New Age

I get into Jessica’s car and immediately pluck something out of the little forest of trinkets on the dashboard. First I fiddle with a wooden Scrooge McDuck toy. Jessica reaches over to set upright a little Ganesh idol that had fallen over.

She puts the car into gear and pulls out, and I swap the Scrooge toy for a sequined thimble-sized box. I pry it open and a white powder sprinkles out. “I think I just spilled your stash,” I joke.

Jessica laughs. “That’s ash.”

“Ash?” I handle it a bit more delicately now.

“A good friend gave that to me when I left Seattle the last time. It’s from this man in India — a guru — he just squeezes his fist and ash comes out.”

At a red light, she flicks the box open, and dips a finger in so she can rub a pinch into her forehead — over her third eye. “I haven’t been able to get that locket open in a while.”

“I guess you just have to be properly centered, like me,” I tell her. I brush some ash off of my leg. “Hey. Now my pants are holy.”

Onion Pie

I was sure that I had never read Lydia Davis’ Almost No Memory before. But aspects of one of the stories seemed familiar. There was a couple working as caretakers for a house in the countryside. The money from that job and the money they earned from other unspecified work was barely keeping them fed. They felt distracted, unattached to everybody around them. (At the table next to me, a pair of men passed a copy of The Little Prince back and forth between them. One described the dimensions of the copy he’d had as a child, while the other was concerned about how closely the illustration colors matched the older editions. The book ended up on the table between them, never opened. The one guy started reading another book, the other wrote on a pad of paper. The title that he wrote at the top of his page was “Poop”.) When an onion pie surfaced in the story, I realized that the same onion pie and the same cabin fever had played a part in Paul Auster’s memoir, Hand to Mouth. Auster is Davis’ ex-husband. The two of them had written quite different stories about the same incident. The climax of that part of Auster’s book centers around the onion pie. The impact of the story is concentrated there, like a punchline. In Davis’ story the onion pie is the halfway point, there are two more seasons to get through in that house, and the tone is spread thinly across the whole story.

Setting the Pace

With her left hand, she holds open a thick mass-market paperback. She is reading the last few paragraphs of the book. Everything, it seems, is wrapping up nicely – no loose ends. Without looking up from the book, she takes a long drag from the cigarette that she holds in her right hand. The ash perched precariously at the tip of the cigarette is as long as the unsmoked portion of the cigarette. When she finishes her drag, she exhales and feels around in front of her with her smoking hand. She locates the handlebars of her scooter and triggers the accelerator, gliding forward a few feet and then slowing to a stop when she retracts her hand from the scooter to have another puff. If she can keep the steering relatively straight, she can stay the course. She’ll finish the book before the sidewalk narrows, just beyond the end of the college building.

Are You?

A young guy strolled over and stopped me as I was walking up Harbor Steps tonight. He wore an oversized policeman-style cap. He carried a clipboard. “Excuse me. Are you an artist, a writer, or a poet?”

His inflection was internally conflicted, and it wasn’t apparent if it was a yes or no question or if he was giving me three options – artist, writer, or poet.

I answered, “No.”

” . . . a reggae musicfan?”

That cryptic pronunciation again: “. . . a reggae-music fan?” “A reggae music fan?” Admittedly, the distinction was less important this time.

“No.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

I crossed the street. There was a guitar player and a drummer sitting in the lobby of the Art Museum, their backs to the window. They had no audience. It was just them and a family of camel statues.

Singular and Plural

Language from a bank document:

“Any references in this agreement to gender include masculine, feminine, and neuter. Unless otherwise indicated by the context any singular references include the plural and any plural references include the singular.”

In other words: By they, we may mean he, and by he, we may mean she. And that goes double for you.