Friday, May 18, 2018

Week in Seven Words #405

It's a gentle room. Blonde wood floors, small folding chairs, purple, pink, and light blue yoga mats rolled up in the corner. A diaphanous, dark curtain has been drawn across the floor-to-ceiling mirrors.

For his son's birthday, he asks other family members to send in warm greetings and anecdotes that collectively create a picture of the young man's character and all the good he's done for the people close to him.

At the subway station, there's a heavy, happy woman belting out James Brown's "I Feel Good," and her performance is full of real joy. A few hours later, on my return trip, I see that she's gone, and in her place are a small group of men that seem to be combining a bagpipe with jazz, an effort more creative than successful.

I'm settled awkwardly at a table, sipping spiked cider and not sure I'll find anyone to talk to. Two people find me though. They're lovely, and the afternoon swims by on laughter and food.

A few hours spent looking up health insurance rates and coverage.

Our afternoon is hurrying to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant for greasy food, eating it too quickly at a small park, and running to catch a movie. Bloated but satisfied, we arrive late enough to miss the previews.

Is this guy flirting with me? He's in my personal space, but he's from a culture where personal space is minimal, so I don't know. He's also touching my arm a lot and talking at length about James Bond. It's one of those times I wish I could read social cues more easily. In any case, I learn a lot about James Bond.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Blog's Name in Books

I found this fun little activity here: match a book from your to-read list to each of the letters in your blog's name.

Tale of Genji (Murasaki Shikibu)
History (Elsa Morante)
Excellent Women (Barbara Pym)

Shirley (Charlotte Bronte)
I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)
Love and the Platypus (Nicholas Drayson)
Leaving Atlanta (Tayari Jones)

Only Yesterday (S.Y. Agnon)
Faust (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Timeline (Michael Crichton)
Home (Toni Morrison)
Ella Minnow Pea (Mark Dunn)

Winter's Bone (Daniel Woodrell)
Ormond (Maria Edgeworth)
Rhinoceros (Eugène Ionesco)
Little Dorrit (Charles Dickens)
Dombey and Son (Charles Dickens)

Week in Seven Words #404

We walk along the reservoir in the dark. The water is glossy, and the backdrop is a hard, glittering skyline. One building has a red spire, like a syringe. From a dark pocket of trees, someone sings "Piano Man," his voice bright and disembodied.

The protesters outside the hotel take up a chant that has the pitch and rhythm of a child's taunt. It makes them sound immature and powerless, as if they need to wrap up their playtime soon and be home before dark.

A dad treats his young son like a computer program that needs constant debugging. Everything the boy does warrants a sharp remark, as it doesn't fall within the precise specifications of the programming.

We explore the edges of a milky gray pond. The leaves underfoot are clumpy and pulpy. Overhead, a black squirrel shudders along a tree branch and leaps, the branch shivering at its departure.

An aunt and her nieces and nephews sit on the steps of the museum and eat vanilla soft serve ice cream with sprinkles. A grandmother watches over a grandson and granddaughter as they pretend a giant, sloping rock is a hill of snow for sledding. A mother and her teenaged son relax on a bench and discuss face recognition software.

One train rushes by, then another. They sound like roaring water and hollow, rattling stones. The train we need still hasn't arrived. I spot something small and dark under the opposite platform: a rabbit the color of soot. It seems portentous, the Dark Bunny of Delays.

The glass sculptures look like alien growths transplanted among the flowers and mushrooming out of the pools of water.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Three Short Stories About Daughters and Their Not-So-Maternal Mothers

Title: The Girl Who Left Her Sock on the Floor
Author: Deborah Eisenberg
Where I Read It: The Art of the Story

