Saturday, January 21, 2012

Matters of Taste and Chemistry

As you watch the results of political polls on two of your favorite political blogs, Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, and Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish, you see graphs representing the popularity of various politicians in relationship to one another and, of course, as a numerical display of individual position in the favor or disfavor of some demographic.

These graphs remind you of your own experiences as a reader, as a participant in the great romantic landscape, and as an individual trying to make some sense of himself and the landscape in which he lives.

Over your years as a reader, you have become invested in individuals with whom you have little in common other than such obvious things as being human, perhaps—but not necessarily—because you have the same gender or politics or literary tastes or jobs or approximations of religious philosophy or background.  You have had what you consider to be amazing romantic connections among a wide demographic of age, background, and ethnicity.  Your enduring friendships have come from sources that have surprised you. 

Your range of associations with dogs is the least surprising in the sense of you having always preferred a working breed, either herding or hounding.

The range of tastes you experience in the areas of reading and romance confound you the most in the sense of you being drawn to some predictable avenues but many more unpredictable ones.  What, for instance, could you have had at first encounter with Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe?  What could you have found so compelling about Jane Austen?  For all your fondness for the mystery genre, what could possible have driven you to read with some persistence the novels in the Ellery Queen series? 

You can readily understand the attraction you shared with M. and L., but what was it about C. or R. that proved so distracting and engaging?  J. made perfect sense; JMD was on track to being the love of your life.  And the crushes, reminding you as they did of the times when, as a boy growing up in Los Angeles, you stood in the Curry Ice Cream Parlors, (homes of the Mile-High cake cone), deliberating over flavors, repeating the magic and romance of their names:  pistachio, French vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, grenadine, peach.

What are the chemistries influencing taste in reading, romance, friendship, profession, philosophy?  Why is it necessary to have preferences?  What draws you to a person or thing?  What draws them to you?  With your scant understanding of how the process begins to work among insects, you can extrapolate, understanding as you do a bird, for instance, being drawn to a particular tree because that tree serves as a home to relevant insects and possible seeds or sap or some other delectable.

Do your romantic interests remind you of actual persons or types?  Do you have some intuitive process you have not articulated even though it operates to inform you that here is a person whose own individual chemistry is compatible with yours?  You and VMY used to speculate that you had vast reserves of things in common, but in fact you had few.

How is it that even at this advanced stage of your life, there are those before whom you are inexplicably tongue-tied and yet others for whom you are, even as you speak, thinking of yourself as a silver-tongued devil for whom inventiveness is ever ready to explode?

Somewhere along the way of your growing up, your older sister took you in hand by marching you to the front desk of the main library in Providence, Rhode Island, where she directed your sign-up for a library card.  A few years later, she took you in hand, teaching you a basic fox trot step which, she suggested, would make you less a liability as you sought to enter the world of girls, holding hands, walking home from school, passing notes. You need a line of conversation, she advised, something beyond sports and cars, something intriguing, and not those bubble gum cards with pictures of baseball players. 

After some consideration, you thought you had such an approach, something well beyond the outrageous joke approach you’d been made aware of.  You even tried it out on your sister and her friends, all of whom seemed to think this conversational gambit would get you some positive notice.

You can still visualize your object of affection and your anticipation of the avenues of conversation this opening gambit would invite.  Her name was J.  Her hair, a short, curly blonde, framed a thin, oval of a face that spoke to you of companionable empathy. You’d watched her speculatively for months, agonizing over a suitable opening.  Approaching her in the hallway one afternoon, you greeted her, then ventured, “I have the word that describes you.”

J. regarded you for a long moment in which you were certain she was searching for the perfect response that would set the conversation along a comfortable path.  “What’s your name?”  she asked.  As you feared, she was unaware you’d existed until this moment.  You told her.

“What do your friends call you?”

“Shelly,” you said.

 “Okay.  Fuck you, Shelly.”

It was a clean, direct riposte.  You never again told anyone you had the word that described them, an approach you still think was woefully under appreciated.  You do not wonder much about that.  Instead, you wonder about the chemistry that caused your heart to flutter at the sight of her and the fact that after all these years, you still remember her middle name.

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