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Car Trouble, Part 2

March 28, 2013 | by

Blacksheep1Read part 1 here.

I owned a car that I couldn’t drive.

After the “Possession at Devil’s Bridge,” as we’d started calling it, Phil had parked the Mini alongside my cottage before roaring back to campus in her reliable yellow Renault. The following morning I went out and stood beside it, wondering what to do next. Any car’s speedometer cable could snap, but not just any car’s cable would have so profound a sense of timing as to do it at midnight, atop Devil’s Bridge, on its first outing with a new owner.

Appropriately enough, the Mini and I were in Wales: home of Arthur and Merlin, breeding ground of the fabulous. In one of the old Welsh wondertales, black sheep that cross a magical river turn white, and white sheep turn black. The Mini’s color remained mushroom grey, but something similar, if more subtle, had happened as it crossed the Mynach. On the far side of the river the Mini had been cheap, utilitarian transportation; on my side, it had already become a character in a story. In Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald says we all have a heroic period in our lives. The Mini came into mine just as one of these phases was beginning (I don’t see why we can’t have more than one), and promptly took its place in the pantheon of memory.

My next-door neighbor appeared and found me stroking my fingers through beads of dew on its roof. Read More »

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Car Trouble, Part 1

March 27, 2013 | by

gimli

I had a car in Wales.

 I know what you’ll say. Really? A car? That’s amazing!

 Don’t be snide. You’ve had cars too, I realize that. But when I lived in Wales as a graduate student, in the early 1980s, a creature came into my life for which the term “car” is unsatisfactory. Calling Gimli a car would be like calling your mother a mammal. Which is true, but in most cases insufficient.

On the outside, Gimli was the color of a week-old mushroom. His interior was bright red. He was a 1967 Morris Mini, and his relation to the Mini Coopers of today—those flashy, sturdy, burly bugs that tool confidently across our highways—is semantic at best. The ancestral Minis of the 1960s and seventies looked like starved versions of today’s cars. They were smaller, skinnier, frailer in every way; if they’d had lungs they would’ve been consumptive. I’m not tall, but I could look down on Gimli’s roof. Driving him on the motorway, my line of vision corresponded to the top of a tractor-trailer’s tires.

Even within the breed, Gimli was the runt of an automotive litter. He was rickety with rust. Every now and then he’d sputter, and I’d have to get out, crawl underneath, and bang his petrol pump with my shoe. The driver’s door didn’t close properly, which meant that in rain he took on water. And it rains a lot in Wales. Going uphill, backseat passengers’ feet got wet; going down, the tide shifted to the front. And yet Gimli and I undertook trips that other Mini owners never dared dream of, let alone embark upon (this may have been a function of my foolhardiness and naïveté, but it reflected well on Gimli). He served many; he flew like a wayward wind along the ringletted roads of West Wales. Read More »

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ThunderStick

January 14, 2013 | by

It came in a box. A big box, with two or three others. Sam had finally cleaned house.

It’s not every day you get a box of tennis racquets in the mail. I ripped it open and immediately shook hands with each one.

“Now guys, shake hands with the racquet.” If I’d said that once I’d said it, I don’t know, maybe twenty-five times. Once for each tennis clinic I’d taught for little kids over high school summers. Kids who’d devised a game called Hit the Ball at the Teacher, which they’d passed on to their younger brothers and sisters, the little buggers.

There was a Yonex in the box that felt cold and distant—the shake of a bureaucrat. There was another I’ve since given away that felt insubstantial—the absent shake of someone scanning the room for more important hands. And then there was the Prince. I swear to you, the Prince’s handle still felt warm.

The grip was slightly sticky—as a good grip should be—and worn where my right index finger curled up the beveled edge of the shaft. It filled my palm easily and comfortably: the racquet’s way of looking me straight in the eye as our hands met. This was Emma’s racquet.

The frame was a little slick for my tastes. Shiny black, with an aqua-blue and pink blaze up both sides of the head that looked like rain blotches on a Doppler weather map. And it was called ThunderStick. There was a lightning bolt through the diagonal slash of the n “Thunder.”

“Lord, did Emma know that?” I wondered. Not her style. And there was another message from the manufacturer along the inside rim: “Sweet Spot Suspension.” If that were true, I figured it was okay that it looked a little cheesy and was called ThunderStick.

I fingered the strings and saw they were worn, with little bits of neon-yellow fuzz stuck at the junctions where the vertical and horizontal rows overlapped. Evidence that this racquet was not new. Evidence that Emma had hit with it.