“Fading smells of bodies clung to the air like plaintive ghosts, their last friendly overtures vanquished by the stronger smells of disinfectants. An indecipherable muttering came from other ghosts, sequestered in a TV suspended from the ceiling.”
Francie is at school on a scholarship when her mother dies. The girl is burdened by a sense that she has been unloved and disapproved of; her mother gave her care that didn't feel caring, as it came with a heap of anger and bitterness. Francie may also have been kept from important truths about her life.
The hospital floated in the middle of a vast ocean of construction, or maybe it was demolition; a nation in itself, of which all humans were, at every moment, potential citizens. The inevitable false move, and it was wham, onto the gurney, with workers grabbing smocks and gloves to plunge into the cavity of you, and the lights that burned all night. Outside this building you lived as though nothing were happening to you that you didn't know about. But here, there was simply no pretending.
Francie confronts the inescapable. There's her mother's sudden death. There's the aloneness, and being left in the dark to fumble towards a new life and deal with questions that can't be ignored. Adults look at Francie like they don't know where to put her or how to get her out of the way, and Francie herself doesn't really know where she belongs, only that she can't escape her life. The legacy of mother to daughter is one of a dark, cutting, and uncomfortable weight, the burden of a fury that never abated. The question is if Francie will ever find a place in her life where she can live at greater ease with herself.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Week in Seven Words #403

The small cakes and cookies displayed in the shop window look like they were created with paint markers. They can't be real baked goods. And if they are, they can't taste as good as they look.

They're slightly loud and fuzzy with wine when we bring gifts. Their dog trots around, absorbing pats and belly rubs and cuddles.

A tall, beefy man in a turquoise tank top and cream-colored Bermuda shorts is walking three small, identical white dogs.

When he's stressed out, his home crackles with tension. His family skirt around him, finding things to do in other rooms and saying little that isn't necessary.

The room is overrun by kids who pelt each other with candy, kind of like dodgeball but without any clear sides, more like a free-for-all of sugary projectiles.

On a brief visit to a library before a meeting, I find what promises to be an excellent book. I didn't expect to come across it and wasn't looking for anything like it, or anything in particular. Is this something that can be experienced online, where algorithms suggest only books that are similar to what's been recently read or searched for?

The girl glides on a scooter, her golden hair floating in the light of the streetlamps.

Week in Seven Words #402

During dinner on a second-story terrace, the wind sighs at us through the crown of a tree.

At first it looks like a piece of stained glass, catching at the corner of my eye. It's a monarch butterfly poised on a leaf and opening its wings.

She left work a few months ago to become a stay-at-home mom. Within a few days, she began reorganizing a communal playroom in her apartment building and looking for other projects to sign up for. I'm guessing she will soon return to the corporate workforce.

It seems like overnight she's become a major Hamilton fan. She's memorized all the lyrics, even the complicated rap battles stuffed with historical references. Today, she greets me at the door with "Washington on Your Side."

Pity is uncomfortable and distasteful, regardless of whether it's felt about one's self or other people. This thought comes to me in the middle of a conversation with someone I'd rather not be talking to. I don't want to pity this other person or have that be the motive for the conversation.

The library has multiple floors, cozy and compact. A spacious staircase links them together. Footsteps echo in it, and whispers and laughter.

We spend an afternoon at the fringes of a park, with traffic at our backs and terraced greenery before us. There isn't much hospitality indoors. One place is cliquish and for another we lack the required ID. So we're outdoors, waiting for the afternoon to fall away into evening.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Some Jewish Culture and a Walk up Manhattan's East Side

This past Sunday, I took a tour of the Museum at Eldridge Street, or the Eldridge Street Synagogue. There's still a small active Orthodox Jewish congregation there, but its purpose is mainly to preserve a critical part of the Jewish culture that flourished in Manhattan's Lower East Side from the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th century.

This grand synagogue opened in 1887, and the congregants were Jews from Eastern Europe. It's a beautiful example of Moorish Revival architecture.


The congregation began to see a decline in the 1920s when the US enacted immigration quotas that hit hard at people trying to come in from Eastern and Southern Europe. As Jewish families moved out of the Lower East Side, newer immigrants weren't coming in to replace them and maintain a steady level of congregants at the synagogue.

In the 1950s, the main sanctuary was closed off, and the few congregants used only the Beit Midrash (a smaller room for religious worship and study). A restoration project began in the 1980s and was completed in 2007.