Friday, September 28, 2007


What I saw on Jamaica Bay last Sunday:

butterflies (Monarchs and something smaller)
geese (Canada)
a blimp
police and fire and Parks Department boats
horses, with riders, on the shore

I was on my way to Paerdegat Basin, to find out what Paerdegat Basin is. It is a so-called “tributary” of Jamaica Bay (though what it may “contribute” is another matter), on the Brooklyn side, west of Canarsie, in Ralph Kramden country. On the chart Paerdegat is represented with a minute inexplicable square. The name is Dutch for "horse gate." You enter Paerdegat Basin through big hellish creosote-soaked gates below a bridge carrying traffic on the Belt Parkway.

If you’re at all nervous about your outboard motor, the sounds you hear under this bridge are worrisome, not to say terrifying: something is under terrible strain.

Beyond the gates was a surprisingly tropical scene. There were kayakers paddling up the stream, marinas, yacht clubs, and even a canoe livery, all with reflections shimmering in the water and the water’s reflection shimmering on them.

At the far end was a more industrial landscape: cranes, quonset huts, barges, and some, uh, structures I didn’t get close enough to to photograph because it began to smell pretty bad. It could be a dump, or a landfill (which is to say a dump), or a sewage treatment plant. I think they may be building a storage tank for CSOs. “CSO” stands for Combined Sewer Overflow, and a “CSO event,” as the literature so delicately puts it, is when a storm overwhelms the sewer system and it releases raw sewage into the environment. I suddenly got very afraid that I would run out of gas and decided to head home.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Zipping Along I-80

The Interstate Highway System is fifty years old this year, and believe it or not there is a site—Previous Interstate Facts of the Day—where you can read all about it. For instance, this from August 27th:
In the view of many, Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” conveys the mystique of an Interstate road trip the best:

Get your motor running
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure
In whatever comes our way....

Turns out we owe it all to Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Back on the Block

I cancelled a dentist’s appointment last week to park the car. I didn’t go into details with the dentist’s office, but I gave them plenty of notice. What was I supposed to say? “Hi, hon, I had car trouble in Pennsylvania, and didn’t get into the city until yesterday afternoon, and I had to take the first spot I found, which is good till Thursday at eleven-thirty, so I have to move the car Thursday morning and I need to reschedule, O.K.?” I just said I needed to reschedule. On Thursday at 9 A.M., instead of sitting in the dentist’s chair, I was on the prowl for a spot that was good at ten. As it turned out, all the spots that were good at ten were taken, so I gave up and put the car in a parking lot. Come Friday morning, I decided it had been worth it—fifteen dollars for a spot with a river view!—so I left it there and paid for another day. Is this the beginning of the end? Or just an aberration?

First thing Saturday morning, I got my tie rod ends replaced and the wheels aligned in Rockaway for two hundred and fifty dollars (quite a bit more, I’m afraid, than I would have paid in Bloomsburg, but there I would have frittered away an entire day and night in a mall hotel, whereas in Rockaway I could go boating and swimming). The mechanic, who knows a creampuff when he sees one, said, “If you want to sell your car, call me. She runs real sweet!”

So at seven-thirty this morning, I’m in the car, having found a spot on Sunday on what I have formerly designated the Second Best Parking Block in Manhattan but I think I may have to promote to the Best Parking Block in Manhattan, simply because it is so reliable. The scaffolding on the other side of the street has come down (freeing up twelve delicious Tuesday-Friday spaces), and the building that was under construction all last winter is now sheathed in shiny new bands of copper. The little girl in pink has grown over the summer; escorted by her mother, she skips down the street, as high-spirited and well dressed as ever, in a pink-and-black striped top and matching knee socks. Behind me a homeless person has parked his shopping cart in a space big enough for a motorcycle or a Smart car. A black-and-white plastic tablecloth or shower curtain is lashed over his stuff with twine, and the cart is customized with poles from which hang billowing black plastic bags.

Here comes an armored car, and behind it the street sweeper. It’s 7:40 A.M. In twenty minutes, I will be positioned to observe the Jewish holiday of Succoth. All this month I have observed the Jewish holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur), in my fashion. Bring on Shemini Atzeret and Simchas Torah!

