Growing up in Westchester has its perks. For one, my neighbor, E.L. Doctorow, was the author of the sentence above. That line is the opening of Ragtime. The book started off with him staring at the wall of his house on Broadview Avenue and ended with a musical adaption on Broadway.
Another perk of growing up in Westchester is I never carried keys because my parents saw no reason to lock the doors. But when I was about 12, they went through a short lived house locking phase. Since I never kept a key to my house, I came home one afternoon and found myself locked out. I went over to the Doctorows until my mom came home from work. Turns out when you’re a professional fiction writer, a locked out precocious 12 year-old is a good enough reason to take a break as any. So Edgar made me tea, and we chatted about New Rochelle.
His daughters had gone to the same middle school I was attending at the time, and he told me about a letter he had tried to write to one of their teachers. Edgar had decided he was going to write the best sick card ever, the sickest sick card if you will. He went through several drafts trying to explain elegantly why his daughter had missed school the previous day, how her absence wasn’t a reflection on her ambition, or her feelings about the teacher. Twenty minutes later and with dozens of discarded attempts by his side, he realized his daughter had left for school already. She had grown impatient with his literary aspirations and asked her mom, who dashed off a note in a minute.
To make an immodest comparison, I do the same thing as Edgar when I write emails. Wanting words to work together is not something that turns off even when all that’s needed is “please excuse …” If my dinner invitations go beyond time and date, it’s only because I care, not about my dining companion, but about my writing.