Sunday, September 4, 2011

pine and balsam too

My dearest, I have missed you acutely today, nothing to do with page hits, perhaps the weather though, in between, not-raining, humid gray torpor, now it seems that the wind is picking up, perhaps the skies will burst, perhaps not. That's how I feel inside, close to bursting in some way.  I went to see a film this afternoon, sat by myself in the back row and the movie was beautiful but a bit slow and I just thought of you and my eyes leaked tears that I brushed away in the darkness and I could imagine you sitting there with me, not next to me but in front of me, facing me, not really at the movies at all either of us, not mentally. Is it because I dreamed about you last night, and remembered the dream? I did, the first dream in a couple of weeks that I've managed to remember, and to record.

M & A come over. M comes in the door first, into the solarium. She’s very buxom, beneath a striped sweater. She is talking, obliviously. I am very anxious to see A. He comes up the steps, appears in the doorway – and I’m alarmed because his face is disfigured. His right cheek is a patchwork of stitches, a large injury. All his facial hair has disappeared – singed off – no eyebrows or eyelashes. His mouth seems to be sewn shut. Very grievous. I say, what happened, are you alright? (How could I not have known that something so terrible had befallen him?) I put my arms around him, for longer than I should, we hold each other (he feels so good, and I can tell he is very happy that we are in each other’s arms and presence), M doesn’t seem to notice, or if she does, she doesn’t mind, or has somehow made her peace with it. Later in the dream it seems that A can talk after all, and it seems (as he describes) that he was in a bizarre accident where (as I understood it) a man was ice fishing, and threw his line in such a way that A, somewhere behind him, was caught by the hook, and dragged.

In another part of the dream I get a message from him (is it in the form of a page hit, whose search terms I decipher? I don’t remember). The message reads (paraphrasing from memory), “
I have a draft war plan for us to be together,” maybe for a weekend (not sure).

I’m trying to entertain everyone, organize coffee, beverages, and I can’t seem to get it together at all. I’m far away from the company in a room like a conference hall where I can’t find cups or milk, etc., etc. I pour one cup of coffee, but it’s not even into a cup, but into a tiny pitcher that won’t do. I’m in a panic. M is still oblivious, and holding court.
So I was trying to write about Leonard Harris, and the steam's gone out of it a bit, I think because I've been trying to approach it head-on, which doesn't work for me. Or so I'll try after all - just dive in. His obituary doesn't mention that, as I recall, he would routinely appear on best-dressed lists. He was very handsome and distinguished looking, and I remember one plaid jacket he wore, and sometimes he'd wear a turtleneck beneath a sports jacket, very - I don't know - bohemian? Stylish, for a naturally elegant man in the 1970s, certainly. His reviews were erudite and witty, fair. He had a twinkling manner, and genial easy way.  I remember some repartee of his with Jim Jensen, a punning joke, verbal swordplay, for whose Mr. Harris' bemused but decisive arboreal thrust (slyly declaring his feelings for when he was apart from his cherished faux-adversary?) was that he would "pine and balsam too."

My ideal man! I wrote him a fan letter - an extremely rare thing for me to ever have done in my life, let alone girlhood. I wonder what I said in the letter? Perhaps that because of him I found a passion for attending movies and the theatre as often as I could, and trying my hand at writing my own reviews - this was a time in my life that I felt passionate about wishing to write, and wrote a lot, as practice, to gain facility and ease with the craft that filled me (to this day) with terror at the blank page and some measure of satisfaction at having managed to fill it somehow - with a line, a voice. Anyway.

I certainly never expected any response - there wasn't exactly (as far as I know) a Leonard Harris fan club. But one day I came home from school and there in the day's mail was a large envelope waiting for me. Inside - perhaps there was a form letter, probably there was - but most notably and shockingly - was a black & white glossy head-shot photo of the object of my affection - autographed in black marker. He wore the plaid jacket I remembered well seeing in color on TV.

