Mrs. Prothero by the sea
Five days. Five days since my last post and I’m caught in that loop where there are so many things could write about that the prospect of sitting down to write is daunting, so I put it off and then there are even more things to write about. But I need to start somewhere.
AJ and I just finished our annual reading of Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” I love reading Thomas out loud. It sounds so marvelous, feels so good on the tongue. It is, perhaps, my very favorite Christmas book to read aloud. AJ is always skeptical. Every year he thinks he’s going to hate, but every year he gets sucked in by the sound of it, by its humor, its forlorn landscapes and cozy parlours, just the way I was.
Near the beginning, Thomas has a sentence which perfectly evokes for me the tricks of memory that happen at holidays:
All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.
Except for me, it’s not Mrs. Prothero and the firemen but the laptop and the driver.
A week ago Friday, I packed up my desk at the office, uncoupled my laptop from its dock, handed out cards to those I work with, and knocked on my boss’s door to say goodbye and merry Christmas. I dragged my luggage to the elevator, said goodbye to the doorman, and got into the waiting car to head to the airport. I was nearly there when I realized that I only had one of my two laptops. I’d left my office laptop on my desk. When you carry two laptops, it’s suprisingly easy to leave one behind without noticing. I called my assistant, who said she’d find out about shipping it and call right back. After I hung up, my driver pointed out that the car service could deliver it to the airport. So I called back and she called the car service and we arranged that I’d wait by departures to pick it up. I was checked in and wasn’t checking luggage, so it seemed possible. I waited and waited. Finally, just when my flight was supposed to start boarding, the driver showed up. I thanked her profusely and sprinted to security.Now, one of the things I like about LaGuardia is that there are never lines at security. Never, that is, except when you are running very late. I waited and I waited and I begged people to let me go in front of them. And then, a godsend — they opened up an extra line right in front of me. I was second. I thought I was going to make it and then they stopped me and said they needed to search my bag. They had to find someone to do it. Then they had to identify the reason they couldn’t see in my bag (a Christmas gift I’d bought for my aunt and uncle). Then they had to take it out, test it for explosives, and rerun the suitcase. Then I had to repack the suitcase and sprint to the gate. I arrived 5 minutes before we were supposed to take off. I recognized the woman manning the gate. She’s often there when I leave on Fridays She has a classic NY fuhgeddaboutit accent, which makes her sound crabby, but she’s actually incredibly nice. She tried to get me on the plane, but she’d just given the last standby seat away. She apologized and looked like she was expecting me to have a meltdown. I shrugged my shoulders and said, Oh, well. It’s my fault for forgetting my computer. “It happens,” she said. “I can book you on the next flight.”
The next flight, as it happened, was leaving from the very next gate in a half an hour, which meant it was just about to board. So my timing was perfect. The seat she booked? A bulkhead seat. I stretched out and talked to the woman next to me. I’m not normally a plane talker, and I’m not sure how we started talking, but it turned out that she’s doing the same thing I am — commuting a lot while her husband stays home with the kids. We had a lot in common and talked most of the way to Chicago.
Behind us was a young man headed home from his first year at West Point. He was flying standby, because his mom had recently retired from the airline. One of the flight attendants used to work with his mom and she spent a lot of the flight talking to him. He was so charming and polite and so very excited to be headed home for Christmas, that it was hard not to smile. When we landed, he insisted on getting my bag down for me. I find I am not at all opposed to chivalry.
I worked at home all last week and it was intense, as we’re trying to round up all the loose ends for the latest toy. A lot of what I had to do last week involved emailing teeny tiny archives around the country and asking them to send me pictures of things. I fully expected to be sending out emails and receiving answers after New Year’s. But as it turned out, librarians in teeny tiny archives work until the 23rd an are clearly bored out of their fricking archival minds, because I got nearly instantaneous service from all places that weren’t affiliated with the federal government (those archives require forms filled out in triplicate, signed in blood and notarized, whereupon they may deign to send you what you need after a six week interval).
I came home from New York having done next to no Christmas shopping. But in one spectacularly productive shopping trip, I suddenly found I was done. So I wasn’t even that anxious. AJ will tell you that this was the best Christmas he ever had. And how could it not be? He got nearly everything he asked for. Including a laptop, so he can Skype and send me email while I’m gone without driving his father insane. Just yesterday I got an email from him from about 20 feet away. It said, “ANNOY ANNOY ANNOY ANNOY ANNOY ANNOY.” And it had a link to Non-stop Nyan Cat, which is possibly the most annoying site in existence. So at least the email was truth in advertising.
As for me, I got 6 brand new pairs of socks. To have six pairs of socks without holes is unheard of luxury around here. I also got a gorgeous peacock wool shawl, some fancy soap, and these. We have named them Mr. Salty and Julius Peppers, and they have been known to converse politely at the breakfast table.
But my most distracting present was this:
Isn’t it pretty? It sounds pretty too. It’s challenging in surprising ways. Mandolins are tuned just like violins, but they have double courses and frets, which makes them play very differently. But I’ve been trying out Bach partitas and the Canzonetta from Don Giovanni. And I’ve played through a couple of songs by the Decembrists and REM. I’m having a good time and getting some brand new calluses on my fingers. And unlike my guitar, it’s small enough to fit in the overhead on the airplane. And unlike the violin, it’s quiet enough to practice in a city apartment.
Since Christmas, I’ve been doing boring things like cleaning and filing. Someone looked at our house today and liked it, but it was the very first house they looked at. Perhaps they’ll be back. At the big family Christmas Eve party, several people suggested we bury a statue of St. Joseph in the yard. I’m not so sure about how I feel about that, but I am sorely tempted to buy this book I mean, we already have an above-ground real estate agent. Getting one for underground is just covering all our bases, right?