narcissism.

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narcissism

Our word today courtesy of the provocative writer who ponders questions seemingly small, deceptively deep on Ugly LIttle Things.

 

Bitter, spicy, boozy PIGALLE cocktail at Dirty French

Bitter, spicy, boozy PIGALLE cocktail at Dirty French

Rite of Spring, the front page newspaper article and accompanying photographs revisiting our father’s major league exploits, praise heaped upon him for volunteering, once again, to coach Little League. In that small Southern hamlet, he was something approaching celebrity.

One year, a reporter described our father as having a demeanor that makes Pat Boone look aggressive, which was so far off the mark it set my siblings and I to snorting. The gullibility of the so-called journalist. First seeds of media distrust sewn deep.

Rite of Spring, my brothers clamoring for baseball anecdotes, tales of legendary teammates frayed from the telling, pivotal plays, dugout gossip. The only child who traveled with the team, I alone lived on the fringes of these stories, had future Hall of Fame inductees — Gaylord Perry, Willie Mays — and their wives as babysitters.

My siblings had me as their babysitter. Rampant resentments on all sides.

Vita view

Vita view

The discrepancy between the perception of our father and the reality went beyond amusement, but we were raised with the tacit understanding certain behaviors were part and parcel with the talents bestowed upon him, the exacting discipline he cultivated to achieve the dream of so many American boys, the pressure of public scrutiny.

Our father came of age between the triumphant wake of WWII and the disillusionments of Korea, Vietnam. Sports cast as a national narrative, the American Dream writ large in crowded stadiums wild with hope, or backyards crackling with tinny radios and charred hotdogs, or living rooms with neighbors gathered rapt for the rare televised game.

Talent, made mythic by the collective gaze of the American public.

vitawritingFootball, King of Sports. Baseball, The National Pastime. Basketball still a pick-up game, European football unknown in America, mixed martial arts not yet a twinkle in a savvy promoters eye. Ballpark ticket prices within the grasp of working class families, television — the pipeline into the hearth and hearts of American families — in the firm grip of three broadcasters. The more feminine sports like gymnastics and figure skating spotlighted at the Olympics, along with hockey, and vanished in the four-year wasteland between patriotic salutes, sportscaster rhetoric that transformed their personal triumphs into the might of a nation.

A Time of Heroes.

An era of mass experience, collective imagining. Eroded by self-interests corporate and personal. Felled by technologic innovations. We have seen the curtain. We are braced for bad behavior, the scandalous scandals veering towards parody. We were duped by doping, once, twice. With a swipe of a finger, we will choose others worthy of our attention, temporary adulation. Or ourselves.

dirtyfrenchWe participate in communities to approximate collective experience, a fractionalized reality show, broadcast at will. We create tools to mitigate talent, Auto-tune, Instagram filters, steroid cocktails. Anyone can experience the frisson of attention, the recognition of “friends”, “followers”. Anyone can determine the fate of products, plotlines, by wielding “likes” or scathing reviews with abandon.

Idols toppled. IstaCelebrities raised.

Mythical stories no longer rise in the collective consciousness, story sound-bites trend, blips bobbing in a sea of selfies. Stories writ shrill, to arrest our momentary attention. Stories writ small, held in the palms of our hands.

Although I did not have an ulterior motive this week as I wrote in two spots just blocks away from each other in Manhattan’s Lower East Side (location, location, location), there is a thematic link: both are expansions from talented teams. Caffe Vita is a sliver of a spot from the renowned Seattle coffee roasters (judging by the line out the door, it is no longer NYC’s best-kept secret). Dirty French is the latest and sizzle-iest yet from the Torrisi team (Torrisi, ZZ Clam Bar, Parm), reservations might prove tricky, but I tried my luck at the bar and was well-rewarded for my efforts. 

Would you like a story written for you? Suggest a word below:

jocularity.

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Our word today, which means “given to jesting” (“jest” is a playful or amusing act; a prank), courtesy of D. Nudo: word advocate and champion of all the news that’s fit to print. 

jocularity

School buses, from the first days of kindergarten, raucous, an unsupervised no-man’s land between home and homeroom, given to mobile adaptations of backyard games, Freeze Tag, Red Rover. But the Junior High bus, with its eighth graders looming larger and more worldly than us just out of grade school, had a rambunctiousness that could careen into cruelty as social hierarchy classifications codified, a subtle, specific process to which I, a transplanted non-Southerner — initially invited out of curiosity or hospitality to join the cheerleaders while also grouped with the so-called smart kids who were subjected to all manner of 1970’s educational experimentation — was attuned, acute. I once negotiated the borderlands between the two if not with ease, with naïveté.

portal to secreted cocktailing adventures

portal to secreted cocktailing adventures

That was grade school. This new land, the Junior High bus, trickier.

