Saturday, October 22, 2011

First Memory

I’m not a beer drinker and can’t tell the difference between Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst, Coors, Miller or Bud. But I also can’t avoid their commercials…which shows what sort of programs I watch. I would never buy Coors because…. but I do subscribe to the philosopher-adman who stated the obvious, We only go around once in life and should therefore (spend our remaining days drinking Schlitz beer) or as he put it….live it with gusto.

One man’s gusto is another’s big yawn. At the moment my attention is turned back to how I got from there to here; the crumbs of my madeleine. I have always associated the recovery of time past as a personal detective story and a comedy. I think of Peter Falk as Colombo-Columbus discovering the new world called Truth or beginnings. There’s just one more thing

Maybe this comes from seeing too many movies as a kid. The intrepid sleuth snooping, the black sedan trailing him, the goon holding up the lamppost across the street, getting bopped in the alley, everyone a suspect and all of them assembled in the last scene. The detective deduces and detects. He unravels the essential mystery at the core as if now I know why my brother died early, why my father could barely read and my mother trusted no one or... how it is that I stumbled and bumbled and then got so lucky.

Now I am on an expedition in search of my first memory. I am reading a Julian Barnes book that begins, A child wants to see. He was able to walk and could reach up to a door handle. He did this with nothing in mind that could be called a purpose, merely the instinctive tourism of infancy. A door was there to be pushed; he walked in, stopped, and looked.

In my infantile tourism I am at a window about three flights up looking down. A car is on fire and I hear sirens coming. Across the street there is derrick moving dirt and bricks are being laid. Another apartment house is going up.

I’m not so sure anymore about the car fire because I may be confusing it with my Little Red Fire Engine book. The dirt-mover is certain. It is on Talbot St. in Kew Gardens and I am between 3 and 4. Why that image while thousands of other sights have been shredded? It was unusual enough to be retained and when I see bricks mortared today it comes back to me. How does this figure in the detective story?

The Big Bad Wolf ate the Little Pigs in their straw house and the one built with sticks but huffed and puffed and could not blow down the brick one. Fear and safety. Must be a dangerous world out there. Animals, untamed. Irrational forces. Mother’s milk.

Guilt. Something went wrong. I wonder what I did or didn’t. I was a poor eater. I violated the clean plate policy. Serious stuff . People were starving in China….because of me. I wasn’t listening. Didn’t wear galoshes. That third sweater. Went out unprotected. No wonder I got the measles, mumps, whooping cough even scarlet fever. What about polio? Don’t go swimming. And head lice? Don’t lean back on the movie chair. Don’t. Don’t. How will I ever remember all these don’ts?

The don’ts get embedded. I fight for my Do’s. The derrick moves the dirt. I climb the hill, gradually find my gusto. Case closed………but not so fast. I wouldn’t do that if I were you……………

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