Friday, July 25, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt seven)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

To placate the pain, he switches to weeding the day lilies and the violet hosta. Wherever a gap permits lights to activate the sandy soil, chickweed and crabgrass grow, and purslane with its hollow red stems covers the earth in busy round-leaved zigzags. Weeds too have their styles, their own personalities that talk back to the gardener in the daze of the task. Chickweed is a good weed, soft on the hands unlike thistles and burdock, and pulls easily; it knows when the jig is up and comes willingly, where wild cucumber keeps breaking off at one of its many joints, and grass and red sorrel and poison ivy spread underground, like creeping diseases that cannot be cured. Weeds don’t know they’re weeds. Safe next to the trunk of the weeping cherry a stalk of blue lettuce has grown eight feet tall, taller than he. Those days he spent ages ago being Mrs. Smith’s gardener among her rhododendrons, the one time he ever felt rooted in a job. Fine strong young man, she had called him at the end, gripping him with her claws.

A block and a half away, the traffic on Penn Boulevard murmurs and hisses, its purr marred by the occasional sudden heave and grind of a great truck shifting gears, or by an angry horn, or the wop-wop-wopping bleat of an ambulance rushing some poor devil to the hospital. You see them now and then, driving down a side street, these scenes: some withered old lady being carried in a stretcher down her porch stairs in a slow-motion sled ride, her hair unpinned, her mouth without its dentures, her eyes staring skyward as if to disown her body; or some red-faced goner being loaded into the double metal doors while his abandoned mate in her bathrobe snivels on the curb and the paramedics close around his body like white vultures feeding. Rabbit has noticed a certain frozen peacefulness in such terminal street tableaux. A certain dignity in the doomed one, his or her moment come round at last; a finality that isolates the ensemble like a spotlit crèche. You would think people would take it worse than they do. They don’t scream, they don’t accuse God. We curl into ourselves, he supposes. We become numb bundles of used-up nerves. Earthworms on the hook.

From far across the river, a siren wails in the heart of Brewer. Above, in a sky gathering its fishscales for a rainy tomorrow, a small airplane rasps as it coasts into the airport beyond the old fairgrounds. What Harry instantly loved about this house was its hiddenness: not so far from all this traffic, it is yet not easy to find, on its macadamized dead end, tucked with its fractional number among the more conspicuous homes of the Penn Park rich. He always resented these snobs and now is safe among them. Pulling into his dead-end driveway, working out back in his garden, watching TC in his den with its wavery lozenge-paned windows, Rabbit feels safe as in a burrow, where the hungry forces at loose in the world would never think to find him.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt six)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

Judy, startled just like the girls on the show, does put it back, but by now it’s a commercial, and she cries, as the insult sinks in, “I want Daddy back! Everybody else is mean to me!”

She starts to cry, Pru rises to comfort her, Rabbit retreats in disgrace. He circles the house, listening to the rain, marveling that he once lived here, remembering the dead and the dead versions of the living who lived here with him, finding a half-full jar of dry-roasted cashews on a high kitchen shelf and, on the kitchen television set, a cable rerun of last night’s playoff game between the Knicks and the Bulls. He hates the way Michael Jordan’s pink tongue rolls around in his mouth as he goes up for a dunk. He has seen Jordan interviewed, he’s an intelligent guy, why does he swing his tongue around like an imbecile? The few white players there are on the floor look pathetically naked, their pasty sweat, their fuzzy armpit hair; it seems incredible to Harry that he himself was ever out there in this naked game, though in those days the shorts were a little long and the tank-top armholes not quite so big. He has finished off the jar of cashews without noticing and suddenly the basketball—Jordan changing direction in midair not once but twice and sinking an awkward fall-back jumper with Ewing’s giant hand square in his face—pains him with its rubbery activity, an extreme of bodily motion his nerves but not his muscles can remember. He needs a Nitrostat from the little bottle in the coat jacket in that shallow closet upstairs. The hauntedness of the downstairs is getting to him. He turns off the kitchen light and holds his breath passing Ma Springer’s old breakfront in the darkened dining room, where the wallpaper crawls with the streetlight projections of rain running down the windows.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt five)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

She expects Harry to be more grateful; but a man even slightly sick assumes that women will uphold him, and in this direction, men to women, the flow of gratitude is never great. In the car, his first words are insulting: “You have on your policeman’s uniform.”

“I need to feel presentable for my quiz tonight. I’m afraid I won’t be able to concentrate. I can’t stop thinking about Nelson.”

He has slumped down in the passenger seat, his knees pressed against the dashboard, his head laid back against the headrest in a conceited way. “What’s to think?” he asks. “Did he wriggle out of going? I thought he’d run.”

“He didn’t run at all, that was one of the things that made it so sad. He went off just the way he used to go to school. Harry, I wonder if we’re doing the right thing.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt four)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

Thelma makes an annoyed motion with her hands. “Harry, you’re not actually God, it just feels that way to you. Do you really think Nelson was jumpy because of you?”

“Why else?”

