This was not the first time I had confronted someone in a dramatic way. Once, I had gone up to a bully on the playground and said, Look, you don’t want to hurt us. Why don’t you just leave us alone? I remember a knot of boys staring at me, not knowing what to do. But they did leave us in peace. I also remember breaking someone’s window when delivering a newspaper. Later, I came back to the house and “’fessed up” to her. It was not so unusual to ride across town to the black monolith of an insurance company that stood on the edge of Northwest Highway, brooding over the city.

When I got there, my legs were shaking from nervousness. I leaned my bike up against a tree. It fell down when I bumped it. I left it lying there on the ground. I went up the steps, feeling that this was all a dream, opened the door, and strode right up to the receptionist. She looked up from her newspaper, began to say “May I help you?” mechanically, then recognized me and simply said, “Oh.”

“I’m here to see Mr. Bardolet,” I said.

“Mr. Bardolet is in a meeting,” she said. “I don’t know when he’ll be available.”

“It’s important,” I said. “I think he will want to see me.”

She picked up the phone and announced my presence, describing me as “that reporter.” She hung up and said, “He’ll be with you shortly.” I took a seat in the waiting area off to the side. In the large room off to the side, I heard the clacking of IBM selectric typewriters, and the ring of telephones—all sounds that have disappeared now from offices all over the world. I smelled coffee; I smelled the mingled perfume of various women. Off to the right of the building, all the men worked. Off to the left were all the women. This place had not heard anything about the women’s liberation movement.

The receptionist left for a moment. I was glancing at the magazines when, a minute or two later, my sister came hurrying up. “What are you doing here?” Her brows were knitted together in vexation.

Jane Austen with Sea Monsters

November 29th, 2009

I know I am sounding like Seinfeld right now but: What’s the deal with books where classic texts are mingled with zombies and sea monsters? Is this legal? Zosia and I were shocked to see the books “Sense and Sensibility with Sea Monsters” and “Pride and Prejudice with Zombies” in Borders the other day. The author was given as “Jane Austen and ____ ____”. (I don’t remember the other writer’s name, don’t care to. How can he or she live with this?) This just seems so wrong, I don’t even know what to say about it.

So It Goes, Part 40: Footsteps

November 5th, 2009

It’s a strange thing to be reminded of the fact that you exist and that you leave footprints in the world. I had thought writing for the newspaper was a game, something that happened only in my head. Only rarely did I get feedback that let me know someone was reading my words. Now I had gotten my own mother in trouble with my words, and I was in a panic.

First, I did what anyone would do, I ate. I opened all the bags of potato chips (purchased by my mother) and devoured a handful of each, leaving crumbs all over the floor. This did not relieve the churning in my stomach. In fact, the churning got worse. Briefly, I thought of calling my father. But I was sure I would get deeper in trouble, not less.

I went outside and, with no plan in mind, got on my bicycle. I asked the bike what to do: Ride, it said. Okay, I thought. So I rode. I asked the school where I had gone to kindergarten: Too late, I heard it say. I asked the school where I had gone to grade school: Too bad, the nuns all chanted. I found myself riding north and west, past my high school (which had no response at all). I was close to the building where my mother worked. It came to me in a flash: I would go there and save her job. I would be the hero. I would fix things, like a true Do-It-Yourselfer, in the tradition of my family.