Cynthia Ozick  

Day One
Monday, Oct. 28, 1996

       To begin with, dear SLATE Diary, let me explain that you are a kind of Parallel Universe. You have a living hidden counterpart; you do not exist alone. I have been keeping a private diary since 1953, and by now the rows of little red, blue, and black copybooks extend over several shelves. (Tonight I will be writing in the current red one, and will tell about writing this.) Some of my fellow scribblers like to say “journal”; I think “diary” is the cozier word. My diary is not only an indispensable daily consolation, always sympathetic, always taking my side, always in agreement with my opinions and passions–it is, besides, a stay against life’s flowing off into the river of oblivion and loss. If I write it down, I keep it; if I write it down, I know it is real. Indeed, events do not achieve reality until they are written down. Otherwise, who can prove that what happened, happened?
       As for you, dear SLATE Diary, when I undertook the pleasure of addressing you, I imagined I would fill you with literary and psychological musings. Instead, what is mostly in my head these days is Pipes. Not Pan’s pipes–no poetry here! A month ago, in the middle of the night, a hot-water pipe suddenly burst, there was a great flood, and the kitchen ceiling came down with a gargantuan crash, ruining everything in its path. For years there had been little baby-leaks here and there, but now it became clear that the rest of the plumbing world would very soon follow suit. Eric Rodriguez and his assistant, Greg, a pair of charming and able young plumbers, spent weeks removing the arteriosclerotic pipes brought into this 18th-century house in 1898, and replacing them all with copper tubes and black-and-silver “no-hubs.” But first there was “demo,” which may suggest demography or democracy or even a demonstrative nature, but stands, alas, for demolition. Mr. Nunes, the Portuguese excavator, dug up the yard, the driveway, and the garage to give us a new main. (For 30 years we had been drinking water that ran through antiquated lead.) My book-lined study wall had to be knocked out; so did the linen closet; so did half the cellar; and now there are towers of books in incongruous corners everywhere, and towels and sheets heaped cheek by jowl with ripped-out sinks and toilet bowls. You can write your name in concrete dust on any surface you like. And you can look up through a missing ceiling, or down through a vanished floor, and see the strings of copper jewels that are the new water pipes. They resemble Queen Hatshepsut’s necklaces.
       The next step is getting a contractor to rebuild, from the gutted upstairs bathrooms to the lost kitchen and all the way down to the torn-up basement. We had placed all our hopes in Andy Holding, who used to be a business executive in an office, but gave it up to live in a houseboat and restore, meticulously and artfully, old houses. He stopped by with a measuring tape (he whipped it round like an old dancer with a sash) and promised to return with an estimate. That was three weeks ago. We continue to live like abandoned mountaineers, avoiding falling through the nearest crevasse and awaiting the rescue party that never halloos.