Perforated Lines (you can't resist 'em!)

 my california journal
-- Thursday, September 9, 1999 --



1:05 p.m. Head's up -- are we all still here? Is it the end of time as we know it? I'll know more when I try to Fetch this piece over to my handy public server -- will it choke on my 9999.html? 9999, indeed.

The Myth of Numbers. The self-centered nature of people of a certain color in a certain wedge of time. If it's happening to me, me mem mem me me, it must be universal. These are the days, indeed these are the days, the days of miracle and wonder. I had to take the risk of getting one of molly zero's ear-worms in my head ... in order to play the tape to look for the words of the poet Paul Simon ... and now, of course, I can't get the cadence of that portentous, haunting song out of my mind.

The rhythm of the rhyming of the great Saint Simon.

On 8/8/88 I was sweltering in the heat of a Manhattan summer, in a loft in the jewelry district on 29th Street. I'd been writing rather faithfully in my paper journal around that time, but then there was a huge break between June and the end of August as I worked round the clock to get a computer encyclopedia finished and into the hands of the publisher in time to get paid. I wasn't very sentimental or even that concerned about the inexorable passage of time. Instead, I was dancing around the loft a lot, thanks to the tapes my daughter had made for me, and I felt cooler than cool in the heat.

Up and down the little platform steps, past the huge picture windows, spinning and learning Illustrator 1.0 and watching the thousands of turbaned people down in the streets -- this is a long-distance memory now. The way we must look to a distant constellation that's dying in a corner of the sky ... damn you ear-worm, damn you.

But, if you were reading these words on another day, say 7/7/77, you would have no idea on this earth what I was talking about. Paul would still be laconically bouncing his ball against a wall and scribbling on a yellow legal pad, absent-mindedly licking various old wounds. The wormy squirmy words were still in his own head. I've always felt so sorry for Paul Simon. He, out of all the people on the earth, will never know the simple pleasure of hearing his songs pure and newly recorded. Me and Julio, we know. Paul never will.

Now, to go back to the middle of the summer in 1977, I have to open the first of my somewhat fancy journals -- and one that I loved writing in because the pages were pale green and the lines were close together, and I was finally in college after a ten-year delay, so I was feeling pretty smart and spiffy. But although I wrote nearly every day, I nonetheless skipped over 7/7/77. Why didn't I care more? Didn't I realize that these days were never, ever going to come again?

Igor had gotten a prized medieval fellowship for the summer at Indiana University with Talbot Donaldson, and I had gotten myself into a writer's conference and a class conducted by Roger Zelazny. We were a totally academic couple. I even had hair on my legs. There was a Sylvia Plath exhibit at one of the university's libraries that summer. Here's what I wrote:

"It was obscene. A long pony tail, pages ripped from scrapbooks, diaries -- even notes from a creative writing lecture displayed to show how she didn't take notes, but rather, drew pictures. I keep thinking that if she hadn't killed herself, she'd probably be teaching at this conference, instead of lying quietly under glass."

I skipped a whole bunch of days in my journal that year because I was right in the middle of writing my first novel. Funny story. There was an agent at the conference who talked to us the first week we were there. She said she'd look at a few select novels before she went back to New York in ten days. I raced home and worked up an outline and Lordy be praised, I was among the chosen!

Now, all I had to do was quick -- write a novel. Imagine, if you will, my chickies, a time before computers when people wrote in longhand, with no cut 'n paste, no delete, no copy and print. I had a Smith Corona and a dream.

I did get to a happy place in my own imagination, about three-quarters of the way into it, which is the good part of the story. I knew I'd written something decent. It was a start. Just the thought of it kept me going when she turned it down flat and I cried, oh so bitterly, right there in front of the communal student mailboxes, the skinny cold letter getting all wet and droopy in my hands as I read and reread and reread it, looking for clues to the big mystery.

my college record
my copybook

Now, it is possible to find something for 6/6/66, but highly unlikely, because back then I was a reporter for a daily newspaper and I certainly would never think of writing for the sake of writing if nobody were going to pay me for it. I wasn't exactly grown up, but I was fast becoming a reasonable facsimile, or so I thought.

It was a troubled time, for me and for the world, I suppose. I remember visiting the big city of Philadelphia in June, so let's just pretend it was 6/6/66, because the day I remember most vividly from that year was the day I came face-to-face with real, unspeakable evil.

I was blindly and fearlessly racing into my own future, taking the rest of the day off to go to the garment district for the best prices. I was trying to pick out the exact perfect fabric for my most excellent bridal dress that would be something like the dress that Vanessa Redgrave wore in Camelot, the movie version. It was the best, most romantic wedding scene -- an endless row of candles in the snow -- and I found out that her dress had been covered with sewn-on pumpkin seeds, all turned upside down like dried teardrops. Can you imagine that?

I was cradling my clumsy, lumpy package of off-white soft silk like a baby and as I wandered out onto the hot street to wait for a bus, I passed a newspaper stand. A huge headline was splashed across the afternoon editions, and it was shouting and ranting in 96-point black letters. There it was -- a little black spot on the sun that day -- the incredible story of Richard Speck and the student nurses and I felt suddenly cold and alone and abandoned in the middle of the sunny day, as if abruptly -- and without warning -- everything had shifted. Suddenly, the package of promising silk weighed a ton.

I guess everybody has to grow up sometime.

I can't go back to 5/5/55 because I didn't start my first journal until 1957. This one had a golden lock and I believed that I had the only unique key in the world to fit into that tiny hole, and I also believed that when you went to the hospital they just fixed you, no matter what your ailment.

I was under the mistaken idea that we could live forever if we wanted to bother to do so -- that the only people who died were those who wanted to, those who decided it was time. My grand life plan was to very conveniently just forget to die. All very orderly.

"You mean to tell me the hospital CAN'T fix her???"

"You mean to tell me you picked the lock with a BOBBY PIN???

Amazing. Just amazing.

That's as far back as I can go, by the book. On 4/4/44 I was still circling the globe, looking for a place to land.

And these fragile paper days will never come again.


my first diary

Tomorrow? Under lock and key.


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