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P1010530Tyson had been gone for days, finishing a new record with his band. That Sunday morning, when he finally came home, there were warning signs that things weren’t right—every local hermit weirdo was wandering the streets, and Mildred looked frantic, babbling about the mandatory evacuation. She said the mayor was calling it “the storm we’ve long feared.” Tyson had been running hard on cocaine and vodka. He was barely aware that a hurricane was coming. They lived in the Bywater neighborhood, which was already deserted.

Hugh_Laurie_music_1854941bBetty Whoops shared Hugh Laurie‘s comment.

April 1 at 4:33 pm · Like · 46

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There’s almost no such thing as ready. There’s only now. And you may as well do it now. I mean, I say that confidently as if I’m about to go bungee jumping or something – I’m not. I’m not a crazed risk taker. But I do think that, generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

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For reasons having to do with great embarrassment and no small measure of sadness, two of the people in this accounting will be referred to only by their initials.  A lot of people find that annoying, but then some people find an ice cream truck going by their house on a summer evening annoying.

So.

It was at the age of thirty that C. first became aware of the weight of his head.

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa

Louisa, who tucked up her skirts and went running every day or she would go mad, was confounded and smothered by the whales of Concord, like Mr. E, on whom she had a crush when she was a child and left him flowers under his window, flowers found and laughed at by Mrs. E, who had to put up with all his giggly acolytes, who arranged themselves prettily at his feet, including that lunatic Jonas Very, to whom Mr. E was always so kind even though Jonas Very was very very unpoetic and it would kill him to think so, but aside from Mr. E and stately Mr. H, whom she privately liked to call Nat, because he was so very very formal and distant, always walking along the Lexington Road with his head bent in thought, there was princely Henry, and on that spring evening she was running to meet Henry in his rowboat–Henry in his rowboat, playing his flute!–and overcome by her freedom from the whales of philosophy she did a sort of handspring in the path and accidentally felled a small dead tree. 

Stevie Mackenzie’s brother broke up the family. He emailed her a few days after Thanksgiving to announce it. He would no longer be coming home for Christmas. John Armstrong—the family called him Army—had decided to spend the holidays in San Francisco with friends. His friends didn’t try to shove him in a box and tape it shut. His friends understood his situation.

A year went by, and Army stayed away again. Stevie and her parents fought to keep him. Eva, the older sister, was strangely neutral. Fewer pieces in the pie? Maybe. Perhaps she had a problem with intimacy. Whatever the reason, Eva was willing to let him go.  She and Army had much in common: strong chins, advanced degrees, jobs in technology. They even attended the same gadget conventions in Las Vegas. At one of these, they lunched.

*

My father said, “The decisive moment is overrated. I can’t tell you how many students of mine have wasted God-knows-how-much film trying to capture it.” Fifty or so wannabes stood outside the auditorium pretending to be cool, listening to him as if his talent would wear off on them. I leaned against the wall feeling forgotten.

He spoke to the crowd, but it was my sister Victoria who grabbed people’s attention, sneaky looks. The blond hair, red lipstick, white skin, four-inch heels: she was runway model-pretty. Her black widow dresses made her head float. Stylists across the city drooled over her sculptured hair.

She was next to me on the wall, listening, with a plastic glass of wine in her hand. I whispered to Victoria, “You know he’s full of shit.”

“This is his game, Tom,” she said under her breath.

“He’s selling the brand,” I said.

“I’m not buying,” she said.

The year she turned eighteen, Devi became a cashier in the Food Halls at Parkson Grand, Malaysia’s first fine department store, in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur. Before that she’d lived with her family in their village in the north. She’d barely finished secondary school when Parkson Grand advertised around the country for a “Malaysian Rainbow.” They wanted to hire people who were Malay, Chinese, or Indian, like Devi was.

It wasn’t college (no one in her family had attended college), but it was a way to earn actual ringgit and a way to explore. She sent in an application; six weeks later, she climbed on a bus. Her mother wept outside the sputtering vehicle, shook her fist when it took off. That night Devi curled on top of the last bunk in a room already occupied by five other cashiers in a falling-down apartment building on the edge of the jet-black Parkson Grand parking lot.

I.

Mateo got me drunk and told me about his mother’s parties. I stared at my reflection in the half-empty glass and lost myself in the white organza and tulle, the light strings and floating lanterns. Teo masked his familiar scent with cigarettes and cologne, but I could still smell the sweat lacquering his forearms, Argentina moist on his dark skin. He bought another round of tequila, and we drank to Cash and the mountain, my throat raw and roaring, the drowned pink worm dancing against my lips like a second tongue.

