Guilty pleasure: Milk and Cheese by Evan Dworkin
One beautiful April morning, on a narrow side street in Tokyo’s fashionable Harujuku neighborhood, I walked past the 100% perfect girl.
Tell you the truth, she’s not that good-looking. She doesn’t stand out in any way. Her clothes are nothing special. The back of her hair is still bent out of shape from sleep. She isn’t young, either – must be near thirty, not even close to a “girl,” properly speaking. But still, I know from fifty yards away: She’s the 100% perfect girl for me. The moment I see her, there’s a rumbling in my chest, and my mouth is as dry as a desert.
Maybe you have your own particular favorite type of girl – one with slim ankles, say, or big eyes, or graceful fingers, or you’re drawn for no good reason to girls who take their time with every meal. I have my own preferences, of course. Sometimes in a restaurant I’ll catch myself staring at the girl at the next table to mine because I like the shape of her nose.
But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like noses, I can’t recall the shape of hers – or even if she had one. All I can remember for sure is that she was no great beauty. It’s weird.
“Yesterday on the street I passed the 100% girl,” I tell someone.
“Yeah?” he says. “Good-looking?”
“Your favorite type, then?”
“I don’t know. I can’t seem to remember anything about her – the shape of her eyes or the size of her breasts.”
“So anyhow,” he says, already bored, “what did you do? Talk to her? Follow her?”
“Nah. Just passed her on the street.”
She’s walking east to west, and I west to east. It’s a really nice April morning.
Wish I could talk to her. Half an hour would be plenty: just ask her about herself, tell her about myself, and – what I’d really like to do – explain to her the complexities of fate that have led to our passing each other on a side street in Harajuku on a beautiful April morning in 1981. This was something sure to be crammed full of warm secrets, like an antique clock build when peace filled the world.
After talking, we’d have lunch somewhere, maybe see a Woody Allen movie, stop by a hotel bar for cocktails. With any kind of luck, we might end up in bed.
Potentiality knocks on the door of my heart.
Now the distance between us has narrowed to fifteen yards.
How can I approach her? What should I say?
“Good morning, miss. Do you think you could spare half an hour for a little conversation?”
Ridiculous. I’d sound like an insurance salesman.
“Pardon me, but would you happen to know if there is an all-night cleaners in the neighborhood?”
No, this is just as ridiculous. I’m not carrying any laundry, for one thing. Who’s going to buy a line like that?
Maybe the simple truth would do. “Good morning. You are the 100% perfect girl for me.”
No, she wouldn’t believe it. Or even if she did, she might not want to talk to me. Sorry, she could say, I might be the 100% perfect girl for you, but you’re not the 100% boy for me. It could happen. And if I found myself in that situation, I’d probably go to pieces. I’d never recover from the shock. I’m thirty-two, and that’s what growing older is all about.
We pass in front of a flower shop. A small, warm air mass touches my skin. The asphalt is damp, and I catch the scent of roses. I can’t bring myself to speak to her. She wears a white sweater, and in her right hand she holds a crisp white envelope lacking only a stamp. So: She’s written somebody a letter, maybe spent the whole night writing, to judge from the sleepy look in her eyes. The envelope could contain every secret she’s ever had.
I take a few more strides and turn: She’s lost in the crowd.
Now, of course, I know exactly what I should have said to her. It would have been a long speech, though, far too long for me to have delivered it properly. The ideas I come up with are never very practical.
Oh, well. It would have started “Once upon a time” and ended “A sad story, don’t you think?”
Once upon a time, there lived a boy and a girl. The boy was eighteen and the girl sixteen. He was not unusually handsome, and she was not especially beautiful. They were just an ordinary lonely boy and an ordinary lonely girl, like all the others. But they believed with their whole hearts that somewhere in the world there lived the 100% perfect boy and the 100% perfect girl for them. Yes, they believed in a miracle. And that miracle actually happened.
One day the two came upon each other on the corner of a street.
“This is amazing,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you all my life. You may not believe this, but you’re the 100% perfect girl for me.”
“And you,” she said to him, “are the 100% perfect boy for me, exactly as I’d pictured you in every detail. It’s like a dream.”
They sat on a park bench, held hands, and told each other their stories hour after hour. They were not lonely anymore. They had found and been found by their 100% perfect other. What a wonderful thing it is to find and be found by your 100% perfect other. It’s a miracle, a cosmic miracle.
