Sunday, August 15, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 2.3 (Henry James)


The Ambassadors
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
James, Henry
The Ambassadors


I think I bought this at East Village Books, possibly at Seventh St. Books.

Sorry for going on hiatus without warning. We just spent a week in Wisconsin and Minnesota. I had every intention of blogging while away. I even took photos of enough books to get through nine days of travel. I even brought my laptop.

Being away, however, proved its own reward. I checked email and so forth, but wrote nor read not a word.

And it was good.

When we left off last week, I had just finished describing the lower floor of our home in Vienna, VA. I realized after the fact that my verb tenses were causing a little confusion, so I tried to correct the problem. I think from now on I'll try to stick to the past tense and skip the present tense portions of the narration.

I have one more occupied floor to cover -- the basement.

When we moved into the house in 1976, the basement was just that, an unfinished cement room that housed the heating unit and a drain for flooding. Our neighbor, who we later found out worked for the C.I.A., volunteered to build it out for the cost of materials and beer (which was not necessarily insignificant). He built it into a classic seventies rec room, replete with flat, dark brown wall-to-wall carpeting, light-colored wood-paneled walls, and a drop-tile ceiling.

At the bottom of a short flight of stairs leading from the living room, the basement was laid out in an inverted "C" that wrapped around a room built out as a kind of workshop. It was unfinished on the inside, with open walls and concrete floors. It contained all the machinery of the house plus shelves for storage and a workbench (rarely used, as no one in our family had skills of that kind). As a teenager, I often snuck into this room to smoke. I'd extinguish all of my cigarettes in the drain that caught the water runoff from the furnace. I am still amazed that this did not flood and spill my bloated butts all over the floor.

At the bottom of the stairs a storage closet stood to the left. A short passage to the right opened into a sort of den area with a strange storage closet built out from the wall to cover some pipes. On the spine of the "C" a long wall had two window wells, half-submerged beneath the earth. They looked out on the back yard. In the den area we had a couch and a TV that at some point got connected to various video game consoles -- Atari and, later, Commodore 64.

The top part of the "C" formed a game area. We had a ping-pong table. Later a pool table.

In addition to dumping my cigarette butts in the drain, I used to hide my wine and been bottles, empty or full, in the ceiling. I'd pop up one of the tiles and slide the bottles over to one side. This worked well, for the most part. One time, however, I popped a fresh ceiling tile because my old one was full of empty bottles. Several thousand dollars came fluttering out of the ceiling. I ran upstairs and showed it to my mother (after hiding my bottles elsewhere!).

Turned out my father hid the cash he brought home from his parking garage business up in the ceiling. He apparently did this to avoid paying taxes. The cash was used for household expenses, while the stuff that went into the bank paid for prep school and college for three kids. Pretty crafty, that guy!

from The Ambassadors

Strether's first question, when he reached the hotel, was about his friend; yet on his learning that Waymarsh was apparently not to arrive till evening he was not wholly disconcerted. A telegram from him bespeaking a room "only if not noisy," reply paid, was produced for the enquirer at the office, so that the understanding they should meet at Chester rather than at Liverpool remained to that extent sound. The same secret principle, however, that had prompted Strether not absolutely to desire Waymarsh's presence at the dock, that had led him thus to postpone for a few hours his enjoyment of it, now operated to make him feel he could still wait without disappointment. They would dine together at the worst, and, with all respect to dear old Waymarsh--if not even, for that matter, to himself--there was little fear that in the sequel they shouldn't see enough of each other. The principle I have just mentioned as operating had been, with the most newly disembarked of the two men, wholly instinctive--the fruit of a sharp sense that, delightful as it would be to find himself looking, after so much separation, into his comrade's face, his business would be a trifle bungled should he simply arrange for this countenance to present itself to the nearing steamer as the first "note," of Europe. Mixed with everything was the apprehension, already, on Strether's part, that it would, at best, throughout, prove the note of Europe in quite a sufficient degree.

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