Her older daughter was doing clinical training in music therapy at the University of Minnesota, and her younger daughter worked in a Bolivian medical clinic. Her husband was at a three-day symposium on team building in Los Altos. In other words, she had time, which was good, since she was behind on letters of recommendation, on personal reading, on professional reading, on two sets of American Civil Rights Movement quizzes that needed grades and a set of Jim Crow Era essays that needed comments, on the adult literacy curriculum she was putting together for a non-profit, on thank you notes, and on research for a book she'd long wanted to write on wage discrimination against women. And—as always—behind on exercise. What came first? She had perfectly good reasons to procrastinate on the exercise, to stay home, feet up, with her couch as her work station, and phone, text, e-mail, draft, scribble, record, and put entries in her plan book, all the while a little gloomily aware that she hadn't walked since Wednesday, that it was now Sunday, that today it was essential, even mandatory, to walk—this sort of troubled thinking about exercise lay under her other thoughts until, late in the afternoon, at the last practical hour really—in January it was dark by five—she finally got up from the couch.
She went out wearing the hat she'd just finished knitting and the new winter boots she felt dubious about. Were they going to break in or should she return them? They were warm enough but their toe boxes felt tight. In these uncomfortable boots, then, she walked to the park, where the trees were all leafless and, because of the cold, no people were present. What was the temperature? Fifteen? Twenty? She took the gravel path toward the frozen pond, crossed, gingerly, the icy footbridge, and power-walked beside the synthetic turf soccer field, where no nets were up, and where the lines regulating the game were blurred and frosted over. All still, all silent, but then, as she passed the concession stand—closed for the winter—a car turned into the rec-area parking lot at the far end of the field. Whoever it was, he or she didn't get out right away. The motor went on running—rising, white exhaust. Finally a guy emerged and, standing beside his door, waved in the manner of someone who knew her, of someone friendly and familiar. Who was it, waving like that—waving with so much odd enthusiasm? She couldn't tell from her distance. She could see that he wore a lime-green parka and—she thought—a stocking cap. He was well bundled up, that much was obvious. She was terrible with cars, all she could say about his was that it was small, one of those blunt and truncated looking gas
savers, boxy and dark blue, beside which the waving guy looked, maybe, taller than he was as he hailed her in his animated way, his right hand waggling at the end of his wrist and raised to about eye level. Was this somebody she knew? An acquaintance of some kind? She pulled one hand from her pocket and, as he'd done, raised it to eye level, like someone taking an oath, or like a student uncertain of the answer she's about to make, and waved back in her way, no waggling, measured, all her probity intact—not that she had more probity than the next person—and her enthusiasm checked, just in case. Because, after all, she didn't want to issue an invitation—come on, take a walk, let's chat, we're friends—that wasn't her intention. But what was her intention? Her intention was unclear, she didn't know what she meant to say with her stiff and reserved wave, I'm receptive but I'm not receptive, thank you but no thank you. Certainly, she felt, she should at the very least do nothing offensive; to leave his wave unacknowledged was maybe a mistake or a danger. What's wrong?, he might think, don't you say hi to people? On the other hand, maybe it would have been safer to pretend she hadn't seen him, whoever he was, stranger or friend, familiar or unfamiliar, threat or amiable acquaintance waving in a kind way. Who was it, greeting her so aggressively? Maybe only someone on an even keel today and in a good winter mood, someone not subject to seasonal affective disorder, someone with a generous and outgoing outlook or equipped with outsized social graces, maybe this was just park etiquette, lonely park etiquette, It's me, a stranger, but no one to worry about, happy new year, have a nice day. But enough worry!, she thought, as he reached into his car for something. She saw only his upper back as he dug around for it. The exhaust stopped rising; he'd killed his motor. Then he emerged with a phone in hand, which he held to his ear while opening a rear door. A lap dog on a leash jumped out, and the two of them began walking as if to intersect with her, the guy pressing his phone to his ear and the dog taking fast, tiny steps.
