Thursday, October 21, 2021

Candy corn

At this very moment, as you’re reading this, somewhere in America, a factory is making candy corn, on purpose. 

A hairnetted worker in a lab coat stands before a giant stainless steel vat, emptying bags of sugar, chalk, library paste, industrial by-products, witch’s tears, and guar gum. The function of the guar gum is a mystery to everyone in the room, but all foodstuffs must have it, by federal law.

(In a faraway corner of the factory floor, another worker salts one single shelled peanut, so that they must put a label on the bag stating the facility also processes peanuts. No one knows why they do this; it seems self-destructive.)

The mixture is brought to a boil, and eventually the bubbling cauldron is tipped into an extruding machine, which poops out the little allegedly-corn-kernel-shaped triangles.

In another part of the factory, deep underground, chained captive demons individually paint each little “corn” with cheerful fall colors while screaming in agony, imbuing each purported candy with sinister negative energy.


The finished product is bagged and shipped across the United States.

At some point I will find myself standing before a small bowl of candy corn. I do not like candy corn.

But here’s the thing: I kind of like it?

I’ll find myself eating the candy corn, in fact finishing the bowl, while thinking “This isn’t good. Is it?“

Friday, October 8, 2021

That Fucking Lost Year

My Macbook’s on my lap and I’m watching a trailer for the new Bond movie that opens this weekend: physics-defying motorcycle jumps, gorgeous scenery and general mayhem, apparently the exact sort of violent and absurd travelogue I’m looking for from this franchise, because I’m thinking to myself Hell yeah I’ll check this out.

The trailer ends and at the moment of Bond’s last gunshot “APRIL 2020” appears on the screen — the month it was originally to have been released — and I shock myself by bursting into tears.

That Fucking Lost Year. That Fucking Plague Year.

I spent 2020 more than chest-deep in Done But Not Divorced Yet, a dense opaque substance as black and viscous as tar; light can’t escape from it; simple movement through it is an exertion. 

I soaked in it, I slept in it. Every morning I woke up dead tired, secure in the knowledge that tomorrow would be worse, that before long this shit would be well over my head.

While my personal world was a shambles, ashes at my feet, the Actual World, the Real World: oh, that was ALSO falling apart!

“APRIL 2020” was a reminder of a Lost World and a punch directly to my heart. Because I need to brace myself when I take punches to the heart, tears formed for a moment before I was able to tell myself Oh jeezus man COME ON.


Which is probably an odd preamble to say that Pat Metheny was a GIFT to me and (based on the audience response) Every Single Person in the Boulder Theater last night. He was nourishing and uplifting and centering. The music was beautiful and surprising and to me profound, but his underlying message was really quite simple: 

“Hey, Everybody: I know we’ve been though THAT — but NEVER forget, there’s also THIS!!!”

Friday, August 27, 2021

Ruby, My Dear


There’s a deal we make when we bring a pet into our lives. We give them love and sustenance, we try to give them full and happy lives.

They bring us sweetness, and moments of giddy chaos. You’re sad? Howzabout if I sneeze in your face?

According to the rules of the deal they love us, in spite of the fact that we are goofballs, because they are also goofballs.

When everything is absolutely terrible, they are blissfully unaware. Even in the face of catastrophe they’re wondering if you’re going to sit down for lap time or toss a treat somewhere. Are you aware that dinner is mere hours away?

The love and companionship you give them is returned manyfold. Though they signed no paperwork, that seems to be part of the deal.

There is another important part of the deal that you can’t get out of, as much as you’d like to: at some point that small and complicated and silly and sweet and occasionally absurd goofball you brought into your life will break your heart.

My dear dear Ruby has broken my heart. 

Rather suddenly, over the past week or so, she started losing weight and seemed exhausted. X-rays this morning showed profound lung damage from cancer. 


To the end, at the vet hospital, even as a very sick kitty, she purred and head-butted me.

I held her in my lap as the doctor put her to sleep. Somehow, as her suffering ended and she was no longer my Ruby, her body became heavier.

