<h3>Excerpt</h3> <div><div> <h2>CHAPTER 1</h2> <p>    LOIS IN THE SUNNY TREE<br> <br> <br>     When in August 1920 I smiled for the camera<br>     from my perch on the limb of a sun-spangled tree,<br>     says Lois, long dead now but humorously seven years old then,<br>     with a giant ribbon in my hair, the sorrow of living in time<br>     was only very tiny and remote in some far corner of my mind<br> <br>     and for me to know then, as I smiled for that camera<br>     in Michigan in the summer of 1920<br>     that you would peer thoughtfully and admiringly<br>     into my happy photographed eyes eighty-some years later<br>     would have been good for me only in a very tiny and remote way.<br> <br> <br>     QUITE FRANKLY<br> <br> <br>     They got old, they got old and died. But first—<br>     <i>okay</i> but first they composed plangent depictions<br>     of how much they lost and how much cared about losing.<br>     Meantime their hair got thin and more thin<br>     as their shoulders went slumpy. Okay but<br> <br>     not before the photo albums got arranged by them,<br>     arranged with a niftiness, not just two or three<br>     but eighteen photo albums, yes eighteen eventually,<br>     eighteen albums proving the beauty of them (and not someone else),<br>     them and their relations and friends, incontrovertible<br> <br>     playing croquet in that Bloomington yard,<br>     floating on those comic inflatables at Dow Lake,<br>     giggling at the Dairy Queen, waltzing at the wedding,<br>     building a Lego palace on the porch,<br>     holding the baby beside the rental truck,<br>     leaning on the Hemingway statue at Pamplona,<br>     discussing the eternity of art in that Sardinian restaurant.<br> <br>     Yes! And so, quite frankly—at the end of the day—<br>     they got old and died okay sure but quite frankly<br>     how much does that matter in view of<br>     the eighteen photo albums, big ones<br>     thirteen inches by twelve inches each<br>     full of such undeniable beauty?<br> <br> <br>     SWEET AND DANDY<br> <br> <br>     Music poured from the big brown house<br> <br>     <i>It was sweet and dandy, sweet and dandy</i><br>     and a man sixty years old may have passed<br>     along the dark sidewalk wearing a sensible raincoat<br>     and a spelling-out of his thought would be<br> <br>     <i>Bright oblivious mediocrity of common animal-vigorous youth</i><br>     as he moved further into the chilly dark outside<br> <br>     but wait just a second, sir,<br>     be careful of glibness, because I was there<br>     amidst the reggae, I the me in 1973<br>     as we tried to embrace the hour<br>     (because if we didn't do it, who would?)<br>     having already heard a rumor that I would become you<br>     so I danced hilarious with Maggie P. and Mary K.<br> <br> <br>     RETURN TO ELMGROVE<br> <br> <br>     In this dream I fly above a thousand thousand suburban trees<br>     as the crow flies unconstrained by streets of time<br>     I do fly swoon-swooping weightlessly<br>     to my house of thirty-eight years ago<br>     where I should leave notes for my old friends<br>     but where is a pencil there must be a pencil in the kitchen<br>     down that hall of shadow light of ghosted air<br>     I float into the kitchen a bowl of cereal appears in my hand<br>     my lover of thirty-eight years ago appears beside me<br>     and leans her head on my shoulder weightlessly<br>     I should give her a note<br>     to remind her that we must have so much to remember<br>     so much to hang on to<br>     there must be a blank page in that book near her hand<br>     I should give her a note explaining how things have gone<br>     but she seems so quietly nostalgic there is nothing to do<br>     everything is over I have no pencil only this<br>     bowl of cereal which is so much heavier than it looks.<br> <br> <br>     VACATION DAY IN 1983<br> <br> <br>     Sunny day in Chatham and we've said we'll play tennis<br>     but we're all doing things. Annie is working on her bibliography.<br>     Carl needs to record in his notebook a long dream he had last night.<br>     At one point in the dream he said to these two Korean girls<br>     "I'm being chased by a crazy lady with a machine gun,<br>     if you can help me in any way I'll be very grateful."<br>     Carl in his dream is polite and respectful<br>     as if to keep chaos under superficial control.