Reading Franzen

Claudius the cat nudged me awake at 8 this morning.  I dozed another 45 minutes and got up, whereupon Claudius settled on my "warm spot" for his morning snooze.  I take Monday and Tuesday off after I work a weekend, and I had thought I would sleep later.  Oh well.

I sat on the bench on my front porch with a cup of coffee and a cigarette.  The sky was overcast.  I made my morning offering.  I showered, shaved, and cooked a breakfast of two fried eggs and a bialy with cream cheese.

I ran some errands on the Vespa.  I had finished Paul Murray's Skippy Dies, so I went to the library to get Franzen's  Freedom off my desk.  I went from there to Supercuts, where Bernadette gave me a haircut.  I proceeded to Walgreen's for two packs of Camel Lights and two small bags of cheese jalepeño Cheetos, stopping finally at New Leaf Grocery for vegetables to make dahl , an Indian bean soup, and then home.

I took Claudius out for a half hour or so at 12:30, with a load of jeans and dark underwear in the washing machine.  I followed him around the yard with a Pepsi, reading Freedom.  It is set largely in Minneapolis-St. Paul, with an eye to New York City, reminding me of the radio program, Prairie Home Companion, where host Garrison Keillor more or less alternates between the two places, missing the one while broadcasting from the other.

Our volunteer Ginny saw me carrying Freedom to read outside today during my lunch break, and asked me whether I liked it.  "I think so", I replied, which made her laugh.

A hundred pages in, I wasn't sure I wanted to get inside the heads of these northeastern counterculture characters:  Volvo-driving, whale-saving Patty and Walter Berglund, and Walter's cool, half-Jewish rock musician best friend, Richard Katz.  Patty is half-Jewish as well, her mother is Jewish, but her father's an old-money New England WASP, albeit one out of Seinfeld.

The counterculture  is my "ex-culture", though we are still friends.  Franzen soars when he writes about our modern quest for, and commodification of, coolness.  Walter milks his friend Richard for the names of cutting-edge bands, whose CD's he then plays for hip cred with his straighter friends.

I think of David Foster Wallace, Franzen's friend, who killed himself a couple of years ago.  I loved his very funny essay, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, which absolutely oozed cool.  But it seems to me that cool is what killed him.   Franzen is five years younger than me, Wallace eight years.  Cool became a kind of bohemian article of faith, to be pursued at all costs.  I've come to see the hipster with shades as a dark angel of our time, an enemy of love and innocence.

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