The Diary Farm
April 28, 2013
A woman saw me working on the fence out front. She asked if this was the diary farm. Southern, obviously. I pointed at McClure’s Guernseys pastured down the road and said our fence was to keep them out, not in.
“Wouldn't it be something if you could raise diaries?" I said to Meg later.
Meg said, “Was that really what she said or what you were thinking? You've talked about it."
Have I? Okay, everyone says they’ll write when they retire, so I'm writing. This is a diary, and you could sort of call what we have a farm. The Diary Farm.
May 1, 2013
I did keep diaries through my teens until Meg and I moved off-campus together in Chapel Hill, 1971. Then I burned them out back in a metal barrel because I already knew she was a snoop. At full blast those diaries were more beautiful than at any other time in their adolescent existence--all that embarrassing pain.
May 3, 2013
I said we have enough road frontage for a stand. Meg perked up. Did I mean to sell vegetables?
I said, "No, I was thinking diaries." She gave me her corkscrew look. "Don't we have enough to do fixing up this house, taking care of the horse, and getting Brad out of the cellar?" The idea is he will take graduate courses at the Rochester Institute of Technology, but he can't submit an application until October. Meanwhile, the cellar, backwashed with the lurid glow of his computer games. Twenty-three years old. Meg pictures her mother washing clothes by hand in the double soapstone sinks. That's what you do in a cellar.
May 6, 2013
Our inherited retirement home is a 103-year-old farmhouse with archeological cracks in every ceiling and wall. Over the years McClure bought all but fifteen acres. He wanted the rest of it when Meg’s father died, but for Meg a return to her upstate childhood represented a return to life. So we have wasps in charge of the potting shed, the little barn’s floor has a yard of manure packed on it, and the apple orchard is beyond redemption, but at least I've got the fence fixed well enough to keep McClure's cows out and Colleen in, Colleen being the $6,000 horse Meg nuzzles and grooms and is too scared to ride. She’s sixty-six; Colleen is only eleven, the age when Meg originally gave up riding.
Yesterday afternoon she came out as I was building my stand by the front gate.
“You promised to be positive if we moved up here."
Maybe I will eventually sell vegetables, but I asked what’s positive if not diaries? Longer growing season, and they keep forever.
Very funny. Ha-ha and all that.
She doesn’t get me any better than I get myself
May 7, 2013
So Chapel Hill through grad school, then the Pentagon for thirty years, and now a life equidistant from Buffalo, Batavia, and Rochester. I am solitude's slave while Meg fusses over Colleen and has reunited with girls who never moved away. Coffee on Monday. Wednesday night cards. Saturday night a rotating supper. Their weather-beaten husbands regard me with suspicion: at the Pentagon I helped spend trillions on tanks and missiles. Their trillions.
In the pure death of a morning alone in the country, I went online and bought ten diaries to get a feel for the genre. My favorite so far is Lord Moran's diary, Churchill's doctor. Churchill would have a stroke and tell him he’d find some other route through his damaged brain. "The back streets," he called them. F. Scott Fitzgerald would jot funny names, plots, and bits of dialogue. Edward Weston, the photographer, kept "day books." There seems to have been no taking pictures of a woman without having sex with her. But in fairness, if he spent as much time in bed with a woman as he spent in the darkroom developing her photograph, the picture would be of a corpse; he'd fuck her to death.
May 10, 2013
I gave my stand amphitheater-style shelves and stenciled a sign, "Organic Diaries Bought and Sold." Painted the posts yellow, the shelves green. Left the corrugated roof cloudy day gray .
In a “supportive” moment, Meg said maybe this was something like what the artist called Red Grooms does. I checked him out. Kind of a stretch.
May 12, 2013
Two nice-looking women stopped to ask what organic diaries were. I said I hadn’t harvested any yet but probably unique volumes in the diarist's own hand. "And you say 'bought.’ How much would you pay?" one asked. I said, "$10 if I could resell for $20." They giggled. "We read each other's diaries," the brunette said. I said, "Would you mind someone else reading yours?" Later the blonde came back with eight diaries. Mostly her battle campaign to take Divorce Hill. I paid $80 and put them on the shelf where I’ll sell strawberries if the diaries aren’t a hit.
