June 30, 2009

Bergman vs. Fellini: Rematch of the Gladiators

I met my project deadline a couple of hours early; it’s 97 degrees outside, six degrees cooler than yesterday; I’m shutting the blinds and putting on Bergman’s Sawdust and Tinsel, followed by Fellini’s Variety Lights. Two early b/w films by masters, both of them about young women who fall in with troupes of third-rate traveling entertainers.

My verdict: Bergman by a mile.

The Fellini is a charming, involving (largely because of its starry-eyed brunette ingenue, Carla del Poggio, and her rival for love, Giulietta Masina) tragicomedy about performers deluding themselves in work and love, and about the squalid and ritzy sides of Rome, which Fellini always describes with such zest and affection. The themes are true and almost too recognizable –- there’s a fair amount of All About Eve, some of The Blue Angel, a lot of smile-making ethnographic portraiture, and pleasure in the beauty of ugliness –- and we finish the movie feeling tenderness for characters who, whether they’ve won or lost in worldly terms, are traveling on a train they’ll never get off.

Visually, the film, which Fellini only co-directed, but conceived and co-wrote, is apprentice work: it’s almost all straight montage, very little camera movement, and what there is seeming tentative, studenty, no hint of the extravagant, comically startling swoops and pans of the mature Fellini.

Sawdust and Tinsel is on a whole other level of art. The fact that it’s considered one of the director’s minor works, made before his breakthrough with Smiles of a Summer Night, is a comment in itself. Most other directors would die happy if they made one film of this quality.

Many of the themes of Variety Lights are visible here too: a traveling performing company is a wonderful metaphor for life’s journey of pretense and attempted escape. Once again there’s a magnetically sexy young female lead (Harriet Andersson) and an aging manager clinging to false hopes despite repeated betrayal.

But there’s a profound understanding here which is manifest in the treatment of the characters. The manager isn’t just a foolish would-be lover; he’s torn in every direction, clinging to a love he knows is shabby, jealousy rejecting her, bullying and being beaten at his own game; itching to escape his circus, trying to sabotage it, ultimately accepting his small portion of life with a grudgingness that can’t quite conceal blessedness. Every look in his eye reveals a thought-out complexity. The young woman is not just grasping or faintly conflicted; she’s kind and unkind, haughty and humiliated, and her mistakes come from fighting for her life. The triangular relationship with the manager’s wife isn’t schematic; details and subtleties, ambivalences, give it actuality and dimension. (Is it that Swedes are just more serious, that Swedish actors are better?)

Sawdust and Tinsel is stylistically masterful by any standard. Already there are the beautiful landscapes of The Seventh Seal, with slow-moving horse-drawn wagons enlivening the sharp ridge under the gray sky. The film progresses by means of set pieces, such as a Felliniesque (before Fellini was doing it) seaside striptease before an entire company of soldiers by an aging sexpot, shot silent-movie-style, which comic interlude rises to the pity and awe of tragedy when her husband, in full clown costume, comes to rescue her. The ending keeps us guessing among a few obvious alternatives, but it combines them in a way that evokes the “Ahh” of the just-right. These performers’ journey is touched by the numinous. It’s in their faces and in the airy chiaroscuro surrounding their wagons and their silhouetted walking figures.

Amazingly, this film received bad reviews when it was released in 1953; one prominent Swedish critic called it "a piece of vomit."

In the little interview that’s a special feature on the DVD, Bergman says, “It’s a good movie”; he says he has a soft spot for it. If you’ve made Wild Strawberries and Cries and Whispers afterward, I guess that’s a fair assessment.


June 28, 2009

Old Settlers, New Family, Stupid Uniform

1. In the old cemetery, the names on some of the gravestones are the names of streets in town. On one tilted, weathered brown stone the name “Ulit” is carved. What an unusual name, I think. Within half a mile I come to Ulit Street.

