1904

The Year Everything Important Happened

Throw-Back Thursday

In ancient times, in another life, at work on an IBM Selectric with its trademarked changeable balls of font, the infernal machine and bottle of Makers Mark cropped from the photograph, circa 1984.

It has been said that in my heyday I was an enticing letter writer, and they were almost never typed.  Scouting about for some analogy to this blogging phenomenon (Is it epistolatory in nature?  Will it catch on?) I found myself trying to explain to a friend who never does social media why people do (blog).  “I suppose there’s a charm to it,” he wrote back, “but it is hard for me [an academic – Ed. note] since I am used to historical and cultural and textual specificity, to figure out what is at stake in the generalized literacy of these exchanges.”

“It’s like cocktail conversation,” I replied somewhat unhelpfully, “except you don’t have to dress up and it’s typed instead of uttered with a drink in hand.”  Come to think of it, I reflected, there could well BE a drink in hand in some cases.  One-handed typing, that is, which would suggest another kind of on-line entertainment altogether and about which I ardently hoped my academic friend was unaware.

“So this explains the curiously hip and worldly-wise tone you seem to adopt?” he inquired.

“I admit,” I wrote back only slightly defensively,  “there might be an element of flirtation.”  I could have expanded on the subject but restrained myself.  One’s audience is so unpredictable and unknowable, I explained.  “We work in the dark,” I wrote, fond of the phrase.

“You don’t know who you’re corresponding with?” he asked.

Yes and No, I confessed, half-lying.

“You feel isolated,” he remarked.

“It’s not quite like that,” I countered, as if I were caught out writing to Miss Lonelyhearts.  I thought of my father and men like him with their ham radio set-ups in basement rooms across the Midwest, excited about making contact with some stranger in another state on a clear night.  Or truckers talking to each other on CB radios as they roared along some endless anonymous stretch of interstate.

“What interests me,” my friend continued, “is the relation between the isolation and the self-presentation.  Are people obsessed with self-presentation because they’re so isolated?  Or is isolation an effect of the emphasis on self-presentation?  I tend to think the latter.  It’s hard to sustain a controlled play of surfaces in a social milieu.  Just like real bodies don’t stay put the way pornographic images do.”

I agreed, for the sake of the argument.

But really, it’s ham radio, I wanted to reply.  With pictures. For strangers.  Not like letters (if you have any of mine, please burn them).

Or maybe my friend is right.  It’s a game of self-presentation.  Dear Reader, I could be an elderly Dutch woman on my grandson’s MAC for all you know.  I could be working for “To Catch a Predator.” I could be anyone.

I could be someone you know.

[Originally posted 11/13/2007]

Stone Canyon. First Draft. Chapter One

Valley of the Dolls, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 1967

You’ve got to climb to the top of Mount Everest to get to Stone Canyon.  It’s a brutal climb and.

When did I get, where did I
How was I caught in this game

By the pool at the house in Stone Canyon, in the California sun, the endless relentless California sun, the pool, the water spanking the tiles in lazy little slaps of…

No

No?

There was no pool.

No pool.

And no drama.  Not like your lady novelists would have you believe.

I see. And what should I believe?

Silence.  Then

Eddie showed up at the theater one night, if you must know, backstage, looking for a “friend.”

How did he know to do that?

You need to ask? Hanging around Pershing Square is generally where you’d find boys like him in those days, looking for work or pretending to work “delivering telegrams” – Run an errand for you, sir? Somepun you’d like I could do fer you, sir? they’d say, no chance of a decent life and what could I say to that, doing well after all, all those years, always kept working as you know, as you’ve found, buying my first home and think of it at my age – not my first actually, there was that property on Long Island but that had been another time, sold to pay for, well, another world ago… in any case, give the boy a chance and why not, what did he have, what did any of them have, could have easily been me or how many of the rest of us, cast off by family, thrown away, riding the rails, sneaking their way onto trains that had once upon a time brought theater to godforsaken towns and now what, brought the godforsaken too, orphans, lost boys and aimless men shaken by the war, by banks closing and fortunes failing, hope runs deep as any desire, you cross an ocean or a continent in the end it’s the same, lured by stories of endless sunshine and oranges free for the picking – hunger the great motivation, hungry enough and you’ll do anything, say anything, trust me, whatever it takes.  Try the cinnamon buns, they used to be divine.

