Neighbor

“I got worried for a minute. Thought you were a bomber. That bag was there and I didn’t know where you had gone.”

He was a man I’d guess of about 6’2” with (once) formidable biceps that had softened a bit in his years, dignified gray hair, and a goatee. He was seated at the Starbucks window counter in Boerne, Texas, with my bag next to him that had been left for about five minutes. Maybe a bit less.

“Oh…I’m sorry about that,” I tried to say lightly but with a tone of sincere apology. I knew his anxiety. “I had to wait for the bathroom, and then…” my voice ellipsed. “Gotta be careful these days, right?”

“Shame, isn’t it?”

“Yes, indeed.”

He saw me pulling out my laptop and scooted his more to the side, giving me more room. “Need to plug in?”

photo: BootsnAll Travel

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So far…

Wordle: research notes so far on generosity in cities

My first of three weeks in Texas (with Karen’s family) was largely devoted to researching generosity in large cities (online and in texts), and some of the next two will be as well. That is, when we’re not swimming, eating fried catfish, napping, or looking for deer bones in the woods behind Memaw and Granddaddy’s house.

The Cardinals

Granddaddy pointed out correctly yesterday that one of the morning doves may have figured out how to get birdseed from the feeder.

By design, the feeder is supposed to limit these larger and more aggressive birds from perching on the 1.5-inch side pegs and extracting all the food from two cylindrical tubes. There are actually two feeders. One, hung in a crape myrtle, enjoys the regular dining company of three or four finches. The other one, larger and erected on an aluminum pole painted green, with a round, hollow guard dangling below two separate tubes to protect them from squirrels or raccoons who might try to scale the pole, entertains the doves (officially unwelcome), finches, sparrows and a cardinal couple. Memaw says that the cardinal male has only recently ceased pecking at the dining room window, where he saw his reflection and thought it a challenger. Memaw would be inside, banging pans and waving at him and making all kinds of gestures and noises, to no avail.

“It’s been three seasons now, I think,” she says. “He would get worried I guess that this other male bird was going to steal his sweetie-pie. Then after a time, he figured he wasn’t going to lose her.” She thought for a moment. “He just doesn’t stand up as much.”

The female is at the smaller of the two feeders, on the crape myrtle. Her red-brown tail feathers are fanned out like a hoop skirt. Memaw tells me more. “She’ll come over to the feeder, and he’ll follow her over. He’ll help her with the nesting. They mate for life, you know.” In fact, during courtship, he will sing to her, and feed her seed beak-to-beak.

This summer Granddaddy says is one of the greenest he can recall. Sure enough, the lawn out back is succulent, the grass this morning still enjoying its dew, the sun’s rays catching the tip of each blade’s moisture and transforming the lawn into an emerald tablecloth covered with tiny diamonds. The crickets are still singing though it’s already eight o’clock. The colors are vibrant and stark—sky blue, cardinal red, grass green, crape myrtle fuscia. Patches of light and dark boast distinct borders and, for the moment, they remain unmoved, as if the sun decided to pause for this very moment, for this observation, and allow these diurnal nomads to settle. The rays—invisible, not the yellow crayon approximation of a child’s drawing—are what brings out these colors and patches. The sun is a both a creator and a reflector. It is both that which empowers and teaches color to the student, and also that which serves those same colors, as attendants do with a queen, announcing her arrival.

As the crickets sing on, one dove—not the one who figured out how to get food—makes a plaintive moan as it flies between the live oak and the top of the green feeder. It flies now to the roof, over my head, unable to satisfy its craving.

photo: mosippy

Not exactly calf fries

Dining at The Lakehouse in Kerrville last night, 7-year-old Teak stared down at my freshly delivered plate of fried catfish. Five pieces of light beige deliciousness.

Always curious at his age about anatomy, human and otherwise, and not knowing much about fish, he pointed to two round objects next to the catfish, both about one inch in diameter.

“Are those the balls?” he asked.

“No, Teak. Those are hush puppies.”

photo: mobtownblues

Bennett’s First Birthday [Part 1]

The Cowboy Store in Kerrville is gone.

