Monday, September 28, 2020

A memory: 28 September 1972

An evening class at Cowell College, UC Santa Cruz, just a couple of days into Fall Quarter. I am, two years later, a freshman again, having been granted a second bite at the apple. A dozen or twenty fellow freshmen gathered around a circular table in a smallish room. At some point before the class came to order a noxious bug, something like a fly, but blacker, slower, softer, was buzzing about my head. I swatted at it, and on its second or third pass contrived to propel it across the room and into the face of the young woman directly opposite me across the table. Fate, it appears, will sometimes hinge upon an insect. At close of class, as we all dispersed outdoors, I caught up with the girl and apologized. We walked together across the Cowell upper quad. As we passed a first floor room (the same room which my younger brother was briefly to occupy thirteen years later) she noticed a political poster on the wall, visible through the window. “That’s Russian!” she exclaimed. It happened that I’d just that summer commenced my infatuation with all things Slavic. “Oh? You know Russian?” At which point Veronica—for it was the legendary, now departed Veronica—clammed up (a speaker of Russian since infancy, she’d just had demonstrated to her earlier in the day her deficiencies in the written language, and was smarting in consequence) with a charming and ambiguous disclaimer. I saw her to the ground floor of her dorm, and set off to College V, half a mile distant. “Here comes a girlfriend,” I thought, correctly, and would have whistled, had I ever learned how. Actually, that’s never stopped me. I strode across campus, in the dark through the trees, emitting low, hoarse, lighthearted hoots through my pursed lips, forming clouds before me in the cool, slightly damp autumnal air.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Bright college days


Half a century ago today I arrived, most unwillingly, at the Riverside campus of the University of California. That’s a long story, to be related another time, if ever. Still, the following months before my ignoble exit (conveyed in the event by the University to the good people at Selective Service) yielded up some piquant memories. Hearts full of youth! Hearts full of truth! Six parts gin to one part vermouth!

—Although my set really didn’t drink much. Back in those days we regarded it as a little counterrevolutionary.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

“The Happiest I’ve Been”*


20 September 1970

I was summoned to the telephone at my parents’ home that Sunday morning. A group of high school friends were organizing a trip out to Zuma Beach in Malibu—was I interested? Of course I was.

This was just about a week before my graduating class was to scatter to the four winds, those of us who were going the “higher education” route, to our sundry and far-flung colleges and universities. I, to my disappointment, was bound just ninety miles away, to an institution that would spit me out half a year later; my classmates went on to various fates, some known, some not: that day was the last time I was to see most of them.

Among the teenagers present was my beloved, with whom interludes in the course of the preceding summer and the following autumn are among the tenderest of my youthful memories. That romance did not endure past the turning of the year (more on this anon), but this Sunday at the beach was the capstone of the year. At one point, as we waded in the shallows, a wave knocked my sweetheart down, and her spectacles into the churning surf: groping at my feet, I found and retrieved these before they were swept out to sea, for beaucoup points.

I do not think that, up until this day, I had ever experienced such an episode, so many seamless hours, of sustained joy.

By January the beloved, four hundred miles north of me, had developed other interests. I was unhappy, and peppered her with letters (in that distant era, meine Kinder, one had to convey text messages on paper and via the post) for the next few years until I finally wore her down and rekindled the romance in 1974. Two years later we wed; ten years after that she had reconsidered and, on this day in 1986, took a step, my weeks of anguished entreaties being dismissed, that pretty much put paid to the entire matrimony thing, so that’s another 20 September, a grim one, to bookend the first.

Someone asked me, twenty years ago, “Don’t you think it’s turned out for the best?” I imagine that the ex would agree—from the scant online evidence, she has long regarded our entire common history as an ill-considered detour from her own life’s journey. For my part, the question makes no sense: had I never been divorced, I’d be a different man today. To desire that counterfactual, to make it magically come about, would necessarily involve an act of self-cancellation of the man who might make that wish. So no, I do not rub the lamp. It is what it has been, and I am who I have become. And today is, fifty years on, the twentieth of September.

*The post title is taken from John Updike’s 1959 short story.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Waving the bloody shirt


God-fucking damnit, I get so tired of the bleating every year at this time: never has so blameless a nation, so virtuous a people, ever been subjected to so inhumane, so vile an atrocity. Why, innocent people died!

Break me a fucking give. Measured against the number of noncombatants this country has slain from the air during the past seventy-five years, the butcher’s bill nineteen years ago was a rounding error. To the side that has the cruise missiles, asymmetric warfare will always appear an unsportsmanlike proposition.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Got a kinda postapocalyptic vibe going here


I joined the landed gentry exactly twenty-one years ago. The weather outside The Crumbling Manse™ did not, as I recall, look anything like this, descried today at mid-afternoon.