What was this about? What did it mean, the wave, then a call? You're important, I'm glad to see you; you've dazzled me, you're nothing, you're wonderful . . . but . . . wait . . . okay . . . I have thirty seconds between greeting you with a wave and saying hi at close quarters, why not use it productively, check off a phone call, the message I'm sending you is—but, what was his message? It was definitely bizarre, his inordinate good cheer, his theatrical animation, his mincing dog, this guy now closing distance with his phone in one hand and his leash in the other, talking away even while the dog gave a tug and stopped so it could squat over the stiff grass, the guy turning to look in the direction of the pond and then in the opposite direction, surveying the park and, she thought, wondering if anyone besides her had noticed that he wasn't getting down on his knees with a plastic mitt or a pooper scooper, after that evaluating the clouds as if his guilt-laden reconnaissance was part of a general love of nature—doing that for her sake—or maybe he was doing what people do in winter as the day gets on because they're worried—she was worried—about worsening weather and early darkness, not wanting to get caught out past a certain point, say four thirty, that
was about the right time to start home in January if you were out for a walk, maybe she could check her phone to see what time it was—but wouldn't that be rude, to pull out her phone? No. People were always pulling out their phones, it didn't have to mean anything. And he was on his phone. And yes, he was wearing a stocking cap, which was weird, too, although didn't he have a right, in this weather, to a stocking cap? Or maybe, she thought, it was actually called a watch cap, the kind sailors wore on watch in cold weather, that was probably why it was called a watch cap though it was also the cap that thieves wore in movies, or rather burglars, cat burglars—black stretch pants, black turtleneck, black watch cap—while slipping noiselessly through a bedroom window one leg after the other. Was there a creepier hat than the hat this guy wore? The one with the eyeholes was definitely creepier, she couldn't remember what it was called right now, how tempting it was to pull out her phone and—anyway, he wasn't wearing that. He was wearing a watch or stocking cap, black, he put away his phone, his dog finished up, the two of them once more advanced. Here came the guy in the lime-green parka, leading his little dog along toward her and raising his hand again in that more than just slightly enthusiastic wave.
Their paths were converging. She could see who he was now. It was Hamish Mcadam, Hamish Mcadam whose name used to make her privately laugh because “hamish,” to her, a Jewish girl, sort of—in adulthood she'd divested herself of Jewishness—meant, in Yiddish—spelled “haimish”—warm and cozy. How could there be a Hamish Mcadam? A Yiddish-invoking first name and a Scottish last name, those didn't go together and made you think, merged—or made her think, anyway—of a clansman in a kilt and a yarmulke. She thought of Hamish Mcadam every semester when she put the word “macadam” up on Powerpoint among other Industrial Revolution terms—spinning jenny, flying shuttle, steam engine, seed drill, macadam, a new type of road construction. Hamish Mcadam? Hamish Mcadam had taught photography and science, and had once had a modicum of local notoriety because, as a hobby, and involving kids, he'd installed a weather station on the school's roof that not only collected data but got mentioned, many evenings, on a television news show by a meteorologist rolling through suburbs and towns, rain, wind, and temperatures. People'd thought well of Hamish because of that, Hamish who'd built his weather station on his own dime, Hamish who gave extra time to his students, Hamish who, in the faculty room, happily ate his lunch among women while the other guy teachers held down guy tables. Hamish who kept a fishbowl in his classroom, balanced his checkbook with an overkill graphing calculator, ate a warm cafeteria cookie with a carton of milk or worked a crossword puzzle during morning break. Hamish who wore, in his hair, or what was left of it, shiny mousse, so that it stood up like gleaming bristles. Hamish who fought the weight battle openly, noting, at lunch, the fat and carb content of items and assisting others with conspicuously fast conversions of nutritional content information—grams to ounces, milligrams, milliliters. His signature wardrobe— argyle sweater vest, cuffed cords, plaid socks, and saddle shoes—had always
