Friday, September 30, 2016

Old Cycles, New Cycles

It was an early afternoon meeting for which my colleagues were taking places around a horseshoe of conference tables. I had arrived before three-quarters of the others – a weekly meeting that someone else was in charge of convening.

The young woman who took the seat to my right crisply opened her laptop, slanting the screen so that it was easy for her to read under the ceiling fixtures. To the right of it she had her smart phone, propped so that she could catch an alert from her child’s day care or a text from her husband. A binder in which she kept the printed agenda for each meeting that had met so far this year was open before her. She took up her pen and waited.

No laptop in front of me, my smart phone face down, I straightened my stack of recent agendas and looked around me. No one within ten years of my age had a laptop on the table.

No one within ten years of the age of the young woman beside me had failed to bring one. The expressions on their faces sometimes coincided with a comment just offered by a member of the group; sometimes the expressions were cryptic, smiles hovering as they eyed their slanting screens.

The tap of keyboard punctuated the cordial meeting over the next forty-five minutes.

Later that evening I positioned a disk of vintage vinyl on the turntable in my apartment. Music composed by Aaron Copland for the 1940 film Our Town played in the semi-darkness. Without needing to hear the family names of Gibbs and Webb, I was imagining the characters that Thornton Wilder had created for the stage. New Hampshire everydayness felt very close. Its slowness. Its cycles. Its predictability.

Some cycle is opening up for me these days. I want to be among Gibbs and Webb families more often. I have less care for the agendas that others create and print and distribute.

I want to open windows onto night air.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


When I was turning five and six and seven, my oldest brother was already fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. I could not have concerned him much.

I was all eyes for the first-grade teacher who walked up and down the aisles of the classroom, occasionally leaning close by our small desks. It did not occur to me to watch my oldest brother too closely; his was a teenager’s determination to deflect as much attention as he could. I cringed when one of my parents mentioned topics that he clearly wished could remain private.

Who was Shirley? What was jazz? How did you flick a lighter and hold it to a cigarette?

There was a radio repair store on the Jefferson Highway not far from where we lived. My brother’s part-time employment there was one of the chapters in his moving beyond us, beyond the tile floors of the bathroom that my father scoured clean every Saturday morning, beyond the slipcovers that my mother had sewed for the sofa and chairs in our living room.

When I was turning sixty-two and sixty-three and sixty-four, my oldest brother was already seventy-two, seventy-three, seventy-four.

It is a long time since my brother has stretched out his legs under a kitchen table and tapped a cigarette out of a fresh pack at the end of dinner.

A picture I took of him with Dave Brubeck at the 1978 New Orleans Jazz Festival is prominently displayed in his home.

It is unclear whether he has ever told his three grown children the entire episode with Shirley and her mother.

My brother, at times as much Latinist as physicist, soon completes another quarter century.

The wife and children who carefully prepare the upcoming celebration must be in awe of him.

I know I am.