Residential Evening

Wing carcasses were everywhere, and red, crumpled remains of napkins. As I brought the final wing to my mouth, and spread it with extra spicy sauce, I had the first pangs of end-of-summer sadness. As Proust might point out, I knew they were the “first pangs” precisely because I had had them before: because they resonated with past end-of-summer experiences, and this made them merge past and present in a powerful way, which took me by surprise and reminded me that although experience repeats itself, it can do so while feeling absolutely new.

And: the smallest thing can trigger the biggest sensations. I will mock myself: I found myself, against all odds, cleaning my room and the sight of a dry cleaning tag made me tear up, slightly. It was a dry cleaning receipt from the day before. It was a last-minute, desperate, pathetic attempt to get my white tux jacket recovered from its sea of wrinkles. So my thoughts ran: never, never again would I (probably) go back to that same dry cleaners, with that same person, and feel the same way. The summer is over! Now, that white tux jacket will go into the closet, be unused, dusty, till the next summer… I felt pity for the poor jacket, alone like us all … And so on, yadda yadda. I was disgusted with myself, I laughed, even as I let the dry-cleaning nostalgia wash over me. (What other blog would discuss dry cleaning nostalgia? Tell me!) It reminded me suddenly of the moment in the hilariously horrible movie The Day After Tomorrow when the father and son were reunited at last after much idiotic tribulation in the frozen library, and I looked over at my friend C., and she was crying a little, she couldn’t help herself, and she saw me seeing this, and saw a slightly mournful expression on my face as well, and burst into laughter with her tears; I laughed with her, helplessly.

The chicken wing was, by the way, purely incidental to my sadness; it was no madeleine. Probably it was the breeze, a smell in the breeze, a way the sunshine hit me in the little courtyard where we were eating, and the kind of sudden realization that that night was the last concert (which calls to mind the seemingly infinitely far away starting point)–no matter how well you know something, you must at some point know it “for real.” These knowings are completely irrational and have their own timings.

I’m trying to connect a thread here. Really. Let me hit one more moment. An Oberlin night, fifteen years ago … walking along one of its tree-lined, perfectly quiet streets … I looked up from my careless dorm-bound footsteps, into the glow of the living room of a house, where several students were gathered, as if to celebrate simply the light of their own selves. On one boy’s face–at that precise moment–I saw the birth of a smile, the turn of his head and the softening of his features in recognition of some affinity, some accord; his hand reached out beyond the window’s frame.

Wanting to be the one in the window is a futile, inchoate longing, and a literary/artistic cliche, a “trope”: the man (the wanderer, die Winterreise, “das ist ein Floten und Geigen” from Dichterliebe) stuck outside, looking in, seeing the conviviality of others, which brings home all the more forcefully the loneliness of the observer. The observer=the artist, of course… or just anyone, who, by the act of observing, and by nature of being separate, becomes (temporarily) an artist.

OK, lost the thread again! I keep wandering down the little avenues the thoughts suggest, rather than lumping them all together. (The taut thread of my summer is loose, and my brain is amok.) I am looking through the window in Oberlin… and this is a spatial metaphor for the sense I have of the brightness of the past, the idealization of memory. The past appears to be complete, enclosed, lit, separate, unreachable, “not your destination” … like the living room in my story. But we all know exactly how boring it can be to actually walk into the living room we have seen from the street. So, whatever I saw that night actually does not belong to they who were gathered there (living those perfect, idealized, students-gathering lives); whatever “actually went on” was surely not what I saw through the window; what I saw, and wanted, belongs entirely to me. And so too the essence of those past moments for which a dry cleaning tag may seem like a no-trespassing sign. Knock again, and something will open.

