Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Take and Give on the South Side

José Quintana (top) and Chris Sale, Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago
It wasn't what I'd imagined. Chris Sale's return to Chicago to face José Quintana didn't result in a low-scoring nail-biter. Quite the contrary. But the Red Sox 13 to 7 victory was still a very entertaining affair. Love the game more than the team, my mantra of this century.

It was a classic Take & Give Affair. After a quiet first inning for both pitchers, Quintana gave up three doubles and two home runs in the top of the second: score, 4-0. In the bottom frame, Sale gave up a walk and four singles; score, 4-3. In the top of the third, Q gave up two singles and another homer to Devon Marrero: score, 7-3. In the bottom of the inning, Tom Anderson knocked in Avisail Garcia from third; in the bottom of the fourth, Todd Frazier homered with Leury Gracia on base. Three more runs for the White Sox: score, 7-6. Naturally, at the top of the next inning, White Sox pitching, being good hosts, felt obligated to give those runs back via a three-run Jackie Bradley home run. Etc.

My pre-game prediction, written in jest, wasn't very funny after a while:

Quintana lasted two and two thirds, and his ERA ballooned to 5:60. Sale pitched five innings and struck out nine, though his slider wasn't particularly nasty—White Sox chased a lot of high stuff, and Sale noticed—and he gave up five earned. Not a stellar night for pitching.


The defeat-and-surge play was fun to watch, for a while, until it wasn't. There were three Red Sox fans in my row in Box 120; I became friendly with them as the night progressed, the talk moving from fanly allegiances to baseball news to How's the family? as can happen during a game. This is one of the many reasons I love taking in a game at the park, the camaraderie, however, shallow, that's forged among strangers for a few hours. That, and the way your eye can choose what it wants. When I was a kid and went with my Dad to Baltimore Orioles games at the old Memorial Stadium, he'd always bring a pocket binoculars with him, to watch the action on the field closely—we never had great seats—and to peer into the dugout. That curiosity has been passed on to me. On television, a commercial interrupts before you can watch a player head into the warmth or chill of the dugout after a plate appearance or the end of an inning. Last night's Dugout Drama featured a couple vivid scenes: after Dan Jennings induced two ground outs to end the fifth inning in which he surrendered Bradley's home run, he stalked into the dugout and strode swiftly past his teammates as if he were sliding downhill; everything looked tilted by his anger and self-disgust. After Jose Abreu lined sharply to second baseman Josh Routledge to end the sixth, Abreu stood on first looking baffled. White Sox first base coach Daryl Boston customarily took the slugger's bating helmet from him, and the two chatted, about what? Probably how frustrating baseball is.

Speaking of which, the career-challenged Matt Davdison, a player I'm watching closely this year, DH'd last night and struck out five times. I'd never seen that before. (Jim Margalus at South Side Sox reminds us, "It’s the third such game for a White Sox hitter since last August. Before then, they hadn’t had a five-strikeout game since 1998." Selective memory on my part, I guess.) After his final K, Davidson stood alone in the dugout, gravely removing his batting glove, a tableau of misery. There wasn't a player with fifteen feet of him. There are no words.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Dreaming a stranger's house

I used to have a recurring dream where I'd be walking down a city or suburban street after dark, minding my own, when I'd make a small move to the left or right and suddenly be inside a stranger's home. It's 2 am, and I'm standing in a quiet living room or rec room, in the dark, frozen, afraid to move lest I reveal myself. The smells of strange home, the odd arrangement of unknown furniture and wall hangings slowly materializing in the dark, a clock ticking. I don't know what to do. I've breached, I've trespassed without trying, or even wanting, to, sealed in to a fate I didn't want. How'd I get in here? How do I leave? I might get arrested, I might startle someone. 

The dream would usually end, or, as dreams do, narratively morph into something else entirely, or I'd wake up before I'm discovered by the home owners. I had this dream for years. I haven't in a long time. Now that it's absent, I wonder about it. Does it originate in my autobiographical impulse? The curiosity to essay my own life and past leading me to wonder, on the protected dreamscape level, about others' lives behind closed doors? Maybe, and more accurately, it comes from my writing about others, the desire to get into someone's home and learn what goes on there as, at the same time, I'm deeply wary of that impulse: temperamentally, I shade toward introversion. (I still hate interviewing people.) Maybe as a quasi-introvert, I experience my greatest social discomforts when I dream. Maybe I fear that I'm a fraud, or am morally dubious, on the occasions I write about others, making of their private lives a public subject matter. The dream is scary, unpleasant.

