“What the fuck happened to your hand?” I asked.

“Red Sox.”

“Yeah… I hear ya.”

***

In the spring of 1988, I was a sophomore at a small Catholic liberal arts college outside of Boston. Although I majored in Classics, my attentions were overwhelmingly devoted to rugby. I craved the social dimensions of the rugby lifestyle as much as the bone-crushing action of daily practice and weekend matches. And while our club were admittedly the poster boys for hooliganism (a decidedly un-Catholic brand of leisure), we nonetheless took our sport very seriously. We played fall and spring seasons, practicing nearly every day of the week and playing matches every weekend.

As one of the better teams in the Northeast, we competed against some of the best colleges in the country. This meant that while the rest of the school were filling up pubs and parties on Friday evenings, we were all laying low, saving our bodies for the games the next day and our livers for the post-game drink up with the other team.

My priorities were out of whack, I dedicated my time to battering my body from all sides, and I missed out on many traditional college experiences for the sake of my team. But man, I loved those years.

***

On your average American college campus, Saturday mornings are left to scholars and athletes. The former are jockeying for the prime study spots in the school library (wherever that is), and the latter are putting their pre-game mixes together, their game faces on, and if their nerves allow for it, addressing the most important meal of the day.

It was on a Saturday morning that spring that I bumped into Jim in front of the school cafeteria. Jim wore the school’s baseball uniform, with a shiny purple pitcher’s jacket fending off the spring chill. I wore purple and grey rugby sweats over my uniform, my gear bag slung over my shoulder. We nodded and trudged up the stairs together, two soldiers preparing for battle.

***

Jim and I had known each other for years, growing up in the same part of the city and attending the same classes in high school. He wasn’t one of my closest friends, but we hung out occasionally, always having great chats about baseball and music. Inevitably, the discussion would always land on The Cult and their 1985 classic album Love. I was a big Cult fan too, but nowhere nearly as intense as he was.

One day in high school, Jim plopped down next to me on the school bus. He looked concerned.

“Man…”

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I heard something kind of fucked up.”

“Yeah?”

“Ian?  Ian Astbury?”

“Yeah, what about him?”

“I heard he might be gay.”

“Really?  No shit?’

“Yeah.”

“Wow.”

“You know what? I don’t care. He fucking rules.”

This was significant to me, because we went to an all boy’s Catholic high school, where jocks were placed on pedestals and phrases like “fag” and “gay” were recklessly and spitefully used to demean anything perceived to be different or, God forbid, weak. It would have been socially risky to embrace an openly gay artist in that environment at that time.

But Jim didn’t care. He knew who he was and he knew what he liked, and if his favorite vocalist turned out to be gay (which Ian Astbury is not), so be it. Jim loved the music and that’s all that mattered.

Jim was bad ass.

***

As we met on the cafeteria steps that spring morning, I saw that Jim’s hand was freshly bandaged.

For the second time in as many weeks, Jim’s frustration with our professional baseball franchise had taken on a physical manifestation, with Jim pitting his pitching arm against an inanimate object. Predictably, the conflict was brief, painful, and humbling.

I had witnessed the first incident about a week before, when I dropped by to see if he was up for a party. I heard The Cult’s “(Here Comes the) Rain,” halfway down the hallway and found him standing next to his stereo, breathing heavily and seething. The floor was covered with a gaggle of items that clearly belonged on his dresser, but which had recently been swept to the floor.

“Sox lose again?”

“Yup.”

“Hey. You up for heading off campus?”

“Nope.”

I left him to search for acceptance.

On this recent occasion, as we picked up trays and entered the kitchen (Jim holding his tray in his good hand), Jim explained that on the evening before, it was a window pane that received the brunt of his ire. It had been 70 years since Boston had won the World Series and it appeared that 1988 was not going to be the season to end the drought.

As we sat across each other in the cafeteria, Jim’s primary concern was how he would explain the consequences of his choice to his coach.

Jim was expected to pitch that day.

I don’t recall if I was playing at home or away that day. In fact, I don’t remember who we played or whether we won or lost. I just remember sitting across from Jim and shaking my head as I commiserated with his predicament.

