Some smart sons of guns there at the Washington Post are republishing old (mostly ’80s) stuff from Henry Allen, thank god.
Here are a few. Beware: Reading them all at once is like looking directly at the Ark of the Covenant.
Bus station: an urban elegy: The Greyhound station at 12th and New York closes today, and downtown Washington loses another monument to the common man.
The last bus scheduled to arrive tonight is the 11:40 from New York; the last to leave is the 11:50 for Atlanta, unless you count the New York bus continuing on to Roanoke at 12:01. Then Greyhound buses will go through the Trailways station that Greyhound bought in the disused nether world behind Union Station.
Closed. It’s hard to imagine: all that timeless monoxide haze of cigarette smoke, diesel exhaust and bad diapers dissipating into the night, the last hustler being rousted from the men’s room. No more Christmas Eve soldiers or worried children sitting next to sleeping mothers, wishing they knew how to operate the vending machines themselves.
Where all the world’s a fair: Supposing The Last Day on Earth to be a festival — and why not? — it could look like the Maryland state fairgrounds in Timonium at the end of a blue and perfect afternoon. There’s a quarter moon over the Ferris wheel. Flags snap above the racetrack. There’s a chill in the air, which makes the smoke from the pit barbecues smell good. There’s a lot of noise — the crowd, the barkers, the industrial clatter of the Tilt-a-Whirl, the sheep bleating like strangled cynics.
My strange Takoma home: WHEN WE MOVED TO TAKOMA PARK IN 1977, IT WAS A SHABBY LITTLE town of asbestos siding and tire swings hanging from big oak trees. People liked it that way. It was a town where you called the druggist “Doc” and the downtown skyline was full of phone wires, like in February or in an old photograph, the kind of photograph that makes you wonder why somebody took it — something about Takoma Park that was faded and raw at the same time.
World War II lingered in illegal apartments with buckled beaverboard walls and crusty stoves. Government workers had lived in them once. Now it was single mothers, failed astrologers, revolutionaries, marijuana dealers and an assortment of would-be has-beens building a new world out of lentils and Indian bedspreads. Rented rooms sheltered alcoholic ex-taxi drivers who had the ghastly mildness of people wanting to be left alone, teetering indefinitely on whatever brink felt most like home.
Reunion of the Enola Gay: You listened for tales of madness, lost souls, cursed lives and nightmares. But it wasn’t like that — either 35 years ago or last Friday. It just wasn’t like that.
Thirty-five years ago and last Friday, both, Jacob Beser climbed aboard the Enola Gay, the B-29 chosen to drop the first atom bomb.
And Surio Shimodoi stood looking at it, a citizen of Hiroshima watching a silvery glint in the light of an August morning.
Then and now.
F.A.O. Sschwarz, D.C.’s newest plaything: For one thing, it’s pronounced Schwarzzz. As in stores.Twenty-five of them, counting the one that opens today on Wisconsin Avenue, yet another spawn of the Great Mother of them all at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street: F.A.O. (as in Frederick August Otto, who founded the business 118 years ago) Schwarz. The toy store. As in: toy toy store.
For another . . . well, you have to understand about F.A.O. Schwarz, what it means, what it stands for. (And so few things stand for anything anymore, do they?)
The diver’s dark, dangerous search: Life ends at the ladder when the brown water full of sullen rainbows from the diesel fuel rises over the rubber boots, the uni-suit, the Navy Mark 12 diving gear, the yellow plastic Kirby Morgan helmet.
Life, right here, is the grumble of the Navy landing craft engines, the pigeons circling under the 14th Street bridge, the empty black body bag waiting above the ladder, the photographers leaning tiny over the railing to watch the helmet sink. The other divers stalk around hefty in their red neoprene leggings. On the riverbank is the hard-scrabble chaos of any disaster area. The disaster here is the crash of Air Florida Flight 90, last Wednesday.
Katherine Anne Porter’s secret: All afternoon, in the slow burn of a February sunset, with the wind slamming against the big plate-glass windows of her apartment in Prince George’s County, Katherine Anne Porter flaunted her own death, flirted with it, name-dropped it, dared it and generally waved it around her like the veils Isadora Duncan danced with.
“Can you keep a secret?” she asked me when I met her that day, six years ago. “Gentlemen’s agreement? You won’t say a word? Well, you can hang your coat in there, then.”
In there, leaning against the coat-closet wall like a bridge table in anyone else’s house, was her coffin. It had long brass hinges, and joints sanded smooth. It was six feet of pine box, ready to be painted up Mexican style, she said.