I sat shriveled small in the denim pants painstakingly sewn by my mother to mimic the ragingly popular Calvin Klein jeans — down to a label she swore was included in the Butterwick pattern — embarrassed by this public sign of my family’s slide along the recession’s razor’s edge just as girls discarded ponies for fashion. I avoided the obvious troublemakers, found some seats chillier than others, the cheerleaders still scooted over but only smiled with their mouths, the smart kids nodded without making full eye contact.

And then there was Boo.

through the phone booth...

through the phone booth…

Boo, eighth grade football hero, blonde, sunny, punching shoulders and guffawing his way towards a successful high school career. He was friendly to all, unlike other kids less secure in their popularity, who knew their precarious status could be cemented by a well-timed barb or a well-aimed spitball.

PDT's PADDINGTON cocktail

PDT’s PADDINGTON cocktail

Boo and I got off the bus at the same bus stop, if I was willing to trudge up the hill to my house afterwards. Boo, assumptive of accolades, attention, happiness. Sports fields existed for his Friday night glory, he did not know of the shifting tides of fame, fortune, the ramifications of a bobbled ball. He found me funny — funny haha, not funny weird — and in his presence I could pretend to be.

sunshine daydreams at Mud Coffee

sunshine daydreams at Mud Coffee

 

We acquired 10-speeds the same weekend — his a gift from his parents, mine a long-held babysitting money layaway goal — we raced down Dead Man’s Hill, flinging arms overhead for brief seconds before grasping curved handlebars to keep from veering into each other, ducked the occasional car with a wave and a grin, spun around cul-de-sacs. Boo crashed through the woods, rode further than I had ever gone, past the tree Baby Brother once fell out of, past the abandoned neighborhood fort, and I followed him, laughing as his front tire jammed against a fallen pine, laughing as he rammed his bike into mine — our faces close, shoulders closer — laughing even as he flung a clump of wet red clay at my head to stop me from laughing.

We walked our bikes back as the sun set — the universal Bat Signal to head home — mud-spattered, mosquito-bitten, proclaimed we would ride like this every day. But baseball season started that week, Boo every bit as necessary at bat as he was on the scrimmage line, there was no reprise of the Dynamic Duo Ride and in the fall he took a different bus, off to high school, we never rode together again.

Inspired by the back-to-school spirit, I went Old School while working on this piece: one of the original East Village cocktail speakeasy spots, PDT (please don’t tell), which is nestled within perennial late night snack destination Crif Dog. And yes, you can order hot dogs at the bar, try a “Chang Dog” created in partnership with Chef David Chang, while working your way through the carefully calibrated PDT cocktail list. I chose the PADDINGTON cocktail, as it was named for the childhood literary character (and because I’m a sucker for Lillet Blanc). 

 Caffeinated editing took place at the original Mud Coffee (NYCers have likely spotted one of their bright orange coffee trucks roaming downtown), where the soundtrack has not changed in all the years of operation. 

Do you have a suggestion for WordBowl? Would love to hear from you, comments link at the top of this story (or if you are on a phone, scroll to bottom).

Do you have a word for WordBowl? Terrific! Use the form below.

cattywhampus.

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cattywhampus

Delighted Clara’s cattywhampus is today’s WordBowl winner, as she has submitted several words, all of which I looked forward to writing, but this one especially because cattywhampus — slang, meaning “in disarray or disorder, askew, awry” — is so much fun to say out loud. Go ahead, try it. 

DearIrv2big

Hemingway Daiquiri at Dear Irving

The plan: hop a train to the city, squeeze in all the summer fun I had missed — afternoon aperitifs, outdoor music, late nite al fresco suppers — into the Labor Day holiday weekend. Close out the summer of my discontent in grand style with great friends, return to full-throttle, full-focus work.

This was a revised plan, amended plan, a variation on the Career-as-Priority-One Plan.

Plan B. Or perhaps Plan C-verging-on-D.

The original Life Plan 3.0: relocate to Boston for the Dream Job, commit to a Manhattan-less life. Commit to a schedule of monthly trade shows, UK marketing summits, Hollywood development meetings, triangulating between Los Angeles, Boston, London. But this plan did not allow for a mugging, maiming, or a myriad of therapies both physical and mental, medical mandates to which my work and I had to comply.

Physically unable to drive, medically forbidden to fly, NYC tantalizingly train-accessible.

cityofsaints

contemplating the plan for this WordBowl piece

After all the surgical procedures, hospitals, police stations, physical therapy rooms pretending to pass for gyms, psych offices kitted out in décor so tasteful, unobtrusive as to shout their intentions, a restorative weekend. A real weekend, the kind of weekend enjoyed by people who actually avail themselves of Summer Fridays, people who are friends with their neighbors, convivial with colleagues, networked with a powerful array of peers. People who have not been breached. The kind I, too, once reveled in. Then back into the fray, the incompatible time zones, the avalanche of demands, the opportunities to mitigate distinctly non-physical crisis, score successes. The stuff of which a career is made.