Across from me a fork-lift comes out of a big garage door that lets into an elevator for cars. On the fork-lift a long pole is balanced horizontally. It looks like a vehicular unicorn. A man tries to hold up traffic so the unicorn can cross the street, but traffic insists on coming through. Finally, the man gives up and starts waving traffic through, but a black S.U.V. resists, and the unicorn emerges. Turns out that the driver of the S.U.V. that was holding up traffic was trying to get into the very same elevator-garage door that the unicorn was exiting. “I just didn’t want nobody hitting him with their car,” the man who had been directing traffic explained to the S.U.V.

At eight o’clock, I lock up and walk down the block. At the corner, a homeless man is sprawled possessively on an old sofa that someone put out on the sidewalk alongside an Indian restaurant advertising "Now Serving Breakfast." The restaurant owner is demanding that he move. “I’m not goin’ nowhere,” the homeless man says, and throws in a few obscenities. I smile at the restaurant owner. He’s got a problem.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Purple Prose (for Frank)

This is an odd choice of outfit, I thought as I was getting dressed last Sunday for the long drive home on I-80: orchid velour sweatpants, a ribbed black tank top, and a short-sleeved linen shirt in a saturated shade of lilac. I felt like a big funereal Crayola.

For the return trip from Ohio to New York, instead of relying on the radio and my own inner iPod, I excavated a cache of cassettes from the trunk and arranged them on the passenger seat. I had everything from the Grateful Dead to “I, Claudius.” I refreshed the odometer (it read 580) and was driving over Sandusky Bay when my cell phone rang. I thought it would be one of the people I had just said goodbye to in the house at Quarry Hollow—I had called from the ferry to ask them to keep an eye out for my sunglasses, which I thought I’d left behind (but I hadn’t; false alarm). Instead it was Mary Martin from Provincetown, and I could tell from her voice that she wasn’t calling just to chat. “Frank loved you very much,” she said. And that past tense said it all.

Frank Schaefer ran the White Horse Inn in Provincetown. He was from East Germany. The first time I stayed at his inn, twenty years ago, it was Christmas, and I was in escapist mode: fleeing the conflicts and complications of a family I felt miserably left out of. Since then everything has changed, two or three times. On I-80 I have absorbed the deaths of my father and my mother and had many a poignant moment—and a few desperate ones—at high speeds and low, in snow and with fireflies. Once, travelling this road, I was in the same storm three times: a thunderstorm passed over my parents’ house in Cleveland the night before I left; I caught up with it and drove through it in Pennsylvania; and it caught up with me and passed over for the last time later that night as I lay in bed in Queens.

New York City, 396 miles. Entering Pennsylvania, I put on a Grateful Dead tape: “Just keep truckin’ ho-o-o-o-ome.”

Frank kept the inn as if it were a living, breathing thing. He had built the place with artist-carpenter friends—the big polished beams looked like timber rescued from a ship—and filled the rooms with art. On that first visit, he took me with him to a Boxing Day party, featuring men in kilts. He rode around in my car with me, showing me the sights, and waited years before making fun of me for using my turn signal at a desolate intersection where there was no one around for miles. We went to a freezing, beautiful, deserted beach. I kept saying, of the Atlantic, “It looks so high”—as if the horizon ought to slope down and get flat instead of surging up and out. After a while, he said, “It does look high.”

Barkeyville, Shippenville, Clarion, Brookville, Du Bois. Crossing Pennsylvania is like connecting the dots, except that these dots don’t form much of a pattern. Here’s a truck labelled SEA-NJ (“Dedicated to the U.S. Mail”) and a car carrier with old cars on it—vintage VW Beetles, a Studebaker. I’ve never seen that before.

Frank had blue eyes, wavy white hair, and a white beard. He wore khaki work shirts and plaid flannel shirts. I can hear now how he would say over the phone, “Hi, Mary,” giving the same high pitch to the “hi” and the first syllable of “Mary,” and then, with no pause for breath, launch into his subject. He was full of enthusiasm for his friends and their accomplishments, eager to make connections between people.

