Today I have a battle plan.
The plan is not to plan what I’m about to write here. Instead, I’ll let loose the wild — some might say mad — and disconnected thoughts that have been racing through my brain since last Wednesday evening.
I will not — no I shall not; there is a difference — edit and polish before I surrender this set of buzzing signals to whoever might choose to touch my copper wire with wet hands. That mixed and senseless metaphor serves as evidence that my battle has begun. I’ve mounted my steed. My helmet is pure Roman. My shield accentuates the taut muscles of my imagined chest.
Drool, all ye who dare to enter.
This plan, no plan of mine, I’m certain, runs counter to the current and popular notion that I should be working here to establish my “brand,” my “platform.” I told you not so long ago that I am not a brand. But as I tried these past few days to shoo this wasp who refuses to fly away and let me relax, I agreed to admit to myself — and to the small world I inhabit here — that I have no brand, unless owning too many years and too much gray hair constitutes the label on my can of minestrone.
And the thought of minestrone yanks me back to where I thought I might begin today. A not-so-distant memory. (Oh no! Oh yes! I’m just another old, nostalgic man who wants to talk about the good old days.)
Food. Nourishment. Friendship.
Last Wednesday evening I enjoyed close company and delightful conversation with a friend. We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant. Whenever I discover an Italian restaurant whose food I haven’t yet tasted, I give it my Smell Test. If I were as formal as many of my tasteful friends and delicious enemies consider me to be, I’d have named it the Aroma Test. But to me aromas always entice, whereas smells own the power to remain neutral, or even to stink.
Anyway, maybe two years ago, I gave this particular Italian restaurant my Smell Test. I walked just far enough inside the main dining room to meet another pretty hostess and ask to see a menu.
My snooty snort test has nothing to do with the menu, mind you, but I cannot — not without embarrassing myself — tell my greeter that I came in just to sniff the place.
So I breathed in deep, and was glad to lose my mind again as it traveled backward in time, back to Mother’s cooking, or back to the heart of South Philly (where I gulped down many aphrodisiac lunches and gained not an ounce when I was young and often featured at parties as The World’s Greatest Dancer).
Therefore, thereby and without question, I knew I’d like the food my friend and I ate at this establishment last week. And I love my friend, so I also knew that she would complement the cuisine.
And if you accept my invitation to read this, gorgeous lady who so entertained me, please handle Anthony with care. I lie when I write, it’s true, but only about myself, and never about you.
This restaurant glows soft, red and dim on any autumn evening. The chatter of strange neighbors is well-dressed, polite and hushed. A room inside of which a man who would like to be a European of the 1920s can hang out with the local Hoity Toits Who Favor Candled Crystal Chandeliers to Plebeian Incandescent Light Bulbs.
I’ve always preferred dark restaurants to the open, airy, California kind. When I was young, this preference was born from that sinkhole we name a lack of self-confidence. Now that I’m old, I just enjoy believing that the sags and wrinkles that invade my face are softened by the misty light. Picture Wisdom At Rest. An oh-so-gentle, understanding, velvet melt inside my tired eyes.
My friend and I spoke. That is to say, we talked. Truth is that I led with lots of questions, both because her life’s details fascinate me, and because I like to avoid talking about myself. (Writing about the same presents an opposite problem.)
I suspect that because my manner is stiff and stuffy, bordering oftentimes on the pedantic pose that sexy women find irresistible, our conversation at first took on a heady tone. My intellectual way of stretching my stiff arm outward, fingers up and palm facing forward, as if to say, “Please keep your distance.”
But something unexpected happened between us. I’m sure that my friend became the catalyst, although exactly what she said or what she did — a tilt of the head?, a sly smile?, a clever word or two? — to alter the chemical combination that floated between us, I cannot say. But I began to laugh. I laughed at the silliness that is Anthony V. Toscano (and don’t forget the “V”). And folks, I swear, it wasn’t drink that poisoned my pose, because I did not imbibe one drop of the evil grape.
My friend can’t know this fact as I commit it this minute to a state of almost permanence, but after she dropped me off at the entrance to the drawbridge that when lowered allows me to cross my dragon’s moat, I continued to laugh. I entered my foyer, waved away my butler, stumbled my dizzy way upstairs, tossed my clothing onto a table and a chair, and sat down to giggle and groan, as I stared at my not-so-chiseled chest and hoped that the little pop that is my belly would somehow deflate by the next morning.
Oh woe is I, alas and what a pity! The following morning arrived — more correct to say that I survived the nightmares that all that garlic induced — and the little pop still lived. The chest continued its insistent journey toward Earth’s core, and the soft glow of evening became the tragic light of day.
Still, as I stared red-eyed into the bathroom mirror and thought about weeping with and at my reflected image, I reminded myself of how much better it felt to laugh.
Is there a brand hidden somewhere inside this wire of mine?