May 13, 2013
A woman from Batavia said she kept miserable diaries. "I'm so boring." I showed her one of the divorcée’s diaries to give her examples of how to spice things up. She knew the woman, bought two, and said if they helped, she might come sell me one of her own.
May 15, 2013
In a speech that for Brad was of Shakespearian proportions, he asked what I was doing out. I said growing diaries. Told him about a man who said to me: "You know what happened to Kodak? Well, I could talk about how that ruined my life, but write it? No way." Brad said, "Simple. Speech recognition program. If he ever comes back, he can dictate into my computer. It will come out words."
May 16, 2013
The guy did come back. He said the reason was “the Singer effect,” i.e, "You go from interview to interview like a needle in a sewing machine, so I'm up and down this road every day." I said, "If you're interested, my son can help you tell your story." We descended to Brad's lair where Brad showed him how speech recognition works, and the guy sat there talking for two hours, the whole Kodak story: furloughs, lay-offs, bankruptcy, personal obliteration and humiliation. Out of the blue, Brad said, "I can email your story to Kinko's in Batavia and have it printed and bound for you." The guy loved that.
May 17, 2013
A woman pulls in with her grandmother's diaries. I paid $75. Next came a girl from Albion on her bike. Would I take an anonymous diary about drugs at Albion High?
I said, "You're not trying to raise money to buy drugs, are you?"
She looked at me like a buzzard ponders roadkill.
Meanwhile a woman in a gray and yellow floral print dress standing there lets out a belly laugh. "Believe me, dear, but if there were any secrets around here, we’d all know about them. The girl snaps, “That’s what you think, Mom-mom.”
For their mutual safety, I took the girl back to Brad. She's gorgeous: the perfection of sawed-off youth.
Out front Mom-mom was paging through one of the remaining divorce diaries. Apparently she found herself in there. Exploded. "Where'd you get this? This is me!"
She didn't have a name in the diary, but she knew she had a distinctive sexual odor and said odor came home on the ex-husband. The offending phrase was : “This latest bitch left him smelling like castor oil.” She bought the thing to get it out of circulation.
I went back down to Brad's lair and the girl, Suzanne, was talking a blue streak into the speech recognition program. Apparently everyone is pushing drugs at Albion High and everyone is using, including teachers.
Last night Meg asked, "Are you deliberately trying to make trouble, Ticker?"
I said I enjoyed sitting at the stand and breathing in the smell of McClure's Guernseys, which apparently is sweeter than some of the local women.
Meg said, "Very funny, but you're ruining our reputation. You've got to stop this."
Before I could ask, "What reputation?" she began talking about going to church in Albion. I said I needed to be at the stand on Sundays. Besides, I do not believe in anything. She said universalists don’t either, but it would be something we could do. Or get another horse so we could ride together. I said no church, ride your own horse, and don't mention golf. I’m into diaries. Right now I'm reading Anais Nin’s. Her real name. Unbelievable stuff. I wonder if she ever met Edward Weston. That would have generated a real chemical fire in the developing tray.
May 19, 2013
Our lovely Lilly flew into Buffalo on an executive jet--cheaper?--to see what we were doing with Grandpa's place. Meg holed up with her in the kitchen to talk about the way things are in Portland, meaning how they are with Lilly’s temperamental husband, Reed, whose father started their software business. More as a mischief maker than anything else, I interrupted to suggest we might put up another barn and fill it with stalls but put work stations in them, not horses. Then we could rent time in each stall to diarists and let them type or talk. I had the numbers all worked out. Like mother, like daughter: two tongues went into two sets of cheeks simultaneously.
Lilly asked, "Um, excuse me, Daddy, but isn't the barn you already have full of shit?"
I said, "That's exactly why a new one makes sense."
"And what would Brad contribute to this new project?" she asked, the first time she'd inquired about Brad, who’d barely called hello to her from the cellar.
