I decided to splurge and take the Jitney bound for Montauk, a bus so ritzy, so elevated, its tires never touch the ground. Waiting for the light to change in the middle of Park Avenue, I stepped onto a metal plate with a sign on it that said, "Danger, do not stand here," which of course you couldn't read until it was too late. Just outside Grand Central, I hopped up into the bus on my way to Water Mill on the poor man's border of the Hamptons, where my mother lived, a mile from the beach, behind what must be the last potato field on the South Fork. The stewardess brought us tea and oranges, and copies of the Sunday Times, even though it was only Saturday. "You can have as many Donettes as you like," she said, white powdered, soft as milk (the Donettes, that is), but there were no takers since everyone was dieting, which explained the surplus.
I was elegant that day, wearing black and beige, and being so chic, I paid no attention to the celebrated author of a great American novel, with a number between 21 and 23 in its catchy title, who, when asked what his favorite book was, had replied simply, "Mine." Then I sat down next to and pretended not to recognize the once-famous actress on my right, who was staring out the window, fitfully turning the rings on her fingers. A former Rockette in scarves and lavender, with a publicized weakness for orchids and rehab, she had at one time started a sadly short-lived craze in women's spangled evening tap shoes. I longed to study her face, well-known to supermarket shoppers and neo-noir devotees, to ask if she had indeed shot her daughter's lover with a ladies' steel blue Walther PPK automatic pistol. Looking down at my lap, then shyly and slowly over at hers, I saw her fingering a silver-plated CD player, the kind whose cap you unscrew and bring up to your lips in the worst of times. I was so busy trying not to gawk that I read the same paragraph, over and over, on page 101 of David Bohm's "Wholeness and the Implicate Order," the one that begins: "We shall prove the theorem stated above for the special case that all the degrees of freedom can be represented as coupled harmonic oscillators," so help me, God.
As soon as we made it through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, I let my breath out in what Bohm might have called a harmonic oscillation, and watched the world of Nassau County speeding away. An hour out of the city, the driver stopped the bus so that we could pay our fares while he loosened his belt, which seemed to be a cue for him to segue into a medley of show tunes, after which only one couple, old enough to remember the lyrics, applauded. The young man on my left in the opposite aisle had folded and tented two crisp twenties lengthwise, holding them up between two extended fingers and pointing them at the stewardess as if he were hailing a cab or hoping for some action at a craps table. I put Bohm back where he belonged, at the bottom of my overnight bag, and knew that I'd seen this cash-dispensing gesture before, in the hand of a pony-tailed shampoo girl in a violet nylon smock, Bobby pins buried in the pockets, the girl running in flip flops on the sidewalk between the bank and the beauty parlor to make change for a fifty; then there was the variation used by people waiting on line at the news stand/candy store to buy ten Lottery tickets with ten singles folded in half and draped over the first finger of their off-hand. I tried it myself once, but didn't see the attraction.
So I was peeking at Carlo, as I had come to think of him. He was handsome in a shabby, pre-owned way, no doubt a teen idol in a micro-thin, bare-cheeked beard that traveled the outermost rim or semi-circumference of his chin, a facial hair favorite in the Major Leagues that summer. Carlo wore a deep blue suit jacket with tight jeans, and a tiny heart-shaped earring in his right ear. I assume he was tattooed in some region of his body that only a lover would discover, the morning after as the sun rose. He's a gambler, I thought, knowing the look. After the last-call for drinks on Saturday night, he drives north on the unlit, swerving back roads through the woods to Sag Harbor or Noyac looking for an all-night game on the second floor of a Chinese restaurant, where carpenters and lobstermen in baseball caps turned backwards crouch in tight, smoky circles, blowing on the die in their fists for good luck while biker babes named Angie or Kiki bring them cold beer in bottles which they dangle by the neck. He works at Bobby Vann's, I thought, part-waiter, part female escort in a clam-stained tux that he can't afford to have cleaned, or maybe he's a gardener's assistant, one of the black-haired flock who shepherd those leaf blowers, held at the hip like Gattling guns, in late November, the faceless brown-skinned men on temporary visas many years' old who get driven in unmarked vans to a street corner drop-off in downtown Patchogue.
I closed my eyes and witnessed, without warning, a sudden shower of blue egrets rising from the ocean, defying gravity, raining a mist of feathers over the Long Island Sound. Passing the Moriches and Hampton Bays, the bus soaring, then slowing down, I was lulled by reveries of flight; I felt so airborne, so cupped and cradled, that I drifted through a pastel spray of jelly bean nostalgia back to the sunlit, canvas-topped raft, held afloat by a pair of huge, hollow drums that tipped and rocked us on Little Squam Lake in Holderness, New Hampshire, circa 1970, on which, shivering and pulling on my wet suit to hear it flap and suck against my tummy, I first heard the word cherry without reference to the fruit. With eye lids heavy as honey, I watched the left half of the actress open a miniature pill box, then tilt her head back and swallow a palmful of tiny pink buttons.
She shaves her eyebrows! I thought, then found myself dreaming that my very wise daughter and I were admiring a Hubbell Space photo of a star-studded night in deep space. "To be precise, there is no night in deep space," my daughter said. "No night, no day, no up or down." I said, "Hmph. Then how can you find Milwaukee when you need to? But seriously, what's so spectacular about all these stars?" "They aren't stars, Mother," she said, pointing at the twinkling pinpricks of light. "Look closely. See these cloudy spiral shapes? They're galaxies, Mother, countless numbers of them, some with suns a hundred times the size of ours, light years in diameter. And as Einstein is reported to have said to the great Eddington, 'There are only three people, including myself, in all the universe who understand the nature of the infinite, timeless void.' Eddington nodded, then looked at Einstein and asked, 'Yes, and who's the third?'"
I woke with a start as we passed the Lobster Inn at the Shinnecock Canal, and remembered that my beautiful seat mate was now, according to the tabloids, available for lessons (Tap, Jazz and Modern, to children, three and up), at Betty's Ballet Barn in the parking lot of a strip mall in Quogue, wearing faded tie-dyed leotards and dancers' warm-up socks, amply gathered at the ankle. Giving up all pretense of innocence, knowing I'd soon be leaving her, I turned and with an unfamiliar boldness said, "I've always loved you…I mean, of course, your work." "Isn't that sweet?" she said, biting her finger. "God, I need a cigarette." I wanted to tuck her in bed and call her Little One. "It won't be long now," I said. "Why not listen to your music again? It will help you sleep."
A few minutes later, when we reached Water Mill
and it was time for me to gather my things and go, I stood up in the narrow
aisle, and waved a lurching, unacknowledged goodbye to the shining starlet
adrift in her own tiny nebula. She had about an hour to go, smokeless,
traveling, I imagined, to the end of the line where she would step with
much grace and sorrow into the sea and off the face of the earth. Passing
Carlo, the gorgeous gambler, I noticed that he was reading the Bible in
French, open at the gospel, L'Evangile selon Marc, using a Lottery
ticket as a bookmark, covering his bets, it seemed to me, on both the here
and the hereafter.
Logic Fun For The Family
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B R A V E S O U L S R E C E I V E
Archive of Recent Activities
Area For Textual Encounter
Last Year Today
Jamie Allen Likes Short Films
A New Spam Went Out Yesterday