***

A few days later, they found Jim’s body.

He had taken his own life in our dormitory.

Having just seen Jim only a few days before, seemingly fine, apart from his concerns with the Red Sox, I was at a loss for explaining what had happened.

I entered the Kübler-Ross grief cycle when my roommate found me in the library.

“Joe…” he began breathlessly.

“What’s up?”

“It’s Jim… He’s dead. They found him in the dorm…”

Shock.

The kind of shock that blocks out all sound and sends the room spinning.

“No fucking way,” I protested.

Denial.

“Yeah man, I just heard. It’s him. Some of the guys are in [another friend’s] room now if you want more info.”

The other friend was one of our buddies from high school. There were fifteen of us who went on to this small college, and we were all relatively close.

On the way over to my friend’s room, I skipped the bargaining stage and dabbled in anger.

That selfish prick,” I thought, “what a gutless way to check out. Why didn’t he come talk to any of us?” I wondered.

Anger soon subsided and depression hit me like a rogue wave when I entered my buddy’s dorm room and walked into a circle of tear-stained faces. There was no testing stage at that point- just acceptance.

***

Jim was not the first suicide in college.

One year before, another guy from our high school, who was one year ahead of us, took his life while visiting his family for the weekend.

Mick was a year ahead of us in high school. Captain of the football team and coming from a long line of jocks, he was cocky, popular, and most beloved by the coaching staff and faculty.

Mick went on to the same college I eventually did, settling in as a smaller fish in a quite larger, co-ed pond. By the time my friends and I arrived on campus, Mick had toned down his swagger. He seemed more subdued and approachable. Certainly not morose. It felt more like he was simply feeling more comfortable in his own skin.

News of his suicide rocked my friends and me. Here was a kid who seemingly had it all- looks, popularity, grades- nothing but pure potential ahead of him. There were no signs- just the final sign off.

Mick’s funeral was packed. My friends and I sat in the back of the church, all breaking down as Mick’s older brother himself lost it, telling his brother’s coffin how much he had always enjoyed tossing around the football before Thanksgiving dinner.

It was an awakening- an unwanted and unforgettable lesson that you never know what someone is enduring at any given moment.

***

I was told that Jim left notes, though the contents were never fully revealed to me.

I know one was to his family, and another to his girlfriend, whom Jim had dated for some time and who was a classmate of ours. Most unsettling however, was the note that he left for Mick.

None of us could get our arms around that. To our knowledge, Jim had not been all that friendly with Mick. Certainly no more or less than any of us. Not to mention that Mick had been dead for nearly a year by the time Jim took his own life.

This detail unnerved me. It pushed farther away the possibility of understanding Jim’s mindset in those final days.

News of this note caused me to consider the possibility that Jim might have been mentally ill, which was not at all easy for me to stomach. Even to this day, the possibility sits like an unwelcome visitor in my mind. Yet one who has a right to be there.

I had always assumed that people who took their own lives were selfish and narcissistic, yet somehow clear minded and therefore responsible for their actions. Conveniently, this also made them responsible for my feelings.

As more sketchy revelations emerged, we all realized that we would never understand what had happened. Acceptance of this uncertainty was our closure.

***

On the afternoon of Jim’s death, I sat in the window of my first story dorm room, staring out at the plush green hill across from the building, doing my best to process what few feelings I could identify.

Then I saw a ghost.

From around the corner of the dorm came a kid with curly blond hair and the red baseball jacket of our high school. Same eyes, same nose- it was Jim.

It was either a bad dream or a horrible joke.

I looked closer as he walked up to me- it was Jim’s younger brother, still in high school. He was an eerie clone of his brother. Despair held his head down like a yoke. I wanted badly to leap out of the window and run over and hug him. Instead I sat there.

“Hey… I don’t know what to say… I’m so sorry about your brother…”

“Do you know why he did it?”

He was somewhere between depression and testing.

“I don’t. I have no idea. I’m sorry.”

He looked down at the ground and continued to walk, as if the answers to his questions had a physical location.

I swung my legs back into my room, put on Love and let the tears rain down my face.

