Dream of: 17 November 1996 "Bonehood"
I had just arrived at the airport to which I had hurried, fearing that I was going to be late and miss my flight. As I stepped up to the check-in counter and handed my black suitcase to the woman behind the counter, I saw that I only had 10 minutes before my flight would leave. But the woman who waited on me didn't seem particularly concerned about the time, and it appeared that I would make it on time. However, I was also concerned about something else: the weight of my suitcase. I knew I was paying some kind of special low rate for my flight, and consequently the weight of my luggage was strictly limited. I also knew my suitcase weighed 10 pounds more than it should. I watched anxiously as the woman held my suitcase in her hand a moment, obviously estimating its weight. I was relieved when she set the suitcase down and told me everything was in order and that I could go ahead. Hardly believing my luck, I asked her if she was sure that everything was all right and that my luggage would be put on the plane. Again she assured me that everything was in order, and told me I could go ahead. With that, I turned and walked away.
I didn't walk far. Right behind me was what appeared to be a waiting area, with people sitting in various blue seats scattered randomly about the room. I took a seat, thinking this was the place to wait before boarding. Upon sitting down, I noticed that there was a seat belt attached to my seat. I thought that was rather peculiar, but I snapped it on nevertheless. What was even more peculiar was that I noticed there was also a shoulder strap – a strap which went around not only me, but a woman who was sitting across from me to my left.
Only when I had the strap tightened around me did I realize I was actually on the plane and that we were about to take off. I had little time to think about how utterly strange it was that what had at first appeared to be a large room filled with seats was actually a plane. Instead I looked straight ahead of me out of the window, as if I were in the cockpit or the front seat of a car, and I realized we were starting to roll down the runway.
From my vantage point I could clearly see everything all around me, and I realized where we were. Across the Ohio River from Portsmouth, on the Kentucky side, is a small town called South Shore. With the high foothills of the Appalachian mountains on my right, and the Ohio River on my left, we were now rolling down the road which runs along the river through South Shore. I knew the area well and I was impressed by how beautiful it all was as I felt us starting to lift off.
At the same time, I was interested in the woman on my left. I wished I could say something to her, point out how wonderful everything looked. But she seemed quite distant. We no longer had the shoulder strap around us, and I had the feeling that she had little if any interest in talking with me. But I couldn't hold in all my feelings of awe, and as I saw the water of the river crashing against the shore like the waves of an ocean, an involuntary moan of wonder escaped my lips. I immediately felt sheepish at the sound I had made, thinking it was inappropriate. But the woman seemed to pay me no mind.
And I had other thoughts on my mind. I was on my way to Europe. But it would be a short trip, lasting only about a week. How things had changed for me over the years, what with these European trips becoming more and more frequent, and lasting for shorter and shorter periods of time. I thought back on my first trip to Europe when I had been in my 20s. How different it had been. I had been so filled with excitement and expectation. I looked around the cabin, wondering if there were any young people on board who looked like I had looked back then. But I saw none. Everyone appeared to be in their 30s and 40s. Some people were already dozing, and most appeared jaded, viewing the trip as just another routine journey. I turned my attention back to the woman.
She was thin and wiry, with long plain light-brown hair. She was probably in her late 30s and had nothing in her appearance to particularly recommend her. But I wasn't interested in anything physical with her. I just wanted someone to talk with. At first I thought I might attract her attention by just staring at her, and I tried that, even though I felt it was somewhat impolite. However she didn't look back, and finally I noticed that now she had opened a thick new-looking hard-cover book which she was reading. Another thick book with a blue dust cover lay on her lap. Looking more closely at the book which she was reading, I saw that the title of it was "The Hollow Men."
I immediately thought I knew who was the author of the book: the poet T.S. Eliot. I knew I had read most of Eliot's poetry, and I thought I recalled a poem by the same title. I recalled that the poem was particularly difficult and that I had never really understood it. Thinking I now had something about which we might be able to talk, I leaned toward the woman and asked her if she understood the book. Hardly acknowledging me, she answered that she did. I then began talking about how I had read the poem and had found it extremely difficult. I even went on to tell her how I had a record with some of Eliot's poems on it, and that I used to listen to the record, but that I hadn't heard it recently. She seemed unimpressed, but nevertheless I continued on, and I asked her if she could explain to me more about who the "hollow men" were. She looked at me and gave a one word response, "Bonehood."
I thought I must have misunderstood her, and that she must have meant to say, "Bonehead." I looked at her and asked her to repeat. Again she simply said, "Bonehood."
Now I understood. She had indeed meant to say "bonehood," and now I understood what she meant. She was saying that the hollow men were dead men who lived in a cemetery. She was saying that a cemetery was a community or a "hood" consisting of "bones," and therefore it was a "bonehood." Trying to show her that I knew what she was saying, I replied that I could imagine the hollow men in a bonehood.
Still the woman showed no interest in me. I knew I could just shut up and leave her alone, or I could keep trying to talk with her. I thought why not keep trying, what did I have to lose. So I talked on about T.S. Eliot. I told her I had read almost all of Eliot's poems and that in fact I had memorized some of his poems. Of the ones I had memorized, the one which I had liked the most was "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." But I told her it had been many years ago when I had memorized the poem and I had forgotten some parts of it. Nevertheless I remembered most of it and I began reciting the first line of the poem, "Let us go now you and I when the evening is spread out against the sky ...."
However, before I could go on, my attention was diverted by something else: another fellow who was sitting in a seat right in front of the woman and facing her, had begun talking. He was also a thin, wiry fellow, with a reddish-brown mustache and goatee. He was wearing black glasses and had an intelligent look about him. He had spoken up and suggested that we all play a word game. This interested me. That's all I wanted anyway, some intelligent conversation; and the woman seemed disinclined to provide that. Besides, I now noticed that she had lit up a cigarette – a major turn-off. But she also seemed interested in the man's word game, and she had laid her book aside to listen to what he had to suggest.
The game was very peculiar. The man said that each of us should form a sentence, and that the sentence should contain two distinct elements. First, the sentence had to contain a verb in the past tense which sounded like another word, such as "meant," which sounds like "mint." Second, the sentence had to contain an element which had something to do with "art." This second part was particularly confusing to me, and at first I thought he might be talking about the archaic word "art," meaning "are" such as in the phrase, "thou art." But finally I figured out that he was actually talking about the modern word "art," meaning artistic expression. However it wasn't quite clear to me how to fit this concept into a sentence.
So I started to first concentrate on the first element. My mind trundled along, trying to think of the right word, and finally landed on the word "mien," which I knew meant "face" or "visage." However, I wasn't completely sure how this word was pronounced. Was it pronounced like "mine," like "mean," or like "mane"? I wasn't quite sure.
What I was sure of was that I certainly was an amateur at this sort of thing. While I had been sitting there pondering, only able to focus on one word at a time, the other fellow had come up with two interesting sentences off the top of his head. I thought it was amazing how these sentences could come to him. Clearly his mind was functioning at a level and in a realm which I only vaguely fathomed. This command of language appeared to be indeed a gift, a gift which I hadn't yet been given.
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