2. Sitting side by side on the hood of their pickup truck in the dirt front yard, the young wife leans onto her husband’s arm to point to something in the scrapbook open on his lap. Their young son and daughter are sitting on the ground, playing, laughing. Two pairs, two levels, inseparable.

3. I hate wearing the white martial arts tunic with its patches and green piping. It makes a false claim about me, I cringe at what people must think; whether positive or negative, it’s bogus either way. Then, as I walk out the front door, the little kids across the street call out, “Nice suit!”

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June 26, 2009

How to Get Lucky

As one who'd like to get lucky someday, my attention was drawn to this teaser on the cover of the August issue of Psychology Today:

"Four Traits of Lucky People.

Then I decided I could write the article without having to read it. Here were my predictions:

1. They work hard but take vacations.

2. They learn from their mistakes/ don’t let failure get them down.

3. They associate with successful, positive people.

4. They’re oriented to process, not results.

The actuality:

1. Break routine – meet new people, walk a different route to work, etc etc.

2. Turn bad into good – “if something upsetting happens consider how it could have been worse, and try to draw something positive from it.

3. Follow your gut -- “decisions informed by intuition often produce happier outcomes.”

4. Look up – “positive expectations are often self-fulfilling because they increase motivation and persistence.”

I got 100%! That’s because I’m looking up.

Shades of blue creativity...

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Flowered Van, New Tire, Who’s There?

1. An old blue van painted with huge yellow and red flowers drives by the café window: it’s my kids' day camp van! They’re going to their lives.

2. Suddenly there’s a scent of clean rubber in the coffeehouse. I look around -– a student walks by, a new bicycle tire slung over his shoulder.

3. Unlocking my front door, I accidentally press the doorbell. Hearing it ring inside, I tense up and wonder, “Who’s there?”

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June 22, 2009

You Asked, "What's on the Clearance Rack at Half-Price Books?"

This Book Will Get You Laid –- why aren't readers rushing to show this title at the cashier’s stand?

Medical Abbreviations: 24,000 Conveniences at the Expense of Communications and Safety, 11th edition -– including such dread ailments as:

DWW – dynamic wall walk
RTS –- raised toilet seat
MPO -– male-pattern obesity
PMZ -– postmenopausal zest

Business Polish Glossary -- so I’m making an ethic joke, so sue me! It's not even on Amazon -- do you realize how hard that is to achieve?

Ultimate Tailgater’s Big 12 Handbook -- all the potential readers bought six-packs instead

C. C. Pyle’s Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America -– the saga of the "bunion derby" -- what the publishers forgot was that their customers are people who spend most of their lives sitting comfortably in chairs

Enola Gay: The Bombing of Hiroshima –- this book will get you laid by a sociopathic World War II veteran

Read Between My Lines: The Musical and Life Journey of Stevie Nicks –- words fail me; and they consistently fail Stevie Nicks, too

The Art of the Band T-Shirt -– would make a great twofer with the Stevie Nicks -- rock on!

Ferrets for Dummies –- indispensable for “For Dummies” completists

and my favorite...I can't believe it isn't a bestseller...

How to Tell If Your Boyfriend is the Antichrist (And If He Is, Should You Break Up with Him?) –- how to tell if your girlfriend is bad news: she’s reading this book

...but seriously, folks...

• Shakespeare's sonnets (you don't need a link for this, I hope)
• Virgil's Aeneid the high-tone new Robert Fagles translation -- however... Virgil ≠ Homer. I'd like to know how much of a bath Viking took on this one. It's the #60 seller among epic poems -- I didn't even know there were 60 epic poems.
Pushkin: A Biography -- British of course, an award-winner by an Oxford don, it rightly sank in mid-Atlantic, for what true American cares about the greatest Russian poet?

...and one I'd really buy, if my tigers were still cubs:

Becoming a Tiger: How Baby Animals Learn to Live in the Wild

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June 21, 2009

It's a Wise Child

Whenever possible I pour drops of paternal wisdom into my children’s ear canals. This time I bought Agent 97 a copy of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Teens. Skimming it, I thought that many of its lessons would be useful for adults too, one of the good ones in the series rather than the useless pablum.

