LEFT. In this photo with our friend’s bulldog Max, I am cut off. But who can compete with those rugged good looks! RIGHT. A U.S. Army post from 1847 to 1994, the Presidio of San Francisco has a pet cemetery. It started in the 1950s, I believe, around the time of the Korean War.
Left: Looking out from the Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco, early one morning. Right: That same summer month, wandering into the mist of an Olafur Eliasson exhibit at the Tate Modern.
In an age of tell-alls, exposé & everybody’s autobiography, it wasn’t so much his disdain for confessions traded in the marketplace in Manhattan at the expense of a mother or husband’s privacy, or more broadly the first-person singular I, seeming always to collapse into solipsism, call it navel-gazing, as it was the overwhelming sensation of being left out of a conversation.
“Where but in the nighttime sky,” he asked, “is my rarefied public? Who are you, my reader? What of mine is worth describing?” That a memoir worthy of our times, the kind he lusted after writing, had universal appeal—this was his litmus test: “What of homo sapiens will it reveal to an extraterrestrial?”
Such a manuscript was the Library of Alexandria encoded on a microchip, an astronomical clock signaling rotation rates of pulsars, a drop of human blood encased in a diamond, the DNA of the human genome etched into one of its facets.
Only at the advent of his physical decline, the onset of Parkinson’s, did a new literacy bloom inside. Only then did habits of mind embedded even in his grocery list mirror, in the midst of its casualties, the architecture of the diamond.
Once we were back on dry ground to cheer her up I told her I had saved up enough money to buy her a present. “Well let’s go buy it then,” she said, and combed the salt out of her hair.
“Let’s not play the guessing game,” I answered, and went up from the shore without her, wondering how in the world she ever guessed and, in the moment that she did, whether or not I had kept a straight face.
“No need,” I said. I had taken the liberty of picking something out myself and was even having it delivered to her house. Delivery was actually included in the price.
When she asked me what it was, I said, “If I told you it’d hardly be a surprise, now would it?” When she asked me if she could have three guesses, I told her that she could have as many guesses as she wanted, but that she would never guess, not in a thousand years.
“It must be a high definition TV,” she said next. “Is it not a high definition TV?”