I don’t know how this stuff works.

I’ll never forget her.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Potato Head

I’m old enough to remember AND I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP when the purchase of The Toy Formerly Known As Mr. Potato Head did NOT include a plastic potato head: instead YOU HAD TO PROVIDE YOUR OWN POTATO AND AGAIN I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.

You got a box of body parts — noses and eyes and mouths and a torso and just a whole jumbled serial killer’s worth of disembodied stuff — and your mom would give you AN ACTUAL POTATO (yes, we were rich then) for you to Have Your Way with.

Each of the parts had a sharp little spike sticking out of it — because toy safety laws back then mandated that if 8 out of 10 children were not maimed or killed by the toy, that was a fine and legal toy — and you’d stick this and that body part ONTO THE ACTUAL POTATO YOUR MOM GAVE YOU.

Hilarity/monstrosity ensued: a nose BELOW a mouth, eyes on the back or maybe even a third eye with a prominent eyebrow, a torso or two sticking out at a random angle above the head. And children back then were VERY comfortable with gender-fluidity when building their very own Potatx Head Entities: the Missus had a mustache and smoked a pipe, the Mister had lovely eyelashes and carried a purse. It was all Good Clean Fun (except for the starchy milky juice that eventually would bleed out of the potato holes you made) and you’d cackle with pleasure at the anatomical indignities you’d put your little potato personage through.

Eventually you would tire of your handiwork and set it aside — and it was THEN that The Toy Formerly Known As Mr. Potato Head delivered important life lessons: the potato decayed, the area around the body part holes would darken and turn slimy. At some horrifying point the mouth might fall off (kindly keeping the potato from screaming), the potato would get soft and squishy and before long downright appalling, an Abomination Unto God: life’s inevitable decline graphically played out before Mom would take the potato away, the now-hated potato, the problematic-smelling tuber, once vibrant and possibly two-nosed, now tossed into the trash.

At some point they started including plastic potato-shaped heads with TTFKAMPH and stole these important life lessons from children. America, like those original potatoes, grew soft.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Rear window

In the middle of the day a man in winter garb — jacket, knit hat, and mittens — stands in his front yard facing a small leafless tree a few feet taller than he is, and performs a delicate tai chi posture, but with his hands gently touching the tree as if he were dancing with it. The man continues his freeform tai chi dance with his stationary partner, while people walk by on the sidewalk paying no attention at all.

He makes various gestures with the tree for a surprisingly long while before he pulls away, briefly disappears, then triumphantly returns, now strutting around the tree as if it were a Maypole: round and round he goes, enacting a springtime ritual on a winter day in front of everybody passing by his street in a Denver suburb.

I used to practice my saxophone in a spare upstairs bedroom in Kenmore, a Buffalo suburb, facing a window looking over my back yard and the adjacent back yard of the house one street over from mine. I didn’t know the people who lived there, but I spent hours every day staring at their place while going over this or that thing on my horn, and after a while the primate brain does what it does: (me, cleaning up sloppiness in my palm key fingering) “Looks like they’re getting mail”; (I’m playing overtones) “He must be off work”; (going over a pattern I want to get under my fingers) “Red Car Lady again, maybe somebody’s mom?”; (memorizing a tune) “New lawn mower.”

While I wasn’t Jimmy Stewart in a wheelchair, there was strong Rear Window energy: I was a stationary observer watching the comings and goings of strangers and piecing together narratives about their lives based on that limited data set. I wasn’t really investing any conscious energy into these observations at all; they just appeared in my head unbidden, like faces in the clouds, while I busied myself with this or that exercise.

Now I find myself in Colorado, practicing a different horn, looking out a different window into a different back yard, and off in the distance is a different street. The vista here has also changed: I’m on a ground floor, and the arrangement of houses and fencing and whatnot means I see a much tinier slice of life one street over, and now it’s a front yard, and farther away.