Deed of Trust

Manory’s, Troy, NY

I needed Rose.  She kept me focused, although she’d probably argue that focus had nothing to do with it and that what I needed, as Mame once advised Miss Gooch, was to Live.  Or something else; since she’d become a lawyer after being an actress she’d argue about anything.  I liked Rose’s version of me, however; in Rose’s world I was a better person than I gave myself credit for being. To Rose, I was going to write a new chapter in the history of American Theater and if I worked hard and took her advice I would wind up with a best-seller as good as anything by the two Jackie’s (Susann and Collins). Move over, Valley of the Dolls.  Look out, Hollywood Husbands.

She even had the title.  Stone Canyon.  She’d found it in the 1940 census, the name of the street William had lived on in Sherman Oaks from 1935 until after the War when he’d gone back to Troy to live with his sister.  Rose had insisted I do a title-search, confirm all the details.  It wouldn’t be easy, she warned.  “You’ll have to go to the County Records office,” she explained. “You’ll have to do a little leg work, some digging, real research, but it makes a difference whether William owned or was just renting in which case renting from whom? It goes to his financial situation at the time, you see, his state of mind, and don’t forget you need to find out more about that young lodger of his, not sure how you’ll find him.”

A friend of mine with a realtor’s license did all the work.

“It’s interesting,” I told Rose, “because now I know that both William and I owned property in Los Angeles, not at the same time obviously but still, and we both had people live with us, maybe not in quite the same way, I mean, I don’t know what the relationship could have been, Edward Rogers was 18 years old in 1935 and William was 65 when he bought the house from the Title Insurance and Trust Company, so that’s quite an age gap, and then William sold the house to Ruth Rickaby at the end of 1944, Ruth was an actress – I looked her up on IMDB, she was in ‘Smilin’ Through’ with Jeanette MacDonald – ”

“He transferred the Deed of Trust to Ruth,” Rose interrupted, scanning the paperwork, “a deed of trust is a type of secured real-estate transaction used in some states like California (trace of disparaging tone) instead of a mortgage, it involves three parties, a lender, a borrower and a trustee whereas with a mortgage it’s just you and the bank so two parties and thus the mortgage you had on that condo in West Hollywood which I never saw made you more of a home owner than William was with his deed of trust, strictly speaking, less parties involved but let’s not quibble, and yes you need to find out more about young Eddie -”

“I invited you to visit, Rose, I’m certain I did, but -”

“- it’s very Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood, isn’t it,” Rose mused without hearing me, “I wonder if they socialized with William and Eddie, look that up too, and of course James Whale was out there and he had a young man and good grief what is it with old Englishmen and teenaged boys – ”

“William was Irish, so technically -”

“- I suppose it was the only time in their lives they were happy,” Rose continued, “spanked by the Headmaster with a cricket bat, or maybe it was all that California sun went to their heads, or being too far away from home, in any case it’s still a great name for a novel, and you should put a scene like that in your book.”

“Not with a cricket bat surely, ” I asked.

“By the pool.”

“I don’t believe the house had a pool.”

“Add one.  Literary license.”

“But really, Rose, I don’t know – maybe it wasn’t just the two of them. There could have been someone else, a third party,” I suggested. “You know, more like a deed of trust than a mortgage, right?”

Rose hesitated for a moment as if trying to grasp what I had in mind, then shook off the attempt and continued.  “Stone Canyon,” she recited slowly, savoring the words. “I must say it has a nice ring,  winding canyon roads and cannabis, hello, ‘Stoned in Stone Canyon,’ who do you have in mind for playing William in the film version – oh wait, you know what, never mind.” Rose leapt up abruptly, cutting herself off and commencing a ritual flurry of activities – searching for keys, closing windows – which signaled an imminent departure.  “Let’s go find him.”

“Find who?”

“William.  You said he’s not here, let’s go find him.  I say we try Manory’s.”

“Where?”

“The oldest restaurant in Troy.  Well, one of the oldest at any rate.  In continuous operation since 1913, I bet the place is simply teaming with ghosts and I’m sure William knows it and they have the best breakfast special this side of the Catskills.”

Ghosts

Laura La Plante (1904-1996), still from the silent film “The Cat and the Canary” 1927.  William Macauley was a member of the cast of the stage production which ran for 36 weeks at the Princess Theatre, Chicago, 1923.

