Unpacked

So true this fallacy. From “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer

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Utmost Hapiness

I knew Jennifer Egan was speaking at Greenlight Bookstore on Fulton Street last night, but that’s not why I went. Sure, it was good to see what a Pulitzer Prize winning author looks like, but that’s not why I went.

I went to get a book I’d been waiting on for a year. It had come out in paperback a while ago, but last night was the night I needed it definitively in my hands.

There was a crowd packed right up to the door, which I had to both ignore and sift through to find my book, not on the alphabet shelves but stacked upon the table of valuable reads. I wonder if Jennifer thought me rude as I grabbed a book not hers from the big center table and mazed back to the cashier. Nah. Jennifer is cool.

Plus, book desperation is a legitimate cause of the uncouth.

The book in my hands is signed by its author, the reclusive Arundhati Roy, whose “God of Small Things” landed in my lap in Kerala, the place where its story is set. Circumstantially, Roy became my favorite. The more so because there was just the one, the Man Booker Prize-winning one.

Now, the book in my hands makes two. “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” is not new. But of course it lasted a while in its three-pound-hardcover-version, prohibitive to the laptop-baby-water-bottle-carrying-mom-backs of the book-buying-world.

The book in my hands is signed by the hands of its author. It is no longer on the big wooden table in front of Jennifer Egan’s microphone. It is on the candlelit counter where I sit, alone, to begin to read.

Good Gore

Sometimes a story is so good it doesn’t matter how it’s told. The facts against a flat surface remain dense, flamboyant, no matter how simply they are thrown. Which is not to say that Paul French’s “Midnight in Peking” is a poorly told, simple read. Quite the contrary.

The Edgar Award-winning true-crime tale is the kind of book one stays up past midnight to finish. Indeed, creepy, quiet late night is the correct frame for French’s reconstruction of a young British girl’s vicious murder in 1937 Peking, a time when Beijing was barely still Peking. Barely because the Japanese had invaded the mainland and were fast approaching the as yet colonial city, barely because the Kuomintang was clumsily hunting the Red Army in caves, barely because the world was about to seize with war.

French solves the still-open murder mystery by being a better story-teller than the police were investigators. Hermaphrodites, brothels, opium, Russian oligarch refugees all play a part, tracked down by the author in relevant detail so fun one is tempted to forget the story’s sad end.

Fortunately , French doesn’t let us stray too far into Peking’s underworld. He leads the way out, back to the murdered girl’s home, where her father, in many ways the hero of the tale, is at his desk, stringing all the dim pieces for someone someday to tie.

Medieval Times

As we strolled under the S train underpass at the intersection of Franklin and Lefferts on the way home from my son’s construction camp he asked: why do people need to be dirty. I was about to correct him. People don’t need to be dirty; some people just are dirty.

But, he was right. We all really do need to be dirty. We have no choice. Unless we dedicate our lives to living trash-free, our life is necessarily dirty. Innocent things are dirty: straws, lollipops, floss.  Sexy things are dirty: matches, razors, cell phone chargers. Books are dirty. Moving is dirty. Staying warm is dirty, as is staying cold.

The reason why is we are living in medieval times. Our technology is small. We have computers that can do some,  but not much. They cannot take us out into space where we can find new planets to sustain our way of life. Not yet.

They cannot replace coal/gas/oil with self-generating sun/moon/water energy, whatever that means. Although I am sure it exists. The energy of the universe does not require things burning into black smoke. But we haven’t figured out it out. Not yet.

Dark matter, dark energy — our century’s astrological terms. Google them. The universe is expanding, despite the “laws” of physics. We know nothing.

So I choose to believe in rebirth. Because at some point I will be born into intergalactic flight. At some point, we will not need to be dirty. I told my son all this, actually. And, of course, a few blocks later, as we crossed Lefferts onto Classon, he understood.

 

What I Learned in Junior K

Other than deep respect for carpool done well, I owe Junior K a hard-won lesson: don’t ask the teacher about your kid.

My kid is an obviously hyper, rebellious, willfully foul-mouthed five-year-old boy. I have no business asking his teacher how the day went, particularly when I barely made the after-care cut-off. Seriously: what do I expect? I should expect no different than my husband can when he walks in the door, glowing after a mid-week trip: how were the kids? Um, how? He should never again ever in his life ask that fu*king question.

Twenty kids in a room for eight hours will be, on average, horrible. Why ask the teacher for confirmation?

And confirmation will indeed be given, along with, if you really, really want to know, a daily progress report. The grading system will consist of sad or happy faces. There is no flat-mouthed emoji face in Junior K. Notes will be minimal, but, if provided, will say things like: “jumping off tables,””bathroom words,” “throwing dirt.” It will sound really, really serious. And, after weeks of no iPad, no Pokemon, no American Ninja Warrior, even no Paul Newman Oreos, the JrK daily news will not change.

Then you begin wondering about the teachers. Maybe it’s not their vocation. Do they love, love kids? Annoyance is, after all, so unprofessional. What does a kindergarten teacher expect?

Finally, just in time for summer break, I realized: what else could teachers possibly say? How were the kids? Um, how? The answer is simple: your son jumped off tables, threw mulch, said –

diepoopkillfartstupiddeaddiarrheafacepipibuttpants.

And he did this every single day, every chance he got.

Now, to my diarrhea-face surprise, my son is getting glowing marks in summer camp. Disruptive and disobedient transformed into funny and energetic in the setting of sunscreen and soccer balls. The lesson though, works both ways — in sickness or in health. Now that the reviews are happy face exclamations, I don’t get to ask the teacher about the day. Good reviews, in the end, are just as bas as, well, bad ones.

Because, I shouldn’t care. My job as a mom, other than keeping my kid fed, clean, rested and on a sidewalk, is to think he is cool, just the way he is. Banning ice cream will not change his behavior. His essence loves to jump and say poop. I have no business punishing him out of him. I will fail. He will say poop. And we won’t be friends.

I want to be his friend. You see, he is really cool.