Of Theories Likely to Remain So

1   A contributing cause of hearing loss in the elderly is, over the course of years, the shouting {in pleasure) of lovers, very close to the ear, perhaps especially from behind. Sounds of this nature cannot be reproduced in the laboratory, unfortunately, nor can the beloved be relied upon to recall with any precision the frequency of deafening cries or to estimate with any accuracy at all the volume. The proximity of lips to ear, the position and angle of delivery, perhaps; but this is inadequate data on which to base a reputable study.

2   Women enjoy expressing physical need publicly, and this is their reason (often unconscious) for smoking. It is a reaction to their being so often a source of need, or a resource for others in need. The contemptible, long-forbidden gratification of self becomes erotic; i.e., inhaling in front of others is nothing less than veiled masturbation. A qualitative study generating this grounded theory would be suspect: leading questions would have to be asked of a great many· female smokers to find any who would share the researcher's opinion. Additional problems include the researcher's need to publicly acknowledge and reflect upon her exhibitionism, as well as her continuing addiction (though she is not currently a smoker).

The Women's Locker Room

            I hadn’t been in a gym since 8th grade, a time now buried under more than twenty-five years. Memories surfaced of the forced showers we faked by tucking our bra straps beneath the towel and extending a splashed arm to the teacher, and of prying looks from peers as miserable about their bodies as I was. At one school in Pittsburgh, we were made to swim in horrid regulation suits, the right size always unavailable. Small and thin, I was cloaked in the sagging, heavy blue cotton of swimsuits which grew enormous when wet, their straps lengthening so as not to provide cover for my tiny breasts. I have returned to the women’s locker room--transformed, one would think, by the years--to find some things about me and other women unchanged.     

            I now lift weights and lounge in the sauna and whirlpool three times a week. In a sense I feel very different, in my chosen attire, among grown men and women at work on their bodies. I hadn’t ever been athletic, but once I began going (with friends just after my divorce), I felt happy to be part of it. As with any place, it is and is not what it is assumed to be: yes, it is packed with narcissists, but no, not everyone is a meathead on the make. A moderate number are people recovering from injuries or managing diseases like diabetes, and we talk about how much difference the club has made to them. I like the sporty friendliness, the physical intimacy with strangers that I don’t find anywhere else. The retreat from the intellect relaxes me; the top-40 radio soothes me. I like looking at all the bodies, and I like being looked at, and even approached, by men.

Maureen in Moonlight

   You'd have to die to get Martin's attention, I always thought.  I'm sorry, but he's selfish.  I don’t like to say this, but my life is a tragedy living with Martin's magic.  I'll give him magic--out on his ear so fast he won't know how it happened.  If only I'd been practicing that trick for a dozen years, like he does, I'd know how to do it.

                You'd think I was a slob or something, if you came into my house.  You wouldn't know I clean 24 hours a day and still can't keep up with the mess he makes.  Cards--playing cards--all over the place!  A three of hearts between my vanity and the wall, a jack of spades ready to start a fire on the stove.  God knows what else. I work and he plays.  So it goes.

                I should've stayed with David, by all accounts--after the fact, of course.  Nobody tells you how good or bad a choice you've made until, alone or with another schmuck already, you see your talent for lousing up is growing ever more perfect.  You won't believe this--nobody does--but David used to put the toilet seat down.  And every now and then he must have taken a tissue and given the rim a quick going over.  Without even hearing a word from me, I'm not kidding.

Calle Lento

August 2

I’m writing here to see what I remember from a moment ago; I’ll see how fast the moment ahead passes.  I’m in Santa Fe, where time may be moving more slowly, where it’s two hours behind already for this Floridian.  They talk about the manaña syndrome this close to Mexico, and it’s certainly slow and easy going for me, here in a house on Calle Lento--Slow Street--on summer break, far away from the set pace of home.  Slowed down, the moments in my day can be peered into, but I’m afraid they are only full of what I am doing, no mysteries.  Time only turns mysterious when you look back and wonder where it went . . . so it’s memory that is mysterious, not time.  How we see time after the piece we’re looking at has passed.  We try to remember the leaf we saw out of the corner of our eye as it slipped out of sight down the river.  Or the ring we dropped into the river and couldn’t find, after treasuring it for only one day.  Or the man we fell in love with tubing on the river that day in June, the one we later married.  It’s the goneness that’s mysterious.  We know it doesn’t exist now except as we remember it, and it’s crumbling or calcifying—it’s changing, and it’s not anywhere near as good, we believe, as that time when it was there.  The attempt to recall it is satisfying, may even make it more perfect and give it sense it didn’t have, but the moment is gone, and we can’t examine it to verify anything in it.  We have to imagine to fill in the gaps, we have to be artists all the time.  Artists who rarely get any credit but work night and day, whose work will be destroyed with the passage of very little time, amounts of time you can’t predict.  Usually a few days wipe out a decent memory.  It takes too much time to keep one alive, stretching it with attention every day.  How long will it seem to fit in each day or seem worthwhile to nurture it, even for a moment?  The occupation of remembering uses up time that could be spent creating new memories that might turn out to be more useful or sweet.  It’s 12:07.  I’ve put in a load of laundry, balanced my checkbook, prepared mail.  I come here and write, hop up for a chore, sit back down.  That’s what’s in these moments.  But when I think back on how I “used” my days here, will I be astonished by something related to this ordinary morning?  One thing is certain: that I have written this down will preserve a part of this morning--a way of looking at it?--that would surely have been lost to me.  Now I’ll know what time it was when I put in the dark load.  The sketchy record will tell me about this time . . . I’ll be able to tell what the time was like . . . I’ll tell time who I was here today. 

Entering the Ethereal Realm

            The sourest air of the skies leaks through the terminal gates, pulses through the concourses, drifts into the ticket lounges. It smells like a headache: you can’t believe you don’t have one. You know you will soon, any second now. But is it only jet exhaust that hangs in the air?  Can the bad smell be us, our oils and secretions having seeped over years into the naugahyde seating, the accumulated filth of human traffic permeating this enclosure along with the reeking chemicals used to clean up after us?  Kenneled, we stampede from gate to gate, urgent to be released, perhaps contributing faint, rancid fumes of our own.


            On the way home from a conference in Texas, I feel the stare of someone in the waiting area. She is tall and dark, attractive. She catches me staring back at her;  I see her looking just as she snatches her gaze away from me. This is repeated for a few moments until she walks up to me and asks if I am David Birnbaum’s sister. Astounded, I answer yes. She tells me her name and explains that I look just like my brother whom she knew years ago, in the late sixties. David was her friend’s boyfriend for a summer, one summer in upstate New York. What is there to say to each other once this is confirmed? I tell her some news of him, of the family. We find we are, after all, leaving the same conference, but that doesn’t take us anywhere. No, you aren’t likely to meet someone in an airport and have it develop into anything. It’s like finding an old fragment of bone in a riverbed. Even if you pick it up excitedly, to consider its possibilities, you want to find a reason to leave it.