Today's the anniversary of the end of Prohibition, General George Custer’s birthday, and the day, in 1945, five navy planes took off from Florida on a routine three-hour mission and were never heard from again. Flight 19’s disappearance still haunts people. I remember being told about the Bermuda Triangle, that there was a section of the earth where people disappeared. In the 70s, when everything was somehow linked to aliens, I thought that the Bermuda Triangle might be a transit point, a kind of interstellar teleportation station. My mother and I had just discovered psychic fairs and there were a number of books about making contact with higher powers. I walked around, listening to people read auras, lay out tarot cards, recommend candle rituals to clear out negative spiritual energies. I wanted desperately to have a psychic power. One guy did tell me I was a strong telekinetic, but he also kept touching my shoulder in a way that creeped me out. Sadly, no one appeared to whisk us away to another planet.
Cleaning the house last week in preparation for Thanksgiving guests, I was surprised at all the little places where I’ve tucked away books and notebooks. I literally have books everywhere. My favorite group of books right now is the stack I have on the toilet tank. One friend loved the idea of keeping books there. It’s so boring in the bathroom otherwise, she said, so much sitting around wasting time.
I’m one of those people who like to read in the bathtub, especially as winter takes hold here in Pittsburgh and I’m reminded that once again I have forgotten to winterize my old rowhouse. I just bought an iPad because I’d gotten tired of the weight of books in my bag on my shoulder, but the new gadget is useless in the tub. For all the talk of the new technologies of reading, the physical block of paper and glue and weight still has some advantages. It might get damp but it won’t short-circuit.
Still, the new elements to be dealt with too: speed, access, energy, and flexibility. I want to get through the airport this Christmas with the least amount of baggage. I feel vulnerable enough there at the end of the security line trying to slip my shoes back on, putting my belt back into the loops, without having to sling around a bag of books.
As I write this this morning, the McGann and Chester’s tow truck has arrived to tow away a car parked illegally on the street. The car was parked right in front of one of my neighbor’s driveway, where she’s put two Do Not Park signs. My neighbor doesn’t waste time about this kind of stupidity, so she’s called the police. She needs to move her car and get to church, I imagine. She’s what we newcomers to the city call “Old Pittsburgh.” Her family’s been here for generations. She’s the local democratic committee member. All the neighborhood police stop at her house and chat. If she calls and complains about something, our councilman knows it’s a real problem. Luckily she likes me because I keep my house up, am quiet, and don’t have kids.
It’s interesting to watch the tow truck guy winch the car slowly out from between two parked cars. It’s patient, careful work. There is a tao to the tow truck business clearly. Once the back end of the car is exposed and lined up with the big truck, he winches the back tires up onto his truck then drags the car out into the street. Then he winches the whole car up onto the flatbed.
Then there’s quiet. A ticket waves from the windshield. Snow is still falling. The policeman comes up to the driver’s window and says something. They both laugh and part. Somewhere someone’s winter is off to a bad beginning, but he or she doesn’t know it yet.
I still can’t see snow without thinking of Emerson’s great poem, “The Snow Storm”.
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the north wind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer's sighs; and, at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.