M. is away this weekend on family business so I take the boy out early for chocolate chip pancakes and bacon. He brings his building blocks to set up elaborate mazes on the table while we wait and I steal a few minutes for Speedboat. I am at the eponymous chapter. There is a breathlessness to the writing that thrills:
Summer. The speedboat was serious. The young tycoon was serious about it, as he was serious about his factories, his wife, his children, his parties, his work, his art collection, his resort. The little group had just had lunch, at sea, aboard the tycoon’s larger boat, a schooner. The speedboat, designed for him the year before, had just arrived that day. The tycoon asked who would like to join him for a spin to test it. The young American wife from Malibu, who had been overexcited about everything since dawn, said she would adore to go. Her husband, halfway through his coffee still, declined. The young Italian couple, having a serious speedboat of their own, went to compare. In starting off, the boat seemed much like any other, only in every way – the flat, hard seats, the austere lines – more spare. And then, at speed, the boat, at its own angle to the sea, began to hit each wave with flat, hard, jarring thuds, like the heel of a hand against a tabletop. As it slammed along, the Italians sat, ever more low and loose, on their hard seats, while the American lady, in her eagerness, began to bounce with anticipation over every little wave. The boat scudded hard; she exaggerated every happy bounce. Until she broke her back.
She was sped to shore, of course, and then to Rome, by helicopter. Soon after that, she was well enough to fly back to New York. She recovered in Malibu. But violent things are always happening to the very rich, and to the poor, of course. Freak accidents befall the middle classes in their midst. Martin, our campaign contributor, who spent one term at Oxford many years ago, and who has sounded English ever since, tends to say “How too like life” when he is drunk. Anything – a joke, a sigh, a quarrel, an anecdote – has upon him, at such times, this effect. He says “How too like life.” When the American lady had her accident, Martin said How too like life all afternoon.
As we finish breakfast, I make phone calls – an appointment for my daughter, check in on some friends.
A couple slides into a booth near to us and they are talking about renovating their apartment. He wants to hire a professional contractor; she wants him to do it himself. “It doesn’t make sense to spend all that money – you could do all that.” He speaks in a voice much lower than hers, so I can’t follow the specifics of his response. But there is head shaking and there is cajoling that is paused only long enough for the two to place their orders for French toast, pancakes, and sausages. The waiter – who carries a small wire-bound notebook and pen, but writes nothing down – departs, and immediately, they are at it again.
We walk slowly down the brick steps to the street and W. says: “This is like we are in a chimney.” I say, yes, I guess it is, and take his hand. When we reach the bottom, there is a man hosing down the parking lot. The soapy water glistens on the blacktop and runs in narrowing ribbons down to the street.
The day is bright and unseasonably warm. A gorgeous day, which in January, can only seem like a bit of a trap. I remind myself to remain vigilant.
We open a bottle of wine, some friends and me, and talk about our plans for the year. We have lists of projects – for writing, for art, for work. It’s going to be a big year, we all agree. That feeling – of possibility, of anticipation – is as delicious and seductive as it is familiar, each year, at the start of it. Several years ago, a friend of mine proclaimed in January, “This will be the year of ‘Yes.’” It probably goes without saying that none of us is really willing to give names to the years any more.
This is the weekend the tree comes down. It’s overdue really, but the evenings have been busy. M. drags the bins up from the basement and leaves them for me. Earlier in the week, I had asked: “Next year, should we not have a tree? I mean, a live one?” The thought had not occurred before, really, but our friend S., in explaining his own reluctance to have one – although he did, in fact, acquiesce to the wishes of his wife, their son – says: “Look at this beautiful tree that has lived all these years, and is now going to die in my house.” I’m embarrassed that I’ve not been more cognizant of the truth of this, had not thought this before. M. wavers. “Let’s think about it some more,” he says at my suggestion that we arrange bare branches in a vase or stack books and string some lights on them. “I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.”
From his parents’ house, where they are cleaning out forty years of memories, he sends me photos and messages throughout the day. No need, I realize, to give up everything at once.
An afternoon spent in the sun watching W. roll around in the grass. We walk down near the water and watch the dogwalkers and the runners move back and forth across the landscape.
When I can, I scribble notes on scraps of paper that I find in my purse. The things I want to do this year I’ve not yet mapped out in any sort of plan – they are still floating around – a shapeless mound of vague ambitions – and I capture them as I can, so that later, I can sort and prioritize them:
Piano for W. and art class
NYC in February
Valros in September?
W. wants to see the White House
Z. to Chicago
Again, from Speedboat:
We may win this year. We may lose it all. It is not going as well as we thought. Posterity, anyway, does not know everything. The simplest operations of life – voting in a booth, filling out returns, remembering whether or not one has just taken a pill – are very difficult. Jim leads an exemplary life, and I can’t cook. As is clear from the parking regulations, however, there are situations in which you are not entitled to stop.