Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

turn the key

I read sometimes about those little sleeping spaces one can rent in a Japanese airport or train station--not quite a motel, but a series of tubes, one tube for each sleeping customer. I'm sure that some friend or other on my friends list has seen them and perhaps stayed in one and can correct all my deficiencies of imagination. But I imagine the seats on airplanes to be much like those little chambers.

I remember when Motel 6 actually did cost 6 dollars, while Regal 8, slightly tonier, cost 8 dollars. At the early incarnation of Motel 6, one had to plug coins into the television in order to get it to work. Yet, there's something luxurious about things that require coin-feeding or winding or the forces of gravity to operate or recharge.

Modern airline travel has this kind of dime-store luxury, the same luxury at the Wound and Wound Toy Shop in Hollywood, in which everything is very metallic and gizmo-like and yet also incredibly cheap and in seemingly perpetual need of winding with a key. A friend told me recently that she hated to fly, which I could not imagine, because flying to me is something I neither love nor hate but do as naturally as breathing. I met my wife on an airplane, after all. Planes have a mystic romantic power for me.

On this series of flights to San Francisco and Dallas, I alternated my reading among three books--Miss Read's sentimental English provincial classic, "Village School", Katherine Dunn's "Geek Love", and a volume of Karl Kirchwey's poetry. I do a lot of reading by patchwork these days, taking on long trips with a series of books among which I alternate. This time the juxtaposition between the doings at Ms. Read's charming Fairacre School and the carnival folk of "Geek Love" made for a pleasant set of contrasts, quite jarring in a pleasant way at each "switch", while the Kirchwey poems, like multi-faceted stones, sparkled and winkled at me all differently each time I held one to the light, such that poems I particularly fancied on first read I noticed less on fourth read, while poems that I skipped over on first skim I came back to with satisfaction. I liked the Kirchwey poem about how a poet tries to look out a window, but ultimately, writes the image of himself/herself reflected in the glass.

I read the Miss Read books each few years, because I enjoy the sense of escape to world in which the foibles of people are not overlooked, but somehow blend into a workable, quiet life. I am an unashamed apologist for seeking out a bit of peace and a little comfort in this peaceless, comfortless world, as selfish as that can sometimes prove to be. I do not mind staking out a little real estate in the land of quaint fantasy in my search for the hamlets of rest. I like the way that "Village School" foreshadows the future of the characters, as its author did not in 1956 realize she would be writing some forty years' worth of material to actually fill out the futures of the characters. I have a special weakness for fiction about teachers at the primary or secondary levels, whom I admire tremendously.

I quite enjoyed Katherine Dunn's "Geek Love", which proved a good read filled with fun wordplay and beautifully mangled metaphor. I am usually anything but a devotee of novels which feature many of its narrative themes, which even in this quite workmanlike rendition seemed a bit obvious and imperfectly elaborated to me. The book seems to strain to "defy conventions" in ways I found not particularly revelatory, but I somehow did not end up minding that it "tried too hard" with the convention-pushing. I suppose I am past shocking in this way, but what makes Dunn's work in this novel distinctive is that she clearly winks a bit at the reader, showing that she, too, is beyond being shocked this way, but can find a little fun in playing with the conventions and with the proprieties she's taking her lance to tilt against. But sometimes we all grin too heartily, which is not really a grin at all--it's a grimace. I wrote a play once called "life's grimace", for no real reason, when I was young enough that I did that sort of thing, which had a scene so beckettian that it could have been in "endgame". I did not defy conventions, though I thought I did, because I had a character suggest we hang the Kaiser.

I forgive much to anyone who, like Dunn, is a good storyteller with a gift for wordplay, though, and on the whole the book proved a fine read indeed. I understand why so many have recommended this book to me. Sometimes books which are self-consciously "literary referential" get bogged down in their own pseudo-intellectual cuteness, but I felt that "Geek Love" did not suffer from this well-nigh-unforgiveable-blasphemy sin. It was perfect airplane reading on a rainy Friday night--perhaps not a life-altering experience, but thought-provoking and a worthy entertainment.

When we had boarded the last plane to go to Dallas, I phoned home to my mother and father. I determined, based on that conversation, to drive home to Arkansas tomorrow morning. I hope the rain abates a bit,
but I love the look of things in the dead of winter, when I can count hawks on telephone polls and the
freeways are not crowded. It will be good to see my people again, as well.

I did not get my customary SF hot croissant,though I did get a nice twist pastry. I also did not get my favored hole-in-the-wall cafe Chinese rice plate lunch, instead settling for a hot dog with sauerkraut at the airport, but, by way of redemption, the "hot dog bun" was a kind of great sourdough bread instead.

Did you ever notice how communicating with folks to whom you are related is like a thousand Amazing Kreskins communicating with a Dixie cup and string telephone system? You have nearly perfect psychic intuition about one another's thoughts, but then the connections lead to such incredible oversights and miscommunications. You turn the key, though, and the music box plays, and you enjoy its strains, because you're granted your moments with this lovely music.

Tomorrow I'll treat my little car as a waking chamber, filled with music and a warm heater and a window into a world filled with hawks and rural farms.

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