Note the plan, the revised plan, the original plan, all the plans, did not involve romance.

You have seen enough romantic comedies to know a cinematic meet-cute happens when least expected. Post-theater wine in a boite renowned for flattering lighting, my friend and I deep in conversation. Him, also out with a friend, amidst vigorous debate, slugging their overflowing Manhattans. My sling-shod arm a conversational ice-breaker.

The world went Kodachrome. Sounds — clattering of barware, swoosh of napkin, shrieks from neighboring knots of revelers — syncopated, symphonized. Time snapped, air crackled, words popped.

Anecdotes brandished like sparklers, designed to delight. Flares of recognition. Really? Me too!

A Manhattan in Manhattan

A Manhattan in Manhattan

The accidental touch while leaning in to raise a glass, whisper an aside, fission, what might be, a thrill yet fulfilled. Too new for pet names, “honey” or “sweetie pie”, we exhaled the other’s name like an invocation, a promise.

We roamed the city, claimed it as our own.

Strolling through Central Park, fall in the air, summer in the light, that one delicious day we New Yorkers hold in our hearts, extol to non-natives as the glory of living in this chaotic, congested, cash-burning city. Golden Hour, gothic Gotham stretching skyward, sun heavy Hudson-side, pond sparkling, leaves burnished brilliant. A breeze stirred, lifted the grounded leaves, brushed their not-yet-fallen comrades from their branches, gold and copper glittering, swirling around us, like a shaken snow globe, our entwined selves at the center.

Self-styled cynicism swept away, along with all of my carefully constructed plans, in one miraculous moment.

Time for a new plan.

What could be more marvelous than writing about Manhattan with a proper Manhattan? The cocktail wizards at Dear Irving whipped up a classic, and as an encore, served up a Hemingway Daiquiri. Literary cocktail deliciousness, and the setting evokes both bygone eras and contemporary glamor. Plus, their logo is handwritten, stylistically and philosophically an ideal spot for WordBowl scribbling. 

After such classic cocktails, editing required serious caffeinated fuel, which I found at the Manhattan outpost of Brooklyn-based City of Saints Coffee Roasters. 

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σύμπαν

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Greek

After an unanticipated summer semi-hiatus, we return to our regularly scheduled WordBowl story programming with a high-concept Greek term — and our first WordBowl to be written in a city other than NYC — which literally translates as:

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 8.47.51 AM

But a more accurate interpretation —courtesy of Dancer*Dreamer*Daredevil Dimitra D. — refers to the “something beyond” our universe (and, perhaps, our understanding)

sazerac

Birthplace of a beauty: The Sazerac Bar

Berkeley Hills, mid-1990s, Bay Area barreling towards the end of a century, me hurtling towards thirty. “Start up” not yet a noun, “IPO” not yet a business plan, e.mail addresses more perceived company perk than assumption. First hints of our mobile future, Internet connections still tethered to a physical location, we roadwarrior vanguard hauling laptops, modems the size of suitcases, weighty with import.

A couple-three years into my technology magazine publishing career, straddling what would soon become Old Media and New Media, I sat on the deck of the home I rented from a film producer friend awaiting the ideal real estate conditions to sell, sipped Bonny Doon Cigare Volant from a proper wine glass, looked out at a view framed by redwoods, Bay Bridge traffic twinkling, San Francisco a shiny toy for the taking. A family of deer frolicking amongst the unkempt foliage, me amidst the detritus of an impromptu dinner party arranged between giddy colleagues via our new walkie-talkie Nextel company phones. I raised my glass, a solo toast.

Chicory coffee, French Quarter

Chicory coffee, French Quarter

As a young girl, I went along with the usual group imaginary play: stuffed animal hospital, school, war. I tended to eschew playing “house” as my real life family —omnipresent babies squawking and parents battling against, settling into, an armistice of compromised dreams — disabused me of any aspirational notions. Alone, my “let’s pretend” scenario an amalgamation cobbled from memories of our once-upon-a-time nomadic baseball years, Disney musicals, whatever book I most recently devoured, my parents beloved 1930’s screwball comedies and 1940’s noirs. My dreams in black and white, witty women, dapper men, pristine apartments, balconies with sweeping vistas, cocktail parties with friends who performed on Broadway or wrote for newspapers, jobs I equated with the Big City, before “career” entered my consciousness. An elegant world far, far away from our insular Southern town where kids grew up marry their kindergarten classmates, leave their parental home for another in the same or neighboring neighborhood, content with the known.

In my scenario, I would tesseract at will.

It had not occurred to me to factor love into the equation — another story, folks, another time — I instead romanticized career, compatriots. “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

I discovered the working world — despite rush-to-publication highs, goal achievement bragging rights — was populated by the mundane, spreadsheet entry errors, advertising copy typos, trade show delivery snafus, personnel political dramas, wonky code. A tide of mundane swelling, ebbing, a trail of inconsequential debris in its wake.

