I had a ticket to see John Irving at the Herbst Theatre last night —- a ticket I’ve had since January. I decided to head into the city early, alone, and spend the whole day wandering about.
If there is such a thing as the perfect day in San Francisco, this was it. Sunny, breezy, 65 degrees. Sunglasses, a light sweater, a purple scarf.
My first taxi driver, I kid you not, looked like Franzen might look in about 20 years, right down to the glasses and tousled gray locks. We even chatted about books. He dropped me at the DeYoung Museum and said I was going to love the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibit.
Oh my god, the art of those clothes. The talking cloth faces. Like nothing you’ve ever seen, and not to be missed.
Every trip to the city means City Lights Books. It was so crowded it was hard to move around. Crowded! On a Tuesday afternoon!
A teenage boy picked up a book and handed it to his tutor, saying, “I will buy this book, this one, when my English is better.” A mother squatted on the floor and whisper-read WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE to her baby boy. Peter Carey (the Peter Carey) stopped in to say hello to the owner — he would be doing a reading across the street later. I took a stack of books to a table and read their opening pages, trying to decide what to buy.
I left City Lights with 2 paperbacks, and spent the next 2 hours reading them at Tommaso’s Italian bistro, where I had a glass of wine, the best pizza on this earth, and lots of coffee.
First, there was Franzen’s essay collection, HOW TO BE ALONE. Now, y’all know how I feel about Franzen. Yet, there I was with these lines from “Why Bother?” Even as I was sanctifying the reading of literature, however, I was becoming so depressed that I could do little after dinner but flop in front of the TV. We didn’t have cable, but I could always find something delicious: Phillies and Padres, Eagles and Bengals, M*A*S*H, Cheers, Homicide. Naturally, the more TV I watched, the worse I felt. If you’re a novelist and even you don’t feel like reading, how can you expect anybody else to read your books? I believed I ought to be reading, as I believed I ought to be writing a third novel.
Franzen, my Franzen, human? Sucked in by that vampire, TV? Avoiding writing?! Tell me more.
I also started reading this new novel.
I’m warning you, it’s hard to stop once you start.
It’s that good.
Day Three on the water.
I feel like I’m in that lifeboat.
And before today I’d never even heard of this book.
Evening. Finally. Time for John Irving. I cabbed it over to the theatre and looked at my watch. 6:17. Only 6:17. He would not be starting for 2 more hours. The place was deserted. I parked myself on a hard bench, leaned back on cold stone, and closed my eyes.
The ticket window opened with the creak of a metal cage and I checked my watch. 6:42. Only 6:42. I leaned back on the cold stone again and started calculating time. What would traffic be like if I left now, right now, right this minute?
My ticket was still in my purse when I pressed the button to open my garage door, 12 minutes before John Irving was set to speak. I’m pretty sure I was in my pink cotton pajamas, on my couch, and back to reading Franzen and THE LIFEBOAT by the time he got started.
I imagined my empty seat in that theatre and read my books. Dancing With the Stars might, just maybe, have been on my TV. I wonder if Franzen was watching.