Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Reading. Trillin.

When I was young, I used to call my mom and say, "Hi mom, it's me. Kairu," to which she would reply, "I know who you are. Who else would call me mom?," at which point I stopped after the "it's me." Which is why, a dozen or so pages into Tepper Isn't Going Out, I came to the part where Tepper looks to the left of his parked car and sees a red Volvo next to him, driven by his daughter, and when she says "Daddy, it's me - Linda," and his response is "I recognized you. One of the advantages of having only one daughter is that remembering her name and what she looks like is not difficult," I had to lay my book down because I was laughing so hard.

Street parking in Manhattan is notoriously scarce. So when Tepper finds a spot, he isn't going to leave it. He sits in his dark blue Chevrolet Malibu parked on "the uptown side of Forty-third street, between Fifth and Sixth," reading his New York Post and watching a young man argue with a fruit peddler (who spoke with an accent that Tepper couldn't place "even by continent") over the price of a banana. It is a May evening, with enough light in the sky by which to read the newspaper, and Murray Tepper sits there reading and wagging a finger at all the people who pull up next to him to ask if he's moving out, which he is not.

His daughter pulls up, and they talk about how, when she was a child, he would circle the blocks of Manhattan's Upper West Side, searching for a spot that would adhere to New York's draconian alternate-side parking rules and allow him to leave the car there until the next morning. Now he parks his car in a garage, and spends the time he might otherwise waste on finding parking on other pastimes. Finding parking is a pleasure, sitting in the car foiling other hopeful drivers and reading the New York Post is a pleasure. Sitting outside Russ & Daughters on a Sunday morning, reading about various City Hall shenanigans, is a pleasure. Perhaps it is also a way of bringing memories alive again.

Like the works of Laurie Colwin, the fiction and non-fiction of Calvin Trillin blur together, and this is what I love most about both of them. Tepper moves around New York much the way I imagine Trillin does; his conversations with Linda are much like the conversations we see between Trillin and his own daughters in Feeding a Yen. I have never been to Russ & Daughters for herring salad and whitefish and lox; I probably never will. But I read Trillin's words, and I can taste my memories of childhood visits to Manhattan, of circling around Mid-Town Manhattan, searching for parking, of eating dark pumpernickel bagels with lox. Reading Trillin, for me, is like Tepper parking his car near the diamond district where he bought his wife's engagement ring, like Trillin writing about the store where he took his daughters to buy smoked fish. A way of slipping into the past.

Trillin, Calvin. Tepper Isn't Going Out. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003. pp 4, 14.

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