Sunday Letters
Keys are a comfort
4 JUNE 2000

. . . It’s tough being a guy. Just last Monday, Memorial Day, driving east across the Cumberland Gap, I noticed someone had spray-painted words of love on the abutment of an overpass. Actually, there were three words and one symbol -- “KIM, I (HEART) YOU.”
. . . At the next overpass, the words and the symbol appeared again -- “KIM, I (HEART) YOU.”
. . . After five more overpasses repeated the aerosol endearments, I asked my wife to take a photo of one of them so you could see what I planned to write about. As the painted concrete flew by, she pressed the camera’s activation button. The infrared focusing apparatus automatically measured the distance to the subject. The lens automatically shifted to the correct position. By then we were two seconds further down the road, with no concrete or symbols in the frame. Such is the magic of modern technology.
. . . At the next overpass, there were no words of love to be photographed, and none after that. Our young lover’s undying commitment to Cumberland Kim had lasted seven miles. Seven miles of spray-painted passion. Perhaps that’s all the paint one aerosol can holds.

. . . I didn’t want to be driving east across the Cumberland Gap on a holiday weekend. Barbara and I were moving the last of our worldly possessions from Austin to Arden, from a place full of old friends to a place full of new friends, most of whom we have yet to make. We had rented a 14-foot U-Haul truck and only partially filled it with garden and wood-working tools, and two hundred copies of the “Book of Days” desk calendar I had once published.
. . . In a feat of self-discipline that will be talked about for decades, I threw away five-hundred unsold copies of the “Book of Days,” piling them under one of the dead liveoak trees on the property we were selling. Of each issue I published, I kept twenty and trashed the rest. My hope is to find good homes for the few I’ve kept, perhaps in museums. At the moment you’ll find them in the Austin History Center and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. I also hope to create a “Book of Days” website. Don’t hold your breath. That’ll appear about the same time my book, “Things Left Undone,” appears in your local bookstore.
. . . Trashing those books, seeing those dead liveoaks, and selling that property was so depressing my denial failed me. I was unhappy and knew it. Normally, I don’t mind being unhappy as long as I can remain unconscious of it. This unhappiness I noticed. Luckily, my pocket was full of keys.
. . . It’s a little-known fact that keys are more important to men than money, property, or happiness. They are a solace in times of trouble. Why? I won’t begin to explore the Freudian overtones of keys slipping into locks. Let me just say that keys in a guy’s pocket or hanging from a belt loop are a comforting reminder of privilege and freedom, the ability to go where few others can.
. . . Sure, I was depressed that moving day but I also had lots of keys, new keys, clinking in my pocket. I had the key to the U-Haul rental and a key to its padlocked bay. I had two keys to a Ford LTD our friend Sam had lent us to bomb around in while in Austin. I had a key to John and Mary’s house, where we were staying.
. . . And, for a few hours, I had all the keys to the property we were selling -- keys to the house, the greenhouse, the garage, the garage apartment, and the cottage.
. . . That day, I gave those keys to the new owners of our Austin property. Was that depressing? No. In exchange for the keys we were given enough money to buy a house here in Arden. Come the end of this month I’ll have new house keys in my pocket and will once again feel like a complete male.

. . . Since returning from Texas, being a male has been especially difficult here on the Delaware-Pennsylvania border. Stepping outside has been like opening a women’s magazine or going into one of those froo-froo stores like Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Breathing becomes difficult. The air, poisoned with a deadly sweetness, is enough to make even the most congested male wish he’d never been born with a sense of smell.
. . . Mother Earth this week has covered herself with the noxious floral aromas of lilac, ligustrum, and honey-suckle. Even Kennett Square, the mushroom capital of the world, which usually smells of manly manure, is suddenly uninhabitable. The flowers are temporarily victorious. The only way I’ve found to survive is to walk around with a sachet of rotten eggs and fresh garlic around my neck and a wet spaniel at my side. It purifies the air even if it has ruined my love life.
. . . It's ruined my wife's love life, too. Unable to show her affection in any sort of intimate fashion, I don't see her much these days. She drives off whenever I come around. But I have noticed her bright neon-pink words of love, spray-painted along the highway -- "I (HEART) YOU, DAN."
. . . It's good to know she still loves me. Must be tough being a gal.

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