January 19, 2017 (Thursday)

by Yule Heibel on January 18, 2018

It’s cloudy, not too cold at all. Eerily warm, perhaps, for this time of year. Behind the clouds, the sun has risen high enough to cast a diffused kind of glare which reflects back at me from the patch of ocean I can see through the bare trees. In spring and summer, I’ll have to go upstairs to see the water. All will be green with lush leaves then, but not now, not so. Yesterday was a filthy weather day and I did not go outside again after returning home from a visit to the steam room, except to drive once more to the train station to pick up W. Not my favorite way to spend a day, indoors, but the basically non-stop drizzle made being outside inside it unappealing, while the idea of, say, going “mall-walking” as a desperate measure positively revolted.

Decades ago when GH visited me in Munich, I remember him sitting at the Marienplatz and pulling off his shoes and socks – I think it was warm and he may have been switching to sandals or something. When he exposed his feet (small, rather dainty for a man) he seemed embarrassed about some gunk – probably sock lint – stuck under the big toenail. How anything could get stuck there in the first place was beyond me since his toenails were all ten fastidiously trimmed to within a millimeter of the quick. But his comment has stayed with me: “Oops, toe jam!” (Then, suggested, “how embarrassing.”) I always thought “toe jam” was a funny and amazingly deft turn of phrase. For years I rather admired how it expressed the notion of things “jammed” under “toe [nails],” as if his family, like the Bs, were upper-middle-class, educated word-play people. I’m sure it’s an expression he learned as a child, from his mother. But when I considered how poor the family had been before Canada laid its riches at its (toe-jammed) feet – a grandmother (or great-grandmother) had worked as a child laborer in the mines back in England or Scotland – it just now (this is how long it took) came to me that this was not educated punning, but more likely a bit of mordant humor thought up by people who’ve known real hunger. The kind that makes you acutely aware of where food might be found.

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