seemed, to her, too studied, but really, if she was fair, who wasn't studied when it came to self-furnishings? Hamish was crisp, well-cropped, gelled, clean-shaven, cheery, and a pleasant enough faculty presence, until, one day—maybe five years ago, she thought—he'd left the building “on probation” while an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing went forward, the wrongdoing along the lines of inappropriate involvement with a student, which no one knew anything about but which everyone, meaning all the teachers in their building, discussed anyway, vigorously and speculatively, based on what little the principal had revealed to this or that faculty or staff member; those small bits of “fact” made the rounds and gathered together until a full-blown rumor factory was up and running, all of this before blogs and social media had become so powerful that surmises and allegations could go viral and that way become, at high speed, vehement and ridiculous. Rumors about Hamish became vehement and ridiculous with less digital help; it had been mostly old-school at school; exponential word of mouth. Was it 2005? She thought it might have been 2005, the Hamish Mcadam–might-be-a-perv gossip-fest, because, she remembered, that was the year the district went on strike and there were plenty of meetings and a lot of down-time and talk, some of that talk about the issues behind striking—pay, mainly, higher pay—and some of it about Hamish Mcadam. Hamish Mcadam, one of their union reps but not present at meetings, not present, apparently, because something had happened, but what was that something, the details? It was said, it was thought—the story went, anyway—that the weather station on the roof called for regular monitoring, that Hamish had established a rotation of students to go up there, carefully, with a key and safety measures, for the purpose of checking and maintaining equipment, of taking notes—of learning things—that these were his hand-picked, favorite students, girls and boys but mostly girls, because Hamish's favorite students were girls—he had a girl, each semester, as a “teacher's aide,” always a girl, a girl to enter grades in his book, et cetera, sundry small but necessary things—and that some of these stints involved evening visits for purposes related to relative humidity or some such twilit or dark-of-night phenomenon, no one really knew, but anyway, summer evenings on the roof, beneath the moon, under stars, with Hamish sometimes unexpectedly on hand offering snacks, soft drinks, and a telescope on a tripod, which he invited his student monitors to look through and . . . and . . . it was in this meteorological and star-gazing context that something had either happened or not happened, no one knew, because the district office, the principal, the vice principals, anyone with information was only willing to say, officially, that the matter was under investigation, while adding, privately, a tidbit here and there— those informal asides and “you didn't hear it from me's” that formed the basis of rampant speculation during, indeed it was, the strike of 2005.
Soon Hamish was no longer in the building. She hadn't seen him since. But now here he was, in his parka, with his dog, crossing the frozen grass in her direction, smiling, calling out her name, and interrupting, in his jovial way, her exercise regimen. Or rather not interrupting it, because she refused to stop, why
should she stop, she didn't want to exchange perfunctory pleasantries or feign ignorance of his troubles, there were so few opportunities for getting her heart rate up and keeping it there. “Unbelievable!” said Hamish, matching her stride. “It's freezing!”
She saw that he'd aged in a way common to Scotsmen—namely, he'd grown not just dangerously stouter but had distinctly more broken capillaries in his cheeks so that his face had a blue and dappled tint. His puffy parka, nearly florescent, made him look ample and segmented. His dog leash, maroon, had a woven print—stars—and his dog, though tiny, pulled against it, toward her legs, while Hamish, at the other end, resisted. “Pepper!” he snapped, looking delighted and proprietary. “Pepper! No! It's a friend!” Then he bent, not without difficulty, scooped up Pepper, and pinned him or her beneath his billowy arm. “I'm sorry,” he said, with a gasp. “It's fine,” she said, still walking. In the long-winded, unable-to-cut-to-the-chase way she recalled from their era as colleagues, Hamish explained that at Christmas he'd gone for two weeks to Kauai with his mother, two sisters, and six nieces and nephews, leaving Pepper in a dog boarding facility he couldn't recommend because Pepper, on his return, seemed unduly anxious so that now some pieces of her careful training were undone, he was engaged in certain repetitions with Pepper of behavioral steps she'd succeeded with already, meanwhile he apologized again for this episode of lunging, and with that, Hamish put Pepper on the turf once more— delicately—stroked her neck, sighed, and said, preemptively, “Pepper, Pepper, Pehhhhhh-prrrrrr?”
By what unhappy coincidence had she ended up here with dog and man? A circumstance Hamish could have handled—and that she wished he would have handled—by ignoring her, by pretending not to recognize her, which is how most people would have handled it out of a basic feel for the propriety implied given the elements at hand—late Sunday afternoon, super cold, a walk, they hardly knew each other. What should she say? She wanted him to leave. She wished he hadn't shown up in the first place, or that, having shown up, he'd been sensitive enough to social norms not to accost her in this sustained way—just get on with walking your Pepper, she thought, hurry up, Hamish, we'll greet in passing and go opposite directions, you toward the play area, the footbridge, and the pond, me toward the park department mulch and compost heaps and the community garden patches. “How have you been?” Hamish asked.