But, whatever, because in that front yard is Tai Chi Man, and Tai Chi Man marching around his Maypole tree is unusual and compelling enough to directly pierce my consciousness, so that I pull the horn out of my mouth and make the age old observation, “What the fuck.”

The Maypole ritual ends, the tai chi performance is over, the man appears spent. He walks out of my view.

After a moment, while I’m staring and pondering, the tree suddenly comes brilliantly alive with lovely colored lights: he WASN’T tai-chiing, he WASN’T Maypoling, he WASN’T making a spectacle of himself on a busy suburban street — he was just putting lights up in his tree, and all at once this has turned into a budget tale of Holiday Cheer, God Bless Us, Everyone! 

Monday, November 16, 2020

something from nothing (for Keith Jarrett)

if I could toss into the air
one crystalline line
ending the silence
of a moment ago

and if that line folded into itself
self perpetuated
then collapsed
then uncoiled into ribbons

if I could project into space
that line
and also beneath it another line
answering the first

this second line
buttressing the argument
refuting the argument

if I could toss into the air
something from nothing

if I could birth these lines
into the empty air

if I could bring forth
into the empty air
these complicated and lovely and impossible
somethings from nothing

if I could do that

I would not be able to keep myself
from crying out

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Yesterday was Monk’s birthday

Yesterday was Monk’s birthday. Every minute of the day, in fact before it even was the actual day, I knew it was Monk’s birthday: late Friday night, toward midnight (NOT “’round midnight”: too corny by a mile) Google Calendar told me that Monk’s birthday was in 10 minutes.

All day long yesterday it was Monk’s birthday, and I knew it. Brushing my teeth, it was Monk’s birthday. Doing dishes: today is Monk’s birthday. Scooping cat litter — my sister introduced me to the Litter Genie (I got the name wrong for about a week, thinking is was Litter Genius), which makes dealing with cat poop less of a pain in the ass, and which every time I use I think ‘wow, some dude had this idea and made it happen,’ which it occurs to me is also the story of Thelonious Monk — anyways, as I was plopping poop into the Litter Genie, I thought about Monk.

I was at the Safeway, and it was Monk’s birthday. I don’t know where anything is at the Safeway. It’s my new grocery store. The green beans looked pretty good. I surveyed the pasta, and was delighted to find DeCecco, superior to the ubiquitous Barilla in my opinion.

Peet’s Coffee, French Roast, Whole Bean. In stock if you look for it, I discovered. (It’s Monk’s birthday, I thought, as I inventoried Safeway’s coffee selection.)

I didn’t like Monk at first. I didn’t think he could play. (Same with Eric Dolphy: I had a 3-LP anthology, “The Saxophone,” with Max Roach’s “Mendacity,” where Dolphy takes a blistering solo. Miles Davis had said of Eric Dolphy, in a blindfold test, that he played like somebody was stepping on his foot — Miles didn’t quite put it that way, but that’s how I’d remembered it — so when I heard Dolphy for the first time on that anthology I thought “Miles was right, it sounds like somebody’s stepping on his foot!”)

I was barely a teenager.

I was alone at the precise moment when I fell in love with Monk’s playing. I was living in my girlfriend’s studio apartment in Minneapolis. (I had an actual “official” roommate, my college pal Doug, in an upstairs duplex in St. Paul where I was paying rent, but I’d moved my stuff to her place and hadn’t seen Doug in months. I wasn’t ready to tell my folks I was serious about a girl, and she and I weren’t ready to specifically identify just what we were doing, which is why I was still paying rent in St. Paul.) She worked nights as a cocktail waitress at a fancy bar in downtown Minneapolis. You wouldn’t believe how much she’d bring home in tips every night.

(Another thing about that shitty studio apartment, in a crummy part of Minneapolis where she’d been mugged once walking out of a bank [she fought with the mugger and actually got one of his shoes — I told her jeezus don’t fight next time]: one time we’d turned on the oven and, as it heated up, leagues of roaches scattered from it in broad daylight, from tiny baby roaches to gigantic Abominations Unto God, and we didn’t use the oven after that. Also, it had a gas fireplace that she’d been told not to use because it didn’t work, but one winter day she tried it when the apartment was too cold and it was fine, and after that we used that illicit fireplace all winter long, making the place so steamy we’d have to open the windows, even in a Minneapolis winter. It was great.)

