A MAN in isolation in a pandemic with his wife in an apartment is a sailor without a ship and a cowboy with no horse and I shouldn’t complain but life without complaint would be too much like church so I will. A year ago my wife and I left our 5-BR house and became apartment people because we didn’t know four other couples we wanted to form a commune with and play dulcimers and work for world peace, and it’s okay but I miss my house and feel a loss of manhood.
I once, solo, wearing gloves, carrying a plastic pail with an LP record jacket for a lid, removed a bloodthirsty bat clinging to the curtain in the family room and pounded a stake in its heart and saved my wife, who was on the balcony in a diaphanous gown looking at the moon, from an eternity of undeath. In an apartment building, the manager would do that.
In the house, I once made a risotto that my wife said was the Van Gogh “Sunflowers” of risottos, which I accomplished because she was outdoors sunning on the patio. In the apartment kitchen, I would’ve been under her close supervision and, frankly, I’ve never done well under supervision. As I write this, she is not looking over my shoulder pointing out that Van Gogh painted several series of sunflower pictures and maybe I should be more specific and say it’s the one in the National Gallery in London. The paragraph was better without that sentence, was it not?
My wife is a violinist/violist and so she believes in exact precision, whereas I am a writer of fiction and enjoy the freedom of living in our apartment here in Montmartre with a walled garden in back where I read Proust in French and have no idea who is in the White House, none, and don’t care to know. “C’est la vie,” as we c’est.
I don’t say that mine was a great risotto, but of all the men who’ve trapped a bat, I make as good a risotto as any of them, but I am a man and we don’t discuss our exploits, which is why, on last week’s Zoom call with a couple in Northern California, the two women did most of the talking, discussing their vacation plans and the doings of children, while Russ and I kept silent, as we old Navy men tend to do. Loose lips sink ships. And when we talked, we spoke in short declarative sentences. Like that one.
Russ is a mountain biker, a slight man with a will of steel whose quadriceps are deadly weapons. I can envision him going up Mount Denali with snow tires, not breathing hard, to rescue naïve climbers in shorts and sandals and diaphanous windbreakers. But did he talk about his exploits on the screen? No, nor did I talk about the fact that I wrote a novel and a memoir in the past few weeks.
The novel is in French, about me and a woman named Madeline, and the memoir covers my early years in Minneapolis when F. Scott Fitzgerald was my Scout leader (his book Boats Against the Current is about canoeing the Mississippi) and Bob Dylan was majoring in political science at the U and read me his paper on Bob LaFollette as we walked out of Folwell Hall — “How does it feel to be all alone like a complete unknown, breaking through the attitudinal bandwidth to the paradigm of proactive empowerment” — and I was about to edit that sentence when a truck went past and the term paper flew up in the backwash of wind and got scattered in the hard rain and he said, “It’s all over now” and I said, “Look, it’s blowing in the wind” and that was that. I understand he’s done well since then.
The women were talking about their kids’ social lives and I spoke up and said, “Alexa, take the ladies into the next room” and she did and Russ and I leg wrestled for a while and he threw me, two out of three, and I recited “The Miller’s Tale” in Middle English, and he recited the periodic table, and we punched each other hard in the solar plexus, and as the women came back in their diaphanous gowns, we competed for the Best Last Line. Mine was: “The winner of any contest is the historian who writes it down.” Not bad, huh?