Sunday, August 19, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

When in a pinch, walk into a bookstore and read a single line at the beginning of a chapter. Or the first line of the book itself. Let it take you wherever you need to go.

Geoff Dyer

It had been a bad morning. He’d woken far too early, the demons of summer swirling around his sleeping head at last pricking him awake, each with a little ball-ping hammer working feverishly in one gaunt little hand, tiny rusted nails held unsteadily in the other. How many times had they banged their thumbs? Over and over in a contagious clumsiness. But finally (finally!) one connected, then the rest caught the knack. All at once a sclerotic choreography. Like Wagner’s Bugs Bunny anvils. And he was awake. Not groggy. Frustrated. It was like that through breakfast, which one child refused eat. It was like that as he packed the kid’s clothes. The food for the weekend. The station wagon. Throughout he barked and growled with sudden bursts of aggression which almost frightened his sons. Once in the car, for a moment, he relaxed. Then the traffic set in. They knew how to weather this passing storm. Even at this young age, they’d seen it enough already to discern the pattern, coming out the other end like post traumatic zombies. The older boy lay down and fell asleep. The other set about building a wooden train set. He looked sidelong at his dog, rolled a cigarette, made tuna fish sandwiches and poured himself a glass of rum and ginger ale. The house was muggy, the sheets sticky with dormant sea air. The deer had eaten the buds off six of his sunflowers but the wind was keeping the mosquitoes away. For now. He remarked to the dog how busy the ants had been, their mounds of sandy dirt popping up in patterns around the yard. Ants are ok, he thought. Ants are our friends, he thought. A Beach Boys song came on the radio. Some Beach Boys songs are nice, he thought. Others are depressing, he thought. He counted three widow-makers protruding from the trees. Make that five. Somewhere there was a cricket. In the afternoon as if it were dusk. He thought he ought to go to the beach. But this boredom was too decent after that god-awful morning. Those goddamn demons. And there was that terrible book everyone was quoting about the importance of sleep.

Abdellah Taïa

He almost died three times. Once when he was very young and had pneumonia on Christmas Day. Once when he was climbing and fell a few dozen feet off a cliff in early Spring. Once when he was drunk and hit by a car after he'd blazed through a stop sign on a bicycle. In each case his body, his supple, odd, scoliotic body, saved him. It accepted his fate before he did, the mind absently guided in its blithe patience while his body made itself rubber. Maybe he almost died more times. Certainly. But he wouldn't dwell on those. That would be useless. Except he thinks when he squints he can just make out some near death moments while surfing. But that's probably wishful thinking.

Jenny Boully

The sacred places in his life number in the few. That one church off the Via Dolorosa where he accidentally sang too long. The dock at the end of Debbie Brooks’ father’s property where he'd traded mental places with a dog. The stairs outside the dorm on the hillside in Santa Barbara where he emerged to a coyote’s intent stare on his 20th birthday. Miramar, San Onofre, Smith Point.

Jamey Johnson

When did he start accepting country music? At what point did the twangy sound of a slide guitar and a warbly voice, unexpectedly rolled across on the radio dial, become an automatic moment of curiosity? It took some time. His youthful disgust being turned by the eventual arrival of Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger. He remembered hating the Jayhawks when they opened for the Black Crowes. He remembered loving them on some mix tape with Uncle Tupelo, Sun Volt and Wilco songs a few years later. Lyle Lovett married then divorced Julia Roberts. That Johnny Cash movie. One of those songs off Loggins & Messina’s Greatest Hits. The Allman Brothers. Old & In The Way. Junior Brown’s Lovely Hula Hands. The picking simplicity, tinkling tales of woe, a salve to the bombasticism of popular forms. We’re Not the Jest Set. There are a thousand roads leading to a fact that isn’t a fact at all. His mind turned, reflexively, to another topic.

Donald Hall

When he was nine or ten his family spent the summer in Europe. They were chased by Italian hooligans in Rome and by a large white guard dog on a closed beach in Fregenae. His father’s purposefully mispronunciation of the word “backgammon” at Versailles became family lore. He went crabbing along the Norwegian fjords at four in the morning in a wooden dink. He also found a tic on his nutsack in a Norwegian bathroom. He never told anyone about the tic.

Alexander Chee

His wife’s mother buried their chihuahua under the rose bush in Southern California.

Ryszard Kapuściński

It was just possible the wind would change and the tide might help. There was certainly swell in the water. Just enough he hoped. The van was already packed- his friend kept it stocked at all times- and they loaded the children in. He could feel the tell-tale signs of the impending paddle course through his veins, anticipation carried like oxygen. He would later, accurately, describe the waves as “goopy.” They would suffice in reminding him that his brain had so often derailed his body when things weren't on the line. He would wonder on the car ride back, between answering inane questions about the relative sizes of suspension bridges, just how thoroughly his intellect had subverted his passion over the years. The body willing, the mind a stronger will.

Brian Blanchfield

It was an exceptionally snowy winter in Brooklyn. They would stay up into the wee hours playing canasta every night. A lifetime ago and life hadn’t ended yet. One particular blizzard and they tumbled out into the drifts, wearing just enough to avoid pneumonia. They played a ukulele through the empty, padded streets- the neighborhood hadn’t filled up with hopefuls yet- scaring the odd passerby with boozy Hawaiian chords.

Kazuo Ishiguro

The waves spilled over the sandbar, a repetitive harbinger of a good day. He rode and rode and rode. Jumped and launched and fell. Laughed and smiled. He wondered that ever he let himself get away from this. He wondered, even as he dried off, how he would let himself get away from it again. Tomorrow. So he attempted to archive each and every ride from the day to reflect upon later in the wee hours of his sleepless night. Counting waves like sheep, relishing each painful knee band, arthritic hand glide and tight back arch in the attempt to lull his jittery body back to calm.

Joan Didion

He has always professed a deep acceptance with death as a conceptual destiny. In truth he had little idea whether this was true.

“Good morning sunrise, guess I’ll call it a day.”