97 reads down the table of contents and responds to the chapter titles:

“’Don’t Throw Up on Your Friends!’ I wasn’t going to.

“’Don’t Sweat the Breakups’ I don’t have a girlfriend.

“’Practice Mental Aikido.’” (Snorts, doesn’t deign to reply.)

“’Avoid the Words “I Know” When Someone Is Talking”’ I already know that.

“’Check Out These Odds! (The Likelihood that Everyone Will Like You)’. Everyone does like me.

“’Get Out of the Emergency Lane.’ I don’t drive.

“’Be OK With Your Bad Hair Day.’ Every day is a bad hair day for me.”

I think he’s got it!

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June 20, 2009

“I remember being born. I remember being in the womb, I remember being inside. Coming out was great.”

I have loved this man since I was twelve, and I always will.

Contrast with another aged idol of my teens, who has a different set of values.

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June 18, 2009

How to Tell You're in a Good Mood

1. I’m envisioning trips I’ll take when my house is paid off in three years.

2. Utility crew’s tearing up the street in the blazing afternoon sun, and I think, “What a nice place to work, with the purple port-a-san under the long row of shady trees.”

3. I’m singing “The Golden Road” as I wander hither and yon in my limitless city.

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Up From, or To, OCD

1. I’ve stopped pressing the trip odometer back to zero when I fill the gas tank.

2. I rearranged my silverware drawer. I used to have the large and small spoons in the same compartment and the large and small forks in two different compartments, but now I have the large and small spoons in two different compartments and the large and small forks in the same compartment. It’s more logical.

3. The usage “can’t help but” used to drive me up the wall, but yesterday I found it in Muriel Spark’s 1981 novel Loitering with Intent. I still don’t like it, but I no longer object: if it’s good enough for Muriel Spark, it’s good enough.

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June 16, 2009

The Nanny Problem

A little blond-haired boy, a toddler, is riding in a shopping cart facing his nanny, a young Japanese woman who is -- I cannot adequately convey this -- who is so beautiful that the peaches in the produce bin start leaking when she stops to consider them.

(Am I the only one who notices? Have miracles become so commonplace? The other shoppers are older women, they’re not going to give her an extra glance, and the two guys stacking endive in the corner are discussing the imminent arrival of a shipment of Holland tomatoes. This is a fancy store.)

She’s tall and slim in a cream-colored silk blouse with the cuffs folded above her wrists; two extraordinarily fortunate gold bracelets dangle on the left wrist knob. Ivory skin draws her eyelids tight toward wide cheekbones, and her black hair sweeps above one ear and down to the other shoulder. Utamaro would have made a famous series of prints of her.

The blond-haired boy, drinking milk from a sippie cup, looks right and left at this excellent world, but always his gaze returns to the center, to her. His clean white sneakers, bobbing, kick her softly in the tummy. She doesn’t object but doesn’t encourage. She’s absorbed in her employer’s shopping list. She’s attentive to the boy, she answers his two-syllable questions and offers him a sweet cracker from a box in her handbag, but she doesn’t baby-talk or burble or dandle.

With a calm smile she takes a delft-blue washcloth from the bag and wipes a tear-streak of milk from his chin. He grabs for it, and looks at it with wonder because she has touched it.

The poor little guy. He’s going to spend his whole life searching for her, and he’ll never see her like again.

Watching her push the cart to the checkout in her long flared cocoa-brown pants, I say to myself, “I want a nanny.”

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June 15, 2009

Pruned Roses

Pruned the rose bushes. Made me feel like Meade, only less skillful.

It was hot, but I shouldn't have worn shorts.


Meade ripostes with this:

Pruned a poem of Richard's. Made me feel like me.

It was hot. That's the long and shorts of it.

Then he adds:

Pruned Richard's poem.
A koan co-Ann:
It was long and hot
but should I've shortened it?