Enough! she decided—more than enough! And didn't she have an excuse to be brusque? Maybe more than one excuse? “The thing is,” she said, “as slow as I look, and I'm really sorry, but this is an exercise walk for me and I have to keep moving because I time myself, okay? I'm really, really sorry, Hamish.”
He stopped; she stopped; Pepper, as ineffectually as before, attacked her legs, and Hamish, dragging the dog out of her range by its leash, said, with a knit unibrow, “I get it. Okay. Another time.”
“Great,” she said. “Nice seeing you.” And went her way.
What do you do after such an encounter? After walking another 1.6 miles with a falling feeling of social remorse? And having lied about timing yourself? You go home and Google “Hamish Mcadam.” Which is what she did, and got, in order, a Hamish Mcadam who lived in New Zealand, Hamish Mcadamses with Facebook pages, a Hamish Mcadam in Canada, a young Hamish Mcadam who played lacrosse, and eventually, on page two, there was the Hamish Mcadam she knew but wished she didn't. He had a photography website, which she didn't go to just yet, opting instead for a look at him in Google Images—in the third row, a picture of a flabby, sunburned Hamish sitting on the edge of a deck lounger beside a pool with a drink and a newspaper on the little table beside him, and behind him, were those jacarandas? She realized, A, that it didn't matter if they were jacarandas, and B, that she felt really badly for having blown him off. She'd been mean, which was ironic, because she wasn't mean, she moved through the world trying not to be mean, mainly because it was better in the moral sense, but also because it was easier. Making a big deal about things, taking a stand, getting emotional, getting assertive, insisting, reacting, making someone else's problem your problem—she felt she was good at avoiding all of that, but this time, with Hamish, she'd slipped and, without meaning to, basically just blown it when it came to a social encounter. What to do? There was nothing to do except to re-learn a lesson she wished she didn't have to re-learn but had already re-learned a number of times: never do anything that might make you feel badly. That was all. So simple and obvious. She let it sink in. She was hungry now— walking made her hungry—but still felt badly about Hamish Mcadam, badly enough that leaving her laptop didn't make sense yet, she could still take a look at his website, at the photography he did, maybe that would yield something, hopefully some sort of confirmation that in fact she was not a bad human being, except maybe first she should start a carbonara and boil water for some farfalle, interweaving that with looking at the photographs Hamish took. Except that she'd made a deal with herself not to multitask, a deal she found herself breaking not only often but even daily, even hourly, even minute by minute. It was only when she realized it—that she was multitasking again—that she found herself able, briefly, to do one thing at a time, but then it was back to fiddling with her web page on one side of the screen while building a spreadsheet on the other, or talking on the phone while Googling, which reminded her of something: that she should call or e-mail, who would be best, Les Gross, Dane Snow, John Herringer, all three? Guess what? I ran into Hamish Mcadam in the park, he's gained fifteen pounds and has a lap dog! No. She wouldn't write that. Anyway, here was his website, a little on the cheap side—not tacky, just threadbare, not embarrassing, just barebones—barebones such that, in a stretch, you could decide that it was the product of an intentional minimalism instead of—this was probably what it really was—lack of funds. No audio, no video, links to four galleries, Home, News, About, Contact, and the photos themselves, divided into
portfolios—the Natural World, Portraits, Projects, Fine Art, Candid Lifestyle. She looked under Candid Lifestyle. Kids leaping through a sprinkler.
News? That seemed laughable. How could there be news about Hamish Mcadam, other than old news—that he'd lost his teaching job due to whatever it was with a student? She clicked on news. Bare but for the italicized announcement that Hamish's show, “Feedback,” was “on view” at the Nash Gallery. She knew the Nash Gallery. A hole in the wall. Time to start the carbonara, but not before forwarding this page to Les Gross, Dane Snow, Gail North, and John Herringer—almost the entire Social Studies department—along with the message Ran into Hamish M. Check it out. Feedback? In the morning she woke with less guilt in her system. Only after she had been awake for ten minutes did she even remember that she'd blown off Hamish. Night had laid the matter under a little. Night had intervened. Good, she thought. Let more time pass. Was it really that big of a deal?
