Measured Extravagance

2001-01-13 - 2:35 a.m.

It's probably a good thing that the Beautiful Young Man has already retired for the evening, since he would consider my midnight snack decidedly revolting: a bowl of bulgur and a hard-boiled egg doused with the brine of Wei-Chuan pickled cucumbers, and washed down with a mug of "Prince Vladimir" tea (a Russian blend "scented with orange, lemon, vanilla, grapefruit & spices," proclaims the box).

It's the little brown flower-cucumber pickles that unnerve the BYM. I grew up munching them with eggs and rice, and now that I'm a grownup I sometimes even nip one or two out of the fridge without pairing them to something more nutritious. Being culturally deprived, the BYM cannot transcend his belief that pickles should be green, so when I bring out the little red can of dark brown Taiwanese pickles, he gingerly tries to maneuver it as far away from his side of the table as possible. It's a process significantly complicated by my tendency to knock over open containers that happen to be on my side of the placemat divide, as the BYM does not care for sticky pickled cucumber juice all over our belongings.

In short, he cannot win when he wishes to dine with me when I am craving Wei-Chuan pickles, so it is just as well that he has retreated upstairs, thus sparing his sensibilities from unnecessary outrage. (It's an given that I provide him with at least one opportunity to be appalled or dismayed per day. This sort of thing is unavoidable when one half of the partnership adores musicals and the other half loathes them.)

For most of this week, I've been working fairly intensely on a pair of poems about Boston. I was going to start carving out a new poem tonight, but the day was stuffed with meetings and voicemail tag, so when I got home I didn't feel up to anything more strenuous than a few scrawled notes in my paper journal. (Tomorrow I'll whale away at it in the morning, before the library opens - they have two Sarah Caudwell novels on reserve for me, so we may as well consider the entire afternoon already lost.) Instead, I read an enlightening profile of the Vanderbilt Divinity School - I'd been unaware of its liberal reputation - and today's entry in the poetry almanac...

drastic forms of admiration is a virus.
Wanting people to desire us
we (meaning you and I) wear a bright veil
of language (meaning words) before which pale
the mundane elements of waking life.
"A poet." Fine. But sometimes I feel like the wife
of a demented mullah...
    - Tim Dlugos

...and I perused The Oxford American during my soak, admiring the regular columns in particular (which touched upon open-heart surgery, Thomas Wolfe, and the similarities between Robert E. Lee and Bill Clinton - I wonder how many subscriptions they're going to lose for that last one...). Of the features, I was particularly moved by the ending of Tom Piazza's "Note in a Bottle," where a record collector pays tribute to his patient wife:

Mary had been reduced [while waiting for TP to finish combing through seventy boxes of 78s] to reading the automotive supplement of the Times-Picayune, and I felt a little sheepish. She looked tired, and I didn't blame her. She had, after all, been sitting there for almost two hours. Between the lines, her smile said, "Love costs." I didn't go into much detail about my finds. She understands and she doesn't understand. The important thing is that where understanding leaves off, she has the faith to hang with me anyway. Grace, I thought as we drove off, is not something anyone has a right to expect in this life. But when you find it, you can at least say thank you. Which I did.

I also browsed through the Images of America volume on Jews of Rhode Island 1658-1958. The image that struck me the most? On page 25, there was a photograph of "The library card of Jacob Horvitz, 1910." It's Providence Public Library card no. 67616, stamped in that odd rounded title-size font that one often sees on large tickets and the like. Then there are a series of unevenly-pencilled call numbers and the familiar MMM/DD/'YY due date stamps. The caption continues: "Like many immigrants, Mr. Horvitz so valued his first library card that he also (*) kept it among his most prized possessions."


(*) The "also" refers to Mr. Horvitz's steamship inspection card - the one that let him embark onto the Hamburg-American Line after approval by the US Consulate General in Germany, with holes punched for each daily inspection by the ship surgeon, and a last Immigration Bureau stamp at the Port of New York on Sep 12 1904.

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