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:

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!

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. 

Do you have a word for WordBowl? Click HERE or fill in the form belowI look forward to writing a story for you!

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. 

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gynarchy.

Today’s WordBowl word — which means “rule by women or a woman” — comes to us from “swandancer” who blogs about books, stories & the act of avid reading here

gyn

“Less wife, more woo.”

He leans in, not certain he heard her correctly. She looks up, slurs slightly, “More woo. Less wife. Or vice-versa,” tosses her hair, drains the dregs of her wine.

Retro-ish RYE SOUR at the retro-ish Joe Doe & Misses Doe (east village)

Retro RYE SOUR at the creatively retro Joe & Misses Doe

He nods at the bartender for another, peels off cash, signaling he’ll take care of whatever tab she’s run up. She takes the nod to be assent, smiles, launches into a story he only half-hears — I…worthy of woo-ing — his hearing off lately, sounds drop out or consonants reverberate, obliterating the adjacent vowels.

His father often bellows, getting old ain’t for sissies, as though to reinforce, again, his stature as one of the last Real Men who fought in real wars, returned home, built business empires, fathered pampered children who, failing to achieve greatness on their own, merely — barely — managed inherited business handed to them on platinum platters.

His mother insists he ignore his father, he was always her special boy, her only boy after a succession of daughters. But maybe his father is right, about aging. Or not entirely wrong.

WordBowl writing view, winter 2014

WordBowl view, Snowmeggedon 2014

The woman he is not officially dating snuggles against his chest, he kisses her lightly, she tastes like wine and something else, familiar, but the sense evaporates before he can name it. Her tongue lingers on his lower lip, he is forgiven.

He should not have gone off about his wife, but the woman is unhinged, her deranged demands requiring a level of attention nearly equal to when he was living in what he still considers his home. At least now he is in the city, with all it has to offer, right outside his door, within walking — or taxi-ing — distance.

He no longer hurls himself onto the last train, or worse, drives himself to their stately “commuter town” where the pulse of the city is too faint to feel, hemmed in by perpetually manicured yards and garages housing vestiges of aborted home improvement projects.

laptop editing at croissanteria (east village)

laptop editing at croissanteria

She presses against him, lifts expectant lips, mouth seeking some promise from him, but he hesitates, his twins are coming tomorrow, the reason he did not plan a formal date tonight. But after diffusing the latest wife-spewed text bombs, he deserved a drink, and since she had messaged him… He is reasonably confident she understands they are not exclusive — he’s not even divorced yet, for starters —despite the number of nights they wind up in his still-unsettled apartment, her not young but oh-so-crucially younger, well-tended skin and eager mouth and pre-menopausal pussy offered up like a reward for him being a decent, still-good looking guy with an at-the-ready credit card.

His daughters, he cannot risk them seeing a woman leaving his apartment, thinking he is having a post-midlife crisis. This was never about another woman. Or potential women, with all their tantalizing, within-grasping possibilities.

He just needs to breathe. Get out from under the judgment, the perpetual disappointment. Escape the vise of others’ devising choking any hope of hope out of him.

Be his own man.

This week’s piece — written amidst another blizzard — truly took a village. The East Village, that is. In honor of Valentine’s Day, “gynarchy” was handwritten at what was formerly JoeDoe, but post-wedding is Joe & Misses Doe where they are dishing up some seriously scrumptious updated comfort food and cocktails. Edited at Croissanteria with the aroma of fresh-baked croissants wafting by. 

Do you you want to participate? Drop your WordBowl word 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:

calligraphy.

On the eve of her annual sojourn to the Land of Oz, today’s wordspiration is from The Madam Editrix, who provided the initial word (and initial kick in the tuckus) to catapult WordBowl into existence. 

images-1

Invitation arrives, weighty with wealth, prestige. Hand-addressed, hand-delivered. Presented with a slight bow, in homage to or in mockery of the customs his doorman imagines he performs on business overseas.

He runs a thumb over the envelope. His name rendered in royal script, princely. Bridal professional? Kiss-ass assistant? Younger sister? Female, surely.

some evenings, the muse requires scrumptious snacks

Scrumptious snacks, Lafayette

His early teachers disparaged his crabbed writing, his inability to marshal lines and curves into proper formation, bestowed favored smiles and desired grades upon the neat, self-satisfied girls who stayed between the lines.

Worthless, he can laugh now, handwriting obsolete. Typing, though, had he the prescience to take that “girls elective”. But even this, less vital, shrinking keyboards, adaptive keyboards. Soon a team — ideally one of theirs — will definitively crack speech recognition translation. Most things in which girls excelled in school have no bearing on success today. So he wasted no time learning useless crap.

She always teased he was too regimented to recognize artistry, too focused on the prize to appreciate the journey. She could afford to say such rich phrases, toss them as casually as bar tips.

They met his first day teaching English in a bustling town on the Sea of Japan. Post-undergrad Gap Year (her), Make-Money-for-Grad-School (him). He sought a posting with the best salary-to-cost-of-living ratio, hustled for private clients on the side. She came for their fabled gardens, practiced her shodo — “the way of writing” — without learning the language.