Rest Area, 1 Mile. The restroom—surprise—has just been cleaned and smells of chlorine, like a public swimming pool. It’s even a pleasure to dry my hands in the warm blast from the blow dryer. I thank the lady who has this thankless job.

Reynoldsville, Clearfield.

I once spent my vacation in Provincetown—two weeks in September—and Frank showed me Snail Road and told me about the dunes shacks and put me in touch with some people who I got a story out of, which paid for my stay at the inn. (It cost a lot more in high season than it had at Christmas. I remember thinking that for that kind of money I could go to Europe.) Frank liked to come to New York in the off season. I saw him there that fall, but then we fell out of touch. I guess once I discovered Rockaway, I didn’t need to go to Cape Cod anymore, though whenever anyone I knew was going to Provincetown, I recommended the White Horse Inn.

The road climbs, the hawks soar, and I fumble for my camera, sensing beauty ahead. Sure enough: I’m approaching the “Highest Point on I-80 East of the Mississippi.” I am summitting I-80. Pennsylvania lies before me: green trees packed into mounds as tight as broccoli and, in the distance, a high purple-blue ridge. “USE CAUTION / CURVE AHEAD.” I abort the attempt to find the camera. Too many trucks: Swift, Crete, Liberty (with Ozark mudflaps), Transport America, Romans, RAM. Also in the landscape: Days Inn, Econo Lodge, the Golden Arches, and a hilltop sign in the shape of a percolator for Sapp Bros. Café. Percolatorsburg.

Frank got back in touch a few years ago, when someone from my office stayed at the White Horse, and he asked after me. Soon a big envelope arrived in the mail bearing his round return-address stamp—Frank D. Schaefer, White Horse Inn—and plastered with stickers (ants and dolphins and pears) and posted with stamps of various denominations and designs (clouds, Buckminster Fuller, Bambi) and stuffed with color Xeroxes of his cat, Bucky, and of Mary, his sweetheart from Halifax, and of articles about his neighbors Norman (Mailer) and John (Waters), and brochures for poetry and photography and mosaic workshops (to lure me up there) and postcards for art openings and flyers for peace marches and assorted anti-Bush propaganda . . . It was the first of many such packages. Frank used recycled envelopes and hotel stationery—not White Horse Inn stationery but sheets torn from notepads advertising other hotels: Lambertville House, The Porches Inn. He wrote with a German accent, using a thick nib and a somewhat Gothic-looking script. He once enclosed a snapshot of his many pill bottles, captioned “Better living through pharmaceuticals.”

One rest stop leads to another (diet Coke). A lean elderly lady with white hair in a simple blue denim shirtwaist dress approaches, travelling alone, car keys in hand. “Honey, I think I passed you at the last rest stop”—
“You look familiar to me, too.”
—“because you’ve got on such a pretty outfit.”
At the last rest stop, I thought she was with her son, but the young man walking ahead of her got in a different car, and she walked on. I feel pretty!

“CONGESTED AREA AHEAD / Exit 158 / Trucks Use Low Gear.”
The Grateful Dead tape has carried me halfway across Pennsylvania. I love a good dirge (“See here how everything leads up to this day, and it’s just like any other day that’s ever been”). I get off I-80 at Milesburg, get off into a beautiful Sunday afternoon in small-town America. The tone of the road signs changes: “BEWARE OF AGGRESSIVE DRIVERS.” “DON’T TAILGATE.”

I take 144 South to Route 45—a hundred-mile break from the superhighway. Axemann, Pleasant Gap, Centre Hall, Penns Cave, Lewistown. On the way down from Nittany Summit, a sign says “TRUCK ALERT / Runaway Truck Ramp / Gravel.” Off to the right is a heaping wedge of gravel topped with barrels, which they wouldn’t have put here if a truck or two didn’t go out of control once in a while. I slow down.

