From New England (Redux) to Africa by Way of Ancient Greece: Gathering Bookish Momentum & Sleeping in the 3rd bed (in the spirit of Carver's "Neighbors")
Last weekend was a weekend of shifting. Shifting weight. Shifting focus. Shifting cities. Shifting states. Switching places, figuratively. Shifting priorities in anticipation of our big move. Saturday morning, B and C came by in a U-haul and picked up about a third of our furniture—bookshelves, a chest of drawers, an armoire, a bedside table, a DVD player, a file cabinet, a pine chest the size of a child's coffin, our six foot cactus that was six inches tall when we first bought it upon arrival in NYC, etc.
Jess Channeling Jimi
Hawking your possessions to people you know can be kind of creepy. Will the possessions possess them? Will B and C become like D and J? It's not as creepy as acquiring stuff from people, shifting their possessions onto your own self, which inevitably we will have to do upon arrival in Kenya. One thing's for certain, I'm a glutton for moving furniture and heavy objects, not just for the exercise, but because of the idea of it. The term "the weight is lifted" is more than just words to me, it's seeped in the equation:
MGH = ½ MV2
where M is mass, G is gravity (a constant), H is height (in this case a 5th floor walkup) and V is velocity. An exchange of money was involved too, but $ is not relevant in the world of physics unless you think of it as imaginary tokens of potential. And that's what this was about: building potential. The left side of the above equation represents potential energy and the right side represents kinetic energy. It's all about shifting mass from a weighted state to a building of momentum (MV).
We rented a vehicle to accomplish the task at hand, which was to drive (with velocity, V) to Providence to acquire some books. To take the 3rd Bed torch off Vincent Standley's hands. The last thing in the world I need to be doing is taking on more books right before our journey overseas. Call me a crazy back-peddler, but that's how important I think they all are, the issues of 3rd Bed, Motorman, the false sun recordings and Stories in the Worst Way. These are objects worth their weight and more.
They gave us a silver Lincoln Town Car, a "ba-da-bing-mobile," as Jess called it. Not the best choice with gas being what it is. We asked for a compact and this is what we got. We had no clue how to get where we were going, and no map. My first impulse (in physics, impulse is the change in momentum: MV2—MV1) was to get the hell out of the city and sort things out from there. Let things "fall into place." To my feeble and elitist brain, that typically means going to New Jersey as I associate that with the "mainland," or the first step off the sanctuary of this island. I was mysteriously drawn towards the GWB. Jess was of no help, she was just as nyc-myopic as I. We realized it wasn't such a great idea half-way across the bridge.
We paid the $8 toll and back-tracked to head up the cross-Bronx expressway. If you are curious to know how low humanity can go, go no further than the cross-Bronx expressway. It's like taking a ride on the river Styx if instead of being the boundary to hell was the super-highway straight into it. To think that animals and native Americans once roamed the grounds on which the cross-Bronx expressway now lies is unfathomable. We managed to find our way north and east in bumper-to-bumper traffic, stopping somewhere in Connecticut to eat at some crappy diner with a bunch of geriatrics. We fit right in with our car. Then onward to Providence. The first time I've actually stopped there, set V=0. We walked around town and the Brown campus, then towards the Federal Hill area where we ate at Constantino's. Providence is a warped and often impoverished blend of well-preserved old-school colonialism and modern janky decay.
wall in downtown Providence
We slept in a big cushy bed at the Biltmore. Sunday morning we met Vincent of 3rd Bed and his big dog at some place called Nick's on Broadway. Interesting to finally meet the man behind the 3rd bed operation, to put a face to it, along with the place. After breakfast, we went to Brian Evenson's house to seal the deal in his living room.
writing the check on Evenson's couch
The books had been stored in Evenson's cellar (just the thought of that makes my head spin with potential). I wasn't brave enough to venture down there. Vincent was the one who brought them up into the light. He made some sort of calculation on the back of scrap paper. This is the only contractual evidence that exchanged hands:
We loaded the booty into the back of the Bada-bing-mobile and headed even further north where I was to drop Jess off in Boston to train someone to deal with the African bloodwork so she didn't have to go to there anymore.
the loaded ba-da-bing mobile
At the last second, right before the Boston turnoff, I veered off towards Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We used to live in Portsmouth back in '97-98. Haven't been back since. Back then I worked for a hotel yield management software company. My first publication was actually in Portsmouth, in some crappy local weekly. This, after years of sending my stuff around. What comes to mind most when I think of Portsmouth is Radiohead's OK Computer as it came out around that time. I distinctly remember first listening to it in a snowstorm in our Isuzu Trooper in the municipal parking lot (where the ba-da-bing mobile was parked above).
What really defines a place though, is where you sleep. When we lived in Portsmouth, we slept in a loft of a top-floor apartment in an old building on Ceres street overlooking the river. There was a skylight window a few feet above our sleeping heads. Before we'd go to bed, I'd put pieces of bread outside on the skylight. At first light, the seagulls would find it and go into a frenzy. This was our alarm clock. We woke up every morning laughing hysterically at the seagulls slipping and sliding all over the glass. It never got old. I have pictures of it, I just can't find them right now. I actually published a picture of it in Lungfull, when Brendan asked for an early "draft" of the piece, that was written during this time.
