Sunday, August 22, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 2.10 (Henry James)

James, Henry
Collected Stories 1898-1910


Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store.

Last of the Henry James Collection. Sigh. I am actually about a third of the way through The Golden Bowl at the moment, enjoying every minute of it.

I spent the summer of 1989 engaged in four activities: reading, writing, learning to play guitar and going to AA. I sometimes went with my father to meetings. Often we'd go to an old church in downtown Vienna where there were usually two different meetings going on at once. My father went to one and I went to the other.

I chose mine based on the fact that most of the participants were sober Hell's Angels and bikers from various other gangs. That seemed more real to me at the time than sitting around with a bunch of boring old suburban people. My father used to tease me about it on the way home.

By the end of summer I was reading voraciously and still trying to figure out how and what to write. My greatest difficulty was my attention span. Most of my time was spent teaching myself to stay focused over longer and longer periods of time. I would read one page of a book and then get drowsy.

My first instinct when this occurred was to do something else that wouldn't make me tired. I decided to try an experiment that proved very useful over time. When I got drowsy, I just went to sleep. When I woke, I'd start reading again. It was almost like developing a tolerance for a drug. Eventually I could read at long stretches without dozing. This felt important because even though I did read as a kid, I had basically abandoned books during high school and felt that I had a lot of catching up to do.

Learning to play guitar taught a similar kind of discipline -- the value of repetition. Doing the same thing over and over eventually produced results. This also applied to writing. I started writing in a little notebook, but as I mentioned yesterday this was an impediment for me. It wasn't until I was back at school that I had access to a computer and could practice the kind of extended writing that I wanted to.

1989: I moved into an apartment with two friends on 187th St. near Crotona Ave. We lived about a block from from the Bronx Zoo and on certain days you could hear the animals and on certain others you could smell them. A friend I'd made in Bronx AA meetings had turned me on to the apartment, which was in a small building with three apartments, one on each floor. A librarian lived on the top floor, we lived on the second, and the landlady lived on the first.

Our landlady was a widow in her seventies, kind of an alcoholic shut-in. Paying the rent was always an ordeal. If you could slip the check under the door, you were fine. If not, you'd be forced to sit through teary-eyed reminiscences of her dead husband in sitting room-cum-shrine to the dearly departed.

Our apartment had three bedrooms, a living room, a bath and a kitchen. You entered into a long hallway that split the apartment in two. Turning right led to the small living room. My bedroom was a small room closed off by, I think, french doors, from the living room. It looked out the front of the building onto 187th St. I believe the apartment was furnished, if I am not mistaken. I am almost sure that it was. I had a bed, a night table and a little desk near the window.

In the hallway another bedroom to the right faced the air shaft behind the building. Beyond the bedroom another door led to a bathroom. The hallway ended at the kitchen, which was large enough for a small table in the center. The third bedroom, largest of the three, was behind the kitchen, and looked out behind the building into the alley. Except for the lack of a bathroom, it could have been an apartment in and of itself. I think we paid 700 a month.

One of my roommates was the friend with whom I'd started going to AA. We'd known each other since high school and were very competitive with one another. As the year progressed things grew somewhat tense. It never erupted, as I recall, into anything that did permanent damage, but I remember odd little competitions occurring all the time.

I remember walking down the street and trying to alway remain a step ahead of him as we walked. He'd realize I was ahead and speed up. This would go on and on, in silence, until we'd reach our destination.

I remember he got into a lot of eighties self-help kind of stuff. Once I came home and found him laying in bed, arms across his chest like a corpse, listening to a tape playing sounds of cascading water in the background as a voice intoned: "Let the water wash your shame away..." I immediately took out my guitar and started playing as loudly as I could.

Amazingly, we are still in touch.

A lot of memories are cropping up now having to do with that year in my life, too many to write about in a single entry. As I've moved through this phase of the project, I feel keenly the way my memories associates themselves with places: houses, buildings, rooms, etc. I am already imagining an extension of this project which chronologically moves through all the school buildings, workplaces, etc. I've spent time in.

Onward, as they say.

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