Homework Help

Dedicated to community policing, at the Greenport
town hall meeting, Meg and I offered to set up and man
a checkpoint at the entrance to town. A painting
had been stolen from a major art museum in the city
and a kid on a bike who must have seen
a photo of the painting on Slate or Vice
had spotted it in the trunk of a hatchback
on NY-25 just outside town. There was a search
for the painting underway, and I liked that I was part of it,
but my part depended on the openness and vulnerability
of a community that could never have been required legally
to pop its trunk for a jerk like me. It was the sheep in them
that made them do it—or it was the shepherd in me
that couldn’t let an individual get away with something unruly
and that shepherd is the worst of the sheep.

The sign said Toddler Time, 10:30AM, Wednesdays in May.
Parked outside the library were more cars than I had seen.
Moms for Toddler Time, I thought, till I walked closer. The van
was not a mini-van. Beside it was a red two-door, both cars
running, their drivers inside. A man with white stubble leaned
from the van window into the earshot of the other guy
and said to him as he made eye contact with me,
“I don’t think you’re safe going anywhere.” 
I tried to read in his face whether he had the painting back there.
The sign had previously advertised Homework Help at 3PM.
When Meg and I drove by, I joked that we should attend.
“We could help with the homework,” she said, before suggesting
among the DVDs that we rent An Education. We also rented
Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein which featured on the cover
a young boy in glasses, shirtless, wound up in ornate
gold crowns and rings and chains. From the back cover
we learned that Wittgenstein “preferred detective fiction
and Carmen Miranda to Aristotle.” I made Meg promise that
if I died first she’d make the back cover of my biopic’s
DVD say, “She preferred pop music to opera and to Aristotle
she preferred Wittgenstein.” I had, like every other American girl,
since childhood dreamed of being a famous philosopher
and had pursued this dream as far as my talents would let me.
Just kidding. It was an actor I and they dreamed of being, which
is funny because actors dream of being other people. I met Sergei
during a semester off from theater. Instead of rehearsing all
evening every evening, I had time to have sex and read.
He and I put our bikes on RIPTA and I followed him through
tiny beach towns full of chowder and beer. His anger made him
irresistible to me. I too hated everything, but liked to be involved
with men who hated it even more violently. I didn’t like being
the hateful one. I knew it was the end of my acting
career fantasy when we went downtown to see a play,
but instead of seeing it we took our clothes off
in a downstairs bathroom while the ceiling’s speakers played
the sounds of the curtain rising and play beginning.
Then we left for French fries at a nearby brewery
where I said, “You don’t make me feel safe going anywhere,”
and he said I’d made him my scapegoat again.


3:10PM and my high school friends were dependably
hotboxing Ben’s Civic while I got tutored in math,
watching a beetle repeatedly slam into the window.
My tutor was the first divorced person I’d met,
controlling, measured, Irish, careful, obsessed
with Turkey, the country, where later she moved for good.
Her handwriting was the product of another
generation’s educational priorities. She taught me how to fight
with my parents, telling me go home and say, “This is how you’re
making me feel,” not “This is what you are doing to me.”
That night I went home and said it made me feel shitty
that I had to be tutored in math while my friends
who were worse in it got to learn how to party,
something I’d have to learn later, when it no longer
really mattered. I stood in the kitchen, backed into a corner
between two counters, my parents recently home from work.
I was angry when they signed me up for anything—camp,
school, therapy, tutoring—fighting so hard to discover the feeling
that life and its physics, which I found limiting and which have yet
to explain the soul, weren’t forced on me, that they might retroactively
become something I had chosen as a tumor in my mother.


Meg and I spent only a weekend in Greenport before we decided
to move here. Fresh out of college, resisting law school, we had no other
plans due to what, depending on your age, political party and capacity
for empathy, you’d call millennial laziness or Bush era recession.
We found a small house and pooled our inheritances from aunts
and grandparents our emotional connections to whom rendered
our places in their wills mysterious, karmic, unsettling,
and thought we’d share it, freelancing till something
better happened in our lives—men, women, children, financial gain,
artistic fame. It was the first time either of us had hired a lawyer.
And here we are still, camouflaged among the others
going to work, going to school, to the IGA, fishing
for the day’s compliment, which is to be the only
person at the intersection, nothing impeding your cross,
dry laundry on the first try, free pie, the accomplishment
of getting along across the dinner table, not being sick
of the people you know. Thursday, May 18th. I’m waiting
for Jason, who is five minutes late. The library sings
of wear and decay. The xerox’d crosswords offer themselves
from a clear plastic organizer procured at Opportunity Thrift,
all proceeds to the local hospital. And who would drive out
to Greenport, Long Island just to donate office supplies?
But people drive out here with all sorts of things.