Tonight I walked home along streets of Portland, Maine eerily similar to those in Oberlin (hence this stream of consciousness); no windows beckoned but the atmosphere of the street at night was very striking… almost tense in its tranquility! Tomorrow, a plane carries me back to New York and a total chaos of familiar faces and activities, concerts, etc. In Manhattan there are so many glowing windows that you cannot abandon yourself to the longing for any one…

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  1. Anonymous
    Posted August 28, 2005 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure whether I’ve ever ascertained this, Jeremy: you have, have you not, read Nabokov’s Speak Memory? If not, once you get home tomorrow, go out to a bookstore and buy it and read it, read it immediately. Your musing on time and memory and loss and the self will be infinitely enriched.


  2. DO
    Posted August 29, 2005 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I’m reminded of the high school teacher who was asked what she thought of a student production of Shakespeare and replied, “The performance was wonderful, but oh, all those clichés!”

    “The Dead” by James Joyce and Thomas Mann’s “Tonio Kroger” are both organized around the very cliché of which you write. And it is what makes them indispensable. In music, there is no greater cliché than the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which, with apologies to Ned Rorem, I will gladly hear again and again.

    If we tire of clichés, it’s because of our overconsumption of the work in question, not because of misdeployment by the artist.

  3. Erin
    Posted August 29, 2005 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I now feel compelled to post my dry-cleaner nostalgia. (I worked in one in high school, and the smell of hot starch sends me instantly back to that noisy hot room full of disappointed people and lost buttons.)

  4. Anonymous
    Posted August 29, 2005 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Pasternak wrote a good window one too

  5. Erin
    Posted August 29, 2005 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    I am reading through a book of quotations, checking corrections, and I find this: “A happy heart loves a cliché.” (Lenore J. Coffee, in the screenplay “Sudden Fear,”). I’ve never heard of either of them … but the sentiment is good.

    Am I the only person tempted to create meanings for the “word verification” words? Mine is ‘tnfpuym’ which is onomatopoeic word meaning “to fall into a kettledrum.”

  6. DO
    Posted August 29, 2005 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    I actually thought it was an eye test.


  7. Molly
    Posted August 29, 2005 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Here I will rather obnoxiously go off on a tangent inspired by this post: mulling the impermanence of memory in a blog has always been an interesting thing to me, as the diarist is, in effect, setting down records that may later be referenced and compared with the evolved memory. This sort of immediate record of a memory is strange, in that memories are so subject to polishing and the endowment of secret crystals, as if a pebble was tossed into the rock-tumblers of our brain and emerges months later as a geode.

    You add a layer to memory by recording it the moment it happens, and later returning to it and observing the differences that have been limned upon its surface. It’s as if the object of memory is a square of concrete, poured heavy, slow to set, subject to the footprints of pigeons and the stick of a child walking home; the initials of later loves can be carved upon its still-elastic surface – and the paragraph about it a photograph taken of the newly-poured square. In this, the unchangeable immediacy of the photograph is almost more concrete than the concrete itself.

    My word is “segsiykm” which I can only assume is the moment of panicky confusion that ensues when a conversation has segued into an unrelated topic and you can’t remember why.

  8. Hucbald
    Posted August 30, 2005 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    I enjoy the bittersweet character of melancholic retrospection. Such indulgences are, to me anyway, one of the most delicious semi-sweet chocolate morsels of one’s internal life. The thought never crossed my mind to blog about that aspect of my persona, however, as the unconquerable privacy of those moments is something I cherish, and I believe I’m more comfortable clinging to them – in the manner a child hangs on to a security blanket – while basking in the idealized after-glow of my own “private Idaho”.

    To “snap out of it” I often tell myself jokes: “I had a melancholy girlfriend once: Head like a melon/face like a collie. ;^)

    Nice post.

    rppdpt: “Rapid Piano Players Department”. Cool, except for the fact that I’m a guitarist. Perhaps “Rubato Prelude Players Department”. Ugh.

    I’ll stop now.

  9. louise
    Posted August 30, 2005 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    O, Mr. Denk. I stumbled upon this entry the very day I was misting up over my carton of un-opened chocolate cigarettes; a gift that ended another summer’s bitter-‘suite’ — we (I, and he who would have me smoke chocolate) will never see again. Your blog is lovely. Thank you.

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