Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Pilates Appointment in Samarra
I'm sitting in an Internet cafe in Vermont composing a blog entry on my MacBook. I have a cup of Free Trade Panamanian coffee on one side of my gleaming laptop and an iPhone on the other. My hat bears some indecipherable indigenous symbol from Guatemala. I'm wearing Blundstones -- the only shoes I ever wear -- and a Patagonia SPF-50 hiking shirt. I'm suddenly transported to an April day in 1975 in East Lansing, Michigan. I was hanging out in an off- campus beer pub at midday in my Roman sandals, bell-bottoms, flannel shirt and ponytail reading the collected indecipherable works of Ezra Pound when it suddenly occurred to me that I was an idiotic and embarrassing cliche. I made immediate emergency plans to drop out of college, hitchhike Out West, and become a hard-drinking-hippie-redneck-vagabond-itinerant-worker-Neal Cassady-Jack London-Woody Guthrie-anti-literary-working-class-hero. Cliche that you popular culture bozos!
My how time wounds all heels. As I sit here mortally re-infected with main stream cultural sensibility and style I realize there is no place to run this time. At least no place I'm willing to go. I'm reminded of the parable passed along by W. Somerset Maugham that John O'Hara used to title his novel Appointment in Samarra. This is all there is to say about that.
A merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace for provisions. Shortly, the servant comes home white and trembling and tells him that in the marketplace he was jostled by a woman, whom he recognized as Death, and she made a threatening gesture. Borrowing the merchant's horse, he flees at top speed to Samarra where he believes Death will not find him. The merchant then goes to the marketplace and finds Death, and asks why she made the threatening gesture. She replies, "That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."