft-spoken queue that extends as far as I can see along the perimeter of the property.



Prince was priapic, a sort of satyr or, more precisely, a faun. If you are a certain age, your memories of Prince are entangled with your own intimate memories about sex and desire. Curiously enough, Lake Ann, now a Carver County Park, has precisely these associations for me. The green-space across the Highway 5 from Paisley Park is an erotic monument in my imagination. Here is what I can tell you about that place.

In High School, my best friend was a kid named Ben H–. Ben arrived in Eden Prairie a year after me – probably around 10th grade. Ben played trombone and sat next to me in the band.

Ben was gregarious. He was interested in girls and spent much of his time flirting with them. Ben was also a math and science genius. In 12th grade, he corrected a professor’s quantum mechanics formulae at Hamline University where we attended night classes there relating to laser technology. After High School, he attended CalTech in Pasadena and excelled – he studied with Richard Feynman and other famous physicists.

In High School, Ben developed an interest in a plump girl who also played trombone. Her first name was Eena. At band camp, Ben and Eena wandered away from the group together on the last night of the program. I recall that we had gone to a chapel deep in the woods, a dozen or so kids, and, when we discovered the doors to the little wood-frame church were open, we went inside and sat in the pews. I climbed up into the pulpit to see what it feel like to preach but didn’t say a word. Ben and Eena slipped away and were gone for a half hour. One of the counselors came from the cabins by the lake to supervise our activities in the chapel. We sang a few hymns. When Ben and Eena returned from their stroll in the woods, both of them looked a little afraid and astonished – it was as if they had encountered some wild and amazing thing in the darkness. I walked with them from the church back toward our cabins. They both seemed a little out of breath and I recall that the light inside the church shone through its stained glass windows imparting a rich and somber color to them.

The relationship with Eena didn’t survive Ben’s first year at Caltech. In his second year, at Christmas time when he was home in snowy Minnesota, Ben began seeing a girl that lived across the street from me – her name was Paula. Paula was an athletic girl with an impressively fit figure. She had high Slavic cheekbones and, always, seemed a bit disgruntled to me. Ben wrote to her from Pasadena. He confessed to me that he had not been able to persuade her to have sex with him, but that he hoped to accomplish this achievement in the summer when he returned to Minnesota. (I think he had several girlfriends in Pasadena at that time.)

In June, when Ben was back in Minnesota, he asked me to camp out with him for a couple nights at the little beach at Lake Ann. Although I don’t recall the exact circumstances, a film production company was shooting a Coca-Cola advertisement at the lake. Ben, who worked part-time as a life-guard at the Lake Ann beach, had been hired to watch the film-equipment at night, after the day’s production was completed. He said that it would be a lonely job without company and, so, he invited me to spend the night with him. In fact, he planned to spend at least some of that same night with his girlfriend, Paula, and was counting on me to maintain sentinel duty at the lake while he was dallying with her. I was still a virgin at that time and the whole enterprise seemed perversely exciting and romantic to me.

In those days, Chanhassen, well known for its Dinner Theater and the austere Catholic church with its steeple pointing the way to heaven for the old pioneers buried in its adjacent cemetery was where the west Twin Cities ended. Beyond Chanhassen, Highway 5 rolled across prairie and swamp toward Victoria, a crossroads where the houses were all dilapidated and had wrecked cars parked on the grass, and, then, Waconia, a real farm town shadowed by a big grain elevator above its railroad siding, a couple hardware stores on its old, red brick main street. In High School, we ran track against the kids at Waconia, big, lumbering square-headed farm boys, strong but slow, plow-boys with unusual scars on their faces and unpronounceable Slovenian names. Beyond Waconia with its big, round, and shallow lake, always drifted with algae in the summer, the two-lane highway ran past forlorn villages, place known to the larger world only when threatened, or demolished, by tornadoes: Norwood - Young America, Glencoe, Granite Falls, and ultimately the remote border with South Dakota. This was 1974, fourteen years before Prince built his Xanadu on the cow-pasture south of 5 near the gravel turn-off leading cross-country to the beach at Lake Ann.