De la Louisianne in NYC

De la Louisianne in NYC

On my hilltop perch, swirling a wine so leggy it leapt from the glass, I toasted to achieving my childhood fantasy: fabulous city, fabulous career, fabulous friends, hosting parties in a fabulous (albeit rental) home with a fabulous view. I was twenty seven years old, the age my father retired from Major League Baseball.

I groped for bigger dreams.

Startling, to wonder if I had reached the limits of my imagination at the precise moment an avalanche of tech innovation was clear-cutting historical assumptions, proving perceived limits merely a human mental construct.

Instinct insisted there was more, beyond, but I lacked language for the longing.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 8.52.17 AMHow appropriate to contemplate such a layered word in such a historically layered city, and that the piece required additional work somewhere beyond.  The initial notes for this story scribbled in the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel — reputably the birthplace of this notoriously storied cocktail — in the French Quarter, New Orleans. I began writing this piece fueled by chicory coffee at PJ’s, also in the French Quarter, steps away from St. Patrick’s cathedral. The sacred and the profane occupying the same space in this town, New Orleans it’s own special universe. Editing took place with a De la Louisane at bespoke cocktail haven Attaboy on the Lower East Side, Manhattan. 

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fabulous.

Do you have a fabulous word for WordBowl? Click HERE.

Befitting the luxe-living GET SET,  JET SET  Sami Darling-Rock, today’s word is FABULOUS:

Resembling or suggesting a fable: of an incredible, astonishing, or exaggerated nature. 

1.1  Amazingly good; wonderful

1.2  Having no basis in reality; mythical

 

Once upon a time, a group of gal pals lived life in the Superlative Zone.

CarrotMargarita

Carrot Margarita with Star Anise: a superlative concotion

2005: We met cute, Caribbean island spa holiday, late summer, us solo single ladies. Bonded during group hikes, water aerobics, guided meditations as a major storm system surged, the impending hurricane loomed but spared our island. Each of us in the suspended moment just prior to transition, transformation, each fleeing our respective sweltering offices, flailing placeholder relationships, the stultifying wait for next.

Final evening, Samba Sunset Cruise, we toasted, vowed to stay in touch, made enthusiastic plans to convene in Manhattan. A convenient convening for the U.S. contingent, the last we saw of those who ensconced themselves in their colloquial (gratifying, surely) lives. The rest of us, we took our superlativeness global.

2006: We dined in TriBeCa lofts, cut swaths through SoHo boutiques, booked late night suppers in West End hotels that could afford after-hours liquor licenses, viewed Hockney at the National Portrait Gallery, Che Guevara tributes at the Victoria & Albert, wore formal gowns to the Snow Ball in Edinburgh where we danced with men in kilts, slurped oysters and clinked flutes to celebrate an unanticipated Manolo windfall in Boston, celebrated American Thanksgiving in old York, cheered Olympians at the Turin games, gasped at the gowns on display at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Queen’s 80th Birthday, cajoled door jockeys into granting us gratis access, picked up men with significant timepieces and discrete credit cards.

High Tea Bubbly

High Tea Bubbly

2007. The Long Bar, London, a tipsy blonde teetering in her heels, are you millionairesses? We demurred, giggled behind our freshly manicured hands, ordered another bottle of champers, giddy, as of that night, one of us was. All dazzling, dizzying dreams seemingly within our grasp.

We purchased semi-precious “hand sets” — matched ring and bracelet baubles — as evidence we were not waiting for the One True Diamond. We justified each other’s fashion fixations, art fascinations, real estate acquisitions. We procured significant watches of our own. It’s an investment piece.

We swore allegiance over restorative beverages, soldiered on through late nights, ambitious daytime itineraries. We were generous with gifts, cocktails, hotel rooms, resort vouchers, theater tickets. We drank it all in, lapped it all up. Please sir, may we have some more! Boarded flights, returned to the careers that afforded our lifestyles. We were in our prime. The future did not merely shimmer ahead, it sparkled all around us.

seasonal, savory daiquiri

seasonal, savory daiquiri

2008: Our ringleader married in a fourteenth century castle, guests in Scottish kilts, African Kente cloths, Philip Treacy fascinators. Having captured the professional brass ring, she conquered domestic bliss with equal aplomb, traded Louboutins for Wellies, Channel lady bags for chic nappy totes. Impeccable timing, as always.

2009: Dominos dropped, a cascade of collapse nipping at the heels of those of us chasing ever-elusive dreams, country by country, proving the laws of nature would not be denied: what goes up must come down.

Stuck in a most sober era, in search of a fix. Grounded, the dawning recognition that a superlative moment, once had, bears no repeating, dragons chased rarely roar.

But the next, the next was sure to come. The future shimmering before us, still.