I said, "He's our tech manager while I do buildings."
Meg expressed surprise. "When did that happen?"
"It's been happening."
"What about graduate school?"
“He can do both. Smartest one in the family.”
The women looked at me like, "Brad?"
But wait, I should back up. Before Lilly got here I was telling Brad about a couple who stopped at the Organic Diaries stand and said they were so disorderly they couldn't even talk about it. The woman said, "He's the first man I've met as scattered as I am. We connect about once a month."
Having been reading Anais Nin, I flat out asked, “You mean sexually?”
The woman said no, they could always grunt their way into sex, it was communicating, sharing in one another's lives, that was the problem. "For example, I didn't know he had a cousin in Rochester, and he didn't know I'd already been to the Bahamas more than I ever wanted. His new boss? I had no idea he had a new boss. There's no thread, nothing holds us together. Do you think you could you grow us an organic diary that we could both read and find out what's going on with us?"
Well, I told Lilly and Meg that Brad said he could write a program that took checkbook data, schedules, personal details, family history, email threads, stuff like that, and churned out passable diary prose. Plus, you could dig deep with a point and click or two. For example, if you wanted to surprise your spouse with a trip to the Bahamas, you could access “Bahamas” in various ways and learn she'd already made three trips to the Bahamas and scratch them as your anniversary present.
One rift in our family has been Lilly getting a jump on Brad in Brad's inevitable field by marrying Reed already way, way up in the family software business. The rift got deeper when she offered Brad a job after he got his bachelor's degree. His response: "Fuck you."
Her response now: "Brad couldn't do any such thing."
Who am I to argue software, but with all my recent reading, I had a riposte. "Wittgenstein said ‘If anything can be described, it can be done.’” (Wittgenstein had left some clotted notebooks behind that I bought on eBay recently; this led me to where he made this ridiculous statement.)
Meg said, "Oh, Ticker, give it a break."
Lilly looked at me deadly serious, elbows on the table. I used to see looks like that in Washington when I dealt in real money. "Our firm does security software, but we're thinking about productivity. If he could come close to what you say, it could be our new product line. We want software that captures relevant past detail--opportunities missed, mistakes made, success pathways--and puts it all in front of the decision-maker. You're in that general area, Daddy."
"Not me, Brad"
"Since I know he won't talk to me, I'll talk to you."
Meg busied herself with the dishes. Message: Ticker, stop stirring the children up like this. It's the same thing you're doing to the community.
May 21, 2013
I introduced the addled couple to Brad. He said he'd work with them for free if they'd feed him all the data their disconnected lives generated on a daily basis.
Meanwhile I've designed the new barn. It'll be forty by sixty with a polyurethaned cement floor. Total cost: $47,000.
I haven’t been this happy since I was six. I know winters are like a skin disease, but spring and summer are glorious. Oceans of blue sky moistening the crusty cells of my dried sponge brain.
May 22, 2013
Brad took that couple's data dump and made it into a somewhat clunky but useful can-this-marriage-be-saved diary, e.g.,
April 14, 2013: Al called Margot from San Diego--airplane ticket $650, hotel $490, contract on bid: $500,750--Margot took Excedrin all day--too much cabernet sauvignon last night, lonely--heating bill came: $128, average per month this year: $152--Al walked 5 miles on La Jolla beach--missed Margot--next trip in October--Al must be positive, all the time positive--no more cabernet sauvignon for Margot this week--I.R.A. stocks up .07 percent, bonds down .08 percent--long term fine but when kids? --couldn’t accompany business trips with a baby--maybe wait on babies? Action items: pill through October, early double flight reservations to San Diego, meet with State Farm Agent, buy food once a week without wine, do not even go into wine aisle, wine only in restaurants or with friends, five miles on beach again tomorrow, think positive thoughts, pray for Margot’s sister Alice: radiation treatments do work so Al must not let Margot get so scared if she ever gets a similar diagnosis that she considers radical mastectomy.
They paid $500 and gave him their country club directory and asked he focus on its net worth/networking utility.
