The Daily

First Person, Our Daily Correspondent

Almanac

December 27, 2013 | by

West-Side-Highway-New-York-Paris-Review

All this week, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

“What would Ben Franklin make of this, if he were sitting here right now?” mused my father. We were driving on the West Side Highway. I was living with my parents following a breakup. This was fairly typical, topic-wise.

“I’d have to explain, Dr. Franklin, you are sitting in a conveyance known as a ‘car.’ These horseless carriages you see are also cars. They operate via combustion engines. Those lanterns you see there are powered by something called ‘electricity.’ And then, of course, I’d have to explain about movies. Dr. Franklin, those large posters you see are advertising something we call ‘films.’ You go into a large room and see a talking picture projected onto a screen by means of—”

“Why do you have to say ‘talking picture’?” demanded my mother irritably. “Why can’t you just say ‘movie’?”

“That would be too confusing. I have a lot of ground to cover, acquainting him with the modern world. And I’d say, Dr. Franklin, perhaps I shall take you to a moving picture. Would you like to see a comedy? A romance?”

“Take him to see a period piece,” I put in eagerly. “Then you could acquaint him with some of the historical events that occurred in the intervening period!”

“Good idea,” he said. “Now, Dr. Franklin—”

“Why are you calling him doctor?” said my mother.

“He was given an honorific by the Royal Academy!” said my father impatiently. “It was what everyone called him. It was what he preferred to be called! That’s common knowledge, Priscilla!

“Okay, okay.”

I suppose you could call this a low point. I lived in my childhood room. I commuted to and from my job every day via MetroNorth and spent most of my free time with my family. For the first time, I went to see a therapist. This was kind of a big deal, since no one in my family really did therapy. Once, in the eighties, my mom and dad had gone to a marriage counselor, who suggested they get divorced. Anyway, this woman and I hated each other on sight, and she told me I should disengage from my parents. This seemed impractical, under the circumstances.

“How long,” said Dad, “do you think it would take Dr. Franklin to adjust to the modern world, to grasp the rudiments of modern technology, Priscilla?”

“I have no idea.”

“Come on, guess. How long?”

“I don’t know. Two minutes.”

Two minutes? Are you joking? To grasp electricity—television—the Internet—are you out of your mind?”

I don’t know! You made me guess!”

“Two minutes.” He shook his head.

The therapist said I should connect with joyful things. I tried my hand at children’s fiction. “There once was a doll,” I wrote, “who rejoiced in the name of Carol Lynn Krouk.” (Krouk was a name I used a lot in my writing.) “Krouk was a loud doll with a disproportionate head.” This is as far as I got.

“Dr. Franklin would doubtless like to pay a visit to that establishment,” said my father. We were passing a billboard for Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. “He was a notorious ladies’ man, of course.”

For a few days, I thought a great deal about where rage sits in the stomach, as opposed to contempt, guilt, self-loathing, and grief. This much I knew: they were all close, like the sinuses and the teeth, and it is easy to confuse one for the other. But I was not sure  whether they lay in strata, or were instead compartmentalized. This is the sort of thing people knew about in the Middle Ages, but now it felt like a lonely path. Once I thought I’d do an abstract watercolor of the concept, as it struck me as suitably artistic. But then I couldn’t find a brush, so that was that.

The therapist decided I needed medical help, so I visited a psychiatrist instead. She was right; also, as noted, we had hated each other.

“Well, he was a man of science,” I said now. “He’d probably grasp concepts relatively quickly. But, Dad, don’t you think it would be better if you had someone who actually understood all the technology explain it to him?”

“We don’t have that option. He’s appeared in this car.”

“But I mean, he has the capacity to understand the basic science, probably.”

“Well, I could call Cy,” he said, referring to a second cousin who is a doctor. “Cy, guess who I have here. No, guess.”

“Harry, this is tedious,” said my mother sharply. 

“Well, you won’t guess. Ben Franklin! Yes, the Ben Franklin! I’m putting him on. Here, Ben, speak into this.”

“Hello? Yes, this is Dr. Franklin—”

“Harry, stop it,” said my mother. 

 Sometimes I think that was the happiest time of my life.

 

7 COMMENTS

7 Comments

  1. Sadie Stein | October 1, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    My dad writes, “Just one thing: Franklin
    knew already all there was to know in his time about electricity, he toyed around with it obsessively.” Sorry!

  2. Julie Cline | October 1, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    SS: Please tell your dad to suspend, for crying out loud in the dark, a little disbelief.

  3. Drew | October 2, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Sadie Stein: how do I get something in ‘First Person” if I don’t have an agent, an MFA, BA, CPA, LLD, but been rode hard and put away wet by life…….and I write good ?

  4. Drew | October 2, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Oh… and btw.. be cautious about the images you post with your blogs, fair use applies only to certain uses, and it can be tricky if the copyright holder (in the watermarked image) decides they want to sue. Bloggers tend to overlook this pesky issue. An account with Istock or comstock, might be useful, just to be on the safe side. “Courtesy Google” would not stand up in a court of law.. :-)

  5. Tomasz P | October 2, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    What a wonderful piece of writing! Great!! Thank you!

  6. muffin | October 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Drew, this is tedoius.

  7. Nancy Toes | August 20, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Sadie, I know you through your writing and mutual family friends, the Schneiders. This morning, after a harrowing ride from JFK with our daughter, this piece of writing captures for me all I hope my children feel about the parent, adult-child relationship my husband and I clumsily work to establish. “We love you and we will always be here for you.” It was a god sent, Thanks!

Leave a Comment