Tag Archives: creative nonfiction

Margaritas, Cold Sweat, and Dante


Dante wrote his long poem for Beatrice Portinari (that’s Bay-ah-TREE-chay)

“Rojo,” my wife says to me one morning.

We’re in the car on the way to the gym. We work out in the basement of the township senior center. Treadmills, ellipticals, exercise bicycles, a couple rowing machines—there’s always a few of these not in use. There are also number of pneumatic weight machines, for maintaining a senior citizen’s various muscle groups. You sit at these machines. They’re good for gentle sedentary social exercise.

“What about it?” I say.

“Why can’t anyone say it?” She says it again, “Rojo.”

“Rojo,” I say.

“Nope.  That’s not it.”

Rojo is a Mexican restaurant in the area. When our niece comes home from Italy, we have a family gathering at Rojo. Twenty or so of us get together to eat and drink. We try to organize these get-togethers on the Tuesday dollar-a-taco night. Rojo serves acceptable tacos and cheesey beany burritos and sizzling fajitas. Also popular is the house margarita, a greenish slurry of cheap tequila and an industrial-grade margarita mix that gives the drink a long distinctly chemical finish. The cocktail is served in an over-sized chalice; sort of like a small glass bucket. I don’t think it comes with an umbrella. (It should come with an aspirin.) Continue reading

Where We Are Was Once a Sea

When you get to Pahrump it feels like the end of the world. It’s California desert country, on the northwest edge of Death Valley National Park. Driving into town we pass Bride Street, Gravel Pit Road, and WTF Sand and Stone. Next to the Mobil where we gas up is a storefront church. It might have been a travel agency at one time, Anywhere But Here Travel. Now, in big letters above the door, between two crosses, the church identifies itself: IT IS FINISHED. What, as in end times? Continue reading

Faces in the Stone

I’ve been having doubts about my hat. It’s a hiker’s hat, with a full brim all the way around, and a drawstring that hangs in front of my ears and can be cinched under my chin. I bought it sort of on the fly. It was a careless oh-what-the-hell purchase. I knew I would need a hat. In three weeks time we would be walking eight National parks.

Unlike my wife, who looks great in hats (and she will tell you so, and it is true), a hat on my head can look ridiculous. When I buy a hat, attention must be paid. Continue reading

Me and Velociraptor and Forrest Gump

There it is, a dinosaur footprint. How about that?

We’ve just finished the lower Antelope Slot Canyon tour, outside Page, Arizona. Along the way our guide, Ryan, has been giving us a short course in geological history, which my wife translates from English into Italian for our friends Luigi and Adele. Her translations are brilliant, embellished by her impressive knowledge of American Indian culture. Continue reading

Dear Family and Friends,

Some years ago I had a very depressing conversation with my brother, Tom. We were talking about how quickly time seems to pass, and as an example, how the summer months, which seemed to last forever when you were a kid, fly by when you become an adult. Tom, you probably know, is a math man. He said, Well, it’s like this: think 3/x, letting x = your age in months. As x increases in value, the ratio of summer time to life time gets smaller and smaller. Infinitesimally smaller. Continue reading

Halloween in Italy


Where the month of dead means pumpkins, cemeteries, and baked goods

My wife is talking about Druids.

We’re in a kitchen store in Rimini, a place where we buy stuff for our apartment–pans, drinking glasses, cutting board, a new espresso pot. The lady there also keeps us supplied in stainless steel coasters, an accessory my wife delights in buying. (I don’t like them. With the least bit of condensation, they stick to the bottom of a glass, then detach and cymbal crash on the tabletop when you take a drink.) Our cupboard back in the US is full of them. Today the store is having a sale on nonstick pans, 10 euro. We’re tempted. Continue reading

The Sway of Earth


A recap of this weekend in Italy: earthquakes and seafood

We have clams for lunch.

For dinner, earthquakes.

First, a food report from a restaurant on the Adriatic. The photos below were taken at a fish place called La Marianna that my wife LOVES. It’s in Rimini, next to the Roman-era bridge of Tiberius, completed around 21 AD. We drive over it every time we go to this part of Rimini. How’s that for engineering? Continue reading

The Soft Imperative


I ask my wife, “What language do they speak in Macedonia?”

It’s a Friday morning. This is our pre-breakfast quiet time. Usually we don’t say much early in the morning. What is there to always say? She’s reading a book about the Spanish Civil War and drinking her first cup of coffee. I’ve just clicked off the New Yorker, which I’m partially reading online these days. Anthony Lane has yawned at “Black Mass,” the new Johnny Depp movie, comparing it and Depp, unfavorably, to “Taxi” and James Cagney. I’m about to spread fig jam on a slice of toast.

This is an excerpt from “The Soft Imperative,” a piece recently published in Thread.  Thank you, Ellen Blum Barish, for your careful reading and judicious suggestions for revision.

Here’s the link to Thread and my essay.



Why we grow beards and what they mean, if anything

“Feel my face,” I say to my wife.

It’s a Saturday morning in August. We’re on our way to the farmer’s market—not our usual farmer’s market, where we know whose tomatoes we want, whose zucchini are the size we like. It’s a new market. She wants to see if George, our peach man, is there, or that failing, maybe we can find a substitute George.

“Why would he be there?” I ask.

“He might be,” she says. “There’s a chance.”

“Feel it,” I say. “I shaved.”

“I see that.”

I seriously doubt she does. But I’ll take it. She reaches over, rubs my jaw with the back of her hand. “Soft as a baby’s ass,” she says.

I know she worries about George. A couple winters ago, he lost all his peach trees.

“It’s his livelihood,” she says. “What’s the poor guy going to do?”

The weather warmed up in February, then froze hard again in March. We thought the cold killed them, but evidently it was steady, slashing wind that did them in. For years, from mid-July to mid-September, he brought free-stone peaches to market. Approaching his stand, you heard his booming voice and his easy laugh. Leaning over his tables, a billcap yanked down over his wild hair, he smiled above an unruly red beard, refilling half-peck boxes with peaches from bushel baskets piled in the back of his rusted Chevy van.

“These are Red Havens,” he’d say. “Wait a few days before you eat them.”

Another day, “These are my Lucky 13’s. They’re almost ready.”

The fruit came in steady and sweet over the last weeks of summer, PF 17’s, PF 23’s, PF 27’s. One year he announced a new variety that he called his mutants. (When asked, he provided no explanation.) They were a revelation. Try one, he’d say. And we would. We trusted him. He had the rumpled look of an almost homeless guy. Word around the market was he arrived on site in the early hours, slept in his truck, and woke up still drunk. All that. And amazing peaches.

Those summers, almost every day at lunch and dinner we peeled and sliced a half a dozen Georges into bowls of red wine for dessert. Peeled, his peaches were shiny, brilliant gold. They took on mythic status at our table. You could imagine Renaissance paintings, Madonna and Child enjoying a peach, with one of George’s peeled golden orbs in the Christ child’s hand, a beatific look on His face. Continue reading