Post #95: I Cannot Find the Words

IMG_0078IMG_1965For Joel

When there isn’t much time to say what needs to be said,  or you are here and I am there,  I remember this: that from the beginning, wherever we’ve gone,  you’ve always held my hand.

My heart still soars.  I cannot find the words.  Except to say thank you. And that I love you.

As ever, C

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Post #94: For Why Else?

IMG_0353For me it’s this. A snatch of memory, a taste, a whiff, an idea that propels me through my days. Soothing me. Smoothing my way.

I miss everyone so.  Absurdly, ridiculously, I sometimes draw no distinction between those who’ve passed away and those who’ve simply left the room. The yearning, the loss can feel equally raw, cavernous.  I miss them.

How could it be otherwise?

So I tell myself their stories. They are, as all of us are, the heroes of their own tales.  These are not swashbucklers or breast thumping heroics. Rather they tell the quiet narratives of the small kindnesses that make up our everyday lives. The little stories that knit us all through life.

And for me then all those I miss are with me once again, vibrant and warm.

As the curator of the tales, the molder of memories, I choose to celebrate their good.

For why else?

Memory connects. It lives.

Post #93: Circling Back, Then Forward

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I sit stunned for a moment when I finally make myself subtract out the years. Once upon a time I flew away. All by myself.

Window seat on the plane when I actually cared about such things. Nose pressed to the glass. When the plane curled around Manhattan, my eyes reached out hungrily, greedily for the city that seemed close enough, even soft enough, to wrap my arms around. Just like so many before me. And so many after.

My fingers grip the handle of a prized remnant from my Bat Mitzvah, a nubbled suitcase, my initials stenciled in gold. Once in the cab, the blasts of sound tremble through the glass, an undefinable melange of tumbling squeals with a few muffed, but still alarming screams. We move with a herky jerky stop start through the streets. I am avidly keeping track of all the Gristedes and dry cleaners as we move uptown. Just in case.

At the corner of 92nd and Lexington Avenue we stop. Single sex, single bed, double room, bathroom down the hall. The 92nd Street Y. But a place of welcome, of generosity, of possibility. My new home.

From here I will walk down Lexington all the way to 50th Street in the mornings and back up on Third to 92nd every evenings. I walk not for exercise but to save the bus fare. Each week I will buy a loaf of bread and a jar peanut butter from one of the Gristedes for lunches and dinners. I will hoard my quarters to sip instead the sludgy black coffee at work. But I will work at Knopf, the most sublime of publishing houses. And I will live where John Cheever spoke, where Martha Graham danced, where E.O. Wilson lectured. The 92nd Street Y.

In some ways, this is where I begin.

Yesterday, a lifetime or two away from then, I returned.

We walk together, my son Jared and I, the same streets, the same steps, the same Gristedes. He holds my hand to help me over the curbs, watches for the lights to make sure I stay safe. Back again to the 92nd Street Y. Once again, the welcome is oh so warm. Kind. Generous.

But this time the doors are opening for him. This evening, as we ascend the staircase we rise to listen to renowned poet Laura Kaschiche read from her own work. Her poems are by turns intimate and expansive, heart wrenching and hilarious.

She is his professor, his mentor, his friend. From the stage she calls his name. “Jared.”

My heart skips a beat.

The reading ends. At the first wave of tumultuous applause I squeeze his hand then head for the door. He turns to meet her. The applause continues. His turn, his home. Our joy.

THE BIRDS: ROCK DOVE  by Jared Frank  https://entropymag.org/the-birds-rock-dove/

Post #92: JUST A TASTE

IMG_1781My mouth has been fogged and cottony, the haggard repetition of mundane meals dulling my taste buds and muting my wintery senses. A conveyer belt of tedium: tepid tea and goodforme, mulitgrain toast, neon orange baby carrots dutifully dipped in bland hummus, blanched chicken breasts and burned burgers. Squinch my eyes shut and I’m sure I couldn’t tell one from the other. I root through the cupboards with the crazed abandon of a raccoon foraging through the trash but alas, come up unsated and empty handed.

Enough!

If my taste buds have been in hibernation, rouse them, even at risk of sheer gluttony!
***
Twin Pops

They burst forth from the freezer like the first purple iris of Spring! Rip open the paper with all the anxious abandon of Christmas morning to reveal the magnificent and longed for Twin Pop in all it’s icy double sticked glory. Take a bite to feel the the flavor. Sheer purpilyness. It’s very clear: Two hands deserve two popsicles.

***

Pot of Soup (with Flanken)

Burbling and bottomless, the big pot sits sedately on the stove. Filled to the brim with tube upon tube of Manichewitz Bean and Barley, the soup thickens first to swamp and then to an almost concrete. The heavy wooden spoon moves achingly through the mixture like an paddle through a muddy Mississippi. Hefty chunks of flanken flail into the mire, bobbing like buoys. Is it done? It needs to be done! Dip in the ladle and it’s serve yourself. Again and again, until sadly there is no more.