I had a lot of time to listen to music while waiting for her to get home from the bar, a few hours after midnight. (She’d get home after 2; I’d have to be at work in a downtown music store around 8: I have no idea how I functioned on the amount of sleep I was getting back then, but I found her very compelling and worth the wait, and drank enough coffee at work to seem lucid.)

One evening I turned to Monk. I don’t know exactly what I was listening to when I realized how wrong 13-year-old me had been about him, but it was almost certainly a live recording of the quartet with Charlie Rouse. Monk swung So Fucking Hard, he was so funny, he knew exactly what to play to tighten up his rhythm section or push shit to another level. His playing was beautiful and wise and absurd. Monk played the truth. He astonished me. I bought every damn record of his. I was smitten.

Yesterday, all day, was his birthday, and I knew it. I’ll always know it.

If I stick it out here in Colorado (it’s very beautiful, by the way) someday I’ll probably know where everything is in the Safeway. 

I’m divorcing the woman who was a cocktail waitress 35 years ago. My mind is scattered, but I didn’t forget Monk’s birthday. He’s important to me. He changed my life, changed the way I play, changed the way I write.

I listened to Monk last night, and I thought about the young man I was when I fell in love with a girl and with him in that shitty studio apartment in Minneapolis. I was transitioning to a new, adult, post-college version of myself when I fell for him back then. 

And once again I’m in transition.

Anyways, I toasted Monk last night with some bourbon and maybe a little weed, because it was his birthday. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Every day I live in less of my house


Every day I live in less of my house. One day the piano’s gone; later the wall art starts to disappear; little-used kitchen utensils are stowed or thrown out. (What the fuck we owned a cherry pitter?) Each day a bit more of my life is stacked in banker boxes with cryptic messages like “LR BOOKS #3” written in enduringly stinky Sharpie ink.

There’s not a single thing that comes into view that I don’t think “do I really need you?” Every object I settle my gaze upon quakes at the prospect of the landfill.

In the current context almost everything I own seems absurd. I am triaging decades of my life. According to these artifacts and trinkets, my life was also absurd. I know the artifacts don’t tell the whole story. I know my life [so far] wasn’t absurd. For the most part. But still.

I don’t live in Buffalo any more. A viral neutron bomb has left all of the physical structure of Buffalo intact. But what made Buffalo Buffalo: my friends, our shared lives, the unhealthy food we ate together, the sweet fragile beauty of connection that we had — that’s all gone. I’m one intensely socially-distant motherfucker right now. I love you, but I don’t trust that you don’t have the plague, so I’m not hanging: because if I get this plague, an already impossibly complicated life will just fucking go off the rails.

I’m not sad at all. (For the most part.) I’m ready to move on. This was not how I thought I’d end my days in this sweet, lovely town, amongst you sweet, lovely people. You are, sincerely, the best part of my life. 

And yet: here I go!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Super Ramen



(from End Times Recipes for the Whole Family, a fake cookbook I made up just now)

I guess it’s time I told you about Super Ramen.

I’m not entirely sure you can handle it, but it’s too good a thing not to share during Plague Time™, when you’re (as in, “I am”) looking in the cupboard while sighing deeply and talking to your (my) volleyball friend Wilson.

First, a stipulation: Ramen just made directly as-is from the package is Perfectly Barely Adequate. It is a dorm room staple because it is a perfectly barely adequate food item.

Super Ramen, on the other hand, is a substantial upgrade.

First, the BASE INGREDIENTS:

• A package of ramen. Better ramen is better, theoretically. (He posited, offering no evidence.)

