On the eve of her annual sojourn to the Land of Oz, today’s wordspiration is from The Madam Editrix, who provided the initial word (and initial kick in the tuckus) to catapult WordBowl into existence.
Invitation arrives, weighty with wealth, prestige. Hand-addressed, hand-delivered. Presented with a slight bow, in homage to or in mockery of the customs his doorman imagines he performs on business overseas.
He runs a thumb over the envelope. His name rendered in royal script, princely. Bridal professional? Kiss-ass assistant? Younger sister? Female, surely.
His early teachers disparaged his crabbed writing, his inability to marshal lines and curves into proper formation, bestowed favored smiles and desired grades upon the neat, self-satisfied girls who stayed between the lines.
Worthless, he can laugh now, handwriting obsolete. Typing, though, had he the prescience to take that “girls elective”. But even this, less vital, shrinking keyboards, adaptive keyboards. Soon a team — ideally one of theirs — will definitively crack speech recognition translation. Most things in which girls excelled in school have no bearing on success today. So he wasted no time learning useless crap.
She always teased he was too regimented to recognize artistry, too focused on the prize to appreciate the journey. She could afford to say such rich phrases, toss them as casually as bar tips.
They met his first day teaching English in a bustling town on the Sea of Japan. Post-undergrad Gap Year (her), Make-Money-for-Grad-School (him). He sought a posting with the best salary-to-cost-of-living ratio, hustled for private clients on the side. She came for their fabled gardens, practiced her shodo — “the way of writing” — without learning the language.
Months ricocheting between museums, incomprehensible Butoh performances, Ishikawa festivals. Once, bullet train to Tokyo, Roppongi district, karaoke. Desultory kisses between final sips of beer and ordering that for-real last sake. She assumed his admiration, acquired his admiration as she did souvenirs, brushes, tissue-thin sheets of gold leaf. He acquiesced to acquisition. Her skin tasted like fragrant tea.
At the end, he drew the line when she suggested tattoos commemorating their shared experience. His real life had yet to begin, he wanted no permanent marks. Consented to her drawing on his forearm, swirls and symbols, in what she claimed was indelible ink. His arm startled him for days afterwards. Even after vigorous scrubbing it remained a ghostly presence, until vanishing altogether without him noticing.
She globe-trotted, he ladder-climbed. They reconnected after she joined her father’s company. He often scrolled through her status updates, no longer needing to imagine. His fantasies gave way to the immediacy of her publicly shared intimacies.
He has no compulsion to broadcast his own status. He’s done well, catapulted out of the middle-class morass, parlayed his pre-career teaching into an asset, specializes in Asian markets. Allows himself an occasional regret of favoring Japan over China, that fateful first adult choice.
She will waltz down the aisle towards her inevitable husband, her life preordained by privilege. One of his mentors’ wives will set him up with someone suitable. He has time, plenty of time, to establish a family of his own.
He harbors no illusions as to her being “the one that got away”. She was never his to lose.
This piece was penned at Lafayette, the latest in Andrew Carmellini’s burgeoning restaurant empire. My vote for best frites in Manhattan (deviled eggs divine as well).
Edited on a snowy day, mesmerized by the ceiling of McNally Jackson Bookstore Cafe in Soho.
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