She knows something. She hesitates, but cannot resist, perhaps, a bit of revenge for his taking her always for granted, for his being in Pennsylvania a week before calling. “You must know about Nelson. My boys say he’s a cocaine addict. They’ve all used it, that generation, but Nelson they tell me is really hooked. As they say, the drug runs him, instead of him just using the drug.”

Harry has rocked back as far as the rocker will take him without his shoes leaving the rug and remains in that position so long that Thelma becomes anxious, knowing that this man isn’t sound inside and can have a heart attack. At last he rocks forward again and, gazing at her thoughtfully, says, “That explains a lot.” He fishes in the side pocket of his tweedy gray sports coat for a small brown bottle and deftly spills a single tiny pill into his hand and puts it in his mouth, under his tongue. There is a certain habituated daintiness in the gesture. “Coke takes money, doesn’t it?” he asks Thelma. “I mean, you can go through hundreds. Thousands.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt three)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

Though Judy swears Roy has been to the movies before, he doesn’t seem to understand you can’t talk up as in your own living room. He keeps asking why, with a plaintive inflection: “Why she take off her clothes?” “Why she so mad at that man?” Harry likes it, in the movie, when you see that Melanie Griffith in her whorehouse underwear has a bit of honest fat to her, not like most of these Hollywood anorectics, and when she bursts in upon her boyfriend with the totally naked girl, like herself supposed to be Italian but not like her aspiring to be a Wall Street wheeler-dealer, riding the guy in the astride position, her long bare side sleek as the skin of a top shell and her dark-nippled boobs right on screen for a good five second. But the plot, and the farce of the hero and heroine worming their way into the upper-crust wedding, he feels he saw some forty years ago with Cary Grant or Gary Cooper and Irene Dunne or Jean Arthur. When Roy loudly asks, “Why don’t we go now?” he is willing to go out into the lobby with him, so Janice and Judy can see the picture to the end in peace.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt two)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

“I think,” he says, “Dukakis tried to talk intelligently to the American people and we aren’t ready for it. Bush talked to us like we were a bunch of morons and we ate it up. Can you imagine, the Pledge of Allegiance, read my lips—can you imagine such crap in this day and age? Ailes and those others, they made him into a beer commercial—head for the mountains.” Bernie sang this last phrase, his voice quavery but touchingly true. Rabbit is impressed by this ability Jews seem to have, to sing and to dance, to give themselves to the moment. They sing at seder, he knows, because Bernie and Fern had them to seder one April just before heading north. Passover. The angel of death passed over. Harry had never understood the word before. Let this cup pass from me. Bernie concludes, “To my mind there are two possibilities about Bush—he believed what he was saying, or he didn’t. I don’t know which is more terrifying. He’s what we call a pisher.”

“Dukakis always looked like he was sore about something,” Rabbit offers. This is as close as he can bring himself to admit that, alone in this foursome, he voted for Bush.

Bernie maybe guesses it. He says, “After eight years of Reagan I would have thought more people would have been sore than were. If you could ever get the poor to vote in this country, you’d have socialism. But people want to think rich. That’s the genius of the capitalist system: either you’re rich, or you want to be, or you think you ought to be.”

Saturday, July 19, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt one)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

Janice is at his side again. She is breathless, excited. “Harry, hurry,” she says. “They’re here, ten minutes early, there must have been a tail wind from Newark. I came out of the Ladies and went down to the gate and couldn’t find you, you weren’t there. Where were you?”

“Nowhere. Just standing here by the window.” That plane he had mentally exploded hadn’t been their plane at all.

Heart thumping, his breath annoyingly short, he strides after his little wife down the wide gray carpeting. Her pleated tennis skirt flicks at the brown backs of her thighs and her multilayered white Nikes look absurdly big at the end of her skinny legs, like Minnie Mouse in her roomy shoes, but Janice’s getup is no more absurd than many in this crowd of greeters: men with bankers’ trim white haircuts and bankers’ long grave withholding faces wearing Day-Glo yellow-green tank tops stenciled CORAL POINT or CAPTIVA ISLAND and tomato-red bicycle shorts and Bermudas patterned with like fried eggs and their permed and thick-middled women in these ridiculous one-piece exercise outfits like long flannel underwear in pink or blue, baby colors on Kewpie-doll shapes, their costumes advertising the eternal youth they have found like those skiers and tennis players and golfers now who appear on television laden with logos like walking billboards. The hunchbacked little Jewish guy in such a hurry has already met his loved one, a tall grinning woman, a Rachel or Esther with frizzed-out hair and a big pale profile, carrying over one arm her parka from Newark, her plump dumpy mother on the other side of her, Grace was her name, while the old man with angry choppy gestures is giving the women the latest version of his spiel, they listening with half an ear each to this newest little thing he feels very strongly about. Rabbit is curious to see that this grown daughter, a head taller than her parents, appears to have no mate. A tall black man, slick-looking in a three-piece gray suit, but nothing of a dude, carrying himself with a businesslike Waspy indifference to his appearance and lugging one of those floppy big bags that smart travellers use and that hog all the overhead rack space, is trailing unnaturally close behind. But he can’t be a relation, he must be just trying to pass, like that black chick in the red Camaro coming in off 75. Everybody tailgating, that’s the way we move along now.