What You Wish For – (Novel Excerpt)

The downstairs buzzer of Leonora’s Upper Westside brownstone rings twice. It is 2:15 in the morning. The buzzing comes in a familiar frantic succession solidifying the intruder’s identity. She is startled in her apartment’s galley kitchen because despite his customary frenzied buzzing, it is not his appointed day. Leo stands barefoot on her maplewood floors orchestrating her late-night Moroccan tea ritual. At the second tap of the buzzer, startled gives way to anger. How dare he just show up unannounced again for a quickie?

She was convinced after their last “talk” that Steven would respect the boundaries she had set forth for their affair —the most important of those being that he would never show up unannounced—otherwise how was Leo expected to keep her other guys a secret and maintain full control of the situation?

The reflection off her frosted cabinet doors offers a gentle reminder of a messy head of chestnut curls that flirt just above her shoulders. She squints a pair of dark brown eyes hoping the  foggy likeness would adjust and paws at her frizzy strands. Leo stops herself when she decides that if Steven insists on barging into her nights he should get a less polished and certainly less agreeable Leo at the door.

She is aware, despite having just turned 30, that the dark circles around her eyes have stolen a certain radiance her face once had—an occupational hazard she has accepted after years of working endless round-the-clock sessions to meet editorial deadlines. Nothing the proper amount of foundation and the right Dior eyeshadow palette and a hint of lipgloss can’t restore.

Without changing into the expected black sheer Claudette number Steven gave her last Christmas, she stomps her way to the doorbell panel and smashes the talk button, “It’s two in the morning! We talked about this!” She releases an angry pointer finger demanding an explanation.

“Please buzz me up. We have to talk.”

“Talk? This ‘talk’ of yours couldn’t wait until daylight? I have work tomorrow. What if I was asleep?”

“Leo, c’monnnn.” His head cocked slightly to the right as he pleads on a dark stoop into the stainless steel panel adjacent the sturdy double doors of hLeo’s white-washed brownstone, “You’re probably up there making your tea. Just buzz me up, I have a surprise. I have news!”

Leonora loves the way he lingers on the Lee in Leo giving her nickname a playful ring. It conjures moments of midday lovemaking under the warm sun rays that routinely crash through her skylight—one of the many perks of leasing the top unit.  And so anger or disappoint melts away as it often does with all her lovers. Curiosity now ruled as the dominant emotion because seldom, which is to say never, had Steven ever added news or anything newsworthy to their ten-month affair.

She can’t complain though. He has turned out to be the perfect romantic cliche. The kind she so desperately wanted after all the failed attempts at real relationships at university. He is a great lover. He is attentive during important holidays and events but surprises and spontaneity are not his forte.

“News or not, it’s still two in the morning.” She presses the unlock button for downstairs access.

Continue reading “What You Wish For – (Novel Excerpt)”

A Paris Story – Flanuering & Ginormous Cokes

The last guidebook I bought cost me $6.99. It was an impulse buy at the checkout counter, where all impulse shopping lives. I’m convinced that if sex was on sale at the “impulse stand” everyone would leave their grocery stores pregnant – not one of those you-have-a-glow-about-you kind of pregnancies, but the one-nightstand-I-can’t-remember-anything-after-I-got-into-the-dancing-cage kind of nauseating feeling that forces us to scramble through our wallets and purses for a return receipt we know we no longer have. Needless to say, the guidebook now lives wedged between a greasy cookbook and dirty saucepan at the corner of my kitchen countertop where it will remain forgotten until next week’s trash goes out.

Paris guidebooks today are still sending hungry travelers to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs de Elysee and other “must-see-sites.” They may even spend a few chapters recommending best French eateries, best hotels, best values and best ways to get around the city (the Metro being on of the most popular ones, as it is said to be the most clean, timely and effective subterranean train system in the world – well…not so much that it is said, as much as I just decided to say so – so there).

