March 2002

The Painting

She would go for a walk on Tuesdays and Thursdays at about one o'clock. Over the years I formed a habit of twitching my head sideways to check the clock that hung on the wall to my right every five minutes or so. I would start writing around nine or ten in the morning, after breakfast and reading the mail, and on those days my head would twitch to the right to make sure I wasn't caught up in some boring passage when she came out of her front door. I would sit there and watch her lock the door behind her and then look up and down the road deciding which direction to set out. If she went left I would lean over my typewriter and press my head against the window as she went further down the street. When she went right I would watch her first from my chair, and then from the window on the clock wall. When she went right she walked to the park, as I could see the entrance to it from that window and watched her walk that way until she was obscured by the trees.

Her name was Eleanor Fagan. I knew only because when I first arrived in Florence a letter addressed to her was delivered to my apartment by accident. I had only been in Italy for three weeks and was relieved when the posting on the letter was in English. So I went across the road, knocked on the door, and waited. And when she opened the door I froze. There she stood, this beautiful thing, smiling at me and politely waiting for me to open my mouth. And after what seemed like years and a million birthday parties I said "I think this is your letter," and I handed it to her and she thanked me and laughed softly to herself and closed the door. That was four years ago.

My father was an engineer. Not the sort that builds bridges but the sort that drives locomotives. My great grandfather, both of my great uncles on my father's side, and my older brother Will, all of them were drivers or firemen at one time or another. I despised trains from the time I was old enough to know what one was. And for no good reason. Being that I was the only male in my family that didn't want to devote his life to it, it became something that I despised out of convenience. When you come from a family of train men it's not the easiest thing to declare that you've decided to devote your life to writing. The difficulty in my case being that I really showed no promise in the field. My essays and work in college were, admittedly, quite average. But that didn't stop me from falling passionately in love with the lifestyle that surrounded it. My joy lay in the atmosphere of it all, the late nights spent drinking and arguing about it, the trials of experience that men put themselves through in a foolish attempt to gain some insight into the human condition not realizing that those who'd come prior had left repeated warnings not to bother. It didn't matter to me that I didn't understand a great deal of what those that I associated with were talking about. It mattered only that I was taking part in the births of ideas. Whether they were well founded ideas or not I could have known or cared less. But time always runs out on youth faster than you expect it to. And one evening in the company of a group of writers who were all six or seven years my junior I overheard several of them patronizing me in the toilet, not realizing that I was in a stall. And it struck me then that my youth had run out without my knowing. So I foolishly declared, some days later, that I was moving to Florence to write a novel. No one heard me or cared, I would imagine, but I went none the less.

And that's how I found myself in love with Eleanor. And not once, in those four years, did I ever speak with her again or find myself in her presence. All I knew of her was that she was British. I had no idea how she came to live in Florence or what she did when she wasn't out walking. I knew her doorway and that was about all. Some two years after returning the letter to her I came across an old pair of binoculars in a shop, bought them, and used them to see if she was wearing a wedding ring. She wasn't, nor would she be in the years that followed. It was, in truth, something of a delightful mystery to me. Perhaps that's why I never bothered to make contact with her. I was content to day dream and engage in illusionary conversations with her in my bathroom mirror while I was shaving. She was always pleasant that way and I liked it. There was no reason to ruin it with reality.

That evening I was working on a short piece for an American travel magazine. One afternoon some weeks prior I had been asked for directions by a fellow from Boston who just happened to work for a travel magazine based in New York. We struck up a conversation and one thing led to another. I was happy to have the work, I was broke and on the verge of having to return to England with my hat in my hand. That's what I was doing when they knocked on the door. I stood up somewhat confused, as I knew few people in town and none that would call on me at that hour. Intrigued, I walked over and opened it and was surprised to find two policemen standing there, one short and fat, the other large and burley. An awkward silence passed between us as they stood there eyeing me up and down before looking at each other in what seemed to be agreement. So I said ' Che cosa é?', and the short one replied by asking me to come with him. So I went and got my coat and followed him down the stairs. The larger one stayed behind and, from what I could gather from the ruckus as while were walking out, started going through my things.