Lake Ann was an oblong and nondescript body of water, overlooked by a grove of trees and disorderly brush along one of its shores. The little forest was, in fact, a shelter belt planted for a long vanished farm that once graced one of the knolls above the water. The shelter-belt was now feral and deer and muskrats lived in its green and tangled shadows. Soy-bean and corn fields edged the other side of the lake, the orderly row-crops rising above a foul-smelling muddy marsh full of belching and chirping frogs. The public beach made a brown arc along the south side of the lake, a hundred yards or so, roped-off from the cornfields on one side and the woods wild with poison-ivy and poison-oak on the opposing shore. The beach was reached by a gravel road that ran a third of a mile from Highway 5, surmounting a small hill, also cultivated in row-crops, before descending to the glazed and motionless waters brimming up to the beach. There was a tiny gravel parking lot, a throne-like white tower for the life-guard, and, then, a narrow dirt track that meandered away from the lake to wind through the corn and bean fields.

Ben drove a Mustang and I rode with him down Highway 5 and, then, over the bumpy gravel lane to the beach. A kid wearing a production company lanyard met us at the padlocked gate to the City beach. We shook hands and he, then, departed on his motorcycle. (We left the gate unlocked because Ben was expecting his girlfriend, Paula, later that night.) All of the film crew’s gear was piled up in pyramidal heap and covered with a tarpaulin. We peeked under the tarp and saw some carts, a couple of big cameras, and a stack of lights in silver reflective shells – there was some narrow-gage track so that the camera could be pushed along the beach on the wheeled metal carts. This was years before Steadi-Cam became ubiquitous in the industry. The professional equipment looked a little battered – this stuff was a collection of scuffed-up and dented tools. We had brought a 12-pack of beer and so we sat at a picnic table overlooking the beach, drinking as we watched the sun set over the wooded western edge of Lake Ann. The film company had trucked in a couple of tons of silica-white sand and this had been dumped in a kind of square crater excavated onto the beach. A volleyball net was hanging limply in the middle of the bright white sand. The native sand at the beach was dull grey with veins of brown earth extruding and it didn’t have the glamorous ambience of the glittering white sand lying in soft, pillow-like hummocks in the volley-ball court. The sand signified the pale and perfect flesh of Los Angeles starlets, the spectacle of Hollywood – "I was here earlier in the day," Ben said, "and you should have seen the girls in their bathing suits." "Did you talk to them?" I asked. "They wouldn’t give me the time of day," Ben said, adding: "Just like the girls you meet in Pasadena." He sighed.

It was very hot and storms were threatening. Heat-lightning flared against the horizon. The mosquitos rose from the grass around the picnic tables and we had to spray ourselves with peppery insect repellant, a sticky plume of aerosol that smelled like vodka and made your nose run. It was tornado weather and, as the darkness advanced, we heard the horizons all growling with thunder.

Ben’s girlfriend, Paula, was working as a waitress somewhere. After ten o’clock, she appeared, tentatively walking down toward our encampment from the parking spaces on the low hill above the lake.  Paula was tired and still wearing her waitress uniform. Complete silence reigned at the lake and there was no trace of a breeze. The branches of the weary old trees in the shelter belt were motionless and the lake was a black pearl, completely impenetrable, a round, dense globe under the night-sky. No stars twinkled above, although, sometimes, we saw lightning arc from cloud to cloud overhead. Ben and I had pitched a tent a few yards from the edge of the beach and we had a Coleman lantern shining brightly on the picnic table where we were seated. The approaching tempest had silenced the frogs and, even, the crickets. Nothing moved and the only sound was our voices rising and falling against the great domed and cathedral-like silence.

