Friday, March 29, 2013


I sat in the living room of this apartment overlooking one of the main traffic-clogged streets in Athens. It was a teenager’s living room, not much to it – one big dumpy armchair, a bunch of tapes and something play them on. I sat here alone to write to Uncle Ed, the uncle who had once told me I was his favorite niece – though we had only met once or twice – and the man who had once asked if I needed money. I had not seen him since that night about ten years ago when I had said no thank you, though the next morning I’d be leaving to hitchhike alone across the country. He hadn’t known that part. Maybe there had been a card or two since then, but nothing beyond bland holiday correspondence.

But I was writing to him now. As I scraped through my brain for someone to write to, someone who might lend me some money that I had no plan to pay back, I thought of Uncle Ed.

I wrote as I had learned to write under Natvar’s tutelage, Natvar who was still living just a few miles away in the apartment in the leafy part of town, everyone still in place there without me.

I wrote in my best handwriting, and I laid it on thick – flattery that was rooted in some kind of truth, everything rooted in some kind of truth so that it was easy to just add onto the base coat, a flourish here and there. And my plight. Nothing exceptional. But $250 right now would really help. I did not say that I needed the money to accept Natvar’s invitation to join him and the others in the islands for a couple of weeks. I would need money to go. I had already said yes, and though I had a job there was no extra money. And Natvar expected me to have spare money. I didn’t want to face him without it. I had to maintain my new persona: girl with job and separate apartment.

But I knew it was fake, this little bit of scaffolding I was standing on. I was only here because he had said I must leave. I could take no credit for anything. But money at least would create a little protection. If I didn’t have it, he would be scornful, and he would be right. If he were me he would have found a way to have money. He would have connected with someone who would have been so deeply impressed – even transformed – by the association that this person would be honored to offer Natvar whatever she or he could.

Look what he had already procured out of nothing – the chic apartment with its rooftop garden in the best part of town, the Peugot that had been a gift, and what am I but a miserable hanger on.

I fight back my insufficiency, and I write to my uncle, trying to be Natvar. Part of it is to impress the person with how well you are doing, get across glamour and sophistication and couch it all in a way that the person at the other end is intimidated too, cannot help themselves.

I wrote the letter in the living room, not my living room. The only my part of the apartment was my room with its lightweight camp bed along the wall, sitting just a few inches off the floor, the cheapest solution to needing a bed.

I sent the letter to Uncle Ed. He wrote back politely, saying no. I had failed. I saw him one more time, ten years later, everything in my life in a different place. And we did not speak of the letter.
He died a few years later. His wife said she knew how desperately ill he was when one afternoon she entered his workroom and all his tools had been left out, nothing put away.

Thursday, March 07, 2013


I go into a phone booth on campus. I pull out one of the heavy phonebooks with its wide, built-in metal spine. I open the white pages and pick any name and put my finger on the phone number. I pick up the phone, dial 0, and say I want to make a long-distance call and charge it to my home phone. Then I give the operator the number of the random person I have put my finger on and she puts me through to my boyfriend’s phone a few hundred miles away.

It is night and cold. The boy and his gravelly voice at the end of the line gives me a thin sense of comfort, this blanket is almost heavy enough to let me relax, but not quite. He offers a delicious warmth that could be snatched away at any second.

This unattainable boy has noticed me forcefully. He says the words “love” and “sex” and “fuck” as if they were ordinary words, as if he has been living them for a long time. I have to pretend they are easy, familiar verbs for me too. He must never see my foreignness, my terrible plainness.

I picture him as he talks to me. He is in that big room with the waterbed in the corner with the row of red plastic milk cartons that hold records upon records upon records, all within reach of the bed, as is the stereo, and the small black and white TV sitting on top of one of the crates, the black push-button phone with its long cord so he can walk into the bathroom if he wants or into that corner that is his kitchen. He talks to me from the comfort, warmth and light of this room where he is lying back, happy, watching TV, smoking pot from the bong. He tells me he ran into his old girlfriend today. He asks me if I am jealous. I say no. The girl I wish I was says no.

I hang up the phone finally and almost pick it up and call again. How to keep the call going forever though even as the call is happening, the voice, the conversation I have been waiting for, even as it is happening, it isn’t quite happening. Not the way that I’d hoped. It is not answering every question forever. It isn’t filling in every hole. It is making new ones, that I smooth over, laying asphalt over sink holes.