Downstairs, she noticed something that had escaped her all weekend. Her husband, who was not Jewish, who had been raised in a mildly Presbyterian family of, actually, atheists and agnostics—except for a sister who'd married an Egyptian and, via that, become Baha'i—had left a messy heap of bicycle riding things by the garage door. There were his lobster gloves, windstopper, winter biking shoes, and thermal bib tights. The gear, on the floor, left like that while he was gone in Los Altos, irritated her, but also made her miss his coffee. He did a very patient pour-over. He was also good at scones, adding small touches such as lemon rind or gingered plum. Gear on the floor was irresponsible, but she decided not to talk to him about it. She ate toast, drank French press, checked e-mail, checked news, checked messages, and pondered her web page, the assignments there, the questions to be answered, the readings, the dates for quizzes and tests, the dates papers were due, she was in the middle of that when a schedule reminder popped up—a reminder that today was, for her, an observation day, meaning that an administrator was going to sit in on one of her classes for the purpose of what she knew to be a perfunctory evaluation of her merits as a teacher, perfunctory because she'd been a teacher for twentythree years and had a track record, so that today's visit was really just a matter of one of two vice principals, or maybe Mark Mitchell—“principal Marky Mark,” as her students had branded him, though some called him Eminem instead— sitting at the back of her room for fifty minutes, afterward writing up something complimentary and approving and putting it in her file, but not before giving her a copy at a meeting that would last no more than ten minutes and cover other things, who knew what, there was always one crisis or another in the building and often more than one. Right now it was pain over budget cuts, because no one wanted to be told they were deserving of the axe first, if, as was presently the case, the axe had to fall. She and whichever administrator would
talk about hurt feelings in the building, not about her teaching. If it was Mark, the meeting would be uncomfortable because she'd openly disdained him almost from day one; if it was—but then her mind went back to the fact that she'd blown off Hamish in the park.
It was indeed Mark. She always thought of him as clueless—he gave off an aura of conspicuous cluelessness—even while he said all of the right things about everybody and about the Social Studies curriculum. He summarized for her, sometimes, books he was reading—most recently one on social media and bullying. Before that on adolescent girls as intellectually undervalued; before that on how American society had, as he put it, “turned” on its children. Did he believe America had turned on its children? Probably not. Probably he thought she believed it. Now here he was in the back of her room, wearing a gray sweater—v-necked but a hefty twill—greeting students by nodding at them— raised chin—and sitting, she felt, with over-the-top rectitude.
She performed—not that it mattered. She asked: is Affirmative Action good or bad? What is the ethical basis for it? What—exactly—did federal law say about it? How did it relate to the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Is Affirmative Action constitutionally legitimate? When discussion flagged, she read, aloud, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Then she asked whether Affirmative Action should be a federal or a state matter. What did students think about state initiatives prohibiting Affirmative Action programs? Constitutional or not? If so, on what basis? What about quotas—what did they think of quotas? Specifically quotas for entrance to universities? A student wanted to know what the difference was between a university and a college. She let Mark answer that, because he wanted to—she let him be a font of that sort of knowledge. Then she steered things back. Weigh two goods, she said, not a good and a bad. One good was greater diversity in classrooms, the other an equal playing field. One good was repair of the damages of history, the other a rigorous fairness in the moment. She assigned Title VI of the Civil Rights Act—read by tomorrow—and a brief essay—due Friday—should institutions of higher learning be allowed to use race as a factor in determining admissions? Why or why not? The bell rang.
At the beginning of lunch, she checked messages and e-mail. Gail had replied to all about Hamish: thanks for sending, viewed with interest. So had Les Gross: très avant garde. And so had John Herringer: Hamish! She forgot about Hamish. Or thought about him with a less intense regret. Her husband came home. No exercise, he said, while in Los Altos, except for twenty minutes in a hotel gym. He went for a bike ride, she for a walk. Walking engaged something neuronal, she thought, because while doing it her regret increased again. But only temporarily. As you might expect. She and her husband did their weekly face-time with their daughter in Bolivia, which was three hours ahead and had to be scheduled. They both felt their daughter didn't know what
she was doing. They talked about her while putting dinner together. The two girls were different, though both were filled with social purpose. The older more deliberate, the younger more rash. The older calmer, the younger more passionate. And the older more likely to get married and have children. The younger might end up so dedicated to her work that she would never return from . . . was it “the developing world”? She'd never liked that.
