Trying to write while solo-watching three young sons at home is a near impossibility.  I am lucky to get subject verb and object to cooperate in one sentence before —


Got moxie?

I like the word “moxie.”  Like, “she’s got moxie.”

Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, cites that Moxie is considered to be the USA’s first mass-produced soft drink, dating back to 1876, and created by a man who worked in nearby Lowell, Massachusetts.092907moxielogi.jpg

I believe the first time I heard the word used it came from the mouth of a supervisor of mine at John Wiley & Sons in 1985.  I had started there as an editorial assistant in October of that year.

Dan was the manager’s name, and indeed he probably used it in connection to a woman at the office, for to use it in reference to another man would be…suspect…especially for a guy like Dan, who was from Kentucky and wrote a sports column at UK and “played the ponies” at Belmont, going to Saratoga Springs at least once per summer.  He had an Hispanic girlfriend, whom I think he married some years later, and he once invited me over and served mint julips, which tasted neither too minty nor what I imagined as julip-y.  I decided against drinking them in the future.

Anyway, Moxie was claimed to cure all sorts of ailments, from softening of the brain to loss of manhood and would endow the drinker with “spunk.”  I am not sure that the other well-known beverage producers of today, namely Starbucks for 092907starbuckslogo.gifexample, would claim such physiological prowess.  Yet, Starbucks does claim to know what kind of music you will like, and one barista on the Upper West Side of Manhattan told me recently that, soon, when you walk into a store and have a wireless device, a message will appear telling you what song is playing and how to download it.  I had asked about a rocking song whose chorus sounded like, “Keep on rolling,” sung by a female whose voice was reminiscent of Sheryl Crow but younger.  If you know what song this is, please do tell.  I want to download it from iTunes before it is forced down my PDA’s throat in a few short weeks.

Moxie is still sold in New England, and in 1995 it was declared the official soft drink in Maine.

They still have moxie up there.

Flowers for a queen

On Starz recently was a showing of “The Queen” with Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar for her performance.  I was thinking when I started, Oh, a chick film, but I’m pretty relaxed right now and don’t really feel like watching “300.”  In fact, I did watch “300” not too long ago, one night on summer vacation in Texas, on DVD, having wanted to see this most recent of cinematographic depictions of highly stylized war and testosterone gone wild.  I made the mistake of seeing it with my 17-year-old nephew, father- and mother-in-law, and wife, who was running back and forth bedroom to bedroom trying to keep kids quieted down.  If you have seen “300,” you know that there are a number of scenes of…shall we say, intimacy…you don’t want to watch with a nephew, or mother-in-law, or basically anyone who knows your last name or where you work.  You need to see it like my brother did:  only with other men your own age, after which you go eat steak and smoke cigars.

“The Queen” was not “300.”  Very much not “300.”  I could have seen it with my nephew.  Or my mother-in-law.  Or my church’s pre-K Sunday School class.

The film was so much more than I expected, because it dealt with a fundamental principle:  that of grace.

092807sakura4u.jpgWhat I’ll point out here won’t be a spoiler for the movie, because if you watched TV at all from August 31 to September 5, 1997, you were probably tuned in to the coverage around Princess Diana’s death in Paris and public funeral at Westminster Abbey.  In fact, the lovely K and I were celebrating six months of marriage around that time with a long weekend trip to Quebec City, where we ate pastries to our heart’s content, and where I wore only v-neck white t-shirts and a blue blazer thinking I looked more European that way.  My guess is that most who saw me simply thought I looked more undressed.  K walked a few steps behind me.  But I digress.

We were returning to New York, and in the Quebec airport the TVs all had reports with Diana’s still photo in a thumbnail in the upper right hand corner of the screen.  We didn’t know what had happened.  By the time we got back to LaGuardia, we knew.  Karen was deeply affected by the tragedy, and she watched the news constantly when home, though we didn’t have cable and the reception was mostly static.  (That’s also one reason we ended up getting cable…but I digress again.)

Without knowing exactly how accurate the movie is – and I assume that the Queen didn’t sit down with the screenwriters over a bottle of Pellegrino and review what words and nuances she shared with the Prime Minister in those days following Diana’s death, when she stayed away from London with her grandsons, son, husband, and the Queen Mum – yet there seemed to be a keen look into the reality of whether a sovereign can understand the individual and group emotions of said sovereign’s subjects.

“Duty first, self second,” she told the Prime Minister near the end of the film, explaining why her reaction to Diana’s death was so delayed, so private at first, so apparently callous and removed, “that’s how I was brought up…that’s all I know.”

In fact, the only time she shows what the viewer might interpret as grief is during a very private moment, in utter solitude.  According to the movie, she honestly did not understand how vast numbers of people could grieve so profoundly about someone they didn’t even know personally.