The small room filled up with eyes watching this príncipe and his boyish gringa. I leaned on the bar and laughed like my father, Mateo spinning words into worlds and building horizons with his long hands.

Andy had spent three years at art school. His angle – because in the arts one always has to have an angle – was that he painted things at microscopic level. Encouraged by his tutors, he referred to this as “Interiorization of External Space.” Andy liked cauliflowers a lot, he was always painting cauliflowers, because he couldn’t think of anything else to paint; initially, a friend had recommended them to him, because of their “interesting structure.” Sometimes he’d leave them lying around for a couple of weeks until they went brown. He was always mindful about giving his paintings industrial-sounding names: “Rotten Cauliflower, Batch I,” “Rotten Cauliflower, Batch XXII,” etc. One of his best compositions was called “Rotten Cauliflower, XIX,” he painted it one morning when he was badly hung over and suffering from nicotine withdrawal and therefore full of spontaneity.

 

Because she is seven days gone and he is so obviously heart-busted, I know it is not a good idea to talk to Tommy right now about Rosa or anything else. About how pointless this is. If it was a good time, then yes, I’d have things to say; we’ve been driving around for a long time. I’d say, “Tommy, I want to go home,” or “Dressing like a cowboy doesn’t make you one.” I’d say, “She is with Danny Lee now. She is probably gone for good, man.”

Phil is sitting in his office staring at his computer when his cellphone rings. It is his wife, Helen. He picks it up, punches a button. The call goes straight to voicemail.

“Tell it to your mother,” says Phil.

Then it’s the phone on his desk, melodic and eager. Phil watches the blue digits scroll across the caller ID display. It’s Helen. Phil turns back to work on his spreadsheet. He knows an email will appear on his screen within minutes, an apology from Helen. Her contrition will be touching, the way a green fly is touching.

Before Phil married Helen, his older brother pulled him aside at a family cookout and said, “Marriage is really hard. You have to work at it. It’s a lot of work.”

Firstly, the Earth itself spins on an axis. In fact, everything in the universe spins, unless you’re at the very center of the sun. In that way, the wheel itself is a microcosm of us all. And that’s just one aspect. Making the wheel so small, and with handles, illustrates man’s attempt to manipulate the world, while the randomness of his success proves our existential nature, how we really have so little control. Further, doesn’t everything, no matter how far away it goes or how fast it travels, always come back to us? It could be trouble. It could be a bad penny. If we’re lucky? Love. Moving right along, ff you’ll recall, man’s first invention—before fire, by some accounts—is the wheel, what we associate as the birth of engineering, man’s conquest over nature, our attempt to control the universe. Speaking of which, “Spinning your wheels” is also one of our more popular adages, one that evokes the image of gears moving throughout the head (in place of the brain), thought itself the bi-product of a semi-complex machine, moving parts rolling about each other, perpetuating motion, i.e., ideas. Time, which we are all slaves to, is controlled by clocks, run by the same inner workings of gears. Sometimes I take things further and project myself into the clockmaker’s role, one theory of the creator of the universe. In this version, God merely sets the game into motion and watches as the players fulfill their own destiny, using the tools they’ve been given, following a distinct set of rules. Sure, once in a while, I step in to move things along, but for the most part, the wheel dictates all. The wheel decides who lives and who dies, gives us choices, indiscriminately takes them away. The wheel simultaneously guides us along, encourages us, and destroys us, but never gives us the answers, hoping that we keep asking, keep searching, confidant that one day, on our own, we’ll fill in the blanks.

The two of them sit on the curb across the street from the Fun Church listening to the Christian rock jamming out the stained-glass windows. It’s that day: the perfect one between spring and summer that everyone in Chicago waits for. No humidity. No clouds. The grass has reached its greenest. The rehearsal of music that they’d both normally hate sounds pleasant. And the potential for that afternoon in the sun is overwhelming infinite. So they sit on the curb with their backs to Wicker Park scattered with other single people sunbathing and playing chess and softball and Frisbee. But they are not happy.

At some point this stopped being about food.

“Tell me, what can people expect from Artisan?” The digital tape recorder rests between New York culinarian, Chef Tairy Livingston, and myself on black sheepskin acting as tablecloth. According to the editor-and-chief of Neo Gourmet Magazine, it’s now standard practice to do interviews with the emotionally unstable and eccentric of the culinary world. “Rock star hash slingers,” they’re called—guys that attend an anger management meeting before outsourcing their pent-up aggression on a filet of veal.

The black mountain goat.

The black mountain goat with white-trimmed ears.

The black mountain goat with white-trimmed ears rose vertically.