<br>     He disappears into a bedroom of the cottage.<br>     I add sugar to the coffee I should have drunk an hour ago.<br>     Peter notices the picture on the Morton Salt box<br>     and says when he was a kid he wore one of those slick yellow raincoats<br>     and Annie says he must have been so cute. Peter says<br>     oh you'd say that about any kid in a yellow raincoat.<br>     Peter puts Nashville Skyline on the stereo. I'm trying to read<br>     D. H. Lawrence on what a novel should and shouldn't be.<br>     Peter says "Girl From the North Country" might be<br>     Dylan's only song about his early life but I say there must be others,<br>     Peter thinks of "Something There Is about You" on <i>Planet Waves</i><br>     and I think of that one about riding on a train going west<br>     though I forget the title. Carl reappears and lies down on the sofa<br>     with <i>The Soft Machine</i> by Burroughs. We're all like plants trying<br>     to locate the right kind of sunlight to grow in. I write this<br>         insight<br>     carefully on an envelope. Peter says "Tennis agenda?"<br>     and Annie says "Just two more citations<br>     and I'm ready to go." Peter finds his white socks. I'm nursing<br>     my precious tepid coffee. Everybody senses that I'll be the reason<br>     we don't get out the door soon. One side of <i>Nashville Skyline</i> is already over<br> <br>     and Peter puts on an album by Kraftwerk. I roll my eyes<br>     and Peter grins at my ignorance of what is Euro-cool.<br>     He and Annie eat a few strawberries. Lawrence wants <i>life</i>.<br>     Carl sees a rabbit outside and shouts in his Star Trek voice<br>     "Captain, the Xyrilians have us surrounded!"<br>     I look for the can of tennis balls, someone already found it,<br>     suddenly everyone is outside at the car<br>     except me—life just happens absurdly full absurdly quick<br>     ripeness is you know what all right Peter stop honking<br>     away we go.<br> <br> <br>     THERE WE WERE<br> <br> <br>     You know what's so dumb about your abject devotion to the past?<br>     I mean this fetishy nursing of the traces of everything you ever did,<br>     like the photo of Laurinda wearing her buckskin fringe<br>     at that party in the field behind the Kingfisher Pub<br>     where you thought she was hinting you up to be her Sundance Kid<br>     or like those letters Margie Lou sent you on lavender paper<br>     ostensibly about John Le Carré but really about possible romance<br>     in Pittsburgh. What's so dumb is—oh my god—you so don't get it—<br> <br>     when you cherish those two-dimensional traces of whatever was<br>     you are basically focusing your <i>existence</i> on something that does not <i>exist</i>.<br>     Because the past is nothing but shadows spilled over other shadows<br>     in your head<br> <br>     and by the way that book you published seven years ago?<br>     That book is ancient. That book is practically as dead as Thomas Hardy.<br>     It's so funny how you can't admit this. That book,<br>     okay I know you think you poured your best self into it<br>     but even if that were true it would still be a <i>gone</i> self that got poured,<br>     a now hypothetical person who merely resembles from certain angles<br>     the person we see in those photos from a decade ago that you keep<br>     flipping through or slipping into your wallet, that person is essentially dead<br> <br>     but I know you think when you stare at an old picture or old letter<br>     there's a certain way to sigh<br>     that breathes magic life back into the ancient traces<br>     and it's like you're the shaman of this cult, this wacky superstitious cult of<br>     <i>Ah there I was, there we were</i><br> <br>     so I have to hear about when you and Rosanna sang "Waterfall"<br>     at some club in Toronto or when you and Nancy sang "Tossin' and Turnin' "<br>     at that summer camp oh my god how pathetically quaint!<br>     So my suggestion to you is: Wake up and <i>live</i>. Like, <i>today</i>.<br>     And if you decide to do that, call me because frankly<br>     I think we need to talk about last night.