In due course my father showed up at Fort Lee police station, having taken the subway to 181st Street and walked across the bridge in the rain. Together we walked back across the bridge and took the subway home to Brooklyn. All I remember my father saying, on that long and dreary journey, was that his boss had told him they could not keep him on if this were to happen again.
An implicit frontier thesis, ironical, detached, elitist, so very different from the American one, for people who disliked and mistrusted the United States and were disliked and mistrusted in return. Perhaps not so much even a frontier thesis—the frontier in the American sense is a process of repeated renewal and self-invention—rather a wilderness thesis, a bush thesis, a narrative of clinging to the edges of forbidden zones.
Already dark by the time we got to the cloisters, Peter dawdled over a bit of glass here, a tomb design after Flaxman there, mostly to provoke a volunteer attendant, a retired military type, whose courteous remarks about closing time got more elaborately courteous as his patience grew strained. We were the last visitors and the man was no doubt eager to get to his sherry and slippers. Peter became yet more obtuse, finding yet other small treasures to linger over, drawing out for our benefit the rich absurdity of the scene.
The danger in such a fantasy of withdrawal, if translated into present realities, is that it may amount to no more than idle distraction, gap-year pootling. Worse, a sort of workfare hell, the creation of a reserve army of redundant human leftovers doing useless things, a panic-response to the discourse of strivers-and-scroungers that animates much of the right.
The great books of the 1950s and 1960s were to be chewed over and quarreled over for the next forty years, but the terms of the debates they engendered were never displaced. They were anyway simply better books than anything that came after, and in retrospect I can see why I was drawn to the discipline as it then was, and why I was never afterwards diligent about keeping up with the literature, as they called it.
I took to daydreaming during these monologues, which Walsh, or Welch, took as a personal offence, and she was not long in spinning her revenge. She called me Brighteyes, after a Viking tale of H. Rider Haggard. It was her conceit that I was Swedish, and therefore thick, and it amused her to address me in a macaronic Scandinavian sing-song.