This is a Sunday morning. I have heard the New York Times has a new column called Sunday Routine. People send in reports of how their own Sunday mornings go. I can do that in L.A.
I try to edit my week’s pages on Sunday mornings. I don’t like walking on the streets where I live. Couples are out with each other, dogs, or small children. Only the dogs acknowledge each other. Children learn fast you do not talk to other people. When walking, you keep your eyes on your cell phone, and raise your hand as you cross the street.
On Friday night this week, the writer Romey Keys came for dinner. (See DESERT HOUSE chapters on Wimpole Street Gazette.) The night before he’d been to a reading by Don DeLillo of his new book ZERO K. Romey had brought me a signed copy. I had read some of the novel Saturday night. I wanted to rewrite a piece I was working on. DeLillo’s pages would inspire me. I could read some on Sunday morning. But I’m supposed to walk every day for fifteen minutes. Three times a day. I would rather read.
ZERO K is set in a place which feels “futuristic” in the style of old science fiction movies where Michael Rennie was dressed up in smooth silver robot costumes. There were no ornamental touches anywhere. No “Early American” with antique mechanical toys and masses of books, like the house I grew up in. Some people in Hollywood were wary of futurist houses. (Lean style was possibly subversive.) Don DeLillo deals with this issue—the eerie feel of the unadorned.
Sunday, I sorted out my eyedrops (another story, coming soon.) I listened to Brahms on cellphone. And remembered other Sunday mornings. If you’ve been around this long, there are many Sundays to refer to.
I live in West Los Angeles on land that was once part of the Japanese American citizens’ internment camps. Now it belongs to the Veterans’ Administration. There’s a park where wild nasturtium grow. Then, a couple of blocks west of that, there’s the 405 freeway. Homeless people settle under the bridge. During warm days, they visit the park and lie under the trees looking up at the sky. It’s reassuring after the heavy dark of the 405 ceiling. The 405 has had several mentions for being the worst freeway. Before I walk, I take Friday’s mail out from the post box. (I say post box so you recall I lived in England for 30 years.) Sometimes, in the mail, there’s a dressy catalogue to go with campaign requests. Today there’s a copy of Ralph Lauren’s latest “zine.” I am sent copies of this sleek zine because my son gave me a Ralph Lauren watch which I love. Made of hefty silver, the watch gives me a strong-arm look and it has a stirrup-shaped frame around the face. The watch reminds me of the time when L.A. was a Western town, the Valley was all orange and lemon groves. You got there by driving Sepulveda, a graceful highway which sidles by the 405. It used to be bordered by acres of poinsettias. Those acres became graveyards for young soldiers after World War II. No one would have imagined the 405. That was part of the uneasy future, a conception designed by science fiction writers. “Ralphie” is what we called Ralph Lauren in the decades when we could just about afford his clothes. The gutsy style was worth it. Now, the magazine is a touch of Town & Country and features stables of adorable young men, including his son Andrew, wearing clothes that cost as much as major surgery. Elective: Would I rather have those trousers than surgery? They’d likely last me longer.
I haven’t seen the Times Sunday column. My Sunday morning began with the clinical depression. (Yes: one of my several doctors said that I will be depressed for some time after this triple bypass surgery I’ve mentioned somewhere else.) If I were truly depressed would I have noticed that, in all the photos in Ralph’s zine, the trousers are now wide as skirts, whisking around like Kate Hepburn’s “pajamas”?
I’d like to mention here that the first time I heard the word “zine” was downtown at a zine expo, featuring my young writer Suemi Guerra and her zine, “Suicidal Goldfish.” A zine, I learned, is a little magazine you print out on a Sunday morning in a friend’s filing cabinet room. Everyone who comes downtown to celebrate this independent printing process carries a plastic vessel with foggy water in which are floating the lemons you saw last week, a few leaves of kale, and maybe remains of goldfish, just a sentimental touch. They bring these vessels to my writers’ group which makes me feel cool.
And how depressed can I be if I jump out of bed to see if I still have my wide old linen trousers? They aren’t exactly as elite as the new silk Ralph ones—but they’ll do in case I go to a place where what I have on matters. This, I tell myself, is how I’m moving into my Sunday morning dive. I’m standing at the edge of the diving board—do I jump?—and wind up in one of God’s cool new drinking vessels? The issue of death is big in DeLillo’s ZERO K. What if there was a place where I could die and then be brought back? But where? I stand on the well-meaning diving board of my Sunday cliff (soon I’ll have to sit down.) What to relive? Not entire decades—but moments like “short subjects.”
I take tea and one shortbread biscuit to my writing table—the one by the easel. I have several writing tables in this loft to remind me this is who I am. Perhaps if I could return to a time in my life it would be when my first child was born. I would return to the Sixties and the years of my son and daughter’s childhoods, I would do those differently. I would take many pictures and draw them at all ages. I would set aside everything else—this is because my son asked me again if I have pictures of him during his boyhood. I have pictures when he was little. I don’t—now I’m going into a long, slow dive—I don’t have pictures of that time. Here’s a new Sunday morning tradition, going through the decades of pages, of scrapbooks, of envelopes and albums, and seeing the impact of my generation’s self-driven passions made on their children’s futures—and on their grandparents’ lives.
I couldn’t pay the rent in those days, but I managed to buy myself a Ralph Lauren shirt now and then—he was giving us rustic Western style, clothes for posh cowboys. I bought the children clothes so the parents of other kids would think I was doing well, and, being divorced, I kept my eye out for the next guy, how he’d see me and my adorable family. I don’t remember many of us taking pictures then. You did not have a cell phone. My first husband was gone. Maybe to Long Beach which seemed as far away as Arkansas where he wound up. I saw him last year with my son, who flew his father out to see his grandchildren. I heard they were having breakfast together at Nate ‘n’ Al’s. I called my son and asked if I could come. His father and I happened to be wearing similar Navy and white checked shirts. Gap. Not Ralphie. We laughed over old moments. He knew he was going home to die. His heart was truly broken—they were trying one more surgery. The adornments of familiarity were present: The corned beef sandwiches and the rugelach, and his laugh. Sunday morning. I’m looking for a picture. Why didn’t we take one?
And why are there no pictures of the Sunday morning trips to Nate ‘n’ Al’s with my father driving his wooden station wagon? We’d pick up the stuff for Sunday dinner, bring it home, windows open, singing Western songs and looking forward to when it would always be as good as now.
Sunday mornings then were about what we loved. We were looking forward to what was coming. Not what was gone.