What do you do when you’ve written a book you love with a dear friend and you are waiting for copies to arrive in the mail as proof of the book’s existence in the material world and they do not get here?
Your co-author has received his copies and he smugly tells you over the phone how nice the volume looks and how well it reads and how it is great that the record of the hunt for the devil we set out to trap years ago has now seen the light of day.
First, you possess your soul in patience, remembering that it is a virtue.
That does not last long.
Soon you find yourself in a foul mood and you wonder why, and you tell yourself, after you have checked the front gate again, that if the damn books would get here everything would be fine. Then you see, as if the devil were taunting you (not) for the last time, the Fed Ex truck about a block away, driving away from your house, and your impulse is to run after it and yell at the incompetent driving the truck that he has missed delivering a package. The truck soon disappears and leaves you desolate, abandoned and ignored. You couldn’t even catch the stupid truck.
Then you spend some time cussing Phoenix (never Arizona) and its delivery and mail services.
The city is always good to kick around. One old-timer warned me when I first came here: “Phoenix is the place where the page you need in the phone book is always ripped.” And also: “Phoenix is the city where it’s always a left turn when you’re driving, and the light is always red.” That helped to pass the first day.
By the second day the situation has become grave, so you pursue one of your customary pastimes: write a nasty e-mail to a university administrator. This is usually extremely effective as a venting tool—much more so than violence toward a pet animal. It has the advantage that university administrators, in their perverse psychology, like it and like to be paid for it, in exchange for a vain illusion of power. It did not help much. That was the end of the second day.
On the third day (Sunday), when your daughters and grandchildren visit, you forget about everything except the moment. Reveling in their youth, their joy and laughter, you postpone your bitter moments until another day.
By Monday the situation has become extreme, and only one thing can bring relief from sorrow: take your five-year old grandson to the pool, and continue teaching him that old skill you learned back in the day when the world was bright of swimming with mask, fins and snorkel. So we swam, and fought sea monsters and dived for treasure in sunken ships in the chlorine pond, and relived the time of Caribbean pirates. Instead of diving for coins, Atticus taught me how to dive for Marvel “divers”—hand-sized figures that sink to the bottom of the pool for you to go get them. He dove for Iron Man and Captain America; I dove for the Smashing Hulk.
That did the trick. When we returned from the pool there was no thought of books, or wars, or devils. There was only the lasting, blessed wonder of a five-year old splashing in water. And as if by magic, as if compelled by the sun and water which the boy had wielded through the afternoon like a sorcerer’s apprentice, the box of books had arrived, and I prepared to open them.
(to be continued)