Friday, September 26, 2008

Daydreams of then or now

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Cold autumn winds blow rain against the diner window next to me where it forms magnifying trails of the world outside.

(Louis Armstrong sings from the greasy chrome table-side jukebox...

... "What a Wonderful World")


I unzip the rain-wet outer-layer black hoodie...

revealing a flannel which has seen far better days over the last 15 years...

and adjust myself as I toss it on the seat beside me.

Open "beat-up-WWII-army-bag-serving-as-messenger-bag-backpack"...

... pull out Moleskine and pen...

and get to work.

(Everything seems like a black-and-white photo to me.)

Waitress comes... bearing gift of coffee.

(Funny... same waitress for almost ten years now... and I STILL don't know her name!)

She smiles...

... I smile...

She asks "the usual?"...

I - not realizing that I'm that obvious... embarrassingly nod "yes"...

and blindly reach for the sugar jar...

the creamers...

and prep my coffee without even thinking.

Steam-smoke rises as I take the first sip.

Diner coffee.

Bad coffee.

Yet the most wonderful coffee in the world!

(Back to work)

Pen starts moving across page after page.

Furious writing... flowing from I don't know where.

Flowing...

Smudging here and there as hand brushes across still-wet ink...

Running...

... on-and-on...

without thought or reason...

just appearing.

(Like now... for I truly have no idea what I am writing)

She returns...

two eggs over-medium...

French Fries instead of home-fries...

toast drenched in butter...

side of very crisp bacon...

(THIS is my usual? No wonder my doctor wasn't happy!)

Ketchup flies across the plate in a condimentary pattern...

("condimentary"... that's not a word, is it? Yet I just used it... and it's the only word which could truly convey what I meant... so... I guess it IS)

... and I begin to eat... without thinking...

... as I continue to drink my coffee... without thinking...

... as I continue to write... without thinking...

... all while I continue to "exist"... without thinking.

Memories come and go during the in-betweens...

... countless dates and meetings held here...

... friendships formed...

... relationships ended...

... lessons learned...

... and shared.

The nameless waitress returns...

refills the cup...

... removes the plates...

... exchanges them with a piece of coconut custard pie...

(Apparently a continuation of my "usual". This is just getting "worse"!)

My mind wanders to an endless trail of "I wonder what ever happened to ______" and "I remember the time that _________"...

... and so on.

The rain slows...

the check appears...

and I sit...

alone...

and lost...

waiting for another refill.


* * *

Friday, September 19, 2008

(silence)

* * *

I haven't touched my camera since Sunday.

It's not that I haven't wanted to. (Believe me... I have!)

It's just that I "can't".

Or... at least... I've feel as if I can't.

Or shouldn't.

(I don't know)

Sometimes I put camera to eye... and feel so "sure" of the moment that I punch the shutter into life... and quickly make adjustments for the next shot - almost unconsciously.

There's a confidence and a comfort there. I know what I see... and I know what it will (or, at least - "can") become.

Yet sometimes I'm almost afraid to look through that viewfinder.

Afraid that I won't like what I see.

Afraid that there won't be anything to see.

Afraid that I won't have what it takes to release the shutter.

Afraid that it will be a blurry result...

... a missed moment...

... the opposite of what was desired.

Afraid that I "can't".

Afraid that it won't be comfortable.

And in those moments my camera becomes silent.


So I haven't touched my camera since Sunday...

after 300 shutter movements produced such "opposites"...

... and ended up in the trash.

After frustration set in...

... and discomfort arrived...

leaving me to stand in the silence...

... afraid of what my camera might show me.

* * *

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Craving Phở

* * *

I have a serious craving for Phở.

Actually... I've had this craving for several weeks now. Maybe even several months. It's possible that it's been even longer... perhaps several years.

I have a craving for Phở that simply cannot be quenched... fully.

What the heck is "Phở", you ask?

Good question!

Phở is a Vietnamese dish. Think of it as sort of a "Vietnamese Beef and Noodle Soup"... but in all honesty, that's a very simple description of it. Phở is so much more than that.