<br> <br> <br>     HISTORIC SHIRT<br> <br> <br>     Ran into Alyssa and Todd and Alyssa said "I like your shirt"<br>     and I laughed because it's obviously very old and she said<br>     "But it looks so soft and comfortable" and I agreed<br>     and Alyssa said "And that little heart is so sweet"<br>     referring to the red velvet heart sewn on the left shoulder<br>     so I said "There's a lot of history in that" and then had to explain<br>     that my first wife sewed the heart on this shirt<br>     for her boyfriend before me—and Alyssa said<br>     "Wow, that seems symbolic of something!" and Todd laughed<br>     and I said "It probably means that I refuse to let go of<br>     any trace of the past" and Alyssa said "Or maybe it means<br>     you refuse to be oppressed by the past" and I said<br>     "That sounds good" and Todd sort of half smiled and Alyssa said<br>     "You accept the past so it can't then turn around and bite you"<br>     and for a half second this idea sparkled alarmingly in the air<br>     and then we all smiled in order to let the scene end<br> <br>     and Alyssa walked away arm in arm with her new husband<br>     to go on making the life that would be their past together.<br> <br> <br>     THANKS TO ACKER BILK<br> <br> <br>     There is a mosaic. It makes the background<br>     on which amidst which can appear the figures<br>     upon which in which you have concentrated<br>     desire, fear, fascination, worry, love, regret.<br>     There is for you this mosaic<br>     assembled in bits every day this mosaic in which—<br>     through which—by which and maybe even for which<br>     you have gone on living; there had to be this context;<br> <br>     for example in 1962 there was that melody<br>     "Stranger on the Shore"—<br>     played on clarinet by a man named Acker Bilk—<br> <br>     I didn't care, it was just some tune that older people probably<br>         liked<br>     and it just showed up on the radio—in the kitchen or from car windows<br>     a dozen times—a hundred times?—in the years—I<br>         didn't care—<br>     it wasn't rock and roll!<br> <br>     Yet it formed<br>     one bit in the mosaic—<br>     forgotten and then<br>     decades later revealing itself to be unforgettable:<br>     the melody of<br>     one version of<br>     eternal wistfulness in which<br>     you must slowly staringly wander until you die.<br> <br>     For the chance to build a mosaic I am grateful<br>     to my parents and America and chaotic Earth<br>     and I send now this belated Thank You to Acker Bilk.<br> <br> <br>     FRANKFORT LAUNDROMAT<br> <br> <br>     Smooth plastic chair, thoughtless heavy air, my eyes closed,<br>     my father walked in, he had his bag of laundry.<br>     My laundry was in a machine already, some forty years prior to my death.<br>     Like me my father was alive, he was eighty-one. We were both<br>     sunburned and tired, this was after hours on the beach,<br>     after the picnic, after when the Honda got stuck in sand,<br>     this was after, then came the laundry; my father said<br>     "Did you get burned much?" I said "Not too bad" and<br>     he put his clothes in a machine. Small box of Tide.<br>     My eyes closed over <i>The Burden of the Past</i> by W. J. Bate<br>     and my eyes opened, hot room smell of soap and hot fabric,<br>     and my father's shirt was dark pink, like a heart I half thought<br>     but my eyes closed, after the hours in the sun and<br>     buying the stuff for sandwiches for everybody and<br>     making sure Nick and the girls didn't really hurt the seagulls<br>     and after Asa felt sick at lunch and we took him to his mother<br>     and after the humid tennis and so my eyes closed....<br>     Then they opened<br>     apparently for more living,<br></p> <p>    I put my laundry in a dryer and my father was reading the <i>New Republic</i>,<br>     he was concentrating, with his reading glasses on, and caring<br>     about the truth, despite all the sun and all the sandwiches and<br>         tennis and<br>     driving<br>     and I loved him reading there in his dark pink shirt. But my head was<br>     gravitational to the floor, my chin to my neck, I tried to read<br>     <i>The Burden of the Past</i> and closed my eyes some forty years before my death<br>     unless it comes sooner, and a fly shifted from <i>People</i> magazine on a<br>     to my father's shoulder to a Certs wrapper on the floor<br>     and the fly was the word <i>and</i>....