As they sat and talked, however, a tiny, tiny sliver of doubt took root in their hearts: Was it really all right for one’s dreams to come true so easily?
And so, when there came a momentary lull in their conversation, the boy said to the girl, “Let’s test ourselves – just once. If we really are each other’s 100% perfect lovers, then sometime, somewhere, we will meet again without fail. And when that happens, and we know that we are the 100% perfect ones, we’ll marry then and there. What do you think?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is exactly what we should do.”
And so they parted, she to the east, and he to the west.
The test they had agreed upon, however, was utterly unnecessary. They should never have undertaken it, because they really and truly were each other’s 100% perfect lovers, and it was a miracle that they had ever met. But it was impossible for them to know this, young as they were. The cold, indifferent waves of fate proceeded to toss them unmercifully.
One winter, both the boy and the girl came down with the season’s terrible inluenza, and after drifting for weeks between life and death they lost all memory of their earlier years. When they awoke, their heads were as empty as the young D. H. Lawrence’s piggy bank.
They were two bright, determined young people, however, and through their unremitting efforts they were able to acquire once again the knowledge and feeling that qualified them to return as full-fledged members of society. Heaven be praised, they became truly upstanding citizens who knew how to transfer from one subway line to another, who were fully capable of sending a special-delivery letter at the post office. Indeed, they even experienced love again, sometimes as much as 75% or even 85% love.
Time passed with shocking swiftness, and soon the boy was thirty-two, the girl thirty.
One beautiful April morning, in search of a cup of coffee to start the day, the boy was walking from west to east, while the girl, intending to send a special-delivery letter, was walking from east to west, but along the same narrow street in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo. They passed each other in the very center of the street. The faintest gleam of their lost memories glimmered for the briefest moment in their hearts. Each felt a rumbling in their chest. And they knew:
She is the 100% perfect girl for me.
He is the 100% perfect boy for me.
But the glow of their memories was far too weak, and their thoughts no longer had the clarity of fouteen years earlier. Without a word, they passed each other, disappearing into the crowd. Forever.
A sad story, don’t you think?
Yes, that’s it, that is what I should have said to her.
So I stumbled upon one of those things on a friend’s blog where you are supposed to reveal yourself through various means, this one through art. I thought it was silly until I stopped to consider that I could not readily answer the questions. So I decided to take is seriously and attempt to do so. This is what I came up with for each of the categories requested, plus a last one of my own.
Music: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata
This is just the first movement of a three-part sonata, all three parts of which I adore. As a piano teacher once told me, you have to play it like you are talking to you love on the phone long distance, trying to eak out every minute of the conversation together, but not letting it fall into silence.
Picture: Mr. Ferguson in the Dunes One of me in a black and white with my back to the camera in a top coat and fedora, standing in a sand dune with my beloved akita/shep mix dog sitting by my side and looking back at the camera. There’s no jpeg of that image, however, so this one will have to do.
It captures that moment of stillness and possibility, literally standing on the shores of (X), but self-contained.
Poem: Bright Star by John Keats
Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.
(I think that poetry is best left uncommented on, so I will only say that I find it romantic and taoist in its desire for stedfast, unchangeable love.)
Phrase: “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
From the Little Prince. It reminds me that it is those things you do when you have “better things to do” that are the ones that are important to you. Pay attention to that. You may be surprised.
Place: Birch Tree Forest Helvetnjarvi National Park, Finland
Cool, breezy, solitude embodied.
The final item is one I added to the list. Piece of Art: To Kill A Mockingbird (both the book and the film) Which is about doing the right thing for the right reasons in front of everybody, even if you are alone in your convictions. Which is not to say that embodies me so much as it is an inspiration to me. I fear the film that embodies me might not be all that attractive or entertaining, and will have to give that some more thought.
So, put me in a birch tree forest on the edge of a body of water, with a Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata playing (so let’s say on a full-moon night), with a copy of Mockingbird in my hand and “Bright Star” on my lips, and you’ve got me. I guess I’d have to print the Little Prince phrase on the black t-shirt I was wearing, or all this would have to take place while I had “something better to do”.
Yeah, that seems about right.
I love books and collecting them. The thrill of discovery, the gentle madness of the pursuit. I’m not wealthy to have many, but the ones I do have each have their own story. Perhaps some other time.
