Scrapbook In Prose

2009 November 25

The stomach is for fear and panic, excitement, too. The heart isn’t immediate enough. It takes things a while to filter through to it. And it’s too imprecise, too messy, too amorphous a spot to locate such sharp feelings. No, it’s the lungs, I’ve decided. That quick stab when you’re standing in line at Starbucks and glance up only to realize that the barista looks exactly like someone you haven’t thought of in a million years and Joni Mitchell is whispering about “moons and Junes and ferris wheels” over the PA and you stand there wondering exactly how long you’ve been holding your breath and whether or not  it will come out as an audible sigh if you dare to exhale? That’s the lungs. Or when you’re kicking past the oak leaves as you wander through Harvard Yard and you convince yourself that around the next corner you might actually catch a glimpse of the alternate universe version of yourself and the thought of maybe coming face-to-face with her/you sort of makes every sharp fall breath of air burn just a little? That’s the lungs, too. When time stops, you feel it in your lungs. When suddenly it’s the past again or another future, your lungs let you know this. When you feel as if you’ve been running or screaming or crying forever, but you haven’t actually moved or made a sound, that’s your lungs.

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Boston – August 2009

You’ve either felt it or you haven’t. Maybe that’s one of my hallmarks of getting older; I will tell you clearly, plainly, passionately and you will either instinctively know what it means and how it all fits together or you will shrug it off. But I will no longer stop to explain or diagram. I will just keep moving. If you can keep up, you can keep me company.

Highlights of November in Boston:

Rushing up behind me and tapping me on the arm as I’m exiting the Park St. T station.

“Can I trouble you for a moment?”

Oh, God. Too well-dressed and groomed to be homeless, not particularly crazy-eyed, but maybe that’s how they make subway proselytizers these days? In need of directions to the Commons, perhaps? I turn with a hesitant smile. I’m in good shape. I can outsprint him for sure.

“I just wanted to tell you that you have a great Louise Brooks look. I don’t mean to pigeonhole you or anything, but you really do. It’s great.”

I thank him sincerely and mentally applaud his gumption in approaching a stranger in the subway just to tell her she looks like a silent film ingenue and being completely genuine and non-creepy about it. The compliment made my night. For the record, I appreciate specificity in my flattery, accuracy be damned.

Waiting for the Red Line to MIT. There’s a blind man on the other side of the platform with a guitar. I don’t recognize the first song he sings, but then he launches into Elton John’s Your Song and I notice how everyone around me starts to smile. Even after the train comes, I can still hear someone a few seats behind me humming it under their breath.

Two girls, both  conventionally beautiful types. Dark brown hair and strawberry blonde. Dark brown’s mother is recovering from liposuction.

“She shows me the progress on gchat. It’s gross. Like I want to see that.”

“Your mother has had a lot of stuff done, hasn’t she?”

“Well, the nose job was years ago.”

“I want to get my nose done. My grandma tells me I should. She’d even pay for part of  it.”


“I like your nose! It’s cute! No, I’m the one who needs a nose job. I hate how it’s round at the bottom. I hate looking, like, obviously Hispanic, ya know?”
The last part delivered in a whisper.


“You’re crazy! Yours is fine. Mine is pure Jew. Like, ugh. I’m definitely getting it fixed. How much do you think it costs? Can’t be that expensive.”

Ethnic self-loathing or just bigots? I can’t decide which is the lesser of the two evils.  I wonder if the majority of people think of themselves as fixer-uppers? It makes me sad to even consider the possibility.

Trying on dresses at Macy’s. I do that whenever I visit a city that has one. Forget that I don’t have anywhere to wear these dresses and that I always talk myself out of them.  The best was Burlington a couple of years ago. All layers of shredded lace and a plunging neckline. Lady Gaga crashes a purity ball.  You’ll have to take my word for it. But life is not a music video and I should be shopping for Christmas presents instead. I was born practical.

Ruddy-skinned older men with excellent posture in khaki pants and navy blazers. Not so much a look as a code for a separate species. I pretend that this is how former New England prep school students recognize each other decades later. Groton? Exeter? Deerfield? Would necks snap around if I whispered the right alma mater? I think I overuse the word patrician, but it applies in this case. So would hale, but I think that one’s long fallen out of vogue.

I wish I could just keep walking and never get tired. Just walking and collecting snippets of conversations. “I wanted something a little different for the mirrors. Like 40s glam.” “Yeah, I saw him push you. It was self defense.” “Isn’t this your floor, Hildegard?” “Heading down to the hymn sing?” But collect them and do what with them? Transcribe them? Replay them in an endless loop in an empty gallery space as performance art? Hang onto them as dialogue for stories that never make it to paper? I am what Harriet the Spy would have grown up to become.

The Junior League of Boston at the Sackler Museum. All pearl earrings, matching tees (tucked in, of course)  and impossibly glossy ponytails. They hardly looked old enough to even form such a league. They’re with little “sisters” – navy sweatshirted tweens with more haphazard ponytails and dirty sneakers. The JL president poses the group for a picture outside of the Museum before they leave for the next stop on their morning itinerary. “Say ‘ Haahvahd’ everyone!” All squinting in the November sun, giggling and pushing to be in the front row. Funny how you only notice certain windows of opportunity after they’ve shut, but then you realize they were probably never open in the first place. There go your lungs again, kiddo.

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