Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Our cat Red naps with his head pillowed on a newly-peeled Maja soap wrapper. He has spent the greater part of the day in its company, snuffling and nuzzling it across the rug. This morning I gave him the crinkly red-and-black, richly scented crepe and wax papers with a lady Flamenco dancer on their round medallion. She's his best friend. He likes her better than catnip.

I'd first bought Maja in college, in the mid-70s, where it added a heady touch to our communal, institutional shower. Since then the soap has traveled with me. During a week spent with 11 other people on a 40-foot fishing boat, with a single, cold-water shower in port, using it had been sheer heaven.

My lifestyle is about 95 percent no-frills and 5 percent luxury. Most of our furniture is more than 40 years old (it was made sturdier back then). Before we moved here we gave away our old furnishings, which by and large the curb had given us. Then I entered into a decor with which I had grown up, an odd experience after decades of arranging my own spaces. In time the place became a hybrid of traditions defining both childhood and adulthood. I write by the light of a lamp with a pretty blue-marbled base that had been my grandmother's. It sits on a makeshift desk composed of a wood board found on the street, overlaid on two 2-drawer filing cabinets. I'd actually bought the beige one new almost 20 years ago. The black one, missing one of its handles, was a five-dollar purchase at a yard sale.

Most of our additions have come in the form of books and the shelves to hold them all. From Boston we'd sent close to 90 large boxes of Media Mail before we moved down, after I'd checked with the local post office, asking how many they could hold for us (they'd said up to 100). We'd rented a Penske van for most of the rest. Once emptied of our household goods it performed the encore of transporting our library home.

Fountain pens and acid-free journal notebooks comprise my other main luxury. I've filled dozens of the notebooks, at times with inks that include such colors as "gemstone green," "amethyst," and "cocoa." I had taken up calligraphy for a while and sold some of my services, but the fountain pens are simply for writing. Waterman's Phileas is on the low end of the fountain pen spectrum but it feels wonderful in the hand. I'd also bought a "traveling ink pot," made in Italy, whose design is so ingenious it let me refill my pen while riding the subway to work, with not a drop spilled.

Otherwise I live in T-shirts (with the rest of my wardrobe equally simple), wear no makeup and no jewelry save for a silver ring band, and eat tuna straight out of the can. The T-shirt I wear at the moment commemorates the 15th anniversary of MetroSports Boston and was a freebie from the 2002 Jim Kane Sugar Bowl Five-Miler, part of my "year of running." (The "sugar bowl" is a round structure the runners pass en route from South Boston to Castle Island and its Fort Independence.)

I'm currently reading Edward Conlon's Blue Blood, his memoir of his days as a New York City cop. His prose is stunning, a kind of horrific lyricism:

"I've spent hours on tar rooftops, crouched down till my legs cramp, sweating, shivering, wiping the rain from my binoculars every ten seconds. There have been times when I've forgotten to look down before I kneel by the ledge, and seen piles of dog shit, broken glass, or syringes beside me. On one rooftop, there was an ornate Victorian bird cage, five feet tall, bell-shaped and made of brass. Chained to it, still on a rotten leather leash, was the skeleton of a pit bull. You walk up dirty stairs to a dirty roof to watch a dirty street. At night, even the light is dirty, as the sodium-vapor streetlights give off a muddy yellow haze. But when it's happening, sometimes, you realize how perfect your concentration is, you feel the cool, neutral thrill of being completely submerged in your task. And when it's not, you can still be caught up in the beauty of the view, the hallucinatory strangeness or the small, random graces of the landscape...."

Sandwiched between passages like those are rapid-fire dialogues, some so outrageous they sound like stand-up comedy as performed by Kafka. And insightful historical perspectives. And more. I'd heard Conlon interviewed on radio while I drove to a meeting and stopped at the library on my way home. I'm currently on a nonfiction binge; after the Conlon I'll return to Donna Hart and Robert W. Sussman's Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators, and Human Evolution, which I'm reading for research but enjoying just as well.


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