Lately, my words are stuck.
Most of the time you'll find a line of words behind me, letters hooking tails of j's and y's onto curves of c's and o's. Sometimes they trip me, the word trail growing so long that it entangles my feet, and I lurch ungracefully from my word world back into the real one. You may have seen me pulling words from my mouth like a magician with his bouquet of flowers that seemingly appears from just inside his narrow sleeve. At a party once, I touched my ears to find sparkling words dangling from my lobes, hiding a little behind the swing of my hair.
No such luck these days, though. Now and then I can feel my words climbing toward consciousness, but my locked mind knocks them from their ladder, and the rest scurry back down into the darkness. I think of Annie Dillard who taped brown paper over her window so she wouldn't be distracted by the view while she wrote. I want to be that woman, but my windows are flung open, and there's no telling what will step through them.
On days when I can't write for all the nonsense that's heaved itself up and over the sills, I make a pot of coffee, and go to my cupboard to choose a mug that fits inside my cupped hands just so. If the coffee is hot and strong enough--if I've chosen the right mug, I just might get my words back.
The Princeton mug is my cold nose buried in Gary's warm neck. Back in the day, we'd walk from his room over to Prospect Street to buy a bottle of hooch to pour into the big silver thermos. One sip from this mug, and I'm back at Palmer Stadium, at football games I didn't really watch, more interested in the man by my side and the deep thermos full of apple cider and clear brown whiskey.
On cold-hearted days, I often pull the Pawleys Island mug from the back of the cupboard. It's hard to explain why this cup offers me comfort since it was on Pawleys Island that we lost two of our children for a hellacious half hour one summer night. We'd been shopping at the little village center, walking from one store to another, negotiating purchases with our four children. "Blackbeard sword? Hmmm....good idea now, but not when we start the long drive home and you want to whack your brother with it for 12 solid hours."
At some point, my husband and I decided to separate, each of us concentrating on just two instead of listening to four continuous rounds of "He's getting that? I want that!" When we got back to our car, we only had two of our four children. I can't remember now how they wandered off--perhaps one of them was intent on having that Blackbeard sword after all. One of us blinked, and they were gone. I do know that my husband lost his mind a little, flattening his thumb in the car door. He ran from shop to shop, blood drops marking his way. After our lost children were found, we sat in our red Astro van and breathed in the sweet smell of our family.
If you ever get to Warehouse Point, Connecticut, even if you have to make a detour in your road trip, you MUST go to the Maine Fish Market and order a lobster roll. A mound of sweet white lobster chunks will arrive in a split and buttered roll. Some like their lobster coated with mayonnaise, but I order mine plain with a little drawn butter on the side.
The Main Fish Market is about a work day away from Pittsburgh, but I'm up for a road trip, if you are. When you visit the day after Christmas because your daughter is playing ice hockey in the Polar Bear tournament...when you've left behind the Christmas mess to be cleaned up after you return...when you fall from the car exhausted and sooooo hungry...the nice people at the Maine Fish Market will give you a coffee mug as a belated Christmas present. We have six mugs. There were a lot of Polar Bear tournaments.
The lobster rolls aren't as good in Mystic, Connecticut, but the lobster omelets at the Little Kitchen will straighten out any kind of day you are having. One rainy September day, we found ourselves visiting Bryant University with our youngest daughter, a lacrosse player. She liked the university, but when she toured the athletic facilities, one of the lacrosse players explained that winter workouts included shoveling the snow from their practice field. I knew then that we wouldn't be making the drive from Pennsylvania to Rhode Island again. She'd be joining her sister in California (as she put it..."shoveling snow in January or 60 degrees in January?"), a drive far too long for me to make in a day (really not even in three days). The next morning, we stopped in Mystic Seaport for breakfast at The Little Kitchen, and all was right with the world while the three of us sipped coffee and hot chocolate from these mugs. Just then, she was still close beside me.
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a teacher."
"Oh, what do you teach?"
Now, picture a person grabbing her throat, squeezing her eyes into slits, and scrambling backwards in response. I get this reaction often, thank you very much. Is it any wonder that I need some comfort? Don't be surprised when I tell you that Shakespeare soothes my soul. My mother bought me this mug when we visited Stratford Upon Avon the summer before I was married. I might have been an English major, but she was a child who grew up with a library in her home, these leather-bound volumes one of her few concrete memories of childhood. The quotation is from Macbeth, and, in addition of memories of my mom, it conjures up Mrs. Dyas, my high school English teacher, who stood on her desk, bringing the Weird Sisters to life, reciting "Double double toil and trouble," making a mark on a class of startled teenagers. I'd sell a little of my Shakespearean soul to have coffee with these ladies today, but I manage to capture a little of them when I wrap my hands around this mug.
If you give a girl a cup of coffee, she's going to ask for a beignet, at least at the Café du Monde in New Orleans. Of course, this is after the jazz on Bourbon Street and Snug Harbor. It's after the oyster and artichoke chowder and the jambalaya too, baby. Beignets are best at about 4 a.m.; the hot grease and powdered sugar followed by hot chicory coffee make the best antidote for a night on the town. There's promise in the New Orleans night, you know? While sitting in the black iron chairs at the café, in between licking your fingers, if you listen hard enough you can hear the hot iron screech of the streetcar named Desire.
Paris. Enough said.
Some days call for the Sumo mug, which holds twice the amount . Okay, okay...it's really a bowl. Some days call for a bowl of coffee. On big coffee days, I'm so very glad my son thought of me while in Tokyo. You really have to love a mug decorated with a ring of wide-eyed Sumo wrestlers. He gets me, this kid of mine. I can see him wrapping this mug in t-shirts for the luggage trip home thinking, "yeah, I can see her filling up this baby." And, I do! Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.
So, now we're getting to it. Sometimes the blunt directive of this mug is what I need. Time to write again if the caffeine whooshes through my brain, clearing the word chute of sludge. From this mug to the writing god's ears, I say.