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While I’d taken it upon myself to pick some horrific non-horror films a few Halloweens ago (Guillermo del Toro’s eyes-in-the-hands guy, you’re always on my mind), this year I was interested to know what my fellow TNB contributors might say were the most terrifying movie scenes they’ve endured to date. Below, if you dare to read on, you’ll find those iconic dead-eyed twins, bad hell-spawn hair, an unfathomable choice, and more, but first I’ll get this party started with Willy Wonka’s boat ride from the 1971 Mel Stuart film.  Most of my phobias can be traced back to these two manic minutes in the tunnel:

I accepted a job out past a boulevard named Rampart, the last name anyone would ever dream up as a short diagonal through Los Angeles, California. I crossed Rampart in the morning going east, retreating over the last stretch of continental pavement I’d traveled months before. The downtown by now looked exposed, without the fortified walls.

* at the beginning of a list

* on the vanity license plate of a traveling campervan

* to your dog, followed by a beef-and-cheese-flavored snack from pocket, counting on word of mouth to spread from there

* to your demons

* to your high school guidance counselor

Expatriates, I’ve found, don’t necessarily get along. Meeting someone from home who’s navigating the same foreign country as you are can be a source of mutual suspicion or rivalry just as often as it’s a springboard to friendship. Other times, there’s only that superficial common ground to briefly stand on, making it all the more apparent you likely would have nothing to do with one another back on native soil.

But then there are those moments that you do find a fellow expat, someone you wish you’d known back home before you left for this new place, and the person can become a long-lost life raft.

John H. Bryan: in fits and starts

Steven H. Strongin: in an Ambien tent

J. Michael Evans: like a log

William W. George: like a log cresting the first descent of a flume

John S. Weinberg: like a log resting mightily atop a sleeping lamb

Richard J. Gnodde: floating in a 24-acre sensory deprivation chamber

Kevin W. Kennedy: face down in an infinity pool of his own vomit

Rafe went to the City of San Francisco to tell his story. I explained that he should only say what he was comfortable with. Neatly undermining that advice, I then said it would be impossible for him to say anything wrong. Really, everyone was just excited to have him there. Talking.

Somehow, carrying the snails falls to me. With the boatload of wrapped presents and scarves and gloves that will be lost within eight steps out into the street and small children who may likewise need carrying and possibly be misplaced in a momentary panic, I hoist two stacked platters of Burgundy snails.

They have been prepared in parsley and garlic butter to be recooked at my in-laws’ house. It’s more than a little dumb that I’m arriving with this particular dish because I’m the only one of the group not from around here. Not only not from Burgundy, where I helped pull these snails out of a dewy meadow this past July and where their cold weather preparation is the crowning regional specialty, but I am not of this nation. I’m not of this culture or even this particular coterie of exempted taste buds. The only thing I ever did with snails, before landing abroad, was proceed at their pace.

1. No time.

2. No energy.

3. No idea what you were saying.

4. Your post was part of a series and I figured I’d wait for the next installment.

5. Wanted to leave my feedback at tnb.com regarding the electrical conduit fittings I recently enjoyed, but somehow ended up here.

6. Your piece happened to appear during a widespread lull in commenting at TNB and I didn’t want to buck the trend.

7. Didn’t feel ready to delve into a topic that would steamroll my neatly compartmentalized system of core beliefs and values.

8. Didn’t feel the need to make it obvious I had fully missed the point.

In the first year of the new millennium, instant messaging was the fastest growing communication technology of all time.  Of its then 60 million purported users, Cecile and I were two young employees of a public relations agency hyping Internet start-ups and video game companies who cared only about the words we sent each other.

We sat in separate cubicles that shared a wall.  Its segments fit together unevenly, leaving a narrow opening.  We volleyed noiseless messages back and forth, five feet apart.