Recently, the only way to get the real world right between the eyes is to watch Antony Bourdain’s episodes of Parts Unknown where he personally (and often painfully) guides you through the get-your-fucking-hands-dirty and prepare-to-eat-shit-with-the-locals kind of experience every worldly adventurer craves. Unfortunately, Paris is yet to be on his list of destinations as his producers tackle Beirut, Miami, Korea, Budapest and New Jersey just to name a few exotic locations – but he did manage two great episodes about Paris on his series, No Reservations and Layover, in which he specifically warms viewers against the common touristy traps and recommends a lot of eating, a lot of drinking (after all this is Bourdain) some great ice cream and sex with a Parisienne among other guilty pleasures.

But after waiting two years to get back to this great city of lights and romance, magic and mystery, I knew to stay away from any guides. Period. This time I fought the urge to type up and categorize an itinerary which I would have packed with way too many things to enjoy properly. This time we would just be true Parisienne flanuers.

Continue reading “A Paris Story – Flanuering & Ginormous Cokes”

THE BEST LITTLE APARTMENT IN ALL OF PARIS: ON AVENUE SECRETAN

The cliche says “Paris is for lovers” but at the age of forty-something when my husband and I arrived for the first time in Paris at the 19th arrondissement with several backpacks in toe (his idea for lighter travel which almost gave us hernias) and in the company of not one, not two, not even three teenagers but four, we were far from love but not yet beaten. That would come later at the hands of a simple key and a stubborn locking mechanism on the sixth floor of a narrow hallway on Avenue Secretan.

We knew the City of Light would not hold any romantic interludes or enchanting escapades or amorous adventures for the Dickerson couple – the most we could hope for was to check in to our Paris apartment, set up sleeping arrangements (which often meant us cramming into a twin bed so the kids could spread out a bit more) and see if there were any restaurants open late that would serve the non-French well after dinner hours. Much to my surprise, signing for the key was effortless, unlike the treacherous Parisian rush-hour traffic which I cannot detail at this juncture for fear the horrid memory will send me into another post-traumatic stress disorder episode I may not recover from.

We pull up to the curb on this beautiful boulevard-like street. From the corner we could see the entire block lined with neobaroque buildings – monuments of stoic stony grays with just the right splash of color from the cafes, brasseries and other street-level storefronts flaunting their cool blues, dark greens and vibrant red double doors and awnings – Paris knows how to say, “Bienvenue!” Continue reading “THE BEST LITTLE APARTMENT IN ALL OF PARIS: ON AVENUE SECRETAN”

Rainy Day in a Paris Cafe – Bring on the Cliche

We were just a few blocks from the Parmentier Metro station when it started to rain. A subtle but steady Paris rain that makes everything look gray with a kiss of soft lighting, as if the sun were trying to break through the Parisienne firmament. The No.3 Line had transported us from the quaint little neighborhood on the 19th arrondissment north of the city’s center where our Paris apartment sat snug between other neobaroque buildings on Avenue Secretan. Parisians walked on undisturbed under heavy drops, solidifying the French term “flauner” or idle wonderer. It was easy to spot the tourist running about for a bit of cover – I insisted my troop casually walk to the nearest cafe as if making a very scheduled stop. Nothing worst than not being Roman when in Rome.

A quick but inconspicous look down at our iPhone to verify the GPS had us on the right track for la tour Eiffel. But after more than two decades waiting to experience this architectural wonder, this delectable cliche, this unmistakable iconic superstructure, it seemed Paris would have us wait just a few minutes longer, as we ordered the prescribed creme brûlée for dessert and countless rounds of cafe creme. The empty cups and accompanying saucers, drained of all foam and caffeine atop the three tables we’d managed to cram together under the cafe’s striped awning, were like abandoned ceramic carcasses from a past era. And for a wonderful, memorable and elusive instant we forgot our itinerary, we forgot where we were heading to next in our “must-see” list, we forgot about the rain, we forgot to take pictures, we set aside all the things that prevent us from living in the moment and we were at that precise moment…in Paris.

“Saving Galileo”

 “Some are born great, some achieve greatness,

and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.”