She checked e-mail. DMW. For years they'd passed this code back and forth—she, Les Gross, Dane Snow, John Herringer, Gail North—and now Sarah Holger, new to the department: DMW, Department Meeting Wednesday, meaning drinks after work on short notice. Usually just a glass of wine somewhere, often in the living room of someone's home, but sometimes in a restaurant or a wine bar. Every December, on the Wednesday before Winter Break, the Social Studies department tippled together festively, and every June, on the last Wednesday of the school year, it celebrated with wine. Then there were the DMWS when, without an excuse, some of them drank too much, including her, because she didn't want to seem superior to her colleagues. For that reason, she sometimes drank three or four Wednesday glasses of wine, even though they gave her a headache.
Les Gross drove. They convened—a first—at Sarah Holger's loft. She found out, there, that Sarah was twenty-seven. They met Sarah's dog. They were offered a choice of playlists, which led to a discussion of itunes Radio, and then a demonstration of itunes Radio, everyone choosing, together—by consensus— urban humming stereo. Sarah served kale chips in an acacia wood bowl and, because people were curious, Jell-o shots. They were undrinkable—again by consensus—but Sarah had wine on hand as well. Something in all of this made her decide to go for it. There were amalgamating factors: Sarah had a magnum left over from the holiday season that, once opened, needed to be emptied; Les Gross was driving; she'd taken a longer walk than usual the day before; for the moment—however ephemeral—she was less behind than she usually felt; and finally, she hadn't yet shown the new kid—sarah—this side of herself. “Sure,” she said, whenever Sarah poised the magnum. “Why not?”
Near universal kudos for Sarah's part of town—gentrified without losing all of its rough edges, fun without feeling like a theme park for whites—followed by Sarah's neighborhood vet scoffing: after all, every three minutes a lanky, lone white guy could be relied on to walk into Bakery X for a pastry and some face time with a hand-held device after having navigated as if preoccupied around an idealist with a clipboard. “It's all good,” said Sarah—generalized mockery. She was dating a Sri Lankan woman who worked in the mayor's office. There was some actual business—curriculum review scheduling—that was quickly dispatched with before Department Meeting Wednesday ended with a flurry of Mark Mitchell comments. That was their way. They meant nothing by it. Most of the time they were relatively serious. None of them, she believed, only went through the motions. Les, maybe, to some extent—les struggled openly with burn-out.
They were in the car again, she and Les, a block away, before, in her fog, she realized that, somehow, they'd forgotten about Hamish. “Hey!” she said. “We didn't rag on Hamish!”
“We should make up for that,” Les advised. “Let's check out whatchamacallit. Feedback.” “God!” she answered. “Great idea!” Their mirth endured. They only got control of it outside the Nash's door. A hole in the wall, yes, but inside, it meandered. Around a first corner, still swimming, she felt quieted. They stood before a wall plaque, reading about Hamish:
hamish mcadam Hamish Mcadam was born in Dillingham, Alaska. His father was a bush pilot, his mother a state legislator. Mcadam exhibited an early mathematical precocity and an interest in daguerreotype photographic process. As a student at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, he wrote extensively on the daguerreotype revival. In 1984, Mcadam introduced his daguerreotype portraiture in Carmel, launching his career as a photographic artist. His work has since appeared in numerous publications including Dwell, Flaunt, and Photograph Magazine. Currently, Mcadam teaches photography at Grosvenor College.
They rounded a second corner. Now the photographs came into view, hung against desiccated if well-cleaned brick. Les went immediately to scrutinize one, while she stayed behind, reading about Feedback:
feedback Feedback is a study in infinite regress as it relates to self-reference. Consider, for example, a Morton Salt box, with its image of a girl beneath an umbrella, walking in the rain and carrying, in the crook of one arm, a Morton Salt Box. The image both perturbs and intrigues us with its suggestion of a receding infinity.
