I had given a reading in the West Village, and now was walking up West Street under the highway with a few members of the audience. We stopped at an outdoor café, and had drinks and coffee. There was a tall bluff man from Copenhagen – not the first time a Dane had appeared in this connection. As we sat and talked, a yellowjacket came and stung me on the ball of my left thumb. I plucked the insect out as gently as I could and tossed it on the pale table. Someone went to crush it, but I coaxed it very gently with a spoon until it pulled itself together –the words seemed almost literal—and flew away, apparently all right. But there was a stinger still stuck in my thumb. I pulled it out, no pain yet, though I anticipated it. I licked the puncture steadily. No pain, but the skin around the wound started to granulate oddly, till a patch as big as an old 5 DM coin (that was the example that occurred to me) was lumpy with painless granulations. I kept licking, and gradually the swellings went down.
I went on walking north; now only one person was with me, a lean middle-aged pleasant philosophical type from Amsterdam. We talked about his city while we walked through mine. Presently we turned right, onto a crosstown street. We had come into a neighborhood that only I ever seem to find in New York, where the houses are separated by little gardens, vegetable plots, vacant fields. We walked east, and suddenly I saw a woman leaning against a tree, and talking on a cell phone. It was Lynn Behrendt! How strange to find her here in New York. Her face lit up with delight when she recognized me, a pleasure I shared, though mitigated by a sense of guilt that I had not let her know about the reading. But how could I have known she’d be in New York, apparently living there in a nice house not so different from her Linden Avenue house upstate?
She welcomed me, I introduced my Dutch companion, and we all went inside. Her business partner, an older, white-haired rubicund man, quiet, industrious, was arranging on various plates pastries they had made. They were running a catering business, and from the look of the many sorts of pastries, they must have been very good at it. The plates, though, seemed a little less than worthy of the petits-four and profiteroles that adorned them – one of them reminded me of a saucer I had broken just the day before.
But Lynn was still on the phone, and, it turned out, talking to someone who had been at my reading, and was telling her about it, evidently raving about it. She handed me the phone, saying it was Liz or Lisa. But the voice on the other end was clearly a man’s, and vaguely familiar. He’d been at the reading, liked it, the poems I’d read from May Day, and above all the poem called “The Lure.” There was no such poem in the book, or in all my work, as far as I could tell, but I didn’t want to say that. The voice, which I began to think might be that of Ron Silliman, went on, and we signed off after a little confusion about his exact e-mail address – now many M’s in it? I knew that Lynn would know, so I handed the phone back to her to finish her talk.
I didn’t taste any of the pastries, but examined them with interest. Though I strangely felt no urge to taste them – perhaps because I knew they were being prepared for a major event. As I was looking at them, a small plate (like the one I had broken at home the day before) seemed to fall by itself off the table and smash, with its three or four petits-four, onto the floor. My fault, I said, though clearly it wasn’t. Think nothing of it, the white-haired man said.
Originally, I had planned to stay the night in New York, at some midtown hotel I had not yet chosen. But somehow after the beesting and the nice meeting with Lynn and the odd phonecall and the broken dish, as if all that could happen had happened, I realized it would be better to drive home tonight. So I left without long farewells and walked north again, towards the midtown parking garage where the Subaru was waiting.