ineluctable.

Today’s Word-of-the-Day is from Randall Collis, who’s narrative-wrapped-photography is a constant source of amazement. Check out his “China Sojourns Photography” here although be forewarned, his work is likely to induce a visceral urge to travel. 

ineluctable

The sticky summer between my sophomore and junior years at the northern university I attended to the bewilderment of my southern parents, my roommate and I  — willing to forgo home comforts for the first family-less freedoms to which we were growing accustomed — remained on campus, bunking in a rank beer-stewed fraternity house, commuting by rickety El to the Chicago Loop with all the other suited-and-sneakered career gals.

Sazerac & Strawberries, Louis 649

Sazerac & Strawberries

My roommate, job arranged via family connections, came to my connection-less rescue, begged favor from her high school BFF, who in turn begged her BigBrother — wheedling in the way of beloved younger sisters — and thus I worked as a temporary receptionist for a mortgage banking firm instead of flinging fast food, which was what awaited me down South, along with my mother’s guilt for transposing a couple of numbers on my student loan renewal, jeopardizing future funds. Jeopardizing junior year.

Barstool view, Louis 649

Barstool view, Louis 649

The firm was a family affair: BigBrother, his father, a smattering of step-relatives. Answering the few phone calls and watering the listing plants filled little of the day. I presumed myself too professional to sit reading a novel, instead slogged through the stacks of Mortgage Banking Today — having dispatched the previous receptionist’s stash of Cosmopolitan — peppering passersby with questions to their startled bemusement.

BigBrother was hospitalized for some stress-related incident, ordered to abstain from business. He called daily, ostensibly to further my rudiments-of-mortgage-banking instruction, slipping in a question or two about some deal-in-progress.  He returned, promoted me to his “assistant” on top of receptionist, double-duty for an extra dollar per hour, but as a scholarship student in a financial aid crisis, I hustled for any bonus buck.

ElRey Coffee Bar

el Rey Coffee Bar

I was manning the office  — BigBrother in Saudi Arabia for what was rumored to be the killer of killer deals, remaining staff summer-scarce — painstakingly threading the new fax machine with thermal paper to receive critical missives, smudgy as mimeographs — when an irate and nearly incomprehensible man called demanding BigBrother immediately, vowels running roughshod over constants, shouting and swearing like my Uncle Johnny after an LSU football loss.

A dawning, drawling recognition.

Circumspect, I twice asked him to repeat his name — Leon Toups — to his great consternation, only inbred courtesy prevented him from outright insults. As he inhaled to unleash another tirade, I asked if he was from Thibodaux or Houma.

The air quieted, like Louisiana in the wake of a summer afternoon thunder-burst.

(almost) too-pretty-to-drink almond latte at ElRey

(almost) too-pretty-to-drink almond latte at el Rey

We established lineage: me, Marie Toups’ granddaughter, him, Great Aunt Antoinette’s second-cousin-by-marriage. His voice now honeyed, words warm, he spoke of family: his, mine, ours. Of course he would not pull his Very Important Deal — the purported purpose of the call — for he now trusted these Yankee money-men with the intelligence to employ a Toups.

BigBrother commended me on my savvy deal-saving skills — as if being related to someone qualified as skill — gifted me a “commission” check which bridged my financial gap, allowed me to return to school. He treated me like family, out of respect for my family ties.

The ties I was so determined to escape.

“ineluctable” hand-written at an East Village stalwart I have not visited in years, Louis 649, where they are quietly shaking scrumptious cocktails (and occasionally doling out strawberry gifts).  Caffeinated editing took place at el Rey coffee bar, not pictured is the spritely, surprising jicama-plum sauce salad I devoured pre-latte. 

Would you like to participate in WordBowl? Drop in a word (all words welcome):

agnostic.

Today’s provocative WordBowl word suggested by the blogger known as “callmemisschiq” who’s philosophical ruminations can be found on:

“Ponderings and Green Tea” 

agnosticMy parents instructed me in the matter of sex — I was, by this time, twelve and schoolyard-schooled in the subject — by presenting a book entitled “Chastity, Morality & Young People”, penned by a priest. My father avoided my eyes as he urmhurmmhummed to talk with my mother (her gaze averted, picking at my floral bedspread) if I had any questions.

