A one-horse town with a train track.

A Park policeman visits Garrett Park this afternoon.

UD‘s sister’s photo makes the town look like Mayberry R.F.D.

You wouldn’t know you’re actually in the heart of little ol’ ‘thesda.

New Sign at the Garrett Park Maryland Station.

Explosion Alley

Last week, for the second time in not that many years, my husband and I were jolted from our beds late at night by an explosion. What was that? What happened? we said to one another as we threw on clothes, grabbed flashlights, and examined our roof for the enormous tree we figured broke away from the earth after days of snow and wind and landed on top of us.

But all of the limbs that have long lurked near our house – we live in Garrett Park, Maryland, an arboretum full of big old trees, some of them menacingly close to residents’ homes – remained neatly poised above the roof. As we scanned our front and back lawn for other tree falls, our neighbors emerged into the night: What happened? Did you hear that? What was that?

Sirens came from everywhere – it had been about a minute since something blew – and we heard them congregating in precisely the same place they’d congregated before: a neighborhood of small architecturally uniform brick homes called Randolph Hills, just across a gully and some train tracks from Garrett Park. My husband and I live not far from the tracks, so the explosion was very close to us – right on the other side of the divide.

***********

My day job is lecturing on modernist writers, and I happened, on the morning after the second Randolph Hills house explosion, to be teaching Kafka’s great short story, “The Metamorphosis.”

“Metamorphosis” is easy to admire and hard to teach, and my class prep that day had me looking for critics who had something interesting to say about that pedagogical mix. Part of the problem, the writer David Foster Wallace suggested, was the extent to which Kafka’s stories rely on “what communication-theorists sometimes call ‘exformation,’ which is a certain quantity of vital information removed from but evoked by a communication in such a way as to cause a kind of explosion of associative connections within the recipient.”

It seemed to me that the first Randolph Hills explosion was not Kafkaesque, because it turned out to be a couple of people meddling inexpertly with their gas lines (which, to be heartless about it, puts it closer to Three Stooges farce than the complex tragicomedy of Kafka), whereas this latest boom, as its facts came out, did have the feel of something explosively associative, full of human information whose power lay in the fact of that information’s absence from the scene.

For the shattered male body and canine body found in the rubble both had bullets in them; the owner of the house had killed his dog and then himself; and then somehow the house exploded around them. Gas to the house had been cut off years ago for non-payment, but apparently the man had figured out a way to keep using it illegally… The very day of his suicide, his house was going up for auction… Did he fill the house with gas, toss a lit match, and then shoot?…

Now, this zealous speculation and information-mongering, in which I and many of my neighbors have been engaged, does have the feel of the Kafkaesque. We are staring at an evocative hole and trying to fill it up.

In one of his tortured letters to his friend Max Brod, Kafka wrote about his impending death as the collapse of the “house” of his being:

What right have I to be shocked [by my demise], I who was not at home, when the house suddenly collapses: for do I know what preceded the collapse, didn’t I wander off, abandoning the house to all the powers of evil?

Maybe what we who follow this post-explosion story so closely find so evocative is the vital information which that emptiness that used to be a house conveys about the difficulty all of us have being “at home” in our lives, inhabiting our lives meaningfully so that we feel alive and not dead. Franz Kafka sensed he was always already dead, unable to muster sufficient whatever – faith, energy, love, ambition, desire, curiosity – to negotiate existence. Perhaps we sense, as we try hard to walk back – to narrate – the events behind the Randolph Hills explosion, associative connections that can lead us to vital information of the sort Kafka’s great stories are trying to share.

Even as we speak, UD can hear the engines of the clean-up equipment and the news helicopters.

A big blast coming from somewhere nearby shook our house late last night. The sound wasn’t maybe as loud as Krakatoa, but it was plenty loud – it tumbled Les UDs out of bed and into their coats.

Flashlights in hand, they checked to see whether an enormous tree had fallen on their roof. But it didn’t sound like a treefall, said UD. Sounded more … complicated than a treefall…

Garrett Park neighbors emerged, like us, from their houses, saying to one another What happened? What just happened?

************

This morning, it’s all over the news. Right across the train tracks from us, in a neighborhood called Randolph Hills, a house exploded. There’s nothing left but a pile of bricks.

[M]any people throughout the upper Bethesda and Kensington areas, which are both several miles away, called 911 to report hearing and feeling the explosion.

***********

Karen Burkett, a real estate agent with Re/Max, told Bethesda Beat Friday morning that the house was scheduled to be for sale at a public auction at the courthouse in Rockville at 3:30 p.m. today.

Les UDs are going to Chincoteague Island…

…for a few days. She will blog from there.

UD has bought a new pair of binoculars for the occasion (Chincoteague/Assateague is famous for birdwatching) and will try to do some birding/photography.

Pre-Snow, Chez UD.

UD‘s struggling-toward-spring front
garden is about to be hammered.

A Whole Trainload of UD’s Favorite Novel!

Start one minute in.

This is the same thing UD saw this morning as she walked home along the CSX tracks from the Garrett Park post office.