***

Farmers Chop Suey

Sesame, poppy seed, pumpernickel and plain the hot bagels jam and cram into corner of the table. To the right is a Pike’s Peak of smoked sable, nova, white fish and herring (both creamed and chopped) Across the way the eggs fluff into creamy yellow clouds and the babkas practically are bursting from their pans, patiently await their slicing. Right into the center my mother places a big glass bowl overflowing with Farmer’s Chop Suey, the vegetables sharp and fresh enrobed in cool creaminess. The most memorable, the perfect part of the plate.

***

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A Butterscotch Dip Cone
Once upon a time, when summer afternoons stretched languidly into evening and even the sun didn’t seem to want the day to end, we would head to Dairy Mat on Woodward Avenue. With every ice cream concoction and possibility known humankind — black raspberry, creme de menthe, tutti fruiti and so much more — it was not only possible but quite probable that Dairy Mat actually was the long dreamed of over the rainbow. Complete with sprinkles.

People only spoke in hushed whispers at this Temple, as they solemnly made their choices, the hum of cars providing a curiously gentle counterpoint.

Of course with thousands of choices, there is only one possible choice. That is the longed for and dearly beloved Butterscotch Dip Cone.

Just trust me on this.

***

IMG_0026The Chiapati

Take a salad and chop it fine. Throw it carelessly into a bowl. Squeeze a ridiculous amount of sub sauce on top of everything and toss, while staring moodily into space. Absentmindedly grab a blob of whole wheat dough and fling it into an oven hotter than Dante’s ninth circle of Hell. Listen rapturously while someone lightly hums Hail to the Victors. Take the puffed poof of dough out of the oven, hack of one end and casually stuff with the salad mixture. The never eat anything bigger than your head rule does not apply here. Pizza Bob’s is not a place I would ever consider eating pizza. Oh no never! Not when they make chiapatis.

***

It worked! My tongue tingles once again reminding me that there are sparkles and delights to eat not just to remember but yet to come. Perhaps, if I am very lucky, a black and white cookie from Zaro’s in Grand Central will find it’s way onto my plate tonight. One hopes!

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Post #91: “Let Us Choose Those Pearls”

IMG_1510Ah! Cocooned, nutshelled, encased, enrobed. I’m here, I’m here, I’m home at lingeringly long last. Fortressed, buttressed, I move tentatively from room to room reacquainting myself, finding myself. The Bibendum ashtray, the Trumpet Call harmonica, the tiny pile of stubby Blackwings. Each object, though odd and unassuming in and of itself, is an essential key, a part of my own soul, my own secrets and my own story, transporting me back in time and place in the wunderkammern of my own little world. I can feel myself unclench as I finally am looking at, connecting to what my eyes should be seeing every day. But please no recriminations. I am looking now. Remembering.

The open arms of my day stretch expansively before me. But then the must dos, should dos, could dos lists start to fulminate and burble in my head. I can feel my heart tighten and my breath quicken. Damn! Must we always be doing something important? Can we sometimes drift, to meld into the world without a thought or a care? Can I be brave enough to allow the world to warm me once again, to nourish me as a steaming cup of hot chocolate?

Like soft caramel, the strands lingering, I pull away.

I bundle into my coat, hat pulled firmly down to my ears, a scarf securely wrapped round and round my neck, a tightly tied up package. Each pocket is carefully checked and filled with emergency rations and supplies: ginger candies and peppermints to the left, notepad and extra pencils in the right, spare change, dried cherries, a collection of acorn tops. All the essentials for survival. My hands are deep in my pockets lightly fingering, checking, rechecking.

The Magellan of the North, I set sail for places unknown.

In a few moments I am standing on the train platform, my feet feeling the bumps and nodules of the edge. In the distance I can see a tangle of bare branches, the limbs reaching upward, a silent trembling yearning for spring and warmth and nuanced greenery. The pigeons swoop in unison, arching towards the overpass as the train itself, sinuous and massive, hums into the station. As if responding to my silent command, the doors slide wide open.

I corner myself next to a window as we set off. The buildings blur before me but my eyes are on the clouds. Today they knot and roil in the sky, softly pummeling the air above, truly an Ice Capades of the air.

As we draw into the terminal, I am buffeted in with the others, unconsciously falling into step, all of us strangely solitary amidst the crowd in our rhythmic march. And yet, when one of our number, a woman with her arms burdened with packages, unknowingly drops a bill from her pocket, a boy leaps forward out of formation to snatch it up, to quickly press it into her hand, then retreat back to continue his path. The day begins.