***

I have many regrets from my college years. I should have been a Modern Languages major instead of Classics. I should have drank less and studied more. I should have visited home more on the weekends.

But one of my biggest regrets is that I don’t remember my final moments with Jim more clearly.

I don’t pretend to think there was anything I could have or should have noticed that morning- something that I might have used to prevent Jim’s death. It was clear, even at the time, that Jim’s fatal impulses were well-kept secrets held only by him.  Jim had a plan and he wasn’t going to let anyone try to talk him out of it.

I just wish I recalled more about that breakfast. I wish I could remember more vividly remember Jim talking about his hand. What inning it was when the game went south. Which player’s mistake had been so costly. Who they were even playing.

I wish I could remember what we talked about, period. I just remember sitting across from him in the middle of an empty school cafeteria, looking at his hand. That’s it.

Yet at times I wonder if that final meeting was actually perfect. Two friends sitting across from each other in a near-empty dining hall early on an overcast spring morning, each in our purple and gray uniforms- two soldiers in the same army, heading off to different battles. A private moment that was exquisite because it was so ordinary.

Two buddies having breakfast.

The most important meal of the day.

China isn’t really what I expected. It’s better, in many ways, and also worse. In other words, it’s unique. It’s its own strange place which really doesn’t match well with the western view. For example, where’s the communism? Aside from the portraits of Mao, I can’t see anything “Red.” All I see is McDonalds, KFC, Hilton hotels… Everyone is trying desperately to sell something, to make some money.

It’s dirtier than a porno theatre, too. The streets are quite literally coated in shit. Some places are too dirty for cockroaches, and others are too swamped by roaches for dirt to settle. Trash piles threaten not only an array of diseases, but the possibility of collapsing and crushing a passer-by. The skies are an orangey-yellow colour, thick with the exhaust fumes from millions of overcrowded buses and motorcycles driven by small children and even smaller old men and women.

Come Monday

By Meg Worden

Memoir


We stood outside The Copa watching drag queens pull suitcases tied with feather boas, smeared with lipstick and glitter into the infamous nightclub. The air was thick and still. Instead of moving around, it pushed in and down on us, like gravity.

The barometric pressure drops lower than low before a hurricane.

My boyfriend, Jimmy, and I took a final breath before dragging our own things, two suitcases, sleeping bags, our cockatiel, Sonny, in his cage along with the tension of our precarious relationship through the doors of the Italian restaurant where we would be riding out Hurricane Georges – a category three hurricane headed directly for our island home of Key West.

Fourteen people, four dogs, two cats and our bird gathered in the restaurant to wait out the storm. While most of the residents and all of the tourists had evacuated the island, we’d opted to stay, and in little groups of threes and fours we listened at the back door and peeked through the cracks in the plywood covering the windows, waiting with a combined excitement, dread, for the forces of nature to remind us of our particular human- ness, to demand that we relinquish ourselves, powerless before the face of God as it surged forth from the heavens.

Dining tables were transformed into activity centers. Someone had set out puzzles on one, and another had a couple of guitars, and a harmonica. Another was covered with paper, scissors and paints. That’s where Maggie sat. The beautiful girl from Queens that Jimmy was falling in love with.  It was obvious how much he was into her, preferred her company to mine. He told me he liked the way she said “Moms.”

“There’s a whole group of people here that get up in the morning and go kayaking and biking and aren’t hung over everyday.” He had said to me when he first met her.

I responded by looking at him like he was crazy talking.

While some sat around putting the puzzles together and strumming the guitars, others filled the bar stools sipping wine, rolling joints and giggling through hazy, gray smoke rings.

I was one of them.

The part of me that could deny my own rampant infidelity and nurture monster-sized jealousy of Maggie could fill the room, hang off the edge of the island, spill onto the reef and impale itself on the jagged edge of a wrecked ship.

I drank to that.

Jimmy said I should come home before dawn once in awhile.

I said, Don’t cramp my style.