• Ketchup. Yeah, I hear you: “Git a rope.” Listen, punk, no greater a food authority than Mark Bittman (NOTE: he’s a bigger food authority than you are, unless you’re Julia Child and this is a séance, in which case GREETINGS YOUR MAJESTY!) sings ketchup’s praises for “Asiany”-influenced dishes — this idea is stolen directly from his AMAZING Ketchup Braised Tofu recipe in “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” You will not know there is any ketchup in your soup; you will just think hey this is better.

• Toasted sesame oil. ALWAYS keep this amazing condiment on hand, in the same way that you should always have at least 3 months of expenses in your savings account, which you emphatically do not have and now here you are, eating ramen.

• Soy Sauce. Duh.

• Sriracha (correct) or your preferred (incorrect) hot sauce for Asiany dishes. (Frank’s RedHot is an inappropriate hot sauce for Asiany dishes. Fight me.)

If you only have the above, you’ve already got a hugely better bowl of ramen ahead of you.

But if you also have some OPTIONAL ADD-ON INGREDIENTS, you’ll be godlike; for example:

• Broccoli.

• Leftover cooked chicken, or whatever.

• Or pork. Or tofu. You got this!

EVEN MORE OPTIONAL: GARNISHES

In a More Perfect World, as opposed to Our Current World — which is not merely imperfect, but is sprawled fully-disheveled across a bus stop bench, shouting profanities at passersby — one would/could/should add:

• lime wedge squirt (delightful!)

• green stuff (scallions are divine, cilantro is lovely for Those In The Know, Thai basil or just Basil basil, etc.)

• whatever speaks to you: no one’s judging you here (unless, I mean, let’s not push it) (sez the guy telling you to put ketchup in your ramen)

BASIC PREP

1) While heating your noodle water (as per package directions), squirt a Very Decent Squooch of ketchup into your sufficiently-large Destination Bowl (the bowl you’ll be eating from; C’MON KEEP UP!). How much, you ask, reasonably. More than you might think! I’m fully guestimating that my squooches appear to be around 6ish OR MORE tablespoons. Be generous! Whatever, you really can’t go wrong here. BREATHE.

2) Grind some black pepper (“ThAt’S nOt In ThE iNgReDiEnT lIsT”: PEOPLE, IT’S PEPPER!) into your ketchup squooch. Grind in as much as you think is right. Wrong: grind some more, You Unbelievable Sissy.

3) Sprinkle the soup base packet, chock full of incredibly (MSG) wholesome (MSG) ingredients (MSG), into your ketchup/pepper squooch.

4) Also put any already-cooked add-ons (like that leftover chicken), into your Destination Bowl.

5) Once your water is boiling, put in the noodles. Don’t break them up. One minute into the (presumed 3 minute) cooking time, put raw broccoli florets on top of the intact “noodle raft” in the pot while they’re cooking, and cover the pot. They’ll be just right when the noodles are done. (Putting the florets on the floating noodle raft rather them just plopping them into the boiling water means they’ll be more steamed than boiled, as God ordained.) (Ignore any package directions to “stir the noodles” while cooking: madness.)

6) Any other veggie that needs cooking also needs to be added to the pot, either to the raft if they need steaming, or the water if they need more intense cooking.

7) When the time’s up, pour the noodles/veggies/etc. into the Destination Bowl. Stir stuff around like a crazy person!

8) À table (French, for “à table”) add your soy sauce, sesame oil (DON’T be shy with this!), and hot sauce to taste. More is better. More. More. Yes: more.

9) Put in all your lavish garnishes, you Crazy Sexy Person!

10) Eat your Ramen Of The Gods a.k.a. Super Ramen!

