Patience. On the drive back to the Cape yesterday, after our visit, I passed a sign, an advertisement for a tony, well-known diamond merchant, with satellite shops on Beacon Hill, St. Barts, Yarmouthport, Edgartown, extolling the neo-Marie Antoinette virtues of personal greed and what’s-mine-is-mine, what’s-yours-is-negotiable entitlement. Patience, it announced to the stagnant river of traffic slowly inching by, is Highly Overrated. I can’t help but be reminded of our little secret, our raging inability to accept what’s given, to always, always peek-a-boo over God’s shoulder for something better, something, anything else, like a small child shredding Christmas bunting. Funny though, when you just called, as I was writing this, your memory of Christmas morning in the Ross house came tumbling out, as seen through the lens of an insatiable six year old Pip. Up early, race downstairs. First the stockings, hung on the ancient, painted mantel by Olivia, your mother, the one, I imagine, who kept the family traditions, carried so carefully from her Boston Brahmin heritage. Your father, Frederick, the good doctor, apparently brought little cultural pomp and ceremony to the union, because his own parents failed as role models by dying young and instilling little, and with none of his own to speak of, he grew into a blank, inscrutable slate of mores and manners, and gratefully absorbed hers.

I am imagining much of this, but after the stockings, you had to wait until after lunch for your big-ticket presents, interminable hours of staring hungrily at the tissue and ribbon pyramid tucked beneath the, I’m still guessing, an elegantly decorated Scotch balsam, complete with a glittery, electric-pink Gabriel at its verdant, ceiling-kissing crown. And because you were always, and always will be, the baby, I am further guessing it was always your turn to attack the booty first. But before that, the hours before the storm, this was true patience, you said. The slow burn, the sweet ache of foreplay, to wait so long for the shredding and shrieking to begin. And then the feast of gifts; an endless bacchanal of tossed tissue and tinsel garland that lasted the afternoon, the war whoops of a high-revved, sleep-deprived army of pure, myopic covetousness.

Later on, towards evening, I can see you upstairs, as downstairs the good doctor and his wife unwound over 90 proof cordials of industrial strength anesthesia. In your room at the end of the hall, bathed in the mystic ruby afterglow of desire, your Christmas decompression began. The sickly peppermint of candy-cane on your breath, you partied alone with your newest totems; dress-up dolls and their Victorian playhouses, plastic ponies in their plastic corrals, paint box sets, Grimms fairy tales, stuffed menageries of lions and tigers and bears, then later on the Nancy Drew mysteries, board games, a Kodak Brownie camera, cashmere V-necks and costume jewelry, a bank check from some distant, long-memoried relative, perhaps an apple-green Schwinn bicycle with a silver tinkle bell and garish handlebar streamers, and no training wheels. Tell me. Was is worth the wait? Did you peek-a-boo over God’s shoulders, to see what else he had for you, behind His back?


Observed, in the waiting room on Saturday: One of those random acts of bizarre cruelty that prison is so adept at, although this happened to an ‘outie’, an innocent bystander. Blondie was on duty, the older C.O. that, you tell me, plays up to anyone with a cock, but can be a queen bitch to the inmates. Perhaps this particular visitor, a short, balding older man, picture a Polish Danny Devito, but blue-collar-exhausted from trying to swat at life’s curve balls, didn’t fit Blondie’s be-nice-he’s-a-man profile. Who knows? I was watching the entire episode, and what Blondie did to this man was mean enough to have happened to an inmate. The man was a couple of numbers ahead of me. We were all standing in a wordlessly expectant bunch, waiting our turn, and then the Danny Devito guy walked up to the cage, holding his yellow request slip and his license and registration. I know he was here to see his daughter, because I’d overheard him talking to a friend he’d come with, a thin, older, fuzz-headed, but ethnically-nondescript-looking man who looked a little like Kramer on the Seinfeld show, if Kramer worked on a road-paving crew from Brockton and drank himself to oblivion most every night in front of rented porn movies, instead of being cute and Jewish and independently wacko in the apartment next door to Jerry. Blondie took Danny Devito’s documents into her cage, quickly okayed them, then glanced up, as if finally noticing him. She didn’t say have a nice visit, Hon, and here’s where the bizarre really gets up to speed. All things you already know, of course, but if the governor happens to be reading this, or the head of the DOC, listen up, gentlemen, cuz this is some truly weird shit, what happened next, which was: Blondie looked this man up and down, silently handed him back his papers, then said, you can’t go in with that shirt on. The man stared at her. Why? He asked. She pursed her lips, and shook her head. You can’t go in with that shirt on, she said again. It has an in-sig-neeh-uh. It’s the rules. Then she apologized, but I can’t be sure, because I was watching the man walk away from the cage, still carrying his yellow form and his license and registration, as he’d done the last week and the week before and the week before that. Why the DOC doesn’t come up with an identity card for long-term visitors, something they could simply swipe at the door, then walk in to see their loved one, I cannot imagine. Perhaps because it would eliminate at least a half a dozen redundant C.O. jobs.