By the time the storm hit, it was demoted to a category one. But it was still strong enough to bend palm trees in half, send rooftops flying like carpets down the center of Duval street and blow thousands of terrified little birds with bright orange and electric blue wings all the way from Cuba. One would land shivering underneath the Bougainvillea bushes outside the back door.

I tried to save it, cupping it in my palms and nestling it into a box with water and some of Sonny’s birdseed. I tried to save it by sheer-willing it to live. It was lying all cold and stiff the next morning, its tiny legs curled like telephone wire on its chest.

The parallel was completely lost on me.

We were fortunate to be connected to a small generator and propane tank and we heartily took to the task of emptying the walk-in refrigerator before the food spoiled and wasted.

By candlelight, the chefs prepared buffets of cheese and berries for breakfast, antipasto for lunch and for dinner we pushed tables together, set them with linens, silver and crystal stemware for family-style Italian dinners; heaping trays of medium-rare filet mignon, baskets of crispy carta de musica, toasty brushettas, pomodoro pasta and spicy arugula salads dripping with truffle oil.

Afterwards we sipped creamy cappuccinos till nothing was left but the sweetest, foamiest bits to mix into our tiny glasses of grappa. Like jet fuel, we joked. Drinking grappa made our eyes become glassy little slits, caused our laughter to break out in gusts.

As I worked my way to the back door to smoke my mind burned with the image of  Jimmy, at dinner, leaning in to Maggie’s every word, unabashedly held rapt by her perfect bone structure and bright, salty eyes.

It was obvious.

I held onto the door jam for support, my legs, full to the thighs with Barolo and Aquavit, and lit the wrong end of my cigarette while the wind blew the whole entire sea right up onto the island with a howl, a force, a screaming gale that shook the walls, ripped holes in the rooftop, sent briny rivers down the sidewalks.

Cayo Hueso shook and rattled its long dead bones.

I’d like to scream that loud, I thought. I’d like to blow the whole world down.

I imagined Jim and Maggie would be caught in my outburst and be thrown out into the atmosphere until they were just tiny specks that eventually disappeared. Like debris.

During the ethereal eye of the hurricane that passed directly over us we cautiously opened the doors and took intrepid walks through an atmosphere, heavy and silent as a wool cloak, a vacuum. We said Hey to the drag queens peeking their stubbled chins out of the Copa before we all had to hide away again from a wind that blew in from the opposite direction, bending the palm trees over to the other side. Their fronds would be left vertical and askew, like wild, punk rock hair.

The giant banyan in the front yard of Shel Silverstein’s house on Williams Street fell over during this backhanded wind. Rumor said it was the tree that inspired The Giving Tree, a beautiful book about a tree that loves, unconditionally, a selfish little boy.

Its enormous root ball lay wet on the sidewalk, exposed and vulnerable, its trunk, cracked and broken.

I would read in the Miami Herald about the death of Shel Silverstein seven months later, an event that lay to rest a powerful piece of my childhood. He was downed, like his tree, by a massive heart attack at the age of sixty-eight.

We became goldfish in a bowl, swimming circles around the dining room during the second half of the storm.  The novelty worn, everyone wanting a shower, some privacy. Round and round we passed, wearing expressions that said, “You again?” The smell of wet leaves, algae and unearthing seeped in through the leaking ceiling, dripped with a plipplipplip into plastic bus tubs on the floor.

Georges raged on by his own set of rules.

The great storm ended, as all things do, even trees, and birds and poets. Even love. It eventually dissipated, melted into driving, then drizzling rain, and moved up into mainland Florida late on a Sunday night. The next morning, as the sun peeked through the cloud cover, the DJ’s on the crackling transistor radio that had kept us connected to the world that week chose Jimmy Buffet’s Come Monday as the first song since the evacuations began.

Someone, maybe even Beautiful Maggie From Queens, turned up the volume.

Come Monday, it’ll be all right.
Come Monday, I’ll be holding you tight.

To this day, that song transports me.

And, of course, we were all right. We had survived the storm and would come, over the years to survive many other things.

But it was she, not me, that he was holding tight.

That Monday.