Also today man came and bought the lot of that grandmother's diaries for $1700. Turns out she was a Rochester Institute of Technology professor who knew Einstein and Fermi. Man was going to donate the diaries to the R.I.T. library, said it would get him a giant tax write-off.
I went on eBay and bought more personal diaries. Can these be faked? Don’t think so. Every life is unique and you can tell: people who don’t think they’re writing for anyone but themselves are the most honest and revealing people; organic diaries, my general proposition, is solid. Real writers are liars while non-writers write the truth.
May 23, 2013
Lilly flew back with Reed. He is twenty-nine, friendly but calculating. I think she wanted to show him her family is as good as his even up here in Nowhere, New York. We were so close when she was a little girl I had to take care of her when she was sick. If I left the room, the crying started. If it wasn't me bringing her the soup, she wouldn’t eat it. Then puberty pounced. Daddy became Penis Man. She bonded with Meg. How I wish I could win her back.
We sat in the front parlor, not a get-together, a meeting.
Lilly asked me: "How many forms of what you call organic diaries are there?"
Meg studied me, tongue in cheek. Brad stood in the doorway, wouldn't sit down.
• Some people record everything the way they Twitter: at airport, taking off, being served, talking to seat mate...checking into room 409 at the Quality Inn.
• Some people write about their problems with the general notion that their diary will tell them what to do--quit masturbating... start taking the medicine...buy the hat...
• Some people only write about other people. Gossip, but as in the case of the R.I.T. grandmother, sometimes important gossip. She slept with both Einstein and Fermi, preferring Einstein because he was always losing track of sex to stop and say something funny.
• Some people like to fantasize or hypothesize about their lives...if they were different, in other words.
• Then there are the memoirists, which can extend to previous generations.
Reed interrupted, showing off he was way ahead of me. He said there could be leadership diaries, planning diaries; and decision-maker's diaries revealing why so-and-so did such and such. Then Lilly interrupted Reed to restore the family's honor, saying there also could be institutional diaries. In the past, these took the form of company histories, but company histories lacked granularity and had no built-in mechanism for pattern analysis, recurrent mistake identification or proven pathways to success. Lilly said institutional diaries could be a goldmine. They would offer real time data on current operations with a narrative root system back into a company's past.
"In other words, Daddy, we're making a proposition here."
"But we need to work on it more," Reed said. "And we need a beta program." He looked at Brad because Lilly wouldn't. Brad wasn't averse to looking at Reed; he’s always felt sorry for the guy; but he wasn’t going to write him a beta program.
I said all I knew was that I had to get that new diary barn built. I asked if Lilly and Reed would like to help. Lilly said they couldn't make it, but they’d like to send one of their programmers to help Brad, or fly Brad to Oregon.
That's when Brad disappeared from the doorway. Later he told me what we needed were keypunchers and a barn twice what I was planning. Like he was giving me an order. In fact he was. Last night I crawled into bed and told Meg. I said the idea would be similar to those guys we saw in the Plaza Santo Domingo in Mexico City, the ones who would type a letter for you if you couldn't type it yourself. They'd be the ones entering all the bank and health and genealogical and academic data.
Meg said she wanted to scream. This wasn't the Pentagon, this wasn’t the Plaza Santo Domingo, she didn’t even remember the Plaza Santo Domingo, what Plaza Domingo? This was the farmhouse where her father's ghost was supposed to be around the corner and she could smell apple pie and cider. Now Albion High was sunk in scandal, people wouldn't talk to her, and she was being haunted by a troll in the cellar and a ghoul at the front gate. She whimpered on, inconsolable. I think if she knew what I had to do at the Pentagon all those years, she wouldn’t be crying. Her tears would be all used up.
June 2, 2013
We have a barn, expanded per Brad's specs, and I am being sued for libel. A lawyer in Batavia said that was ridiculous since I hadn't written what this diarist was saying, just resold it. Anyway, the fresh wood smell of the barn is great, the light is great, the stalls and wiring and work stations are great, and I am getting thirty offers of personal diaries a day on eBay. One caught my eye. I never knew there was a condition called "polyamorous." It's swinging with rules. Your real partner remains your hub; the others are the spokes. You can have as many spokes as you want. So can your partner. Just because of this one kinky diary I'm being pressured to abandon the principle that "organic" means one-of-a-kind. I've got buyers who want reproductions. Hmmm.