The three of us drank some more beer. After awhile, Ben began to caress Paula. She made a mewling sound and pushed his hand away. He asked her if she wanted to go for a ride. She nodded her head in assent and they went to the Mustang. I sat alone at the picnic table listening to the car as it thumped over the gravel road, heading back toward the gate at Highway 5. The sky flashed at intervals of ten or fifteen seconds and, when the lightning illumined the sky, I could see tattered shreds of grey clouds fleeing a disturbance in the west, a great shuddering skirt of inky storm that hung like a half-raised curtain over the remote hills and woods. The cannonade of lightning was so far away that I heard the thunder as nothing more than a very deep, continuous and shuddering note, a faint, howling roar that sounded like many waters hurling themselves over the edge of a precipice. I was reading Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, making good progress with my head bent over the book in the silent circle of white light cast by the Coleman lantern. A long time passed, forty or fifty pages worth I think, and the night overhead remained barren of stars, a toppling chaos of shredded clouds when the lightning flared. There was a boom and something crashed to earth in the woods and, for a moment, I saw the lake like a black and shrouded mirror, still smooth as glass. The thunder came closer now and I could hear the blast of the lightning striking nearby fields, shells of fire exploding on the other side of the lake. The page beneath me suddenly was bedewed and a cold splash of water hit my neck. I ran to the tent. Lightning speared the lake and I saw the volley-ball court with its gleaming white sand flashing bright as day. The first gust of wind tore the volley ball net free from its stanchion and it billowed in the gale like a pennant.

The storm lasted for a few minutes. It knocked the tent over on me, so I had to claw my way out of the wet canvas. The tarpaulin on the movie equipment was dislodged and I yanked it back over the generators and the gas cans and the lights and cameras. Fish came to the surface of the lake and opened their mouths in the drizzle of rain that came at the tail-end of the tempest. A big tree limb had fallen into the lake and rested like a broken plow half-drowned in the water.

Another hour passed. I tried to read the novel, but my eyes ached. Steamy, tropical heat bore down on the shadowy landscape and it was hard to breathe. Mosquitos twitched in and out of my nostrils, choking me.

I heard the Mustang and, then, Ben and Paula were standing next to the half-collapsed tent.

"It was quite a storm," I said.

They were both soaking wet.

"We got very wet," Ben said.

"Very wet," Paula said.

The remnants of her make-up were drizzled down her cheeks like rivulets of black tears.

I looked at them very closely for signs of what they had done. I knew that they had achieved knowledge that is not written in poems or books, knowledge that you can not discover even in Samuel Beckett or Shakespeare. Everyone knows what sex looks like from the outside, but, of course, the essence of sexual experience is that it has no outside – it is a topological anomaly, an object of inquiry that is falsified when understood from outside, an interior that is without an exterior. Whatever it was, the two of them now possessed it jointly, the infamous wisdom that is no wisdom at all, the illumination that is mostly an obscure darkness.

Paula said that she had to get up early in the morning and, so, she went to her car. Ben drove behind her to the gate so that he could secure the padlock after she left. I heard her car accelerating down Highway 5. There was no traffic, not even a truck in the far distance, shifting for a hill. Some stars came out and we could see that the storm had washed some of the brown and grey sand into the creamy-white silica of the volleyball court.

Soon it would be dawn.

The rain sounds so cool when it hits the barn roof,

And the horses wonder who you are,

Thunder drowns out what the lightning sees,

You feel like a movie star.


They say the first time ain’t the greatest,

But I tell ya,

If I had the chance to do it all again,

I wouldn’t change a single stroke,

‘Cause baby I’m the most

With a girl as fine as she was then...

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Diary: The Life of a Writer





Austin’s Page Turners is a community-sponsored book club. Local people serving as committee members select a novel written by a Minnesota author. The selection is announced in the newspaper and posted at the library and everyone in town is encouraged to read the book. Those interested may procure the book from the public library or buy the volume. Several lectures open to the public are convened on the topic of the book and, then, the author is invited to town to participate in a day-long colloquium relating to his or her novel. Events include a writer’s workshop, a few sessions at the High School with creative writing classes, as well as lunch and dinner with members of the community.

In the Spring of 2016, Page Turners recommended that everyone in Austin read Allen Eskens’ crime novel, The Life we Bury. I delivered one of the two lectures about the book, footnoting some legal concepts in the novel. As a result, I was invited to attend lunch with Mr. Eskens, a gathering that took place in the Arts Center on Main Street.

At the appointed time, I ascended the steps to the conference facility and art gallery on the second floor of the old commercial building. Mr. Eskens, a swarthy good-looking fellow, was seated alone at a long table facing his audience. When I slipped into the room, he was answering questions. Mr. Eskens has large expressive eyes and wears a stud earring in his left ear lobe. He has a velvety-looking black beard and is a tidy, small, and well-built man; casually dressed, he seems to have the physique of a young Oliver Sacks, that is, the body of a weightlifter.