In audio feedback—a microphone too close to a loudspeaker—an ear-piercing screech appears seemingly out of nowhere. A vicious circle has been set up. Sound entering the microphone is enlarged by the loudspeaker; this larger sound is picked up by the microphone, which transmits it to the loudspeaker, which . . .
Video feedback conforms to the same principle. A camera, connected to a monitor, is rigorously pointed at it, so that the two “experience” each other. Here again we find an infinite regress and an apparently endless self-reference. In Feedback, this phenomenon is subjected to extended exploration via focal point, contrast, and human intervention—specifically the interposing of human facial expression. It is a way of looking, ultimately, at “self.”
She looked for forty-five minutes. In each photograph, Hamish had turned his camera on a monitor, and then, between them, interposed human subjects.
Faces, eternally multiplied, became helical, or spiraled, or a hub for spokes that were also faces, or like the petals of a flower, but these visual complications only served to clarify expression—perturbation, depression, distress, rage, mirth, admonition, mockery. Hamish, whose daguerreotype days appeared to be over, shot in bald and garish light. His people were flagrant. You could see all their blemishes. He exposed them as assailed, as vulnerable. She had the postmortem with Mark in the midst of her hangover. It was Thursday, a little warmer, and raining heavily. There would be no walking this afternoon. Behind Mark, on his credenza, a photograph of him and his wife looking like the Republicans they were on vacation in Mexico; another of the Mitchell family taken in a studio against a dark blue backdrop. Mark handed her a copy of his evaluation, which she folded, unread, and slid into her bag. His actual subject: Clement Grimaldi's tearful objections to the excising of Drawing III from the curriculum. Not a judgment, he added. Instead, by the numbers. No class in the building had lower enrollments. Clement could be emotional, he was emotional, he was recently divorced, he'd been ill with a MRSA infection, he took things personally, Clement was an artist. Mark clicked his pen a few times as he spoke. “What do you think?” he asked her. “You've been in this building for a long time.”
She knew what to say. She said, “I'm not sure what being an artist has to do with it. Clement is a friend of mine. I like and respect him, but he has a hard time with reality. I agree—he takes things personally.”
She thought of something. “Speaking of artists,” she said, “Les and I went to the Nash yesterday to see Hamish Mcadam's photographs. Remember Hamish? He's teaching somewhere”—she had forgotten where—“i would guess low-residency.” “Not low-residency. He's at Grosvenor College.” “I wonder how he got in front of students again.” “Well, we certainly did what we could to help him—oh,” said Mark. “That stuff. Yeah. It went nowhere, contrary to—hearsay.”
She didn't answer. Mark took it as an invitation. “We even tried to bring him back,” he said. “Wouldn't do it. Fortunately, he didn't bring suit against the district. Not that he would have won, necessarily, but it could have been a much bigger hassle.” “How so?” she asked. “False allegations. Admitted to. In writing. By a girl I'm not going to name—she made an error. I thought faculty knew all about this,” said Mark. “I assumed you knew. Nothing,” he stressed. “Hamish never did a single thing wrong. Other than being a little . . . different.”
That night she told her husband about Hamish. They were in bed with books; he was about to pull the beaded chain on his lamp. He listened to her
story without interruption, and then said that maybe she was obsessing about nothing and that probably, in the end, there'd been little or no harm. Why do you do this to yourself, he asked? Is it going to make the situation better? A situation—his real point—that wasn't even a situation? The guy in the park had probably forgotten it—probably forgot it within a few minutes. It didn't even exist, her husband suggested, except as thoughts in her head.
On Friday, she handed back the American Civil Rights Movement quizzes and the set of Jim Crow Era essays. The last bell of the week finally rang. She sat down and looked at the weekend weather, the starting times of movies, the hours the pool was open for lap swimming, restaurant dinner menus, and her retirement portfolio. Should institutions of higher learning be allowed to use race as a factor in determining admissions? Why or why not? She put those essays in her bag with dread about the work it would take to respond to them—to make comments, give feedback, give grades. Then she remembered that she'd forgotten about Hamish—had forgotten about him in the course of the day. Was that good or bad? She couldn't say.