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  • The Bookmaker: Part I

    The Bookmaker: Part I

    Introduction

    I’ve stated in earlier posts of my intention to begin sharing a writing project with you all on here. It’s unfinished and underdeveloped, but I hope the process of working on it here and sharing it with those of you who come across it gives me that added bit of motivation to keep it going. I know many of you out there are far more accomplished writers – I’d love to hear any feedback you might have!

    As for the story itself, the opening scene began as a random shower thought, something that came to me one day inexplicably. To prevent losing it forever, I quickly typed it out into a few paragraphs, and it stayed that way, dormant for two years before I decided to pick it back up again over the last few months. Truthfully, I haven’t flushed out all the details as of yet – or even how it will ultimately end – that’s a journey we’ll have to go on together.

    The opening scene introduces you to John, a thirty something year old who while working to better himself both personally and professionally, will find himself at several consequential crossroads. Crossroads that are a product of his environment, for better or for worse, that could lead to him greatly improving his station in life or lead to his downfall. Enjoy.

    Part I

    It started out like any other Thursday night for John Rioli. He had just gotten done eating a quick dinner, showered and headed out the door. His slicked back black hair, still wet from the shower began to harden around his head as he walked through the frosty, December air. It was cold, but a comfortable cold. The type of cold that made you feel alive and confident. 

    The street was quiet, brownstones lined the block on both sides, and there wasn’t much going on at the time. Several homes were decorated for Christmas, with wreathes on the doors and lights strung around railings, fire escapes and shining through windows. The sound of his heels clacking against the sidewalk filled the air. John was well dressed. Polished black leather dress shoes, black slacks, a pressed white dress shirt, maroon colored tie, dark grey vest all beneath his black wool overcoat and scarf.

    Up ahead as John was approaching the end of the block and reaching the intersecting avenue, it got louder and brighter. The quiet respite of the brownstone lined side street was over and now there was no mistaking where he was, New York City during Christmas. He took a right at the corner and proceeded down the avenue. The sights and sounds were all too familiar; double parked cars, throngs of people pouring into and out of restaurants and stores. On the corner, just beside the subway entrance, a Salvation Army Santa rang his bell.

    John made the walk almost daily. It was a short walk, less than a mile, sixteen minutes door to door to be exact. As he stopped at another corner along the way to wait for the light, he glanced at his watch. It was just about ten to seven, and he was nearly there, plenty of time. As he continued to wait for an opportunity to cross the street, he reached into his pocket to pull out his cigarettes. He turned, shielding himself from the wind and lit one up, taking a long drag before exhaling. The light turned green and just as he stepped off the curb and into the crosswalk, he heard shouting from behind him.

    “Hey J.R.! Johnnie!”

    He turned around to see a familiar face from the neighborhood, Mark LaVance.

    John made eye contact with Mark and offered a wry smile while walking over, the two shook hands.

    “What’s up Mark?”

    “We gonna see you there tonight?”

    “Yep, heading over now. Should be a wild one.”

    “I’m sure. Well, I don’t wanna keep you. I’ll see you over there tonight – wife is dragging me out to do some shopping, but we’ll talk later.”

    “Sounds good. Good luck out there. And say hello to Kim for me.”

    “Will do.”

    John crossed the street and took one final drag of his cigarette before flicking it into the gutter. He checked his appearance in the reflection of the window of a parked car, made sure his hair was in place, straightened his tie and collar and turned around to see that a line had already begun to form to get inside. It was an old limestone building that resembled an old bank that had been renovated and converted into a high-end bar and restaurant. The flickering neon light in the window read Falcon Blue. It was one of the neighborhood hotspots, and being the last Thursday before Christmas, it was sure to be alive with office holiday parties, people blowing off steam after work, city tourists and of course the regulars that didn’t need any particular reason to be there.

    John walked up to a mountain of a man who stood outside, they exchanged nods and the man patted John on the back as he ushered him through the door. Cigarette smoke filled the place, along with loud conversations, laughter, sports arguments – as it happened, both the Knicks and Rangers were playing tonight. All the things you’d expect to see and hear in a busy New York City bar on December 23, 1993. Ironically, beneath all the commotion, you could faintly make out Frank Sinatra’s rendition of Silent Night coming from the jukebox. Walking into a back room just beside the bar, John removed his coat and scarf, hanging them on a coat rack. He unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled up his sleeves, glancing again at his watch. 6:59. Showtime.

