Stepped outside Thursday night and heard crickets. Of all things. And here I thought they were dead, or had gone into comas, or migrated, or whatever crickets do when it gets cold. And it was cold today: the sun couldn’t finish a sentence before the wind cut it off.
Also heard someone whistle those first three notes of “West Side Story” up the block. The call-and-response whistle you hear as the camera floats with celestial detachment over New York. I think they’re calling a dog. I cannot help myself: I whistle the three-note response.
So I’m wondering: is the neighbor deliberating quoting “West Side Story”? If so, he must know what I’m doing. I’d smile. If the neighbor doesn’t know those are the first few notes, he must wonder why the hell someone whistles three different notes in response. If that’s the case, I hope he sees “West Side Story” some day, and it’ll hit him like a sledgehammer. All is clear now.
Hope the dog comes home. My dog is on his bed now, and since he plopped down as he entered the dining room, he is facing the corner of the room. He’s awake. Staring into the corner. I caught him doing that earlier today, too. Like there’s something there. I can’t see it. He can’t see it. But there is always something in the corner of the room. The corner itself. The one variety you can’t turn. The big dead end. It’s the opposite of a corner, really.
We went for a walk tonight, and he surprised me: turned left. Usually Jasper plods along behind me, sniffing what needs to be sniffed, walking because that’s what you do when the leash comes out, and because something inside him says of course. Of course we go. He turned left to go up the hill to the great water tower, the severe concrete monument adorned with the statues of Crusaders, gripping the hilts of their swords, looking down at the people with expressions of dispassionate duty. They’re the Guardians of Health.
Jasper likes to go up there because kids play on the hill and leave food. My daughter started to go up there last summer with friends. You slide down the hill on cardboard boxes and laugh and tumble down and get grass stains on your knees and who knows, who knows who else might show up? The older kids go up in the summer after dark to sit on the wall and look down on the city and remind each other that they know it all, now.
I found this on the web, written by a guy who grew up nearby:
The tower is visible from everywhere and unapproachable by any straight line. You can see it all up and down Grand Avenue; you just can't get to it from there.
It's on the flight path, right about where the wheels drop and the flaps come down.
Years ago, planes used to skim the top of the water tower. We'd throw stones, trying to ding the planes' undersides as they rumbled overhead. We imagined the pilots waved at us on approach.
We'd tell stories about Charles Schulz, the "Peanuts" creator, who was said to have lived in the castle-like house at the bottom of the hill. We'd slide down the hill in winter and in summer too -- if the maintenance man had left the hose on. Eventually and predictably, there were Pall Malls and mason jars of Canadian Club.
To my surprise the author - who wrote it for a high-school alumni publication - is a guy I met a few years ago, one of those unassuming, utterly normal guys you meet around these parts. Casual, friendly, quirky - hey, what do you do? Oh, advertising. Really? Where? Oh, a firm called Olson. That’s your name. So you founded an ad agency. Who are your clients? Oh, Target, Amtrak, you know.
Big firm. One of my happiest memories last year was saluting the end of summer on his powerboat on Lake Minnetonka, our daughters shrieking with delight as they blasted through the chicane of the wake on an innertube. The next time we meet we have to talk about the castle.
Charles Schultz didn’t live there. I’m pretty sure of that. It was the home of the King of Toast, as I’ve told you. Either the man who patented the pop-up toaster or the head of the Toastmaster company that brought it to market. I really have to run it down. But Shultz? No.
The femme fatale of my next novel, however, did live there. In my next novel the narrator drives by my house and goes up the hill and knocks at the door and it’s straight into Chandler-land - the big quiet musty house, the suit of armor in the hall, the languid lovely with the sharp quip and the taunting retort and the darting look when the hard question gets sprung -
Jasper stops on the hill, and relieves himself. I say “Nice job. Firm, well-proportioned, good execution all around.”
He’s about 15 years past caring whether Alpha praises his poop, but it’s a habit.
We walk around the base of the hill, head back down. Right goes to the house. Straight ahead goes elsewhere. He goes straight ahead.
It’s slow. There’s a faint skritch on the pavement, because he drags his left leg some times. Nails on the concrete. I note that the sidewalk has white paint sprayed where it’s heaved and cracked; due for a replacement. On one hand you’re impressed, suddenly aware that there are sidewalk inspectors, and they are on the job. On the other hand you feel for the homeowner, wondering what assessment is due: the other day a blue flag and a spray-painted squiggle appeared on our boulevard, and I was terrified that my property taxes were about to go up $10,000.
The sidewalk due to be replaced had a semicircle cut in one side, because once upon a time there was a stout tree on the boulevard. For decades the semicircle was the only sign the tree had been there at all. Now it’ll be replaced. There’s about a hundred years of history reflected in that process, and as far as the universe is concerned it’s the flutter of a hummingbird’s ventricle. That’s why we’re here: the passing of time has no meaning unless experienced by conscious beings. Better if they have imaginations, too: look at the depth of the cut in the sidewalk. Stout trunk, tall tree. An elm, probably. Whoever lived in that house in ’41 parked under the tree in the afternoon in July so the steering wheel didn’t feel like gripping a steam iron. Dad rued the leaves. The kids loved them smell when he burned them in fall.
The square with the semicircle was not marked for replacement. There was nothing underneath to push it up. The square that had heaved were pushed up by roots from other trees, part of that dark furtive dirt-world we never see until we spade the lawn and see the teeming system below.
If Jasper had stopped to sniff the tree that wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have been completely surprised. It probably smells like the corner of the room. They say dogs can see ghosts, which is ridiculous. If anything they smell them.
Penultimate leg, around the other side of the block. It’s recycling. Everything’s out. Hmm: you don’t read newspapers. Hmm: you drink a hell of a lot of milk. Ahh: an empty of Tito’s Handmade Vodka. Good choice. Last leg: past the neighbor’s, past the dead bed of plants that commemorate the fall by literally lying down and dying. I don’t know what they are; my wife does. Up the stairs, under the bower, through the gate, remove the chain.
Long walk, I say to the dog. Glad you have it in you.
He walks up to the back steps and tries to go up and forgets: doesn’t work every time. The world is like that. It just is. I pick him up and put him at the top of the step and open the door. He heads in to the bathroom and take a long cool draught from the toilet. He looks around, appraising the situation. Beta isn’t here, which means no scraps. Food period is done. Well, that’s that.
He heads to his bed and drops down. I remember I forgot to give him his Frosty Paws treat. Could just skip it and save a buck, but no; they’re his greatest joy. Usually he barks with great insistence if I forget, but sometimes in the confusion of things - soccer night, wife late, school meeting, all the tall humans coming and going, dim shapes in the next room - he loses the narrative.
But he loves those things. I get one out of the fridge and set it down. In the low light of the dining room he can’t quite make it out, but then he remembers. Jasper struggles to his feet, the traitorous back legs trying to find purchase on the rug; he picks up the cup with his mouth and walks away to enjoy it in private.
When I went to check on him a few minutes ago I found the empty cup in the corner of the room., like an offering.
Just stepped outside to finish a cigar. The crickets are quiet.
Finally, it’s Friday Face. This is rather easy.
In this movie he’s 21 years past the role for which he’ll always be remembered - not so much for the performance, which was standard issue for him, but for the movie itself. The question, of course, is who is he. That’s the easy part. The difficult part: the movie is set during a 20th century war. Based on his clothing, which war is it? Hints: he’s an American.
Hey, Wards 1961 ends today. Sorry. All good things, etc.
Oh, did I mention there's a book? See you around.