Friday, November 11, 2016

Pizza, Catalysts, and Secrets from the Streets

Almost without exception, when you bite into a slice of warm, bubbly pizza, you are yanked back beyond your current age and into one of the joyous, essential processes you use when you seek to compose dramatic narrative or the expository essay.

The long, drawn-out wisps of cheese set you to smiling, often to the point of outright laughter, bringing you to that place you think of as home. More often than not, you'll find yourself recalling one of your earliest existential questions, Is mozzarella stringier than Romano? while experiencing the transformational joy you experienced when you first heard uttered the word ductility.

The stringy cheese on warm pizza--never so wispy when the pizza is yesterday's and not reheated---relates to ductility, which is, after all is said and done the quality inherent in an element such as copper, to be drawn out into wire of the merest diameter, or, if you will, of certain cheeses to be drawn out into tiny tendrils or filaments which need to be folded or tucked in order to maintain some control over where they go next.

What is so funny or even remarkable about stringy cheese or the quality of ductility? Why should stringiness or the ability to change shape have any effect at all on how you or anyone else composes dramatic narrative or pursues the path of an expository essay?

For starters, you, at this stage of your life are comfortable with the notion of the human condition not having changed all that much over what for humans would be the considerable span of six or seven hundred years. 

Accordingly, you find the motivation and behavior in The Canterbury Tales limited only by social strata and technical innovations. Jenkyn, most recent husband of The Wife of Bath, has access to the Middle Ages equivalent of Playboy. The fact of no iPhones or texting or emoji does not foreclose responses wired to recognizable feelings such as lust, shame, prudery, envy, and self-aggrandizement. In fact, the presence of such human attributes and their recognizability add to the lure of this glorious romp of a narrative.

You're still at work pursuing why you, from ages five or six until eight or ten, often sat immersed in what you thought of as dark moods, withdrawn to the point of being surly, clinging to what started as a kind of life preserver cum totem, taking refuge in reading and music until the moods passed. Nevertheless, you say without equivocation that your childhood was happy, secure, unthreatened. Worst case the boredom of the usual parental constraints on a person of that age and an intense desire to explore the world beyond your limitations.

The street where you lived was entirely of apartments, more often than not four-plexus with the occasional duplex. It paralleled a major thoroughfare on each side, sandwiched in amid a welter of trees and shrubbery.  Down this street wandered such regulars as the milk delivery man, the bottled and seltzer water delivery men; Mordecai, a gaunt-faced man who bought old clothes, in a sweat-stained fedora who affected a Yiddish accent--"Buyin' old clothes, buyin'--but in a more professorial tone provided you unanticipated additions to your own vocabulary, a mailman who, in retrospect, had the same stature and complexion of Anthony Quinn, who quizzed you with regularity about your knowledge of Don Quixote--"eh, and what was the name of his horse, eh?"--Mario, the fruit and vegetable vendor, and Steve, the Good Humor ice cream truck driver; and Bart, the driver of the Helms Bakery van.

Distinctive as they were, there were those who passed by only once, greeting you as though you were an individual who mattered, then moving on.  One of these, who claimed to have been a veteran of World War I and who was impressed with the information that your father, as well, was such a veteran, said in full dramatic brio, "I'm going to tell you three words that will change your life."

Further evidence of who and what you were at the time was your assurance that you already knew one of those three words, having only a week before being given the Spanish word pinche by the Appell's gardener, Julio.  Your about to be mentor would have none of profanity.  "I'm talking science, boy. You listen well.  Catalytic agent, boy.  You got that?  And ductility. Them's the lynch-pins of the universe. I'm gonna come back here next week to test you, boy. You better learn."

The notion of cheese having long tendrils that persist on extending themselves, the name and intent of the word ductility, and such memorable moments as the mailman asking you the name of Don Quixote's horse join forces with the appearance, as if before your eyes and instantaneously, remind you how ductile your own senses are, how, if you keep your ears open, strangers will share secrets with you, either theirs, such as Mordecai, who claimed to have attended Brown University, or others who consider their secrets the secrets of the universe.

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