June 5, 2013
We've had the barn up three days, and it's already full. People are fascinated by being able to talk, see their words on the screen and then have them "published" by Kinko’s. People also are fascinated when they drop off their deeds, wills, insurance papers, school records, wedding albums, and personal communications (letters, notes, birthday cards) and see them transformed into narratives of their life experience. Brad’s improved the diary program a lot. The sentences flow better under the guidance of an omniscient narrator who is very God-like but nonjudgmental. He also had another idea I told Lilly about on the phone, sparking a derisive laugh, but it's a good idea: Why not add study guides to our diaries? These would work this way: Susan Pierson married Fred Compton instead of Jerry Fairfield. What were her reasons, should she have done so, and how would her life have evolved if she’d stuck with Jerry Fairfield? Or...the Batavia Artistic Glassworks initiative failed because the Board chairmanship was taken over by Tanya Hupper, true or false? Explain your answer drawing on board minutes, fundraising campaigns, and personal interviews.
June 6, 2013
The archivist from the Rochester Institute of Technology wants us to produce one of our diaries to replace the dull school history currently in use. Brad and I have been scouring the countryside for researchers and data entry types for projects like this. We need to develop an in-house training program, but that will cost big time. So Meg told Lilly and Lilly said she and Reed would invest $2 million in our business although R.I.T. is only offering $125,000 for this particular job. In return, however, Lilly and Brad would get 51% of The Diary Farm. I told Meg to tell Lilly no. Meg got angry with me. She’s your daughter and all that. I said Brad and I would get a business loan from Batavia National.
Our discombobulated couple, Al and Margot, now plan two children and have hedged whole life insurance with some lower cost term. She’s off the pill, but sad news: her sister Alice isn’t going to make it through her breast cancer.
June 9, 2013
Reed and Lilly are back. Lilly has done a marketing plan. Reed has a technical development plan. And Brad has been contacted by venture capitalists in Alexandria, Virginia. They have plans, too.
Unfortunately Suzanne from Albion High had to move because she outed so many druggies. Brad’s heartbroken. He said he never experienced emotion within a relationship before. Meg claimed not to believe that. Anyway, Suzanne’s now in Saratoga Springs with her aunt.
When we started, I counted cars passing us every ninety-two seconds. We now have a car passing at every fifty-seven seconds with twelve stops per hour. Problem: sometimes people want to talk to me instead of a microphone. I listen, but that's not generating either diaries or revenue. Yesterday the Heroine of Divorce Hill, Claudia Percy, one of my earliest diarists, pulled in with a bundle of letters she’d exchanged with a cousin who was killed in the first Iraq war. She wanted to know if these could be construed as a diary. I said they were letters until Claudia wrapped them in some kind of diary-form memoir. Today she brought me her first two entries:
June 8, 2013
Last night I began rereading the letters Colin and I exchanged in 1991. I wrote the first, saying I was worried for him and wondered if he was worried. Colin wrote that he never worried about anything, wasn’t a worrier. I wrote back and admitted I was and always had been. Tomorrow I’ll go into this more.
June 9, 2013
Remember I said I was a worrier? Well, Colin wrote back that he hoped I wasn’t an omen-bearer, too. That made me think of a time years before he actually was killed in the Persian Gulf War. When I was twelve I began to write a paper about our part of New York, and I discovered Buffalo once had been one of the wealthiest cities in the United States because of the Erie Canal. But when we went on a field trip there, Buffalo frightened me. It looked like a homeless person flat on his face. So I decided I’d start writing about Rochester instead, but the first thing I learned was that there was a man running for mayor of Rochester on the platform that there were more rats than people in Rochester, and he aimed to change that. This upset me. Very ominous. I worried that our part of New York has been dying for a long time. I knew Batavia because I’ve lived there all my life, but I still needed to have something in my bibliography, so I found a novel set in Batavia called The Sunlight Dialogues. I couldn’t put it down. The book was supposed to be witty, but the effect was to make me worry that I never saw what really was going on in life. I’m recording this as a way of explaining how I became a permanent worrier and maybe a bearer of ill-omens. The Sunlight Dialogues made a beautiful rich land and decent city scabby with misbegotten failures. Yuck.