McNally Bookstore Cafe

Skyview, McNally Jackson Bookstore Cafe

Months ricocheting between museums, incomprehensible Butoh performances, Ishikawa festivals. Once, bullet train to Tokyo, Roppongi district, karaoke. Desultory kisses between final sips of beer and ordering that for-real last sake. She assumed his admiration, acquired his admiration as she did souvenirs, brushes, tissue-thin sheets of gold leaf. He acquiesced to acquisition. Her skin tasted like fragrant tea.

At the end, he drew the line when she suggested tattoos commemorating their shared experience. His real life had yet to begin, he wanted no permanent marks. Consented to her drawing on his forearm, swirls and symbols, in what she claimed was indelible ink. His arm startled him for days afterwards. Even after vigorous scrubbing it remained a ghostly presence, until vanishing altogether without him noticing.

She globe-trotted, he ladder-climbed. They reconnected after she joined her father’s company. He often scrolled through her status updates, no longer needing to imagine. His fantasies gave way to the immediacy of her publicly shared intimacies.

Barview, Lafayette

Barview, Lafayette

He has no compulsion to broadcast his own status. He’s done well, catapulted out of the middle-class morass, parlayed his pre-career teaching into an asset, specializes in Asian markets. Allows himself an occasional regret of favoring Japan over China, that fateful first adult choice.

She will waltz down the aisle towards her inevitable husband, her life preordained by privilege. One of his mentors’ wives will set him up with someone suitable. He has time, plenty of time, to establish a family of his own.

He harbors no illusions as to her being “the one that got away”. She was never his to lose.

This piece was penned at Lafayette, the latest in Andrew Carmellini’s burgeoning restaurant empire. My vote for best frites in Manhattan (deviled eggs divine as well). 

Edited on a snowy day, mesmerized by the ceiling of McNally Jackson Bookstore Cafe in Soho. 

Do you want to play the WordBowl word lottery? Toss in a word!

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)

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redemption.

Today’s wordspiration courtesy of Kim Guidone, wildlife conservationist, book-to-film interpreter, inveterate optimist.

re

Lobsters scuttling in the fridge, par-fried potatoes resting on sodden paper towels awaiting a final oil-dunk to crisp into golden fries, oysters shucked and chilling on ice, cheeses slumping on a wooden board, ready to ooze at the slightest touch. White tulips — her favorite— lounging in a low vase.

Christmas Eve repast, Old School.

Oyster experimentation at Apartment 13 (avenue c, east village)

Oyster experimentation at Apartment 13 (avenue c, east village)

His first holiday as an adult not spent sweating in an industrial kitchen or slinging drinks behind a bar. Sure, he wishes he had the cash to take her out, but scratch is scarce during this in-between — quit a job without another lined up, stupid prick — but he’s sorted now, new gig starts New Year’s and he’s conjured an ideal meal, complete with champagne, the real stuff, a bottle comp’d by an ambitious beverage sales rep, new job congrats.

Ringing in the New Year with a new job, celebrating Christmas with the right girl. It is as though the universe has deigned to smile upon him.

After many years of not.

She was adamant about the no gifiing. In deference, he assumes, to these recent unemployed weeks. Touchy weeks, he went to a few dark places, all the historical stuff burbling in his gut. Lost it a time or two, after a drink too far. He didn’t go mean, though, not to her, he’s been on both sides of mean, he will not perpetrate mean, again. Long steeped in therapized psychobabble, he is well-versed in the typical trajectory of abused to abuser. He will not to become another psychological statistic.

unseasonable window seat weather, bluebird coffee shop

Their first Christmas together, his first holidays with anyone other than hospitality comrades coming off of late shifts, blowing the night’s tips. This anomaly year — his, forced, hers, choice — a Christmas like normal people. A normal couple. A couple with normal expectations: cohabitation, marriage, kids. Or a dog, at least. Unfathomable expectations, but she brings out his most optimistic self.

He is even embracing kale, at her behest. Raw kale.

His most chivalrous self, too, outlaid more cash then ever to squire her around — her friends, too — treat her in the manner to which he assumes her corporate lawyer self is accustomed. She is quick on the uptake, her laugh contains more notes than most symphonies, her breath-taking breasts enticing, consoling, terrifying by turns. She appreciates his puns, even the worst ones. Soul mates, she says, eyes sparkling, sparking a stirring in some unused part of him to believe in something beyond tangible, like fate or destiny.

Now he knows he was right, that time, years ago. Dodged a bullet. Wrong girl, right decision. Her choice, of course, but he pushed. Hard. Her indecision, her disavowed but deeply ingrained Catholicism, holding them both hostage. Someone had to make the hard call, shoulder the blame.

Somehow, despite the odds, he held out for something — better, more — and it is here, within his grasp. As long as he keeps himself from fucking it all up.

His own personal Christmas Miracle wish: That past, atoned. This future, possible.

“Redemption” initially handwritten with a Happy Hour Oyster Pairing (I did the sherry-and-oysters) at the bar of the most amiable Apartment 13 (east village) and edited over a nutty Americano at Bluebird Coffee Shop (east village) 

it's all in the editing...

redemption story, revised

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