rad.

 

WordBowl readers (you wonderful people) may note it has been a bit since I last posted a piece. I’ll admit to feeling a bit under-motivated — not from the intriguing words you’ve submitted, this is ennui is entirely on me! — and in an effort to haul myself out of this funk, I turned to someone whose ingenuity and imagination is always catalyst for insightful conversation. His own art practice invigorated by an unanticipated sojourn to an unfamiliar coastline,  I asked if he would be willing to share something with me — us, since I’m now sharing with all of you — so in lieu of a “wordspiration” today’s WordBowl story is inspired by a person (the artist RAD Etc.) and a (digital) painting.

This became a traveler’s tale, conceived in a New York City winter storm, drafted in mild Miami, written on airplanes, edited in frigid Philadelphia and polished in a weather-less Las Vegas hotel lobby amidst throngs of tourists and conventioneers.

 

Charlie Inspiration

©Raùl Aktanov-Domingo

PawPaw materialized middle of the night, catching us unawares in whatever city my father happened to be playing — Houston, Tacoma, Phoenix during Spring Training — smelling of salt and wind and smelt and grease despite the industrial soap vigorously applied in deference to his return to civilization, laden with treasures and tales. Departed middle of the night as well, to rejoin his ship or hop another, willing to stoke furnaces, repair engines in the bowels of any barge bound for exotic lands, lands far-far away from his Louisiana home, his wife and family.

PawPaw did not vacation, he voyaged.

Initial story scribbling...

Initial story scribbling…

He passed while I was still young enough to stare at my map of The Land of Make Believe and convince myself my grandfather was merely on another expedition. He left me, the oldest child of a burgeoning super-sized family, with wisps of memories, a trove of riches — extravagantly embroidered kimonos, soft berets with crayon-colored pom-poms, ivory-inlaid chess set— and stories. Stories I conflated with those of Sinbad, Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, Jules Verne. And the myths of Poseidon, Neptune.

I wholeheartedly believed his a hero’s journey.

NYC view as I started to scribble...

NYC view as I started to scribble…

Nomadic baseball years came to an abrupt 1970’s recession-restricted end, my father settling us into a landlocked Southern town I prayed was mere prelude to exalted destiny. I missed the seasonal rhythms of my mother and I trailing my father bus-highway-ballparkairport-motel, our once-epic road trips reduced to day-long visits to the nearby beach towns along the Mississippi Gulf – Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport — where battered buildings, residents still testified to the horrors of Hurricane Camille. I stared at the desultory dishwater-colored waves dragging detritus upon silt that passed for sand, doubting these same waters could be capable of either — destruction, adventure — wondering if perhaps I had misunderstood the stories.

Miami view, story shaping

Miami view, story shaping

Adulthood, peak of what we did not yet know would be the first dot-com boom, living on the edge of an ocean my 24/7 job crisscrossing the country hardly afforded me time to see, I hopped a last-minute flight to join friends in Thailand, ferried to Koh-Phi-Phi, an island in the Andaman Sea. Determined to avail myself of the advertised too-good-to-be-legal temporary PADI “Vacation Certification” — the waters my PawPaw sailed upon I would dive below — despite my utter lack of preparation and propensity to hold my breath while thinking. After some minutes of basic scuba instruction and much flirtatious banter, I slid a fan of rainbow-hued bhat to the Aussie Dive Master/Instructor/Pitchman, who announced with a wink I passed the qualification test with flying colors, recommended I get a good night sleep. Unless I cared to join him for Happy Hour.

Miami view, story shaping

Miami view, story shaping

Dockside, dawn streaking over limestone peaks jutting up from the sea like a maritime Stonehenge, a surly American female dive master subbing for the Aussie charmer who broke both wrists toppling off a barstool, un-amused by a newbie among experienced divers. To keep me occupied while she led the real divers on their initial descent, she suggested-commanded I snorkel around our anchored boat, was even less amused upon return to learn a jellyfish had wrapped itself around my arm, leaving swollen henna-bright tattoos trailing from shoulder to fingertips. A novice’s Scarlet Letter.

