The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos (καιρός). Chronos refers to sequential, measurable time, and kairos to moments of hope & possibility. Kairos also means weather in both ancient and modern Greek, and the plural, καιροι (kairoi or keri) means the times.
Between 1790, when the Federal government began issuing patents, and 1930, Connecticut led all states in the USA in the number of per capita patents issued. In the 19 th century, Connecticut's yearly ratio was three to four times the national average of one patent for every 3,000 citizens. Eli Whitney (1765-1825), a Yale graduate, the son of a Massachusetts farmer, realized that Connecticut, and the United States generally, lacking the large supply of skilled artisans working in Europe, would have to make do. Whitney was the first American to publicize the principle of interchangeable parts, an idea that necessitated precision manufacturing machines. Whitney built a factory in New Haven to produce cotton gins, which were 10 times more productive than hand labor. They made profitable the cultivation of short-staple cotton throughout the South, which encouraged the expansion of the slave system and intensified the regional rivalries that ultimately led to the Civil War. In 1798, Whitney turned to the production of military muskets. Whitney’s government contracts encouraged gunsmiths in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont to produce improved jigs, fixtures, boring mills, and milling machines for gun barrels, stocks, and firing mechanisms.
Calyer Street in Brooklyn was a block facing west across to 14th Street’s end at the East River in Manhattan, toward Washington Square Park in the Village and Christopher and Barrow Streets on the Hudson. Descartes made these Cartesian observations possible. If you looked at a map, one-block-Calyer ran into north/south West Street, the westernmost road in north (Greenpoint) Brooklyn. West Street’s name changed to Kent Avenue as it traveled south until it seemed to end at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But at the little green of Williamsburg Place under the Brooklyn/ Queens Expressway, the avenue reappeared, and as it crossed Flushing Avenue it brachiated, engendering Emerson, Classon, and Taafee.
On Sputnik’s launch date, October 4, 1957, Uncle Theo’s body was found in the East River off the Greenpoint Piers. Had he jumped or been dumped off one of them? He was notable even among Hayleys for his movie star looks and his Thanksgiving grace: “Let us give thanks for Aristotle’s School at Mieza, where he educated Alexander, the ingrate who later berated his teacher for making public knowledge that The Great thought best kept exclusive to the elite. Now dig in!”
Uncle Theo, a naval lieutenant in WWII, eschewed the military. He was called to sea via personal history, not Pearl Harbor. “Hayleys always sail.” Surviving the war, he became a copywriter for a major NYC radio station (where he met his first wife) and thereafter an early TV producer, creating The Howdy Doody Show, where he often packed its Peanut Gallery with nephews, nieces, and his two daughters Thalia and Thorne. (Princess Summerfallwinterspring did nothing for him; Claribel was a sadist.) He also became an alcoholic, which for some time enhanced his irresistible charm. That was a common delusion until Dudley Moore’s Arthur movies collided with an increasing Prohibition health consciousness decades later.
In 1937, when Theo was 15, his father had him called out of prep school class in Connecticut where they were at the climax of Huck Finn (“All right then, I’ll go to hell!”) with the news of his maternal grandfather’s sudden death on the golf course.“Take the train down to the City and out to Brooklyn, and I’ll drive us back up to Mystic.I have something to tell you.” This circular route made no sense to Theo, but life was increasingly appearing to him as Ezekiel’s wheels within wheels.
On the last leg of the trip, as they passed Rye Playland, his father suddenly pulled off the road at an exit. A police car followed them.
“You can’t stop here,” the cop said, beginning to write a ticket.
“Please, Officer,” Theo’s father said, “I’m telling my son that his mother has left us for another man,” and he named the man.
Inured to scenes of greater catastrophe, the policeman nevertheless relented and left them with a warning.
After the funeral, Theo’s mother was inconsolable. When Theo went to her bedroom to try, she spoke wildly.“My father was a giant! Hit by lightning, a thunderbolt! Struck down by jealous gods! A creator! A Hayley! He inherited forests, the lumber business, industrialized silk—invented the machines, built the factories—the Japanese Emperor gave my father a medal! One of the trinity creating Mystic Seaport! He employed the family’s men and men in two states—Theo, you must always be a gentleman,” she choked.“You are not your father’s son. I was raped, and you are a rapist’s son. But you are a Hayley!”
Theo recoiled. He listened to his mother’s ragged breathing. Then he heard himself exhale, icing his respiration into the words: “Never need worry, Mother. I’m also a queer.”