We woke up in Des Moines, home of the infamous Carol and our war-wounded late-night ex-USMC saviour, G. Smith, to the sight of puffy grey clouds flowing sluggishly across the sky through the hotel room window. There was mist rising from the river, and the concrete pavings outside the hotel lobby doors had that thin dampness that speaks of moisture seeping out of the air, rather than rainfall.

 

K-pop is inexplicably popular. I’d never heard of it before coming to Korea, but according to the frighteningly nationalistic Korean press, it’s a world sensation. All across the global, people are dancing to the startlingly derivative nonsense that is contemporary Korean “music.”

But maybe I’m being too cynical.

Maybe K-pop will conquer the globe.

In the unlikely event that these derivative “musicians” take the West by storm – and given some of the bands that have achieved stardom in the English-speaking world, that’s not hard to imagine – here’s a guide for the uninitiated. Something you can use to seem hip when the time comes, or to bag yourself a young Korean lover…

Rain

Who?

Probably the one Korean singer that you may already know, thanks to an appearance on the Colbert Report. He is known as a great dancer, and an actor.

This is all Brad Listi’s fault. He had to go and talk about the weather, didn’t he?

I was sitting in my car yesterday, watching as, in the space of about five minutes, the sky turned black. Soon after, something hit the roof with a high-velocity ‘clunk!’

What the fu- I thought, and suddenly hail started to cascade down around me. I had five minutes to go before a pickup, so all I could really do was sit there and watch as the skies opened and hope none of the hail would shatter the windows of the car.

When the call to come and collect came, I had to shout to be heard over the sound of the ice cascading down from the sky.

The next couple of days have been a document of the crazy weather descending on Melbourne this weekend. Houses, train stations, cinemas… all of them have had holes punched through their roofs by the force of the frozen water that the sky threw down at us over the weekend. Reports have come in about hailstones the size of tennis balls, flash floods that swept through the streets of the CBD, trees swept over roads.

Mother Nature appears to be mightily pissed off. Lightning and thunder are still rolling in the distance, and, thanks to Irene Zion and her musings on the same subject, I’m wondering if this is a sign.

Dessert

By Matthew Gavin Frank

Travel

In Alba, Italy, rain and a market. In my hands, the white greased paper that once held an entire rotisserie rabbit. Its bones clack together as hooves, a horse in the distance. I clutch this paper coffin to my chest, as if for warmth, and scan the piazza for a garbage can. My hunt for refuse carries me into the covered pulse of the marketplace, and I have to blink to focus. Now unburdened by my desire to eat a whole animal, I am able to assimilate this lovely and special chaos. There are hundreds of vendors—fruit stands, fish stands, meats and cheeses; rounds, bricks, entire civilizations of cheese, octopus, persimmon. I toss my trash in a can beneath a string of blood sausage.

“Hey! Hey!” I hear someone shout.

The voice opens like the lid of an ancient hope chest, rides its dusty remnants and long dead dreams on the rain. If I were to look inside this voice I’d expect to find centuries-old taxidermy, owls with shellacked eyes and sawdust in the feathers. I hear it again, this time in triplicate.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!”

I have no reason to think it’s directed at me, but I turn to face a tiny knuckle of a man, dressed all in white, head so perfectly circular it could have been designed with a compass.

“Hey! Viene qua!” the frump calls from behind his fruit stand.

I turn and point behind me, my forehead certainly a mess of wrinkles. People cascade in circles, not one of them standing still. I turn back and touch my chest.

“Io?” I ask.

“Si, si,” he creaks, “Tu.”

I move forward and, as if stepping on a hidden button in the cobblestone, I activate this man to produce a baseball-sized fig from his fruit pile, bust it in half with his thumbs, and shove both bowled sides into his mouth at once. As if a magician waiting for applause, he, less than a second later, waves the cleaned purple fig skins at me as theatre curtains.

“Wow,” is all I can muster.

He holds a fat palm open to me. I freeze into position. He turns and retrieves another intact fig, this one even larger. Again, with his cigar-stub fingers, he breaks the fruit in two, its swampy sweet cilia waving yellow at my nose like a sea anemone. Soon, his hands are in mine, wet with warm rain, rolling the fig halves into my drenched palms.