“You’re possessed,” Rose announced.

“I am no such thing,” I replied, more than a little defensively.

“Well I just had the carpets shampooed so if you’re going to do Linda Blair, I need to put down some towels, I  don’t want Campbell’s split pea soup vomited all over the – ”

“I am not possessed.”

“Fine, I don’t know where I’d find a priest anyway, at least one that hasn’t been defrocked and I doubt any of the ones I do know would be of much help… unless you talk dirty to them, then you might – I have to admit, I would rather enjoy seeing your head spin around – ”

“Rose, really.”

“I’m not helping, am I? Oh I should never have given you that little theater diary, I feel I’m responsible for all of this, no wonder you blame me.”

“No, that’s not true, and I don’t blame you at all, it was quite helpful actually.  It’s not William – I can handle William, lots of writers hear voices – look at Taylor Caldwell, Ruth Montgomery.”

“I don’t know them.  You don’t blame me?”

“They were writers, they channeled people from – the deceased, look it doesn’t matter, I don’t blame you.”

“Then I don’t see what the problem is.  Unless of course it’s that demon Mountie from Hell who did the strip search and frankly in my book it would be worth the trip just to – ”

“It wasn’t like that, and he’s not from Hell, or, I don’t think he is, I think he works for the government.”

“Not the Canadian government surely.”

“I don’t know, some government, or some black op, some dark money group that hunts down time travelers.”

“Oh dear, please tell me you’re not trying to go back and save JFK or kill Hitler, are you? Because even I know that never works out.”

“No, Rose,” I answered wearily.  “I’m not trying to do that.”

“Completely pointless.”

“I agree.”

“Good.”

I had no intention of changing the world. Not on that scale, at any rate, and I felt it prudent not at this point to elaborate.

“Can you go to the future?” she asked.

“Rose, I don’t know, I told you, I’m not very good at this, I may have once, I’m not sure.”

“I’m only asking because if you could and, just a suggestion you know, but if you could and you went and picked us up some winning lottery ticket numbers I feel certain it would help make whatever you’re going through a little easier to – what?”

“That’s not how it works.”

“How do you know? You just said you didn’t know how it works.”

I knew one thing: I had to end the discussion before it really got out of hand.  I stood up.

“Wait,” said Rose.  “Let me talk to William. Is he here? Let me talk to him.”  She scanned the empty room expectantly.

“He’s not here,” I lied.

Oh Canada

Montréal 1904. Marché Bonsecours >Ouest.

I’d forgotten to turn on international usage, so my phone stopped working when I entered Canada, as I discovered after I’d left the border patrol office and the mapping app went blank, the US highway ending in a little stump, nothing but barren wasteland on the screen.  Oh well, I thought, it’s a straight shot and how hard could it be to navigate my way through Montreal?  Quite hard, I realized too late, in a city where nearly all the streets and roads were under reconstruction and repair, the countless detours and closures and gridlock at every turn exacerbated by the death-defying antics of the Quebecois driver whose license plate’s motto je me souviens (“I remember”) clearly applied to nothing ever learned in driving school. Worse, like so many cities with major geographical features, the mountain and river had become, with urban expansion and sprawl, major obstacles.  How to get around, over, across, on the other side. Raison d’etre now raison détour. Physical barriers turn into mental ones. The means of crossing over, of overcoming, are transformed into terms of disparagement (Bridge and Tunnel Crowd) for those on the wrong side of the tracks, the wrong side of town, Outremont (outré le mont, beyond Mont Royal, beyond the mountain).  Beyond the Pale (the River Pale). Valley Girl.

My Canadian friends, once I’d finally arrived, apologized, then theorized.  A month before the US presidential election, they offered, surely I could appreciate the need for caution and concern; already reliable news sources reported a significant rise in the numbers of Americans seeking political asylum. If the wrong candidate won, the country would soon be overwhelmed with would-be expats. And in the meantime did I know how many people tried crossing the border for cheap drugs and free health care?  “I’m not sick,” I countered.  “Do I look sick? Do I look like a political refugee? A fugitive?” I changed the subject. My Canadian friends were far too polite to tell me even if I did, and I didn’t want to consider, much less disclose, a darker meaning to my detention.

