How I Spent My Birthday


downtown Iowa City


Yesterday was my b-day and I discovered much to my horror that long ago, too long for accurate memory, I’d scheduled a 9 am physical for meself. So I trudged to the doc’s office and sat in the windowless waiting room amidst truly sick people some of whom smelled of cheap cigars and stale beer and many of whom were coughing like chimney sweeps and I hunkered into meself, mannerly, withdrawn, properly so. In the examining room where I waited an additional 30 minutes in solo woolgathering I read a five year old issue of Popular Mechanics which had an article on wind mills. I think I like wind mills. I mean, I think I’m for them. I saw there in the doctor’s office that I’m rooting for the windmills.

Later I went to Prairie Lights Bookstore which recently made the news because President Barack Obama paid them a surprise visit last week and yes, he even bought some books for his kids. My friends who work there are still fair amazed and I got to hear about the President’s musings while in the store. He told Jan (the owner) that formerly one of the greatest pleasures in his life was browsing alone in a bookstore. And there he was, surrounded by cameras and reporters and security, and gawkers, and trying to pick out some books for his children. He did it with grace. Hemingway was right: “Courage is grace under pressure” and sometimes it’s just a matter of preserving the small graces. The president charmed everyone.

I see now that I’m 55 that I’m for “small graces”–that it may be the only thing to strive for. I should add “anymore” to the end of that. That’s what they do in Iowa. They say: “It’s getting so your house costs less than a tank of gas, anymore.” Or: “I could use some more bacon on my bacon, anymore.” Anymore is one of the small graces.

I went outside and watched a man in a chicken suit–a large chicken suit, a large man, all feathers white in the noon sun, watched him parade up and down clutching a sign on a stick which said “We Deliver” and I wanted to add “anymore” but decided I didn’t want to talk to the chicken so I kept moving.

I had lunch with my pal Paul Casella who teaches writing to the university’s scientists and who is, like me, an easterner who thinks Iowa City is the best place to live if you love literature and smart talk. Paul was just back from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. He told me that he’d seen references to “disability studies” in Tanzania and we talked about the African movement toward disability rights and the UN’s international charter on disability. We ate exceptional burritos. Anymore. Paul is on his way to Spain to address an international conference of doctors on writing. He said the doctors are urologists. I wanted to make a joke out of this but couldn’t think of one. An international conference of urologists who want to write better is inherently funny. Of course it is, anymore.

In the evening I met my wife Connie at an Iowa City restaurant called Devotay. They serve organic and “slow food” and local cuisine and we had a lovely meal and some serious laughs and perhaps indeed every day should be our birthdays, anymore?

While we were eating Connie saw a man wearing a top hat and tails dancing out on the street. Iowa City is that kind of town.