“Prego,” he offers, but it could easily have been, “Abracadabra.”

I want to match his magic, so I shove both halves into my mouth. The music of the fruit shrieks soprano with cherry and yeast, the texture of limp comb teeth. This is a fig to resurrect the dreams of a great-great-grandmother. This is a fig to make her a little girl again, stretch her hair from stiff gray to blonde braided pigtails. I think of the tango and pull the stripped skins from my mouth. The frump actually applauds, laughing.

“Bravo! Bravo!” he bellows.

I laugh knowingly with him, having shared in his secret bag of wizard’s tricks.

I reach into my pocket, expecting a string of scarves, but produce only my wallet. When I flash a few coins, he shakes his head, a bowling ball on shoulders, and turns to help another customer, a middle-aged woman with a faux-snakeskin umbrella.

I feel large, and somehow filled-out, rounded, fat-handed, aged and neckless. This is a market without illusion. The magic here is real. Over the reptilian umbrella, I watch the man hoist a watermelon into the air.

 

This piece originally appeared in Brevity and was reprinted in Creative Nonfiction (The “Best of Brevity 2005” issue).

In Alba, Italy’s rain, my hair flattens wet against my skull. Hugging the shopfronts of Via Vittorio Emanuele, I see a white triangular peak in the distance. It could be anything—a downed mountain bowing to commune with this street, the cobblestone river that carved it—except, glowing with rain, it looks to be made of canvas. I know.

I know. It is October. This is Alba. Simple arithmetic: October + Alba = Truffle Fair. Math never smelled so good. I thank the wet heavens for this day off. I am in Italy’s Piedmont region to work the seasonal wine harvest, sleeping in a tent in the garden of the Il Gioco dell’Oca bed-and-breakfast. But today, I am relieved of my grape-picking duties, and the white truffle beckons.

The truffle is an underground fungus of the tuber genus (some call it an underground mushroom), found beneath the bases of oak, linden, poplar, elder, willow, and wild hazelnut, where they establish a symbiotic relationship with the tree. They enjoy a cool soil about eight to ten inches below the earth’s surface. The truffle’s roots are as strong as its perfume. They are incredibly thick and intricate, surrounding the “fruit” or “gleba” with a cortex called a “peridio.” These characteristics vary greatly among the varieties of truffle, distinguishing each gem to the scrutinizing eye of the truffle hunter.

Truffles themselves are surrounded by legend. A famous Italian tale from the Piedmont regionclaims that truffles make their homes in the graves of dissipated gnomes and that their often-irregular shape is a result of the heartbeats of soon-to-be-sleeping plants. Truffle hunters, or “trifolau,” have always had their quirks and secrets, and their own fair share of lore. Often disguised as a man and his dog strolling an autumn hill at night, the trifolau are reputed to walk with lighter steps than the rest of us, and speak only with necessary words. The truffle-sniffing dog or “tabui” is calmer at night (hence, the typical night hunt); also, the night protects the trifolau and tabui from the imploring eyes of others. (Pigs can also be used to detect truffles, but dogs are preferred since they are less likely to eat the reward).

This peak in the distance is the demure cap to Alba’s famed truffle tent. Polar, bearish, the fur on the back of my neck stands up.

Soon, I am at its entrance and, ducking my head like a linebacker preparing to unleash a bone-crunching tackle, I dip my white face into the seas and come up with a salmon, flapping into U, inverted-U, U, inverted-U in my jaws.

Umbrellas woosh open and closed around me, people entering, people leaving. What an indulgent invention the umbrella seems in a tent so connected with the soil—with these personal hand-held awnings, nobody gets wets, and in turn, nobody dries off.

I shudder from the waist up as a dog shedding a rain-sheen onto a business suit or two, and survey this white vacuum of aroma and taste and commerce. Row after row of truffle vendors chat with a clamorous array of buyers, displaying their wares that they dug from deep earth oak tree bases with the aid if their sniffing dogs. And now, these black and white delicacies, the essence of earth and epitome of fungus, lie platter-lit under glass containers, exhumed by the merchants to be held, like their children, to the noses of probable patrons. This is the second coming through a kaleidoscope.The dirty gray rock-like truffles, so much like figs, play their cards close to their chests until the glass container is lifted and aroma spills the room like oil.