Much later in life I wanted my ex to consider moving. He wouldn’t. He said he made too much money here as a lawyer. Of course then I found out about the girlfriends he didn’t want to leave either.
“Should I go on like this?” Claudia asked me.
I said, “Why not? What you’ve got here definitely is an organic diary.”
“But what I’m writing is so awful, and there’s almost nothing here about poor Colin!”
I kept my thoughts to myself. Claudia’s pretty. That’s what I thought.
June 10, 2013
Alexandria venture capitalists: $7 million.
Lilly and Reed (or Reed’s parents): $8 million.
They’re competing for control of The Diary Farm, Brad's synthetic software, his voice recognition upgrades, my goodwill and “persona” and "the overall brand" which is tied up in this old farmhouse, the old barn, the stand on the road, and the new barn. They’d also build another barn where they would stockpile with tens of thousands of personal diaries.
Net/net (they talk this way) we would have to move out. You couldn’t manage all the direct sales from the stand on the road. You’d need the whole farmhouse. Make it offices.
Meg screamed at me, “Get out yourself! Get Brad out, too! Go!”
Lilly called to calm her down. Got an earful. Apparently there’s something about me that won’t retire. This provoked a defense that harkened my better qualities before I became Penis Man, but to little avail.
Brad’s over in Saratoga seeing Suzanne and doesn’t want to sell at any price
A car every twenty-three seconds now.
Meg finished with me by saying I’ve turned the old Buffalo-Batavia side route into an airport runway.
June 16, 2013
A guy from D.O.D. showed up with news that isn't news: D.O.D. has never been audited, pissing off Congress. I asked if he was making me a numbers proposition as a former assistant comptroller general. He said it was a combination, words and numbers, but a lot of numbers. I said no thanks. He lowered his voice and gave me the real reason for his visit: what we have done in terms of “strategic narrative management” could be declared a national security asset. I said, “You mean you'd declare eminent domain and take it from us?” He said that's more or less D.O.D.'s Plan B if we don’t take its $16 million.
Of course Meg likes selling to D.O.D. because all D.O.D. wants is the synthetic narrative software, not the farm. I said maybe, but I’d still keep my stand and hard copy sales. She said no I wouldn’t; she’s sick of that stand. Where’s the peace? Where’s the quiet? Where are the ghosts of loved ones passed? Brad’s interested because he wants to retire in Saratoga Springs with Suzanne and thinks his cut--$8 million--might last him a lifetime. He really said that: “might last him a lifetime!” I was hoping Claudia would stop by. Bless her, she did and asked what was wrong.
“Everyone tells you their problems, but you look like you have some, too.”
After I unburdened myself, she said she felt responsible, having been one of the first customers. But it was an impossible conversation. We had swarms of people sorting through a new diary shipment. Even Claudia got caught up in the hubbub. When you don't know the first thing about what's in someone's personal diary, what makes you buy it? The handwriting? The cover? The first two sentences? Sometimes I think it's the color ink that's been used, or whether it's faded. An almost illegible diary is worth three times a legible one either because it's older or because it takes you three times longer to read it. At least that's my rationale for setting prices.
June 29, 2013
There are dozens of oral history projects bombarding us with requests for help because they realize what they've collected is dentures talking, a.k.a. Polident blather. Can our software crunch the old farts' bullshit into “resolved” exposition?" Oh, man. They need software that can worm through all the audio tape and place the contradictions side-by-side:
Old Fart A: I was on that boat.
Old Fart B: No, you weren’t on that boat.
Old Fart A: Goddammit, I was!
Old Fart B: Goddammit, I was there and you weren’t!