When I was a kid I imagined a machine—with gauges, blinking lights, electrodes, and the rest—that would record my dreams onto film; the next morning, I could watch them. I both craved and feared this. Sure, I wouldn't mind getting comfy and playing (and re-playing) that dream featuring Tina P. or Susan J.—but what about the embarrassing, shameful, awful stuff, the stuff in dreams (nightmares) that we blessedly forget or, if we're burdened with remembering, try and shake as the day progresses. I hoped that video would never surface. Anyway, I'm skeptical of dream interpretations, so I'll stop here. Maybe writing this will spur the stranger's-house dream to make an encore. Maybe I'll figure it out.

 Top photo via Senior Art Studio; bottom photo via Raygun Brown

Sunday, May 28, 2017

"The words we use." Brian Doyle, 1956-2017

"I met a tiny, frail nun once, in Australia, while walking along a harbor, and we got to talking, and she said no one defeats cancer;"
cancer is a dance partner you don’t want and don’t like, but you have to dance, and either you die or the cancer fades back into the darkness at the other end of the ballroom. I never forgot what she said, and think she is right, and the words we use about cancers and wars matter more than we know. Maybe if we celebrate grace under duress rather than the illusion of total victory we will be less surprised and more prepared when illness and evil lurch into our lives, as they always will; and maybe we will be a braver and better people if we know we cannot obliterate such things but only wield oceans of humor and patience and creativity against them. We have an untold supply of those extraordinary weapons, don’t you think?
Brian Doyle, from "On Not Beating Cancer," Leaping: Revelations & Epiphanies

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Round Saul, Flat Goodman

Left to right: Jimmy McGill, ca. 2003; Saul Goodman, ca. 2009; Gene, ca. ?
As a reader, I love fictional constructs; as a nonfiction writer, I'm deeply skeptical of them. I'm more interested in the actual plots that life offers—unpredictable and formless, though stubborn with, and bemused at, those who think they can shape them. "A to B to...H? OK."

I'm on record as being a Vince Gilligan/Peter Gould obsessive. I loved Breaking Bad immoderately, and have been watching its prequel Better Call Saul with great interest. I'm especially curious about the meeting point of Jimmy McGill and Saul Goodman, particularly the Saul Goodman who appears in Breaking Bad. By the time that character pops up, Goodman's already a great deal sleazier, shadier, and more morally dubious than the Goodman who's materializing before our eyes weekly on Better Call Saul. I trust that Gilligan, Gould, and company will finesse McGill's evolving toward Goodman expertly, and, probably, surprisingly. One thing they can't finesse, however, is the Goodman who's already appeared on Breaking Bad, who, despite the performance by Bob Odenkirk and the character's crucial role on the show, was far less dimensional a character than Walter White or Jesse Pinkman, than even Hank Schraeder. Saul's interior life remains closed off to us, and he often goes for broad laughs.

However, the McGill/Goodman we're getting on Better Call Saul—made complicated by the drama/tragedy with his brother Chuck, the cautious, likely doomed romantic relationship with Kim Wexler, and his various, half-hearted attempts to stay straight—is a pretty rich and dimensional character. Will the round Saul and the flat Saul meet awkwardly? Will they glue together, or is the complexity we're getting with McGill/Goodman going to overpower the Goodman in Better Call Saul as to render the latter character oddly less than what arrives via Better Call Saul? And what about Gene? I'm not a fiction writer, let alone a prequel writer, so I wouldn't know what to do here. Hope that the tracks laid by Better Call Saul's McGill and Breaking Bad's Saul join up, and aren't laid a fraction of an inch—or a few yards—off.

Time will tell. This recent exchange between Gilligan and Gould about the developing character of Chuck McGill underscores the surprises and maybe the unavoidable pitfalls of prequel territory:
Vince: If you go back and watch the very first episode of Better Call Saul, there’s no indication at all that Chuck McGill is anything but a loving brother who is damaged mentally or emotionally at some level.

He’s got this allergy to electricity that may or may not be a real thing. That’s the big issue for him but the two brothers seem to love each other. Maybe Chuck is a little condescending. Maybe he takes him a little bit for granted. But there’s no indication that he’s going to be the villain of the whole piece.

That’s for a good reason. Because we had no idea.

