Over the past weekend, I ran into a couple of writer friends in the coffee shop downstairs from the Politics and Prose bookstore in DC. Are you here for the reading? I asked. I was there to see Beverly Lowry present her new book, Who Killed These Girls, about the yogurt shop murders in Austin, Texas in 1991.
Though I have voted in every presidential election since Carter/Ford in ’76, I have often felt that the difference between the two candidates ranged from not much to slightly more than that. Once they get to Washington and get whopped over the head by the checks and balances, not to mention the lobbyists and the PACs, it’s more or less business as usual. The pro-life Bushes did not manage to recriminalize abortion, and Obama couldn’t stop the war. American politics blah blah blah, life goes on.
In honor of the Day of the Dead, we re-post this favorite column from our archives, originally posted October 30, 2013.
Drape a small table with a cloth in the favorite color of the person you loved who has died. Adorn it with candles, flowers (marigolds are traditional) and framed photographs. Set out some favorite foods: a slice of pie, a bottle of beer, a Milky Way. Add the instruments of their hobbies and vices: a pack of Newports, a deck of cards, a banjo. A People magazine, a racquet, a Terrible Towel. A copy of Peter Pan, of The Joy of Cooking, of the Bible.
This past weekend I took my daughter Jane, a high school junior, on the first of what will surely be many campus tours. She is my fifth and last child to go to college, if you include the ex-stepkids, and I realized early Saturday morning that I know something about this process that I didn’t the first several times through.
The other day, I “finished” my second novel. I use the scare quotes because I’ve finished this novel about a dozen times already. Even the pitch that tells what the book’s about has been endlessly revised, but here’s the latest version:
Through the 1960’s and 70’s and until his death in 1985, Hyman Winik commuted five days out of seven to his office at Brookhaven Textiles, located on the 10th floor of 1412 Broadway in Manhattan, at the northeast corner of 39th Street, where the phone number was 212-695-0510, chanted continually by the switchboard operators in the lobby as they plugged and unplugged the trunk lines. “Oh-five-one-oh, may I help you? Oh-five-one-oh, may I help you? Oh-five-one — shoot, lost ‘em.”
Once upon a time there was a little boy with hazel eyes, a dimpled chin, and freckles scattered across his wide cheeks. His parents split up when he was three and his dad went to live on a farm in Seven Valleys, Pennsylvania, where the boy and his sister got to visit him on weekends. The sister, four years older with wild dark brown hair, thick eyebrows, and a very high IQ, constantly teased the boy, making fun of his chipmunk cheeks. Yet he was her slave nonetheless.
I just devoured an advance copy of Ann Patchett’s forthcoming novel, Commonwealth, which deals with the topic of blended family. Though I’m not up on all the details of Patchett’s history, I do know she’s from a family that emerged from divorce and remarriage with a slew of step-siblings. Though a work of fiction, Commonwealth deals with the connections (and aversions) that arise in the kludged-together clan that results from such a situation.
When so many ancillary players are dragged into the drama of two people’s attraction, nobody gets out easily, or at all.
Because my son Vincie the Wonder Poodle (don’t you wish I was your mom so you could have a nickname like this?) will soon be moving to NYC for graduate school, I cooked up a reason to make one last pilgrimage to visit him down in New Orleans: the 26th birthday of his longtime girlfriend, Shannon, who lives here in Baltimore, in April. So the traveling party was me, Shannon, and bringing up the rear, Vince’s sister Jane, a fifteen-year-old trying gamely to overcome dark memories of indigestion gone very wrong during a New Orleans visit of her childhood. (Believe it or not, the culprit was K-Pauls, otherwise a very good restaurant.)
When my 27-year-old son Hayes called a couple of months ago to confide that he was in the market for a diamond ring, I wasn’t surprised. He and his brother Vince seem to go to a wedding every couple of weeks. Their demographic has begun the march to the altar, and Hayes and Maria have been together since junior year of college.