Nils Peterson: Talk in the Reading Room
About Nils Peterson

 The Reading Room
 Xmas Eve at the Big House 
 Christmas Mysteries 
Summers in Long Island 
 Father Arrives in the    Triumphal Car 
 Yankee Stadium Gone 
 A Thing of Beauty 
 Learning From My Father 
 Learning From My Mother 
The Bus


 Next Stop 
 Going to College
 My Lecture on Romanticism 
 A Story 
 Go Way From My Window 
• Singing in the Rain 
On the Nature of Exposition 
 A Latin Class
 A Hero's Life
 Letter to Paul Cantrell
• Homecoming 
 The Moon and the Bulldozer


On the Nature of Exposition


He’s sitting in the Corner Tavern adding a couple of lonely beers to his tab. In comes Herb: “Nils, Let’s go to the races.” “Got no money.” “Come anyway.” “Got six bucks for the next two weeks.” “Come anyway.” “Where are you going?” “Yonkers.” “Don’t know anything about trotters.” “Come anyway.“

 So, up the pike, through the tunnel, along the Hudson. For Nils it’s two bucks to get in. Two bucks lost on the first race. His last two brings back ten, so he bets five and a twenty comes home and he’s flying. Soon bills bulge his pockets. He’s betting tens, then twenties and they come spinning back in a fine English bringing friends. On the last race he bets fifty to win at 8 to 1 and comes in second by a nose, but he’s still three or four hundred ahead.

 On the way back, they hit a couple of bars, those jazz bars in the Fifties that were in the Fifties, and Nils is buying for any stranger with a smile. They need to eat. Off to the Stage Delicatessen where Herb, a playwright, knows everybody, so, soon Nils is buying champagne and pastrami sandwiches for a swarm of chorus girls.

 Next morning, he wakes up in the Village—last night’s horses running with their races again inside his skull, his mouth their stable—with less than fifty bucks in his pocket. Later, walking carefully down the sobering street trying not to jog anything, he says to himself: Give me a sign, a token, some real thing to mark this winning.

Passing Barney’s Big Men’s Town—Bargains—and there on the “plain pipe racks” a seersucker suit in 44 extra-long for $38.75, so he brings it on home, on the bus.


The Action

Summer school. California. 1965. Walking across campus—young teacher in a seersucker suit jacket, unlikely remains of unlikely winnings at the Yonkers Raceway. He wears a dull, striped, polyester tie. He is thinking about the short story, opening paragraphs, the where, who, and what of them. He smokes a cigar, nerves before class.

And now: a gout of wind, and now: his tie billows out and settles on the ash-deep fire riding above his index and middle fingers, and Now!—a quarter-sized hole.

Suddenly, his mind is with the birth of weather and the new wind shaking itself loose and setting out from the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, carrying at first low gray wet clouds, and he follows as it crosses Kamatchka, the Bering Straits, the Aleutians, the Kuskokwim Mountains, and curls down towards Coos Bay, Eureka, then along the coast to get here just in time to flip his tie (Is this how change enters our lives? he marvels—it begins last week and far out at sea).

Now it is 1492 and he’s off with the Nina, and the Pinta, and the Santa Maria to the New World, and again with Raleigh and Virginia Dare and Indians and the ceremonious inhaling of dried native flora—then slavery and plantations and the Civil War and depressions and soil erosion and crop quotas and subsidies and the ache of his lungs a couple of years before which made him give up the cigarettes he began as a declaration of independence at 16 and switch to the cigar which he now smokes.

Back now to the Carboniferous, the Jurassic, great foresty swamps, heavy hang of leaf and vine, the lumber and swagger of beasts, heavings of earth, flux of continents, sinking of seas, the procession of stars, transmogrifications of bog and flesh into dark diamonds… And now he joins his ancestors as down from the trees they come making custom and discovering—Ah! Fire, and war, science, shortages, substitutes— and, nodding at his parents as they leave the old country to meet in New York in an English for Foreigners class, he hurtles along by way of miners, capitalism, academia, coal tar derivatives, rayon, nylon, and, at long last, polyester, to swing into his own immediate life on the rope of his burnt tie, thinking—any event holds all history, thinking, the first sentence of every story is “Let there be Nils.”

  © 2014, Nils Peterson

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