Peter: That’s right.

Vince: When we started we thought Chuck was going to be like Mycroft Holmes. The guy who helped his brother come up with various scams. In our early mind’s-eye version of this Jimmy would be this rascal who would say to his brother: “How can I stick it to this guy.”

And Chuck would have a pained expression and say “That’s reprehensible. That’s not the way the law is supposed to work. However, having said this… hypothetically speaking…”

There’s an alternate universe in which that happens and it would have been fun.

But something happened along the way. You describe how it came to you.

Peter: To me, the moment was watching Michael and Bob do the very first scene between Jimmy and Chuck. A scene in the pilot episode that Vince and I wrote together. Just as Vince said, Chuck was there to be a burden to Jimmy. He humanized Jimmy by having someone to take care of. I don’t think our thinking was much more sophisticated than that.

But we both saw something in Michael McKean’s performance. A tremendous pride. Michael brought to this character not just vulnerability. He wasn’t just a big baby who needed to be taken care of. He was someone who had towering pride.

When we went back to the writer’s room, we said “We invented this character to tell us something about Jimmy. But what is it like from Chuck’s point of view?” The more we thought about it, the more we thought about how hard it is to be Jimmy’s older brother. There’s a jealousy there. That pride was a shield that Chuck was living behind. That fascinated us. The best thing about doing a series like this is that the characters get to talk back to you. You get to observe the performances of the actors and take that knowledge back to the writer’s room and use it to shape the story.

We started off the season Chuck was going to be more or less a hapless burden. Maybe even Hamlin’s victim. By the end of the season, Hamlin was Chucks’ reluctant minion. There was nothing we had to change, it was observing how Michael played the character.

UPDATE: This, from Better Call Saul reddit user ArmsmasterFestil, suggests how the writers might link Round Saul and Flat Goodman:
There are actually more than a few times [in Breaking Bad] where Saul shows compassion and decency, glimmers of Jimmy I guess. In the podcast the writers have even talked about it. One of the season 2 podcasts I believe. Saul gets pissed at Walt for poisoning Brock, and only stays in his employ because Walt threatens him. He's even overly nice to Brock and Andrea earlier in the season, he stays and talks to Brock for a little bit, when all he really has to do is drop off a check. He tries to convince Jesse to talk to Andrea and not leave her in the dark. So every once and awhile we see flickers of the old Jimmy, which makes his character that much more interesting in my opinion.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sheffield's Dream

If you're a hardcore Beatles fan, you probably won't learn anything new in Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World, but that's the point: there are no new facts, and yet those facts keep renewing themselves generation after generation. Sheffield is the Platonic version of a Fan: geeky; supremely knowledgeable; biased; enthusiastic; grating; humble. His prose—which I've been reading for years in Rolling Stone, and other places—purely captures the bubbling, ecstatic mood of a bar or dorm room conversation among friends who are so passionate about their stakes in the argument that they'll go on for hours. But his conversational style misleads: this is a deeply smart, considered, and well-researched book, its brilliance originating in its essayistic approach, which originates in, and is given voice by, Sheffield's energetic talkiness. The scope of the ostensibly chronological Dreaming the Beatles staggers. Excitably, Sheffield connects disparate points in pop culture—Beatles songs to Hip Hop to politics to movies to TV, across decades, across continents—but rarely reaches too far, and when he does, I forgive, because that's one of The Rules in this game: you can fall flat as long as you gave everything you had in your running approach. Sheffield's appealing grin is practically visible above the pages of Dreaming the Beatles, and the engine that powers the book is Sheffield's amazed amazement, the deep joy and awe he feels, and expresses, when considering the infinite possibilities of the surprises that the Beatles, decades after breaking up, still give. His essays on the challenging, uneven solo years—Sheffield reminds us that the individual Beatles had to learn how to have solo careers, and couldn't lean on, and learn form, each other in a protective bubble as they did during the band's career—and on the Beatles' baffling renewals in the Eighties and Nineties are especially smart. The book's funny, too.

