I’m a miserable person. Not even a grump, grump towing the curmudgeonly cutesiness line, and that’s a line I haven’t even approached, too cuddly dwarfish for my taste. It’s just that I dislike people. Not people personally, or not initially, but in their proximity to me, even sometimes just the fact that they’re breathing. I realize this is my problem and not their’s.
For example: the supermarket is a nightmare. So too is any store on a Saturday. The pharmacy, 95 during rush hour, used book sales at the public library? FML, all of them.
There is one small victory: My prescription for waiting rooms, when I know I’ll have some interminable wait, is vodka and thinly sliced pickles with a NyQuil chaser. This I prepare beforehand and chug en route.
My analyst shoots me jargon galore, tells me to breathe and think through the angst, mentions pro-journal fads like “replaceination,” which, I learned, is a fancy term for closing your eyes and pretending you’re all-of-a-sudden shoulder-to-shoulder with your all-time #1.
All-time #1 what? I asked him.
The person who makes you happiest, he told me. It could even be a dog. So who’s your favorite?
I don’t answer.
Who, he asked again, is your favorite person in the whole world?
I’m not answering him because I don’t have a favorite person in the world. I’m not answering him because my favorite person in the world is dead and, when she was alive, I had never met her.
Admitting these facts to the analyst would lead to further therapy and a referral to a specialist therapist and a whole new waiting room with new crowding problems. I needed to draw the line somewhere — therapy because I’m nuts, not because I’m a drunk.
But answer I do, answer I must, not because by answering I’ll miraculously cure my reliable misery, but because I love the idea that by saying my #1’s name, I have the opportunity to lead a person to her work.
Grace Paley, I muttered into the room.
My analyst got all pensive and nodded toward the ceiling. Does she know, he asked?
Of course she doesn’t know, I told him.
Have you ever thought of telling her? Maybe she feels the same way.
Maybe she would, and the truth is, I don’t really care. I wouldn’t want her near me, anyway. What if I couldn’t stand her or vice versa. I have her Faith and Kitty Skazka and Brownie and Cindy to keep me company 24/7 and that’s all I need. Grace’s Collected Stories is the perfect American book, written in the perfect American voice, written by the perfect American mind.
I find a copy of Collected Stories somewhere and I buy. I have a stack and stash of Grace Paley giveaways. This is my goodwill contribution to the world.
She once told an interviewer: “I just thought, I’m going to write about this woman and this man and how they live.”
Take it from a miserable human being like me: Grace Paley’s work is a heartbeat.
Who’s your #1? I asked the analyst after a few expensive minutes of quiet. But he doesn’t answer. He never answers my questions. He’s a real sonofabitch like that.
Mike Antosia lives in Rhode Island. His work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Meridian, The Massachusetts Review, Blackbird, and the North American Review. Norman Rush and Deborah Eisenberg are his #2s. His story “The Poet Carlucci” is featured in the most recent issue of the North American Review, Fall 299.4.
Top illustration by Kimberly Ellen Hall. She likes to tell stories with pictures. Sometimes they are small stories and sometimes they are big. She is an illustrator & designer trained at Central St. Martins in London, and she has worked for all kinds of companies and individuals. You can see her work on http://nottene.net.
Bottom illustration by Gigi Rose Gray, an illustrator born and raised in New York City where she received her BFA in illustration from Parsons New School for Design. She now resides in sunny Los Angeles. Her works are inspired by the grace and elegance of women, mid-century design, french renaissance interiors, the colors olive green and mustard yellow, dreams, cypress trees, Greco-Roman art, and nostalgia.