Wednesday, April 06, 2005

But Don't Drop the Day on Your Foot

Mad props to Saul Bellow, just mad props. (The sex-mad old men -- the prince the pope, the scribbler who was not least among them -- are dropping like flies. Their flies. Sexy sexy pants joke. Get it? Okay, not the pope with the sexy doings, the actual coupling. But with the sex MAD, yes.) Meanwhile, having barely escaped that very long parenthetical comment, just let me say I will reread "Seize the Day," knowing going in that it will satisfy me as much as every other time I've read it. I love Daddy stories, as all my faithful readers know, and StD is a two-daddy story, the distant real one and the rogue phony one. And both betray poor poor Tommy Wilhelm who only wants to be rich and be loved. What the ending of the story means I am not sure, but having opinions is my job, and I'll get back to you later.

Otherly, I am cleaning up the old home office and am going through a stack of old reporter's notebooks that have collected in a box lid in the corner on the floor. I am addicted to reporter's notebooks, the ones from Stationer's Inc. in Richmond, Virginia, with the word "Reporter's" in script angling up to the right of the top of the thick orangeish cardboard cover.

It is in the singular. The notebook of one reporter. The accomplishment shall be individual. Also on the front the notebooks is a place to put your name and phone number so you can get it back if you drop it. The notebooks fit nicely in both coat and pants pocket. They are pretentious in just the right way, so handy and efficacious that even though I always felt a little campy whipping out my notebook, as if it were the next best thing to having the word press stuck in the band of my snap-brim hat, they are a tool that does its job.

I buy a gross every year or so and give them out in reporting class, figuring the students might be inspired. If you look like a reporter, that gives you the freedom to act like one. I have absolutely no reason to think that any of my students find the magic in those notebooks that I find. I give them out, but the students seem to prefer yellow legal pads, which are unwieldy. If you are carrying a yellow legal pad, you look like you are doing a survey for soap.

I still use my notebooks for all sorts of notetaking. I took my feature writing class to a coffee shop to listen to live music, which they would then review. One of the musicians said, "I don't know how to do this so I'll just get started," which I carefully wrote down, a note I rediscovered today. I was going to tell the students how this comment would lead very nicely into a comment on the quality of the performance, whether good or bad. Today, it reminds me of Akira Kurasawa saying, "If I wait till I am ready, I will never be ready." It all boils down to the same thing: The price of good art is a lot of really bad art. I wonder what my students would make of that. Note to self: Find out.

In another one of my notebooks, I have some jumbled observations from the day and a half we spent in Paris last fall on the way home from Scandinavia. By the time we hit Paris, my mother-in-law was stiff, weary and showing signs of the heart problems that now have her in and out of the hospital. We could see the problems, but we were pretty sure we were going to get her home alive. My wife and I were working hard to keep her moving -- literally laying on the hands and propping up and tugging and guiding -- so there was little time for delicate apercus. But I did my best. It was Paris. We did a short tour of Notre Dame, and I described the side of the cathedral as a "grotesque of gargoyles." Not bad. I was definitely not waiting till I was ready.

Apparently somewhere we saw a realistic head-and-shoulders bust of a naked woman in some shop window, priced at many Euros. My wife said something about the distance between it and real art, and I wrote, "The problem is not the discrepancy. People will pay for the discrepancy." There's a bit of Oscar Wilde in that, if only the circumstances arise when it would make sense. Or maybe it doesn't need to make sense; maybe it only needs to sound elegantly bitchy.

On one of the Seine bridges we saw what I assume were a couple of tourists doing some serious osculation. I made a couple of notes. The first was that it would be amusing to put together an international glossary of the equivalent in other languages of the phrase, "Get a room.!" The equivalents would definitely have to capture its quality of imperative discomfort. And I also wrote, "This is serious kissing. It looks as if he's licking the crumbs off her face. It's the the sort of thing that would disgust even a mother cat."

I like cats.

We went to the Louvre. I wrote, "The Louvre consumes you, and you pass through its colorful intestine...." It goes on. I don't think I was being ironic. Still, that is really good bad writing. It dares to be bad. Consume it and let it pass through the colorful intestine of your mind.

Page after page of trying hard, and I am pleased to discover that I was trying to grab something for later. I was not resigned to forgetting. Ah, such a man of the world je suis: "Accommodation with the Parisians is simple. You want their beauty and they want your money. Relations are sometimes testy but are fundamentally good natured because of the mutual satisfaction. Though not delighted at your presence, they are resigned to it for you are a cloud with a silver lining -- in a variety of denominations."

So wise, so world weary, so de trop or do I mean soigne? Sauteed? That can't be it. I am shrugging my shoulders. Sacred blue. Sacred blue.

Thirty-six hours in Paris. I made a note.

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