To be fair, I have read the DOC visitors regulations posted under glass in the waiting room at Framingham, and it doesn’t actually say that no insignias are allowed. But I imagine this has something to do with gangs and the antiestablishment paraphernalia they adorn themselves with, just as I love to flash my No More Bushes tee shirt, riding my bike past those $10,000 a plate Republican lawn parties up on Cliff Road every July. You told me your son was barred once from the visit room for wearing a Nike shirt. It might as well be a LaCoste ‘gator, or a Pebble Beach golf club emblem. But this one was a first, the Danny Devito guy and his illegal ensignia, and I wondered where he was going to go with it. Blondie, in the meantime, was calling the number just before me, so I got my game face on, took my eyes off the man for a minute or two. He was deep in conversation with the Kramer guy, and they were obviously discussing the options. I’ve heard this before. An older Chinese woman, a couple of months back, upset because she was wearing short pants, not hot pants, but pedal pushers, less than a foot up her ankle. Against the rules. Skirts are okay, say the rules, even above the knee, but ankle reveals are verboten. And rules are rules, the DOC says, even when they’re bizarre, capricious and really, really stupid. Danny Devito wasn’t wearing an undershirt, so he couldn’t strip down a layer, which surprised me. I thought all older Polish men wore sleeveless tee shirts, it was some kind of cultural imperative, like yuppies and their Land’s End khakis. But he was shaking his head vehemently. No, I ain’t driving home. Not all the way to New Hampshire, not to change my effin’ shirt, on my day off, no effin’ way. Kramer kept asking him things, quietly suggestive things, and Danny kept De-vetoing them, and just as my number chimed up on the deli board, the solution came down from the heavens. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his hand quickly reach up, in one deft motion tore, with a great ripping-shredding sound, the offending insignia. It came of surprisingly easy, a small woven American flag, carefully sewn over his shirt pocket. A shard of white cotton came with it, revealing a small patch of wrinkled, Polish chest. Then he beamed across at Blondie, flag dangling loosely from nicotine fingers, a wicked, triumphant half-glare that said Ah hah, stop me now, prison bitch lady!. She waggled her head at the shenanigans, and wordlessly handed my back my papers, forgetting for a minute to call me Hon.

As I walked back to the visitor’s stockyard, to sit and wait with my fellow hit and run victims of DOC’s welcome wagon, Danny and Kramer also returned to their seats; as it happened they ended up right behind mine. I turned to them and remarked on the flag tearing incident. Kramer shook his head sadly, glanced across at this friend. Yeah, I hated to see him do it, he told me. Christ, he’s a security guard, for eff’s sake, at another prison. You believe that shit? Danny was staring morosely across the room, the little torn flag still clenched in his hand, his paperwork in the other. He still hadn’t stowed them in a locker. I wondered about his parents, probably refugees from some Eastern European bloc country, and what they would think about all this, after what they endured to come to America. He looked a little sad, and startled, as if the beast had turned on him, and that wasn’t supposed to happen. I could see him rethinking his priorities, maybe just a little bit, but definitely processing the outrage, sucking it down to that hard, deep place that inmates know so well. Then their number came up again, and I watched them walk towards the processing guard who had called them up, resplendent in his C.O. blues, jackboots, and old glory patch stitched proudly onto his shoulder. Danny seemed even smaller at that moment, and Kramer, tagging along a few feet behind, looked a little crazier.