There is something in the contained stoicism of a red-bearded man in the tent’s west corner that makes me want to buy a truffle from him. He, unlike the operatically effusive majority, seems to share the wise hermit nature of the truffle itself. He knows. That’s all.

I walk to him, the sea of people and their downward-pointing umbrellas rushing from my heels like jet smoke. His red face, unearthed just this morning perhaps, spreads in a bread-and-butter grin.Wordless, he reaches for his platter, left hand bracing its bottom, right hand poised on the container lid. This is potential energy as it should be. Two steps later, the lid is off, the sweet white truffle smell of soil and mushroom, corn husk and asphalt gift-wraps itself bowless over the back of my head, grabs me my the ears like a schoolyard bully. I am thrown face first into this silver platter’s playground dirt. This is not fair. I’m telling on you. I want my mom.

In what sounds to me like a blubbering cry, I ask, “Quanto per uno?”

He waves his chapped hand over the pile, indicating that I choose my favorite. Always the champion of the underdog, I choose the second one from the top, a battered golf ball of a tartufo boasting the elegance of the clubs that hit it. Red-Beard, with a thumb and forefinger, lifts it from its family litter.It wriggles and wags like a puppy. The next thing I know, it’s in my hand. Its touch is gold and scab, bottlecap and skipping stone.

Once a white truffle touches your skin, a strange symbiosis ignites. A purchase is inevitable, even for those with a psychotic regard for self-denial. Rough, dimpled, irregular, geologic, its bloom waits for contact with a truffle shaver and a quail egg, a plate of ravioli, a loin of venison. I’ve never felt the stirrings of fatherhood before, but…

And just like that, he picks it from my palm as a poppy, weighs it, and writes £80,000 on a slip of blue paper. Forty dollars for an entire white truffle—worth about $1,800/lb. in the U.S.—forty dollars for a tongue’s meditation stone that will span a week’s worth of dinners. I want to weep. I want to pray. I want to, and do, hand him the money, and he proceeds to wrap the sweet baby in a fan of white tissue paper, then places it into a tiny paper bag. I hold the bag to my face and breathe as if hyperventilating, as a horse licking the first or last oats from its feed-bag.

Then Red-Beard, perhaps as penance for his namesake’s pirating, perhaps due to my treasuring of his ware, removes a plum-sized black truffle from another platter, wraps it, and hands it to me without so much as a “Prego.” I match his silence, my hands go numb, my hair most assuredly turning white.I am in a place where the purchase of a white truffle gets a black truffle thrown in for free. This place is Alba, Italy. $19.95 for twenty steak-knives be damned. I reach my bagless hand to Red-Beard and he shakes it, his palm rough as cornflakes, eyelids drooping nearly to the corners of his mouth.

Retreating to the tent’s entrance, the other merchants thrusting, then cradling their truffles under my nose, offering their perfume, my eyes begin to water, my breath shortens, my head spins in a wild vertigo. This is sensory overload at its best, the ripe fungal blossom of the tent tattooing itself into my nostrils. I need to take a breath of rain.

And in a step, stutter, step, I am back in it, iron pencil sky relentless in its spewing. I tuck the truffle bag into my windbreaker’s heart-pocket and make for the bus back to Il Gioco dell’Oca, where the kitchen will hopefully be empty, and my tent, most certainly, saturated.

I quite like thunder.

This isn’t a random statement, I am writing this in the middle of a thunderstorm.

And I love being inside small gently lit rooms as the hard droplets of rain hammer against and slowly streak down the window; a constant rhythm, a perfect natural beat, never missing a step— the John Bonham of precipitation.

Deep brooding rumblings swell, almost visibly, in the burnt purple sky. At seemingly randomized moments the rumbling will burst into mega-decibel cracks in the sound barrier— an almighty, omnipotent whip lashing the blackened horizon.

The gnarled oak outside my window stands firm, its flimsiest branches gently dancing to the rain’s pounding rhythm.