She shut her Gorgon eyes.
But Theo had not been turned to stone. Leaving that room, he felt surprise and relief. He’d spoken a truth he’d only known as nameless fear, and now seeing it, it was so much smaller than its nightmare form that he felt like laughing—also nauseated and his stomach ached, as if he’d vomited, but of all the things he’d just learned—about his grandfather’s ludicrous death by golf, his mother’s victimized life, his alleged paternity, the divorce—the thing that mattered most was what he now knew about himself and how he felt. “All right then, I’ll go to hell!” Theo felt better.
So, why, wondered his nephew Rob in 2011, had Uncle Theo’s last sea journey been in the East River as a corpse? In the midst of the patriarch’s death and his daughter’s hysterical first divorce (Hayleys committed serial marriages rather than murders), when the NYPD labeled Uncle Theo a suicide, no one had cared to investigate. Rob’s two cousins, Thalia and Thorne, Uncle Theo’s only children, had been scattered to backwaters in Bermuda and the Isle of Wight by their own marital escapades and didn’t share Rob’s curiosity, piqued when Thalia self-published a Hayley family history, hardly including her father as a footnote. “There’s a reason dogs don’t chase parked cars,” she emailed Rob, recently retired from four decades as a Connecticut College English professor: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth,” came instantly to Rob’s mind along with revived memories of Uncle Theo—in Manhattan, at The Howdy Doody Show; in Uncle Theo’s Bartleby-like room in the family lumber business building in Brooklyn; sailing on the 34 ft. Kairos in the Sound off the Connecticut coast in the summers; how handsome Uncle Theo was, how heliotropic.
Rob had only seen Uncle Theo drunk once, one Thanksgiving before he married second wife Laura, the black woman he brought to his mother’s house for dinner. Grandmother Hayley and Rob’s mother had each taken an elbow of Laura’s and led her away from Uncle Theo who was left to the men—to do what? Rob remembered only the image of the two white women at the beautiful black woman’s elbows. But he knew that after alcoholism ended his TV career and second marriage, Uncle Theo had gone on the wagon. There had been at least two holiday seasons when Uncle Theo had been the life of the parties solo and sober, sipping limed soda or ginger ale in a champagne flute.
Uncle Theo had gone to work for Rob’s father in the Brooklyn lumber business. “Your Uncle Theo could sell a pile of twisted lumber to a seasoned salesman—snow to the Eskimos!” The two city blocks on the waterfront in Greenpoint were the last remnant of the Hayley empire begun three centuries before that had consumed Adirondack forests stolen from Mohawks who had ironically named the area R atirontaks , insulting the also indigenous Algonquins for “eating trees” when food was scarce. The Dutch had transliterated the word Aderondackx. This information was included in Thalia’s history: “The Hayleys developed, defended, and defined 18 th and 19 th century America and are dedicated to remember it in the 20 th and 21 st. Northeastern forests cut down in the 18 th and 19 th centuries regrew when farm fields were abandoned. The region is now one of the most important for carbon storage on the planet.”
Another 1957 memory: Thorne had run away from home in Stonington to Rob’s parents’ house in Mystic. Rob’s mother called him at prep school in Virginia as he packed for Thanksgiving.
“Maybe you can calm her down,” Rob’s mother said. “She listens to you.”
She put Thorne on the phone. Rob could hardly make out what she was saying, about—what? Sputnik?
Rob didn’t remember what he’d told his cousin, but it must’ve been some Southern prep school paternoster about the necessity of forgiving the older generation for the sins they’d inherited and passed down. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. Because Rob knew that’s what he was telling himself at that pivotal time in his adolescence when Uncle Theo had just died.
This October day in 2011, Rob was sailing the inherited Kairos out of New London where he had lived for a quarter century with Isaac, who like Uncle Theo’s Laura, was black. Isaac, ten years Rob’s junior, was a professor in the Art Department at Connecticut College where Rob was emeritus in English. Isaac was leaning back warm in the sun as memories of Uncle Theo prompted Rob, “He built a model plane with a real engine mounted behind a real propeller and said, ‘We’re going to take this baby out and make her soar!’ And we did…”
Rob squinted at the autumn sun. “Ask Ptolemy and Copernicus what the Sun’s relationship is to Earth, you get two different answers. One’s a false, failed assumption about reality. And Henry Adams’s essay on energy and economy: The Virgin and the Dynamo… Was Great Grandfather Hayley a dynamo and we’re—what are we now, batteries?”