Darling, I slept with that photo underneath my pillow for a long time. I took it everywhere I went. I don't mean school (yes, probably I sneaked him into textbooks or notebooks, I don't think I was able to part with him for so long - but I can't say that I specifically recall that). I do remember spending a week or so one summer at my cousins' - Leonard in tow, keeping me company by my pillow as I swapped stories and played word games in the darkness with my cousin across the room in her bed, until both of us became so exhausted from talking talking talking that one of us would finally fall asleep - my cousin first, usually, I believe, I was too excited to be there, for my cousin her room was old hat.

The crush faded as years went by, and corporeal love interests much closer to my age eventually transpired...

I had occasion to meet Mr. Harris once. It was at a particularly hard time in my life, my senior year of high school. I had had a near-year long relationship with 1.0, and he had, at the end of the summer of 1976, gone off to graduate school in Alaska. At the same time my best girlfriend went away on a year abroad to Finland. I was very, very alone - beside myself and bereft. Very unhappy. I took up smoking. I slept too much. I gained weight. My family, my mother in particular, was not the slightest bit of comfort to me, as I recall. I was on my own in every way. For a time I even went to live with 1.0's mother that autumn, which worked out for a while until it didn't.

Anyway, somewhere in the midst of that, whether it was that fall or the following spring I don't remember, Leonard Harris was far from my mind at that point, but somehow (probably from a Times book review) I learned that he had written a novel. Some things never change, or patterns get set early - I didn't really have the money for the hardcover - so yes, I checked it out of the library. And read it, and it's not really my kind of book, historical speculative thriller, but I read and enjoyed it.

And then I learned that he, as part of his book tour, was going to be giving a reading one morning at the (then-existing) Bloomingdale's in downtown Stamford. I skipped school to attend. The reading took place at the department store's lovely Ondine Restaurant, located on an upper floor, a large lightfilled modernist space, southern exposure walled with open glazing. I visited that restaurant many times over the years that I grew up - it was always a special treat to go there. I'd go with my mother sometimes, and we'd have frozen yogurt (so exotic then!) topped with fresh fruit. I'd go now & then with 1.0's mother and I'd order a very sophisticated Dubonnet and croque monsieur. I must have gone there once or twice with 1.0 while we were dating, but I don't specifically recall. My senior year of high school I once went with a girlfriend and I ordered a Dubonnet and it just wasn't the same, it felt illicit rather than impossibly stylish.

Mr. Harris read an excerpt from his book. He stood at a lectern that had been set up for the occasion. I felt alienated to be there. The people I cared about the most were gone. I was skipping school on this gray cold day to attend. I was, I'm sure, by far the youngest person in the audience. My crush on Mr. Harris was at this point in time, historical in nature - long since faded. Still, I had sufficient fond memories of that crush to attend, partly out of curiosity, more maybe from nostalgia, and more so even still from deep implacable constant unrelenting nameless wrought silent tortured - yearning. His physical presence now in that room, was an emblem of that for me.

I had the library book with me at the reading, and afterward I'm sure he took questions, signed books. I lingered on the peripheries, observing the proceedings. I don't remember specifically, but I must have, once the event was packed up and he was leaving to go, followed him, a discreet distance behind, down the escalator. And out the back entrance of Bloomingdale's, on the other side of which, across the street, was the parking garage. Mr. Harris was headed to that.

At some point, perhaps still within the chic trendy emporium, but that's not what I recall -

I recall chatting with him at a discreet distance, outside the back entrance of the store. There's a really outgoing side to me, and at the same time I'm easily flustered and blurt things out. I blurted out that I had read his novel, and that a few years previously I'd had a massive crush on him, to which he grinned (in his impossibly charming way) and seemed to find cute. I said that I had written him a letter and that he had sent me a signed photograph of himself in response. To which Mr. Harris had the refinement and grace to slightly wince - sorry that must have been the publicity department, he said. Sorry - are you kidding?, I retorted. I slept with that photo for years! At which point I became suddenly ruffled and blushed.

And that was that - bye Mr. Harris! As he headed to the parking garage in the rain. He turned around and yelled back to me.

Would you like me to autograph your copy of my book?

No, I yelled back - it's a library book!

(Quelle moron I was! How cool would it have been to have had the library book signed??!! - then again, maybe not.)

Anyway darling, that's that - there, it's out of my system...

Bye Mr. Harris! I still remember you!


and you too dearest dearest love

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