Eskens has now published two more novels and seems to be very successful. The Life we Bury has been translated into twelve languages, including Vietnamese. Movie rights to the picture have been sold and Eskens hopes that a film version of the novel will be soon produced. He has a contract for several additional books and, in fact, is working on two novels now simultaneously. Eskens still practices criminal law, although he hopes that he will soon be sufficiently compensated from his writing to give up his practice. He is soft-spoken, articulate, and generous – he provided much helpful technical information as to plotting, character development, and dialogue to the other budding writers in the room. He also spoke candidly about the business of writing, his agent, and his optimism that his forthcoming books will sell well. As the time of this conference, Mr. Eskens first novel, The Life we Bury, had charted at number seven on the New York Times audio-book bestseller list and the author enthusiastically praised the actor who had read the volume for the audio-publication – apparently, that actor had been awarded a prize for the excellence of his recitation.

Because I am a lawyer and known to be a weekend, hobby-writer, I was introduced to Mr. Eskens with the anticipation that he and I would have much to say to one another. In my experience, however, people with much in common generally have little to say to one another – indeed, competitive impulses often impede communication. The mere fact that I am a lawyer and that Eskens practices criminal law, in fact, doesn’t provide us with much common ground. My practice is very different from his and lawyers are adversarial by nature – I was afraid to venture much into Mr. Eskens’ territory for fear that he would reprimand my ignorance or correct my misunderstandings of the criminal law; this would shame me publicly. When I announce my specialty, personal injury law, of course, I am always a little embarrassed by the likelihood that my counterpart will perceive my work as squalid and venal. That was how I felt when Mr. Eskens asked me about the nature of my practice.

Someone mentioned that I was a writer of sorts myself. A friend noted that I had written so much that my texts stacked on the floor come to a height of about four feet. "I have written as many words as Marcel Proust," I said, " but most of them are unread." Eskens looked at me with indifference. "Have you published?" He asked. "Not since I was at the university," I replied. He looked at me sadly. I said: "It’s a hobby. I write for about a dozen people. That’s my audience."

Mr. Eskens, perhaps, detected the admixture of pride and self-pity in my words. These are not flattering sentiments to show to the world. Fortunately, he changed the subject to himself. He said: "Even if I didn’t publish anything, I would still keep writing." I nodded. He said: "I write for myself also. But it’s good to have readers. But I would still keep writing even if no one ever read a word I wrote." I agreed with him that his words were very wise and he encouraged me to continue with my work.

"I found a report card," Mr. Eskens later told the group. "It was from when I was in first-grade. The teacher wrote that I spent too much time day-dreaming." We were eating roast beef or ham or turkey sandwiches, each packed in a plastic tray with a doughy chocolate-chip cookie and a little cup of vinegar-flavored cole-slaw. Mr. Eskens said that he often sat downtown or at the mall and looked at people walking by, trying to imagine the words that would best convey the essence of those people, their appearance and gait and the expressions on their faces. "Writing for me," Mr. Eskens said, "is a kind of daydreaming."

The town’s former mayor took Mr. Eskens by the arm and led him down the steps from the gallery. They were in a hurry to get to his next appointment.



Rain has now sluiced out of a cold, white sky for three or four days in a row. It is not a gentle or warm rain – not the mellifluous April showers that bring May flowers. Rather, this rain is cold and destructive, winter’s residual fury.



I went grocery shopping alone. Normally, I shop with my daughter, Angelica, but she has been performing nightly in a production of Young Frankenstein at the Community College and so sleeps late in the day, sometimes until mid-afternoon. (After each show, she goes out with friends and doesn’t return until the middle of the night – such is the life of a thespian.) Most weekends, Angelica goes with me to Walmart where I begin my shopping and, then, across the boulevard to HY-VEE to buy speciality items only available at that grocery store.

For some reason, I felt disoriented and it took me almost two hours to finish purchase of the week’s groceries. I was disheartened. Is this my best and highest use, pushing a heavily laden grocery cart, between displays of food in a Walmart? I have known several famous lawyers and I doubt that they spend two hours each week acquiring groceries. And what about the great writers in the world? Are they seen pushing grocery carts in a Walmart? I can imagine Allen Eskens at a Whole Foods purchasing a scone or croissant, but I have trouble envisioning him plowing a grocery cart through the aisles.