Speaking of fabulous, the good folks at Flinder’s Lane (east village) are dishing up genre-bending Modern Australian cuisine and mind-altering seasonal libations. The Carrot Margarita with Star Anise deliciously defies both nature and description, and the current Seasonal Daiquiri is an herbaceous tipple topped with Tarragon. I was tempted to continue handwriting this piece with every cocktail on the menu, but the responsible me prevailed,decamped. Editing took place at Crosby Hotel (soho), where I discovered their lauded High Tea was more suitable for a few than a one, so I opted for a bit of bubbly.

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satiate.

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Our WordBowl Word of the Day comes from the twisted brain behind Henry’s Games — storytelling? satire? legend? — all I can confirm is (1) the word came from a UK e.mail address and (2) the author purports to be male. Though this may be a matter for debate as well.

satiate

Earliest food memory: gorging on pineapple, sticky sweet juice slicking down chin, mouth raw, the first conscious twining of pleasure and pain.

My mother, worrying I might hurt myself, attempting to lure my attention with promises of Cocoa Puffs. I was not dissuaded. If one bite proved scrumptious, surely gobbling the whole pineapple — a gift from my father, souvenir from his team’s annual exhibition game in Hawaii — would provide exponential happiness.

ELIZA'S STORY (who knew bourbon could be so refreshing?)

ELIZA’S STORY (a deceptively demure cocktail)

I munched, Mumu-clad — my mother had made us matching Mumus, a riot of red and white florals, the year she jetted off for the Luau Game, too — my own celebration of culinary and sartorial extravagance, those partners in crime.

At almost four years of age, I had not yet learned the law of diminishing returns, the irrefutable scientific facts: sugar-on-sugar becomes less sweet, salt-on-salt less satisfying. Of the tastes, only bitter becomes increasingly, more intensely of itself. Bitterer.

My father retired from baseball, we moved through familial lands in Texas, Louisiana, settled in Mississippi. Food, tightly regulated in our 1970s household — recession, sprawling family, father still hewing to preparatory extreme eating and exercise regimes as though his civilian professional performance depended upon it, mother wrestling her five-pregnancies-and-counting weight gain via the fashionable fasting plan du jour — there was no such thing as snacking between meals, desserts regulated to weekends, although my siblings and I snatched surreptitious chocolates from our mother’s hidden stash, all the more delicious for being forbidden fruit.

THIRSTY RABBIT craft cocktail at Grange

THIRSTY RABBIT craft cocktail at Grange

Our brown-bagged lunches featured Oscar Meyer Variety Pack deli meats, “Red Delicious” apples rarely either. Dinners, a parade of broiled chicken/buttered rice/frozen vegetable permutations or variations of noodles with canned sauces, this less sophisticated era, we ate noodles, we did not yet know from pasta. We did not dine in restaurants, McDonald’s a rare splurge, sign of an unexpected financial windfall, or a brother’s Little League triumph.

My siblings and I dreamed of the packaged food in our friends’ homes, envied their unrestricted access. My burgeoning babysitting business — leveraging my oldest child caretaking skills into actual cash — built upon my fascination with other people’s pantries. Covetous of what I had not experienced, craving tastes of my imagining.

The taste of summer: Thai Cold Brew Coffee

The taste of summer: Thai Cold Brew Coffee

As I verged on adolescence, my parents hit a rough patch, arguments burst from behind their bedroom door, tempers flaring dramatic throughout our home too modest to house hiding places, a spectacular one-upmanship of slammed cabinets, tossed tennis racquets, my mother grabbing car keys and me, gunning the Plymouth all the way to Pizza Hut for multiple trips to the sneeze-guarded salad bar and an array of Personal Pan Pizzas, furious munching before barreling to the Mall, plowing past the seasonal displays towards the clearance racks — even at her most enraged, my mother mindful of her role as keeper of the family finances, her calculator of a brain tick-tick-ticking discount percentages and layaway plans —sorting through those sad stragglers available at greater-than-fifty-percent discount, haughty tossing of the too-big oh-my-goodness-this-just-swallows-me attempting to rationalize the too-small as perfect-j-just-as-soon-as-I-lose-five-pounds. Pizza and salad topping torpor settling in, ambling over to the shoe section — score! — fit not an issue, as our feet remained the same size no matter how much we stuffed ourselves.

Full, but far from satisfied.

 

 Inspired, I set about satiating myself uptown-style at the farm-to-table The Grange Bar and Eatery (hamilton heights, harlem) where I sampled craft cocktails and admired the extensive list of local microbrews while scribbling the first draft of this story. Trundling back downtown, I hand-edited with a Thai Cold Brew Coffee at the light-drenched Greenwich Village outpost of Stumptown Coffee Roasters (greenwich village, manhattan).

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Do you have a suggestion? Feel free to comment below. I look forward to your input!

curmudgeon.

