Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Grandmother died this morning, and I am suddenly heading home, via Detroit. Some of you have heard a lot of Ida stories. I have a lot to say about Grandma Ida, but i think I need to stop crying at the ice cream parlor. People are staring. She made it through 94 years and I will make sure to celebrate her life this weekend, probably by telling some inappropriate story in an awkward moment. The postmaster shook my hand tonight, and we said our goodbyes. Time to get on the road.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Among the new members: a British bird trainer, a Prussian architect, a candy maker, chiropractor, glazier, and even a state supreme court justice from California--they all boarded together in an architectural mash-up of Victorian, Gothic, and Prussian styles. Roofs sloped at varying gradients, or didn’t slope at all. Those flattest roofs were later blamed on members from warmer climates who had not yet suffered a Michigan winter when they drew up plans.

A bizarre compound emerged. One house was sparkly; another, like a magnified gingerbread house, topped with turrets and minarettes. The smallest building effected a pagoda and was used as a milliner's shop and monkey cage before it was razed.

Johnny Schneider was an early recruit, and one of the six who got off the train that day. He was thirty-four, and uncommonly nimble--having worked as a contortionist for 13 years under the stage name of “John Moncayo.” As a child, he taught himself acrobatics on a sawdust carpet in an Indiana ice house. At 18, he ventured from ice house to amateur night at his town’s Apollo Theater, where he drew the attention of a circus manager who “sat bolt upright” when he saw John perform. John was snapped up for the Beach and Bowers Minstrel show, and later, the Ringling Brothers circus—he even performed at the Columbia Exposition in Chicago.

Ten years earlier, in fact, in 1893, he had arrived with the Ringling Brothers in this very town as featured star. He pretzeled expertly for crowds of 5,000, as familiar smells of non-native animals wafted over the grandstand. The rings and big top had been set on land a few hundred yards from where the group now headed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I leave tomorrow. I am grateful for the niagara-force thunderstorm today. It makes me feel less preemptively homesick for this place. I am walking around the mansion with bare feet, putting books on the bible and various poisons back on the shelves in the hall. I shed two big garbage bags of paper. I never want to move this book again. People often mistake my full wagon of notes for a going-to-college load. There was a fire alarm at 2 am, and as we stood outside, I wondered whether I would be somewhat relieved if my notes burned. I have had countless dreams where small children crawl into my window in Brooklyn and reshuffle or knock over piles of index cards.