Monday, November 23, 2009

A small room above a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

There are two doors. Behind the narrow door is a closet. Below the top shelf, a pole running left to right with five coat hangers, none in use. The shelf is lined with newspaper, and at its centre, a dark green hat like the one at the beginning of Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, what is for me the most memorable part of the book.

West writes:

"He left the car at Vine Street. As he walked along, he examined the evening crowd. A great many of the people wore sports clothes which were not really sports clothes. Their sweaters, knickers, slacks, blue flannel jackets with brass buttons were fancy dress. The fat lady in the yachting cap was going shopping, not boating; the man in the Norfolk jacket and Tyrolean hat was returning, not from a mountain, but an insurance office; and the girl in slacks and sneaks with a bandana around her head had just left a switchboard, not a tennis court."

West's paragraph was written in 1938. In 1967 I made a similar observation while walking on Sunset with my grandmother. Only later, in my teens, did it occur to me that what I once identified as two things were, in fact, one, and why it is best for some things, like people, to be seen that way.

From the last paragraph:

"He was carried through the exit to the back street and lifted into the police car. The siren began to scream and at first he thought he was making the noise himself. He felt his lips with his hands. They were clamped tight. He knew then it was the siren. For some reason this made him laugh and he began to imitate the siren as loud as he could."

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