An Off-Kilter Memoir
Publication Year: 2014
This intimate memoir—tenuous, shifting, sometimes humorous—demonstrates Skloot’s considerable literary skill honed as an award-winning essayist, memoirist, novelist, and poet. His recollections of a strange, spinning world prompt further musings on the forces of uncertainty, change, and displacement that have shaped him from childhood to late middle age, repeatedly knocking him awry, realigning his hopes and plans, even his perceptions. From the volatile forces of his mercurial, shape-shifting early years to his obsession with reading, acting, and writing, from the attack of vertigo to a trio of postvertigo (but nevertheless dizzying) journeys to Spain and England, and even to a place known only in his mother’s unhinged fantasies, Skloot makes sense of a life’s phantasmagoric unpredictability.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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On Ross Island, across the Willamette from our home at river mile fourteen, there’s a great blue heron rookery in the upper limbs of some cottonwood trees. Beverly and I love to watch these enormous birds, some of them four feet tall and weighing nearly eight pounds...
Part One: O Wondrous Transformation!
1. Some Things Nearly So, Others Nearly Not: The King and I and Me
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Mildred was a deeply disturbing King. Tall and full bodied, with cascading curly blonde hair, she wore cat’s- eye glasses, vivid crimson lipstick, and a cubist smile. She ordered people around, then giggled at herself. Her autocratic fists- on-hips stance looked unsettlingly...
2. Senior Speech
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I usta tawk like dis. Worse, really. Woise. Because I was born in Brooklyn, then moved at age ten to Long Beach, a small barrier island off the south shore of Long Island. Lawn Guylin. So I grew up speaking with a New Yorky hybrid of two heavy, distinctive, widely...
3. Beep Beep
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My mother called me on a Wednesday night and told me to take the Friday afternoon train home. It would leave Lancaster, Pennsylvania, late enough so I wouldn’t miss classes, but would arrive in New York early enough for dinner. We need to talk. Almost five decades later, I still remember the tempered, level...
Part Two: On and Off the Page
4. Playing the Cock
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For two weeks in the winter of 1968 I spent my evenings as the incarnation of erotic power. I was a lifesize dancing figure of fertility and sexual temptation, the dark prophet of the life force, the proud prancing Cock who embodied the sex- call, the active spirit, the sheer joy of living...
5. The Bottom Shelf: On Novels I Keep Trying and Failing to Read
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I love William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice. I’ve just never been able to finish reading it. Once, I got to page 312, a little more than halfway through the Vintage paperback edition. But usually I stop much sooner, unable to face yet another protracted scene of the...
6. The Top Shelf: On Books I Need Beside Me
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In 1972, while insisting that he was the wrong person to do so, the British poet Philip Larkin wrote a brief foreword for an Antiquarian Book Fair’s program. After all, he said, “I should never call myself a book lover, any more than a people lover: it all depends on what’s...
7. Something to Marvel At: Discovering Jules Verne at Sixty
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As Beverly and I walked down the sodden creekside trail, sounds of traffic from Interstate 84 behind us gradually turned into the sound of Latourell Falls ahead of us. The transition was complete when the creek bent east to open a sudden view of the falls cascading down the...
Part Three: A Spinning World
8. The Side Effect of Side Effects
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On August 8, 1990, I had “a neurological event.” I know it was August 8 because the only thing I was able to say for several hours was How could it be August 8? I know it was 1990 because I was about to participate in the clinical field trial of a new drug that might be able to treat...
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I can’t find my hazelwood cane. It’s not in the downstairs closet by our front door, where I was sure I’d stashed it two and a half years ago. It isn’t in the car, where it had remained during all the months I needed it, nor in my office closet upstairs, the final resting place for...
10. Sway Me Smooth: Soundtrack for an MRI of the Brain
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“Don’t move,” the technician named Molly says. Then she squeezes my ankle and leaves the room. Move? I’m supine, with a thick white semicircular cage locked across my entire face. Rubber chocks immobilize my neck and head on a table so narrow I think one deep...
11. Anniversary Fever
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Today’s my father’s birthday. He’d be 102. In four years, he’ll have been dead as long as he was alive. Today’s also ten days before the first anniversary of the day I woke up, got out of bed, went reeling against the wall, and fell on my face. The vertigo lasted 138 days. It may have been brought on by reactivation...
Part Four: Cartwheelson the Moon
12. Elliptical Journey
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When Beverly woke up I was standing a few feet from the end of our bed, naked, immobile, no longer shambling toward the bathroom. All my weight was on my right leg. My left hand probed my left hip. “What’re you doing?” she asked. “Trying to figure out if I’m really awake.” I heard sheets rustle behind me, then the clack of eyeglasses...
13. To Land’s End and Back: A 1,512-Mile Drive Around Southern England
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The British exaggerate when they call this a road. It’s at best a roadlet, a paved path. Something roadish. Across a fold of the map, and in my dreams for the next month, it has a four- digit, B- road number too blurred to decipher. Call it B-XXX. I see B-XXX bend west two hundred yards ahead. There are no...
14. The Famous Recipe
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She might as well have said she had a photograph of my mother turning cartwheels on the moon. Instead, and no less implausibly, Joan said she had a recipe my mother contributed to a cookbook in the late 1950s. She’d been my brother’s fiancée forty- seven years ago, and knew...
Page Count: 223
Publication Year: 2014