synapse(s).

This is a WordBowl first: A retelling of a story originally posted in 2014. I recently participated in a literary event at NYC’s legendary KGB Bar, and in preparation for my reading of tech-related stories, I reworked the original “synapse” as my opening piece. Let me know what you think. Happy Reading! 

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synapsebowl

The point at which electrical signals move from one nerve cell to another.

Origin: New Latin synapsis, from Greek synapten “to fasten together”

Word credit to Chis Brake of the eponymous entertainment talk radio show and podcast streaming from Indianapolis http://chrisbrakeshow.com/

Going Old School: Sazerac with an Absinthe sidecar

Going Old School: Sazerac with an Absinthe sidecar

First flirtation with technology began with a suggestive note wedged into my locker by a heretofore casual buddy M, followed by an illicit rendezvous in the computer lab known to be empty between First Period (M’s class) and Last Period (mine). Fumbling initial attempt to access what M called a mainframe and, once in, copy M’s program, tweak, save under my name, day’s assignment complete before I slid into my seat for roll call.  We snuck glances at each other, suddenly shy, smiled. Bonded by this audacious act, we needed no words. Still, M leaned in, breath tangy, whispered so now could you write my Great Gatsby paper for me?

We slipped surreptitious from the room, first M then, after counting to sixty to avoid suspicion, me, face flushed.

“Hacker” not yet in our lexicon, “hack” a term for the talentless, people who produced low-quality work or quit because they lacked the right stuff.

We had given computing class a shot, playing it straight, but weeks of basic BASIC instruction resulted only in dot-matrix printouts of numerical patterns: boxes, circles, ghosts. It appeared we would go no further than to make not-so-pretty pictures, although when spring hit, just shy of graduation, we learned to create computations, write programs that calculated actual mathematical results, which hinted at some powerful, if not exactly profound, alchemy.

toby'smechanicmagic

Mechanics behind the Magic: Toby’s Estate Coffee

This  trade of access to his programming for access to my writing — which may have been frowned upon had school administrators caught wind — was in today’s business parlance a savvy practice of “maximizing our resources” or “leveraging our respective core strengths”. We were ahead of our time. We were living the future.

In retrospect, I might have chosen more wisely, become the lead technologist, made him the English Lit guru. Had I known what those 1s and 0s would wreak.

I was bewitched by this computing backdoor, a function that bent time and space, allowed me to explore the landscape of a novel while my classmates tippytippytapped on their keyboards. I escaped the classroom confines for nearly an hour, returned to reality as the bell rang, a weekday Tesseract.

The worlds conjured by coders still decades in the future, the future which is now our society’s past, our ever-iterating present. It was beyond my ken to envision worlds erected out of numbers instead of letters, fabricated not by authors but by engineers and profiteers.

Serious coffee. Serious edit.

Serious coffee. Serious edit.

Flash forward, Bay Area, early 1990s, the emerging tech wave cresting-to-boom, me at a magazine start-up covering all that emerged from Apple’s campus on 1 Infinite Loop. We styled ourselves mavericks, us Macintosh advocates, the fashionable underdogs in the Great PC Wars. We evangelized the virtues of our closed operating system — a pure play, no glitchy underlying DOS — and we were design-smug about our hardware, too.

Boilermaker Round Two

Boilermaker: Round Two

We traded tech tips — tricks to unlock hidden software Easter Eggs, keystroke shortcuts — the talk of tech still about tech itself, even as the hedonism of the first IPO era loomed and “tech tips” became synonymous with Wall Street trades.

Even before the commercial internet, we were plugged in, wired, connected. Our rarified air crackled with possibility, all possibilities, radiating out from our Bay Area epicenter. Casual conversations over hoppy IPAs sparked sideline projects, engineering equivalents of garage bands. For the guys, that is, the programmers, the ones who wrote the code. We women, peripheral people — regulated to PR, CSM, marketing — until we were needed to write their stories.

 

Boilermaker has hacked the craft cocktail scene, how else to explain their seriously top-shelf concoctions served with seriously unpretentious flare? Bonus points to this East Village bar for boasting an ENTIRE MENU of Boilermakers and extending their oh so easily rationalized as the-more-you-drink-the-more-you-save Happy Hour specials ’til 8pm.

All that Happy Hour writing required some serious next-day editing, so I settled into a widow seat at Toby’s Estate, the Brooklyn-based roaster who has (thankfully!) opened a Manhattan outpost in the West Village.

If you’d like to revisit the original “synapse.” post, click here.

synapse

 Do you have a word for WordBowl? Use the form below! I look forward to diving into your word world!

pleroma.

Those of us on the East Coast have been cozied up at home while Jonas raged. Some of us curled up with a pile of books, which leads us to day’s WordBowl Wednesday Reprise: 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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satiate.

Weekend WordBowl/Reprise

The high holidays are upon us, encouraging all manner of indulgences. And over-indulgences. Thus today’s word: 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!

fabulous.

WordBowl Wednesday/Reprise

It’s that fabulous time of the year! And look what I discovered in the WordBowl archives: FABULOUS.  So amidst celebrating the season with dear friends here in Manhattan, taking a moment to toast to Gal Pals across the globe…

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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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elixir.