-William Shakespeare

The café is crowed tonight when I have no patience for a crowd. Minutes will be lost in the long line for a Frappucino, not to mention the relentless effort needed to secure even the smallest of tables-this will cost me precious writing time. A cold urine spot on my underwear rubs against my skin, adding to the increased frustration. It amazes me how after a lifetime of daily practice I still can’t efficiently shake and squeeze the excess pee from my penis. A violent spasm takes over my right knee-my pressure valve. Perhaps I should just go back home and attempt to work through an eight-year-old’s constant demand for attention and the futile arguments of two teenage girls over phone time, nail polish, and all that’s trivial in the universe. The words of my colleagues come to mind: “You are not a true writer until you have produced under the most deplorable conditions.” They’re quick to remind me of the words of the great Toni Morrison who explained in an interview how she wrote around her baby’s vomit: Continue reading ““Saving Galileo””

“Coffee, Tea or Paris?”

Sunset flares at Champ de Mars in Paris

Kate sat at the end of the long coffee bar, toward the back by the restrooms and old public phones that were no longer in service. She crossed her legs, one over the other, not caring she may be giving off a total nervous-breakdown kind of vibe. She stared into the disappearing foam of her sad cold Cappuccino. Normally, the European-style café only sat twenty on its busiest night. Ten along the bar. Another ten at the tiny circular bistro tabletops. But due to an unexpected afternoon downpour, there had to be over thirty people. Everyone wedged and crammed into every nook and cranny, seeking shelter. The smell of damp earth mixed in with gourmet coffees, steamed milk, teas and assorted baked pastries, took Kate back to the afternoon when she first found this charming little Upper Westside getaway and thought her life had taken a turn for the better.

It was almost two years to the day. The rain that afternoon was coming down exceptionally hard. Kate remembered being lucky enough to have managed a seat at the bar just as the place got slammed with unexpected patrons. She recalls the tall man with salt-and-pepper hair in blue jeans and a designer shirt sitting in a relaxed pose on a stool adjacent hers. He had placed his New Yorker down on the sticky counter and attempted to get the barista’s attention with no success. Along the same sticky counter, Kate was paging through her Real Simple magazine, looking for the article “Creating Your Own Place of Peace” the previous issue had promised. Continue reading ““Coffee, Tea or Paris?””

Departure: Packing for Paradise

It was a typical cold morning in May for the Northeast. A paper-thin layer of ice covered the bathroom windows defying Spring and nature’s careful balance. It was Saturday the tenth. This meant we were only four days away from our 14th wedding anniversary.

Soft hands gently rocked me out of a deep sleep. My husband has always hated waking me—knowing my affinity for sleeping in—especially on dark frozen mornings.  The red from the digital three and zeros of our alarm clock created a somewhat eerie crimson glow against the darkness of the room. I began a slow motion stretch that ended in an embarrassing shriek I couldn’t control. What is it about certain bodily functions, like sneezing, yawning, shivering, and farting that take over, sneak up on us and render us dysfunctional, not to mention hopelessly uncool? Continue reading “Departure: Packing for Paradise”

“Memory Box”

My fondest childhood memories are of toil and triumph. At that time, our house was always filled with laugher and the smell of freshly brewed coffee. I would sit for hours on hardwood floors and marvel at the colorful tents I engineered out of my Mamma’s vast collection of quilts. These enormous caverns towered above me to become a refuge from the simple pains of school bullies and unfinished math homework. Other times they served as sanctuaries against my mother’s complaints of phone bills, Dad’s late work hours, and the leaky kitchen faucet. On days when the sunlight penetrated the quilts, I pretended the shapes along the nine-patch blocks were friendly faces visiting from fairy worlds, coming to share their fantastic stories. Between the indiscernible patterns, hidden along the stitching, lay the secrets of old maps leading to undiscovered treasures and endless adventure trails. In that place I dreamt of shiny, pink ballet slippers, silver astronaut suits, rusty pirate swords, and of being a mermaid, too. But it wasn’t always a magical journey. Whenever I neglected to secure the corners of the heavy fabrics, my entire fortress would come tumbling down, making gravity my enemy. Continue reading ““Memory Box””