<br>     Then my clothes were dry<br>     and impressively hot and I held my face to a hot dry towel—<br> <br>     I wanted to live—to live enough—to be <i>living</i>—but to live all day<br>     with the sunburn and the smell of Tide and the<br>         gravitation—was it possible?<br>     But my father was still reading. He still cared about the <i>New Republic</i>—<br>     therefore with the normal courage of any son or any daughter<br>     I folded my laundry and carried it out to the Honda for more<br>         living,<br>     as my father went on reading for truth in his shirt dark pink like<br>         a heart.<br> <br> <br>     240 SNEAKERS<br> <br> <br>     This old guy sits in a car beside a road in Illinois<br>     near a five-way intersection at the edge of a town;<br>     there's a Dairy Queen a hundred yards away<br>     but it probably hasn't opened yet.<br>     The old man is a little confused about whether he is heading<br>     south or east but everything will eventually be clear.<br> <br>     If his daughter were here she would be impatient<br>     but she is in Montgomery, Alabama, at her job<br>     and that is a clear fact.<br>     He sits in the car and looks down at his shoes—sneakers<br>     because he knows he's still a boy really<br>     though people don't see it; a boy trying to sneak quietly<br>     through the world without getting caught by<br>     whatever catches people....<br>     How many pairs of sneakers<br>     has he owned—he estimates one hundred and twenty pairs—<br>     how many of those two hundred and forty sneakers still exist?<br>     The oldest ones must be decayed, softened, obliterated<br>     in some landfill in Indiana—Indiana landfill—<br>     Indiana landfill<br> <br>     —a few birds twitter<br>     in trees near his car—there was a rainstorm earlier<br>     and now the birds have to start their day again;<br>     there's a question he needs to ask—<br>     he watches the Dairy Queen carefully:<br>     he can walk softly to the ice cream window when it opens<br>     and if the person there seems impatient<br>     he can order one scoop, they might have peach ice cream,<br>     then he can ask about directions—sometimes the first answer<br>     isn't the one you need so you have to ask again—<br>     rushing just gets you to the wrong spot too soon;<br>     so the plan is to ask, and wait for an answer that makes some sense.<br> <br> <br>     TED'S ELEGIAC WORK<br> <br> <br>     Ted's father died, and in the next eighteen months<br>     Ted needed to write about his father and death<br> <br>     and if you look at these writings sympathetically<br>     you see that they are intelligent and sensitive, in some respects,<br>     they make many delicate choices among words.<br> <br>     But if you step back, several steps back,<br>     you see that basically what Ted says about his father's death<br>     is what you mostly could have predicted,<br>     including gratitude for the dad's patience<br>     when the boy had trouble learning some outdoorsy physical skill<br>     and regret for silences near the end<br>     when they could have discussed the family's way of life, or Shakespeare,<br> <br>     but the Angel of Meaningfulness is not distracted or dismayed<br>     by such broad parameters of predictability,<br>     the A. of M. is interested in the most subtle shades of embodied spirit<br> <br>     and the A. of M. says quietly "Good for you, Ted,<br>     your writing is worthy and in a related way so are you,<br>     and I like the way you walk as if amused by distance<br>     and the way you look at winter trees<br>     with a sense of their metaphorical dignity<br>     and the way you speak humorously to children."<br> <br>     Unfortunately the A. of M. is so soft-spoken<br>     Ted is never totally sure he hears the heavenly voice<br>     except when it ventriloquizes through a human reader who says<br>     "I love you" or<br>     "I enjoyed the stuff about your dad, especially<br>     the detail about the sardines with mustard."<br> </div></div><br/> <i>(Continues...)</i> <!-- Copyright Notice --> <div><blockquote><hr noshade size="1"><font size="-2">Excerpted from <b>Thresherphobe</b> by <b>MARK HALLIDAY</b>. Copyright © 2013 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.<br/>All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br/>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.</font><hr noshade size="1"></blockquote></div>