Brad’s back, thank God. A few months ago all he did kill bad guys on a fiery screen in a smelly basement. Now he's the Bossman, not me. Even Meg understands. I haven't seen her look at him with her tongue in her cheek in weeks. But when do I see either of them? She’s trailering Colleen to a training center every day so someone else can ride her. He's doing technical innovation in the new barn. I'm mostly out on the road with my hand clicker (a car every ten seconds now) taking on new customers, making sales, listening to pitches, considering buying the hayfield across the road one minute as a possible expansion site and running away from all this the next. Where? Claudia says I absolutely can’t go anywhere; I’m bringing the Buffalo/Rochester/Batavia triangle back to life. The Kodak casualty overheard her saying this and agreed: this part of nowhere apparently is now becoming somewhere.
July 4, 2013
Lilly ruined our family picnic by bitching that we have cut off her company's major avenue for growth. Brad made things worse by offering to hire her away from her husband. Sibling war ensued. Reed didn’t accompany her because his parents are angry, too. They think $8 million is more than fair and scoff at D.O.D. anteing up $16 million. Where’s D.O.D. going to get that kind of money? (They can't be serious.)
July 7, 2013
An artist told me if I wanted to take our "product line" to the next level, I should let her cut diaries, paint them, doodle on them, and bury little buttons in them that, when pressed, would speak what had been written in either Gregory Peck’s or Kathryn Hepburn’s voice.
"Give me any three diaries to work with, and when I'm finished, we’ll split $5,000 for each one of them.”
She was dressed in a black top and white jeans. Sunglasses on top of her head. Absolutely beautiful, but her hands reassured me. They're all beaten up from turning books into works of art. She said she once transformed a book into a kind of paper chain that stretched seven hundred and forty-three feet--Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Then she lined up 743 people and each read his page at the same time. We could do something similar with diarists, a la Christo and Jeanne-Claude. I gave her three diaries. Only cost me $32 to begin with.
Brad says the state with the most diarists per capita is Florida. The old folks have nothing else to do, and diaries are considered one of the best anti-Alzheimer therapies going.
July 21, 2013
I haven't seen that artist again but good as her word, she sent me a check for $7,500. She must have done some fancy snipping and sculpting.
August 4, 2013
Meg dredged up the fact that I once said I planned to take up fly-fishing. Haven't. And what about losing twenty pounds? Haven’t.
I said she should note those two key points down in her diary.
Cars are coming every seven seconds now. Reed and Lilly seem to be having serious marital trouble. She's in the room where she stayed when she was a little girl and we visited her grandparents here. She also seems to be keeping a diary.
August 27, 2013
Chest pains. Ambulance. Minor heart attack. Somehow it also got into my head. A nurse who knew nothing about me said she knew one non-medical way out of a depression. “If you’re feeling glum, why don’t you keep a diary and write the bad things out of your system?”
September 15, 2013
The New Yorker wants to do a story on us. Meg told them I'm not well enough. Lilly's in deeper trouble with Reed and his parents. We bought the hayfield across the road. Brad is building a house on it. Says Suzanne’s going to live with him, fifteen or not. He'll home school her.
I asked Meg, "What if we left everything to the kids and drove off into the sunset?”
She said this was her parents' house and she wasn't leaving. If I wanted to take the Claudia Percy with me, be her guest.
I said, “Whoa.”
She said, “Don’t talk to me like a horse.”
September 19, 2013
This afternoon I asked Claudia if she could manage the stand on her own if I went somewhere. She stroked my cheek with the back of her hand and said she’d noticed I wasn’t recovered from “that little thing,” meaning my heart attack we don’t call a heart attack anymore. I wanted her to do something like that. In fact, I wanted more, but stroking my cheek was her limit. What she really wanted was exactly what I was proposing: take over the stand, coordinate with Brad, and keep pushing the Buffalo/Batavia/Rochester triangle back onto the map.
“You’ve made so many people so happy, Ticker. We’ve got tourists again!”
I hated hearing that. Went into the house and found Lilly in the kitchen hanging up on a bad conversation with Reed.