If you're an over-the-top, lifelong Beatles fan, as I am, reading Dreaming the Beatles is page-to-page delight—your smartest friend who's in a good mood, feeling generous, and is really on his game. I've already made room on my bookshelf to place it alongside Mark Lewisohn's The Beatles Chronicle and Tune In, Jonathan Gould's Can't Buy Me Love, and Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head. (I wish the latter author—yes, a bit of a Boomer finger-wagger—were alive to debate Sheffield.) Upon waking from Sheffield's dream, you begin to recognize where you differ with him. His tendency to drop in phrases and sentences from Beatles lyrics, insider joke-style, got too cute for me by page 20—in places it feels as if he's more interested in that gimmick than in the idea he's exploring—and his winsome, bubbly voice discourages deep reflection or consideration in more than one place, where a more refined justification might've helped; I stopped keeping track of where I agreed with him, with head nods and mental high fives, and where I wildly disagreed, my eyes rolled back in my head. Because, finally, Dreaming the Beatles is less about argument or persuasion, than passion and the surreal, trippy pleasures of grateful fanly reverie. There's a lot of room in there for both Yes and No.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Charlie ruminates

I discovered this terrific sit down with a typically thoughtful Charlie Watts, dating from the Spring of 1966 and apparently never broadcast. Context: the Rolling Stones' boundary-breaking "Paint It, Black" single and Aftermath LP have recently been issued, and the band will depart for a North American tour in June. The conversation was taped in Watts's yard on bright day, and his wife Shirley is seen atop a horse, and galloping about. Ruminatively chewing his glasses, Charlie holds forth on a number of topics, including the limitations of fame, Mick Jagger's and Keith Richards's growth as songwriters (their early demos "weren't very good"), particularly Jagger's increasing social commentary in his lyrics, jazz music, and show business.

He's particularly interesting when he discusses the Rolling Stones' and other U.K. bands' co-opting of  African-American traditions and sounds, and on racism, a word that neither he nor the interviewer use, but which is practically visible in the air as they speak. "It's very strange. That's another facet of America that you can't really understand is the Negro," Charlie offers.
When you get a version of "Long Tall Sally" by the Beatles sold half a million records and then you've got Little Richards's which is ten times better, selling three hundred copies...that sort of thing. It's just remodeling a thing and making it acceptable. And it's only acceptable because the Beatles have done it. And the same thing with us. We probably sold more copies of something like [pauses] "Little Red Rooster" than Howlin' Wolf ever thought of. But all we did was do our version of Howlin' Wolf's "Little Red Rooster." And yet it sold. It's a very funny thing. I suppose it's the wrapping they buy.
When the interviewer suggests that it's "mass media" that provides the wrapping, Charlie agrees:
Television's got to have something entertaining, something that's nice to look at, although it doesn't have to but that's what they put on it. And so Howlin' Wolf singing a song is not very acceptable as far as selling the record goes as some good looking white boy singing the same song, but it's got a totally different meaning. To them, anyway.
And about the relationship between pop music and sex, Charlie is predictably modest and buttoned-up, even nervous. What's sex got to do with sound? he asks nerdily, or knowingly—I can never tell with Early Charlie. 
I don't know because I'm really quite a bit naive about things like that, because I don't really think of it.... I think it must play a part. But there again I should've thought that the Beatles would never get anyone out to see them anymore, since they're nearly all married. But, I mean, there you are, you see. So I really can't answer that, properly.... You can sing about "sexual intercourse" all night long and it wouldn't draw any effect. But if the person who's singing it has got one of those faces that women like, then he's gonna be a big success. [chuckles] You see, that's the funny thing about it. It really is only your face, which makes this sort of life to me a bit shallow. 

Interviewer: How do you mean?

It's all very silly, you know. It isn't silly, it's just obvious, things like having a wash, really, just obvious things that go through people's mind, like you must eat, or something. So I suppose the sex thing is just an obvious thing which no one ever talks about but it must be there. But it just nauseates me a bit.
Great stuff. Full interview here:

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What do I owe?