We walked around, reminiscing, then walked to Kittery, Maine, looking at our old habitation from the view of the drawbridge.
Portsmouth as seen from Kittery, Maine
The apartment we lived in was above the tugboats on the far bank, just to the left of the lobster shack in the foreground. We used to watch the drawbridge and tugboats and steamships loading salt (the piles on the right side of the photo). The river is called the Piscataqua, famous for being one of the fastest-moving rivers in the world. On the Kittery side, we ate at Warren's.
Warren's in Kittery
Jess, happy as a clam, eating her favorite food
New Englanders are definitely a hearty lot. You wouldn't find me on a lobster boat in Maine in February. For the most part, I align myself with their sporting preferences, otherwise I don't see eye to eye on most other things. Mostly, I just feel confused in New England. For that matter, most of the Eastern seaboard outside of NYC confuses me. I can never tell where I am. There's no frame of reference. There are too many trees. And the trees die every winter and then it's a different and unrecognizable place. On the west coast, you can drive towards a "landmark," but in New England you have to follow some sort of perverse and antiquated logic of roads and signs that you have to be born into to understand. Nothing is familiar. Even though we lived in Portsmouth for a year, we kept shaking our heads, unable to recognize anything, or to remember what exactly we did during this time.
Granted my perception is somewhat warped by my hatred of cars. They really are miserable contraptions that turn people into complete idiot-holes. My mind rages in slow traffic, marveling at the ridiculous inefficiency of it all. And when traffic is finally moving at a good clip, I expect to die at any moment. No society should ever get used to these feelings. We of course got lost going into Boston. We kept going into it and then getting spit out somewhere else. Finally we found our way to this swanky apartment building on Commonwealth in Back Bay. It was the apartment of some colleague of Jess' that wasn't there. It's always kind of creepy to stay at someone's house when you don't know who it is and they aren't there. Maybe it was because I was already thinking about the concept in regards to selling our furniture to another couple the day before, but I kept thinking about the Ray Carver short story, "Neighbors."
From what Jess told me, the woman's apartment we were staying in was some sort of genius PhD/MD evolutionary geneticist/renaissance woman. The reason she wasn't there was because her band, 1000 days, was opening for Coldplay in London. Looking at her wikipedia page now, she's indeed #49 on this list of top living geniuses, although Dolly Parton and Quentin Tarantino are on this list and they don't strike me as the sharpest tools in the shed. Maybe some of this geniusness wore off on us staying there! She definitely had some interesting books, and there were musical instruments everywhere. Of particular interest were strategically grouped clusters of Dixie cups on her dining table filled to various levels with water, and ping pong balls scattered about. I thought maybe it was a statistics or thermodynamics experiment, but when Jess texted her to ask what was up with it, she said she was honing her drinking game skills. We could see the backside of the Green Monster and the Citgo sign from her apartment, though the Red Sox were playing away. We watched game 5 of the Celtics vs. Lakers, though it was also away. Celtics should have won then and there, being obviously the better team, but better that they waited til they got back to Boston. Though I was gone by then, leaving Jess alone to take shelter from the celebration.
Monday morning I woke up early and hopped on the turnpike. I had no idea where I was going. I ended up on different roads than when we came up. But I was moving along at a good clip (expecting to die at any moment, of course). Until I got to Bridgport and everything came to a standstill. Complete madness. Made it alive back into the city and double-parked, shuttling the boxes of 3rd Beds into the dank lobby. Returned the car, then carried the books up the stairs, converting kinetic energy and momentum back to potential energy. Then I turned right around and carried 60 pounds of books 10 blocks (in one trip) to the post office to stuff in an M-bag. So much for surface mail, the only thing that exists now is air. Just like NYC real estate. It cost $240 to send 60 pounds of books to Nairobi. Consider it potential energy. Here's what I stuffed in the M-bag, what will await us upon arrival in Nairobi:
And then yesterday we were gifted a Kindle! So in theory, we didn't need to send any book objects ahead. "In theory" being the operative words. Most books I want aren't on Kindle yet. Jess left to Bamako and then Nairobi yesterday to sniff out a home for us and our imaginary goat, Sancho. Now I'm in the dog house, continuing to get rid of what possesses us. I put the 3rd bed titles up online, so if you want to help lighten the load you know what to do. I also made my own book available for public consumption. But I'd feel weird if you know me and bought it, so if you know me and have read this far, just shoot me an email and I'll send you a copy.
And there's still plenty of furniture to hawk, including our bed:
And my stand-up desk that's really a bar (in the style of Hemingway). In thinking of the bed, I can't help but to think of The Odyssey. After his long absence, Odysseus has to recount to Penelope the detailed construction of their bed in order to prove his identity. In our case we are selling our Gothic-constructed bed (it's truly a 2nd bed, after all) and building a new one, a 3rd one, elsewhere.
P.S. if you know us, please don't buy our bed. That would be creepy.