Monday, May 27, 2013

What Is That Thing in Your Left Hand?

In 111 days, I’ll be in Italy. Between now and then, with the help of the World Wide Web, I’m teaching myself Italian. From “I haven’t done anything wrong” to “May I have another nectarine?” to “What is that thing in your right hand?” my online tutorials have placed me on the fast track to marginal competence.

While passing through a traditionally Italian neighborhood yesterday, I was poised and ready to practice my blossoming language skills. I spotted a caffe, opened the door, and the four or five men sitting in the middle of the smoky room abruptly brought their boisterous chatter to a standstill. They were the only people there and the vibe was very invitation-only.

I ordered a cappuccino. The dude who was the first to jump up went to work behind the bar. His amici resumed talking and I couldn’t understand one word.

I expected my drink to come in a take-out cup, but my host poured his delicately prepared mixture into a glass mug. By then, the rest of his crew had moved their conversation to a table outside. At one point, the most severe-looking member of the bunch stood up and peered at me through the window. As he saw, I was making myself comfortable on a barstool, the cappuccino in my right hand and a lit-up cigarette in my left hand. Not long after I had taken my opening sip, the host carried over a pack of Marlboros, a lighter, and a tiny Styrofoam cup for the ashes, setting it all down next to my drink. When in Roma.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Ohio. And you’re from Italy?” I asked.

“No. Kosovo.”               

That explained his confused expression when I grazie mille-ed him for the coffee. He was now traveling back and forth, in and out, from me to his boys. On one of his trips back inside, he got right up in my face to ask how I was feeling.

I felt 19 again. Not counting what may have gone on during a couple of after-dark escapades in the East Village this past decade, I haven’t casually smoked since one semester in college. I never fully inhaled, and many years after we graduated a friend revealed that everyone hated giving me cigarettes because I wasted them.

My handsome host, who speaks less Italian than I do, watched me closely enough to tell that I still puff like a poseur. He didn’t seem to mind. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

I Can See Clearer Now

Someone threw a Chobani out the window, like a water balloon. A flavored one, possibly Black Cherry. If I had crossed that section of the sidewalk five seconds later, it could have hit me. If I had looked up eight seconds earlier I would have held out both hands and caught it, carried it home, and eaten it for dessert. In the past eighteen months, I’ve made many dietary adjustments and Greek yogurt has become a special staple.

In the past eighteen months, my vision has gradually, somewhat astoundingly, improved. When my mom used to lecture me about how sticking to a predominantly natural-foods routine can transform the body, mind, and mood, I rolled my (frailer?) eyes.

I still went in for an eye exam the other afternoon because my insurance covered it, I had nothing better to do, and I have a weakness for the letter-reading drill, which I presumably aced this time around. If there’s enough caffeine in me, I could sit upright in that chair, guessing/shouting out the tiniest rows of letters for up to an hour.  P K L Y R G : I can read all of this. Can you?

On the mind-transformation front, my skull isn’t doing any shrinking. The new guy behind the optometry-office counter said the prescription reading glasses I’ve had for more than two years, but haven’t needed to wear in almost one year, are freakishly small for my head. “Child-size,” he murmured. I never noticed and nobody else has pointed anything out. He said another pair of frames I tried on made me look like I belonged on Star Trek. The next time I go important-clothes shopping, who better to tag along? 

Monday, May 13, 2013

7 (Unrelated) Musings Mustered Up in the Mountains Last Week

1. It is possible to downhill ski in 70-degree weather.

2. Walmart really does sell guns.

3. Is the coffee, including what’s served at local chapters of national-chain eateries, weaker in rural areas? I have had my suspicions for three or four years and now call for a special committee to investigate.

4. I would give up guacamole for the opportunity to become a farmer. What I may lack in experience, I make up for in terms of good intentions. I’ll need a farm husband who (among other duties) will screen my visitors and have a hot breakfast waiting for me as soon as I wake up, ready to dive into the workday, between 10 and 11 a.m. each morning.

5. The uppermost points of mountain ranges are unlevel. Even that high in the sky, nothing is completely equal at once. One of the shorter trees might rise past those that currently tower over it, and then another smaller tree might later rise above that one. In the race to the top, there are no finish lines.

6. What’s the best time of day to witness a Moose Crossing?

7. I have to do something for the kidnapping/rape survivors in my hometown of Cleveland. Anyone else who wants to donate any dollar amount to help fund their healing-related expenses can do so at:

Monday, May 6, 2013

Getting the Terrace Summer-Ready

An innocent one, who has never seen my apartment or lived in a city, asked whether I have my own balcony. I do, only it’s more commonly referred to as a “fire escape.” When I’m home alone between sunrise and sunset, I spend much of my time at my desk or on my bed, the two command centers, looking out onto it. I’m looking at, through, and over it right now, wishing someone would spray-paint a colorful mural on the walls of bricks it faces.

The next time my super makes a house call, I need to ask him how to safely unlatch and roll back the complicated-looking window gate that separates my inside from the outside. I could take a folding chair out there, with a crossword puzzle and some lemonade, to feed the birds and sit four feet closer to the bare brick walls. I see room for two people and a small end table.

When I lived elsewhere and came into the city for job interviews, I stayed with a friend or a cousin. One weekday morning, hours after my hostess left for work, I looked out a window and watched a young man/old boy in a long coat crouching on his fire escape, a screenless open window behind him, smoking a cigarette, lost in thought. He seemed like an on-the-up local musician, a front man, emotionally prepping for a rehearsal or soundcheck. If I saw him on a downtown stage, I wouldn’t recognize him. But I won’t forget what he stood for – or stood on, and now it’s my balcony that beckons. I’ll wave, say a few words, and drape a flag from it as soon as I learn how to get past the gate.