Monday is a workday. J. drops me at the gym about 7:30 a.m. I’ve explained that I’m trying to live without a car. Luckily, he has one. The gym is where I write. If I stay home, I keep thinking about all the household things I’ve left undone: the washing, cleaning out the garage, replacing the curtains in the study, that sort of thing. At the gym, there’s a cubicle, and plenty of coffee, and a sort of guilt-free yuppie serious environment conducive to work.
I’m finishing a review of a book about the growing gap between men and women—Mismatch, by Andrew Hacker. Since I first read this interesting work, I find evidence of the phenomenon—women giving up on men and marriage—everywhere. But not at my gym. Here, the gap is not growing but narrowing, in the sense that men and women are coming to look alike: The women are tall, lean, muscled, and breastless, and so are the men. (Both sexes are managers, lawyers, or dot-com people.) As a small, rounded person, I see that androgyny will pass me by, however.
I work, and also work out, then take the gym shuttle to downtown San Francisco. The reader is warned that Monday requires me to report some boring errands. A friend remarked on the telephone that I seem to be in the August doldrums, and I think she is right: “My” movie Le Divorce has come out, my novel’s in press, our two-week vacation in Tahoe is finished (and was spent doing yard work anyway), no kitten yet, uncertainties about when I’m going back to France, etc. The first errand is getting some prescription Polaroid sunglasses at the rapid eyeglasses place. I spend a ridiculous amount of time discussing the options for glare-free coatings etc., and deciding what color. I settle on Amber Contrast in wire frames. Then I go to PIP Copy to see if they can magically enlarge a printout of my Palm address book, which came forth from my printer so microscopically small I have avoided telephoning anyone all summer because of the lack of a magnifying glass. Why don’t I just look at my PalmPilot? Because I forgot the charger in France, it’s an obsolete model they don’t have chargers for any more, and it died. … Then to the post office to overnight a photograph to my publisher for a magazine that wants a casual snapshot from the author’s own drawer.
I wait for the 39 bus outside the Fior d’Italia restaurant, which claims to be the oldest Italian restaurant in America. The Italian flag flies, along with several big American ones and the Bear of California, over the Italian-American club next to the post office, and women speaking Italian are sweeping in front of the shops. In Washington Square, the green space across from where I’m sitting, Chinese people are practicing tai chi, that strange silent pantomime, and chatting in Cantonese afterward. America can’t be more beautiful than when like this, people speaking other languages, dancing and sweeping, framed by the stupendous Bay views. In PIP Copy, the woman behind the counter, noting the Paris address on my stationery order, put in that she herself was French; and the one other customer piped up she was too. They began speaking in French.
Since I live in two places, I’m always comparing them, things that are better here, things that are better in France. I was glad not to be in France during their recent heat wave. On the other hand, this afternoon, the phone has rung 14 times. Two badgering calls from AT&T; one from United Airlines; three calls from PIP copy shop about my stationery order; a salesman of postage meters; four friends with whom I make lunch dates; a prearranged telephone interview about Stanley Kubrick; J. from his office wanting a phone number; and one other. Telephone soliciting, at least, is in its infancy in France. “Why would I want a postage meter?” I snarl at the caller.
Back at home, I settle down to work. First: For an anthology, I am to choose a passage from Proust on which to contribute a comment of 500 words. I will ask for: “I had the pleasant surprise of talking with men and women who used to be unbearable but who had lost almost all their bad qualities, life having either reduced their self-assurance by thwarting their aims or lessened their bitterness by fulfilling their desires.” This comes from the last volume, The Past Recaptured, when all the characters are old, and it strikes me as a good explanation for the surprising mellowness of old friends who used to be irascible or desperate. It is a more cynical, witty Proust than one usually thinks of.
I also have some galleys to read of books by old friends. J. has stolen Max Byrd’s Shooting the Sun and won’t give it up. No matter, I have always felt slightly illicit reading in the afternoon, and anyway it’s time to fix dinner—chicken in Marsala. And broccoli. In a mood of nostalgic affection, we drink our last bottle of my brother’s Gainey Chardonnay 1990, made from grapes he’s since had torn out. Very heavy and oaky, just what I like, in spite of the current fashion for deriding it.
Finally, J.’s in the tub, and I’m settling in with The Age of Innocence, surely the most wonderful of Edith Wharton’s books.