Monday, November 19, 2012


I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed the duck tile before.

I had been in Vince’s house several times in the past few months, had stood at the kitchen sink every time I’d visited, but I’d never taken it in. Bill had spent weeks in the house since the spring, but he didn’t notice it until I pointed it out to him. His older brother Vince had exactly three pieces of art hanging on the walls in this house: a painting of a schooner at sea, a frieze-like metal sculpture of a bridge, and this duck tile. We’d noticed the painting and sculpture immediately, but had missed the tile completely. That was odd enough, but it was odd for another reason; this cute little thing was completely out of character with the rest of the house.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

After the Storm

My apartment is a hell-hole in the summer. The building shares walls on both sides with other buildings, and faces buildings of same or greater size.One block-long cliff wall of buildings faces another such cliff-wall across a narrow canyon. My apartment lies at the top of the five floors, directly under a tar roof (though to be fair, it was painted silver sometime in the last couple of years). It is impossible to get anything resembling cross-ventilation in the place; the layout is L-shaped, with two windows facing each other only at the narrowest point.  Half the windows face a small courtyard, the other half face the street. Any air that comes in open windows has been warmed nicely by the concrete and tarmac. The worst heat tends to come around 5pm, after the entire city has spent the day soaking up sunshine. Fans do their best to move the sluggish, smelly, super-heated air around, but the idea that this makes things cooler is laughable. I'm conflicted about using air conditioners, but I do, figuring that they will allow me to get at least some sleep during the hottest months. I don't handle heat well, it's true. Anything over 80 degrees with any moisture in the air makes me miserable, verging on suicidal. Or homicidal, if there's any noise in the street, as there always is, because none of these buildings are inhabitable in the heat. A hell-hole, I say.

But then, well, a big storm comes along and I realize how well this whole block withstands them.  It seems it was designed for just that purpose. In the past my ceiling would leak whenever there was the slightest bit of rainfall, but that seems finally to have been remedied. In bad weather the lack of open walls means limited exposure to the elements. Severe winds are effectively blocked or channeled along the east-west street. I don't know why exactly we've been lucky with the power and water for both Sandy and Irene, since obviously the substations are not in this building, or even on this block, but whatever the reason, we didn't lose anything, not even internet, last night or last year. We're very lucky.

So while I'm not about to stop complaining about summers, I'm taking stock of my present situation, and appreciating this place for what it does best. I'm off to investigate the neighborhood now, and see if my neighbors need any help.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Favorite Books: Julie of the Wolves.

A few weeks ago I came across an article about some study that had been done on the influence of book-reading.  As I understood the article, the main finding was that after we have enjoyed a novel, we often aspire to become more like the main character. 

If there were ever an article better suited for an issue of DUH! Magazine, I don't know what it is.  Maybe one of those essays about how sleep is really good for you. 

That said, it did resonate with thoughts I'd been having about various books I've read -and reread- over the years, and how I'm growing more aware of the ways they helped shape me.  There's a daunting essay forming in my head around Mary Renault's The Charioteer, which I hope to tackle at some point.  But a recent death has me thinking about another book today. 

Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George was a book I reread obsessively as a kid.  I have only the vaguest of memories of the first time I read it, which suggests it came into my life pretty far back, maybe age eight or nine.  Thanks to Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Books I already loved wolves, and aspired one day to join a pack somewhere, preferably as a full fledged member.  Julie achieves this dream too, at least briefly; like Mowgli, she eventually realizes she has to return to the world of humanity.  I always found that part of both stories distressful, if not downright tragic, and was determined that if I ever got the chance, I wouldn't blow it. 

In 2004 I had the privilege to work on a stage adaptation of the book.  Ms. Craighead George had collaborated on the script and attended many of the rehearsals, her presence was warm, generous and supportive, never daunting in any way.  This was production number five where I played non-human characters, in this case a wolf pup and caribou (well, half of one, but not exactly in the way you're picturing).  On the day of the performance, I asked her if she would sign my copy of the book. 

"Oh, it would be my honor," she said.  Here's what she wrote:

To Patrick,
The most incredible caribou and wolf pup I have ever met. 
Thank you, Thank you,
Jean Craighead George

I can say that her book contributed greatly to my appreciation of nature, my environmental concerns, and my love of wolves.  All those things are central to who I am as an adult.  But if I'm completely honest, I'll admit I also haven't entirely given up on the dream of living with wolves, even becoming one.  Living in one of the biggest urban centers on the planet may be a weird way to go about it, but I don't think it's a coincidence that so many of the roles I've played over the years have been animals, special emphasis on canines.  And with that in mind, her book dedication stands as one of the nicest reviews I've ever received. 

Thank you, Ms. Craighead George, for sharing your beautiful world with us.