Which, upon reading, I did.

The book opened with a tale of two teenagers “necking” in a parked car, who died of asphyxiation.

Question:

Could they not crack a window?

And:

What credentials did this priest bring to the table?

BURLINGTON (a winter-perfect pairing of bourbon & calvados) at Wise Men

Cocktail inspiration at Wise Men

Intuiting such questions should be kept to myself, I assured my parents I understood everything, which they accepted based on my proven reading-comprehension skills and their desire not to discuss such things.

The message was clear, sex a particularly egregious Catholic sin, like drinking and dancing for Baptists. My Jewish friends, without the twin pressures of heaven and hell, had no such equivalent.

I absorbed the lesson: intercourse was forbidden.

Alcohol, on the other hand, the drinking of, was not a sin. The first Biblically-recorded miracle was the changing of water into wine, and wine was served during Communion, yes, transmuted into the Blood of Christ, but it still tasted like wine no matter how fervently anyone believed.

Kamakura Coffee fueling rewrite

Kamakura Coffee fueling rewrite

Weekend entertainment options in a Southern town, limited. Fall Friday football games replaced by baseball in the Spring, so we lived in our cars cruising for rumored house parties, bonfires, keggers. All of us — Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, the outlying Pentecostals and the lone Lutheran congregation — eligible for driver’s permits at 14, driver’s licenses at 15. The drinking age for wine and beer was 18. Hard liquor, 21. Everyone knew someone who knew someone who knew a “cool” adult. You do the math, it all adds up to cars and booze. And necking. Momentary couples making out to their inevitable Monday mortification.

Perhaps the priest-author of “Chastity, Morality and Young People” was on to something after all.

Those of us who survived Catholic School wondered at the characterization of nuns as the Handmaidens of God, Brides of Christ,  help-maids of the priests to whom they deferred even as they terrorized us. While Fathers and Monsignors generally jovial, the nuns ruled with steely resolve born of righteousness, or perhaps a need to prove their worthiness.

CATHOLIC GUILT cocktail (yes, really) at Highlands

CATHOLIC GUILT cocktail (yes, really)

We girls came to understand we were responsible not just for ourselves, but the boys, too, the morality of the world resting on our soft shoulders. Imperative we wield “no” with a firm hand, as boys — indeed, all males — could not help themselves. Only we girls held the power to save them from eternal damnation. Or garden-variety sin.

This was the first we heard of our power. We had been raised to think of ourselves as delicate creatures, as prone to blemish as Magnolia blossoms. This call-to-arms, this exhortation to tap virgin reserves of inner-strength, a bit bewildering, beguiling.

What other powers might we possess?

“agnostic” required a first handwriting attempt at Wise Men — a Bowery bar owned by three female comrades in cocktail arms (although entirely populated by men the night i was writing). 

Secondary handwriting with a “Catholic Guilt” cocktail at Scottish gastropub Highlands (west village). 

Editing fuel provided by the in-house roasters at Kamakura Coffee (east village). 

Want to play? Drop a word into WordBowl here: 

continuity.

continuity

“continuity” tossed into the WordBowl lottery by Erik Munera: photographer. storyteller. philosopher. 

Guns, horses, indecipherable cousins thrice removed — visits to my father’s mother’s family farms, lands stretching from Thibodaux to Houma — involved some combination thereof, the family celebrations indistinguishable from the funerals.

Caffeine DoubleDose, DoubleEdit session at Cafe Grumpy

Caffeine DoubleDose, DoubleEdit session at Cafe Grumpy

Great Aunt Ola’s wake, a heavy Louisiana heat that threatened rain without a cloud in sight, an appalled relative I called “aunt” out of courtesy set her mind to rectify a grievous situation: I, a Toups — by blood, if not by name — had never ridden a horse.