Frank drove a hybrid, a Honda Prius. He had the innkeeper thing down cold. He didn’t sit around waiting for guests but put the key and Xeroxed instructions in an envelope taped to the front door, and caught up with you when (and if) he felt like it. I returned to Provincetown with two friends a few years ago, in October, and he gave us a suite for the weekend, just gave it to us. We arrived in a torrential downpour. The water came up over our ankles; cars were leaving wakes on Commercial Street. Frank had put a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator. He took a seat immediately when he came to see us (his knees were giving out). He went with us to Race Point and took us to the Atlantic Spice Company (where he sat in the car reading the newspaper while we shopped for dried cranberries and coarse-ground black pepper) and to his friend Susan Baker’s studio and to Wellfleet for oysters (he ordered a “fake beer”). He took us to see his friend Jackson Lambert, an octogenarian artist who was supposedly moving to Florida, and we looked through his paintings and he sold them to us cheap, because he was liquidating (he never did move to Florida). We went out to dinner with Frank and Mary at Nappy’s, Frank’s favorite restaurant, and sat at his favorite table, in a corner by the window.

On 45 there are lots of horse-and-buggies—this is Amish country. Single horses pull tall polished black boxes like enclosed chariots, offering just a glimpse of black suspenders, a blue dress and white bonnet, a boy in a black hat. A sign says “Nostalgia Hardware—Right at Light.” I pull up in Millheim, home of the Millheim Hotel. The street is quiet, but the hotel bar is full and convivial. The Cincinnati Bengals are playing the Cleveland Browns, but nobody cares—they are all Steelers fans here. I’m sliding off the barstool, which slopes like one of those Victorian horsehair sofas you’re not supposed to sit on. (I ordered a club soda to justify using the restroom.) I stroll down the street at the light, in search of Nostalgia Hardware. A young man sitting on his porch with a girl calls out, as if shouting the headlines: “Steelers kicked butt!” Then he elaborates: “Don’t know if you’re a Steelers fan, but we whupped ’em. Yup, 26–3. They didn’t have a chance.”

You know how sometimes things seem to concentrate around whatever is on your mind? For instance, on the day of the Greek Parade, the blue-and-white police cars and sawhorses set up on Fifth Avenue seem to have been painted in the Greek national colors. So it is on Route 45. Maybe it’s just me and my outfit but suddenly everything is purple: the flowers—hosta, live-forever, daisies, morning glories, impatiens, candy tuft—all different shades of lavender, magenta, and violet. So, too, are toys, house trim, even the bandanna on a chocolate lab named Candy. Back in the car, the air smells of wood smoke and horse manure, and beyond the Holsteins with swollen udders (it’s milking time) there’s an ice-cream stand called the Purple Cow. Then I remember: This is the Purple Heart Highway. I saw the sign, but buzzed past it, bypassing the meaning. I know it refers to being wounded in battle, but is Route 45 color-coordinated? Am I in the purple heart of Pennsylvania? Or in the throes of a pathetic fallacy?

He adored Mary. “I love to hear you practice,” he said when she got out her viola. That winter, she was thinking of reading Proust, and he said, “I’ll never see her.” The joke was that she had come to Provincetown from Montreal for two weeks and stayed five years. When she had immigration problems, he arranged a place for her to stay in New York (they let her through customs to play at a ukulele festival), and when she stopped in Provincetown on the way back to Canada, he wouldn’t let her leave. He married her. She got a new viola.

Hartleton, Mifflinburg, Vicksburg, Montandon, Lewisburg (where the movie theatre is showing “La Vie en Rose”). I stop at May’s Drive-In, the first right after the Susquehanna. Suddenly I’m exhausted.

The car begins to shudder when I get back on I-80 at Danville and start speeding, and I don’t want to shudder to a stop in the Delaware Water Gap after dark, so I limp off 80 at the next exit—Exit 232, Bloomsburg—164 miles from home. Born of the congress between Interstate 80 and State Route 42, the Columbia Mall sprawls over the fields, with hotels and fast-food chains. I can see the Holiday Inn, but I can’t get to it. Turns out it’s on the road to Home Depot: in a parking lot within a parking lot on a cloverleaf of mushrooming superhighway hospitality business. The lobby depresses me unutterably, and a room cost $129 a night—“but tonight I can do 99,” the desk clerk says, magnanimously. I’ve paid less for a room with a view of the Pantheon. “I know you shouldn’t answer this, but is there a place around that costs less?” I ask. He is not in the least offended, and directs me to Econo Lodge, informing me that it’s owned by the same company.