 

natm: fine i quit
cecilero: ok i will miss u
natm: you should come too
cecilero: where will u go?
natm: neptune or maybe mendocino
cecilero: i can see your left hand through the space
natm: i’m very serious

cecilero:  this is typical

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By Nathaniel Missildine

Humor

* Accept with pleasure

* Decline with regret

* Accept with overblown joy

* Decline with studied indifference

* Accept but don’t plan on enjoying myself beyond the open bar

* Decline but will be standing outside on your lawn gazing in through back window for the duration of the evening’s festivities

* Accept though it’s really our turn to invite

* Decline to admit I don’t know what R.S.V.P. stands for

* Accept that, if I do, even this small amount of French will be pronounced incorrectly

There is a place with roller coasters and wave swingers surrounded by champagne vineyards.

It is a two hours’ drive.We leave first thing in the morning because my daughters buckled themselves into the car soon after the break of dawn like precocious, barrette-wearing roosters.I hop behind the driver’s seat with a bottle of water and a disc of complied songs about summertime.The empty two-lane roads trace the swerve of the first track:Surfin’ U.S.A.

Through pasture and low forest, the white sun burns off the fog and the sheep would own the land if they could pull their faces out of the grass for even a second.The boulangeries in the unassuming villes have already sold out of pain au chocolat.My wife remarks that several weird, distant cousins live in a town we pass, but when, for God’s sake, would we ever find the time to visit them.In the backseat, the girls mouth the refrain “inside, outside, U.S.A.”

If you travel west across the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania, you enter the city of York.It is an average, mid-sized city among the green hills of the Susquehanna Valley, but only an hour’s drive north of the Baltimore-Washington churn.It is a place rich in history that lays claim to the title of the “first capital of the United States,” as it held this status during the American Revolution allowing the Continental Congress to adopt the Articles of Confederation and then move the capital elsewhere.

York is a city that’s seen a development explosion in its suburbs, but still maintains a downtown with a weekend market, a symphony orchestra, the offices of not one, but two, daily newspapers and a spiking crime rate.

Speaking broadly, its citizens tend to be of German descent, hold conservative, hard-working Protestant values and avoid showiness where a simple nod will do.

York is getting by okay.It is named for the town in England.It is the subject of the song Shit Towne by the popular 90s band Live, whose members were themselves native Yorkers.

Nationally, York is also renowned for peppermint patties, barbells and the Harley-Davidson factory.A recent branding strategy by the Chamber of Commerce bills York County as “The Factory Tour Capital of the World,” though it’s really only the Harley plant that’s worth coming for.Other selected tours include that of a local credit union and, listed in brochures without a hint of a joke, a landfill.

Internationally, I get questions about my hometown.When I say I’m from York, I’m asked about the city’s possible relation to the Big Apple.

“No, no,” I clarify, “it’s just York.”

“This is the old York then?The original city, before the New one?” they’ll ask, interest piqued.

“Almost,” I nod.

What did it mean to say “as it’s beautiful?”

I’d heard a woman’s voice murmur behind me in a language I vaguely remembered.“Comme c’est beau,” she’d said.Her words allowed me to forget for a moment that we were at an Arizona pancake breakfast and that no one else at the campground’s popular morning cookout had understood her.Only I looked up from my plate of shortstacks.

There lay before us a petrified tree trunk, an ancient, formless hunk of wood I wouldn’t have labeled “beau” at all or in any form.At its base, a plaque proclaimed its age at a hundred million years, with the rings to prove it.

As I sat applying more maple syrup pretending that’s what cowboys used to do, language had suddenly caught up with me.I understood only then that, after all these achingly beau travels through the United States, I’d be returning to the same country she would.Having wandered this far west, all the way to a painted desert and a petrified national forest, I’d managed to overlook the fact that I was tourist.

It’s spring, and all of you sexy people out there know just what I mean when I say, mmm-mm. It’s time for the return of the sexy.