I thought I was writing prose, but any time someone takes my prose for poetry, I won't complain.

Also I've changed the ex-title of this piece from "Bittersweet Roses," which was misleading, to my first idea, "Pruned Roses."


June 14, 2009

Agony Blogs -- Via Via

Third and last blog recommendation for today: Via Negativa posts a whole list of what he calls agony blogs -- blogs that compile anecdotes of suffering, from the quirky to the misadventurous to the artistic to the schandenfreudenous to the "unnecessary" to the gloriously, gloriously New York.

And many more. They're all cruelly funny: the characteristic humor of our time.

Invaluable for the student of contemporary life. A goldmine for future historians.

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Is hell exothermic or endothermic?

Find the answer here. (Scroll down to the italicized section.)

When people recommend something to me as "hilarious," I'm usually disappointed, but this one is.

I'm enjoying linking to old-favorite blogfriends today. This one's Lucy at Box Elder, an Englishwoman who lives in Brittany with her husband and posts richly detailed descriptions and crisp bucolic photos of her travels through France.

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"They know everything's bullshit. They find it funny, challenging, stimulating."

My very good blogging friend True Ancestor only posts once in a celestial convergence these days, because in middle age he's attending the University of Chicago Divinity School -- an academic height that somewhat dizzies me -- but his first year has successfully ended and he's put up a couple of communiques which, true to form, are insightful and cogent and smoothly styled. His latest is a sharp-eyed, admiring portrait of fellow students who are a generation younger than him ("he," for you grammar fans).

He does something all good writers should: makes me want to be there. Also he makes me proud to have played a part in the raising of this generation. I recognize the portrait.

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olfactory zones, jelly glass wine, cabaraoke

1. Freestanding olfactory zones:
• the highway underpass intersection saturated with the stench of bat guano –- even blindfolded, I’d know where to turn onto the road for the gym
• the armpit of the men’s locker room -– a corner with a permanent funk of body odor when no one’s there
• the top shelf of my kitchen cupboard, amid the olive oil and vinegar and sesame oil and soy sauce, that always smells of lavender soap

2. Dinner: Australian shiraz in a jelly glass* – I opened the bottle a couple of days ago, it’s a little sour, Passovery – and pipe rigate with thawed meat sauce that I compiled incrementally from the leftovers of previous meat sauces. Fantastico!

3. In black block letters on the back of a yellow taxi: “CABARAOKE” -– a cab in which the passenger is encouraged to sing to a karaoke tape. I investigate no further.

*Bonne Maman brand invaluable for this purpose –- not only attractive glasses, but the best preserves

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June 12, 2009

chocolate brown parasol, hot key, Tejano soldier

1. Woman with a chocolate brown parasol, in a billowy white blouse, brown pants, tan leather handbag, walks past a half-built house with its pale tan walls, brown trim, half-exposed white drywall: a color scheme!

2. Getting out of my car on a June day, I put the key in my mouth as usual. It burns my lip.

3. The dusty old dark blue Ford Bronco has a bumper sticker: "My Brother Is in the Army."I pull up alongside at the light: its windows are open, Tejano music -- or is it conjunto -- is coming out: the worst music on the face of the earth! Oom-pah bass, polka-pumping accordion, jauntily would-be-seductive baritone. A horror beyond description! Is there anyone I don't owe my life to?

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It's Okay to Read Stories

I'm sitting on a bench in an empty outdoor amphitheater, reading my current favorite novelist, J. G. Farrell, when from behind me comes an exclamation:

"No, that's a bad choice!"

I turn around: it's a boy of about eleven or twelve reading a paperback of Brave New World. "Oh, God!" he calls out in dismay to the characters.

I'm reassured that there's a point in reading fiction other than to study the craft or keep reality at bay.

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They say girls mature faster than boys, but...

June 10, 2009

Five Views of Highway 290

Any writer worth his salt could make a career, à la Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, out of the “little postage stamp of native soil” between Dripping Springs and Fredericksburg surrounding Texas Highway 290 in the hill country. Back out of sight of the road, the whole range of human activity must be spread out, from first dates and church services to meth labs and murder.