Diana, on the other hand, had the world in the palm of her hand.  She gave everyone she met the sense that she could relate, and the world, in turn, related to her.  She was pictured holding AIDS babies, shaking hands with people on the streets, hugging, kissing, smiling without guile.  She became, in the words of one of the Prime Minister’s advisors, “the people’s Princess.”  And, as such, when she died, the people mourned.

And the Queen could not understand why.

And this is where grace comes in.

For a sovereign does not often, in fact, know what his subjects think or feel, nor, in fact, does the sovereign really need to care.  The sovereign’s job is to rule, to garner respect, to protect the state, to uphold the monarchy, and to produce offspring to perpetuate the dynasty.  The second son born to a queen is known as “the insurance policy.”

The ultimate sovereign of course, for those who believe, is God.  And many people have many opinions about whether this God can actually “relate” to us.  Many of the founders of my country (the United States) believed that God set the universe in motion and stood back.  This deism was shared by more than a handful of 18th century English colonists in America and classrooms full of academics and philosophers over the centuries.

But what to do about Jesus?

Jesus Christ exists eternally – outside the confines of time – and is called the “King of kings.”  He is, indeed, the ultimate Sovereign of sovereigns.  There is no Ruler greater than he is.  And, yet, he came into space and time, to spend a few years living in poverty and spending most of his time with the poor, the sick, the perverse, the crooked, the downtrodden…the last people on earth who could have expected a visit from the Sovereign.  The Bible says that because of Jesus, we have someone who understands what it’s like to walk in our shoes.  That someone is not the kind of god who would set the world in motion and then go on holiday for a few hundred million years.  That god would view you and me merely as the specks of dust that we are, not worth a moment’s thought.

No, Jesus authored all of creation, including you and me, and then he came, stepping out of his rightful place as Sovereign in eternity, and spent about 33 years with drunkards, prostitutes, dead people, and those whose skin was falling off.  Blind people.  People with raging psychoses.  Liars, cheats and thieves.  And a few hardened rich people, one of whom (Zaccheus) got so excited about Jesus that he started giving away his wealth hilariously.  He is with us even now, through his Spirit.

So the Queen, whose humanity did in fact shine through in the movie, still didn’t quite “get it.”

But Jesus “gets it.”  He knows how hard life is.  He knows how hard death is.  He is the ultimate Sovereign, and the ultimate “people’s King,” for he has walked in our shoes and he knows about all the things that beset and tempt us.  Nothing diminishes how majestic he is and how powerful he is, and yet no amount of his infinite majesty got in the way of his drinking wine with wedding guests, or healing a woman who couldn’t stop bleeding for 18 years, or going out fishing with the guys, or crying over the rotting corpse of a dear friend.

Jesus knows.  He knows you, and he knows me.  He has come, and he has seen, and he has made a way for you to come, and he has made a way for you to see…what he sees, and where he is.

Toward the end of the movie, the Queen finally visits Buckingham Palace, where flowers from mourning Brits cover a swath in front of the gate probably fifty yards deep.  The Queen walks along them and reads cards from the people, some of which express resentment toward the Royal Family.  Then she turns and sees a little girl behind the barricade holding a bouquet.

“May I place them over there for you,” she asks the girl, motioning to the thousands of other bouquets on the ground.

“No,” the girl replies.  The Queen betrays some surprise.  The girl speaks up:  “They’re for you.”

Our Sovereign seems long in coming, but he is not unaware.  When he comes this time, will you stand far off or offer him something in return?


photo:  Sakura4U

Eat here

Jorge Buccio has been getting some good exposure through a post I did on him after the anniversary trip K and I made to NYC back in March.  Indeed, if you have not had the Puglia experience and you are touring through NYC and don’t mind mediocre food, cheap wine and lousy service, but if you eagerly desire to get up on your table and “Get up, everybody, get up and shake 092707levi_sz.jpgyour napkin!” to the electronic keyboard and bass beat of Jorge, La Puglia is the place:  Hester and Mulberry in Little Italy.  You missed going to Luna, which was down the block on Mulberry and which closed sometime in the last three years and whose street front had a cameo in The Godfather (where I think Clemenza picks up the cannoli featured in the quote, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli”).  Indeed, there was much on their menu that was worth taking home, even if you did have to stop off somewhere to whack somebody.092707cheekykikitreats.jpg

Last night dinner was at Hill Country on West 26th Street.  Good eats, but I blasted their prices on Zagats just now.  One thing was nice:  they played Lyle Lovett and, as far as I could tell, all Texas music.  I think the Lovely K would go…once…and than turn up her nose at its being a wannabee.