Karen had agreed to accompany me on my search for a pearl snap shirt, a semi-annual ritual during our summer and Christmas vacations to Kerrville, her hometown, from New York City,090909.HaMeD!caL mine, and where we live now.

I became somewhat taken with this style of shirt upon seeing it worn by a young buck working at Crider’s (spelled with a rope on an overhead billboard), a rodeo and outdoor dance hall in Hunt, Texas, that recently celebrated its 80th year of operation. Karen had told me early in our relationship that only cowboys and dorks wore snap shirts. Despite her clear delineation of coolness, and regardless of the near impossibility of my venturing into the livestock business, I have never been deterred.

Since my purchase three summers ago of a Wranglers snap shirt—white embroidered cotton with ¼-inch blue vertical stripes—I have been on the lookout both in stores and online for such western attire that can be worn in midtown Manhattan by a man who was born and raised there but wants to bring a little Hill Country to the Big Apple.

My four shirts have come from The Cowboy Store, which country music singer Jason Aldean has pitched on the radio, specifically on KRNH-FM 92.3 “The Ranch” and on KRVL 94.3 “Revolution Radio” before they changed their format from Texas country to classic rock. In fact, I couldn’t say that Billy’s Western Wear, off Sidney Baker Street in front of The Home Depot, was ever on my radar until Karen and I saw that The Cowboy Store was no longer in business. Billy’s is about 100 yards from interstate I-10, which gets you from El Paso to Houston in 10 ½ hours, or to your cousin’s in Beaumont in just under 12. This expanse within one state, however, doesn’t isolate the many small towns and larger cities from one another; rather, it draws them together through a sense of state pride unlike, for example, the dynamic mosaic of California, a state of restless or fleeing transplants from the East Coast, Mexico, the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia; or New York, battleground between upstate and downstate—New York City versus everything else, even though the city provides Albany with much of its revenue to serve the rest of the state. Texas is one state and has been its own nation. The one thing I’ve noticed Texans don’t laugh at is any slight directed at their state, whether intentional or innocent.

It was this sense of community that allowed the cashier at Billy’s to tell me, when I asked, not only what happened to The Cowboy Store but also the family narrative of their own business, into which she married. To wit, it’s not often you get a Happy Meal at McDonald’s and learn that the fry chef is the granddaughter of Ray Krok. It’s also this sense of community that gives shows like “Greater Tuna” its bite, charm, and poignancy.

Tuna, Texas, the fictional third-smallest town in Texas—losing its second place status “when Irene had triplets,” and a town where all the characters on stage, men and women, are portrayed by four male actors—is kept informed about local and national news by two gregarious and carefree radio announcers who announce such offbeat headlines as when there is a “Nuclear plant disaster!…Six states affected….” Dramatic pause. “Texas not included. And onto other news…” It is the town where Stanley, the sociopath son of a tormented woman whose adulterous husband keeps her weeping over her children’s foibles and dead-end futures, laughs over the coffined corpse of a judge who earlier sentenced him to reform school. Stanley then proceeds, in soliloquy, to confess—after almost 80 minutes of laughs by the audience at the idiosyncrasies of small town life—that it was he who injected air bubbles into the ailing body of the bed-ridden septuagenarian, killing him. Moments earlier, the killer’s aunt, sister to the cuckolded mother, stares down at the judge’s body as she, too, laments to him—to us—that she should have never fallen in love with him years earlier. And then she fulfills a promise. She starts to sing a song, having told him she would sing over his grave. We see that it is those who are deeply alone, who have been abandoned or shamed or dismissed, who are the most hideous in their character. We see the show performed a regional theater troupe that included the local high school science teacher and my father-in-law’s barber, men showing the full emotional expression—exaggerated though it might be—of the men and women of Tuna, Texas. It is delightful, and—in the arcane sense of the word—terrible.

Sartre was wrong. Hell is not other people; hell is isolation. Or perhaps it’s eternal isolation pressed against other people.

And so as you read about pearl snap shirts and dorks—a title I wear at times whether I like it or not—and as you travel down my narrative into murder and vaunted love, you may wonder where the theme of “community” could have diverged into trails of joy and despair.

They diverge when the judge throws the book at the 16-year-old sociopath (when he was but a troubled youth) and he spends only nine months in a reformatory that so thoroughly deadens his humanity that he takes mortal revenge on his enemy.

The trails converge again at the Guadalupe, as my nephew William, along with three school-age sons Carter, Bennett, and Teak drive to Mo Ranch outside of Hunt to swim in the river. They converge as five sun-tanned bodies float in the water wending between limestone cliffs—our goggles are on and we are staring at the river bottom 18 inches down. We are searching for an arrowhead that missed a deer more than a century ago. The father, a man who grew up in the city and knows more about finding an air-conditioned car on the downtown #1 IRT subway than about Indian artifacts, has offered $20 for the first arrowhead found by a boy 10 or under. The race is on and when it seems hopeless that an arrowhead will be found, the oldest son calls for a new challenge. The father, seeking to extend their time on the river—water at about 80 degrees, air at about 92—says he will pay 25 cents for every shell the oldest boy finds, 50 cents to the middle boy, 75 cents to the youngest. (The father is less concerned about economic justice than about quickly finding another reason for them all to stay.) In the end, of course, the cash winnings vary and the temper of one son flares, but 30 minutes later when they are eating hamburgers and recounting their day, they are content. The five males share a circular booth in the corner of a Fuddruckers in Kerrville, miles from the Guadalupe but still on the trail that had converged in the river. They all agree it is the best booth in the restaurant.

~

A week before I left for Texas to float in the river that afternoon, at eight in the morning, Sal and Chris from the Gristedes grocery store on 86th and Broadway in Manhattan paid me a personal visit because of a complaint I had emailed to the company’s corporate office the evening before.

[To be continued]

photo: HaMeD!caL

Indigestion (re-post)

[Post originally appeared in November, now digitally remastered since some readers missed it after I took it off to edit.]

 

 

When my wife Karen and I would go to Jumbalaya, a Peabody, Massachusetts restaurant that promised a combination of Tex-Mex and Creole food, she always seemed to be smirking.  I should have taken this as an early warning sign that she, as a Texan, would have no truck with rice-filled Yankee wraps masquerading as burritos.  In near-pure husbandly love, 122608ed-dameI decided recently to take my Texan wife out to find a true Tex-Mex dinner where we live now in New York City.  Big mistake.

 

To put into perspective, full relief, the Absolute Dunderheadedness which I embodied on that Saturday night, I must detail the Prologue, which – as the word indicates – is a “forward word” on said dunderheadedness, a foretaste of Simplemindedness amidst wisdom and savvy on the Upper West Side, a foreshadowing of many dollars spent later on subway and taxi fare, babysitting, and dinner to modest if any effect – yes, a prelude to a nuptial depth charge.

 

On the heels of a wonderful Thanksgiving feast out on the south shore of Long Island, home of my aunt and uncle and five of my cousins, at which we enjoyed the standard fixings of this most traditional of American meals, I decided on a somewhat different route for our Freeman Home fare for that Friday.  In the past, I have enjoyed cooking a turkey with all the trimmings:  green beans, mashed potatoes, rolls, a dessert and, of course, a special stuffing that I usually vary from year to year and experiment with, one of which was the famous chestnut and wild cherry version I tried a few years back and bragged about the other day to my downstairs neighbor Peter as we both walked our kids to P.S. 9.  This year, however, I opted for a main dish I’d cooked in 2003 for my team and boss at a former place of employ:  a prime rib.  I had cooked it then quite well, and to everyone’s amazement, it tasted as good as it smelled and looked and, more importantly, my boss – a meat-and-potatoes-man from Cedar Grove, Wisconsin – seemed happy enough with it and, most importantly, I had expensed the meat from a local Stop-n-Shop grocery store.  I never “felt” the effect of the per-pound stomach punch that this wonderful beef had caused and, what’s more, this was before the Federal bailout of AIG and others and I had no thought of ever recouping my losses through other means, as I have now, two days following the Beef Incident at Citarella.

 

As you’ll recall from the paragraph above, which no doubt you read carefully – especially if you are among my family and friends who have been hearing first-hand from an unnamed source whom I sleep with every night and whom I suspect of secretly ruining my culinary reputation on Facebook and other social networking devices ranging from the telephone to the standard Christmas party – there was an Incident involving beef.  At Citarella.  On the Upper West Side.  Where people generally know their food.  And so, ostensibly, did I.

 

I sallied forth into that shop after a successful outing at Fairway, where I had limited my damage to approximately $33.  My new goal was to get a rib roast of about seven pounds – “three or four ribs” the recipe for 6 to 8 people called for.  My wife Karen – hereafter referred to as the Culinary Reputation Assassin; I suspect her sending out defamatory emails and Status Updates at 2 a.m. while I am sleeping only feet away – had asked only that I cook something that would produce leftovers.  Like beef stroganoff.

 

“Oh!”  I scoffed, with the best Burt Wolf haughty laugh I could muster.  “It has to be something Thanksgiving-ish.”  And I had considered privately:  turkey, duck, goose, quail, pheasant…rib roast.  Ham as a last resort.  No, it must be somewhat extravagant.  Remember, I had expensed the meat last time…

 

I entered Citarella with my two bags printed “Fairway” on the side, thinking ahead five minutes or so when I could walk the ten blocks home with a “Citarella” bag alongside them for all the viewing public to see, the way some women – vain creatures all – carry Gucci or Hermes or Bergdorf.  I went to the butcher and started explaining what I wanted.

 

“Sure,” he started, “got it right here.”  And he held up a piece of meat that he explained was about nine pounds.  (Honestly, it might have been of the quality to be made into Whopper Juniors the next morning, but I didn’t know the difference.  I played along as if.)

 

“I don’t need that much.  Only about seven pounds.  Three or four ribs.”  Oh, Lord, I hope he doesn’t ask me any more questions, because I’m out of culinary talk.  I’ll have to pretend I’ve forgotten how to speak English.

 

“OK.  I can cut that.  You want it from the wide end or the short end?”  The meat did in fact taper slightly.  Damn that meat – why couldn’t it be cylindrical!  I think I can bluff this one by telling him what I know instead of what I don’t know, which is copious.  “Well, I’m browning it and then cooking it for about three hours at 250.”

 

“OK,” – he bit – “I’ll cut it off this end” – indicating the smaller – “and that should be fine.”

 

He turned his back to me so he could slice, and I figured I was out of the woods.  Little did I know the snake was about to strike.

 

Facing me once again, he placed on the counter a package the size of a large loaf of bread.  It was the size of a Boston terrier’s torso, wrapped in Citarella paper inside a clear plastic bag and twist-tied.  A label with bar code was inside that bag on the inner wrapper.  He patted the meat approvingly.

 

“Nice treat here!” he said and smiled.

 

“Yeah.  Once-a-year thing.”  And I started to walk away, with the torso in my right hand, label facing up.  Then I knew why he was smiling; then I knew why The Culinary Reputation Assassin had picked up the phone first thing when I came home with the Incident-Creating beef.

 

I had purchased 7.7 pounds, at $20.99 per pound.  You do the math; I can’t say it here before a mixed audience.  Of course, while it was pride and embarrassment and certain Reputation Death at returning the meat to the butcher, I told myself that it certainly must be store policy that once you ask for a cut of meat, you’re obligated to purchase it.  Certainly.

 

In the next few feet of store, I was trying to figure out how to dodge the bullet of the Assassin, but I realized there was no way.  The cashier asked me whether, in addition to the $162 (there, I said it) worth of gallows equipment I had just purchased, I would like to donate to the March of Dimes.

 

“Sure.  Add on ten dollars.”  Like a bitter pull of nicotine charity before the firing squad.

 

When I reached home and told Karen what had happened, to her credit, she kind of smiled in stunned disbelief – as if losing 40% of our IRA since mid-September wasn’t enough – and then blurted, “Oh.  Man.  I am calling everyone I know.”

 

Assassination complete.

 

And, needless to say, prime rib in the form of cold roast beef doesn’t provide leftovers as conveniently or tastily as, say, stroganoff does.  Not sure I can put my finger on it, but cold, congealed beef fat pressing up against the inside of a Glad bag from inside the frig just doesn’t have the same effect as does pulling the sizzling prime rib from the oven after four hours.  Now I know why Lidia Bastianich smiles more than most Gristedes deli counter workers.

 

That was Friday.  Then there was Saturday night.

 

Karen had said, specifically, she didn’t want Mexican food, nor did she want to go to the Lower East Side.  She said that specifically, and if I missed it, I wasn’t listening to her.  Her sentiments were couched in the reality that Tex-Mex is best captured by restaurants within the Lone Star State and found outside its borders only by those who hail from within them.  In other words, a New Yorker like me had no business claiming I had found a “Mexican restaurant” anywhere, especially with the beef fiasco of the day before.  I had proven myself useful navigating the subway system when Karen met me after moving to New York in 1995, a prime reason for which she married me and to which I should limit my expertise in the coming days.

 

I had been to a restaurant called The Hat years ago, maybe in the late 80s – back when rib roast was only $15 per pound.  Only problem is, it was on Stanton Street in – yes – the Lower East Side.  Now, I must confess, my intent was somewhat mixed.  On the one hand, I wanted to prove that New York had good food of every variety and nationality.  I mean, this is New York.  And, born and bred here, I had my city’s good name to defend.  On the other hand, I sincerely wanted my wife to have some good Mexican food between our visits to Texas.  So this presented a unique dilemma:  do I swing for the bleachers and strike out, or do I succeed and have my wife’s everlasting devotion to me sealed as the one who helped her find a good chimichanga north of Mamacita’s, a restaurant in her hometown of Kerrville owned by a man named Hagi, who emigrated from Iran in 1976 but has had his Texas driver’s license long enough to know Tex-Mex food better than many locals, especially those from places like North Austin.

 

I decided to step up to the plate and swing like Casey.

 

Having taken the 1 train from 86th to 59th, transferred to the D and then to the F at West 4th, exiting at Second Avenue, it was just a short – I mean really short – walk to Stanton Street.  The neighborhood was funky, and I really liked it.  Unfortunately, this neighborhood did not so much fit her definition of “funky” as it did a crime scene from Law & Order, and a date night is all about what the man does for her – and perhaps rightly so – not what he gets from it.  At least this is the law of human interaction:  the male pays for everything, and the female gets to critique.  Preferably with a growing number of Facebook friends and a calling plan that includes Unlimited Long Distance and $1-per-minute to International zones if she has friends – or can establish them quickly – in places like Bhutan or Cote D’Ivoire.

 

A half block away, I spotted The Hat and while a smile was coming over my face, she said, “There it is.  Looks like a hole in the wall.”

 

Lesson to all husbands on dates:  one man’s funk is another woman’s rat-infested dive.  Things were going south very quickly.

 

My assurances to the contrary completely rendered flaccid, we entered to find seven tables, five of them unoccupied, with Ricardo Arjona blasting from unseen speakers.  (It was so loud I said later to Karen that we probably couldn’t have heard each other speak.  She replied that I probably wouldn’t have wanted to hear what she’d have to say anyway.)  Tables with fading blue plastic tablecloths were circled by wood chairs whose shellac was chipping.  The configuration and layout of the 25-foot square room seemed not so much “arranged” as “left as is” by a former owner who suddenly fled the country decades earlier upon learning that real Texans were only blocks away from the front door and headed that way.  With the prospect of staying and eating sliding from slim to nil, I did the only thing I could to save face except for backing out with my tail between my legs.

 

“May we see a menu?” I asked the lady who sidled over to us from the end of the bar.  I didn’t know if she was the hostess or simply the customer at table 3 whose turn it was to greet the arriving patrons.

 

Immediately I became consumed with analyzing the appetizers and entrees and noticed – to my horror and disapproval – that they didn’t serve free-range chicken or gluten-free tortillas, both of which had become of immense importance to me at that moment.

 

“Thank you,” I smiled at her, and we turned and left.

 

To compensate, thinking that this might be my one chance at redemption, I said meekly, “I saw a barbecue place around the corner on Orchard.  Looked really good…”

 

“Oh, please,” was her response.  No Mexican and no barbecue outside of Texas.  Can you not learn that.  Please.

 

At this point, I knew what the narrative was going to be.

 

I knew that the prime rib and the failed Mexican restaurant, along with the barbecue rejoinder would be inextricably linked in a family dialogue that included the tale of “The Jordan Ford Christmas in July Sale.”  This is the story of when my mother-in-law Ginger was driving with my father-in-law Earl in Austin when they were soon to be married, along with his brother, George.  The three heard a radio advertisement for a local car dealership announcing, “The Jordan Ford Christmas in July Sale!  The sale you’ll be talking about for the rest of your lives!”

 

“Oh, come on,” Ginger huffed. “We will not be talking about that for the rest of our lives.”

 

Earl and George looked at each other and one of them – it really doesn’t matter who – said, “Oh, yes we will.”

 

That was 55 years ago.

 

The rest of the night goes like this:  we hailed a cab to go to the West Village looking for a quiet meal in a quaint neighborhood – adjectives on date nights that start with the letter “q” usually are winners – had a cabbie who was altogether too talkative and wondered aloud whether you could have alcoholic beverages delivered to your apartment from restaurants, “like if you scotch-taped the lid on to a margarita…hee-hee-heee!”; switched our minds on where the cab would take us because I had not a clue on how to remedy matters; got out on 9th Street and Sixth Avenue, which just happened to have a Citarella on the block, into which we sallied forth once more, the Assassin learning quite volubly that it was indeed not store policy to necessarily purchase cut meat; ended up getting back on the uptown train and finally made it to 66th and Broadway, where we were one block away from Il Violino, our favorite Upper West Side restaurant and at which we were served our entrees 135 minutes after leaving home; and where we – happily, nuptially, with smiles and the expected but teasing grief-giving; recalling other incidents which have gained a foothold in family lore; recounting my missteps and foolery from the past 24 hours not just in instant replay but in frame-by-frame, foot-on-the-out-of-bounds-line action; looking at each other as two who would yet experience perhaps some sadness and difficulty and pain in our lives to come, as all life has – we only 11 years into marriage – but also some hilarity and somberness and more than a little tenderness; for we are two people, star-crossed from Texas and New York, who met one Sunday in August in 1995 and became friends that first day, friends who could later go through debacles involving obscenely priced food and food not worth its cost; friends, lovers, a married couple with a babysitter on the clock and three sons asleep – shared her lasagna and his fettuccine alla carbonara, each of them offering portions on a bread plate, “Please. Take another bite,” before heading home.  He:  full of apprehension of what the next day would hold.  She:  waiting to call a sister or a friend.

 

Frankly, anyone who would listen.

photo:  ed dame

A writer’s limits

On the day that Mom and I were married, it had been raining.  The men who were in Kerrville for our wedding all went and played golf in the rain that morning, and had more fun than success.  The women did whatever women do on wedding days, which usually means lots of make-up, lots of hair, and lots of conversation.  They also ate brunch and drank things called mimosas.

 

111508octavineMy most clear memory is standing with the minister at the front by the altar with my groomsmen on one side and the bridesmaids on the other, some 200 people in the pews watching, and seeing Mom come down the aisle toward us.  My eyes were fixed on her.  I burst out crying.  Believe it!  But I got it under control and then she arrived and stood next to me, as serene and confident and happy as I had always known her to be.  I looked like a penguin in my tuxedo; she looked like an angel in white.  But as beautiful as she looked on March 8, 1997, she looks even more beautiful today, because I know her eleven years better.

 

Sweet, right?  The assignment was for the parent to write about a memory, 6-8 sentences or a couple paragraphs long, and give to our children to read in class during a parent-child exercise.