1. Around Stonewall, there’s a peach stand just about every hundred yards, from Dutch-door shacks to full-size red barns and inn-like two-storey houses. Peaches in quart and peck baskets, pies, cobblers, ice cream, jam, salsa. The Stonewall Peach Jamboree is held every year on the third Saturday and Sunday in June. In recent years, vineyards have been growing up near the peach orchards, the hopeful new vines only a couple of feet high on their upright stakes, the ground sandy and bare. Are the peach growers and the vintners at each others’ throats like the cattlemen and sheep farmers of the Old West? Is there a song yet, “The grape man and the peach man should be friends”?

2. The historical resonances of the name Stonewall have changed through the years. Are the residents prepared?

3. The mascot of Stonewall Elementary School, on Peach Street, is a billie goat; the team is the Billie Kids. The Billie Kids! I could just hug them. (The school has a 76 rating on a scale of 100 among Texas schools.)In sharp contrast, Stonewall Elementary in Clear Brook, Virginia has the Wildcats.

4. Two camels graze on a roadside pasture. Raised for…what…milk? meat? camel’s hair coats? Shriner Circus rides for kids? roles in Arabian-adventure films? training for desert commandos? tax breaks?

5. Tierra Mañana –- Land of Tomorrow -– a gated community planned for the site of a former ranch. It’s got a big gorgeous gate with a sandstone wall, and a sign proclaiming seventeen lots with acreage and views; and there’s no evidence of dwelling sites or construction. Just fields and meadows of purple flowers, all with acreage and views.

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June 07, 2009

“Most of our isolation is self-chosen.”

A quotation from the French theologian Henri Nouwen.

Do you realize that this June’s the __th anniversary of my high school graduation? I’ll say it aloud: 40th. I intend to be continually stunned by numbers like this –- and even higher ones! -- for the next many, many years.

I went to a public high school for the gifted, and had a terrible time emotionally. It wasn’t the school’s fault or the teachers’ or my classmates’ or mine, either, it was just deep teenage blues, augmented by historical turmoil -- assassinations of father-figures, a trend for freakouts and literature-induced alienation -- that I took too much to heart. A high school made up almost exclusively of hippies and dorks, and I couldn’t tell whether I was both or neither. Adolescent males either act out or withdraw, and I was bred for the latter.

I've been staying away from that school for forty years. Never sent them my address, never got any reunion announcements.

But last week someone forwarded me a document, a file of capsule biographies my classmates have been submitting. About a hundred, out of a class of 980. I figured it was the most popular ones, or the nerdiest ones, who wrote them.

My instant reaction was, I'm not going to do that.

These people's careers have been pretty intimidating. One of us is now the director of theoretical physics at MIT. About half of the graduates who sent in their bios seem to be doctors or professors. One woman led the world’s foremost study on twins separated at birth. Another is the principal of an elementary school in Chinatown/Little Italy which she turned into one of New York City’s prize success stories, and where Bush and Giuliani held their press conference after 9/11. Many have made small or large fortunes in business. One sent in a genial report about how he wandered aimlessly through his twenties, following the Maharishi and so forth, and, by happenstance, ended up on the ground floor of the computer industry, helped develop “a bunch of new types of tech products including digital photography, advertiser supported email, healthcare information systems, information security technologies, advanced decision support methodologies and virtual world media services,” and now pursues photography. One of us is a jazz musician who played with Miles Davis in the 70s. Another had his picture on the cover of Bass Player magazine. You get the idea.

Well, that’s okay, I can mask envy with pride, but what bothered me was that so many of them wrote things like, “My lovely wife of thirty years and I have been living in Boston since I became partner at Smith, Jones...” “I met X, the love of my life, in Drama Club when he was a junior and I was a sophomore…”

How did they do it? Did they study hard for marriage they way they did for math tests? They’ve gotten all A’s in life. (One of them, in his bio, recounts how he got a 90 in his first high school test and the girl next to him, who’d gotten 100, sympathetically asked him what had gone wrong.) (I did okay, I got an A-minus average by showing up.)