The streets are still damp from the snows, glowing with a winter garden of neon reflection, the cerulean, the sage, the magenta curling and bursting forth with riotous electric bloom. My feet splashing, I make my way to the library, cosseted safely between the twin lions, Patience and Fortitude. Up the marbled staircase through the carved doors to find a seat at the table, a warm corner. My hands smooth to the polished wood of the chairs. Heads bent over wide open volumes, bathed in the light of the golden reading lamps, thoughts seem to twist and promenade though the air itself, sentences cavort, the words hover and float. It is a joy to join the dance.

Later, an old couple sits together at their luncheon table. He wears a beige sweater, she a beige scarf. She serves him the best portions from the platter. He generously pours out the wine. There is little talk but then really, how much is needed? When it’s time for dessert each digs deep into the sweetness.

Soon enough I find my way downtown, drawn to this place as always. If my eyes lovingly caress the bookshelves, the unruly piles and jumbled stacks that form the essential cartography of my home, this place, this temple to what I love best forms a magnetic bond to my soul. I am at The Strand, home to miles and miles of books. There they are. Shelved shoulder to shoulder in their tattered jackets, brave and stalwart. These second hand volumes, each with a story beyond the story between the covers, are what Virginia Woolf calls “the wild books, the homeless books.” As always, they fairly leap into my arms, grateful once again to be remembered and repeated and most of all read. They are rescued. I am revived.

This is what the day has brought. Marvel upon marvel. Joy upon joy. But I wonder, do I only wish to see what’s beautiful before me? If so, is that wrong? Do I, can I, recreate the world each time I interact with it?

“Let us choose those pearls,” writes Virginia Woolf in Street Hauntings. Quite so. Find what gives you joy, cling to what gives you comfort, spot beauty in unexpected places.

Today I chose to find what Woolf calls “a seat in the warm corner, ” refilling the wunderkammern of my heart, my home, my mind. Wander then and go forth to choose your own pearls.

***

Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Street Hauntings: A London Adventure published in The Art of the Personal Essay,: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Selected and with an introduction by Phillip Lopate

Post #90: Skimming the Cream from the Day

IMG_0732Here I am. The ever tenacious scriblerian, attempting once again “to skim the cream from the day.*” It’s a greedy thing to do. But I don’t care. My thoughts have been so jumbled lately, exploding every which way like one of those British Christmas crackers.

It’s time to unjumble them. Snuggle down. Let’s begin.

Unmasked, I stretch yearningly forward into a quiet that soothes me with the thick secure warmth of a down comforter on a frigid night. My fists unclench, my toes uncurl, my chest untightens. I’m breathing? Of course I am. But now each new breath feels like some luxuriant renewing elixir flowing through me. At last.

Had my breathing really been so shallow before? Had I really been so knotted and snarled?

Out in the world, attempting as always to conquer with a smile, to marshal support with a few agonizingly well chosen words, to acquiesce, to admire, to accede. Exhausted, my eyes squint with the effort, my head and my back tense with the oh so necessary shoring up of the facade.

The cream of the day is a balm and a salve, a hidden but oh so necessary respite. For a few private, precious moments I am the person on the other side of the photographs.

But time is almost up. Once again, stack the bricks to the barriers. Snap shut the shutters to the eyes. Soon out the front door and back to the front lines.

The soft sweet nougat center armored in a delicate chocolate shell, I am not who everyone thinks I am. Oh please. But then who of us really is?

*Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Post #89: Cezanne at Dawn

IMG_1224It’s utterly ridiculous. I do it anyway. Although I waken in the thick, viscous blackness of deep night, my glasses are always curled protectively around my eyes. They are my talisman, my mask. It’s so dark that I don’t actually need them. But as always, I do so want them.

I fan out my fingers and lightly caress the wall, my feet moving stealthily with a sure and scuffling rhythm. Out the door and down the stairs, through the kitchen, around the dining room. I feel my way. I know the way.

And I’m here. I don’t move, I don’t even breathe. And just for a moment, I can hear it, an ardent and intense quiet. Through the window, the bare-armed trees are slashed against the puttied, muted sky. Alone and isolated, the heavier branches reach out achingly, the tiny twigs stretch and stretch hard — pawing and clawing at the air. Never static, the scene in front of me pulses almost imperceptibly.

Dawn is coming. I know it but I can’t see it yet. It’s getting lighter, I know it, I’m sure of it. I watch and I watch ravenously. If I squint hard, can I see the images in front of me to their essence as in a Cezanne? If so, what will it look like? What will it feel like?

And there it is. A whisper of time, a gentle sweep of the veil, and I see it. When dawn arrives it isn’t harsh and it doesn’t break. Instead it warms, it caresses. I take off my glasses. The scene before me blends and blurs. For a moment, for me at least, time stops. For a moment, it lingers.

Just then I catch a glimpse of my yearning, unprotected self reflected in the window, the fleeting image frozen in my mind. And I wonder, have I at last glimpsed the essence, at least for the moment?