Dispatched to a barn, plopped atop a horse — alright, a Shetland Pony — funeral dress tucked around my pudgy still-little-girl thighs, unsteady rocking as Prissy adjusted to and accepted my weight, then the thrill of Prissy trotting towards full gallop, the soft splat of my carefully coiffed curls against my back. Great Aunt Antoinette howling, my mother less amused, concerns over the potential damage to my fancy hand-smocked dress battling with her own Texan childhood astride a horse, inconceivable a daughter of hers had been equine bereft.

Once I was dressed in appropriate borrowed clothes and almost-fitting boots, I was given free reign, a delicious moment of exhilarating liberty.

"Year of the Horse" art by Anna Noelle Rockwell

“Year of the Horse” art by Anna Noelle Rockwell

One other occasion arose to ride, the summer before I became a teenager, when, after much debate, my parents took us for the first (and last) time to the Toups Family Reunion. We drove across the perilously narrow Huey P. Long Bridge, through the waving fields of sugarcane which would one day be replaced by soybeans, past endless rows of orange trees drooping with fruit, gaping at the vast array of picnic blankets and food and people all related to us.

Our actual cousins — my father’s brother’s brood — greeted us on horseback, Cousin Michael dismounting, scooping me up as though I were still small, me clutching the saddle horn, him holding the reigns, and off we galloped, leaving my younger siblings behind.

It was no Great Aunt Ola Memorial Freedom Ride. I missed my Prissy.

Traditional Manhattan, Traditional Steak Tartare at Buvette

Traditional Manhattan, Traditional Steak Tartare at Buvette

On the ground, I was small in the sea of people, crawfish boil pots, sugarcane, badminton games, accents as thick and redolent as the humidity. Relative strangers called us over as we roamed, individually and in packs, announcing themselves, launching into detailed genealogy digressions, declaring their love for my grandmother, Lord Rest Her Soul, and their relation to one of the remaining fourteen Great Aunts, weaving strands of Toups and Marmons into a cohesive if convoluted narrative. My middle brother consistently mistaken for one of Uncle Johnny’s children, with his jet-black hair and dark eyes, he looked more akin to that Louisiana family than ours, a crucial cultural disparity.

We grew lazy and listless, drunk on rich food and other people’s memories, sticky from oranges peeled and eaten like apples, juice slicking down our chins until finally, mosquito-munched and sun-dazed, we piled into the Plymouth, thighs searing to scorched vinyl seats, semi-sleeping as my father drove, silent, my mother chattering to keep him awake until we arrived home, we, the single strand of Toups to reside in the foreign citified environs of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

“continuity” handwritten at one of my favorite writing-and-imbibing spots, Buvette (a sliver of Paris nestled in the West Village) and edited at the bustling Midtown outpost (oasis?) of Cafe Grumpy. “Year of the Horse” artwork by Anna Noelle Rockwell (more of her equine prints and cards in her Etsy shop here).

moregrumpy

Are you a logophile? Have a favorite word? I want to hear from you!

umrita.

“Umrita” is an Icelandic word for “rewrite”

This seasonally-appropriate (it may be as cold in Manhattan as it is in Iceland) word bestowed by the omnivorous, entrepreneurial, idea-avore @BKGKristen

In the Houston interim between the baseball years and the rest of our lives, two unforeseen events occurred. First, another brother materialized, unceremoniously plopped in a crib wedged into the bedroom Baby Bother and I shared, thus eliminating the space previously occupied by our Lincoln Log fort-building enterprises. The second — and far more momentous — occasion was the appearance of a roll top desk, capped with a cherry-red bow.

Umrita-countyJammed between our all-purpose dining table and the narrow passage to the galley kitchen, the spindly roll top was a thing of wonder, my own space, mine, semi-ambulatory Baby Brother forbidden to touch, a space wide enough to spread my school drawings — those burst of enthusiasm that, upon further reflection, were not quite hitting the mark I initially envisioned but with a smudge-erase-recolor might transform into something fridge-display worthy — and private enough to store my treasures.

