How many times a day do I think of things my assistant could do, if I had an assistant to do them? Many. Countless. Or no, they could be counted, but I would need an assistant to do so. Just lately, I’ve been wishing I had an assistant to do a couple of things that are beyond me, for one reason or another. Usually that reason is my head, and my eyes, and how when my eyes look at a screen — any screen, from PC to phone to television to move theater — they transfer bad juju to my head, resulting in one more in a series of crashing migraines.
So, right now, I could use one to . . .
Find the meaningful passages in novels. I’ve saved for decades so I can read those passages again and again, if only I can find them. I tried off and on all day Sunday to find the one in Francine du Plessix Gray’s 1988 novel Lovers and Tyrants. I found numerous pencil marks throughout the book, but not the one I wanted. It had something to do with a man, a woman, and a refrigerator. The man was leaning against the icebox and, I don’t know, saying romantic things, or, wait a minute, he was fainting, or almost fainting, swooning over his love for the woman, leaning heavily against the fridge to keep himself on his feet. It was not your usual love scene, but such a pure depiction of overwhelming longing I have never forgotten it. Well, I guess I have, since I only remember the man, the woman, and the refrigerator.
I bought this book through the Book of the Month club, just to show you how old it is, and I am. My maiden name is written in my usual terrible longhand, with the date, 1976, which means I read it after college. This hardcover has survived numerous book-weeding purges, kept only because of that one scene. I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering, “Why don’t you read it again, if you loved it so much?” I have an answer for that. See my first paragraph, last sentence. Believe me, I would love to. I’ve looked for it on e-book sites but failed to turn it up.
Reading electronic books is even harder on my head, what with the lighted screen, but they have been godsends when I’m researching one book or another can can download it onto my Kindle and then — glory be! — do a search for a word, or phrase. This is how I did the talk on Anne Lamott for the UU church not long ago. I wanted to know how much she talked about religion in her new-baby memoir, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, so I was thrilled to find it available for download through my local public library, via the Libby app, which is entirely free. I ran searches on faith (17 times), Christianity (71), church (26), and God (93). Of course “God” came up a lot in curses, so that number could probably be halved.
If only Lovers and Tyrants were available that way, I could search for “refrigerator” and be done with it. Oh! That would be so great.
There is one more passage I long to read again. All I know is the author, Mary Gordon, but I gave away my handful of her books years ago, finally giving up on my search. Here is what I remember: A woman is in love with a man, and he is in love with her. and all’s right with the world. One day, they are embracing, or talking, or talking while embracing, in a particular part of her apartment. Let’s say it was the kitchen. (Refrigerators are so sexy!) She tells herself, “I must remember this moment,” marks it down in her mind, knowing she can come back later, when she’s alone, and somehow recreate it, or the feeling it engendered. The man breaks up with the woman, and she’s heartsick. Eventually she goes to that place in her home, stands there, willing the feeling, if not the man, to return. Both the man and the moment are gone forever, and she is devastated. Perhaps she faints against the refrigerator. I don’t know. If you find it, let me know.
So that’s one thing my assistant could do. I’m sure I’ll come up with more.