Post #97: Early Morning 5 AM

IMG_2261“There is no need for a faraway fairyland for the earth is a mystery before us.”
—William T. Davis

Viewing time: 5 am to 6 am

Early morning. Tousled rumpled crinkled. I slide out of bed and make my way downstairs to the window., sure footed as a mountain goat descending the peaks. Once there, I press my nose to the glass as anticipatory as a six year old at a candy counter. I am ready.

The show is about to begin!

The birds startle into their chorus, trills pinging through the air, bubbling, riffling through the breeze as they themselves play hide and seek in the darkness. I can’t see them at all. Then a pause and a few stray notes float alone fading as a mote drifting to grass.

As always I’m drawn to the trees, flattened almost black against the muted sky as cutouts in a wordless pantomime. In the distance they are smudged, charcoaled. Their arms seem to reach and flail at the sky clawing, scraping sometimes caressing the very air that surrounds them. Soundless, I know that below their roots are reaching out longingly. For comfort? For solace? Their branches above ground shudder exposed in the wind. I feel an inner chill for them. I do worry. And I do care.

Do the trees somehow call to each other? In some odd way do they watch us as we watch them? How absurd! Except a small part of me still wonders. And in this place of deep quiet, the mystical, the magical seem somehow in place.

I sit quietly, patiently, for once no fidgeting. I watch as closely as I can, hardly moving, because watching for the dawn, incremental moment by moment is like watching a cake bake, a flower open, a child grow. It keeps happening but you can’t see it. But I so want to see it, to keep my eyes wide open and be present.

I think, I feel, I truly wish that in that elusive sliver of time between night and day that maybe this is a place where souls reside, a place of peace where all who lived and loved are whole and safe. Restored and loved.

But I blink. It has happened. But no matter. As the light of the sun warms the world, the trees, once stiff in the blackness, seem to stretch and gleam, the leaves almost quivering to reach out to the warmth. Each leaf covered limb seems enrobed and enobled as a queen in her coronation robes. It’s morning.

I yearn to touch everything, to run my hand over the nubbly bushes, the smooth leaves, the gnarled trunks. Make it mine. If I close my eyes, I can make my fingers tingle with the memory.

Today the sky is blunted and matte, restful, never dull. Behind even the thickest cloud cover, the most violent storm it seems remarkable to remember that always always the sun is behind it all, each and every day. No matter what. Hidden but still powerful. Hidden but still warm. Hidden but still restorative.

Now a stretch. Now a coffee. Now the day begins.

 

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Post #96: A Gallimaufry of Wonders

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If, during the raucous pelter of the day it all gets to be just a bit too too much, there is always a ready respite. Just for a moment, not more than that, I close my eyes. The thoughts come tentatively at first, curling like wisps of steam from a cup of Russian Caravan. Then bit by bit memories begin first to blend and then to break free, my thoughts expanding like a balloon being plumped full of air.

Ah! For a few precious moments I am transported to that joyous jumble. Shoes off at the door, toes curling with pleasure, in my mind I am home!
THE LIVING ROOM

On the mantel, four memorable baseballs, three mementos of dearly beloved cats, two crystal Hershey’s kisses, and one magnificent and eminently playable, Trumpet Call Harmonica. An over large bellboy teapot, a Lester Lanin cap, a Bibendum ashtray (never used). A Waterford crystal vase, artfully filled with Blackwing pencil nibs.

On the coffee table, a game of Clue, in perpetual play!

Yes, there must be a couch, of course there are chairs. I believe there are lamps as well. And when I squinch my eyes tight and concentrate, I’m sure there are a few tables and I’m guessing some curtains as well. No matter!

Because of course, as always, I’m drawn to the books on the shelves like a tenacious ant to a drop of honey on the kitchen counter. English Country House Murders next to Idioms Delight. The Physiology of Taste sidling up to The Ethics of the Sages. Dandelion Wine elbowing for space on a shelf with Meetings with Remarkable Trees, Plotted, Northern Farm, Greeks and Romans Bearing Gifts, and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and Dessert Book all in a temerarious tumble!

To order them would be an affront. There are hidden mysteries, notes, photographs, perhaps the stray two dollar bill, amongst them, slipped surreptitiously between the pages. But which ones? Where? When? The game’s afoot!

The books make this a room for truly living. The living room.

DINING ROOM

Mounds of risottos, sides of salmon, pots of chili!

Meatloafs bricked together with smashed, mashed potatoes, studded with peas of the brightest green.

The occasional briefcase full of White Castle Burgers, a pepper and onion pizza pie, a tub of mint chip, a dish of vanilla, a cone of fudge ripple.

And yet…

While the music of memorable meals past plays upon my tongue, my fingers still reach out. In the corner by the big chair is my violin, my mandolin, my ukulele, my box of harmonicas, my sliding whistle, my finger piano, my kazoo. I’m Beginning to See the Light, How High the Moon? You Made Me Love You, Peg O’My Heart, Ain’t Misbehavin’ , In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening.

The cacophonous, slightly out of key intermezzos to every cooking exploit.

THE KITCHEN

A cupboard creaks open. Next to the stacks of chipped Wedgwood Wild Roses, in front of the teetering towers of teacups, are three small, well used bubble wands. Peek behind a curtain to find Lowly Worm in his Applemoble. In the tea cabinet, a tiny Cracker Jack sailor whistle guards the boxes of Camomile, Earl Grey, and Lemon Lift. Look carefully in one more and find poised between the jars of peanut butter and jelly, a slightly globby, clearly handmade miniature sculpture of a unmistakably oversized orange cat, the whiskers drawn with the proud and unsteady hand of a very small child.
Tiny treasures, placed by me. But no surprise that they surprise and please me each and every time I see them.

THE LOUNGE

Feet up, flat out , completely flopped.

THE PORCH

In the dark the sparkly lights are switched on, outside the stars glint in the night sky. And the music plays. Honky Tonk Piano to Hayden, Fats Waller to the Four Seasons, Bille, Ella, Lena, Sarah. Sousa Marches Frank Sinatra. Barbershop Quartets. The Boswells Sisters. Knit to the rhythm. Jigsaw puzzle to the beat.

***

Too soon, it’s time to leave. Back to work, back to the day at hand. The movie reel trip home has to come to an end.

But I’ve done it. I’ve traveled through my house once again viewing what is surely a gallimaufry of wonders filled to the brim like the cache of nonpareil tiny toys at the dentist.

A  bit more time, and I really will be home for dinner for real!

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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