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curmudgeon

Bad tempered or surly person.

“curmudgeon” brought to us by someone who is neither. Our thanks to Miss Chris, marketing maven, mom to Betty Dog, possessor of a wicked wit. Miss Chris has, on an occasion, been known to make a sardonic quip. Or two.

Tipsy Snacks

Tipsy Snacks

“Tomorrow will be better!” proclaimed the poster hung between pockmarked bulletin boards on the wall of our senior year AP English class, pith-helmeted cartoon explorer hacking his way through a crudely illustrated jungle, disproportionate hand raise in optimistic, premature triumph.

The poster annoyed me as much as the class.

She was a scab, our Senior Year AP English teacher, crossed picket lines to protect her pension, grumbled the strike would prevent us all from graduating, berated those of us demonstrating with the teachers’ union, but her real offense was rendering literature dull.

After the prior year’s heady classes with Mrs. Rodgers, who introduced literature with ferocious passion, inflamed debate, butted heads with principals and school boards to defend our right to read The Catcher in the Rye, Mrs. _________ paled in comparison on better days, droned beyond dull for most.

"Secret" Garden

“Secret” Garden

Our final year as high school students coincided with her last year as a high school English teacher. A toss-up as to which party was more anxious for May.

Teetering on the edge of irrelevance, she taught from behind her desk, avoided our eyes as much as we did hers. Having just been inducted into the secret society of symbolism, handed the keys to unlocking allusion, challenged to excavate layers of meaning, we now found ourselves returned to prosaic ground. We discussed syntax, or plot. We meandered in a literary land bereft of magic.

My papers — accustomed to ebullient teacher comments in purple pen — were returned with red circles denoting grammar infractions, or simply a grade.

There were times I sensed a sly humor behind that poster, but a glance at her sagging mouth disabused me of any such notion. I caught myself sighing in unison with her. “Tomorrow will be better!”

That poster exhausted me.

Thematic wallpaper at Tipsy Parson

Thematic wallpaper and classic cocktails  at Tipsy Parson

One particular morning, after a late night because a gang of fraternity guys barreled in moments from closing and ordered everything on our fast food menu so we had to re-start the fryer and re-clean the burger slide and re-fill ketchup bottles, after getting home to find Baby Brother “forgot” to make next-day lunches for the younger kids, after jamming through another English paper until the wee hours, an extra-early morning as I was designated carpool driver only to arrive at each pick-up to discover they decided to take their own car and “forgot” to call me, after a McDonald’s drive-thru Diet Coke and a furious cigarette for breakfast, followed by a queasy First Period Trigonometry class during which the teacher’s three-blackboards-full proof proved incorrect and she stood stupefied until the bell rang, after a frustrated conference with my guidance counselor advocating for Ivy Leagues as though my parents could afford or would allow, after walking by a knot of  whispering girls convinced their wrathful eyes were directed at me, I sat in that non-class, stared at that stupid poster, chewed the top of my Bic pen to plastic mush, drew heavy cross-hatched lines in my notebook until the paper tore, and wrote my first (only) poem:

 

view from garden perch

view from garden perch

Tomorrow Will Be Better

so they say.

The Good Old Days are far behind.

It makes one tired to think

that today was once tomorrow

which will, of course,

become

The Best of Times.

 

Winding my way downtown from Javits Convention Center — site of a jam-packed Book Expo America — I found myself wandering by Chelsea hotspot Tipsy Parson  and thought writing “curmudgeon” with an Old Fashioned was a tasty idea.. Tipsy Parson also serves some snackalicious treats (I recommend the Deviled Eggs and for the dietary-restricted, their Vegan/GF Biscuit with Bacon-Maple Jam). If I had been truly thematic this week, would have edited at Cafe Grumpy a few blocks over, but the weather was too delicious to resist writing in one of the “secret” East Village Community Gardens. 

Do you have a favorite word? A special word? A superlative word? Add YOUR word to WordBowl by clicking HERE or filling in the form below. I look forward to writing a story inspired by your word!

straw.

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Our Word of the (Memorial) Day courtesy of Peter Black 

Writer. YouTuber. Poet. 

strawdef

Initial STRAW thoughts (with almond latte)

We reside in dwellings built to withstand the elements, the many guises of the Big Bad Wolf. Whatever the exterior materials — brick, stone, wood, thatch — we craft our personal homes out of possessions purchased expressly for, or carted from previous homesteads in hopes our past will puzzle-piece into our present. We stuff our places with stuff, we recycle, we acquire more, we Spring Clean, we donate, we pack away, we store in closets, garages, attics.

In more extreme moments, watershed moments, we move stuff into storage, pay rent for our stuff to remain incarcerated in buildings constructed solely for the purpose of housing the undesirable, the excess. The unmanageable, managed.

A whole economy of storage. Off-site. Out of sight. Out of mind.

