In Which a tryst is arranged

It is not the soft rain of pebbles against her window, nor the insistent whisper of her name that wakes her. It is not the distant barking of the weather dogs, nor the ambient lambence that drifts in when her father's lamp is lit in the next room. It is not the scent of her would-be lover wafting up from the street, although since she saw him last it has insinuated itself deep into the recesses of her mind's most primitive places, the ones from which memories spring, and dreams. It is not the heat on her skin that rouses her. It is not the sweat on her sheets. It is not the taste of her sleepsticky lips.

It is the feeling inside, as she sleeps, that a searchlight is sweeping somewhere near, that another soul is seeking her out. And who says there's no such thing as a sixth sense? She opens her eyes and stares at the darkness of the ceiling. Then she hears it. "Claire.... Claire...."

Claire de Lune al Hamzi is her full name; ever since the soldiers marched in in their spotless and gleaming uniform, her mother has been an irremediable francophile, the kind who, when her husband is away, puts Chopin on the victrola and waltzes around the parlor, reading the poesie of V. Hugo from a petit edition gallimard. Perhaps it is from this side of her family that Claire gets her dreaminess, her iconoclasm. Surely it is from her father that she gets her fire. She opens one shutter just a crack, and sees him leaning out of the next window, brandishing a machete and threatening in his first tongue to perform a radical vasectomy on the young man who lurks below in the shadows. Thinking fast, Claire opens the window a little wider, and when she has the boy's attention performs a desperate pantomime. Wait, her hand says. I will meet you around the corner in five minutes. The boy retreats. The father spits onto the sidewalk, then slams the shutters fast. The girl looks around her room, wondering how she will reach the ground without passing the door to her parents' room.


In Which the patter of a passing tour-bus guide reveals the history of a true love

[translated from the French] And now ladies and gentlemen if you'll direct your attention to the left between the two large potted palms there you will see the facade of a house where the love interest of a certain leading man I don't need to name because I think we all know who he is and besides we've been through this libel suit already used to live. Now if you look closely at the shutters of the central window in the upper story you may see some indentations in the wood and do you know why? Wave to the nice lady everyone! Where was I? Oh yes do you know why? Because on one fateful night Mr. You-Know-Who stood on that very sidewalk that very sidewalk we're passing now and tossed some fateful pebbles at that window and missed. His poor aim was legendary years later in Hollywood. They always said it was something to do with his missing out on a normal childhood and the normal childhood games that involve aim for example polo and kick the baguette and football which for you Americans means soccer. He tossed the pebbles which landed impotently by his feet on that very sidewalk and then as legend has it he began to say her name. Quietly at first but then louder desperate to wake her. He had made a decision and needed to talk to her. Then behind the set of shutters you see there on the right a light went on and spilled out through those very slats like lasagna noodles from a lasagna-noodle-making-machine if you will. Pardon the metaphor. Is anybody else hungry?


spirit in the night

While I wait for the next bolt of inspiration--if you could call it that--to motivate me to continue my chronicle of Hot Face's wandering, and in honor of my recent discovery that my neighbor Vickie is a total Springsteen nerd, I thought I would say a few words about my obsession with the Boss. It all started when I was five or six, the year Born in the U.S.A. came out. I think I had already heard some tracks from Born to Run, Darkness, and the River in the days before memory--some of those songs still provoke a vivid shiver of deja-vu. But my first concrete Springsteen memory was putting on my dad's suede bomber jacket and a tennis headband and air-guitaring Dancing in the Dark with his black dunlop in front of the long mirror of the pine-smelling bureau that contained my parents' clothes. Totally rocking out, spastic and moved and unaware that a world outside the bedroom existed. And I remember sitting in the hot attic of Jesse Miller's house in the dog days of one summer, listening to Born in the U.S.A. and especially I'm On Fire and finding something really disturbingly adult in those songs. Years later, when I heard that Reagan had mistaken BitUSA for an anthem of optimism, I would be confirmed in my suspicion that our former president was operating on a mental level somewhat below that of a kindergartener: I could already hear the desperation in "Out by the gas fires of the refinery/I'm ten years burning down the road/Nowhere to run, ain't got nowhere to go" even as a little kid. Anyway, I discovered Born to Run in high school, and it was as if my musical life had been on hold for a decade. I got rabidly into the Boss, and frankly, there are so many great songs, even on the oft-maligned Lucky Town, that I could listen to nothing else and never get bored. The Reunion tour of '99-'00 gave a kind of flavor and shape to those years. I went thrice: DC, Chicago, and St. Louis, and loved that St. Louis, with the most working-class crowd, got the best show. We were seated three rows back to the side of the stage, through some quirk of the ticketmaster machine, and during "out in the streets," Bruce came over and started singing to me. I was dancing kind of clumsily, and he started laughing in the middle of his lyric and said, into the microphone, "You're the man." And that wasn't even the best part of the show. Spirit in the Night was. Every show is over two hours long, usually clocking in between 22 and 27 songs. I've been to five shows, and each set has contained at least four songs that weren't in the other sets--and sometimes, as in the case of the Christmas show I saw, where Elvis Costello showed up and Tony Soprano was in the house, as many as 12 rarities. The setlists from this leg of the Rising tour are starting to look ridiculous, too, so if you've got $80 bucks to burn, which I recognize not everybody does...well, go. It just might change your life.


On marriage, briefly

I had occasion this weekend to think seriously about the generally shitty state of the union known as marriage in our age and culture. First of all, in planning my own wedding, I have to invite twice as many people, because everyone in both our families is divorced and remarried. Then you have to try to make sure that those awkward interactions between former spouses are avoided. Secondly, talking to Meghan, I thought about how the reason children of divorce always feel like they see my parents so rarely is that every time they visit home, they're splitting time between the two of them, or alternating vacations, or whatever. Thirdly, I realized that no fewer than four of my close friends have seen their parents' marriages disintegrate since they, my friends, graduated from high school. I imagine you reach the age of 18 and kind of breathe a sigh of relief, like, well, I guess they're going to make it (I'm forced to conjecture, because my own parents' marriage only lasted until I was 12). It makes me sad to look around at people who I once thought were living the ideal of lifelong love, and to realize that they couldn't make it. This is not, however, to point fingers or to suggest that divorce is the avenue of the weak. It seems that generally whatever love held people together persists even years after they've separated, and, unless you're Pamela Anderson Lee Rock, divorce is probably damn hard. It's just that, standing on the brink of my own lifelong commitment, it's kind of dispiriting to survey the wreckage of all the other people who, like me, felt certain their marriage would last. But perhaps the unraveling of the institution and the exposure of so much lovelessness charges the quest with a kind of Quixotic glory. That is, the rarity of a romance that endures into senescence is just one more reason to try to make it work. But who am I kidding, anyway? We're all helpless to resist love, when we find it, so I guess we're more like Sancho Panza, dragged once more out into the undiscovered country. The adventure is all.