WordBowl Wednesday Reprise in honor of Colman Domingo’s birthday (HappyHappy!). Colman’s WordBowl Word, ELIXIR, proved challenging: an ancient term for a substance that could transform metal into gold or prolong life indefinitely, what could be a modern equivalent?

Originally written a year ago as he decamped NYC for London, this post is hitting as he flys off to shoot Season 2 of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD. As of last season’s cliffhanger, he is not yet a zombie…

Speaking of the dearly departed, two of the three establishments featured in this story are no longer part of the vibrant downtown Manhattan scene. RIP. 

On the eve of his departure to London for a limited engagement of his award-winning solo show, A Boy & His Soul (Tricycle Theatre) and to reprise his Tony-nominated role in The Scottsboro Boys (Young Vic), WordBowl Word-of-the-Day “elixir” from

Colman Domingo

Actor. Playwright. Director. Photographer. Collaborator. Creator.

ElixirWord

Fingers dancing, racing, drumming syncopating — almost, close — to the bombastic beats in his brain, crazy code streaming, screaming from his fingertips, he is in the zone, the Matrix, he is the Matrix, master, architect, builder, creator, executor.

He can’t type fast enough, he will go faster, faster, his head and his computer one beating organism. He barely, briefly pauses to throw back his spiked Red Bull, tepid and sickly slicking down his throat, chin. ClickClackClicketyTap. Focused. Clear. KILLING IT.

Way better than the skid-skittery of his last Adderall stint, this new stuff, this mixing of Old/New, this all-nighter in the company bullpen, solo flying, solo dancing with the pressure on — big money meet in the a.m. — he is ON, he is SHIT.

Nooooooooooooooooshittyshitshit.

OLOROSO SANGRE TRABEJADERO Sherry, elixir of the gods, a vacation to Spain without leaving the barstool (The Beagle, nyc)

OLOROSO SANGRE TRABEJADERO Sherry, elixir of the gods, a vacation to Spain without leaving the barstool (The Beagle, nyc)

Stop. He has not Lost It. Back up. Review. Line by line. Scan. See. Eliminate. Edit. Fixityfixfix. Stop. Crack the whole thing wide open. Follow the trail, follow the trail, follow the code, get inside the code, imbue the code with his secretsauce, chase himself down the rabbit hole all the way to Wonderland, find it, FOUND IT, the kernel, the essence, the key to NEXT, the frontier beyond Web 2.0, even 3.0, this is Fourth Dimension shit. Shift the course of human interaction, evolution. Fundafuckingmental.

And his code, clean, a sparkling stream.

He shouts into the void, Oh HELL YEAH. He needs to wii or drum, both of which are available at his apartment, but he has been cited — multiple citations — neighbor complaints, those J.O.B. nine-to-fivers objecting to his unregimented bursts of stimulation, inspiration.

As if the gods, the muses, punch a timeclock.

When this hits, he’ll buy the building, kick them all to the curb. Fill it with people like him. He high-fives an invisible friend, champion. Himself.

This is REVOLUTION, they will usher in a whole new way to engage, absorb information. Jack-streamed into the bloodstream, the infostream.

LEMON VERBENA SAZERAC (oh-so-subtle iteration of the classic) at Saxon & Parole

LEMON VERBENA SAZERAC (oh-so-subtle iteration of the classic) at Saxon & Parole

The ultimate algorithm, every moment of interaction exclusive to you, encasing you in a sentient bubble, sensing and synthesizing data, bespoke knowledge, interactivity not just tailored to but designed for your specific needs, tastes, desires, both articulated and innate.

Texts his co-founder, sleeping in preparation for the big meet tomorrow — today? —with the potential new VCs, because this is the forshizzleshit.

Times like this he wishes he smoked.

Dashes to the kitchen for a beer, keg tapped out, nothing in the fridge as they await the bridge financing to take them to the other side and he has done it, DONE IT, you-centric Nirvana and whoever — his co-founder, the Board, the VCs — will figure out the monetization shit cuz this is MIDAS.

Forget the Fountain of Youth, immortality. This life, this mortal life, with you at the center, served by data as acolytes once served the gods.

God of You. Served by the stream.

He sits down. Thrums thumbs against thighs. Pours himself back into the flow, coding towards You-topia.

The (hand)writing of “elixir” required inspirational cocktails at Saxon & Parole (on the Bowery, nyc) & some stimulating sherry at The Beagle (Yes, again! There’s cocktail alchemy going on behind the bar) as well as superlative caffeine at Bowery Coffee

Bowery Coffee

Bowery Coffee

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continuity.

Spent the week on a series of phone calls with a Louisiana-based children’s media company, which inspired recollections of my own Bayou-based childhood memories. Went thought the WordBowl archives to unearth this one for #ThrowbackThursday:

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

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jocularity.

Back-to-School season is upon us (where oh where did the summer fly off to?) and although NYC remains summer sultry, I find myself reminiscing about southern school days…

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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. 

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