When I read those bios, feelings of inferiority overwhelmed in a way I’d thought I’d outgrown. I wasn’t one of these people; I didn’t belong; they were more fortunate than me; they didn’t know I existed. I recognized lots of their names –- they were people I hadn’t dared speak to back then, because if they were male they were too hip, and if they were female they were too pretty, and in both cases too popular, too urban-mature.

I was sixteen again, in the worst way. And I wasn’t going to send them my stupid bio, I wasn’t going to be like them, nor was I going to send it in just to be snubbed by them either, look how self-satisfied they all were, everybody doing things perfectly in the same way. I’d send in a sarcastic bio, I’d tell them off, it would be the only one that didn’t comply with their format, and they wouldn’t know what to do with me, they’d ignore me and that would prove I was above them…

I read the bios again, to verify how dull and conventional they were -– and they weren’t. These were fine people, living skillfully and well –- they even wrote well. They liked each other and might be willing to like me. Most of them wouldn’t remember me at all; some might recall my name vaguely; but I wanted to know how their plots had turned out; I wanted to do what I’d never deigned to in high school -- learn from them.

I wasn’t sixteen anymore, thank God.

The most dazzling surprises in my life have occurred when, against all my preconceptions, I could no longer avoid seeing that people sought my friendship, that I had something to contribute to a relationship. That realization has been such discomfiting good news, I haven’t been able to surrender to it until it’s hit me again and again and again.

The lessons we most need to learn are the ones we’ve already learned.

I sent in my little bio, and it’s just like everyone else’s, not cleverer or more iconoclastic, not duller or more humdrum, either. It’s a genre piece. Its life comes from it species, it doesn’t stand out, it doesn’t have a mutant’s conceit. All it might be is an exorcism for the haunted classroom of my past.

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Virtual Car Wash: A Stopgap Post

"Hey, Agent 97, are you still interested in washing my car?"

(transfixed by game screen) "No."

"Are you interested in washing your Sims family's car?"


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June 05, 2009

Dream Clips: bus breast, zoo swim, plate tectonics, undersea flight

Naked, I’m the sole rider on a bus driven by an old girlfriend of mine. As we talk, the bus becomes a giant breast, and I settle in comfortably.


I’m the only one who knows that the zoo animals are threatened by terrorism. Sensing the danger, I sneak into the locker room so I can stay in the zoo swimming pool overnight, when it’s closed, and protect the aquatic animals. But the security guards think I’m the terrorist, and I have to evade them.


I’m supposed to fill out a form for my kids’ school, stating our past and present locations, but I can’t because in the time we’ve moved, the continents have shifted.


I’m walking and leaping in an underwater landscape: meadows, gullies, mazelike hedges of sea fronds which I swim through and over. Just when I get clear of the vegetation, I come upon a building-size battleship-gray fish, its face all lumps and bumps and swollen lips and steel whiskers, waiting to attack me. I leap upward and fly through the water as the fish chases me over a Western prairie landscape of purple flowers and rugged valleys. Racing easily, I stay a body’s-length ahead of the horrendous fish, teasing it, and whenever its jaws snap too close I surge just far enough ahead to get out of harm’s way. It’s the pure joy of risk.


June 03, 2009

Rags, Cupcakes, Carousels

I must have been born in the last decade –- the Fifties –- when you could hear a ragman crying his wares on the streets of New York. And our ragman must have been one of the last to keep to his rounds rather than to be settled into a retirement home by successful offspring, or evaporate into the fumes of the street along with the garbage and gasoline.

What he cried out was, “I cash clothes! I cash clothes! I cash! I take!”