For the first few enthralling months, I padded into the kitchen and, before eating my Cheerios, carefully rolled the desk open to discover a small gift from my parents: colored pencils, an assortment of erasers, construction paper of varying size and hue. My desk, where I wrote small stories and drew complicated pictures and performed complex plays with multiple Skipper dolls. Not Barbies, never Barbie, Barbie had breasts and was therefore expressly forbidden, so I made do with Barbie’s younger, flat-chested sister, so lacking in popularity only one version of her was manufactured, I chopped the hair off one and put ponytails on another in an attempt to imbue them with individual personalities.

Writing with wine

Writing with wine

My desk, my stage of wonder, was placed in the boys’ room when we moved to Mississippi, where I had a room of my own at last, my mother’s vision of a young girl’s fantasy bedroom: canopy bed, ruffles, matching white-washed and faux-gilded  furniture. No place for a worn wooden roll top.

The roll top desk became the domain of Baby Brother, scratched by his school studies, nicked by frustrations with his handwritten essays, his ever-enlarging form growing ever more hunched as the books thickened and the subjects increased in difficulty, the roll top carried him through grade school, junior high, high school all the way to his departure for military academy greatness.

Rewriting at Elsewhere Espresso

Rewriting at Elsewhere Espresso

in time, the roll top retired to an unobtrusive corner of the spare bedroom-slash-crafting-room in my parents home, relieved of active duty beyond serving as a catch-all storage space, no longer the springboard for a young person’s dreams.

The now-adult Baby Brother asserts — in tones commensurate with one accustomed to commanding squadrons — his claim, his inheritance intentions toward the roll top. With military-grade deniability, he insists the desk was always his, his alone. He occasionally convinces my mother of this, forcing me to counter with stories of my own to accurately correct her recollections.

Our memories — mine, Baby Brother’s — jockeying for dominance, equally potent, one poised to override the other, erase the other, reduce the other to an ignominious smudge. History to be written by the winner.

“umrita” handwritten on a brisk evening with a Candied Ginger Old Fashioned at locavore dining destination County (grammercy, nyc) and edited just before snowfall with a couple of nutty-rich Americanos at Elsewhere Espresso (east village, nyc).

umrita

WordBowl is an equal-opportunity word lottery. Drop in a word today:

amygdala.

Amygdala are almond-shaped nuclei located deep within the temporal lobes of the brain; Considered part of the limbic system, research shows evidence amygdala perform a primary role in the processing of memory and emotion.

This cerebral, laden word courtesy of the cerebral, complex Mr. Keith Wallace. 

WBamygdala

They found my Nana in a dumpster just off the main drag of the town nearest her modest acre abutting one of her daughter’s farms. The search was over two weeks gone before they called in the dogs, the ones returning from sniffing out bodies amongst the earthquake rubble in Mexico. But it was one of the local deputies who pulled her still-breathing body from the pile of rotting fast food and broken crates, crusted industrial condiment cans with jagged tops clinging to their cylindrical bodies, congealed catsup on ether side of the garroted gash.

My mother did not want to worry us. We were told after Nana was stable, hospitalized where she had no nursing affiliation but my uncle had influence. Bones can be knitted together. Brains, with their myriad of thoughts and memories and knowledge, a more delicate task. Even in the best cases, faulty, like a misaligned joint aching in premonition of weather shifts.

First margarita of 2014, writing amidst the last vestiges of holiday decor

Writing amidst the last vestiges of holiday decor

Nana of my memory: unseemly paperback novels passed to me the moment she finished (Coma, The Other Side of Midnight), chocolate chip waffles topped with ice cream for Friday Night Dinner (her interpretation of classic Catholic dogma), card playing until the wee hours, hushing one another’s giggles so as not to wake my parents.

They mended her body. Her mind remained fractured.

She may have declined into dementia before the event. There were signs, we Monday Morning Quarterbacks agreed: the age-inappropriate garage sale gifts, as though we were not expected to grow or we grandchildren were so voluminous as to be interchangeable. The bag of cash she stashed in her oven and forgot until it caught on fire. Her adamant disremembering of unfavorable card game scores. We did not use the word Alzheimer’s, then.