Shadow-edged clouds billowed across a storybook sky, holding promises of relentless sunshine or possibly a brief burst of rain, like summers in Louisiana, a quick cry followed by a laugh of relief. On deck, divers jockeying, joking, rival comrades telling tall tales of exotic locales, rare specimen sightings, daring feats of diving do. Two men — a Danish Diving Duo — took pity, drew me into the circle as I cast about for an underwater tale of my own.

Miami view, story shaping

Miami view, story shaping

And I did! Years before, a friend — appalled by my never having taken a day off, much less a vacation — dragged me her family home on Oahu. We drank beachside Mai-Tais, sampled Spam sushi, visited a volcano. Pilgrimaged to Hanauma Bay, a snorkeling paradise known for sea turtles, emphatic signs posted along sinewy path from parking lot to beach, No Touching, No Touching! NO TOUCHING. Inaugural snorkel, I spied a Moray Eel, instinctively backed away, bumped into something behind me, turned. Face-to-face with a massive sea turtle.

I mimed apologies. He — assumed “he” — patted my gesticulating arm, pushed me along, fin gentle but insistent, guided us around dense formations of coral and fauna, between crevices and underneath reefs, past swaying seaweed fields, further and further, further than I would have dared on my own, my exclaims muffled by silicone mouthpiece. After some time — hours, I later discovered — my turtle steered us to shore, patted my back, glided away.

IMG_4063

Desktop view, editing on airplane

Danish Diving Duo appeared if not impressed, suitably appreciative. Surly Substitute Dive Master roused herself, called to me, readied us for our tandem dive. I tried not to think of wombs, umbilical cords as I acclimated to ambulating with flippered feet, Surly Substitute pointing at underwater landmarks, a perfunctory tourist guide.

Philly view, story editing

Philly view, story editing

I had yet to acclimate to the weighty weightlessness, the suspension of time and gravity while reminding myself to breathe-1-2-3, when a thresher shark darted between us, slipping underneath our tether. Surly Substitute motioned up-up-up. Back to boat, her announcement sent group scrabbling for gear, a rare sighting worthy of future tales.

Still leashed, we descended again. I watched the other divers moving as if in a dream, a buoyant ballet accompanied by breathy Darth Vader symphony echoing in my helmet. In an ungainly attempt to dodge a school of fish speeding towards some unseen goal, I backed up, flippered furiously to avoid touching the living coral, felt a pressure on my back. Humiliated — Surly Substitute would surely use my near-manhandling of precious, precarious nature as excuse to terminate our dive — I turned, found myself face-to-face with a sea turtle.

Surely, not the same one.

Greeting me at the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport

Greeting me at the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport

He — again, presumption — placed flipper between my shoulder blades, nudged me along, we undulated together, Surly Substitute trailing behind, tugging at leash, hand signals incomprehensible, as my turtle guide — uninterested in her — continued to prod, look here, and at that, and that, returned me to boat, patted my rump, swam away.

Ride back to Koh Pi Pi, no longer the outcast, divers and crew gathered around for me to tell the tale again, and again. Dreams that night vivid, peaceful. Rose before dawn, departure for Bangkok imminent, I sat solo on the soft sand watching waves lap shore, water reflecting, refracting, sunrise of fairytale hues, magic and myth shimmering not only beyond the horizon, but thrumming below the surface.

Charlie Inspiration

©Raùl Aktanov-Domingo

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

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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).

Do you have a word for WordBowl? Click HERE.

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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thanksgiving.

In honor of today’s celebrations of friends, family, and food, a Thanksgiving WordBowl Story:

 

Cocktail inspiration, close-up

Cocktail inspiration, close-up

While Christmas preparations commenced in earnest while we were still polishing off leftover Turkey sandwiches oozing with cranberry-slathered stuffing, Thanksgiving itself seemed to sneak up upon us. My mother frantic, me at her elbow, eventually side-by-side, kitchen maelstrom fraught with urgency of emergency, as though in the midst of creation rather than recreation of our time-honored meal, my father a stickler for tradition.