One jabbing note in a ringing nasal tenor that echoed metallically from the fire escapes, repeated down block after city block. He came around in the morning every few weeks -- must have walked a big circuit through the Bronx, spanning the neighborhoods, crossing the ethnic groups, returning to our street periodically. I was less than school age, to be home at that time. In my memory of his voice, the day is sunny, it’s spring, and a streetsweeper has just passed, leaving a neat swirl of gray dust behind him, his broom resting upended in his cart: he too a circler of neighborhoods on some esoteric calendrical orbit.

“I cash clothes! I cash! I take!”

His voice chilled me as delightfully as a ghost story. I rarely caught a glimpse of him -– a gray-haired man with a nose as sharp as his voice –- and even more rarely saw anyone conduct business with him. Sometimes a housewife would rush down and to catch him before he left the block, some old shirts in her hand, and receive what?, some coins, a dollar bill? Maybe the older housewives rushed down to reminisce with him about the Lower East Side in the Depression, their glory days.

I couldn’t fathom what he was doing or why. I asked my mother about it and her answer smacked of the subterranean, of sorcery performed in alleys and sewers: he went around asking people for their old clothes, and he paid them for the clothes, and somehow he earned his living by paying them. She might have hastily added that he resold the clothes –- hastily because she assumed, correctly, that I wouldn’t understand; but buying things from some people in order to sell them to others –- and such cheap things too, things no one I knew wanted –- hardly sounded like a believable way of earning a living. In my experience, parents, aunts, and uncles all earned their livings from the civil service, safe and predictable.

The years of street vendors. There was a knife-sharpener too, another occupation that absolutely stumped me. My mother sharpened her knives once in a blue moon on a little wheel of rough metal that she kept in a kitchen drawer. A man wandered the streets begging for acceptance as a substitute for that?

The ones I understood were the food vendors. The truck from Dugan’s Bakery, from which we only bought flat-topped yellow cupcakes spread with smooth fudgy chocolate. The two competing ice cream companies, Good Humor and Bungalow Bar, in trucks and hand-pushed carts: Good Humor daring us its avant-garde flavors of banana split and strawberry shortcake, but Bungalow Bar kindly offering my favorite, the chocolate malted popsicle. Sometimes, infrequently enough to always be a surprise, a carousel truck came by, with sides and roof of rusty orange wire and a bullhorn playing brain-grinding merry-go-round music, us little kids jumping down the apartment building steps and thronging the driver, quarters in hand. Then there were trucks my parents never bought from, though I pleaded: the seltzer truck with its wood crates full of blue siphon bottles; the dairy delivery man with milk, eggs, butter. My mother had her worldview down pat: seltzer delivery was for other families.

I didn’t notice when the ragman stopped coming around. And the delivery trucks disappeared gradually, probably into my college years, though there's been a mild fizzy trickle of retro seltzer delivery in recent years, staking out a route for customers who’ve heard of such things from their grandparents. Oh, no, there's one that delivers to Marin County -- and wouldn't you know it, seltzer delivery helps the environment!

Right now, I’d like a Dugan’s cupcake and a Bungalow Bar chocolate malted popsicle, melting all down my fingers.

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June 01, 2009

Places I've Often Driven Past But Never Stopped At

...even though they look like my kind of place...because I'm hurrying to my destination.

1. Hill Country Cupboard, "Worlds Best Chicken-Fried Steak: Nearly 3 Dozen Sold."

2. House Park Barbecue, "Need No Teef to Eat My Beef." The old yellow sign is missing several letters, like the missing teeth in a geezer's grin.

3. Hye, Texas, a town consisting of one intersection between speed-limit signs. A combination post office/souvenir store -- I sometimes think the town exists to keep someone in a postmaster's job, like the job Faulkner was fired from for being too lazy to sell stamps; a small junkyard beside a graying ramshackle house where two or three small brown cows sit flapping their tails against the trunk of a shady live oak; a feed and pipe store with a shiny new aluminum silo; and a recent addition: a creative furniture store with brightly painted wooden benches displayed on the lawn.

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