Saturday, January 4, 2020

First day of school

First day of school, and I’m running late. A friend agrees to give me a ride, but stops EVERYWHERE — drug store, coffee shop, bank — because he has “errands” and then I realize he’s also picking up fares as an Uber driver! Meanwhile, it dawns on me that I have done ZERO class prep: forgot to order books, forgot to print syllabi — in fact, I’m not 100% sure just what I’m teaching or where. Somehow I finally get to the classroom, a giant theatre-style space I’ve never seen before, I’m late, the class is standing room only and they’re angry with me. So many faces I can hardly focus on any single one of them. The room is silent. There’s a mic at the lectern that I can’t get to work, so after an excruciating minute or two I start half-shouting, trying to “wing it” and see if I can figure out just what this class is supposed to be and how I’m going to fill the time since I have no handouts and no roster and no idea of what I’m up to. As I’m speaking a kid stands up in the front row and starts doggedly reciting the morning news. I try to speak over him, then stop for a moment and realize it’s the radio and wake up. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Button

My brother-in-law flies a lot for his job, and he kindly sprinkled some of his frequent flyer miles, like fairy dust, onto my recent Buffalo-to-Denver ticket, magically transforming it from a pumpkin into first class seats.

A couple of observations:

The Chicago-to-Denver leg was on a 777 that usually makes international flights, and, and (I’m steadying myself because I’m getting kind of emotional here) the first class seats would recline all the way back to flat out fuggin’ FLAT beds.

Now: I didn’t actually take mine all the way to flat, because that felt to be more or less a let-them-eat-cake level of decadence that my wholesome Midwestern sensibilities could not quite countenance. However, I did take it so far into recline that it was the moral equivalent of flat.

But: I need to talk about “The Button.”

On the armrest of every first class seat was a little red button with a lightning bolt decal above it.

A card on the seat explained its function: a single press of the button would deliver a non-lethal electric shock to some random person sitting somewhere back in steerage.

At first I was kind of horrified, and vowed to ignore the button. However, at some point I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to give it a little tap.

Sure enough, from far behind me in the bowels of the plane I heard what sounded like a grown man let out a sharp yelp and exclaim “Jeezus!”

After a while you would just filter out the various hollers and cries from behind you as this or that first class passenger explored the perk of the button.

Unlike the sadist sitting across the aisle from me, I only pushed the button maybe 6 or 7 times.

My thinking was “Well, I paid for this damn seat (with my brother-in-law’s miles) and if you’re sitting in first class, dammit, you’re gonna take the hot towel and you’re gonna push the button.”

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Corkscrew

“How do you say corkscrew?”

“No idea,” I said.

We sat on either side of a small round table in a shabby courtyard. Alex squinted through her bangs as she inventoried the table: cigarettes, lighter, two wine bottles (empty), two glasses (empty), one unopened bottle of wine. Zero corkscrews.

It was getting dark, the end of a hot August day. An hour ago the courtyard was full of people, some bearing corkscrews. They left to attend a concert. I was blasé about the concert. Alex was blasé about everything. We were drinking wine. We were on our own.

I stood up, feeling self-conscious and tipsy. “I’ll get one.” Alex pushed away from the table, brushing hair from her eyes with the back of her hand. “I’ll come too.” She was small. She’d matched me glass for glass, but she seemed steadier than I was.

We pushed open the huge wooden door and turned right, out of the courtyard, onto a narrow street. We didn’t talk. The silence felt awkward, and I was trying to remember: “What do you call a corkscrew?” I knew how to ask for a beer or, later, a bathroom.

We took another right at the corner. A sad-eyed old man, quiet and dignified in a hat and dirty suit, sat cross-legged on a large piece of cardboard over a grate in the sidewalk, scritching the ears of a huge black mutt on a leash. Written in large letters in French on the cardboard: “I’m hungry.” Another thing I knew how to say.

Across the street was a brightly-lit shop not much larger than a walk-in closet. Inside you could find everything you would ever need: cigarettes, cheese, wine, toothpaste, band-aids. A stocky, balding man stands smoking behind the counter. He glances at me, then looks Alex up and down.

“’Scuzez-moi,” I say. He looks back at me, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. In French I say “We have need of,” put my fists in front of me, swiveling one of them in what I hope is a recognizable pantomime of opening a wine bottle, and say with emphasis “pour VIN.”

He says something.

