We are cleaning our windows today, or rather they are being cleaned on the outside by professionals, and, inside, Mary is standing on the sink counter with folded newspaper — pages that presumably aren’t worth reading — doing the Palladian window that gives out onto the bare ruined choirs of the spindly white oaks in our backyard.
“Don’t you think it’s much better?” she says, standing back and looking at her handiwork. She’s right. I can see more clearly now, and clarity, after all, is what we want, or are supposed to want. I would prefer, of course, that everything were green, but dun will have to do for the moment, and the grayness of the day. Can Christmas be far behind? Friends asked if we were ready for it the other day, and I said that, after all these years, we still had not managed to escape it.
As I say this I’ve been nibbling at a hangnail. They say the nails are the first to go, chipping and all that. If so, I’m well on my way. But enough of the maudlin. It’s just that this book she had me read this week, the one by Julian Barnes, about how shit can happen, and about how history can be found at the intersection between imperfect memory and inadequate documentation, has put me, the Class of 1962’s Pollyanna, into an unaccustomed reflective mood.
Meanwhile, calling me back to the present, Mary has just said, arms akimbo, that the Palladian window “looks so much better now,” and that, further, “we hadn’t noticed how disgusting it was.”
Ah, that’s it. I had been blissfully unaware, content, perhaps in keeping with the dreariness of the season, not to demand sparkling clarity, but to accept rather a hazier version of things. And yet, even for one who’d rather paint a rosy picture of life, keeping his heart rate up by circulating from one lively sport to another, rather than delve into life’s inherent tragedy — as Barnes certainly does — I’ve got to admit that the windows, with all the film off, are pleasingly crystal clear. In fact, I think that’s the name of the company that did them.
“I hear Santa’s being brought up on charges,” I call back to Mary, who’s gone on to other things. “For unrealistically inflating expectations when an orange or some pudding would do. The greed that’s so rampant these days is born of this. The issuers of credit default swaps and derivatives derived from derivatives and the sellers of subprime mortgages were indulged at Christmastime when they were 2-year-olds. Santa’s a capitalist tool. . . . Do you think if I asked him nicely, though, that he’d put a few more fanciful anecdotes in my stocking. . . ? Anecdotes of an amusing and self-justifying kind?”
Meanwhile, I’d like to wish you a happy and clear — as clear as you can take it at any rate — New Year.