GA Voice


- Cliff Bostock

I have begun to despair at how much my life has become a cliché of decrepitud­e. I just had surgery to remove a cataract. I’ve had three sets of MRIs to probe a mystery of my brain. My neurosurge­on fears that something really bad is going to happen. I assure him that it already has. I’m talking about my seemingly total loss of inhibition around other people.

There was, for one recent example, the case of Our Lady of the Pickup. I was driving through Cabbagetow­n on my way to Bomb Biscuits when she almost hit me twice, soaring through stop signs at two different intersecti­ons. As it happened, I ended up behind her in the Krog Street Tunnel, which was backed up. I sprang out of my car and knocked on her truck window, which she lowered. I started a tirade when I noticed a child in the passenger seat. My oratory mellowed a bit as I told her that, fine, go ahead, kill me, but what about your child? Don’t you care about your child, for god’s sake?

She looked at me with drooping eyelids, said, “She’s not my child,” raised her window and directed her gaze straight ahead. There was a crucifix dangling from her mirror.

My greater problem is the complete unbridling of sarcasm, which is my family’s first language. It allows the speaker to utter vitriol cloaked in humor that totters and stumbles with age. Recently, standing endlessly in line, I turned to a complete stranger to stage-whisper, “I guess the COVID supply-chain blockage has forced CVS to hire elementary school dropouts.” Sometimes it occurs to me that I’ve been rude, and I apologize, as I did in this instance.

But the dramatic apology only reinforces my status as a crazy old man. The young cashier’s feelings were genuinely hurt.

A restaurant employee graciously explained to me recently that my problem is timing. I had engaged in my usual sarcasm, but he and his boss took me seriously, really seriously. I explained I was joking. He said: “You needed to smile 10 seconds earlier to let us in on the joke.” I long for my friend Jeff who moved away years ago. He called himself my translator. Whenever we were out and I started riffing sarcastica­lly to a stranger, he’d literally step in to fill the relatively infrequent 10-second gap that has become my norm.

But arterial blockage also paradoxica­lly comes with largesse. Because forgetting so much unmoors you, you can get new answers to many of the important questions of your earlier life. I had a seriously profound example of this recently at Bomb Biscuits, where I was headed the day I met Our Lady of the Pickup. Owner/chef Erika Council has become nationally renowned for her biscuits. They are truly magical — not just for their taste, but also for their palpable, mysterious evocation of everything wicked and sublime in Southern culture. The café, located in Irwin Street Market across from Krog Street Market, is open 9am to 2pm Thursday through Sunday. Most order takeout, but I always hog one of the four or five tables all by myself. The staff is wonderful, and customers are always in a good mood. These biscuits are curative.

During my last visit, a family of five sat at the table next to me. The three kids were young and seriously adorable, especially the constantly smiling preschool daughter.

Dressed something like an angelic ballerina, she was the most radiant human I’ve seen in a long time. I told her she was beautiful and compliment­ed her parents — another crossing of my usual boundaries — and switched from watching porn to TikToks on my iPad so I could more comfortabl­y eavesdrop.

The kids began firing random questions — about the meanings of words, the existence of things — at their father, who answered them with obvious pleasure. Without even thinking, I blurted “What is god? Does god exist?” He laughed and looked me in the eyes, deeply, and said, “Yes, he does. He really does.” This was darshan in a biscuit café. I once thought I’d answered this question, but it returns with aging. The man looked completely open, inviting me to further questionin­g, but I looked away. I apologized for interrupti­ng. “I want you to rest assured that god is real,” he said. They soon left. Was he a pastor?

I felt quite unsteady lifting my gigantic biscuit stuffed with actual, bona fide country ham like my uncle used to cure. It was our breakfast every Christmas morning. My mother and her six sisters also cooked it many times during summers at the beach. I yearned for my mother. A woman about my own age broke my reverie by suddenly appearing at my table. “That was quite sweet,” she said. I told her I was embarrasse­d. “I know,” she said, “We want to know what happens next, right?” I looked up, and she had vanished.

Cliff Bostock, PhD, is a former psychother­apist who now offers (slightly confrontat­ional) life coaching based on imaginal psychology: cliffbosto­

It is a quirk of the calendar that autumn is a period of firsts in many respects. Traditiona­lly, the season welcomes students to the first day of class, while for others it augers the beginning of a new job following the summer doldrums — or in one unique case, the passing of one’s royal mother.

But this isn’t about King Charles III or the end of the Elizabetha­n era. Rather, I want to give a bit of stoic encouragem­ent to my gentle readers to seize each day as if it is the first (and only) day you’re given. As the ancient philosophe­r Epictetus wrote, “For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person’s life.” I love that he calls it the “art of living,” because how we build and prepare our day is eminently important to the beauty I hope that we can each create.

This notion of the first day is something that has been brought into stark resolution for me this past month. My husband and I live in Paris, and in an effort to inspire the world of possibilit­ies into the next generation, we offer an all-expenses paid immersion into our daily life here in France to any of our nieces and nephews who enroll in college and succeed in their studies. To date, we’ve had four beneficiar­ies come and join us over the years, and this year another of our nieces arrived at the end of August to experience la vie en rose.

Having just graduated from fashion merchandis­ing at a state college in Oregon, our niece had never been out of the United States and the idea of coming to the center of fashion and style was truly a dream come true for her. She has been documentin­g every moment of her visit, writing in her journal each evening all the “firsts” she’s had — whether trying escargot on her first day as we sat at one of our favorite Parisian cafes, or rabbit ragu at an Italian osteria in Milano during a quick long weekend visit via high-speed train (another first). During our conversati­ons together as we wended our ways through the Palais Royal or the Luxembourg

Gardens, I gently prodded her into pushing the boundaries of what is her comfort zone and to continue to try new things, listen to new music (she’s enjoying French rap), read about other subjects, and to consider how diverse stimuli can stir creativity and enrich our lives.

We’ve sat in the shade under carefully trimmed plane trees in view of Marie de Medici’s palace and people watched, savored a simple espresso in view of the magnificen­t Duomo, and had a thrill meandering through the Yves Saint Laurent museum. Of course, it is easy to opine about squeezing the beauty and vibrancy out of each day we’re given when living in a city like Paris, but she is starting to see how she is going to carry on when she returns to the United States in a few days. Now she is rethinking her assumption­s about living out in the suburbs and wanting to try to find an apartment that is close to mass transit. While in the past she enjoyed taking strolls with her mom when she was home, now she understand­s that walking whenever possible is not only healthy but opens up the possibilit­y of discovery and interactio­n that riding in a car can rarely provide.

The simple habits of life that can transform one’s perspectiv­e can be acquired at any age. She has commented on the significan­t difference in diet between America and France and is amazed that she can easily find healthy (and delicious) choices for a lunch and also reward herself with the occasional pastry delicacy. Changing the focus of the day to the art of living, instead of the American “work, eat, and sleep, repeat” model can be done in a myriad of tiny ways. It involves slowing down, putting away the iPhone for a bit, and enjoying moments of solitude even when amid a big city.

Today is a gift. It is all that we are assured of, and how we use it is up to us. Challenge yourself to break out of your routine and try something new. Maybe it is as mundane as driving a different route to the grocery store than you usually go or trying your hand at a new recipe. Be creative. It doesn’t have to be French snails.

 ?? PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTO­CK.COM / JUST ANOTHER PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? Tourists and locals sit on chairs and walk in front of a large building in Luxembourg Gardens.
PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTO­CK.COM / JUST ANOTHER PHOTOGRAPH­ER Tourists and locals sit on chairs and walk in front of a large building in Luxembourg Gardens.
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