October 30, 2011

October 28, 2011

Candle, tower, flame

I found these candlesticks at a flea market in lower Manhattan in my college days long
ago. I was always on the lookout for bargains back then, not having a lot to spend on
home accessories, but determined to acquire what I could to groovy up my pad on east
25th street, my first apartment in New York, a walk-up studio on the third floor.

They’re silver plated, now heavily tarnished; I was attracted to their extravagantly
slender stem and tulip cup, their nod to Art Neuveau, and vaguely churchy elegance.
The twelve inch tapers that they habitually wore increased their drama. They followed
me from one dwelling to another, one life to another, one of my few possessions that
never fell off the cart in all those gypsy years.

In my Staten Island apartment, my triumphal last digs in New York overlooking the
harbor, they sat together atop a heavy oak speaker tower, one of two dramatic monoliths
that were the last word in music reproduction back then. I had bought them at a close-
out many years before and they, too, had managed to stay with me, shipped, stored,
hustled, trudged, from one destination to the next.

I wish I could remember exactly what I was doing, what my exact thoughts were, when
I heard the noise. I was in another room, and the apartment was quiet and still. I’ve cast
my mind back, looking for some clue, some correlation to what happened next, but it
eludes me still. Something, somewhere, had fallen, shifted, been disturbed. When I
walked into the living room, there it was: one of the candlesticks had tumbled off the
tower, somehow, and now lay, four feet down, in two pieces, its head severed, on the
floor. Its candle was standing straight up, by itself, on the floor next to it. The slightest
breeze would have toppled it. I stared at this marvel, walked around it, stared some
more, for as long as seemed decent, then carefully plucked the candle from the floor.

Every attempt I’d made to repair the candlestick - solder, duct tape, Elmer’s glue, liquid
metal, crazy glue - had all failed. It would not hold a candle. Sooner or later, it
beheaded itself again. Eventually I gave up, accepted its brokenness, and laid it to rest,
along with its twin, wrapped and ribboned, in a drawer.

Some time after I had moved to Florida, and was nearing the end of the first cycle of
creating a life in a tropical setting, I was out riding my bike and thinking about how
things had come together, and what remained to be done. I remember thinking, and may
have even whispered to myself, “My one regret is leaving those speakers behind.” A
few days later I was browsing the local Kiwanis thrift shop, looking for bargains to
groovy up my Florida digs with, and there they were. Thirty dollars for the pair. What a
strange sensation, seeing those two old friends under cold fluorescent lights amongst
tattered hide-a-beds and stacks of lampshades, a thousand miles from New York. I paid
with no dickering and brought them home. Are they the same ones I had left behind in
New York? I’ll never know. I thought I’d give the candlesticks one last try. I got them
out, glued the broken one together again, and set them both, with new candles, on the
old tower. There, to this day, is where they stand.

October 25, 2011

October 23, 2011

October 21, 2011

Jackets and jeans

After four days of unrelenting rain, the skies are clear at last. I’m a homebody but enough is enough. A cool front has arrived... jackets and jeans are in play. I think jackets are my favorite threads. They give designers a lot to play with, and variations are endless. And they have pockets, in the right places.

I’ve amassed a small collection over the years. My denim Pepe birthday present from Mary, that people want or threaten to steal. The black leather bomber, both badass and classy. A camel ultrasuede sports coat, a tad rumpled and good with jeans.

For the first time in weeks we’re sleeping with the air conditioning off and all the windows open. Soon the it’s too cozy to get out of bed effect will delay the mornings’ start and linger the remnants of dreams.

October 18, 2011

October 15, 2011

What's that smell?

There is no scent in cyberspace. But then isn’t its sterility its appeal? Its retreat
from the loam and volatility of real life? Scent is stubbornly non-negotiable.

There are few if any aromas that repel an animal. Everything incites curiosity.
Analysis. Evaluation. Dogs prefer their food a tad rank. Wild horses roll around
in wildflowers to pick up their fragrance. Jungle cats mark their territory with a
pungent spritz and nobody is offended. Few things are more transporting than the
aroma of some savory dish simmering delectably on a stove. I'll walk by the
local rib shack, smell the aroma of mesquite in the air, and damn near have to
suppress a howl. Yet the odor of the slightest trace of this morning’s fried eggs
in an unwashed frying pan is intolerable. What is it, exactly, that threatens and
oppresses me? My refusal to share my space with an unacceptable olfactory
presence is near absolute. One of us must go.

I suspect I’m more tolerant than most. I like fragrance. I’ve followed women
enveloped in a cloud of Shalimar down a grocery store aisle. I enjoy the
cuminesque aroma of a male in a stale T-shirt. A whiff of fresh tobacco smoke
from a sidewalk cafe. Wet cement after a rain. And the usual popular
assortment of fresh-cut lawn, gasoline, jasmine in bloom, sizzling bacon, sun-
dried linen, are all appealing. Yet the fragrance of a bank of alyssum, so
redolent to me of a fetid baby powder, is difficult for me to inhale twice.

This olfactory territorialism seems distinctively human... culminating in such
things as the fragrance-free office, a step beyond the expectations of normal
hygiene, wherein the deliberate and complete preclusion of an important
sensory faculty makes coexistence possible. We’ll tolerate, perhaps even enjoy,
an ugly face. A grating voice. And all the gossip, trivia, and boring pedantry
that is thrown at us. But a whiff of a day-old sock, or the wrong perfume, sends
us running for olfactory cover. We don’t even like to talk about how things
smell. It’s gauche. It’s beneath us.

Shamans of old could accurately diagnose what was ailing you by smelling your
stool. Dogs can be trained to sniff out cancer cells. But the ascendancy of sight,
and secondarily hearing, in the migration of human beings away from olfactory
input is striking. I suspect that this has to do with aroma’s singular intimacy,
and its subliminally perceived consequences. These are not abstract photons or
sound waves, sharing a range on an ethereal electromagnetic spectrum, but
carnal molecules, physical bodies, that lodge in the moist intimacy of our nasal
passages. Nobody gets a cold from seeing a sneeze, or hearing one. There is
both clear and present danger, and vivid delight, in this most primal of sensory
gateways to the world around us. It has the power to allure, or repel, or suspend
us in tantalizing ambivalence. What’s that smell?

October 12, 2011


I get my cappuccino at the local coffee shop, owned by a lovely old lady, the stout and motherly kind, and her partner, a more ethereal Alice B. Toklas type, who likes my cologne. "You smell nice!"  When the shop changed hands and I first started going there, I was on the cusp of my paleo regime. I said that I didn't see soup and salad on the menu... was it available? “We can make whatever you want, sweetheart,” she said. “We’re not one of those corporate places where you have to eat what they want you to eat.” She had me at "sweetheart.”

The first time I ordered a cappuccino, she asked me if I was sure I didn’t want a latte. Seems people often order a cappuccino when what they really want is a latte. I said I was sure. She quizzed me: “What do you call a cappuccino?” OK, I was game:

“It’s an espresso, of course, with a head of foamy steamed milk on top instead of mixed through the coffee. A bitter kiss wrapped in a creamy hug.”

“You know your cappuccino,” she said, satisfied. “Sometimes I’ll make a cappuccino, and when it’s lighter than a fortune cookie, people get upset. Think they’ve been cheated.”

“Like your heart on judgment day,” I said, “it’s supposed to weigh less than a feather.”

Now when she sees me she asks if I want my “regular.” I’d be reluctant to order a latte even if I wanted one. Your regular, once earned, is not lightly waived.

October 10, 2011

October 7, 2011

October 4, 2011

October 2, 2011