TO ID a First Edition:
Go buy a copy of A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions by Bill McBride.
What follows is material from that book. Hopefully enough to inspire you to buy it, or at least give you some sense of whether what you hold in your hands is the real deal.
A “First Edition” to a collector is a copy from the first printing of the book – the first run off the press so to speak. There may very well be hundreds of thousands of copies of that first edition if it was a popular book, or very few if it was quite old or a new, untested author.
From the obvious to the convoluted, each publisher generally has a way of indicating that the print you hold is a first edition.
Most obviously, it will have printed on the copyright page the words “FIRST EDITION”.
Since the late 1940s some publishers have adopted a new method of identification. The use a series of letters or numbers that appear on the copyright page. If the letter “a” or the number “1″ appears, what you have is a first edition. Seems simple enough, but not everybody is playing by the same rules. For exceptions – buy the guide.
So two quick and easy rules:
1. It Says “FIRST EDITION”
2. It Says “abcdefghijk…….” or “123456789….”
Often the letters and numbers will run in reverse order: “987654321″
You need the letter “a” or number “1″ to have a FIRST.
You may occassionally find a number series that ends in “0″ (zero or naught). That’s a FIRST EDITION if there are no other indicators to contradict on the copyright page.
Sometimes you will find a book that has BOTH the words FIRST EDITION and numbers or letters on the copyright page. Now you really need the pocket guide. Depending on the publisher you may or may not have a FIRST despite not having an “a” or “1″ in the series of numbers. Confusing? Yes, it is. That’s what makes it fun!
The older the book or more obscure the publisher, the more exceptions there are to these general rules.
That’s why you should buy the pocket guide. I throw mine in my bag or actually put it in my pocket when I go book hunting. Good hunting to you! Contact me with any questions you might have, I’m happy to help or refer you to a reputable dealer to assist you
I just finished reading the book above by Nicola Vulpe with great satisfaction. I think in tone it is a good companion piece to “Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami.
I have little to add to the review posted here: Quill & Quire
There’s a certain distance, isolation and melancholy in the tone that appealed to me, as well as the use of ocean depths as symbolism that resonated with me.
For some reason Coldplay’s “When I Ruled The World” was playing in my head when I finished it.
and it reminded me how much I liked the Luc Besson film “Le grand bleu” (The Big Blue). I think that was the first Luc Besson film I had seen, and the first time I had seen actor Jean Reno. I have been fans of both since.
The soundtrack for that, by Bill Conti and Eric Serra isn’t bad either. I used to play this when I was having trouble falling asleep.
I Like these kinds of lists because they give me ideas for reads I’d never otherwise think of. Plus it is interesting to see how often stuff like Flaubert pops up… CLICK HERE
From alphadictionary comes a list of the 100 most beautiful words in English.
Here are my top ten:
Some other (non-english) which I love:
Duende – Spanish for soul (of a work of art) that moves you
Ennui – French for overwhelming boredom
Fado – Portugese song style of longing and loss
Kudesai – Japanese article meaning “please”
Flugel - German for wings
Tschotchke – Russian/Yiddish mashup for trinket
more links as i find them
A wonderful short article from WSJ on the history of great lost books, from Shakespeare’s Loves’ Labour Won to the rediscovery of early works by Shelly and Capote.
I am a starved bibliophile, having given up largely on collecting over the last five years or so. But I often fondly miss the books I have owned over the years.
Just imagine all that we have lost over the centuries of recorded literature, and how our world is shaped not necessarily by the brightness of the works before us, but the survivours of those times before us. Imagine a world without Summa Theologica, or Don Quixote. Now imagine these are the also-rans, the poor cousins of vastly superior works lost to the cosmos.
My idea of heaven would be to be transported back to the great Library of Alexandria, with all the knowledge and access and time I needed to read all that was lost to the fire. Imagine a world that retained all the lost knowledge that great storehouse held? Imagine the centuries it took us, and may still take us to recover. Perhaps we never will. In my opinion this is the greatest single tragedy of mankind.
Oh, and not surprisingly, for the same reason, I think this is my all time favorite piece of TV: The Twilight Zone episode entitled: Time Enough At Last
I’ve provided the link only to the final heart-breaking third section, but oh my what an episode for a near-sighted, foolish old bibliophile like myself.
God Bless Burgess Meredith.
“Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He’ll have a world all to himself, without anyone.”