Later in the evening, after dinner and conversation and retiring for the night to their son’s room – made up for my visit as guest room while the young man was away at college – I turned out the light and wondered if William had ever been to Montreal.  The instant the question formed in my mind, a gleeful head-spinning curiosity, not my own, took over with an impetuous urge to explore. “Don’t you dare,” I warned the empty room, but I could feel the giggling delight in examining the detritus of youth around me, the model ships and planes and athletic gear to be touched and toyed with, drawers mentally opened and closed while my displeasure only heightened my ghostly companion’s guilty pleasure.  “Boy, oh boy, a boy, a boy, oh boy,” he murmured in awe of the retro down comforter covered with cowboys and horses.

“Stop it at once,” I commanded. I focused my mind on more serious images of earlier in the day. In turn I fought competing visions of earlier times, of the boyhood of the absent occupant of the darkened room in which I lay, and then other scenes, memories of this city, this place, my own youth followed by William’s youth, his earliest memories of Ireland, of Troy, until our memories merged, overlapped, skinny awkward boys in hand-me-down clothes and bad haircuts, scared and aware of the adult world fast approaching like a speeding train, a bad dream for which we were so woefully unprepared, defenseless.

“Stop it please,” I begged.

“Go back,” he replied.  “Go back.”  And I knew he did not mean a return to where I’d physically come, not in a geographical way but back in time. I couldn’t.

“I’ll go back,” I said, a false promise in order to buy time, to placate.  “But not now. I can’t. I can’t do this now.”

The disappointment registered like a heaviness in the air, a fullness followed by a rise and dropping of a weight in the pit of my stomach as you might expect with a change in cabin pressure on a plane, or as if lying in a narrow berth on a ship and riding the deep gully of a wave. A sinking of the heart. The room grew still.  Eventually I slept.

In the middle of the night I woke and wrote blindly, seeing the pen form words not my own in my mind more than in the unreadable darkness.  In the morning it began to rain.  A heavy rain that kept pace with my drive south where I’d come from, across the border, without incident this time.  Back to Troy.  Back to William’s boyhood town.

What I found written that morning:

There are times when the world sorts itself out and you are part of that, part of the process of resolving, correcting, recalibrating, realigning.  Stop resisting.  Stop saying “shouldn’t” or “can’t” or “that’s not for me.”  How do you know?  A single drop of rain doesn’t say, “I can’t fall here, I am supposed to be somewhere else.” It does what it knows to do; it falls, it adds to, it increases the flow precisely where it was created, and the consciousness of that single raindrop – for consciousness exists in everything, every cell, molecule, atom – the consciousness of even a drop of rain rejoices, in its being, in its existence, in its place in the world.

Pesez/Press

It’s never a good idea to panic when you find yourself in an unfamiliar past and place, otherwise you may inadvertently ricochet yourself all over the space-time continuum like a crazed fly trying to escape a closed window and trust me, I’d already wound up in the midst of a mob hellbent on a lynching in 1909, followed a moment later ducking heavy fire on the deck of a Civil War ironclad warship in the Mississippi River before interrupting an exchange of sexual favors for drugs in an unsavory alley near the riverfront at some point post-WWII and have I mentioned what a sad and awful town Cairo is? Or was, rather, I suppose there’s hope for any place in this world (and all the other worlds) but some spots do seem to attract negative energy more than others. In any case, a panic attack is not going to help but try remembering that the next time you’re having one.  I couldn’t feel my legs, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I really did believe this was going to be the end, right before I heard someone calling

… my name and I was back in the beige on beige Visitor’s Room at Kern County Correctional

… and presenting my passport at the Israeli check point into Gaza

… and standing at the counter of the Agence des services frontaliers du Canada-St.-Bernard-de-Lacolle, just inside the Canadian border with an officer asking me if I was okay, and the room spun back into place, and Dudley Do-Right Time-Travel Cop was suddenly nowhere in sight. “I’m okay,” I replied.  He slid my passport back across the counter and told me to proceed to the cashier window, indicating with a tip of his head a portion of counter at the far end of the facility.  “I have to pay for this?” I asked.

“For the receipt,” he replied cryptically.