I am playing hooky from work today. Catching up on bills, trying to decipher the seal bark commands I just received from the IRS in this week’s mail, although it will surely end up with an enormous ding in my checking account. My computer was down this morning, a mystery only revealed when I discovered, after calling Fuckyou Comcast’s 800 customer service number that someone forgot to pay the bill this month. I guess that would be me. As I read off the 54 digit number on my Visa card, I asked the woman on the other end why they simply didn’t send out an annoying email the day before, you know, give me one last head’s up, since I tend to stuff monthly bills in an accordion file, then play Russian roulette as, or when, I get to them. She had no answer for that, like Blondie in her cage. Rules are rules, even though, when I turned the computer back on, still no Internet, which means I can’t check to see if Andrea, our new literary agent, answered the questions I’d send yesterday. This is that immediate gratification virus we both suffer from. I want what I want when I want it. Going deep Ghandi just isn’t our style, cross-legged stoicism at the rice bowl isn’t how we’re wired up, so, when things collapse, plans fall short, like a dwarf nebulae imploding in on itself, we tend to experience the damp palms, wooziness, and low-grade ennui of the truly impatient.

When you call this morning, I am at the post office, waiting in a long line for stamps. The stamp machine in the lobby is out of order. Outofserviceoutofserviceoutofservice, it flashes again and again. Today, at least, I am comforted we are winning the war against automation. A Luddite’s delusion, I tell myself they still need us, to minister to their cold, steel hearts, but not for long.

I am sending off all your handwritten pages to a typist in Pennsylvania; somewhere in Bucks County, a nice Amish freelance secretary will check her mail, and there, in individually-sorted manila envelopes, will be the sum of your prison life, the messy immediacy of hand-printed words on legal pads, spilled Ramin noodles, tears of frustration, cross-outs and add-ons. Your first drafts need to be formatted into a computer language my spell-check can relate to, and with my two-fingered hunt and peck it will take decades, so I hired a pro. Surprisingly, I had to call at least a half a dozen before I found a friendly voice willing to take us on, your half of the duet. A few women (they tend to be women) won’t do inmate memoirs, citing problems with families, ex-wives, and the fact that quite a few criminals actually blame their victims. If you had a typewriter, I could scan the pages into Bill Gate’s little evil brainchild, Word Perfect. Such a godlike simplicity to that invention, how, in his arrogance he’s brought the world the gift of tongue. I am the reluctant owner, and befuddled operator of the heralded Word Office Suite; it came bundled with my laptop, but frankly leaves me mystified with a level of stupidity I haven’t felt since ninth grade Algebra class, when the abstract Tilt-a-Whirl of formulas and equations with no apparent logic or application anesthetized my budding pussy/rebellion/FM radio-rock-and-roll-enchanted fifteen year old brain to such a degree that I began to take classes out on the school’s grassy knoll, leaning against the sun-warm bricks, with all the other skipping stoners, like some groggy, nocturnal reptile sleeping off the hottest part of the day. My inability to follow instructions, to suffer the lack of technical recall, or blindly accept authority, it all seems to emanate from the same darkly psychic warehouse, and it is in that mysterious netherworld that you and I feel the most kindred. Bill Gates has gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to make his software accessible to the common man. First graders routinely cut and paste pictures of dinosaurs from the Internet onto their websites. But at fifty four, I only just learned this dumb pet trick, the simplest of word processing commands, slicing and dicing my little manuscripts into byte-sized giblets. What is wrong with me? What is wrong with you? What is wrong now, with this Brave New World, Bill Gate’s grand vision? A technotopia where machines can read our thoughts, correct misspellings, in real time as we type them, so that we never really have to learn, simply tip-tap away, in blissful ignorance, as we become perfect, literate, and divine.