Comment?,” I reply. Without taking his eyes off mine, he reaches under the counter and with a flourish reveals a corkscrew, as if executing a magic trick. He repeats the same something he just said.

I point at the corkscrew — “Oui!” — and give him a thumbs up.

Smiling, he says something else to me. He looks at Alex and winks. She smiles back. “Oui!” she says.

He punches some numbers into the cash register, then points to the price on the display.

We’re splitting this, maybe? I look at Alex. She smiles at me, motionless.

I pull a bill out of my pocket, the last of my francs aside from some coins, and put it on the counter. The man takes the bill, drops it into the register, puts the corkscrew into a paper bag, then counts out the change and puts it on a little tray on the counter. He places the bag beside the tray.

I pick up the bag and the change. It’s 12 francs short. How much is 12 francs? Math is not working in my head right now. Is it worth even doing something about? Yes: I’m poor.

I hold out my hand with the money and say “’Scuzez?” His eyes widen, and he freezes mid-puff. He looks at me with a pure, open, waiting face, as if he’s having his portrait painted.

I point to the change in my hand. He takes a drag from the cigarette in the corner of his mouth.

“It’s not correct,” I say in French. He frowns, shrugs his shoulders, and makes an uncomprehending grunt.

Douze francs,” I say.

Shoo-shoo-shoo,” it sounds like he says, out of the free corner of his mouth. Frowning, he looks at Alex and says something. She smiles. She has no idea what’s going on.

He turns to me, arches an eyebrow, and says loudly in a slow, pained voice, “MON-sieur!” He leans over the counter and motions for my hand with the change. I show him the money in my palm. Suddenly he grabs my wrist. I’m too shocked to pull away. His hand is surprisingly moist and warm, and his grip is very firm. For a split second I have the impression he’s about to spit in my palm.

He sighs. Gently, like a dad explaining numbers, he fingers with his free hand the various coins I’m holding, tallying them up. As he announces the value of each coin, cigarette bobbing in the corner of his mouth, he gestures for me to repeat the French words.

Stunned, I do as I’m told. We go through the change in my hand, him counting off in French and me repeating, a math lesson and a French lesson.

For some reason, I get tears in my eyes. I glance at Alex. She is watching our hands, mesmerized.

He is finished. He releases my hand. Blinking, I look down, trying to focus on the coins. I have the correct change.

“Sorry,” I say. He’s looking at me intently. The lesson over, Alex brushes the hair from her eyes and looks up at me. “Je suis,” I start. “Je regrette.” I stop. I have no idea what to say, and no idea how to say it. “Sorry,” I say again, in English.

“O.K.” the man says. Alex says “Merci,” and the man shrugs and half-waves, “O.K., O.K.” as we turn to the door.

We cross the street. As we walk past the hungry man and his dog, Alex asks “What was that?” We turn the corner at rue de Fourcy.

I have NO desire to talk about it. “Weirdness about the price,” I mumble.

“Tears?” Alex starts to say.

“What?” I interrupt her, defensively.

We’ve stopped walking, and she looks up at me, frowning, trying to make sense of me.

“Teer, something,” she says carefully. “It’s how he said corkscrew.”

Friday, July 11, 2014

Olcott Beach

(Click on any image to launch slideshow view — highly recommended!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cooperstown & Brewery Ommegang

If it had been a baseball game, it would have been called on account of rain. This was no game, however — this was the Deadly Serious business of beer tourism, and neither rain nor snow ... well, actually, snow would’ve been an abomination and frankly unacceptable after That Particular 8-Month Expletive Deleted Winter recently endured — so yeah, this far into June snow would have been less welcome than even a downpour of frogs and serpents, and would have sent us scurrying right back home to hide under the bed.

But, anyways, it WAS just rain, so we soldiered on, once again following (more or less) the path of the old Erie Canal via the I-90 before finally veering south into unexplored territory, a bit east of Syracuse.

