A FRAGMENT

I have no idea where this — what? — this digression is going. If anywhere. Presently I’ve excerpted it from a longer unfinished essay dealing with a childhood tendency to extreme Neo-Whorfianism.


… Another early child-crush also involved a parental acquaintance, more mysterious still, with whom we rendezvoused each year as she disembarked from some festooned liner or rust-streaked freighter anchored at San Francisco’s embarcadero. (Counterintuitively, the latter vessels were preferred for their “superior cuisine.”) Always on her own and rumored to be a spy, she was the last of a generation of tony women who traveled not with a suitcase but a steamer trunk.

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Janice — her surname lost now or perhaps never quite known to me in the first place — would typically be dressed for the occasion, descending the gangway like a runway model for the House of Givenchy, whose designs she was said to favor. Inevitably some bizarre new style of hat — from Carnaby Street or Buenos Aires, if not from Paris itself — topped off whatever attire of stark fatalism she might affect upon a given visit. The hat I recall best completely enclosed her head. With its clear vinyl eye ports it suggested the helmets of government test pilots (to whom, no less often than to les femmes fatales chic, I avowed undying, polymorphous love), or of those worn by Dr No’s hazmatted interns, shuffling with clipboards among the valves and rheostats of his underwater reactor.

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Monsieur Carala, about to be murdered, in 1958

Hailing from Missouri, yet with an accent contrived for the Rive Gauche, Janice pronounced the word “darling” as if she were ordering a Pernod at Les Deux Magots, stranded there by the lover who, unbeknownst to her, was himself stranded — in the pitch-black elevator of nearby Carala Industries, where only minutes earlier he had committed the perfect crime.

This particular hat I was able to try on one day when she’d dashed off for a shopping trip to the couturiers of Union Square. It had been left sitting on the dresser of our guest bedroom. For upwards of an hour — all the while imitating Janice’s faux-European vernacular — I lurched to and fro in the futuristic headgear that I imagined would be necessary for taking over the world.

to be continued.


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