Thursday, March 11, 2010

John Cheever says . . .

from The Letters of John Cheever; edited by Benjamin Cheever—have to say this hits me on so many levels, one being that I could have met my literary hero while shoplifting 45s in Barkers back in the 70s! Oh and note, misspellings and typos of the original letter are lovingly preserved!


Cedar Lane

Ossining,

December 8th 1976

Dearest Natalie,

All I truly have to say is love; but I will characteristically go into something lighter and something legitimate, it seems, because the last time we met, you and Rachel and I spent some of the afternoon at Barkers. (I still prefer Barkers to Caldor, because Caldor, it seems to me, aims at a higher class with the loss of dimension.) Anyhow, I went to Barkers yesterday to buy skates. My skates were lost in the renovation of the kitchen. Mr. Van Tassel, the manager here, has been demoted to Carmel and young Mr. Loeb has taken over. Yesterday the carrousel, the spaceship and the horse on the sidewalk were freshly painted. When I pushed open the IN and NO SMOKING door (only the exits fly open) and saw the clean and gleaming floors and heard the conservative but deep-beat rock music I wanted to seize on the nearest mannequin—she was wearing a pleated nightgown printed with an arial view of the Grand Canyon—and waltz her through the Smoke Shop, passed the bicycle racks to the coupon sale of hockey skates. Much of this excitement is, for a man of my age, nostalgia. The soapy, oriental perfumes in the air remind me of Woolworths in Quincy. There is the Present of course (spark plugs and toilet seats) but what truly thrills me in Barkers is the sense of being in the well_lived interior of an Unidentified Flying Object. This is science fiction made flesh; this is truly a step into the future. Oh how I love it.

There are disappointments, of course, the coupon hockey skates, for example. The skate shoes were made of black plastic, had the high finish of dancing pumps and were embossed with radiator paint. The sizes were all mixed up and I had to sit on the floor and take off my shoes to try and find a pair that fit. I didn't, but while I trying the music changed to a Thelonious Monk variation on In A Little Spanish Town and at that moment a single dollar bill drifted slowly towards me over the polished floor. I pocketed this, put on my shoes, shoplifted a love amulet and chose a pair of fur-line gloves. Then I took my place in my favorite check-out counter—#8—where the steadfast yellow light was burning.

Oh, ho,oh ho. Compared to check-out #8 the Pass at Thermaopylae—the Kyber Pass in the 19th Century—were asshole. #8 os The Real Thing. the senses of life as a passage. The woman in front of me had brassy hair and four, snug pairs of underpants, printed with roses, panisises, lily of the valley, and jonquils. This was a pushover, but I let it pass. 11 AM. In front of her was a man with a dirty paper-back, four flash-light batteries, and some dog eared coupons. Expired coupons, as you know, slow things up. In front of him was an old Chinese wearing a plush mink coat and pushing a wagon that held twelve curtain rods, a plastic representation of The Holy Family, four cartons of light bulbs and a pair of rubber gloves. We all pay with Carte Blanche which means summoning the assistant managress. She has ash-blonde hair, wears a gray lace dress and an enormous jewel like the order of St. Stanislaus. She has a strong, unfresh smell like old candy and counts on her fingers. So I made the passage, the doors flew open for me, my stolen amulet and my paid-for gloves and I stpped out into the world, a new man. I truly love you and Christopher and Rachel but I really want to get you back into Barkers.

Love,

John

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