straw.

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

Writer. YouTuber. Poet. 

strawdef

Initial STRAW thoughts (with almond latte)

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

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

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

Editing STRAW while sipping a beverage through one

Editing STRAW while sipping a beverage through one

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

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

Just essentials: classic Moleskine, Manhattan

Just essentials: classic Moleskine, Manhattan

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

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

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

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

striking stuff

striking stuff at Rosella

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

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

 

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

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brouhaha.

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

Brouhahaword

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

Gaming table at Blue Bottle Coffee

Gaming table at Blue Bottle Coffee

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

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

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

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

image courtesy of Ballparks.com

image courtesy of Ballparks.com

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

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

post-sports bar cocktail

post-sports bar cocktail: SMOKING GUNS

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

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

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

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

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image courtesy of CubbiesBaseball.com

image courtesy of CubbiesBaseball.com

hyperbole.

Our word today brought to us by Louise Gikow, New York denizen and Emmy Award-ed author-composer, who’s many accomplishments can be found on the Muppet Wiki (don’t we all wish we were Muppet Wiki worthy?) as well as her writerly website

hyperbole

The Twitterverse had hardly calmed itself from the sharp shock of an East Coast earthquake before rumors of Hurricane Irene thrashed their way across the media landscape.

homehyperbole

Hand-editing at home

Earthquakes and hurricanes in Manhattan? Preposterous. I was born on a fault line, raised in a hurricane zone. I chose NYC, agreed to weather the winters and sweat through the summers, in part because the city did not rumble or splinter without provocation, did not have a season devoted equally to football scores and hurricane watches.

But our generation of New Yorkers had lived through unfathomable. We would not be caught unawares again.

The tracking of Irene commenced, hurricane-anticipation as prone to wild fluctuations and rumor as the New York Stock Exchange, “Tropics Watch” in place of stock ticker. Local newscasters breathless with unfamiliar directives, city mandates to gird ourselves against the onslaught. Mayor Bloomberg held a news conference, but I was too busy packing for my annual Southern Family Tour to watch.

Tea tag wordsmiths  obviously do not reside in NYC.

Tea tag wordsmiths obviously do not reside in NYC.

I discovered my neighborhood was an Evacuation Zone via a text message offering a place to crash. I LOL’d back. The city grew restless with anticipation under mostly clear skies. I left downtown friends stockpiling supplies, heading to higher lands like Harlem or Vermont, cocktailing in anticipation of a citywide shutdown. The voice of experience, I recommended books  — handy entertainment in the event of power failure — and red wine, no refrigeration required.

My mother met me with the latest radio rumors. I hauled my beleaguered suitcase from baggage claim with silent appreciation for the trustworthiness of entrepreneurial New Yorkers, my money well-spent.

Every television blazed — CNN, Fox News, Weather Channel — in my parents’ home as we watched the crab-crawl of the pixilated swirl to shore. News anchors speculated the potential damage of external air conditioning units being wrenched away by wind, falling skyscrapers, unmoored kiosks. My parents retold storm stories in tandem —terrorizing winds, powerlessness, Y2K cache justified at last — picking at the scabs of Katrina wounds.

4e579dca0f330.imageI accompanied my family to a church on the outskirts of New Orleans for Latin Mass. The congregation prayed for the safety of New York City, prayed for Manhattan’s soul. They clasped their hands and canted, faces upturned, eyes clouded with too-recent history, emotions clear. I joined them, if not in prayer, then in hope.

Hurricane Irene, de-categorized to “storm” by landfall, crashed into other states, pelted New York City with familiar rains. New Yorkers resumed standard skepticism. A hurricane hitting Manhattan, what a preposterous notion.

 

HYPERBOLE was handwritten and edited with home-brewed coffee & tea, as I experienced an unfortunate staircase/stiletto incident and apparently slippers are not appropriate cocktail or coffee attire unless one remains indoors.  I look forward to resuming my regular WordBowl writing in venues across NYC next week. 

The only footwear that fits: Bee Slippers

The only footwear that fits: Bee Slippers

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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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flagellate.