The fellow at the cashier’s desk, a slightly more appealing and agreeable version of authority, was also a trifle more forthcoming.  “For to open the gate,” he explained, handing me a slip of cash register receipt.  Without looking at it, I expressed a measured amount of dismay at the wait I had endured. “It has been unusual today,” he agreed. “A disturbance in the force field,” he added.

“What?”

“Enjoy the play,” he replied, and I could feel the panic rising in me.

“I beg your pardon?” Stay calm stay calm stay calm stay calm stay calm stay –

“Enjoy your stay,” he said, as if repeating himself, and smiled.

And so I returned, shaky but ambulatory, to my rental car, my rifled luggage, my diary and papers strewn on the front passenger’s seat, trying as best I could to maintain what might pass for dignity and calm.  Another vehicle was being waved over. Busy day at the border.

I started the engine, reversed out of the angled parking space, proceeded to the gate and a keypad at window level.  I looked at the receipt.  “Pesez/Press,” it read, followed by # and four digits.  Later, after the gate opened and I was pulling away I wondered if the numbers were different for every driver, if they were random or changed on a daily or weekly basis and what would the point of that be? What would it matter?  Why the extra bit of bureaucracy and ritual?

But I didn’t think it was any coincidence, the code they’d provided.  I didn’t dismiss it as an accident.  The numbers were a code indeed, and they opened the gate.  And they were a message. Or a warning.

“Pesez / Press,” the receipt read, “# 1 9 0 4.”

Tell Rose

I know what you’re going to say – that the psychic was right and what I was doing was wrong, wrong all along, from the very beginning. “Risking your eternal soul,” is how my sister would have said it, if I’d told her.  Instead I tried telling Rose. Sort of.

“Hypothetically,” she replied slowly and calmly, repeating the word I’d just used.  She’s an actress, after all, well-versed in the tricks of her trade, not afraid to savor every cue, aware of the dramatic potential of a repetition, not about to squander the moment in haste.  Or maybe she didn’t believe me.

“I mean,” I said, “if you could – if I could, for instance, rather, possibly, travel. In Time or.  To the Past – ”

“You went to Canada, darling,” Rose interrupted. “Which I admit can feel like another time, if you mean it in an a la recherche de temps perdu way, like America when it was nicer, in the 50s under Eisenhower, you half expect the women to be wearing hats and white gloves. Lately, however, they seem to have caught up with the rest of us plus they have that adorable new Prime Minister, Pierre’s son, and I could tell you stories about him my dear if we were going to take a trip down memory lane yet somehow I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about so out with it.  What happened?  Tell Rose.  And take it from the top,” she added, settling back in her chair as if she didn’t expect to be going anywhere soon.

Now it was my turn.  Easier said than done, though, trying to explain what had happened.  At the border, before that, and … before that. There are problems involved with falling; problems not just in explaining, but in the aftermath: paradoxes and causal loops in space and time, when the future becomes the cause of the past which is the cause of the future which is the cause of the past and so on.

You see, it seemed like hours I had waited in the No Man’s Land of the border office, wedged in between two extended Muslim families who had evidently been there for a while and were resigned to the possibility of not going anywhere soon; the bored children bickered and pestered one another, wrappers of vending machine candy scattered about them while the mothers and daughters or sisters in hijabs disciplined listlessly and sighed.  The men kept their distance and dozed.

In this dimension, at least reasonably speaking, I wasn’t in any danger.  I hadn’t done anything wrong, wasn’t carrying any contraband or weapons or drugs, and I was fairly certain a routine database search would come up empty, no criminal record, no outstanding warrants, no peculiar surname that put me on some Do Not Fly List; detaining me had accomplished nothing except to help mitigate the profiling statistics. At some point a young woman with an Eastern European accent, possibly Polish or Ukrainian, joined us in the waiting room, a flourish on the other end of the spectrum, old white American male, young Euro female, Middle Eastern families in the middle.

Nothing to worry about then, unless some diabolical cabal or nefarious secret agency kept track of fugitive travelers in other time periods and really, how farfetched, how absurd, how silly to even entertain such a notion if it weren’t for the Canadian Mountie Dudley Do-Right in the aviator frames who, I was pretty sure, had caught my act (as Rose might say) in Cairo in 1904 except back then he’d been sporting a dusty black Stetson and I could see his eyes which were hard to forget, rimmed pink with colorless lashes like an Albino’s, the whites flecked with blood.