This week, there was a suicide at your house. A similar M.O. to the last one six months ago, you tell me the girl hung herself with a bed sheet in the medical unit, despondent and stressed and alone, and ironically, only in for a short stay. As usual, the DOC continues to stonewall, refuses to cop to the entrenched problems , as it blithely rolls on, of management and policy, criminalizing addiction and blaming the neediest victims of society, the poor, disenfranchised, and desperate. This is a week for unhappy convergences, you tell me, after conducting an informal poll, like the new moon, a swollen, silvery orb in the cloudless sky, has brought down the full wrath of Mercury Retrograde onto your immediate world. Everyone, it seems, inside Framingham, is walking under ladders this week. You’ve going into your second month with no period. PMS like a low-grade fever that will not break; the eggs are ripe, but no cleansing blood to bring relief, and even our phone sex will not open the menses valve. I ask you about the big M, menopause, and you laugh, say we might have to cross the baby off our list, but the good news, worry-free sex is great, even with the lubrication issue, but then again, these are all fears our mothers told us, the Ladies Home Journal worries of another time. Now it’s about Oprah, about taking chances, reshuffling the deck, not the deck chairs on the Titanic.


Literary news: Propane Sheila is writing a book, you tell me, already seventy pages into it, acting upon your wise prompt to safely exorcise the demons that got her there, which is letting the wild horses of her passion, rage, and jealousy run the show, demons, you’re convinced, and horses, we all share to some degree or another. Not all of us have the uncensored courage, or the brainless aptitude for mayhem that Sheila, who tried to blow up his sleeping boyfriend and his new paramour, seems to have, like an overdose of testosterone or an overactive thyroid. They say men, after forty, actually have more estrogen then women, and, I suppose, if the opposite is true, it would explain a lot of mid-life divorces. Women buying motorcycles and men trying on their wive’s underwear.


This week’s malaise at Framingham seems to spread outside the walls. In related news, I discovered blood in my morning shit, spent the entire week in the deep throes of terrified déjà vu, eyeing my old nemesis the body politic, the fear of a cancer rematch that never really leaves you, I suppose, very much like the dried drunk constantly scanning the heavens for the other shoe to drop. I cannot tell you about the blood, yet anyway, because, in theory, if I name it, by speculation or conjecture, I give it power, so, not knowing all the symptoms, you wisely name it classic battle fatigue, that I simply have taken too much onto my plate. In the meantime I talk to my immune system, tell it to be strong, to save a little for later when it is fighting the cold war of my disappearing marriage, hauling myself to a hard, physical job every day, deciphering my son’s own secret life, juggling the checkbook, worrying about you. I have little control how the cold war goes; some things just seems to go, but with you firmly in my life, I’ve made my choice, and there is no choice. Ya basta, I love you, there’s no going back. Now it’s about the balancing act, and catching each other when we fall.


There is a town in Mexico, my informant, a ‘freelance’ poet who pumps gas at the island’s only full-serve station, tells me, a small fishing village where a traveler can rent a cottage right on the beach for eight dollars a day, walk no more than a half mile to find fresh fruit and vegetables, sleep under mosquito netting, and have no cell service or WiFi for as long as the money holds out. He draws me a map, carefully spells out the name of the town, writes down a website devoted to the needs of impoverished, but incredibly wealthy, in third world terms, Millenium’hippies, backpack pilgrims, a Benetton Nation of heat-seeking slackers from Germany and Sweden, Canada and the USA. Every winter he goes down there, he tells me, spends a few months tanning and toning, writing free verse inspired by Emerson and his hero, the prole poet Wendell Berry, living the Caribbean Walden life of pan-frying up the catch of the day bought right off the fishmonger’s trucks, those ancient, but well-loved grandparents of the island’s shiny contractor fleet he feeds Hi-Test to every day. It sounds like a place where one could well disappear, and ironically, you remind me, because part of our movie is about the movies, the same place where a silver screen escapee went to find Morgan Freeman’s buried treasure in Steven King’s great prison opus, Shawshank Redemption.