Years after Nana’s hot-as-Hades funeral, I gleaned occasional tidbits as to what she was like, my Nana, in the twilight between abduction and death.

Apropos of nothing other than a half-glass of Chardonnay, my mother described, tears welling, a rare afternoon outing at a local mall. Nana wailing, “I’ve soiled myself like the babies whose diapers I used to change,” crying until my mother and my aunt maneuvered her back to the hospice, removed her filthy undergarments, fitted her with a diaper.

Winter afternoon view, Cafe Ost

Winter afternoon view, Cafe Ost

In her brief lucid moments, Nana was apparently capable of feeling shame, a cruel cosmic joke played on a woman whose mother ran off with the youngest baby, leaving Nana to raise her remaining brother; a woman whose husband died in a plane crash returning from WWII, or hung himself, or was assassinated for being a spy, depending on the family legend to which one ascribed; a woman who raised five children on her own while perusing her PhD; a woman who took in her estranged mother when she landed destitute on her doorstep.

If she could feel shame, could she also fear? Did she remember, in those feeding tube-fed, adult diaper-swaddled years, what happened to put her there?

The police closed the case, as if to spare us from the trauma of further investigation, as if the tragic results rendered additional facts moot. Nana, the Nana we knew, survived only in our memories.

“amygdala” was handwritten with the first margarita of 2014 at Hecho en Dumbo (bowery, nyc) and edited with a super-caffeinated espresso at Cafe Ost (east village, nyc)

What word tickles your fancy? I would love to include it in the WordBowl word lottery! Fill in the info below:

patience.


Our Word-of-the-Day is one of the very first suggestions submitted to WordBowl, delighted I drew it at last.  From the indomitable (and patient!) Amy Willstatter, media-maven, Moxie-Mom, early-edge entrepreneur.

patience

My mother gave birth to two boys as we idled in Houston waiting for my father — retired from MLB at twenty-seven, in need of a new vocation — to plow through pharmacy school; she gave birth twice again as we settled in Mississippi, waiting for my father to inherit a family business.

Great Uncle Ted and Great Aunt Myrtle instigated this scheme for their retirement, for my father to assume his “rightful” role.  They oversaw the construction of our new home, a symbol of our no-longer-peripatetic, now rooted life.

Weighing options at The Wayland (went with Sazerac)

Weighing options at The Wayland

My parent were no BabyBoomHippieCommuners, but the virgin backyard evoked some dormant bucolic dream, they drew up plans, tilled vegetable beds, planted snap bean bushes instead of hedges along the chain link fence. They selected saplings to supplement the towering, spindly pines, these new trees would grow, they claimed, to shade the bay window in the kitchen, Japanese Maples and Magnolias would in time cast dappled shadows on the terraced walkway, a willow would one day weep majestic in the back yard.

Between gardening sessions, my father taught me to throw a baseball, insisting I throw from the shoulder, like a boy, none of this girly from-the-wrist business. Hours we spent throwing, pitching balls to imaginary batters, or, one season, to knock slugs off the tomatoes, the year of an infestation no pesticide proved powerful enough to kill. We planted watermelons that year, too, which grew round as bowling balls and tasted just as sweet.

Healthy snap bean plants (in no way indicative of ours)

Healthy snap bean plants (in no way indicative of ours)

One year begat a bumper crop of snap beans, our family jammed around the kitchen table, snapping beans until our fingers reddened, an endless parade of beans at dinner, beans swimming in stewed tomatoes, beans glistening with butter and Morton’s salt, beans slathered with cream of mushroom soup, beans with diced frozen carrots, their uniform color and symmetry in sharp contrast to the beans snapped by fingers of varying sizes and strengths, beans boiled, frozen in plastic bags, thawed, cooked limp.

Trees grow more slowly than children, my city-bred parents discovered, and in order to weep, willows must be planted near water. We had maples only slightly taller than the snap beans or my young brothers, magnolias that bore a single blossom, and what we forever dubbed The Happy Willow, branches reaching uproarious to the sky.

The passion for gardening faded, beans supplanted by proper hedges, tomato beds replaced with flowers, sapling-sprouted trees watered and pruned with more prayerful hope than confidence.

