New England Review - - Reader's Notebook - David Guter­son

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.”

—Hamish Mca­dam

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.

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