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  • The Proverbial Fork in the Road

    The Proverbial Fork in the Road

    I’ve been in a pensive, contemplative mood the past few days. I suppose that it’s partly my nature. I wouldn’t say that I’m a classic over thinker – but I could be deliberate. When it comes to more important decisions, I like to consider my options – weigh all the possibilities. Once I’ve taken account of the situation and played out a few “if / then” scenarios in my head, I typically act decisively. Rarely, if ever, rethinking it or playing the “what if” game. In many ways it’s been a point of pride. Proper planning, anticipating outcomes and being prepared for whatever may lie ahead are all good things, right?

    Then there are the more trivial things. Countless decisions I may make (and probably you too) every single day that are made instantly, decisively and often with little consideration at all. Aimlessly steering a shopping cart at the supermarket and filling it with items for instance – I may grab laundry detergent because the price was right – I may grab shampoo because I liked the color of the bottle. It feels random and driven by chance. Saving a few cents on the detergent, being swayed by the bottle design of the shampoo. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, so we almost go into an “auto pilot” mode – acting instinctively to get past the more mundane tasks we have ahead of us from day to day.

    Now we all agree – it makes sense that we should take time with the “big” decisions and not sweat the small stuff, like the grocery list items. But there is a charm to it when you step back and give it some thought. Those snap decisions that seem random and unconsidered are really a product of millions of moments, millions of trips to the store, millions of shopping list items checked off, that have contributed to our “gut,” those instincts that guide us even when we don’t think that they are.

    All of this got me thinking back to when I was a kid. I was inquisitive and curious just as I am today, and I’d often have something on my mind. Something I wanted to know about, something I needed an answer for. Often times it probably had to do with sports… how many homeruns did Mickey Mantle hit in his career? What was the most points Wayne Gretzky put up in a single season? I know – really consequential stuff! But for a kid growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s – that didn’t have a computer in the home until much later, I often had to wait for my dad to get home from work – so that he could either tell me the answer or make something up himself!

    Now this got me thinking even more. The absence of “instaknowledge” and Google and an “all-knowing” smartphone in my pocket that could be drawn upon on a whim whenever I had a question – it drives someone to either shrug their shoulders and forget the question all together, or to seek an answer. If you weren’t one to shrug, it drove you to books, encyclopedias, the library. It drove you to ask friends, relatives, neighbors. For some questions there were no easy answers, no books to seek. There was no “hey Siri, how long should I cook a 16-pound turkey for?” For some things it was trial and error. For some things, it was life itself – living it, experiencing it, that provided the answers. And those experiences not only helped you grow your knowledge – but they also developed your “gut” and the instincts to act and react. Make decisive decisions, and not just about what shampoo to buy – but for important decisions too.

    Today, we have endless streams of information at our fingertips on demand. If anyone wants to argue with me about a random baseball statistic, I could just whip out my phone and prove them wrong, instantly. (Thank you baseballreference.com) But I can’t help but wonder if the shortcut and taking out the journey that used to reside between questions and answers is weakening our instincts. Advanced metrics and analytics are taking over every industry. In the sports world, the debate rages whether an experienced head coach or manager is even needed when there are teams of data engineers and analysts on the team payroll that could project out what the best lineup should be based on historical matchups, time of day, temperature, etc. What should that manager do? Listen to data? Trust the analytics? Or go with his gut and his own experience from his 30 years of being in the sport? Probably both.

    Now I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Information is wonderful. Having the information we want, when we want it is a luxury I wouldn’t willingly give up. But like all advancements – there is usually a casualty, a trade off. Good or bad – it simply is what it is.

    So now when those big life decisions come up, and I’m faced with making a choice of some consequence – there is much more to draw on. I could weigh out all my options, draw on my experiences, and play out all the scenarios in my head. If this happens, I’ll do that. If that happens, I’ll do this. But I could also seek out so much more information. I could look for reviews. I could find statistics. I could seek out groups of people in online forums who may have gone through similar experiences or who have had to make similar decisions. But I wonder, does all that information and countless opinions help us make sounder decisions? Do we feel better about the choices we make – or does it add to more overthinking and second guessing? Can the information overload weaken our gut instincts and strip us of our decisiveness? Probably.

    In the end, for me at least, the answer is everything in moderation! Just because the information is there doesn’t mean you need to consume it all. Take some, leave the rest. Formulate your own opinions, developed from your own experiences and keep those instincts sharp. Sometimes when we face that fork in the road, there isn’t time to ask Google. Sometimes, we quickly draw on what years of life has taught us, and we react. As the late, great Yogi Berra once famously said, “when you get to a fork in the road, take it.”