In her episodic memoir The Odd Woman and the City, published two years ago, Vivian Gornick offers vignettes of Manhattan life, interspersed with scenes with her longtime friend Leonard. Gornick's a native New Yorker and, thus, a native perambulator, and her book (after her earlier Fierce Attachments) is a lively addition to the long tradition of urban walking memoirs, and also features many passages on trains and buses. In one, Gornick describes riding a subway from Fourteenth Street to midtown. At the station, a man in front of her with an "elaborately folded-up baby carriage on his back" leads a small child to some seats directly ahead of her. "I plop down on the one opposite him," Gornick writes, "take out my book and  glasses, and, settling myself, am vaguely aware of the man removing the carriage from his back and turning toward the seated child." Then Gornick looks up.
The little boy is about seven or eight, and he is the most grotesquely deformed child I have ever seen. He has the face of a gargoyle—mouth twisted to the side, one eye higher than the other—inside a huge, misshapen head that reminds me of the Elephant Man. Bound around the child’s neck is a narrow piece of white cloth, in the center of which sits a short, fat tube that seems to be inserted into his throat. In another instant I realize that he is also deaf. This last because the man immediately begins signing. At first, the boy merely watches the man’s moving fingers, but soon he begins responding with motions of his own. Then, as the man’s fingers move more and more rapidly, the boy’s quicken, and within minutes both sets of fingers are matched in speed and complexity.
Gornick's self-consciously embarrassed at her insistent gazing, and repeatedly turns away, but the two "are so clearly oblivious to everyone around them" that she can’t help looking up from her book. And then "something remarkable" occurs:
the man’s face is suffused with such delight and affection as the boy’s responses grow ever more animated—the twisted little mouth grinning, the unaligned eyes brightening—that the child himself begins to look transformed. As the stations go by, and the conversation between the man and the boy grows ever more absorbing to them, finger flying, both nodding and laughing, I find myself thinking, These two are humanizing each other at a very high level.
By the time we get to Fifty-Ninth Street, the boy looks beautiful to me, and the man beatific.
This passage gives me pause. On one hand, Gornick—who's no novice at interpreting subway drama—is describing a charged, epiphanic moment, of which she is the observer and the affected, a welcome, and perhaps rare, moment wherein the limits of her prejudices and biases are tested; on the other hand, she verges on sentimentalizing the boy's handicap and the older man's burden (and perhaps, in using the word "burden" I myself am ascribing qualities to the man he doesn't feel) by casting them as beatified messengers. What obligations, if any, does a writer have to the people she writes about? Does she take away their agency by describing them from a distance, however affectionately, and then publishing the account? Or is any responsibility mitigated by the fact that it's only her reality, simply her perspective, that she's describing? Her truth. As someone who on occasion writes about others, I'm interested in the answers to these questions, and to the degree that I'm ethically—if not aesthetically—bound to present a dimensional and fair a portrait of the people who happen to wander into my autobiographical writing. In his essential essay "Bride in Beige," Mark Doty writes that "beyond the personal ethics of memoir—how fair or unfair we are to other people in our lives—and beyond the matters of accuracy, there's a higher ethical standard, which has to do with the ethics of art: that what is made is commensurate with the real." What is "real" for Gornick on the train is the "remarkable" gift of unbidden, surprising grace that she witnesses; the actual details of the exchange as experienced from the man's and boy's point of views—and the difficulties, tragedies, and griefs they've likely experienced—aren't the issue. Should they be taken into account?


Reading this passage of Gornick's, I was put in mind of Michel de Montaigne's response at observing a conjoined child. Four centuries before Gornick rode the subway, Montaigne suggests a practical, humane way of seeing deformity:
Whatever falls out contrary to custom we say is contrary to nature, but nothing, whatever it be, is contrary to her. Let, therefore, this universal and natural reason expel the error and astonishment that novelty brings along with it.

Photo via Brute Reason.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"I love you because you're home..."

My latest essay in The Normal School is out, a trip down John D. Loudermilk's "Tobacco Road" and some of the many, sometimes wildly different, cover versions that followed, including the Nashville Teens', Lou Rawls's, the Blues Magoos', Bobbie Gentry's, and Junior Wells's, and the maddening ways we define home. You can subscribe to The Normal School here.

Here's an excerpt from the opening:
Loudermilk rode his bicycle to Marvin’s Alley with a flashlight and a fistful of money orders to deliver: muddy road, no cars, seven or eight houses, each darker than the next. “But each porch lamp had a light in it of different colors,” he remembered. “I didn’t know what that meant. So I knock on the door of the first house, and the lights come on inside. And it was full of people. Quiet. Because they were not supposed to be so free with their Saturday nights.” Loudermilk would peer through the front doorway at the suddenly illuminated folks inside who, propped up on the couch, would quietly smile and nod back at him. “And when the guy was through with the business at the front door, I left, and he’d turn the lights off. And I went to the next house. That was Tobacco Road.”
A decade later, the imagery of the dark, mysterious alley and the people who lived there haunted Loudermilk and the words of the song he’d write and record. That kid born in a lump—some will sing “bunk”—whose parents vanish, who’s left to live or die alone, who hates Tobacco Road, enacts the great dream: he leaves town and, blessed by the Lord, earns lots of money, comes back, bulldozes that lousy road, and rebuilds it, proud, at long last, of the name. But there’s a paradox in the chorus made graphic by a change in melody and mood, a nagging conflict that makes the song real: the place will always be home, no matter how bleak and despised, as it’s the only life he knew. Can a song solve that puzzle, make something joyful of it?