An all-Herzog train!

Spring Sunset With Daphne.

In February.

Taken from the front steps
of UD‘s Garrett Park house.

La Kid Backs Up Bruce Springsteen at Inauguration Day Eight Years Ago.

She’s just to his left.

Sightings Yesterday, George Washington University, Foggy Bottom, and Environs

First thing: As my morning train to campus pulled out of Metro Center, a man’s voice reached us from the platform. GO TRUMP!

Walking to my first class: A middle-aged couple in full Trump regalia (enormous Trump hats, red white and blue clothing with Trump written on it) strides by, excited and happy.

Walking from my second class: At one of the campus intersections, a green vintage car rolls slowly along with Trump’s name in big letters on most of its surfaces. It is softly tooting its horn.

*************

I’m a little early for my second class, so Ashley (Fulbright student from China) and I sit on a bench and chat. One of my colleagues comes by and says with dread What are you doing tomorrow?

Staying home in Garrett Park. I’m thinking of taking up knitting.

I feel as though I should be there, at an opposition rally or whatever… I asked [another colleague of ours] what he’s doing tomorrow. He said Hiding under the bed.

*************

Gatherings up and down the Foggy Bottom Metro platform that evening of Bikers for Trump — skinny sunburned guys with long blond hair and arm tattoos and skinny jeans with key chains and handkerchiefs spilling out of them. Mucho legible clothing with gun, patriotic, and Trump-love messages.

Snapshots from Home

Economizing, in UD‘s world.

The [$23 million] home [Jeff Bezos has just bought in Washington DC] is expected to be an East-coast pied a terre for the family — allowing him to avoid hotel bills.

Strange days…

… for ol’ UD. Sick as a dog with bronchitis plus, she lies abed and watches bits of snow settle on the garden. The world in the new year continues to shower UD with wondrous tales of serial plagiarism and quarter billion dollar football expenses, yet she can’t quite gather her thoughts about it… Whereas her efforts not to gather her thoughts about the upsetting political situation in her country are thwarted by unsettling and unignorable forms of protest. UD knows she has to draw some deep breaths and dive into everything again, but at the moment her lungs are weak.

Contrails at sunset…

… seen from the NE Regional.

New London Connecticut

Just now. From the train.

Late afternoon light.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Mother Has Died.

Rita Kosofsky was about to be 95 years old.

Here are the remarks UD plans to make at her memorial event.

****************

I must have been fifteen years old when I entered the Kosofsky house in Bethesda for the first time.

During that first dinner, Rita was quite openly interested in how well or poorly I spoke. To this day, I remember how self-conscious I felt.

After dinner, without any preliminaries, Rita ushered us all into the living room, gave each of us a copy of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, and started assigning roles. She herself was Eliza Doolittle, and she relished every awful sound that came out of her character.

On the walls of Rita’s daughter Eve’s bedroom were colorful sheets of paper on which Eve had, with a careful hand, copied out lines from poems that she liked. I remember standing in front of one of these pieces of paper and reading its lines over and over, trying to understand. It was a song, from a Shakespeare play. This was the first stanza:

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun
Nor the furious winter rages;
Thou they worldly task hast done
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

I registered the fact that this was a poem about death – about a calm acceptance of death after a challenging life well-lived – but I was too young to know – to realize – its deeper resonances.

Years later, when I encountered the same verse in a novel that Rita knew well and loved well – Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway – I was old enough to understand why Clarissa Dalloway is haunted by that morbid verse, even as she goes about her ordinary, busy, day, buying flowers, arranging a party, being caught up not in death but in life.

Like Clarissa, Rita was at once full of life and profoundly aware of the deeper resonances that always accompany us. Indeed Rita was physically much like Clarissa – a birdlike woman who seemed fragile but who was actually intensely and strongly alive: sociable, chatty, cultured, well-traveled. Rita remained at a very high pitch of vibrancy until late in her life, even as her aesthetic – rather than spiritual – sources kept her mindful of what lay beneath the busyness.

Rita was an expert on the short stories of Bernard Malamud; but the primary way I will remember her is as a guide to many many people in how to be a serious literary intellectual. Hundreds of gifted students at Walt Whitman High School owe a great deal to her.

Rita’s own children were linguistically gifted, and they were incredibly fortunate to have been born to a person who was herself a lover of language and literature. I remember something her son David told me about Rita. She’d had to have some medical procedure or other, and had been put under some form of anesthesia. She told David that she woke from the procedure aware that the entire time she’d been under, pages and pages and pages of novels she’d read had flowed through her mind. One after another these white sheets had arisen, covered with words.

Throughout the young lives of their children Rita and Leon (with whom she shared a passionate love) took every opportunity to read to them, to discuss stories and poems and plays, and to encourage them in their own early writing efforts. This was a house bursting with books, paintings, and records, and busy with outings to readings and the theater. Throughout her long life, Rita’s open-hearted artistic enthusiasms never dimmed.

Back in Eve’s bedroom so long ago, I scanned the final stanza in Shakespeare’s famous song:

No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renownèd be thy grave!

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