My poet friend’s glowing descriptions of life in the slow lane have drawn me deeper into thoughts of our future journeys to your brave, new, post-Framingham world; thoughts which have, like a penny has two sides, a parallel, but wildly tangential trajectory. Where will we go? Where will we live? Last week I sent you pictures from the Internet of a house on Campobello Island, which although part of the Canadian Maritimes, lies just over a small bridge from Lubec, Maine. The house itself, a modernistic A-frame paneled inside with red cedar, and a serious-looking woodstove parked in the living room, was mostly window, and for good reason; the water views of the Bay of Fundy are magnificent. The asking price: just under a quarter million US, less than a third of what a run-down ranch house on Nantucket’s Hooper Farm Rd., the epicenter of the island’s designated blue-collar ghetto, would bring. Waterfront anything on my island starts at two million, can go as high as twenty five. But, despite the cheap cost of that glorious panorama, you saw only two things in the picture; the woodstove, which still carries for you unhappy flashbacks of a reluctant rural life in your early incarnation with ‘K’, the Paul Bunyan turned Perry Mason, chopping and hauling and burning logs because you had to, and, secondly, the thought of a twelve hour one-way commute to Boston, where you will likely first reinvent your career, light years from that bucolic Canadian pastorale in the pretty picture, and made even more impossibly surreal by your possible long-term driving suspension.


This week, as the fall begins to turn itself towards the hardest months, after a week of fasting on liquid protein and fruit juice, the blood is gone and I am back in Vermont, stronger and healed from what turned out to be a freak overdose of ginger, from a fermented Chinese tea I have admittedly grown overly attached to, but which seems to have aggravated an abdominal tear sustained years ago, and that caused the bleeding, which scared, literally, the living shit out of me. Now, hungry, but relieved, I return again to the Andiron’s Lodge, nestled at the foot of Mt. Snow, for another go at finally, this time, finally putting the ‘album’, a product of nearly two erratic but utterly fascinating years of creative nut gathering and soul stirring, to rest. A month has changed everything. Last time I was here, it was the end of summer, just before my birthday, on that quick, blast furnace trip to Florida. Today is September 30th, and when I walked outside, politely turn away as Brown Dog shits out the two double bacon and cheese Whoppers he wolfed down in the parking lot of a Brattleboro Burger King parking lot last night, I noticed for the first time, because we had arrived after dark, the scatterings of fallen yellow leaves on the lodge’s dew-soaked grassy back yard.

Suddenly Campobello Island looks frigid and unapproachable, despite FDR’s famous sunrise, the heyday of its tenure as the summer white house, when the polio-stricken president would moor his wooden ketch off the rocky beach, his home port for many New England voyages, including one notable trip to Nantucket in the late 1930s. When he arrived, unannounced, an anachronistic impossibility in today’s security-phobic climate, he never left the cockpit or stepped to dry land, so island dignitaries went to him; fishermen and shopkeeper selectmen stiffly awkward in funeral clothes, nervously handing crock pots of scallop chowder and trays of cranberry muffins over the gunnels. Later the crowds came by overloaded catboat and dory, throngs of curious well-wishers drifting by in the languid summer heat, an image from another time; deadpan American patriotism waving tiny American flags, holding babies up for a glimpse, a memory’s snapshot, of their intrepid, crippled voyager.

As for the woodstove in the picture, my beautiful fire dragonette, I have two words for you: backup heat. Your memories of life cained to an iron box, enslaved like a dairy farmer who cannot leave the beasts, all those hard hilltown winters spent pouring log after log into the roaring ring of fire, the constant stoking just so the pipes wouldn’t freeze, those are our shared memories of distantly untenable winter, all those winters of our unhappy servitude. Up on my theatre collective hilltop, which was dubbed Clown Mountain, while you nursed the flames in your own frigid universe a few towns to the west, like a prisoner in your farmhouse gulag exile, my troupe had at least a half dozen woodstoves scattered around the property; in the aggregate the iron dictators consumed probably a dozen cords, (a woodcutter’s archaic measure, like the hand yardstick of a horse trader) in the course of the endless winter, and even into the early spring, as the buds were birthing, just to keep the damp of the melt-off from our bones, to dry the bedding, bake the cornbread like some miserable Nebraska sodbuster’s hut-bound wife.


