Okay, so on a Wednesday I go to Montclair Library and I’m looking for a Playaway. A Playaway is the bastard lovechild of a walkman and a transistor radio, by the way. They’re these little gadgets that just have one book on them and they’re about the size of a deck of cards. But it’s kind of handy sometimes. However, they don’t work reallllly well and they always have a used AAA battery in them that dies the minute you get it. Like, analogue to the max. Also, I swear to god, Montclair made their choices of what books to get on Playaway by coming into my house and looking on my bookshelf and saying, oh yeah, Emma, we should definitely get THAT, and isn’t Alexander McCall Smith a cozy writer, so we should get one of those, because she has that, too. So basically the few books that were left were a little offbeat. I chose the award winning (what award I do not know)Per Petterson’s “meditative” book called Out Stealing Horses. And I listened to it on a day when I could find neither my wallet nor my cell phone, only had seven bucks, a couple of bus tickets, and a metrocard with about 7 bucks on it. And I had four important appointments, three of them in New York City. Wow, my day is going to SUCK, I think, as I throw two bananas and a diet coke in my backpack for lunch and So, I thought, this is going to be the perfect chance to listen to a book that’s about some old Norwegian guy who lives alone in the woods.
So I go to my first appointment, an eye doctor, and we haggle for 10 minutes about whether I can just bring my insurance card the next time or make a different appointment because I realllllly have to make the 11:30 bus. But before she can call the insurance company and try to verify whatever (even though I offer to pay in check for now), she has to have a nice long Jersey-style conversation with some other woman about the “venues” they’re trying to book for their wedding. By the way, she’s only trying to book venues where they do one wedding at a time. Finally, she made a long call to the insurance company that I didn’t ask her to do, “I’ll pay with check! Really! Or I’ll bring my card tomorrow!” until 11:20 [she just glared at me when I would hiss ‘really! I can come back!’ and then I said, “I’m going to have to leave now.” And she said “The doctor can do the appointments in 10 minutes.” And I said okay. So fifteen minutes later we both ascertained that my vision is wretched—big news– and I ran out of there and it was my lucky day because I drove home, ran to the bus stop, and one appeared immediately. I started listening to the book. A moody Norwegian guy who lived alone in the woods. It was okay for him to live alone in the woods. He liked being alone. Ever since his wife died, all he wanted to do was eat buttered bread and think moody thoughts. He met his neighbor who lost his dog and it brought him back. Did he know this guy from another life? The guy tells him he wouldn’t kill another dog even though this dog was being a bastard. He killed a dog once before. And it was sad.
Then I’m in New York, pacing up and down on the subway platform. Will I get to Dr. #2 on time? I pace back and forth, trying to up my steps on my pedometer (daily goal 10,000 steps) and watching the beautiful multicolored humanity waiting for the bus. Rack up 1000 anxious steps. Moody Norwegian harkens his mind back in alternate chapters to various adventures of youth. Raking hay back in the olden days. Logging. Milking cows with a fetching milkmaid.
I get to Dr. number 2, whose office overlooks the remains of the World Trade Center. That new building, the Freedom Tower or whatever, is shockingly tall now. It used to be so depressing to look into the pit. Change medications by infinetisimally small degree. Then, to save on Metro card etc, have nice long walk from Chambers street up to 46th street (3.6 miles)
More youthful adventures, alternating with unexciting present day reality of old man, like, how he’s going to find someone to plow his driveway this winter. As I pass a million interesting sights going up Broadway, they all turn into a colorful blur as I listen. On the way, I eat my two bananas and drink my lukewarm diet coke. They are delicious.
His father would take documents to Sweden during World War II, rowed by a similarly fetching wife of some other guy. Young moody Norwegian also finds her fetching. Is something going to happen?. I finally see one thing I actually remember as I reach Times Square: a guy dressed entirely in an outfit made of candy necklaces, including a necklace and a hulu-like skirt. I am now past 12,000 steps on my pedometer. Yay!
Physical therapy session is draining, physically and emotionally. Go to McDonalds and use up most of my bucks. Listen to return to present day. Old moody Norwegian pats his dog Lila and drinks some endless amount of coffee. Remembers stealing a horse with his friend, though I’m not sure why.
I take the subway from Port Authority to health support group even though I am so tired I could croak. Sit through it feeling sick. Luckily, another woman has a problem and I know the absolute perfect solution for her. Really, if everyone followed my advice, what a beautiful world this would be. Oddly, other woman doesn’t like my brilliant plan, but I am still astonished at my own deep wisdom. For other people. Also, I get that there is one little nugget in my advice to her that I can use for myself (it’s about rearranging your life in very specific ways to make the best use of your talents and minimize stuff you hate when you have limited energy). Take subway back uptown in the dark, dash up several flights of stairs to bus, wait, listen more. Admire the fact that I have now broken 19,000 steps—almost nine miles—oh yeah, you GO girl. It is almost ten o’clock. Beautiful woman has nervous guy she’s rowing across river. He is making too much of a racket. The Nazis finally figure out what’s going on . . . they race for the river . . .
The bus comes. I sit down with a sigh, lean my head against cool glass. The playaway stops. In its little screen it says something like “nt wrkng.” No shit, Sherlock, I think. I try putting in another battery. It’s been a long time since I used devices with freaking batteries. But no dice. Whatever I do, as I sit next to Mr. How Can I Explain Anything in Urdu On my Cellphone If I don’t Do It At the Top Of My Lungs for the next half hour, I can’t get the $#*@()_)@#$*_ playaway to work.
So, in short, that is my review of Out Stealing Horses. I have not a clue why moody Norwegian guy was stealing horses. I don’t know what he came to understand. I read the back of the Playaway cover and this is what it said:
“67 year old Trond Sander lives a life of seclusion, tucked away in a faraway part of Norway. After a chance encounter with his only neighbor, Trond . . is flooded with memories of 1948. Only 15, he joined his bet friend Jon in a horse stealing prank. But what Trond didn’t know was that Jon was running from an unspeakable tragedy, and the horse thievery was his unspoken farewell . . . .”
WHAT? 1948? I don’t remember any freaking 1948. I don’t remember why he stole the freaking horses. I guess I am the perfect person to give this review because I certainly am not going to give the end away. Now this is going to torture me. For a long time I was like, well of course you’re depressed, you’re living by yourself in an icy wasteland, dude. But then, given the fact that I barely noticed the amazing visual enticements of New York for hours and hours of walking, subway-ing, bus riding and the like while I inhabited this moody world, I guess I actually did get involved with the book. AND, I finished the day with 1. More than a dollar left and 2. Walking 9.76 miles and 22,415 steps.
Writing Spark: Do you ever listen to books instead of reading them? Do you think it’s the same thing or different?