I heard my name called and approached the counter.  A non-descript officer with professional resting face examined my passport without looking up: no pleasantness, no nonsense, no reassuring giveaway, judgment reserved, gray shaved jowls, same questions again.  Where was I from, what was the purpose of my visit, and trust me when I tell you what I wanted to say was, good heavens why are you doing this, we used to cross all the time when I was a kid, all along the border, here, Detroit, Buffalo, the quintessential innocent American family on vacation, my dad at the wheel of a battered Plymouth station wagon, taking us to see the Thousand Islands, Niagara Falls or Old Quebec, my brothers and sisters and me in the back, the oldest trouble-maker sibling daring us to say we’d been kidnapped, my father wearily admonishing him to not even try it, the guard in the booth giving us a once-over and asking my dad, “Are they all yours?” and then sharing a look, man to man, before waving us through, oh the good old days.

I did my best Seriously-Nothing-To-Hide impression and answered without elaborating, without exasperation or impertinence and probably everything would have been fine if I hadn’t looked up to see the officer from the booth entering a windowed office in the back, one of those institutional spaces you see behind the counters of government agencies everywhere, a room revealed by a window, the business of business on view, beige on beige, file cabinets and bulletin boards, a copier, a water cooler, a coffee maker and that young man in uniform walking in, slick dirty white blond hair retaining the smooth impression of that Mountie’s hat, that dusty black Stetson.  And as he removes the sunglasses he turns his gaze out the window in my direction.

And I fall.

Just for a moment. I’m standing at the back of a dim theater, blinking to get my bearings, the blackness of the room fighting with the golden light of the stage, a man and woman pouring their hearts out up there, a glimpse of a black and white striped bustle, a familiar voice, if I could just keep my balance but there’s someone moving toward me, up the aisle and I have to get out of there I have to run but I can’t feel my feet the way in dreams you discover in a panic your body won’t obey.  I can’t run and I can’t breathe.

At the Border, from “Time Fall, A Memoir”

Bouguereau, “Dante e Virgilio all’inferno”

When in doubt you go back to the beginning.  Call that psychic hotline.  Get ahold of the medium who put you in touch in the first place.  Or, actually not in the first place, or the first time, but never mind, close enough.  I don’t even have to tell her my name or why I’m calling.  “You’re in a lot of trouble,” she says, getting right to the point.  “You’re not supposed to be there.”

“Be where?” I ask; it’s a rhetorical question.

“They monitor the border,” she replies and I know she doesn’t mean Canada’s so I ask her to be more specific.

“I tried to warn you before,” she continues with more than a little exasperation, and the image that comes into focus reminds me of the Visitor’s Room at Kern State Prison, Delano, Kern County, California, a medium security facility where Rose and I paid a visit to one of her old boyfriends once or twice many years ago (cold blue eyes and bad tattoos on a body that made you hear cheap motel bedsprings screaming, Grand Theft Auto, third strike, long story). Like a high school cafeteria during detention, sturdy chairs and Formica-topped tables, prisoners on one side, visitors on the other, guards at regular intervals around the cinder block walls, no touching.

“Where the Living meet Those who have Passed Over,” I say, repeating her words.  “Kern State with mood lighting and a fog machine is more like it.  Or Dante’s map of Hell, there was a bar in New York called the Ninth Circle I did very well in when I was younger.  Much younger actually – ”

“You’re in trouble,” she says again.  “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

“Well, I can’t betray something I haven’t got, can I?  Although I think it’s more I can’t transmit something I haven’t got, but I’m using the phrase out of context which doesn’t matter I know what you’re talking about, the Canadian was in Cairo too, wasn’t he?”

“Just because someone looks human,” she replies sadly, “doesn’t mean he is.”

“I’m not at the Border,” I say.  “I’m Falling in Time.  There’s a difference.  There is, isn’t there?  I was in another time and place. Oh, I see, they patrol that too? You’re saying the government has people who – and I know I’m not the only one so what are you saying, they’re tracking anyone who – what do they call us, Time Fallers?”

“Interlopers.”

“Really? Wow, makes it sound faintly illegal.” I can hear her smirk. “So how do you get away with it?” I ask.  “You have a website, you advertise, there are mediums with reality shows.”

