One Plus One (1956): When one of the older kids in the neighborhood is told he “has no balls,” he replies, “I’ve got two of them, how many do you have?”
This is a question I have never asked myself.
That night, in the bath, I nervously count.
And no more.
Bobby and Joanie (1964): Someone tells me that in 1961 he was staying with a friend in Cambridge. From Harvard Yard he heard a male and female voice having a drunken argument. “Stop it, Bobby,” said the female. “Aw come on, Joanie, come back here,” said the male.
I will repeat the story many times, to the great pleasure of my listeners, who will choose, as I do, based on no evidence, to believe they were Dylan and Baez.
Sartre’s Concept of Good Faith Demonstrated by a Waiter in a Chinese Restaurant (1965): My father’s won ton soup is lukewarm, so he calls over the waiter and says, “The soup isn’t hot.”
“Soup is hot,” the waiter declares.
“No it isn’t,” my father says.
The waiter sticks his finger in the soup, and agrees with my father.
Do You See Where You Are? Do You Know How You Got Here? (1965): During my driver license (yes, that’s what NY State calls it) road test, the examiner asks me to cross a six-lane highway. I get halfway across when I realize there’s an onslaught of cars coming from the right. I squeeze the brake pedal and hope everyone stays in their lanes.
The examiner looks up from his clipboard and calmly asks: “Do you see where you are?”
“Do you understand how you got here?”
He makes a notation, clicks his pen shut. His work is finished.
What He Does (1974): One of our transient roommates is Ralph, who works for EMS. He never talks about what he does.
One night, we’re all watching the local news. The reporter describes a triple murder in the Bronx, and says, “One of the victims was dead at the scene, the other two died at the hospital.”
“Two were dead at the scene,” Ralph says under his breath. “And the other one died in the ambulance.”
Concentric Circles (1970): She’s a friend, she says she is horny, I ask what are you going to do about it, and she responds: “I thought about fucking you, but I knew you wouldn’t because of your girlfriend. You see, you put a circle around yourself. You’ll do anything within that circle, but you won’t even consider going outside of it.”
I tell her that I am always working on widening that circle.
She replies: “You’ve missed the entire point.”
Two Things My Mother Said: “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” “Like this you kill a day.”
“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken” is attributed to John Buchan in 1919, and later appropriated into a song made famous by Faron Young and Maurice Chevalier.
“Like this you kill a day” seems to be hers.
Shithole (1983): I have some kind of intestinal bug that won’t be snuffed. To make sure I don’t have an exotic parasite, the doctor sends me to a diagnostic lab that specializes in feces. You need to get several negatives before they rule out parasites. The lab is a converted apartment. Everyone there is leaving samples; often, chemical inducements are required.
I could go on, but I don’t want to write it. And you wouldn’t want to read it.
Youthful Pain (2001): I trip and scrape my knee against the pavement. During the two-second delay between the act and the pain, I remember crying as a little boy when I scraped my knee. As the pain kicks in, I think of John Berryman’s line “I am not a little boy,” and I feel tearful. It hurts so good to be a little boy for a few seconds.
Mama Rat and Her Children (2001): While the moon is being eclipsed, a mama rat and her children are crossing Riverside Drive as a taxi is paused at the Stop sign. The mama stops in the middle, waiting for the kids to catch up. The taxi driver honks his horn—two gentle beeps. The kids speed up and the whole family reaches the other side. The taxi goes on his way. The moon returns.