While Scott was preparing the family dinner yesterday, I was on my lounger, transfixed by the undulating prose of Michael Ondaatje, devouring his latest book, The Cat’s Table, which no doubt will win a prize or two. I’ve been a fan since the late 70s, when Ondaatje first penned The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.
Guess you might say that I was an early Ondaatje adapter.
Here’s why I love him.
In describing a spinster, he added this qualifier: “though she had a laugh that hinted it has rolled around once or twice in the mud.”
A lesser writer would have gone directly for the punch line. Ondaatje is more subtle, his writing is more elegant but you know exactly what he means.
I was sitting, enraptured, when I felt a pinch and nearly leapt from my chair. Then another, then another.
Damned Asian lady bugs were falling from the trees and having their way with me. I hate bugs of all varieties and I usually run from them. That is why I do not live in the country like many of my friends. It’s sort of ironic; I am a country girl by birth yet I love sitting pretty here in the dingy old city, hypnotized by the blaring sirens and squealing tires.
I am a magnet to car wrecks, like some kind of David Cronenberg character, though I do not imagine I would like to have sex with my leg mangled in a three-car pile up. I just love watching ambulances and fire trucks.
Must be the old cop reporter in me.
Most of my friends grew up in the city and are now gentle country folk living in small mansions or on lakes amidst the crickets and the crazy people who drown puppies rather than spay their bitches.
While I remember my childhood, mostly as idyllic, I also remember getting stung by bees all summer thanks to my grandfather’s occupation as a beekeeper. I remember being terrified on country roads and watching my neighbor run over my beloved golden retriever, Penny — on purpose. I remember my friend Squeaky getting run over by a tractor driven by his stupid brother and how he, Squeaky, dined out on that experience, lifting up his shirt and showing everybody the tire marks on his abdomen.
No one could have been happier than this little farm girl when the grandparents died and my mother brought us to a neat little walkup in the city.
You see, I was raised by the television and wanted to live and Love, American Style, or travel on the Love Boat. I didn’t want to don sleeves and grease myself up with Vaseline to pick peaches in 30 degree heat.
So I turned my back on the land and set my sights on private country clubs, places I could hit on hot tennis pros and drink libations by the cement pond. I married a rich guy who took me to Paris and London. I claimed a career that allowed me to rub elbows, for a time, with movie stars and drink Perrier and stay at the Ritz.
Alas, those days are gone. My tennis days are over thanks to a frozen shoulder, a bad elbow and feet that blow up without the assistance of orthotics. The rich guy, a city feller, dumped me and moved — you guessed it — to the country to live on a farm with the White Witch of Bermuda, a woman who keeps dead cats in her freezer. And my credit card is maxed, so it’s been nearly twenty years since I found myself at the Ritz drinking anything with the rich and famous.
Instead, I’m sitting in a lounger in the city reading Ondaatje and waiting for the next ambulance.
It’s not exactly the sweet life but it’s my life and I like it just fine.
No bees, just a few nasty beetles.
A good book and a better man who makes me turkey dinner while I lounge in the sun.
In the city.