PatienceEditGreat Uncle Ted staved off retirement for another year, and then another, my father his second-in-command. My brothers grew, eager for their presumptive baseball birthright, my father taught them to throw, to hit, to catch, the proper way to slide into third, games in which they took turns as pitcher, batter, catcher, shortstop, The Happy Willow serving as second base.

I graduated from college before my father assumed ownership of the family business, inherited the family home with its stoic, stately trees shading the bay windows, just as my parents once envisioned growing for themselves.

“patience” was handwritten with a Deep South-evoking Sazerac at The Wayland (east village, nyc) and was edited at the NYU branch of Think Coffee (nyc)

Do YOU have a word you think could be a story? Feel free to drop it into WordBowl!

alacrity.

“Alacrity” means “brisk and cheerful readiness; lively, eager” and was the suggestion of DonofallTrades (who claims to be master of none, but I find this statement suspect).

 

Seasonal Negroni at Madam Geneva

Seasonal Negroni at Madam Geneva

Train trip! Road trip! With Dad!

Despite hopping my first flight as a two-week old infant, cross-country road trips, airports awaiting the outcome of another game as our playoff advancement fate rested in the glove of another team, I had never actually traveled with my father.

Our itinerary: Houston to New Orleans via train, an evening with my father’s clan, returning to Houston in a passed-down station wagon too ancient to be considered an inheritance.

I packed appropriate accoutrements: crayons, books, favorite doll du jour. My mother added another suitcase of board games, activity books, horrifying my father who deemed toys unnecessary. In response to my mother’s perplexed query as to what his six-year-old daughter would do on a 10-hour train ride, my startled father replied:

“We’ll sleep, read, and look out the window.”

And thus my father and I embarked on our first — and last — journey together.

imagesWe settled into our facing window seats. I launched into a series of inquires as to what the uniformed conductors did, if they were not actually driving the train.

According to my father, the questions did not stop until we arrived in his hometown.

New Orleans, dinnertime, I ate alongside the adults, raw oysters, shrimp cocktail, cracked crab, me burbling with tales of flat vistas populated by cows and cattle and corn with blithe assumption of Grandmother Marie’s interest. Uncle Johnny — my father’s much older brother, a whole generation of history between them — arrived unannounced, his salesman bulk hovering, grabbed my fork, stabbed my crab, winked-wiggled me off the chair, proceeded to eat my dinner.

Never trusted that man.

Dad did not follow Mom’s road trip embarkation protocols. Puzzling, but I was capable of loading a car and inquiring of Grandmother Marie as to the availability of munch-ables.

Like Mother, like Son.

Judas Cocktail (think Franco-Manhattan) one of my final libations at The Beagle

Judas Cocktail (think Franco-Manhattan) one of my final libations at The Beagle

Resigned to dinner-pilfering relatives and snack-stingy immediate family, I settled into the passenger seat, a good little co-pilot, just as my mother instructed, prepared to initiate rounds of “Little Red Caboose”, “I Spy”, steady streams of spirited landscape commentary.

Driving with dad proved to be a more solitary, contemplative experience.

Attuned to the cadences of wheels, asphalt, window-framed vistas rushing by, I said, “You’re going too fast.”

He glanced at the speedometer, but his innate competitive athlete nature could not be quelled. He launched into a dissertation on Road Rules, including “keeping up with traffic”. I could not believe Mom would keep such secrets from me. I assumed he would appreciate my counsel, as he was accustomed to riding the team bus, while mom and I had driven through most every state in the country.

“Speeders go to jail.”

My father did not look at me in the stretched moments between the sirens, highway patrol pulling us to the shoulder in a spray of gravel, slow ride to the police station, ash-colored dust in our wake.

I cut the chattychatchat, ever my mother’s daughter, accustomed to athletes reliving a bobbled catch, bad throw, unsuccessful slide stealing home.

 Handwritten with enthusiasm at Madam Geneva (noho)  and the dearly departed Beagle  (east village).

Do YOU have a favorite word? A scintillating word? Drop it here: