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CROSS TALK

Edward Williams

Month

January 2010

909 Park Avenue

—–There are certain behaviors and actions that appear to be obsessive on a person’s part, they keep repeating and indulging them, and generally get themselves identified as having a chronic attachment to them, an unending interest. One would think that this is what a person would get remembered for, for their affiliations, their hobbies, their accessories in dress and choices of culture even. You buy a gift for that person that flatters this obsession which over the years they have steadily revealed, and which you then flatter and supply them with reminders of, so they, so to speak, are surrounded with themselves.  In the hothouse of their own desires and drawn out storylines, their forced confessions of ultimate personality.
—–Or, during a person’s life there can be a pale, nearly invisible thread of singular involvements, leading them now and again, but not often, to rare actions they seem to be ideally capable of, suited for but hardly ever called to. Because opportunities don’t present themselves, because the right circumstances don’t combine, for them to perceive and act as they might, otherwise, naturally act, to step forward as just the man for the occasion, these people therefore don’t get to perpetually shine, in that exact capacity that, given a different fate, they might have been the perfect knight, hero or foil, or even be known as one who could. One who could lead an army, for the right arriving cause.
—–Oh, yes, let me ply this terrain, with this scythe.
—–There are certain shared events that in fact are rare occurrences, but retain a character or quality of having happened quite often.  Years later one says, “remember when we used to . . . “,  and this reminiscence is cast over a whole era. In fact it was only three or four times, and certainly only once that the memory was pinned down . . .  Thus we remember that we used to drink Spaten at The Orchidia with Ellen and Joel on 2nd Ave. In fact, I think we did this maybe twice; but it was so quietly momentous, we were so centered there and the universe then was, I can say with all confidence, based around our thoughts and fervent conversation. Consciously beheld memory, actual prideful referral is the key, whole careers are built out of the idolatry of ones past that ensues, when some small band of friends gets the idea that they are the ones in and for a present hour.  While merely slovenly habitual behavior, stamped out day after day, even though apparently characteristic, or indulged in to the hilt, will never amount to anything  . . . but dissipation and an erasure.
—–I was always pausing in front of my grandparents house at 909 Park Avenue, I would take side streets coming back from shopping at Wegmans, cutting over to Monroe Avenue deliberately so as to go past this distinctive beige colored stucco duplex where we had so many Thanksgiving dinners . . . as if I could actually revisit the memory by coming closer to the old location, as if the setting would mesmerize me into a state where the secret of that old reality would come clean . . .  More than once I even found myself patrolling the sidewalk, having parked my car maybe a block away and trying to reenact a sort of casual walk-by, like a stranger coming across this peculiarly charmed block, relapsing below the locust trees. Park Avenue has a mood of a rural winding lane, a respite in the thick of the city. I saw myself climbing the front steps, like coming back from a long journey, and trying to peer into the large front windows, which were laid horizontally like a wide movie screen. They were  inviting me to look in, as if to see scenes of a Thanksgiving dinner still going on in the past.
—–One time recently I paused for so long outside 909 Park Ave that a man came out the front door and shouted at me, “what are you doing?”  He didn’t even say, “can I help you?”, but gave me no slack, and challenged me. I immediately saw that I must appear to him as an intruder. Or one of those harmless lunatics, who are always confused to where they are, but aren’t so harmless, really, for they can create a kind of magnetic field around themselves, attracting others to look where they have paused, an and stare at what is now not such a seamless reality, for it has cracks in it!  So you have to shoo these fellow away, and let them congregate on other streetcorners. The gentleman thinks I am crazy, I thought. Fair enough.
—–“What am I doing?” I calmly said, “well, I am trying to summon up memories! You see, my grandparents used to live here and I am trying to explain to myself how time can pass and people die and things just on.”
—–I said all that just staring at the stucco, and then I looked this guy in the face to see if he was listening. I couldn’t tell if he was, as I just said, “you know, with new people moving into their house, you know. That is what I am doing.”
—–Then I blurted out, “my grandfather using to sit there on the porch with his radio and listen to Yankee games.”
—–Truly I was back there now. I felt like an adolescent, I went right back to my clumsy self, to when I was in fact the teenager who once, I think it was only once actually, made an erratic visit and found his grandfather on the porch with a radio next to him on a little wicker table. The scratchy voice of the sports announcer– I recall that as if it was the old man himself (is this my grandfather, I was asking myself!). Well, not really, how could I remember that?  I will tell you my recollection is permanently skewed from bad habits formed when I was trying to write short stories; what a futile racket that is! I wrote one called The Complete Household, that purports to be about 909 Park Avenue, and what a travesty ! What is worse than carefully wrought fiction, made out of one’s life! Still standing on the sidewalk, I think I assumed the poor gentleman who had come out of his house could hear me think through all these distinctions.
—–“I am sure you understand,” I said to him.
—–“How utterly fascinating,” he said sarcastically, I mean I heard him say, this gentleman in his vivid sweater vest, though he didn’t actually say it, I just heard him say it like I heard the wind in the trees, bidding me to hurry it up. Or maybe it was saying, take your time. I didn’t actually utter the bit about the radio, either.  I just recovered from that drenching memory of my adolescence, it just took time (a different sort of time); and I looked around for my car. The point is here is an action taken once but which had such preparation, and such repercussion, that it amounts to a final enactment, of its own thematic obsession. And is built into the career of the writer, who’s banking on the power and potential fame of these very episodes, equivalent to his own, personal salvation.

Bobble-a-go-go

—–This is the assemblage atop our television. From the left: a trophy given to my father for his Hole-in-One at Oak Hill Country Club in 2000; Joba Chamberlain’s rookie bobblehead; Barack Obama Action Figure;  and Tiger Woods in happier days of bobbledom. “Bobble-a-go-go!”  a  friend writes, “That picture is a view into a political sporting alternate reality. Where the streets are lined with slogans, steroids, and waffle hut waitresses.”  That is certainly one way to look it at, I say.

Snowbirds of Memory

—–I fail to write from memory . . .  but the same memories can be encountered within an already flowing text, tripped upon by association with words, combinations of words that create phrases that are like . . . empty vessels. Maybe it is just innuendos in the rhythm of a sentence in the making. But, what I mean is, if I start with a memory, held in mind, and try to faithfully record it, language rebels and laughs at the effort. On the other hand, when I write anything at all, memories are there, all over the place, and in pristine condition, waiting to be run into in the course of the writing; helpful memories, suggesting things and places to go in the development of whatever I had chosen as the task. And I can glancingly deal with them, they aren’t going anywhere, they are like in eternity, for the grabbing, and without violating the sacrosanct mystery of their origins. Without maligning them, in the course of my writing, I can visit and stay in the visit for some time, with these memories; and consider how to plug them into the topic that I, the writer, has set himself upon. And it will lend to the topic an an air of authenticity, even–if I can back up my thoughts with what sound like experience of life. How funny!  If  I start with memories, though, I am going to become a fiction writer, there is no escaping this fate. They are just grist, and will serve another scheme which, God help me, I have to hope is also sincere. Or approaching sincere. But I am saying that what is really interesting, in my work, is that if I start with the impulse to simply invent, be inventive, be charming, write fiction, or what is equivalent in my book, be speculative, write my thoughts directly– talk about my ideas, then words and phrases and the very flow of the text will summon memories. As if to defend my existence! Satisfaction can ensue when I manage to refer to, and save in some fashion memories in that way. But I cannot simply save you fledglings, you snowbirds, hopping along, tagging along, I cannot use you directly.

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