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  • Why We Write…

    Why We Write…

    Have you ever stopped to think about why we write? What is it that makes someone really WANT to write? Sure, we’re all most certainly creatives. We have artistic, imaginative minds with a longing to create something. Maybe we want to create a deep, rich world that resides somewhere in the depths of our minds and bring it to life for others to share in and appreciate. Maybe we’re passionate about a subject and gain satisfaction in the perfectly articulated point or argument. Maybe we simply enjoy the language and the art of finding the right words, at exactly the right time. Whatever it is, one thing is for sure – of all the ‘arts,’ writing truly is a labor of love.

    Think about it. Those that are musically inclined can write music and lyrics, perhaps play an instrument – and gain the immediate satisfaction of being able to hear what they just created. Those who are gifted with a brush or a pencil in their hand can see the impressive, colorful paintings or lifelike sketches. Sculptors can see and touch their creations. For so many artists – and I use that term in its broadest sense – the fruit of their labor can be experienced quickly just by pausing to listen or taking a quick glance. But when you write – you can create worlds just as rich and detailed as the most talented painter, and you can create powerful symphonies like those of famous composers – but there is no instant gratification. You can’t just pause and listen or stop and look. Running your hands across the pages of your favorite book won’t render the details of its contents – like say – running your hands against the sculpted face of Michaelangelo’s David.

    So no – we don’t get that immediate thrill or validation. Because our writing, whether it’s a sci-fi thriller, a biography, a news article or a blog post – requires a reader on the other end. And reading takes a lot more effort than just looking or listening or feeling. Reading is also very personal, because our own experiences will dictate how we interpret the words and envision the worlds that the author has created for us. If one thousand people read the same book, undoubtedly there would be one thousand different experiences. And while paintings and songs can certainly be seen and interpreted differently – there is still a sense of black and white, here and now – that is absent in the deep grays of writing.

    Which brings me back to my original question… why do we do it? Why do we write? Why have I seemingly had an itch all day that could only be scratched by me sitting down at my desk, coffee at my side, and writing? Sitting here now and typing out these words, not knowing who if any will even see them, still brings me a sense of relief. I’m scratching that itch.

    I suppose we’re all products of our environment, victims of circumstance. Maybe some of us were exposed to books at a young age and the love of getting lost in an immersive world has driven us to want to create our own. Maybe we’re more introverted creatures in some ways and prefer to bring the worlds and characters we’ve imagined in our minds to life through the written word. But then again, maybe not. Maybe we’re outgoing – maybe we love meeting new people, networking, connecting, sharing our experiences and unique perspectives. And writing is just another outlet to do just that.

    As I sit here trying to answer my own question – why do I write – I looked back into my own experiences, my own upbringing. And you know what? There’s nothing specifically I could call out that would pinpoint why I enjoy writing. I wasn’t a big reader as a child (that came later in life). I needed to be outside, riding my bike, playing sports, staying active. As I got older and deeper into my school years, I developed a love for history. In high school and college, I began reading for pleasure – not because it was assigned coursework. And when extensive research papers and essays began cropping up – while I was a professional procrastinator that waited to the last minute and crammed – I found that I had a knack for it. Dare I say, even enjoyed it.

    So, why do I write? I guess the short answer is because I enjoy it! And whenever the fall comes around and there’s a bit of a briskness in the air and leaves start changing – it makes me want to write even more. I’m fortunate to live about ten minutes away from one of my favorite “thinking spots.” This morning I took in some of these views while on a walk – coffee in hand – contemplating life as I like to say.

    While on that walk – I asked myself why I write – and thought I’d try to figure it out and answer the question in a new blog post. What about you? Why do you write? What are your favorite thinking spots?

    Whatever the reason is – thank you. Thanks for writing and creating and sharing. Because whatever your motivation is – it truly is a labor of love. In a world where everyone is out for instant gratification, it’s good to know that there are those out there willing to put in the work and not just resort to TikTok videos and 140-character tweets. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

    Enjoy your weekend, all.

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The Bookmaker: Part I

Introduction I’ve stated in earlier posts of my intention to begin sharing a writing project with you all on here. It’s unfinished and underdeveloped, but I hope the process of working on it here and sharing it with those of you who come across it gives me that added bit of motivation to keep it […]

The Proverbial Fork in the Road

I’ve been in a pensive, contemplative mood the past few days. I suppose that it’s partly my nature. I wouldn’t say that I’m a classic over thinker – but I could be deliberate. When it comes to more important decisions, I like to consider my options – weigh all the possibilities. Once I’ve taken account […]

Why We Write…

Have you ever stopped to think about why we write? What is it that makes someone really WANT to write? Sure, we’re all most certainly creatives. We have artistic, imaginative minds with a longing to create something. Maybe we want to create a deep, rich world that resides somewhere in the depths of our minds […]