Isaac, familiar with Rob’s rhetorical wanderlust, kept his eyes closed and enjoyed the swell from the wake of the Cross Sound ferry lifting and lowering the Kairos. Now he opened them and followed Rob’s celestial squint.
“Never bad weather out of a Watteau sky,” Isaac said.
“My father was married seven times,” Rob said. “And us—not even once.”
As the sailboat heeled over, Isaac's fingers glossed through small white-cresting swells.
Rob saw Isaac’s gesture. “Foam’s an accidental excrescence of the sea, probably another one of those fractal iterations of the 3 - 5% percentage of the Universe that we’re supposed to be.”
Isaac raised his hand and flicked water at Rob. “Ashes to ashes, foam to foam.”
Rob brought the boat about; Isaac assisted. Heading home, they were quiet, listening to the sails, water, and seabirds. Close to the marina, tightening his grip on the tiller, Rob continued his interior monologue out loud.
“The summer I was 15, I was on the Kairos, right at that cove,” Rob pointed, “with Uncle Theo. He told me about Lord Byron and Lukas. He quoted, ‘ Love dwells not in our will./ Nor can I blame thee, though it be my lot/ To strongly, wrongly, vainly love thee still.’ Byron let meter force a lie,’ Uncle Theo said, ‘Nothing wrongly there, kid. It’s just the times.’”
“Was that a proposal before?”
“It’s about time.”
It was a hot night in October, not Indian Summer because though there had been chilly days, no frost so far. Still, it was a night that belonged to summer, not autumn, and the inconsistent weather was to blame for the awful cold Theo had. Shocked out of a nightmare of choking, he had awakened in his small room in the lumberyard. He couldn’t breathe. Groggy with sleep and panic, he groped around in the bathroom for Miltown and Dristan. He stripped off sweat-soaked pajamas and dressed—he had to get some air.
He walked two blocks to the nearest pier, shaking his head to clear it of the thick humid clouds that also blackened the sky. How could it be so hot in October? Had that Russian satellite affected the weather? He could feel the pill start to work. Pills? The Dristan made his heart race, but the Miltown dulled fear into placid observation that he might have taken too many of either—or both kinds.
And then he fell, suddenly and wholly underwater into high tide. For a moment, the shock was joy, and he was a boy back in Mystic, leaping off the dock to cool off on summer nights. But the cold October current numbed him now. ‘Ee'en in the gasp of death/ …Love dwells not in our will.’ It was so dark he didn’t know if his eyes were open or closed…he didn’t care. It didn’t matter. ‘O dear, what can the matter be, dear, dear, what can the matter be, O dear, what can the matter be, Theo’s so long at the fair.’ He was falling back to sleep, and in the distance he could see his sister’s lovely boy sailing on open seas…
On Christmas Eve, Rob and Isaac were married in an evening ceremony in Rob’s lifelong trustfund friend’s glass-walled condo on an upper floor in a high-rise in Williamsburgh just south of the Greenpoint Piers.
Looking out at the East River and lower Manhattan skyline, their hostess said, “It’s a shame it’s not summertime.We could’ve used the roof terrace.”
She was dressed in white mink-collared and cuffed red velvet like Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas, and some of the guests were similarly camped up in seasonal costumes, as gifts or sugar plums, or candy canes, or elves.
“You couldn’t have hired two Rockettes and four Wooden Soldiers in June,” Rob thanked, hugging her. “Here is the perfect space and time.”
Although wintry months lay ahead, the wedding ceremony was an expression of the hopeful solstice as in the northern hemisphere its holidays are. The couple’s vows, an amalgam of tradition and novelty, were applauded heartily by everyone there and by an avuncular one wherever.
L. S. Bassen is the winner of the 2009 Atlantic Pacific Press Drama Prize, a Mary Roberts Rinehart Fellowship, and has had her poetry and fiction published in many various publications over two decades. She was a Finalist for the 2011 Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award. She is a prizewinning, produced, and published playwright (Samuel French, MONTH BEFORE THE MOON, NEXT OF KIN at New York's ATA, to name a few), and commissioned co-author of a WWII memoir by the Scottish bride of Baron Kawasaki. She has an MA in English from CUNY, and an AB in English/Philosophy from Vassar. She has taught public high school and college for three decades at Hofstra University, and the New York Institute of Technology, among others.