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The Witch and the Poet: Part 3

November 23, 2012 | by

 

The story so far: the author visits a fortune-teller whose prediction that she will become a poet changes the course of her destiny.

In the U.S. there are two groups concerned with the conduct of tarot readers. The Tarot Certification Board of America, which posts a Client Bill of Rights, and the American Tarot Association, which promotes a Code of Ethics. The TCBA’s Bill of Rights states, among other things, that as a client you are entitled to confidentiality; that readers are not qualified to give medical, financial, or legal advice (except if they’re doctors, financial advisors, or attorneys); that readers are not qualified to predict the future; and that they’re not qualified to make decisions for you.

The ATA believes that “Ethical Tarot readers are people who help others better hear their own inner guides.” And they reiterate the TCBA’s Bill of Rights, making the additional point that if readers happen to be doctors, financial advisors, or attorneys, they will “clearly differentiate between the tarot reading and any professional advice additionally provided.”

While there was an extant Association of Tarot Readers in 1964, the TCBA wasn’t formed until 2002. In any case, I doubt the witch in Galilee was a member of any professional group. She was probably a rogue reader, in that she didn’t charge for her services and only read for friends and guests in her home. I’m not sure if she offered our futures as a politeness, the way you’d offer an extra piece of coffee cake, or if she wanted to mess with us. Clearly she overstepped her bounds with Wendy on the “predicting the future” issue. If I were Wendy, I’d start watching for falling pianos on my 84th birthday.

The witch was on target with me in the “helping others better hear their own inner guides” category. But what are the repercussions of telling a 19 year-old she is one thing or another? Most tarot sessions start with a question: the seeker, or client, winnows away her world until the yearning is laid bare. Will I be happy in romance? Is my career on the right track? Should I get a puppy?

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The Witch and the Poet: Part 2

November 22, 2012 | by

The story so far: the author and a friend visit a local witch for an assignment and, unexpectedly, the witch informs Pamela that her destiny is to be a poet.

Things went downhill pretty quickly after our visit to the witch. I wrote the story for our college paper and naively sent it to the witch for verification. Trying to imitate the brutal truthiness of the New Journalists I was reading, I’d described her as “somewhere between middle aged plump and any age fat.” I didn’t expect she’d be pleased, but I did believe that Truth was inescapable and we all had to accept it, in print or in the mirror. The witch didn’t see it that way. Eschewing magic, she threatened to call down a different but equally powerful set of spells on me—the legal kind. She said she’d sue my ass if I ever printed a word of it.

I regret calling her fat. What a churlish thing to do. (How often does that word come up? It’s a good one, and a rare one, especially in memoir—especially if you use it about yourself.) I thought I needed to tell the truth as I saw it. It never occurred to me I could edit out the bits that might be hurtful.

I often wonder about the witch: what did she edit? Did she see the train wreck that would almost kill me seven years later, but think better of bringing it up and ruining my night? Maybe the cards aren’t that specific. Surely, though, a massive Amtrak wreck with sixteen dead and hundreds injured, a crushed jaw, broken ribs, and slashed lung and spleen would contribute to one of the “down” times ahead?

Did she see that I was gay? Again, alternative sexuality certainly brings its share of ups and downs, as she put it. But if that’s what she intuited, the witch didn’t call a spade a spade. Would she, like me, not have had the vocabulary to identify something she might have glimpsed in my future or in my soul? Or would she just call me a “poet,” in the way people used to say Oscar Wilde and his set were “artistic?” How far outside our own experience can we—dare we—tread when mapping the lives of others? Or did she exercise the judgment I lacked and edit out information that might have been too deterministic? Or too negative? Who can say how the witch’s socio-political belief system broke on the issue of homosexuality.

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The Witch and the Poet: Part 1

November 21, 2012 | by

Toward the end of February, 1980, a witch told me I was a poet. This happened in the town of Galilee, in Rhode Island. Like the other Galilee, it was on the coast, and also like that Galilee, it was as good a place as any for a creation myth.

I had to interview the witch for a newspaper my friend Allen edited at Brown. I don’t know where he found the witch or why he lent me his car to go interview her. I was nineteen and hadn’t written anything, though I claimed to “write,” as if writing were more a state of being than a practice. I got the assignment, I think, because Allen wanted to date me, even though I had no intention, ever, of going out with him. (Okay, I went once: a very cold winter picnic in a park at midnight, with blankets and a blindfold, but that was it. I suspected then that I wasn’t just uninterested in Allen—I was uninterested in picnicking with men in general—but hadn’t yet learned the vocabulary to explain what that meant, even to myself). When I went to see the witch I made my roommate Wendy go with me. No way was I going to see a witch alone at night.

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