"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

March 10, 2005

Hot Box Seats

{The following is the rough, first draft of a poetry-writing exercise I did with students while subbing; it's subject to change, but I hope you enjoy it!}

Hot Box Seats

In the old, minor league stadium
that doesn't exist anymore,
where we'd sat for hours
upon hours of our young lives,
in hard, metallic, folding seats,
through innings upon innings of delicate rain,
hotdogs and popcorn,
strike-outs and stolen bases,
a single, Hammond B-3 organ
moving us to clap, sing,
and stomp together,

we watched the new Irish band
(that is now the old one)
march in
to a booming bass drum cadence,
outfield lights exploding
into our eyes, blinding us
with temporary teenage frenzy.

We screamed louder for the bald, buff, bassist
than for any of our boys;
our shirts bore new logos, new colors,
our loyalties caught between old-
fashioned fun and progressive rock,
like our hometown heroes,
running towards second base
while looking at first.

The organ-shaking powerchords
lobbed towards right field
are lost now,
in a reverb echoed by wind
that sweeps over home plate.

March 01, 2005

Finding Eden at the Summit

Remember that old tale about the man who expires and finds himself on the "other side"? He sees an infinitely long, elegantly-set table with an unbelievable feast laid upon it, and two equally, infinitely long rows of starving people on either side of the table, looking longingly at their food. An angel whispers to the man that their arms are locked, and so they cannot feed themselves. The man finds it despicable, a poor excuse for heaven, when the angel then leads him away. "That was hell," the angel explains. "In heaven, everyone feeds each other."

My day was sort of like that.

The Summit is a model for how we ought to be treating the elderly in this country, if only they all could afford to live in such a place. Art--amazing art--adorns the walls of the place, and there's a beauty salon, a lap pool (with a young, handsome lifeguard on duty most of the time), a sunny cafe, "visit rooms" with fireplaces, and conference rooms (complete with computers); a cozy library that operates on the dewy-decimal; lectures are given throughout the week on anything from the latest pop-culture lit. to liturgy; residents can get stamps, photocopies, and room service simply by notifying a person they call the "concierge." One of The Summit's residents is Mr. Eden, who is legally blind, and for whom I am a voluntary reader once each week.

Today was our first meeting. After giving me a tour of the building--which he admitted he mostly did by sense of direction--we went up to his apartment so that I could begin my services. I'd been so excited: what would be reading? Malamud? Isaac B. Singer? Shakespeare? Oh, my hopes were high. Did Mr. Eden know how lucky he was to get an English teacher--and amateur actress--to read to him?

"Take a seat," Mr. Eden said in his thick, Czech accent. "Now. Here's today's mail. Open up and read."
"You want me to read your mail?" I asked, deflated.
"You have time for this, yes?"
"Of course," I demured. "But don't you want me to read you something...interesting?"
"Ha! You want interesting? Open up my bank statement. I'll give you interesting. Read!"

So I read. I read the newsletter from his Men In Transition meeting (his wife passed away four years ago), the majority of the publication dedicated to who was bringing bagels for which meeting, and something about new phone technology. We went through a statement from TD Waterhouse Investments. Bills. A coupon from Bed, Bath, & Beyond. A flyer for an Italian restaurant downtown.

Just as the end of my hour was approaching, Mr. Eden pulled towards me a rather thick, stapled packet: The Summit Newsletter. "Ach, don't worry. I'm not a chazzer (pig). I won't take up all your time for myself. But just a little more, please? Find something you want to read. Something interesting." So I flipped. And then there it was: "The Shylock Problem: the 'Merchant of Venice' Onscreen." Hoorah! I asked Mr. Eden if he was interested.

"So, nu already? Read!"

This two-page piece made my heart flutter. Originally printed in the Jewish Week, the article went in-depth about the director's decision to portray Shylock sympathetically, and Pacino's preparations to play the part. It discussed the film's timely debut (considering the shocking amount of anti-semitism prevalent in Europe at the moment), as well as a bit about Shylock's character to boot.

Mr. Eden indulged my elaborating on the article with a nuanced, but under-dramatized, few lines of Shylock's famous monologue, as well as some historical tidbits about Shakespeare and his contemporary playwright, Marlowe (who was thought to be anti-semitic). Smitten with my reading, he felt he had to indulge me back.

"Such a beautiful reader!" he announced to himself. He patted my hand. "So now I'm taking you for lunch. Downstairs." I resisted--I was nervous about being ready for my first class tonight, and with the weather so bad, was certain my preparations would take twice as long.

"So what do we do?" he asked. "Can I pay you?"
I laughed. "I should be paying you! You're fun to read to."
"She doesn't want lunch," he talked to himself again. "So what are you doing Friday night? Will you have some dinner with me?"
How could I resist a dinner invitation for 4:45? I accepted.

And so I have a Shabbat date for dinner at the Summit this Friday. While we sit across the table from each other, I imagine we'll be feeding each other plenty.

With Mr. Eden, I am, literally, in heaven.