 Gimme Rudy’s.

photos:  levi_sz, cheekykikitreats


Had goat last night, Lovely K.  It was my entree for dinner with Doug at Haveli, a Zagat-favorite on Second Avenue and 6th Street.  Delicious.  The only other time I had it was on 14th Street at a Jamaican place with Jim.  Delicious then, delicious now.  What do you think the boys would say if I told them I ate goat?  I know they were pleasantly grossed out 092607spekulator.jpgwhen I told them I had kangaroo last summer.  [PeTA people:  please don’t hassle me…’roos are like game in the Outback, and just ‘cuz they’re cute and furry doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cook ’em up and eat ’em.  And then blog about it.]

I remember when we went on that church retreat long, long ago, back when we drove up to upstate NY…Vermont…? …where were we?… with Sherrille and I had to stop at Burger King and get TWO whoppers, and later that night we played zoom where you had to make animal noises and I got confused in a pinch and sounded out a goat noise as if it were a car that wasn’t turning over (rrrRRRRrrr) and you got flustered when it was your turn and made a shark sound like the female lead in the B-52s.  Classic.

Miss you, baby.

photo:  spekulator

Savior Suites

This morning’s Times notes that ubiquitous TV and business personality Donald Trump will have a magazine devoted to helping people know how to spend scads of money.  What’s it called?  “Trump” magazine, of course, in keeping with the man’s insatiable – and arguably successful – branding approach.  But what happens when he dies?  Will their be a shrine erected in his memory?  (Not that there aren’t a few already…)  Or a movement?

Interesting to compare then that Christianity’s founder left no movement named after him, at first.  For many years, it was simply called “The Way.”  Perhaps for security reasons, sure, but nevertheless, it is curious to me that the most influential person in history did not pronounce at the end of his life that his followers brand the movement after his name.  Even it’s current name was not his given name at birth, but rather it is an acknowledgement of his position in time and history, and points to his purpose as the Messiah.  Even now, people who follow Christ encourage others to have a relationship with Jesus more so than subscribing “to Christianity.”  The brand, if you will, is not so important as is the personal and committed connection to the one after whom the brand is named.

Trump is a masterful brander.  But I know a better one.

photo:  y3ll

“What’s your beef with sugar?!”

“Step down!  Step down!!” the Korean deli lady used to say to the Lovely K when she’d get her bagel and coffee eons ago – well, not eons, I mean, K is only like twenty…nine…or something like that – and today I had an episode reminiscent of that when the young woman behind the register at Guy & Gallard on 36th and 8th told me – rather told the entire front of the store including those who were escaping after paying their total – “Next please!  Step down!”  The words had been softened a bit, only by the tiniest of margins, but the cry was the same, as was the result:  I stepped down without delay.  Me, 44, stepping down.  With celerity.  Pay.Go.Quick.Quick.Quick.

Good to be back in the city today.  Yes, it was very tough to leave the Lovely K and the boys – Carter started to cry last night when I told him I was going to New York again (NOTE TO SELF:  avoid making my departure obvious and concentrate on the positives when talking with Offspring).  It is especially hard for K – her days seem long; mine fly by for the most part.

For the third day in a row – I was in Dallas for three days, so had two days in the office last week – I bumped into someone I knew from Trinity Baptist Church from when we lived here before.  First, there was Daniel on 72nd Street and Columbus, who is now running his own tour guide company.  Then, I learned I work with the husband of Christina, who is also running her own tour guide company.  Both Daniel and Christina have acting backgrounds, as do most New York obstetricians, advertising executives, and subway conductors.

I distinctly recall K’s ob/gyn, who was counseling us during Carter’s time in the womb.  We had heard all the scares about immunizations, etc., which Dr. Healy roundly addressed as well as sugar intake, on which she pointedly queried K:  “What’s your beef with sugar?”  Needless to say, we heeded her counsel and let her put as many needles in K and our baby as necessary in order to survive sleeping sickness and early IRA withdrawal penalties, as well as loaded up on the Cinnabons.

Dr. Healy did not have an acting background.  But, then, I never asked.

The third person from Trinity was today, Meredith, whom I ran into on 35th between 7th and Broadway.  Her husband, Ted, in fact, was one of three people who referred me first to Trinity back in 1995, when I was fresh from ruining my life in Atlanta, and at which I met the Lovely K in August of that year.  I told her today that she was mostly responsible, therefore, for my wonderful marriage.  She blushed, as if she didn’t really know what to do with this information.  She and Ted do not have a tour guide company.

In any event, K is always saying that “things just happen” in NYC, meaning that you never know what kind of connections lead to events big and small in your life.  Perhaps because she troubleshoots video games for the boys day in and day out, K describes the City like a big video game, where you are always trying to get to the “next level” by unlocking the secret code and so forth.  I like it when she waxes metaphorical.  It brings out the artist in her and she is quite cute.

I can’t wait for all of us to be here together after this commuting is over and we can do a multi-player game.

photo:  merve