Cooperstown, New York, is best known for baseball, of course: back in 1839, Abner Doubleday invented the Great American Pastime in a cow pasture there, in much the same way that back in whenever-the-hell Buddy Bolden (or was it Jelly Roll Morton?) invented jazz — which is to say that the stories, while appealing, are perhaps about as reliable as accounts of Paul Bunyan logging entire forests with a single swing of his axe...

At any rate, baseball, whatever its mythical origins, wasn’t the draw for us, even if it put Cooperstown on the map: we drove 4 hours so that we could drink Belgian-influenced beers at Brewery Ommegang...

In my college days back in the ’80s, I drank beer because I was more or less old enough to do so, and it was fizzy and cold and refreshing and an effective intoxicant. I didn’t savor beer for its taste, obviously — because it didn’t taste very good!

However, as long as it went down without too much difficulty and dimmed the pressing concerns of a worrywart college kid, it was Extremely Adequate beer!

I first tasted great beer in Bavaria, the first summer I worked at a music camp there. Bavarian beer was shockingly different, AND varied, AND delicious, and I tried everything poured in my direction: sour pale beers, dark beers, wheat beers, beers with syrup drizzled in them, and on and on.

My friend Robert, a fine Bavarian saxophonist and clarinetist, was my German beer ambassador (“You MUST try this...”), and as he presented me with glass after glass he solemnly told me that German beers, and especially Bavarian beers, were the best in the world, and I knew he must be right.

Then I went to Belgium.

Belgian beer was downright exotic compared to German beer: spicy and ... musky? and ... strange — but compelling and delicious! My OTHER friend Robert, a Belgian trombonist, solemnly told me that Belgian beers, and especially Flemish beers, were the best in the world, as he reverently passed foamy glasses my way. Bavarian Robert, seated across the table from Belgian Robert, maintained that German beers were superior — and to be certain of his opinion, he savored each and every Belgian brew put in front of him.

When I reluctantly returned to the States and resumed my college life, I had to leave those wonderful beers behind: in the mid-Eighties in my western Wisconsin slice of the universe, at least, German and Belgian beers were entirely unobtainable.

I went back to drinking American beer because I was in America, dammit, and that’s what there was to drink!

This revealed a lack of imagination on my part.

The folks who started Brewery Ommegang, on the other hand, faced with that same predicament after being smitten with Belgian beers and not being able to find them in the States, refused to surrender: first they tried to import them directly from Belgium and, when that proved unsatisfactory, decided to just brew the damn beer themselves!

Eventually Ommegang got good enough at it that they were acquired by the legendary Belgian producer Duvel.

These photos include a few rainy shots of Cooperstown, including Otsego Lake and the old-fashioned, clean, comfortable, and just slightly shabby Tunnicliff Inn where we stayed; Ommegang in all its glory; the unexpectedly delightful Farmers’ Museum; and our FANTASTIC final flight of beers at Council Rock Brewery — a presumed competitor highly praised (correctly!) by the folks at Ommegang as Very Worthy of a visit!

The last two shots are just pure Beer Porn: two lovely bottles purchased at Ommegang’s store, from their “sister” brewery, Boulevard Brewing Company, based in Kansas City and now also owned by Duvel: Tank 7 in particular was a marvelous and spicy saison that we’ll be seeking again...

(Click on any image to launch slideshow view — highly recommended!)

The View From MY Window!

Andrew Sullivan’s “The Dish” runs a weekly contest with a very simple format: a photo is taken looking out a window. Where in the world is this window? Photos from all over the world have been featured, and it’s always fascinating and fun to try to sleuth out an answer. (Generally, I suck at it!) This week’s contest featured one of MY photos (!!) from my trip last week to Monticello! Check out what people came up with... http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/07/08/the-view-from-your-window-contest-winner-212/

Friday, July 4, 2014

Monticello

(Click on any image to launch slideshow view — highly recommended!)

Candy corn

At this very moment, as you’re reading this, somewhere in America, a factory is making candy corn, on purpose.  A hairnetted worker in a lab...