Editing STRAW while sipping a beverage through one

Editing STRAW while sipping a beverage through one

The things we cannot let go of but cannot live with, the mental images of which contract or expand in proportion to emotional associations with the raison d’etre — downsizing, travel, divorce, relocation, death — and your present circumstances. Whether your life today is better or worse than the one you pack away.

You assure yourself it is only temporary. “Temporary” drags into “interim solution”, lags there. You wax philosophical on the nature of ownership. You recall with fondness, or you mourn, the life you had, the times when you and your stuff lived together in harmony, before the discord, before the circumstances, before this, before now.

Just essentials: classic Moleskine, Manhattan

Just essentials: classic Moleskine, Manhattan

You exchange vows with yourself to lead a more simple life, pare down to the essentials.

Despite these intentions, you accumulate more, new trappings devoid of old memories. Necessary stuff, at the point of purchase, the stuff you need just shy of the stuff on hand. This new, virgin stuff is defiled by guilt, becomes simply another thing you have.

You flirt with thoughts of destruction, the stuff slate wiped clean, a fresh stuff start, before a natural disaster occurs — hurricane, tornado, flood — and you panic, desperate to hold on to the physical pieces of your former self. Your personal effects will not be swept away by circumstances beyond your control, you alone will determine their fate.

A major milestone, an urge to purge, some external event spurs you to rip open boxes, burrow into crushed newspaper — How will we pack up our lives when paper is extinct? Will there be an app for that? — unearth once-vital kitchen gadgets, obsolete electronics and their snaking cords, stacks of holiday photo cards with their ghosts of kids Christmases past hallmarking progression towards awkward adolescence when the documentation ceases. A letter, handwritten, smudged, perhaps the last you received, a token of a bygone era, a sender otherwise unremembered.

striking stuff

striking stuff at Rosella

Fewer opportunities to browse through, stumble upon memories as ever more stuff is uploaded to “the cloud” — a wispy metaphor, prone to huffs and puffs — a new storage economy, a new set of fees to release you from responsibility for the stuff formerly held in or on paper, albums, disks, tapes. You collect new stuff to fill the empty shelves.

Physical totems, substantiations of memory. Weighty as memory. Experiences, tastes, aspirations made manifest. Our stuff, our selves.

 

“straw” was built with the assistance of a creamy Counter Culture Almond Latte amongst the indoor foliage at Rosella coffee shop (lower east side), a Classic Manhattan (and a trio of the happiest Happy Hour raw oysters in town) at Black Crescent just a block or so south (lower east side) and edited with a refreshing Reyezuelo at The Wren (bowery). Apparently straw stories require a bevy of beverages. 

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brouhaha.

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Our WordBowl Word-of-the-Day comes to us from the brilliant bloggy brain (and mistress of many talents) behind D’ASCENT  

Brouhahaword

We piled into the El train, Chicago-bound, a motley crew of university freshman jostling for seats, sipping surreptitious Schlitz from paper bags, giddy with the first hints of spring, audacity of skipping class, the prospect of a Cubs double header. The guys’ faces lit with remembrances of boyhood games past, father-son watershed moments. My own face flush as we clattered on the rickety tracks to my first MBL game since my father retired, since I was forced to swap baseball parks for kindergarten classrooms.

Gaming table at Blue Bottle Coffee

Gaming table at Blue Bottle Coffee

We lacked tickets and proper team colors, possessed passable fake IDs. Stopped for Yagermeister shots and beer chasers, scrambled to Wrigley Field, which seemed smaller than the ballparks of my memory. We scored seats, teetered to our section, the cheapest seats in the house, bantered with Bleacher bums.

In the expectant stretch between frenetic arrival and first crack of bat, the guys —and they, we, mostly, guys — traded statistics, debated alternate scenarios had #45 not been injured, brandished hometown affiliations, steadfast beliefs in the superiority of Yankees, Patriots, Cardinals, Dodgers. The bravado of boys.

Unlike the peripheral girls, I was included in the conversation, assumed to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of game history, perfect recall of double plays and near shut-outs. They assumed I, by proximity, possessed the same arcane knowledge as ardent fans.

Harry Carey’s baritone boomed, the crowd arose as one, hands over approximate areas of hearts, stadium swelling with partisan patriotism, fervent belief their team, this season, destined to ascend, World Series Champions.

image courtesy of Ballparks.com

image courtesy of Ballparks.com

From our outfielder vantage point, the players, the monumental men of my youth, appeared in miniature, blips on a screen, like a video game. I choked on my beer, tepid as tea. It had not occurred before, that baseball was a game.