Frank, you wouldn’t believe this place. Econo Lodge is unabashedly on Mall Drive. Make a right at the Burger King, and it’s behind Quaker Steak & Lube, a theme restaurant for racing fans—a pit-stop fantasy. I ask for a second-floor room with a view to the west, where the crescent moon is setting in a (yes) purple dusk. But the double-paned window is all smeared up and befogged, and it slides open only a few inches on one side, and in order to see out I have to turn my head sideways and align my eyes vertically, perpendicular to the horizon. The door has a long list of things to do in case you want to drive yourself crazy worrying about a fire (Fill bathtub with water to use for bailing. Place wet towels over cracks under doors), culminating with “Always look through the peephole before opening door. Have a nice day.”

I went outside to find someplace to eat and ended up in Charlie Brown’s steak house, at a table near the bar, in the smoking section (which always has more atmosphere, even if it is smoky).

The last time I saw Frank, he and Mary and I went out to dinner at Chumley’s, in the Village, Frank walking through his pain to this storied restaurant a few doors down from their borrowed apartment. He needed new knees, and he couldn’t have a knee replacement until his heart was strong enough to survive the surgery. But he had Norman Mailer’s cardiologist, and Norman was still gimping around—he had survived heart surgery—so surely everything would be all right.

In the morning, I showed up bright and early at Steve Shannon Tire and Auto Center, to have my car hoisted and my lug nuts torqued. I needed, they said, tie rod ends (outer) for the front end, but they couldn't get them till the next day, and meanwhile, with two new front tires, I was good to go home. I stopped for gas at a Sunoco in Stroudsburg, where, while I waited for fresh coffee to drip into the pot, the man mopping the floor complained to the cashier that his new cholesterol medicine made his joints ache. I wanted to ask “Is it Crestor?” because my doctor prescribed Crestor, and I don’t want to take it. But I don’t want to have heart disease, either. Or a stroke. I keep meaning to go on a low-cholesterol diet, to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and forgo dairy products and eggs and beef and bagels and beer . . . But I keep forgetting.

The last time I was in Provincetown, Frank told a story about falling at the inn and developing a hematoma, the only relief for which was to have the doctors drill a little hole in his skull. He let me feel it. Anyone who could be so casual about having a hole in his head was never going to die. But in the end it was his heart that gave out. He died in a hospital in Boston, on Friday, September 14th. His wife, his Mary, sang him to his rest.

Monday, September 10, 2007


So today, it turns out, is the A train's seventy-fifth birthday. There was a piece in the Times— "Longest, and Possibly Coolest, A Train Still a-Thrummin at 75," by Manny Fernandez. No mention of its relevance to the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, however.

Last Friday, I took my last one-seat ride of the season with the four chatty guys on the 7:59 out of Rockaway Park. They sit in the first car, commenting on the news of the day. The one with the most annoying voice reminds me of Cliff the Mailman on "Cheers." A woman applied her makeup. A guy was watching a DVD—"Heroes"—when a willowy pregnant black woman got on at Utica (where else?). He did not hesitate: he stuck out his hand and tapped her and offered her his seat. "Thank you," she said, accepting. He stood against the door at the head of the train, balancing and bobbing as he held his portable DVD player and watched his movie. He got a seat at Jay Street.

The population on the train changes drastically when school starts. Suddenly kids are lugging physics textbooks. A student sat next to me, with his back to me, for part of the ride: he was well turned out, in a black-on-black Yankees cap, worn backwards, with the sticker still on (size 7 1/2, but it was purposely too large), oversize white T-shirt and black jeans, a black North Face backpack, and sapphire-blue headphones. Once the train goes underground, and cell-phone coverage stops, it's really kind of intimate, being sealed underground together.