Day of, mother up at dawn, tussling with turkey that would be carved before hitting table, our Thanksgivings lacked for show-stopping Kodak moments. Sideboard groaning with French bread dressing, cornbread stuffing courtesy of Pepperidge Farms, sweet potatoes topped with pecans, brown sugar, miniature marshmallows — more Thanksgiving s’mores than vegetable dish — yams mashed tart with orange juice, Uncle Ben’s wild rice, creamed spinach with crisp parmesan crust, green beans swimming in Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom topped with fried onions sprung from a can, cranberry sauce from scratch, giblet gravy congealing in porcelain boat.

Dear Irving Dream Team

Dear Irving Dream Team

My first turn hostessing Thanksgiving thrust upon me senior year by my college buddy SVF — already graduated, nominally employed — who invited himself for the weekend, arrived Thanksgiving Eve, horrified to discover I had yet to shop. After a couple of drinks we hit Dominick’s, out of luck when it came to fresh cranberries — I refused to entertain the canned suggestion of the solitary stock boy sweeping the aisle — but otherwise we were well-stocked to recreate my mother’s annual feast, with the addition of brie slathered in apricot jam and baked in puffed pastry, an unctuous melding of savory and sweet served at a sorority sister’s family holiday party, which I considered the height of sophistication.

We swung by the all-night video store — this the era of film buff video clerks judging VCR rental choices— to stock up on movies, too. Up at crack of dawn to get the turkey trussed, racked. SVF stumbling down for the Inaugural Bloody Mary, cooking interspersed with Hitchcock double-header. Joined by my collegiate BFF and stragglers who called in hopes of something happening, the perpetually-tapped keg on my porch the stuff of campus legend. We ate ourselves beyond silly, settled in for Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, toasted to our adulthood.

Sunrise turkey trussing and Bloodies, good friends, movie marathons, surprise guests. Thanksgiving Template established.

Elsewhere Editing

Elsewhere Editing

Post-college San Francisco, refurbished Victorian, three roommates playing grown-ups, guests marveling at our butler’s pantry. Blood Simple, Hitchcock. Another year, another apartment, sweeping views of the Golden Gate, a vegetarian, a vegan, several avid carnivores and a last-minute guest from Piemonte who argued with me over proper risotto preparation. Someone ended up with a salad plopped atop their head.

What would be the final San Francisco feast, 20 guests, my producing partner and I trading drafts of a grant proposal between kitchen shifts. Familiar mix of artists, engineers, animators. Last minute guest from NASA. Movies, probably something artsy before the now-obligatory Hitchcock.

image

Cocktail inspiration, close-up

New York, New York, Thanksgiving in restaurants, late night movies solo, Netflix queue manipulated in anticipation. Upstate, once San Francisco compatriots migrated east in search of an affordable artful life, my culinary responsibilities reduced to a single dish.

Coupledom, our own traditions. Bloody Mary breakfast, theatre movie matinee, Peking Duck snacks.

Post coupledom, family tradition, albeit that of my best friend from college, the family who long ago introduced me to French dining and — after a Pretty Woman moment — how to properly eat escargot. All of us now tending toward grey. High-rise with a view, exquisitely prepared dishes, discreetly decanted wines. Post-meal, collegiate BFF slumber party, scanning OnDemand for a movie, reminiscing about the original Willie Wonka, debating favorite Hitchcock.

I am thankful for all the bartenders, proprietors and hospitality folks who support WordBowl by providing me spaces to write, and scrumptious inspirational treats to accompany the scribbling. This holiday posting was written at two of my go-to spots: Dear Irving for cocktail inspiration from the Dream Team, and Elsewhere Espresso for fuel to finish. 

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. 

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.

σύμπαν

On the eve of my annual Southern Sojourn, a #ThrowbackThursday reprisal from last summer’s missive scribbled between Sazeracs and Hushpuppies. 
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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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