She put her face against my chest and cried. “I’m so unhappy, Daddy. I just want to go away! It’s all ruined. Take me away!”
I almost had another heart attack, swear to God. Meanwhile out the window I could see Meg leading Colleen from the trailer into her old barn. They were both limping; maybe Meg had tried riding her. Then she went over to the potting shed, which she’s managed to de-wasp. I could see her in there holding a watering can that sprinkled at about the same rate as Lilly’s tears.
September 26, 2013
We’re off in Grandpa’s 1992 Buick Roadmaster station wagon. For how long? And where?
“Let ‘em wonder,” Lilly said.
Then she began crying again. I asked if she wanted to turn around. No, no, let her drive. So I did. She sat there crying and driving, crying and driving. I really don’t know how she does that, but we’re safe in a Holiday Inn Express in Wamsutton, Pennsylvania.
September 28, 2013
This country is like a huge Christmas present--farms, forests, prairies, mountains, the Mississippi. For some reason Lilly scolded the Mississippi in French, her college major. Les hommes sont impossibles! Men are impossible!
“Me, too?” I asked.
“No, Daddy, not you. Oh, Jesus, not you But what about you and Mommy?”
“Let’s give that a rest,” I said.
I just liked sitting there beside her, not thinking about Meg. For a while I felt like a butterfly landing on the world of my little girl’s face. Enough for me.
October 1, 2013
Saw a Wired piece on the Internet today. Brad’s quoted: “If the Pentagon wants to read diaries, it can write one itself.” Meg called Lilly on her cell for the first time. Hush-hush, the mother-daughter thing. Reed was mentioned. What was Meg telling her, dump me for him? That’s what I feared in the whizzing spell of silence that followed. Me driving. Lilly looking out the passenger window far, far away.
October 2, 2013
We crossed Colorado today into Utah: Arches National Park. Two nights planned in Moab. After that, Taos. Long drive.
Another call from Meg to Lilly,clearly mediating the young folks' marriage while ignoring our own.
Lilly asked me what I thought.
"I shouldn't say."
“Because it’s your life.”
“Daddy, you’re upset!”
“Yes, I’m upset.
“Oh, Daddy... Call Mommy. Talk to her. You know you will eventually.”
Yes, I know I will, but not yet.
October 2, 2013
After dinner last night we took a son et lumière boat ride on the Colorado. Awesome cliffs awash in echoes and colors. Lilly asked if I was going to describe it in my diary. I said, “What diary?” She said, “The one I've been reading.” “The whole thing?” “Of course! Mommy read it all the time back home, too. Listen, she’s delighted I’m out here with you and..." She paused. Didn't continue. We headed back to the motel, just scuffling along, old man, young woman, half of Moab gathered on a cluster of ball fields playing under the lights because it’s too hot to play in the daytime.
“Want to go watch?” I asked her.
“Want to stop in the hotel bar for a drink?” I tried.
Not that either.
She put her head on my shoulder, took my hand and said, “You know I love you.”
I thought, Oh, God, here it comes, she’s going to dump me. “Of course I do.”
“And I always will.”
“I know that, too.”
What a diary scene.
And then she said it: “But I’m going back to Reed.”
“When? Before Taos?” I didn’t want her to do that; I really wanted just a few more days with her on that wild drive down into New Mexico.
“What about me?”
“Keep on going, I guess, or go back.”
“Yes, back. Forget Taos and go home. This has been wonderful, but we’re married, Daddy. We can’t run away from that. What we’re doing is wrong.”
Study guide question: What does it feel like when your little girl tells you to grow up?
October 3, 2013
This morning I helped Lilly rent a car and load her luggage. Then I watched her drive away toward Portland. This time I’m the one with tears in my eyes. Can I drive like this? God knows. What have I gotten myself into? All this writing, writing, writing. Do I have to go on writing forever or risk coming to an end, too? I get up in the morning, and this diary won’t let me alone; it’s like I have to keep living so I’ll be able to fill it up, but I don’t want to read what I’ll be writing heading home.