So today I was back in the driver's seat, parked in a Monday/Thursday 8:30-10 A.M. spot. I got there at about 9:20, having parked last night in a commercial zone that was good till 8 this morning, then moved to a meter for an hour and a quarter. I got the last spot on the block. My studies of the Wave this summer paid off, as I now that I know it's illegal to paint your curb yellow, and I have no fear of parking at a yellow curb. This yellow curb extended the entrance to a parking lot, and it was nerve-racking to watch in my rearview mirror as S.U.V.s turned into the lot, missing me by inches. There is a notice posted at the parking lot: "We are not responsible for nicks or scratches to plastic or painted bumpers." I just hope I still have both tail-lights when I return on Thursday.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


It happens every year: by Labor Day I’ve had it with the commute from Rockaway; I’m lucky I don’t have to do this all year round. Still, I can never suppress a little surge of nostalgia for the A train, even as I’m riding on it. So I stay at the beach an extra week, and usually I regret it.

Yesterday’s train had signal problems, and I didn’t have Gibbon with me. Last week, I came to a good stopping place—page 505—having finished the famous chapters on the early Christians, and suspended Gibbon for the season. I had hoped to get to the conversion of Constantine, but was distressed to read, on page 496, that “the motives of his conversion, as they may variously be deduced from benevolence, from policy, from conviction, or from remorse . . . will form a very interesting and important chapter in the second volume of this history.” It turns out that Gibbon was referring to the second volume as published in his lifetime, which begins with Chapter XX, a mere 129 pages away, but the second volume of my three-volume Modern Library edition is 451 pages in the future. The edges of Volume One are getting frayed, by the way. Either the A train is hard on books or the Modern Library is not the quality product I thought I it was. (Does "modern" turn out to mean "disposable"?)

So today I was carrying Gibbon, a paperback biography of Cicero, the bound galleys of a book by a guy who built a vineyard in Tuscany, two notebooks, and yesterday’s mail: three bills, an invitation to a wine tasting, and a notice of an increase in the late fee for co-op maintenance. (Have I mentioned that I bought a new bag just for Gibbon? It’s a luscious oversize brown woven-leather Italian shoulder bag, acquired at an end-of-season sale at a boutique in Tribeca, and it’s heavy even when Gibbon isn’t in it.) When the shuttle got to Broad Channel, the platform there was ominously crowded. One of my fellow-commuters, a beefy middle-aged guy who I think works at John’s Pizza—at any rate, he wears a John’s Pizza T-shirt, though today, like everyone else, he was in back-to-school mode, in a long-sleeved black T-shirt—got on his cell phone. “There’s five hundred people on the platform at Broad Channel,” he told someone. “I’ve never seen anything like this. There has to be something wrong. Yesterday it took forever. . . . Is there another way to get to West Fourth?”

It was the first morning since the flood that there were no seats on the train, and there was not much chance of one opening up, since the train tends to fill rather than empty as it approaches Manhattan. “What do we have for dinner tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday?” the guy from John’s Pizza went on into his phone, effectively addressing the entire car from his position at the head of the train, with his back to the door. “We’ve got the mustache pie, right?” Standing on the A train, I was surprised to discover in myself new depths of optimism as I realized that the door gave me an excellent view to the east over Jamaica Bay (usually I break my neck trying to get a window seat looking west, at the funky backwater of Hamilton Beach). Since the weekend, when I took the boat down along the unpopulated edge of this island at high tide, I have been obsessed with seeing the lay of the land at low tide. You never really believe that land is there, under the water, unless you see it—or run aground on it, which I’d rather avoid. This strip, called the Raunt, used to be full of houses on stilts—summer bungalows and fishermen’s shacks—and even had its own train station on the old Rockaway line. It is now part of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, where last weekend I spotted a lesser yellow legs and some khaki-legged birders who had seen a Hudsonian godwit and a phalarope. But I digress.

