I once lived in half a dorm room in the middle of Paris, right across from the École des Mines. Every afternoon, from the speaker of a rickety, cheap tape recorder, the music of Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto stretched its immense arms past the chipped, hundred-year-old bathroom sink that doubled as a kitchen sink, over the cold communal showers, the ancient grease-thickened hot plates, and the toilet in the hallway, operated by a string.
You met a guy online. You have had four or five dates, and you haven’t so much as held hands. He is artistic. His expensive button-down shirts are decorated with bold, colorful patterns. He has two tickets to the Body Worlds Exhibition in Denver. A traveling display of human bodies and body parts that have been preserved using a process called plastination.
When I was a child in the late 1950s, the streetlights ended two blocks before our neighborhood on the edge of our small Ohio town. Given the midwestern custom of early dinners, my friends and I often played outside afterward. On dark, moonless nights in late fall and winter, familiar yards were transformed into mysterious black voids relieved only by trash burning here and there in an oil drum.
The waiting room in the ER at Rome’s Policlinico was a vast rectangle with four banks of chairs set facing each other in a much smaller rectangle. One group of chairs was missing a front stabilizer, which meant that any time someone sat down or stood up, the rest of the chairs moved in unison.
It all started with the floor loom. My friend Robin said her mother was downsizing and wanted to sell hers. I had taken a basic weaving class at the local art center the year before, and the place mats I had made for Christmas gifts on a very simple table loom—only a step up from a Playskool toy—had impressed the recipients.
During the day, I taught English to junkie kids at Morris High, deep in the East Bronx. At night, I wrote and played music at a Soho recording studio way downtown in Manhattan. After that I would stay up late drinking cheap Scotch from sea-green bottles and watching old movies. I liked the Marx Brothers’ free-floating insanity and W. C. Fields’s misanthropic grace. It was both entertainment and avoidance.