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Susan Oyama

Earlier this year Talia contacted me about a short, humorous (but also serious) piece that Luciano wrote during the period when I was married to him: The Kind Lady of Baltimore. Although I wasn't able to give Talia some of the facts she was seeking, rereading it and corresponding with her about it led me to remark that the Kind Lady was clearly not actually thinking in the wildly wide terms that Luciano eventually ended up deploying in that talk. His apology, in fact, was for using her earnest query as a pretext for his jeux d'esprit.

I described to Talia what I called "that very Luciano-like trait of starting with something small, embellishing it, making it spread and grow to monstrous proportions," continuing that I thought that this was "the joke that rules the whole piece. . . she [the Kind Lady] was asking a relatively simple (even simple-minded) question and he 'ran with it,' making entirely too much of it (without, of course, being able to answer it), so that it metastasized into what we are reading."

This all reminded me of something that Luciano did in the first place we lived in Cambridge, a little garret-like top floor apartment on Massachusetts Avenue ("Mass Ave"). In the United States people sometimes use small picture hangers that stick to the wall; they are adhesive-backed rectangles of fabric with hooks on the front. He had removed one of those, left by some previous tenant on an irregularly shaped wall by the door. Bothered by the mark it left on the painted surface, Luciano then took a felt-tipped pen (first just black and then several colors, of course) and filled in the little space with tiny dots of ink, which he called me to see. Over the next hour the rectangle of dots became multicolored, then escaped the original patch. Each time I came to look there were more and more; eventually he ended up with a sprawling design that filled most of that wall.

If the Kind Lady had been able to hear what he said in his later, imagined response to her question, and if she had also visited us in Cambridge and peered at our wall as she entered the apartment, she might have recognized, in the traces of that mad sequence of events on Mass. Ave., the same ungovernable impulse to fill more space, more space.