I stood in line behind a woman whose debit card was repeatedly rejected. A mentally retarded man sat impassively at the Subway across from the checkout cash registers. He had a cup of soda pop in front of him and was middle-aged and, perhaps, was waiting for his old mother to complete her shopping in the grocery. An immensely obese lady sat on a stool at the entry to the store cheerfully greeting people but, also, of course, assessing whether they were attempting shoplift merchandise. The parking lot was partially flooded with cold, grey puddles agitated by the falling rain.

At HY-VEE, I bought hamburgers and prepared salads and wraps. Everything around me moved in slow-motion. HY-VEE is where people of my class are supposed to shop, not Walmart, and so, I often encounter acquaintances in the store. But I didn’t want to see anyone that I knew and so when I saw a familiar face at the end of an aisle, I pretended to look somewhere else, studied the food displayed on the shelf and, then, went into an adjacent aisle to hide myself.



My wife called me: "Where in the world are you?"



In HY-VEE, my tennis shoes became untied and I wandered around with long white and frayed laces dangling from my ankles. I was, I suppose, a trip hazard to myself and others.

A bench sits against a bulletin board where children’s thank you letters to HY-VEE are displayed. (Apparently, groups of elementary school kids sometimes are brought on tours of the store.) I sat down on the bench to tie my wet, dangling shoe laces.

Someone had left a postcard on the bench. The postcard was a reproduction of Renoir’s "The Boating Party", a painting showing merry young people eating outdoors under a tent with red and white stripes. The men wear white boating costumes and straw hats and the women are round and vivacious with faces like cream cupcakes. I was puzzled by the postcard and, so, turned it over. On the back side, the card was addressed but not stamped. Curiously, there were handwritten messages by two people – in the message, each writer said that he (or she) loved the person to whom the postcard was addressed. I didn’t think that the names were any of my business and so I didn’t look at them. The post card was written in ink and there was no stamp on it.

I carried the postcard over to the service counter and said that I had found it on the floor – not exactly true, the card was left abandoned on the bench where I had tied my tennis shoes. I told the young woman behind the counter that I was going to buy a stamp for the postcard so that it could be mailed. "Someone is saying that they love someone else," I told her. "I don’t think a message of that sort should go awry."

The girl said that I was very nice. She sold me a stamp and put the postcard in the mail.



Someone receives a postcard showing a group of people casually dressed on the edge of a sunny river on which two toy-sized sailboats are visible in the distance The people are plump and happy. The men are handsome and the women very beautiful. The paint in the picture is luscious, applied like the icing on a cake.

The person receiving the postcard recalls a terrible fight with the two people who have sent the card to her and wonders why it was mailed. Are those two people, who have vowed to never communicate with her again, trying to heap coals of guilt and fury on her head? What can this possibly mean? She pitches the postcard in the garbage among banana peels and coffee grounds. Then, she tosses and turns all night long wondering about the messages.

Or, the person receiving the postcard feels that he has been forgotten. He is very lonely and the perpetual cold rain fills him with despair. Then, the postcard comes and he reads the messages behind the colorful picture of boaters and an unanticipated happiness suffuses him and brings new strength.

Or, the person receiving the postcard feels a mild, and familiar pleasure. Her friends have not forgotten her. She remains in their thoughts although she is no longer living among them. She uses a magnet purchased at Elvis’ house in Memphis to affix the postcard to her refrigerator. The cheerful image of the boating party conceals the kind messages on the inverse of the card. The postcard remains on her refrigerator until her lease ends and she has to move. In the move, the card is lost.



I walked my dog along the wet street and the icy rain fell on my neck and shoulders. Under a flowering tree, the dog hunched her back and deposited a heavy, coiled heap of shit in the high grass next to the curb. Wet dandelions lined the boulevard. I squatted to pick up the dog shit, using a plastic sack that had previously contained groceries bought at Walmart.

When I stood, with the dog shit wrapped in the bag, I brushed against the white blossoms of the tree and they gushed water on me. I looked at the bulbs of white, silky petals and saw that each of them was bearded with a long, translucent drop of water.