Raised in the Baptist church, Loudermilk didn’t know the world and the people of Marvin’s Alley. He wasn’t writing autobiography. “My mother didn’t die in childbirth,” he made clear. “My daddy didn’t get drunk. I never saw him drink a drop. He smoked cigarettes and died as a result of it. I never heard a dirty joke or a curse word from my father.” The angry man in “Tobacco Road” lives in that space between Loudermilk’s upbringing and the zones he crossed into Marvin’s Alley, between home and fantasy, real life and fiction. Loudermilk already knew the power of the imagination, of an interior life engaged with the world outside. “Dad, he was very, very quiet. I’d come home at night after work and he and mother would be sitting in the dark having watched the sunset go down. And I said, ‘What are y’all doing in here?’ He said, ‘You’ll know someday’.”
And some strolls down Tobacco Road:

Lou Rawls, Tobacco Road (1963)
The Nashville Teens, single (1964)

Blues Magoos, Psychedelic Lollipop (1966)

Bobbi Gentry, The Delta Sweete (1968)

Junior Wells, Coming At You (1968)

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Endlessly, All Night"

Recreation at Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones of the flat at 102 Edith Grove in West London shared by Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and James Phelge in the early 1960s. Photos from Navy Pier in Chicago. many young men in bands their home was an absolute mess with clothes, dirty dishes and old fag ends and empty beer bottles everywhere!

"The milk bottles were just growing this stuff. It was very much like that, the kitchen particularly," Charlie Watts commented.

The band were instrumental in bringing their old home to life again and whilst no photos exist of the flat it would become the launchpad for an amazing legacy.

Keith recollected, "It was definitely a time when we were working hard, learning the blues, endlessly, all night… imbibing it. It was a major part of the band coming together."
The verisimilitude was pungent. I manfully resisted reaching over and rifling through the albums. The kitchen and bedroom I gave a wide berth.

Living Room



Friday, May 12, 2017

Tuning Up with Vivian Gornick

In her terrific 2015 memoir The Odd Woman and the City, essayist Vivian Gornick nails the currency of anticipation so lavishly spent in one's 20s. Gornick is rightly hailed as one of the great urban essayists working now—Manhattan is her canvas—but she also has extraordinary access to her childhood and adolescence, and the ways we tend to wander, wide-eyed, from one thrilling possibility of the future to the next. Here, she describes the sophisticated allure that Manhattan's west side held for her when she was young and erupting with dreams of adulthood, emphases added. "In college, another friend walked me down West End Avenue. I’d never seen a street as wide and stately as this one, with doormen standing in from of apartment houses of imposing height that lined the avenue for a mile and a half."
My friend told me that in these great stone buildings lived musicians and writers, scientists and émigrés, dancers and philosophers. Very soon no trip downtown was complete without a walk on West End from 107th Street to Seventy-Second. For me, the avenue became emblematic. To live here would mean I had arrived. I was a bit confused about whether I’d be the resident artist/intellectual or be married to him—I couldn’t actually see myself signing the lease—but no matter; one way or another, I’d be in the apartment.
In summer we went to the concerts at Lewisohn Stadium, the great amphitheater on the City College campus. It was here that I heard Mozart and Beethoven and Brahms for the first time. These concerts came to an end in the mid-sixties, but in the late fifties, sitting on those stone bleacher seats July after July, August after August, I knew, I just knew, that the men and women all around me lived on West End Avenue. As the orchestra tuned up and the lights dimmed in the soft, starry night, I could feel the whole intelligent audience moving forward as one, yearning toward the music, toward themselves in the music: as though the concert were an open-air extension of the context of their lives. And I, just as intelligently I hoped, leaned forward, too, but I knew that I was only mimicking the movement. I’d not yet earned the right to love the music as they at few Years I began to see it was entirely possible that I never would.
The wry title of Gornick's book, and the decades she's spent essaying herself honestly as a thorny emotional outsider, offers further, bittersweet evidence of how one's twenty-something dreams often remain just that.