We walked down into the road and across it towards Eleanor's door. And as we reached it the policeman strained his head upwards and started yelling for someone to come down and let him in. It was then that I began to feel somewhat uneasy about what was transpiring. Curiosity ran a distant second, being that I knew who lived there, but unease more so. But for some reason I couldn't bring myself to ask the policeman why we were there or what he wanted with me. Despite the fact that I had made it a habit of avoiding Eleanor in fear of her rejecting me or not living up to my preconceived notions, I couldn't help but want to see what was inside that door. I had watched her go in and out of it for years and now found myself in the mindset of an adventurer who had at last come to the entrance of some treasure room or ancient tomb. We waited for a couple of minutes and then the door was opened by another policeman that was arguing with an old woman about the keys, from what I could gather.

We went inside and I found myself in a large hallway that ran the length of the ground floor. At the opposite end of the hallway there was an identical door, which was open, and another policemen was standing just inside it conversing with some passerby and smoking a cigarette. In the middle of the hallway was a staircase on which yet another policeman was standing, seemingly waiting for us to arrive, as the first words out of his mouth were ' fa presto subito!' The short, fat policeman, sweating his way every inch down that hall, slogged to the staircase and, pointing at me, said 'e lui?'. To which the policeman on the stairs replied by shrugging his shoulders. It was then, I will admit, that the lure of discovering the secrets of that building and Eleanor Fagan began to desert me.

What happened next was a bizarre mixture of moments on a string, as if I were a puppet lightly lifted and persuaded up those stairs by a giant hand. We reached the top and I flopped along the hallway, close behind what had turned into a boar and horse in blue uniforms walking upright, gnashing their teeth at the prospect of maliciousness. Another doorway was reached in what seemed like a day of doors, and the three of us paraded through and down a corridor and into a large room filled with paintings that smelled of turpentine and old wine bottles. My strings coming to rest, my head turned in a circle and I began to realized that I was in Eleanor's apartment. In the middle of the room stood a giant mirror and to one side a large canvas that held the image of a partially clothed women painting herself in her task. It was a painting of a painter's reflection. Like a world within a world, not unlike my imaginations of the woman within it. Glancing about the room it seemed that all the paintings were the same. Eleanor standing in front of that mirror painting herself. It was an infinite. A girl painting a girl painting a girl.

And as it dawned on me that, after all those years, I had learned the secret of her, I began to smile and laugh to myself a little. And as I was overtaken by it the policeman that had remained at my apartment came into the room and handed the horse my binoculars. And still I laughed and mused in my head about how it had finally come to be revealed to me. And while I stood there laughing and looking at the boar and the horse, the other one stepped to the wall and grabbed a smaller painting that stood leaning against it and turned it around. And it was a painting of a man looking out of a window with binoculars at a woman at her door.

Your Questions. My Answers. Dial 1-900- Idiot Savant.

1] Magee writes: Have you ever considered acting?

Yes. I act improperly on a daily basis.

2] Anthony wrote: faced with the defeat of the entire human race, with the sole possibility of procreation resting on your shoulders, your partner of choice would be (not including you're wonderful significant other): (answers in red)

a) Julia Roberts or b) Denise Richards

Furthering this point, you would name the product of this endeavor: Kareem Abdula Shabaz Alihindawan

3] Leo would like to know: What happened to the truth?

I don't know Leo. Its shares have been dropping like a stone so it's not worth much. Subsequently, no one gives a damn.

4] Adam writes: what is the craziest thing you've ever been sent for this?

I'm not really sure. But it gives me an idea. I'll start a contest to see who can send me the craziest, most out of control e-mail and I'll think up some sort of spectacular game show prize. Of course, the more original and daring, the better your chances of walking away with whatever it is that I dream up to give away. Which could be anything from a reconditioned washer and dryer set to an all inclusive day at the spa getting rubbed up and down by….you get the picture. Why enter? Why not, it's not like any of us have anything better to do.


Some days back I was the unfortunate victim of a virus. Being that this was the second time in under a month, I erased most everything in all of my e-mail accounts for a couple of days to be on the safe side. So this month's a little light. My apologies if you sent something impossibly long.


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This month:
I am about to graduate high school and am wondering what training I would require to become a music journalist. I have already mastered how to turn on and off a tape recorder, but was wondering how you go about _______________________.