Friday, November 8, 2013

The Dubious Meatball, and the prison that you know

I hesitated posting today because, what started out as a single topic has suddenly morphed into a vast melange of whatever, and I fear it may prove of little interest to anyone popping by just looking for a quick read, on the way to other else's.  If this sounds a bit strange, it's because I'm under the weather, so to speak, not fully functioning, even minor habitudes needing to be readjusted.

I seem to have come down with an inner ear infection, causing extreme vertigo, nausea and imbalance.  I've only ever felt this horrible before once, years ago at sea on a freighter bound for France where I and a few others were rendered incapacitated by waves of seasickness and twice, after coming out of surgery as a reaction to the anesthesia.  So the feeling was familiar but initially not knowing the cause, I headed for the clinic.

I went prepared for the long wait, equipped with a book,  pencil, sketchpad, bottle of water and a granola bar.  When I arrived at 8:30 a.m. there were already around 40 people in Waiting Room "A" and an equal number in Waiting Room "B".  Several others had brought books, lunch bags, crossword puzzles, things to occupy their time, but most just sat there, patients patiently waiting their turn.  We all know the drill.

Much is made, sometimes, of the shortage of doctors here in Quebec, of whole days spent waiting in the waiting room, of the long waits for appointments for certain medical procedures for elective surgery, etc., and while there are definitely problems, my experience here has been, on the whole, positive.  The staff at our clinic is competent, professional and caring,  and of course, it's all free.  I got prescribed some medicine and was given a number of exercises to get things back to normal, though one of the side effects of the medicine mimics the condition it's supposed to alleviate and the exercises cause you, at first,  to re-experience the vertigo and  nausea in strong bouts until things get regulated again.  In short, it's gonna take time, getting back to what for me is 'normal'..

What has all this got to do with dubious meatballs or prisons, known and otherwise?

Well, it came from  the book I took with me to the clinic--an old paperback from the '70s that I'd grabbed from the bookcase as I left the house.  I love Graham Greene's writing   Later, sitting on the black plastic chair in Waiting Room A, along with now only 37 other fellow 'waiters', I settled into the story of Maurice Castle, and the dubious meatball reference made me smile, took my mind off, completely,  the scene at hand, the dizziness and nausea.

Greene's protagonist, a 62-year-old government employee (er, spy), in conversation with a bachelor colleague, is commenting on the benefits of marriage, one being the halving of the cost of living.

"Ah, but those awful leftovers," his friend replies, "the joint remade into shepherd's pie, the dubious meatball.  Is it worth it?"

The hours pass, the granola bar long finished, the water bottle empty, I'd now already read through a hundred pages.  I no longer noticed the time.  Words or phrases jumped out at me, peaking my interest, because they always lead to reflections, where I want to suddenly jot something down as a reminder but actually don't, then later wish I'd had.  Greene's novels are full of such little verbal attention grabbers. 

The days of the guerrilla had returned, daydreams had become realities.  Living thus with the long familiar, he felt the security that an old lag feels when he goes back to the prison he knows.

Re: a mother, rearranging her sick child who's sprawled out on the bed ,so as not to wake him:  She handled his body with the carelessness of an expert.

". . . blue, serene, unshockable eyes."

"Flippancy was like a secret code, of which he didn't possess the book."

"He felt like a man who was departing into a long exile, and who looks back from the deck of a ship at the faint coastline of his country as it sinks below the horizon."

"Scruples of cleanliness grew with loneliness like the hairs on a corpse."

And random bits of information, like the fact that aflatoxin, a mold produced when peanuts go bad, is a highly toxic substance that can kill liver cells.  A discussion ensues where one fictional character describes the reactions in animals and humans, hinting of its potential use for eliminating a suspected mole, ending with the less determined of the two voicing an uncomfortable:   "Sometimes, Emmanuel, you give me the creeps."

I'm thoroughly enjoying a re-read of an old, barely-held-together paperback from a stack of former reads I can't seem to part with.  So different from that other, recently published action-packed, overdialogued, predictably formulaic novel I devoured a few weeks ago trying to make long hours on several buses pass more quickly.

An aside (and example of the morphed 'whatever' melange)--I was noticing on EBay this morning  that within the same price range, original artworks that were especially accomplished, technically proficient and aesthetically appealing, often had no bidders (none!), while some silly comical avatar or hasty squiggle that could have been done by a four year old, of say, a purple fish with a gigantic mis-shaped eyeball, had 7 people bidding for it.  Go figure.  No accounting for taste, in art or reading, what's popular and what's "real" this or that, everything an individualized  'Perceived'.'  Which grammatically you're not supposed to do--make verbs into nouns.  But if you can say "That's a given" or "That's a go", why can't one say, "That's a Perceived?"

"I'm more of a cod," one character says in The Human Factor.     "Don't talk to me about cod," says his conversation partner, who prefers trout.  I tried to imagine what characteristics one must possess (or not possess) in order to view oneself as a cod.  Anyway, I will end with another little passage that chased the sickness away while in the clinic's waiting room, in the seventh hour before they finally called my name: 

The protagonist is at the bookseller's, to whom he turns to have books recommended for reading.

"Recommend me something to read that isn't about war," he says.

"There's always Trollope," says the bookseller.   (Another small smile escapes.  I was soooooooooo into the story at this point, ha ha.)

According to Wiki, this novel focuses 'on the psychological burdens of the pawns in the game, doubt and paranoia bred by a culture of secrecy, the sophisticated amorality of the men at the top, and above all, loyalties'.

Pawns in the game.  Doubt.  He was being played, this aging bureaucrat.  As perhaps we all are, questioning being the first sign of awakening.