“Completely different, hello,” she retorts.  “Mediums aren’t Interlopers. And no one believes us anyway, we’re entertainment, harmless, what you’re doing is dangerous, you’re going to get hurt, you’re Crossing the Line and no pun intended, you can’t get away with it.”

“I’m not trying to get away with anything,” I shoot back and am about to ask her why she thinks I’m trying to when she interrupts and tells me to be careful and not to call her anymore.

She was right, of course.  What I was doing was different.

I just didn’t understand at the time why that would be so bad.

Notes

The past follows us like a shadow.  Like an acrobat miming our moves, those contemplated and those accomplished a moment ago. A delay in time. In Time.

I’ve been away so long, can I get back?  All it takes is time.  Time and money.

A talent you can’t control is not a talent.  It’s not potential either. Or maybe it is but what does that mean?  Everyone has potential, potential is like breathing, you have all the potential in the world, what are you doing with it?  What are you doing? Think what the world would be like if we had encouraged everyone to learn telepathy, astral projection, if we had developed the ability to heal ourselves with thought, move things with our minds.  Instead we invented personal computers.  And robots.  And FaceBook.

What if Falling was an Art you could be taught?

Stopped in customs on the Canadian border of all places.  To think there was a time I was stopped in the Gaza Strip, guard towers with machine guns pointed at me, the Egyptian driver with gold teeth and a goat in the back of the battered pick-up, demanding more money.  Life and death.  Now it’s a Quebecois boy in a Mounty’s hat and a sneer, aviator sunglasses reflecting my sad face in the window of a rental car, an opportunity to be unkind to an old white American, worse, an old white American from Los Angeles.  They make me pull over, they search the vehicle.  There are two of them now, one becomes engrossed in my diary, and the maps of cemeteries and streets in Troy, New York, and lists of dates and places, and addresses scribbled, oh William what have you gotten me into?  I carry my diary so I have something sensational to read on the train, says Gwendolen to Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest and I do, and oh I certainly do, oh god yes indeed, because my account of my trip to Cairo Illinois in 1908 is filled with vivid details of the Past and a mob and a lynching which makes for riveting reading if you are a bored border guard and I realize I’m not going anywhere for a very long time.  You don’t belong here, the man said over the shoulder of an actress on the dock in Cairo in 1904, and here he is again.  Here he is again.

And then it is Christmas, and I am at a monastery in a canyon in California, feeding chickens with a beautiful young man who has decided to give his life over to the contemplation of the Divine, in a place Christopher Isherwood and Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard used to visit, oh my dear young man, I think.  oh my dear I was just in Canada, it seems only days ago.  How has this happened? Where have I been?

Driving

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Never try Falling while driving. That’s another rule. Like having a conversation while the radio is tuned to a song you’re trying to remember the lyrics to, or perhaps a not quite audible but potentially interesting talk show. Rose at the wheel, the GPS app interrupts “This American Life” to give directions and a panicked voice inside you competes with Ira Glass chatting with his radio guest while you concentrate on responding to queries from the driver about where you’d like to stop for lunch. Except someone closer than the back seat is leaning forward and hissing in your ear, an impatient writing partner hovering at your shoulder, shadow over the keyboard, clucking and snorting as you type, suggesting edits.

In 500 feet turn right onto

Today’s guest is

If you like Indian, there’s a place downtown Troy serves an excellent

There used to be a fence along there, look up look to your right no over there now look that was the view oh god that was the

I think we’re headed in the right direction, observes Rose.

It’s over there, I try to say, hoping the words don’t sound hoarse or loud, as if I’m talking over someone else, which I am.

You think? Rose replies.

I don’t dare answer.  I don’t want to look down at my hands because they won’t be mine, they will be whittled down to bones and veins, speckled with liver-spots like bits of broken brown egg shell, trembling in frayed white cuffs with brass studs and the wool jacket sleeves of a suit – no, this is not what I am wearing in this world on this late rainy morning in this four-wheel drive Subaru with Rose in this American life and not the passenger seat of a battered black Ford pick-up smelling of old apples and horses and tobacco and sweat, bouncing and rumbling up a dirt road and the white farmhouse on the hill in the distance off to the right is coming into view and what I am feeling, the sinking heart, the nervous hands, the sense of loss is out of proportion and disconnected to the world I inhabit and I really need to stay here and witness, not fall back into Then.

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