Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Half a Ten Dollar Bill

Dear George,

Things have been pretty quiet since our family returned to New Orleans after their early summer visit. I worry about the days slipping by without much fanfare or hoopla. At the same time, there are lots of interesting little mini-dramas in daily life if you stop to pay attention to them. This past Sunday would be a good example. My day actually started out with a sort of paranormal experience. I woke up in the midst of one of my chronic academic nightmares, this time having stayed up all night to edit a grad student’s disastrous dissertation draft. Walking down a university corridor at 6 a.m. I noticed that my colleague Rebecca’s office light was on. It turned out she’d been up all night too working on graduate student stuff. I woke up in the midst of my anxiety-ridden dream and decided to take the dogs out for an early morning walk. I hadn’t gone fifty feet before I heard a car honk and pull up behind me. It was Rebecca. She had so much work to do that she was on her way to the office before 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. I laughed and told her I’d already visited with her at the office this very morning in my dream. I thought back to my brother Peter’s conviction that dreams portend the future. Very strange.

The sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, and I proceeded on our walk, down Ludlow Ave., through Burnet Woods, around the lake, and back through the park again. Ten days ago on that very stretch I’d found the torn half of a ten dollar bill in the grass along Clifton Ave. That was unusual and exciting, though not as good as finding a full ten dollars. I’ve walked along that stretch five or six times since, and each time I’ve looked around in the grass and the shrubs for the other half of the ten dollar bill. I know my chances aren’t great, but I’m sure that the second half exists out there somewhere. I wish I’d find it. It does add some new zest to my walk with the dogs.

We crossed Clifton Avenue at the Skyline Chili corner. The Sunday newspaper vendor was peddling his wares in front of Adrian Durban Florist. I nodded hello. The newspaper guy gave a smile, waved to the dogs, then turned to hawk a paper to a passing car. I realized that the dogs and I had been saying hello to him since they were puppies. The ritual encounter gave me a comforting sense that the world was stable and predictable. That was short-lived. The very next day I read that Sunday had been the newspaper guy’s final day on his job after being on that corner for sixteen years. He was quoted in the news story as saying that he would miss the neighborhood doggies. I’ll bet Duffy and Mike were among his favorites. We’ll never go past that guy again. I’m glad we sort of said goodbye, even though I wasn’t aware of it.

Katja was having toast and coffee in the solarium and reading the New York Times. The phone rang, and she handed it to me. It was an area code from some other state, and the caller I.D. read “Private Caller.” I told Katja that it was some sort of marketing call, probably a charity. I pressed “Talk”, listened for less than half a second, then hung up. Katja suggested that I should listen a little longer to find out who it is. I explained that these firms use an automated system to call numbers at random. When nobody’s there on the line, you should just hang up. Katja reiterated that it would be better to wait a little longer to see who it is. I said, if they’re calling us at random, why would I want to talk to them. Just as we were debating this, the phone rang again. “Private Caller” had dialed us back. Annoyed, I pressed “Talk”, ready to hang up again, but a cheerful voice greeted me by name. It was my brother-in-law David calling from California -- not a telemarketer after all. I apologized for hanging up on him. He said he had heard my grumpy voice, and, before he could even say hello, he’d been cut off. I promised that next time I’ll wait longer. Katja listened and could have said “I told you so,” but she didn’t bother.

Later in the afternoon we had tickets for the Linton Chamber Music series. The lead performer was world class pianist Menahem Pressler, a refugee in his youth from Nazi Germany. Katja had seen him perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra when she was a teenager, maybe 55 or 60 years ago. Pressler is now 87, and he’s still carrying out a full performance and teaching schedule. I was a little nervous about such an elderly performer lapsing into errors, but I needn’t have been. He was brilliant and impeccable. In addition to concertos by Mozart, Turina, and Dvorak, Pressler did two encores, one of them a solo Chopin piano piece. The entire concert was intense, powerful, melodic, and, for the intricate Chopin sonata, he didn’t even look at a score. I found it inspiring that this man was capable of performng at such a superb level in his late 80’s. He seemed very gentle and humble as a person as well. I’m sure the whole audience, with lots of gray hair in the group, was impressed by this remarkable model of elderhood.

After supper Katja and I watched an episode of Boardwalk Empire on HBO. Suddenly we heard an immense crash from the bedroom next door. A split second later our sheepdog Duffy ran out of the bedroom. I’d gotten up just in time to see him race to the stairway, dive off the top step, crash down the carpeted stairs on all fours, and land on his side on the foyer floor. I ran down the stairs after him. Duffy, by that time, had struggled back onto his feet, and, though he looked dazed, all his limbs seemed to be intact. I’m sure his fall would have incapacitated a human being. When I came back up to the bedroom, our large TV had been turned around on its pedestal, and the cable box and the cassette recorder, which normally sit on top of the television set, were lying askew on the floor. I speculated that Duffy had been playing with his kong, gotten tangled up in the TV cords, and pulled the entire thing down on the floor. Skittish by nature, the crash had scared the wits out of him. We were amazed and relieved that he was o.k. When we took him in for a flu shot two days later, the vet said that a lot of older dogs would have died from such a fall.

So my Sunday started with an imaginary nightmare, ended with an actual nightmare, and had a bunch of quirky odds and ends in between. A pretty good day, though not the best of all times. It’s sort of like finding half of a ten dollar bill. It’s novel and surprising, there’s a mysterious story, and it gives you some hope for the future. On the other hand, when I find the second half of the ten dollar bill, that will be even better.



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-Jennifer M (10-26): :-)

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