Belted Galloway. Wikimedia Commons, Licensed under CCO 2.0.
The other day we went to Albany so I could return all eight items I had bought online from Athleta. The store was in a giant mall that smelled tragically of Cinnabons. The Cinnabons reminded me of the TV series Better Call Saul, which is set in part in a Cinnabon shop, and the way Saul Goodman was unable to resist pulling a con. He missed his old life. Jail was preferable to feeling unknown to himself.
The clothes in the store were made of fabrics that were “what is this?” and “no.” And there were mirrors, unlike in our house. Richard said, “Let’s go to the Banana.” He wanted a cashmere sweater. There were two he looked great in, and it made me so happy for someone to look good in clothes I said, “Buy both.” He said, “I don’t deserve them.” I said, “No one deserves anything. You are beautiful. Beauty is its own whatever.” One of the sweaters had a soft hoodie thing, and Richard liked walking around in the house in it. The hood came down a little low. I said, “You’re getting a seven dwarfs thing happening with the hood.” He pulled it back a little, and it was perfect.
The next day on our walk, he wore the hoodie over a cap covering his ears. When we recited three things in the moment we loved, he said, “I’m glad we’re walking, although I’m against it.” I said, “Why are you against it?” He said, “It’s too cold.” It was during the Arctic cyclone, and I was wearing my down coat from the eighties. The shoulder pads are out to Mars, and Richard said, “Everyone on Warren Street thinks you’ve been released from an alien abduction after thirty years. They are wondering why you were released.” I said, “Why was I released?” He said, “They couldn’t get anything useful from you about earthlings. It was a total waste of their time.”
I bought a giant wheel of focaccia with salt and olives from a bakery. The grease was soaking through the bag when I got outside. I tore off a hunk. Richard said, “Are you going to eat all that?” I said, “It tastes like a crispy pretzel from Central Park,” and I could see I was missing my old life. The way we live, there are cows outside our windows that belong to Abby Rockefeller. Abby Rockefeller has built a dairy farm down the road where a piece of cheese is either pay this or your mortgage. Richard took a bite of the focaccia. It still took forever to get through the hunk I’d torn off, and my hands froze. I said, “My fingers could break off like one of those corpses holding a clue to their murder.”
Earlier in the day, we’d installed two bookcases in the basement. Richard was arranging the books in alphabetical order. At one time, in New York, the books had been in alphabetical order and every morning I’d walked on Broadway, looking for free samples from the food markets. COVID ended the era of free samples, and now I buy things to eat on Warren Street. The other day I went into a new café. Sun glared from the smile of the woman behind the counter when she said, “All the pastries are gluten-free and vegan.” I wondered if there was something about me that made her happy to announce this or if it had become a cultural commonplace like using the word bandwidth to mean mental space. I said, “I welcome gluten, and I’m not vegan.” She swore I wouldn’t know the difference, and even though I knew she would be wrong, I bought a slice of gluten-free vegan lemon pound cake, which lacked all the ingredients of pound cake. It’s in a bag on the kitchen counter. You can have it.
How we got the bookcases is the mother of a man on Facebook Marketplace had died, and he was clearing out her house. The cases were taller and heavier than reported. Richard wanted me to understand the logistics required to stand up each bookcase and edge it against a wall. He kept saying, “Don’t you see it has to go this way and then that way. Don’t you see it won’t fit from that angle?” I kept saying, “No, I don’t understand, and it thrills me to tell you I will never need to understand, as long as we stick it out together.”
Recently, he found an early book by Louisa May Alcott in one of the free bins on Warren Street. This morning he said, “We didn’t read American literature in school.” (He’s from England.) “Maybe a poem by Longfellow and Moby-Dick.” I said, “Moby-Dick is not chopped liver.” Then I thought that was unfair to chopped liver. If you tasted my chopped liver, you wouldn’t call it “chopped liver.”
I told him about a dream. If I were you, I would save myself and move on from this section. In the dream, we live in a château, and I’m talking to the woman who owns it. First she wants me to take her change and give her dollar bills. Fine. Then there is an enormous platter of lobsterlike creatures. It’s enormous. She holds up one of the creatures, and at first I don’t realize it’s alive. Alive and sluggish. I see the lobsters moving in a jumble on the platter, and I’m horrified for them, for me, for existence as we know it. Why are there lobsters that aren’t quite lobsters!! Why are they so huge!! Then I’m digging in a flower bed, and I think, Ah, it’s time to get the dahlia tubers from the basement. Don’t forget to plant the dahlias. Richard said, “The lobsters are from the zombie apocalypse show we watched with the fungus.” I thought, Yes, and I could see my mind had infinite bandwidth for any old crap fed to it.
A few nights ago, we watched a conversation with Mike Nichols filmed during his last days. He looks emaciated and speaks with his usual clarity and animation. Intercut with the conversation are scenes from some of his films. In one sequence from The Graduate, the camera shoots Dustin Hoffman in his convertible on a California freeway, racing to his future, racing to chaos from a death-in-life torpor—not unlike Saul Goodman fleeing the Cinnabon shop for a life of crime. The camera stays on Dustin’s look of determination, and then it moves to the scenery on his left as he’s racing along, it moves to trees and sky over his shoulder, and then, finally it shoots the road ahead—a tangle of beams and signs and other cars he is driving toward. And I thought that movement of the camera, that layering of shots and the thoughts those shots arouse in the moment and in memory, is exactly what to do with sentences to form a paragraph.
If there were a point to life, the point would be pleasure. I knew a man, an Italian communist, who liked to say, raising a glass of champagne and nibbling a blini with caviar, “Nothing’s too good for the working class.” Kafka’s Hunger Artist explains to the overseer at the end of the story he’s not a saint, nor is he devoted to art or sacrifice. He’s just a picky eater. “I have to fast. I can’t help it … I couldn’t find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.”
I once promised a man who was touchy about his privacy I would keep his secrets, and I kept his secrets. Otherwise I have made few promises, and I have never made a resolution. Today Richard was grumpier than me, and it made me so happy I was nice the whole time we walked. I love my phone. I love the first sip of a cocktail when the elevator drops. There is a woman I don’t love and can’t stop thinking about. I love that I will never understand my connection to her. There is a kind of vulnerability that makes me feel my whole life is stretched out in front of me. In a way, it is.
Laurie Stone is the author of six books, most recently Streaming Now: Postcards from the Thing that is Happening, which was long-listed for the PEN America Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. She writes the Streaming Now column for LIBER: A Feminist Review, and she writes the Everything Is Personal Substack.
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