Classic Cubs: valiant struggle, a couple of brilliant plays buried by bouts of bad luck. We shouted for hot dogs and cheered for cold beer. Our winterized skin tinged pink in the weak spring sun. The crowd thinned at the bottom of the sixth, we stayed to the bitter end. I refused to dishonor the players with an early exit.

post-sports bar cocktail

post-sports bar cocktail: SMOKING GUNS

We drank at the bar directly across from Wrigley while fans salved their wounded team pride with post-game beers, back-slapping buddies, sympathetic wives. We rehashed pivotal plays with the panache of pros, unlike the real pros, the ones on the losing end of nine innings. The players with families who know there is no succor for a bobbled ball, mismanaged steal, botched bunt, sure slider breaking into a curve, strike three with the bases loaded. Crucial plays rehashed in endless lacerating loops, punctuated by tossed equipment.

My friends announced — to all within earshot and a few beyond — me as the daughter of a pro ball player, the Cubs fans inhaling with excitement, exhaling disappointment when they failed to recognize his name. I obliged with stories of my father’s legendary teammates, accepted shots from strangers enamored by even this tangential link to their Boys of Summer idols.

American football has fans, basketball ardent followers. FIFA induces worldwide World Cup fever. But baseball, baseball is for believers.

I did — really! — attempt to handwrite this story in a sports bar. I failed (noise, temptation to wager on a game). I did, however, write this with a SMOKING GUNS cocktail (created by Daniel alum Xavier Herit)  at the jewel box of a bar nestled inside Wallflower (west village). Editing took place at the Gotham West Market outpost of Blue Bottle Coffee.

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image courtesy of CubbiesBaseball.com

image courtesy of CubbiesBaseball.com

pleroma.

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A fitting word for this Passover-Easter season, gifted to us by Susan Mesinai, a woman of many lives, many descriptions. I’ll choose one:  WordWarrior.

pleroma

On the muddled side of woozy — smoke, shots, bombastic bass — in one of the interchangeable blues-cum-rock dives populating the street demarcating the division between Chicago proper and my college town, propped against a wall teeming with St. Pauli Girl posters, I found myself next to the recently-graduated object of many a campus crush — hooded eyes, European motorcycle, suggestive mouth — wondering whether or not one of us had said something, if one of us was waiting for a response.

DANDY RIOT cocktail at  Library Bar/Public Theatre.

Library Bar/Public Theatre, writing

Time stretched. I struggled to make the most of this momentous moment, glean some secreted advance knowledge of the post-collegiate real world. Our silence — an eternity, a second — begged for filling. I asked the only question that crawled, clawed through my brain.

“So,” swig, gulp, “What’s life like after college?”

He nodded, resigned to such questions from those left behind, shrugged a leather jacketed shoulder, leaned down, his lips barely a whisper from my ear, and said, “You can read whatever you want.”

I reeled, spun through the crowd, burst through the exit. Gasped.

In the long slog through college prerequisites, lugging textbooks  from class to library — fortress resembling a concrete Battlestar Gallactica — required reading voluminous, Sisyphean stabs at memorization, books became synonymous with desultory study groups, read-for-grade, all-nighters. Syllabi left no room for serendipity, magic, reading absent agenda.

Tantalizing, titillating, readwhateveryouwant.

imagesChildhood, first encounters with block letters, more combination permutations than Legos. My mother and her coterie of sisters (teachers all) taught me to read as a reward for good behavior — picking up toys, proper potty pooping — WORDS! Once I mastered the basics, I had no use for adults. I dragged Let’s Pretend, my favorite book of fairytales, by a corner like a security blanket, utter faith it held the answers to every question I lacked language to ask.

Later, discovery of our small town public library, a building more ancient than Great Aunt Myrtle, dust motes dancing in mottled shafts of light like tipsy Tinkerbelles, a hall of books as hushed as Sacred Heart Church, patrons as reverent as parishioners. Rows of books, a cornucopia of sizes and spines, encased in protective plastic, free. FREE. Mine for the taking, albeit with the responsibility to return, but as the oldest of five children I was accustomed to sharing, well-indoctrinated in the fluidity of ownership.

Books — unlike movies, television, hemlines — unregulated by my Catholic parents otherwise diligent in safeguarding their first child’s soul. Unsupervised access. I took full advantage.

New York Public Library

New York Public Library, ascending

The grade school librarian graduated me to S.E. Hinton and Judy Blume, those first illuminators of the mysterious places between childhood and adulthood. I grew giddy with secret knowledge. I kept quiet. I read promiscuously.

Today, the totality of recorded human expression is at our literal fingertips. But a Google search lacks the transformative power of, say, the old Chicago Public Library, chiseled quotes from great authors extending heavenward, an ascension of words. Or a first pilgrimage to the New York Public Library, lions every bit as majestic and alive as picture book illustrations, the building an agnostic mosque, temple, cathedral. As if simply seeking were a quest worthy of grandeur.

 

“Pleroma” written with a DANDY RIOT cocktail at the Library Bar inside the Public Theater (the temptation to “riot” in a “library” too delicious to resist) and edited, of course, in the main branch of our New York Public Library.

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