At today’s Saturday visit, we have our pictures taken in the children’s room. As a nervous C.O. hovers, your friend, who is written a book on her dog-training work in the prison, snaps four Polaroid’s of us as we pose and nuzzle. It is the closest I’ve been to your entire body, here, as we sit, peapod-tight and preschool giggly, daring, draped, arms entwined to shoulders, heads tucked protective as bird wings. In this adoring proximity, I can smell your freshly-scrubbed skin, the astringent, industrial-strength shock of state-issue shower soap. As we stand for a final, flirty flaunt, with one eye to the guard, who knows but cannot see, I slide my hand surreptitiously down the back of your prison grays, feel the cool cleft of your tailbone, the pliant curve where hip meets buttock, but descend no lower. D reports are a constant threat in these times so close to your release, (the beast will do anything to keep you here, and a wounded animal is the most dangerous); we’ve come too far to wander again into the crosshairs again. I am listening to the moment, as we attempt pleasant small-talk with the young C.O., as she struggles to keep her tough-ass game face on, as we are lulled into our imagination’s unfettered dream of possibility that this is just one of those social obligations one does together, and then, in a few hours, we can sneak out the back door, return to our cozy nest, somewhere, anywhere, and spend our evening rearranging twigs and leaves and sliding earthworms down our hungry gullets. It’s a reverie with a quick punchline, as I watch the four prints slowly materialize, fanned out on the table full of the incongruous clutter of children’s toys, count off the thirty seconds as they unfold from nothingness into glorious Instamatic being, and realize, with a pleasant jot, it’s also about our future.


Late afternoon, the same day. After our visit, on the road to Vermont, I take Rt. 2, head west on the old Mohawk Trail at a stately gallop through towns named for French kings, English governors, Wampanoag sachems. It meanders through the mill town of Irving, the paper capital of New England, and Leominster; a city limit billboard can’t decide what to call it: either the Plastic City or the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed. I have probably driven down this road hundreds of times, tasted the valley fog, watched whitetails scatter in the high beams. In a past life, as the dateline of our first meeting came and went, when life was the mad swirl of theatre on that old dairy farm on the mountain, The Trail was the only way to get to Boston, to the halogen glow of the big city, Beantown on a weekend jag, cruising in for our fix of stand-up comedy and Friday night folk music at Club Passim. That road was arterial and critical, a needful relief valve from the chaos and isolate schizophrenia of living with a dozen dueling superegos, especially in the death grip of winter. Once, rising at five on a February morning, before the weak rays of dawn, I drove my old VW bus, the infamous green Hopper with its moody transmission, all the way back from Cambridge to my hilltop dooryard, the whole trip in third gear, because of a snapped linkage rod; and not stopping once, as every stop light along the way shone down upon me a miraculous, good-to-go green. The next day, a hippie mechanic crawled beneath Hopper’s rusted frame, between spliff hits and astral braggadocio, spot-brazed the rod together again, but three inches short, for he was not a good mechanic, just an affordable one, and that three inches meant the world, so I was reborn with only forward gears, and that was how I came into your life, welded shut and no turning back.


Today I am searching for your childhood home, located somewhere in the Western Massachusetts town of Fitchburg, famous for what, I have no idea, except as the place of your birth, and as scenic backdrop for the Ross family passion play. When I head north, on these Vermont recording expeditions, I usually take the Mass Pike, a four-lane, toll-booth-speckled glidepath of a highway maintained by the Mass Turnpike Authority, a state agency as antiquated and corrupt as the DOC. But today I am on Rt 2, an ancient horse and buggy road widened slowly, over the decades, at the seams, a byway as conservative and retro as the towns it bisects, and state cops love to nab the leadfoot, forgetful strays from the interstate who absently punch it on the straight-aways. I am happy and full of our recent visit, the sweet diversion of our photo shoot in the children’s room, and this side trip to find your past just seems, somehow, part of the story. Somewhere out there, down this road, up that hill, is the big, rambly house on Pearl Hill Road you grew up in. I have an address, but no directions other than your last-minute admonition to ‘take the road to the state college’. At a Brazilian bodega, miles from the safety of the highway, I buy a fold-out roadmap of New England, next to the Slim Jims and five dollar sunglasses and a large poster advertising this week’s winning Lotto numbers in Portuegese. The curly-haired counter kid, wearing the bright red soccer colors of a team from some distantly hot country, speaks a functional pigeon English, just enough to make change and radiantly, but cluelessly smile as I pronounce the name of your old neighborhood. He shrugs and points to the map. But on his map there are no street names, just landmarks, colleges, military bases and parks, so I set off again, and wish again for you beside me, because by now I am running out of daylight and green-treed, white-skinned Vermont seems so far from this post-industrial ruination of cheapo car dealers, rundown suds-and-soak laundromats, and 7/11 stores. Everything looks dirty and cheap and poor. Perhaps it’s just me, and I am no good for true reality bites anymore, but my eyes have trouble focusing on this version of poverty and desperation living in an America so far removed from the wealth and gluttony of my over-hyped, over-priced island paradise. I know it’s not that simple as me judging the imported penury of an immigrant nation twice removed. But what of Mr. Fitch who built this once-proud Yankee enclave? Immigration is supposed to be more than nine month work visas and money orders sent to third world mailboxes. Poverty is only really poverty when you prop it right next to wealth, like dolls in a shuttered dollhouse who cannot imagine anything beyond their paper walls and isinglass widows, but still…Take away all tese rundown tenements and half-assed strip malls, take away the Hummers and the Rolex crowd, and we are really are all just naked apes picking nits before the gathering storm.


The Bodega kid is a waste of time, navigationally anyway, so I press onward, seeking direction, searching for a real Anglo I can talk to. At a combo gas/convenience store, I manage to interest a man in the parking lot in my quest to find the exact whereabouts of Pearl Hill Road. He knows pretty much everything there is to know about it…except how to get there. Walking me out to the edge of the busy street, he points and gestures and gives me intricate directions that should, in theory, land me on the same planet, like Neil Armstrong floating, floating down to the lunar dreamscape, but as I drive off again, weave here, bob there, his directions get jangled and pointlessly elaborate and it suddenly doesn’t feel right. Finally, after fifteen minutes of chasing my tail, and no cookie crumbs to guide my way back, and with the setting sun dipping fast, I have to turn back, feeling humbled and foolish, stunned by this expedition of spontaneous regression, like Shackleton realizing that pretty soon he’ll have to eat the dogs. When you call a little while later, I am already long gone from your childhood’s haunts, its sacred mist and borealis, have already passed into Vermont, shredding the miles of empty, rolling blacktop, but many more to go before I can sit absolutely still, not feel my body rushing by darkening stands of orange-shedding trees at eighty miles an hour.

I almost found it,” I blurt idiotically. “But it started to get dark and I was lost.”

How far did you get?” You gently ask.

The Planetarium. Near the college. I dunno. There was a big park.”

I feel like a blind man searching for a light switch.

You laugh. “God, you were so close. It’s just up the road. Less than a hundred yards.”


My mission is in tatters. Shackleton has missed the pole. And the dogs know something’s up. But then again, as I listen to your calm, slightly bemused voice, I know its all okay. How much your daily calls mean to me, especially when I am traveling, alone, but never really lonely, just alone, except for the silent, sleeping canine in the backseat, it’s like we are traveling together. Almost and always. Sometimes, driving, I’ll unconsciously reach across the air, lay my hand down on the passenger seat, palm up, waiting for your touch. It is an intimate, familiar gesture I know we will reenact many times, in the, if I can say the words, near future.