Prelude to the Plague

Every few years, I make another attempt at restarting posting on this “blog,” an effort that seems ever quainter as “blog” itself now sounds quaint. My very failure to maintain it should be, by now, comforting–surely I’m destined again to fail, so why worry?–and yet it never is: every time I restart after a silence is fraught with self-doubt and resolve, warring impulses locked in eternal combat: will I finally find a way to write small regular pieces and believe that anyone might enjoy and want to read them? I post one or two and then succumb to a state of ennui like a lawn chair from which I observe my wrestling emotions as from a slight remove.

But sometimes, I just can’t help it, as today, reading Vivian Gornick’s The Odd Woman and the City, a book about walking, which people in my town, Fayetteville, are doing a lot more of than they used to, while those in Gornick’s town, New York, are doing a lot less. This thin book is thick with small incidents (and forgotten writers, and brief conversations–Gornick, like Maira Kalman, is a sort of scrapbooker of urban snapshots) and one was just too relevant to this strange time in walking and groceries and social life not to post:

Early on a Friday evening in spring, cars coming from three directions are halted in the middle of Abingdon Square, in their midst a rat running frantically back and forth. A man turns the corner nearest to where I am standing, mesmerized. He is in his forties, wearing khaki shorts and a bright blue camp shirt and carrying a Whole Foods shopping bag in each hand. His brown thatch is graying, his features painfully delicate; his eyes blink worriedly behind designer glasses.

“What is it?” he cries at me.

His eyes follow my pointing finger.

“Oh,” he says wearily. “A neurotic rat.”

“Or else a prelude to the plague,” I say.

“Now there’s an only slightly more comforting thought.”

For a moment the man looks thoughtful. Then he shakes his head no.

“Poor thing. He’s looking for a way out and there isn’t any. Believe me, I know.”

He shoulders his fancy provisions anew and goes his way; now burdened by the useless wisdom he only rarely has to face up to.


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