Patriots’ Day

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Now reading: Novels in Three Lines, by Felix Feneon.

Finished: The Angel Esmeralda, by Don DeLillo; The Lazarus Project, by Aleksandar Hemon.

It was Patriots’ Day (Observed) in Boston.  It was also tax day.  And two pressure-cooked bombs went off.

The past two days have been very strange for everyone.  The strangeness in my case is due to spending the last two days in transit.  I was in an airplane when the bombs went off.  When I arrived at my destination in Alabama, I was told the news.  I packed what I needed to pack into the U-Haul and drove, out of Alabama and into Georgia, flipping the dial through static to find snippets, details, all the sifting of information that occurs in the hours after Something Happens. And then stopped at my cheap motel room, sad but somehow not surprised. And then, unable to sleep, drove through the day until mid-afternoon.

So yes, I had basically turned into a Don DeLillo character in a Don DeLillo story for a couple of days.

Mostly I was unsurprised not due to any DeLilloesque philosophical exploration of terror and the contemporary American condition, but because I’d been reading about bombs for weeks. In The Lazarus Project, anarchism in early 1900s Chicago is one of the main subjects; the Haymarket bombing lurks behind everything.  When I was driving, I thought, “When is this going to happen to Chicago?” before I remembered that it happened 127 years ago.  (Not that it can’t happen again.)

And on the plane yesterday I read Novels in Three Lines, a truly amazing compilation of very short, very stylish news briefs filed in a Paris newspaper by the critic, anarchist, and clerk Felix Feneon in 1906.  Many of his columns reported at least one bombing or (more often) failed bombing.  They were everywhere, in 1906.

As prose it’s an incredible book, each three-line snippet full of character and complexity.  It its litany of stabbings, beatings, shootings, accidents, strike-related police brutality, and (yes) terrorist bombings, it’s surely one of the most violent books, line for line, in history.  And yet there’s something comforting about it, too.  As I implied above, there’s non- or anti-news here as well as news: “bombs” that turn out to be nothing but sandbags, accidents averted, fires contained and suppressed quickly and efficiently, shots fired and missed.  These terrible things happen over and over, in 1906 as today as 2000 years ago.  It is part of human life, and human life goes on.  And the lines often make clear that it is our response to such awful occurrences (or the fear of awful occurrences) that makes us human or less-than-human.

This particular awful occurrence hurt a lot.  Though I’ve never lived there, I love Boston.  I consider it one of “my” places.  But I turn to David Foster Wallace’s piece on 9/11, “Just Asking,” after such events.  Whoever did this, for whatever reason, let’s remember and honor the fallen they struck as Patriots, as heroes of life in an open democratic society.

The playing of “Sweet Caroline” tonight, at Yankee Stadium and elsewhere, is an excellent start.  Congregate.  Dance.  Play ball.

Yes, Things Do Get Better

July 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here’s a little story to restore your faith in humanity.

I just accidentally left a book — a signed first edition, no less — in a busy public space in a major metropolitan area for over an hour, and when I came back, it was still there, apparently untouched.

I’m in Boston for work right now, and went down to the North End for dinner and (mostly) dessert.  So I took my chicken parm sub and tiramisu in a cup from Bova’s Bakery to this really nice park on the edge of the neighborhood.  As I ate, and called Jaime to gloat,  I set my book down on the edge of my chair.  And then I packed up the uneaten half of my sub and walked back to catch the shuttle from North Station.  (I think I forgot the book because I hadn’t been carrying anything else before getting food, and then I had this bag, and I didn’t notice any weight missing.)

The book, by the way, is David Eagleman’s Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives.  It means a lot to me because I got it on a trip to see our friend Spiff in Seattle.  (I brought it with me because it’s small, and short, and seemed appropriate after The Pale King.)  And yet I didn’t notice until I was at my stop that I’d forgotten it. After a brief internal debate (why bother? it’s surely gone already) I decided I had to go back and at least see if it might be there.  So I turned right back around to go back to the North End.

And there it was, exactly where I left it.  I know at least some people saw it, because I’d been sitting next to an empty chair, and now that chair had been moved elsewhere.

This brings a few thoughts to mind:

1) This may mean that Bova’s tiramisu-in-a-cup really is magic.  As in nothing bad can happen to you for two hours after eating it.

2) Or is this another indication that people don’t care about books anymore?  In the morning I saw one of the sidewalk booksellers in Harvard Square and wondered how many $2 books he could possibly hope to sell that day; in the evening I left a legitimately collectible book in perfect condition in view of hundreds (if not thousands) of people in broad daylight, and not one picked it up.

3) I love public transportation.  The luckiest stroke here was that the Green Line’s under construction from Lechmere to North Station, so they’re running shuttle buses (for free).  Since it was free, and I didn’t have to wait at all, just walk onto the next shuttle going back to the North End, it was easy to go back after the book.

4) Boston has proved itself, once again, my good luck charm.   Beautiful day, 80 degrees, no humidity, a perfect sunset as I walked back to the bus with my miracle book in hand.

So thank you, people of Boston, for protecting and returning my book to me.  It’ll always remind me of you, now, as well as Seattle.  And it’s proof that everyone’s luck has to turn around eventually.

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