This Ash Wednesday WordBowl Word of the Day — FLAGELLATE —  courtesy L. Fragner.                Who simply defies description. 

Moscow Mule at Moscow 57

Moscow Mule at Moscow 57

You dwell in the Land of If.

If only I had picked-up-the-phone divined-the-signs responded-to-the-message left-earlier left-later never-left tried-better demanded-more shouted-less fought-harder fought-smarter found-the-right-words said-the-right-thing. Loved greater.  

 Maybe if I…

In the Land of If, you wade along the Shore of Should, where verb tenses collide, what you should have done, what protocols demand you should do now.

You cannot remember what came before, the life you so assumptively lived. Sound and air distort, as if you are underwater, suspended, people darting in and out, circling around as you hold your breath. Breathing, laborious, an exacting effort, complex orchestration of organs, body parts, diaphragm, ribs, chest, lungs, esophagus, lips.

Lips with which you once kissed, once reveled in kisses, once tipped your fingers to, remembering, the touchstone of that first kiss, before kisses bruised, tasted of futility, failure.

MoscowLights

Moscow Lights

You are careful whom you tell, you take care in the telling, but this news slips from your control, gushes like gossip. People leave messages, send digital missives, tasteful cards. You respond so as not to incur more guilt for being unresponsive. They are kind. They say hello, head tilted, extra syllables. They ask, how are you, voices lowering, eyes sliding away, because while this is a normal greeting, these are not normal times, how are you an actual question, a loaded invitation.

Perhaps you told too many people. Perhaps your colleagues wish they could just ask you for the report or update you on the latest developments without first inquiring, gently, how are you?

Rhetorical questions, rhetorical answers. No point in going into detail. You are toxic, you should secret yourself away from the true friends and good people with enviable lives and secure spouses and aspirational children, in order to ensure you do not infect the unafflicted.

Cobbling together scribbles from two notebooks at Why Not?

Cobbling together scribbles from two notebooks at Why Not?

They say, feel your feelings. You do not feel, not the expected feelings, so you fail at this, too.

You distrust the pills handed to you to induce sleep or anesthetize your basic chemistry. You turn to your steady friend, booze, but there is not enough alcohol in all the world to drown out the noise in your head.

Still, solo, you find yourself having a drink in unfamiliar places where you will not be recognized. A stranger asks, how are you, their eyes bright with desire to tell you their stories, stories sheened by years of practice. They look directly at you but they do not see you for what you are, an open wound, crying to be cauterized. You tell yourself that is why you are here, just another anonymous barfly.

You long for pain, corporeal pain, to pierce the numb. A single searing pain to lacerate the dense nothingness pressing from all sides. Simple pain. Graspable pain. Understandable pain. Pain with precedent. A physical sting so sharp you have no choice but to respond, Pavlovian. Pain that only marks your skin. Pain you can move through and past, to a place where pain is just a memory.

Staring up to the ceiling at Why Not?

Ceiling view, Why Not?

“flagellate” handwritten on a bitter Sunday evening at the newly opened cocktail-dining-live music destination Moscow 57 (the only Moscow-meets-New Orleans spot in NYC) and edited on an equally bitter morning at the newly opened Lower East Side outpost of the warmly welcoming Why Not? Coffee & Wine (can vouch for the coffee, have yet to indulge in the wine)

Have a word you’d like to toss into the WordBowl lottery? Use the form below:

agnostic.

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

“Ponderings and Green Tea” 

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

Which, upon reading, I did.

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

Question:

Could they not crack a window?

And:

What credentials did this priest bring to the table?

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

Cocktail inspiration at Wise Men

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

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

I absorbed the lesson: intercourse was forbidden.

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

Kamakura Coffee fueling rewrite

Kamakura Coffee fueling rewrite

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

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

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

CATHOLIC GUILT cocktail (yes, really) at Highlands

CATHOLIC GUILT cocktail (yes, really)

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

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

What other powers might we possess?

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

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

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

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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: 

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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