Phở (pronounced "fuh"... sort of like you're trying to say "foot" but you cut off half the vowel sounds and completely forget the "t" at the end - and pose the whole thing as a question) is sort of the "unofficial national dish of Vietnam". It is eaten for breakfast... for lunch... and for dinner. There are regional variances... though most stick to the basic foundation of white rice noodles... thinly sliced beef... and clear beef broth.

The broth isn't your basic 'American' (read "salty yet bland") beef broth! It's more of a true stock... made by simmering oxtails and bones with blackened onion and ginger - along with spices such as star anise, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and fennel seeds.

Phở is usually served with an assortment of garnishes that you can add in whatever combination and amount you wish. Onion... Basil leaves... Cilantro... Lemon and Lime... Hoisin Sauce... Bean Sprouts... Fish Sauce... etc.

In the end... Phở becomes a single-serving hot-pot (of sorts) full of Vietnamese flavors. It's more than a simple "noodle bowl"... it's flavors are more complex... yet at the same time, "simple". Whether you're having it for breakfast... or dinner - it's deeply satisfying.

Well... to me it is, anyway.

So - as I've already said - I have a serious craving for Phở.

I've had this craving for several weeks... perhaps several months... perhaps even several years.

Lately, this craving has been "thrown in my face" repeatedly...

I turn on the TV, and the show is Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods" on the Travel Channel. He's in Vietnam... eating Phở.

I sit down to read some Anthony Bourdain... and within a few pages he's talking about Phở.

A friend sends out an e-mail of humorous images... and one shows the sign for a Vietnamese restaurant called "Phở King" - which, of course - would be pronounced "Fuh King".

And if it isn't direct references to Phở - it's references to Vietnam.

Then I find myself on the phone with someone from the offices of a local marketing agency... who is asking me questions to determine whether or not I'll qualify for an upcoming job...

Most of the questions are basic... "Age"... "Marital status"... "Any kids?" - etc., etc..

Some pertain to the specific job in question...

Then there's the final question: "If you could go anywhere in the world right now... where would you go?"

I asked "Anywhere?"

"Yes... anywhere. Where would you go?"

I replied "Back to bed"

She laughs.... then says: "Seriously... if you could go anywhere in the world right now... where would you go?"

And, without really thinking - I responded "Vietnam".

"VIETNAM!?!" she responded... sounding rather surprised. "Why Vietnam?" she asked.

"I have a serious craving for Phở" I responded. "So I guess I'd go there to get the best Phở I could."

Believe it or not she instantly knew what Phở was... and then went on about how she had a different job available that focused on Asian food...

... but that's not the point here.

The point is my response to the question: "If I could go anywhere in the world right now... I'd go to Vietnam for some Phở".

We finished the phone interview... and I hung up somewhat transformed. The meaning of my statement... and thus, the meaning of my craving - had just hit me like Newton's apple.

And I had to ask myself - is it really the Phở? Or is it something much, much deeper?

I used to eat Phở quite often, actually. Maybe not "every day" - but at least once or twice a month.

There was a Vietnamese restaurant near the place where I worked. I'd get a to-go order of Phở... and sit at MY work bench... eating my lunch - perhaps in-between having framed an original Robert Mapplethorpe photo or Joan Miró painting for some wealthy Greenwich collector and matting some watercolors for Gene Wilder (yes... THAT Gene Wilder). While James Brown played over the six speakers that filled the room... and while my brother danced at his work bench... I'd sit and eat Phở - or whatever the hell I chose to have for lunch that day... paging through a magazine or newspaper... laughing as all of us who worked in that room told fish stories and such...

... and at the end of the day I'd walk out of that room... hop on a train... enjoy the almost two-hour journey back home... knowing that tomorrow would be the same... and that the Phở was there if I wanted it.

It has been almost 10 years now, since the last time I had Phở.

It has been almost 10 years now, since I left my job... a job I loved - and despite any actions on my part - was truly honored and blessed to have. The gallery is gone now... having closed down several years ago. It's only a memory now.

Ten years.

A decade.

And I have a serious craving for Phở.

* * *