The sun is bouncing brightly off that freshly waxed chest in front of you where its owner is parked enjoying a delicious shot of wheatgrass. He’s working on his computer like he’s got a novel brewing. Or maybe he’s a writer for GQ. He’s just made eye contact with you as if to say candidly, “I see you watching me being sexy over here. I, too, acknowledge your sexy.”

Oh, yeah.

That’s right. It’s been a long, cold run up here in the mountains, and I am happy to report that spring is finally in the air. The birds are birding, the chipmunks are chipmunking; and the bees…are beeing sexy. Yesterday, I was at a giant garage sale for my kid’s school. Helping out because volunteering is sexy. I didn’t end up doing much, but I did walk away with a great deal on a purple and black corset, which just goes to show, economy is sexy, too.

A lot has happened this last year. Grandpa got married. He’s 90 and she’s 96, but neither of them are a day over sexy. Together they witnessed the rise and fall of the USSR, the coming of age of Barbie, and the invention of the chocolate chip cookie. Had a preacher man say some words over them without actually signing a marriage license so they could be sexy together without getting their families all riled up over mingling their bank accounts. Last I heard, they had moved back to their single rooms over at the independent living center. A little space is sexy, too—oh yeah.

It’s spring and it’s time to be sexy. Two weeks ago, Slade Ham, Megan DiLullo, Uche Ogbuji, Richard Cox and Sam Demaris came up to our house. It had snowed 8 inches of fresh powder, so it wasn’t very sexy. Even so, we laughed, told stories, ate donuts and drank a lot of very sexy whiskey. At one in the morning, we broke out the kickboxing gear and sparred in the living room. I got the wind just about knocked out of me by a well-placed punch to the side by Slade. Brought me to my knees it was so sexy. Even Scott just shook his head from behind the video camera and didn’t rush to my defense. Megan put on some headgear like she was going to jump in but was eventually pulled back to the sofa by a 90 proof magnet. Uche broke out into some def poetry while Sam called us a bunch of high schoolers. Richard played Tiffany. There is nothing sexy about Tiffany. Donuts are sexy, though. Especially if you’re a dude made out of fried bread. Oh, yeah.

But Spring is in the air now, and all of those kinks have been smoothed over. No excuse to not be sexy. Even Simon Smithson and Zara Potts and the rest of you living down under don’t have to stop being sexy even though it’s well into autumn now for you. Autumn is a sexy word for fall. You’re down there and we’re up here and we’re passing like two sexy ships in the night. Passing the baton of sexy.

Don’t worry, though. We’ll have enough sexy in the northern hemisphere to carry you over. Nathaniel Missildine in France. David S. Wills in China. Steve Sparshott and James Irwin in England. Irene Zion over in Belgium(?) and Judy Prince somewhere in between. We’re creating a mesh network of sexy and beaming it south. Down below the earth’s belt. Now that’s sexy.

That’s right, Spring is in the air and it’s time to be sexy so slip out of those shoes and curl your toes deep into some warm sand somewhere. Wear something that ends in an ‘ini’. Order something cold that comes in a pineapple or coconut shell because drinks that come in their own skin are sexy. You know it. But it’s spring, so don’t worry too much about having to try. In spring, just about everything is sexy. In spring, even Tiffany is sexy.

So, keep on keepin’ on, wheatgrass boy. You’ve got a spot of green in the corner of your mouth there.

There you go.

Oh, yeah.

 

I live in an apartment in Dijon, France that is centrally located between the train station and the original Maille mustard shop where tourists come to sample the sinus-clearing condiments that the town is famous for.Our home is situated off a pleasant side street that remains quiet even during the bustling hours of the week.We have a view out of our third-floor window onto the gothic Saint-Benigne cathedral with the gold, red and green roof tiles traditional to the Burgundy region.

In the foreground of the cathedral, stands a slightly newer stone building.It’s a residence like ours, but one that also houses the offices of a psychotherapist and a dentist, both on the ground floor.Its north side is covered in lush green ivy.

This building was also, once, the headquarters of the Gestapo.