Recently I read and fell in love with Nathan Englander’s new novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth. Mr. Englander’s collection of short stories, What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank was a finalist for the Pulitzer Award. It won’t surprise me a bit if his latest walks away with it.
Set in the Middle East in present day it captures the relationship of Prisoner Z and his guard. The story evolves from and around that relationship. It features spies and counter spies, Jewish mothers, Immortal war generals and of course, lovers. It’s the kind of book that makes words that try to describe the novel too trite or too weak. Suffice to say, read it. If it’s your cup of tea - read it. If it’s not your cup of tea - read it. It feels like an important book. A really, timely, important book.
Quite by accident I bumped into an old Psychology Today post which was centered around Nathan Englander and an interview he did with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. A reader had posted a comment a year ago that I suddenly just saw. Which led me back to the post. Which led me back to reading it and thinking - that was 2012 - this is 2017. The question is still relevant. The weight on my heart even heavier.
In no way do I mean to embarrass Mr. Englander by posting this memory but the words he shared in that interview are as heart-wrenching and moving to me today as they were then. As is his new novel.
In spite of the news that terrifying news from around the world that seems to pop up on my phone by the minute I lean into the words of Anne Frank as anointed as they ever were.
“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Anne Frank
It's the then some that'll get you. That's the part that has you in St. Paul, MN where they love my accent and I say - What accent? - where I lost my Drivers License, Bank card 1 (the mortgage acct and all serious bill bank), bank card 2 (the lipstick account), my passport card, my insurance card, and my cosco card. All together in a nifty little pouch I wore around my neck to make certain I didn't LOSE these things. But at the time I was getting ready to speak and go on stage so I jerked it off my neck, wrapped the chain around it and threw it into a book bag. The book bag looked just like the other book bags that one thousand fourteen hundred women were carrying. I knew it was a bad decision when I did it - and I did it anyway.
When I went on stage I started the conversation (as I consider any booked engagement keynote or no) by making a little annoucement to these women - Just in case, if you have seen, and so on. There was an audible groan of "Oh, no!" To which I replied, OH, DON'T WORRY - I do this type of thing ALL THE TIME. Because the fact is - I'm a Mess. Which became my impromptu title of my talk which was scheduled to be about Divine Meetings with Strangers (I think - more on title talks later).
I went on to tell the story for instance of me recently speaking in Phoenix, AZ for the organization that cares for, educated, trains, feeds, houses, the homeless. It was their annual fundraising breakfast and I had toured the facilities the day before, met some of their graduates from training programs and witnessed the amazing work they were doing opening up a restaurant. A great event. Then I went on to spend a few nights with friends in Scottsdale. Where I took it upon myself to pluck one grapefruit and one lemon from their trees. A spring of Jasmine, put it all in my carry on bag, sprayed myself with Chanel and went to the airport. It was one of the times I had the preferred security clearance. Short line. No shoes off. No laptop out of bag. No hassle. Except there was a little problem. When I walked through the scanner an alarm went off.
"No problem," the guard told me, "We just need to swipe your hands."
She swiped. I watched. She put the little swipey thing in a machine. It said - EXPLOSIVES DETECTED.
"We just need to reswipe you, just one minute."
She put it in the machine. It read "EXPLOSIVES DETECTED"
I had an sinking feeling that I was no longer in the no hassle line but had bumped into some trouble.
"Why does it say explosives on that machine?"
"Oh, it just does that sometime. Are you wearing perfume."
"Oh, Chanel for sure will do it."
She put the swipey thing in another machine. EXPOSIVES DETECTED.
" We are going to have to ask you to step aside."
The step aside led to a private room, two women guards. A shake down, frisk down, then they called in the bomb squad. Searched me and my bags again. Had a little conversation with me about why I was in town. "Here to help the homeless."
"All the way from Nashville?"
I would have gone on to explain I was the speaker but a man appeared at the door and whispered to the bomb expert that they had discovered "a residue of white powder".
"Goodie Powders," I tell him. It's just goodies. Headache powders they are. I can't deny it I have a habit. It's that kick of caffeine in them I think that has me hooked.
I was finally packed up cleared and made my flight just in time. It's the first time I've been early to a plane in my life. Thought I'd have a lovely few hours in the airport to work.
Flash forward, present day.
I tell the women I really need those cards to get on the plane so if they find them . . . . As women are in the book signing line they are all a tad concerned about me making that flight out. "Don't worry, I'll get through security somehow."
Then someone pointed out, "Yes, River but that was before. NOW they have you on the bomb list."
Tomi Wiley, Book Publicist extraudinare flew in with me to assist (and was invaluable in all things needed including procuring my drivers license number for me from secret sources just in time for me to get through security. But it wasn't without the frisk down.
That went a bit like this.
Mamn, I'm gonna have to pat pat and then pat pat, and some more (charlie brown mother voice) while you (more wahwahwah) . There are people walking all around me. As the guard begins to pat pat pat, HELLO THERE, that's personal, pat pat pat, shake shake shake. Hokey pokey leg out, leg in.
Are you ok, Mamn?
Oh, sure, closest thing to a massage I've had all year. Have you seen my assistant? I hope she's getting this for facebook.
"Yes, I think she is the blond over there. She keeps checking on you." Pat, Pat, pat pat.
Now I need you to put one leg out, are you ok? Do you need to get a room?
Um, nope, think I"m good right out here in front of a thousand people doing this? Do you need a room?
Needless to say - I'm not writing this from jail so I made it through. Tomi Wiley reported two things - That she was highly insulted that the TSA prison guard thought she was a blond when she was clearly a redhead. And that two - She told her husband only River Jordan would have a guard cracking up and laughing the whole time they are frisking her down.
I am in the process of replacing everything but so far have only managed to get a Cosco card. I'm carrying it around as my official id because it has that little picture thing on it. I went in just to ask them if they had any I-phone cases. "You know, the ones you can put all your id and bank cards in?"
I figure if I'm gonna lose stuff, I need to make certain it's the kitchen sink and then some.
How are things in your world today?