Thursday, July 30, 2015

You Haven't Changed a Bit

During the time you lived in Mexico City, you grew to respect its sprawling vastness, but you'd come there from Los Angeles, which has a few ideas of its own about sprawl and vastness.  One particular day, when you were attempting to track down the office of a person to whom you'd just been sent a letter of introduction--Mexico City residents were big on letters of introduction and indeed, letters of introduction had got you at least two jobs--you discovered you were lost.

Surprised, yes.  Nevertheless, lost.  You walked about the perimeter of a large square, hopeful of coming on some recognizable point of entry.  As you bore on in your attempts at orientation, you heard your name being called.  Not what your acquaintances in Mexico City called you, certainly not in the Mexico City Spanish, which in its way is the equivalent of BBC English.  Definitely in California English of the sort you were used to in Los Angeles.

For reasons still not clear to you, most of your acquaintances in Los Angeles called you by both names.  One or two closer friends called you by your last name, one or two by your first, but most of the time it was the full version.  Thus, as the hailing voice grew closer and you strained to see through the crowd within the square who your hailer was, you heard your full name and the question you were also used to hearing without quite knowing why.  "Shelly Lowenkopf, what are you doing here?"  Accent on the you.

"Trying," you said, "to orient myself and get back to--"  You paused here.  You'd been about to say El Centro, which is the part of the Mexico City sprawl where you lived.  There are as well Colonias or Colonies, or Neighborhoods.  Colonia Condessa, etc.  But by now you'd identified your friends and paused before saying El Centro lest they think you meant El Centro, California,   Such was your nature at the time that you may well have been trying to get to El Centro, California.  "--downtown,"  you said,  "Avenida Reforma."

"You haven't changed a bit,"  they said.

Thus, someone you know, miles away from home, finding you, also miles from home,

During the time you were associated, if that is an appropriate word, with a traveling carnival, working at a baseball-throw booth, where the goal was to knock over a pyramid of milk bottles , using three baseballs to accomplish the task, you were approached by a girl you'd dated occasionally at UCLA.  The carnival was either Bakersfield or Ventura.  Same scenario.  "Shelly Lowenkopf, what are you doing here?"

"Trying,"  you said, "to make enough money to support three or four months of writing."

"You get paid to do this?"


Then, "You haven't changed a bit."

 During the times when you were involved with book publishing at another level than you are now, you were returning from what you judged to be a five-mile run in and about Central Park in New York, the endorphin smile broadening your face and the perspiration running riot as you ventured to cross what was once Sixth Avenue and now known as Avenue of the Americas.

The question.  "What are you doing here?'

"About to shower, then dress for a dinner meeting."

Again, you were told you hadn't changed.

Yet another time, you are in New York, moving along with the crowd on Madison Avenue toward your destination at 45th Street, when you pass a man alighting from a cab.  He recognizes you, calls you by both names. His name is Victor/ He doesn't ask you what you are doing here; he probably guessed your destination, the Paul Stewart men's store.  Instead, he has another question for you.  "Why didn't you take the job I offered?"

Victor is a New Yorker,  Trim, elegant, businesslike.  He does not wait for your answer.  For one thing, the answer doesn't matter.  For another, there is little or no hesitation in the worlds of New York you are familiar with.  No equivocations or subjunctives or conditionals.  Everything is declarative sentences.  Pastrami on rye.  Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray tonic.  "Seventy-sixth Street.  The Carlyle."  "You from LA or something, I don't know where the Carlyle is?"  That New York.

Victor does not wait for your answer, neither does he tell you you haven't changed.  In fact, you have changed.  Once on the ferry to San Juan Island, you were asked what you were doing and you were able to reply that you were about to have some of what you considered the best overall clam chowder of you experience.  It may have seemed to the individual who told you you hadn't changed a bit that his observation was accurate.  At the time, it may have seemed accurate to you.  But what matters now is that you in all those times and places, you were moving with great eagerness toward where you are now.

At the moment, you've come off a disappointing royalty statement, are in a situation where at least four publishers have expressed guarded interest in your project underway, including the one publisher you always believed you wanted more than any other publisher.  When, in fact, early in your career, you met one of the principals of this publisher, you told him quite matter-of-factly that he someday would publish you.

More than likely not.  But of more matter, your eagerness to finish the project more than any speculation about who, when and if.  So you see, you have changed.

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