 

Well, perhaps it was endearing.  But apparently it was not particularly well written from a 2nd grade standpoint, I learned harshly yesterday morning at Bennett’s “Open School Day,” in which we had a peer-to-peer writing segment, and in which I paired off with Bennett, was most gracious with his piece, and during which he ripped me to shreds.

 

I packed into Ms. Garetano’s class, Room 2-202 at P.S. 9, at 9:00 sharp along with about 25 other parents.  After the warm-up assignment of using play money to buy items at Bennett’s “store” and see if he could make change from $18.75, or $2.50 and so forth, we got to the main event.

 

Confessing here my writerly pride, I had assumed that our children were reading aloud our stories to those present.  I was looking forward to hearing the whispers behind me of “Ooh, how witty…how incisive…what brilliance and charm and beauty and connubial love…”  In short, I was thinking I would wow them.  Now, I knew the piece was not my best work.  But I figured that, these being Upper West Side parents notwithstanding, they’d still see the literary genius standing behind the 2nd grader.  They might be hedge fund managers, but I was the blogger among them.

 

Seems my pride needed to get taken down three notches by a Small Human a few feet shorter than I.

 

Ms. Garetano told the parents and students to pair off in families and for “Table Leaders to grab two sets of colored pencils and four sets of Personal Revision Forms.  OK, children?  Two sets of pencils and four sets of forms per table.  All right.  Tables 1, 2 and 3, you may go.”  Pause. “Tables 4, 5, and 6, you may go.”

 

Bennett and I cleared a space on his desk area, and he read through my piece again.  (At this point, I was resigned to missing out on an adulatory crowd, but I still figured blowing away an 8-year-old with my prose was like shooting fish in a barrel.)  He read mine first before I was to read his and prepared to critique my piece by marking up the revision form, which had category headings such as “Did the writer add enough feeling?” “Did the writer use ALL 5 senses when writing?” and “Are there parts that the writer can show not tell?”

 

He put a check by “Is the writer’s idea a seed idea?” – meaning:  is it specific, and not a “watermelon” or broad idea – and then the proverbial red ink started to spill.

 

He underlined “fun” in yellow pencil where I had written that the golfers had had “more fun than success.”

 

“What’s that mark for?” I asked, my smile starting to transmorph into tense facial muscles.

 

“You gotta ‘crack the word open,’ Dad.”

 

“What does that mean?!”

 

“Look–” and he pointed to criterion 4 – “Did the writer ‘crack open’ simple words?” – “you gotta crack that word open.”  Fun.

 

“OK,” I said, and shut up.

 

Crack open “fun”…

 

Well…it was fun that the guys’ challenge that Saturday morning in Kerrville was more to keep the balls out of the puddles rather than in the hole.  And that Wes beaned a house off the third tee and we cackled like kindergartners.  And that Dave K was a maniac in the golf cart and probably had all Yankees thereafter banned from operating machinery south of the Oklahoma-Texas border.  It was “fun,” and I could have cracked it open…more like that.  Bennett was right.

 

Then the Critic underlined in pink the word “happy” when I wrote that Karen reached the front of the sanctuary and I told the reader that she was “as serene and confident and happy as I had always known her to be.”

 

“What’s THAT for?!”

 

He checked off “YES” next to the criterion, “Are there parts that the writer can show not tell?”

 

Hmm.  How do I show that Karen was “happy.”

 

I could say that she was smiling, but that was merely an outward indicator.  How did I know that she was happy, know it enough to share it with the reader?  Perhaps it was that she looked stunning, and everyone knew it.  Perhaps it was in my poring over what she knew about me, and seeing her step forward, past all those people, and that she was willing to step before God and take vows to stay with me for the rest of our lives together.  Perhaps it was that, and that her family knew what she knew about me, and that she walked past them nevertheless, looking stunning, to go before God to say those vows.

 

I don’t know.  I can’t really answer this.  I can’t edit my story yet.  It is a work in progress.

 

 

photo:  octavine