Gibbon is quite droll on the subject of martyrdom. “I have purposely refrained from describing the particular sufferings and deaths of the Christian martyrs,” he writes, near the end of Chapter XVI. “It would have been an easy task, from the history of Eusebius, from the declamations of Lactantius, and from the most ancient acts, to collect a long series of horrid and disgusting pictures, and to fill many pages with racks and scourges, with iron hooks and red-hot beds, and with all the variety of tortures which fire and steel, savage beasts, and more savage executioners, could inflict on the human body. These melancholy scenes might be enlivened by a crowd of visions and miracles destined either to delay the death, to celebrate the triumph, or to discover the relics of those canonised saints who suffered for the name of Christ. But I cannot determine what I ought to transcribe, till I am satisfied how much I ought to believe.” And he doesn’t believe much. He suspects that the persecution of the Christians was exaggerated (and can't resist pointing out that the Christians persecuted others in their turn). He prefers to analyze the development of the Church hierarchy along the lines of the Empire’s, and the tendency of bishops, having no temporal power, to accrue moral power.

The one martyr that Gibbon goes into detail over is Cyprian—“the zealous, the eloquent, the ambitious Cyprian”—“who governed the church, not only of Carthage, but even of Africa.” His was a dignified martyrdom, reluctantly imposed. Four emperors died by the sword during the ten years that Cyprian was bishop of Carthage. “It was only in the third year of his administration that he had reason, during a few months, to apprehend the severe edicts of Decius, the vigilance of the magistrate, and the clamours of the multitude, who loudly demanded that Cyprian, the leader of the Christians, should be thrown to the lions. Prudence suggested the necessity of a temporary retreat, and the voice of prudence was obeyed.” In other words, Cyprian got out of town.

Eight years later, he was summoned by the proconsul in Carthage, and “acquainted” with the imperial mandate that “those who had abandoned the Roman religion should immediately return to the practice of the ceremonies of their ancestors.” Cyprian declined, and was banished, but later recalled from banishment and installed in his own former gardens outside Carthage. A year later, there was a crackdown on Christians. “The bishop of Carthage was sensible that he should be singled out for one of the first victims, and the frailty of nature tempted him to withdraw himself, by a secret flight, from the danger and the honour of martyrdom;* but, soon recovering that fortitude which his character required, he returned to his gardens, and patiently expected the ministers of death.” Cyprian spent the night “custodiâ delicatâ,” according to Gibbon's Footnote No. 87 (it sounds like he had a lavish last meal). The next day, “he was led away under a guard of tribunes and centurions, without resistance and without insult, to the place of his execution, a spacious and level plain near the city, which was already filled with great numbers of spectators. His faithful presbyters and deacons were permitted to accompany their holy bishop. They assisted him in laying aside his upper garment, spread linen on the ground to catch the precious relics of his blood, and received his orders to bestow five-and-twenty pieces of gold on the executioner. The martyr then covered his face with his hands, and at one blow his head was separated from his body.”

*A footnote to a footnote from Oliphant Smeaton defends Cyprian, explaining that it was not "frailty of nature," otherwise known as fear in the face of martyrdom, that made Cyprian “conceal himself for a short period.” Rather, “he was threatened with being transported to Utica," and "it was his earnest desire to die in Carthage, that his martyrdom there might conduce to the edification of those whom he had guided during life.”

The A train makes many stops in its interminable passage through Brooklyn, and I have managed to forge some connection with most of the express stops, at least, to make the trip seem shorter. Manhattan bound, there is Euclid, which has the same name not only as the ancient Greek geometer but as a street in downtown Cleveland; there is Broadway Junction/East New York, where you can switch via a stained-glass passageway to the L train; there is Nostrand, the halfway point (I think of it as the opposite of the beach: strand/no strand); there are the three last stops before Manhattan—antepenultimate (Hoyt/Schermerhorn), penultimate (Jay Street/Borough Hall), and ultimate (High Street/Brooklyn Bridge). But there always comes a moment when the trip feels endless, and I get restless and look up to see where we are, and it never fails: Utica. My only association with Utica is another train station somewhere upstate between Syracuse and Schenectady. I understand it's on the old Erie Canal. Ancient Utica has ceased to exist altogether—who even knew there was such a place? Say what you will, Edward Gibbon, Cyprian had a point: Nobody deserves to be martyred in Utica.