speak easy

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Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make, if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble. For instance, one morning you might wake up and make the assumption that your bed was in the same place that it always was, even though you would have no real evidence that this was so. But when you got out of your bed, you might discover that it had floated out to sea, and now you would be in terrible trouble all because of the incorrect assumption that you'd made. You can see that it is better not to make too many assumptions, particularly in the morning.

—Lemony Snicket

The speakeasy, almost a hundred years old, sits on the shore of a lake outside Chicago. First, you need to know it's there. That it's not just somebody's cottage. Then you need to know who has the key. Then you need to sneak away when the others are lying in a luxe heap in the living room next door with guitars, origami, and tater tot casserole.

The snow crunches underfoot. The light is still good. I push through the saloon doors. They thwap-thwap-thwap behind me. The room spins, ornate and oddly churchlike: a lady in a red cape, scandalous pants, and a fencing mask. A pair of pearl-studded dancing shoes in the poker room. An 80-year-old prized mounted bass nibbled on by a hungry raccoon. A temperance banner—love, purity, fidelity. Irony. Bundles of old newspaper and spider eggs among piles of junk and treasure, all of it sleeping, dusty things lost for decades. The assumptions of windows painted black. We like it that way, me and Mr. Snicket.

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I will love you as misfortune loves orphans, as fire loves innocence and as justice loves to sit and watch while everything goes wrong. I will love you as a battlefield loves young men and as peppermints love your allergies, and I will love you as the banana peel loves the shoe of a man who was just struck by a shingle falling off a house. —LS

Love? Itch-scratching and greed, the kind of thing that makes you fall? Or, something else. It's only true when it's something else. When it's not comedy or tragedy. But that's not moping. That's the blue of a clear day in April when the air is scrubbed fresh and poised for blossoms and seedlings and horny microbes.

I wander, almost forty, touching glass and looking through my lens while taking inventory of battlefields and banana peels. More of a gentle off-gassing, toxic memories and conclusions and imaginary characters dissipating, though that's not quite right because dissipation implies willingness. It rages at the wind, a cloud determined to keep its place—volume, effect, periphery—and be still. So I move. I find a new place to be.

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The book was long, and difficult to read, and Klaus became more close. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. —LS

They all cracked up and it occurred to me in an obvious revelatory flash, again, that I am an introvert. Women draped and tangled and laughing and I watched from a state of elsewhereness, even though somebody's legs were over my legs and a hand that was not mine grabbed a cheez-it from the pile on my lap. Just another thinky, special-snowflake dickhead right in the middle of it and needing more beer and fewer cheez-its or the other way around.

You snap out of it, or into it, depending on your angle, and shake like a wet dog. It was marvellous.

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When people are miserable, they will want to make other people miserable, too. But it never helps. —LS

There's a place in the city that makes an excellent lentil burger for cheap. I went there with a friend and laughed at him when he was trying to be serious and he got sulky for a moment and then he gave it up and did the same for me. You don't have cancer or eyeball gangrene. You're just a jerk, you know. I paused, hanging on. No. I know myself. That's not a jerk. That's a grown-up. He squirted ketchup on a fry. Jerk.

Compassion can be someone who points at the clouds and reminds you to stand somewhere else, to not be one of those miserable misery-spreading people.

Compassion can be tender listening. It can also be Hey Dumbass.

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Temper tantrums, however fun they may be to throw, rarely solve whatever problem is causing them. —LS

It's most often a lack of sweat, an abundance of preciousness, or both.

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Sooner or later, everyone's story has an unfortunate event or two. The solution, of course, is to stay as far away from the world as possible and lead a safe, simple life. —LS

Yeah. ... ... Wait. Are you taking the piss out of me, Mr. Snicket?

(He is behind the bar. He puts on the hat and makes a face.) 

What if it's true, though? What if it's exactly what I need, to give up what doesn't serve? There's dignity and elegance in retreating until all that's left is what belongs. You always know what doesn't belong. Safe is measured. Simple solves wastefulness. I'm taking a while to be quiet, practice, smile, play, get a lot done.

Getting a lot done? Is that what it is? Have you written the third page of chapter three of that thing yet?

...

Have you paid your taxes? Cleaned the house?

I can't clean the house. I'm in Illinois.

Have you rewritten that poem? Submitted that other one? Finished those queries? Got that feedback?

Yes.

Really?

Pretty much. Almost.

Well. Sounds like hiding to me.

Maybe. Maybe not.

You can't stay like that forever.

I don't intend to.

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The second time you find a thumbtack in your root beer float, your despair is much greater than the first time, when you dismissed the thumbtack as a freak accident rather than part of the scheme of a soda jerk, a phrase which here means 'ice cream shop employee who is trying to injure your tongue,' and by the twelfth time you find a thumbtack, your despair is even greater still, until you can hardly utter the phrase 'root beer float' without bursting into tears. It is almost as if happiness is an acquired taste, like coconut cordial or ceviche, to which you can eventually become accustomed, but despair is something surprising each time you encounter it. —LS

I would marry ceviche. Right after marrying you, Mr. Snicket.

You mock what scares you. You envy married people while pitying them at the same time, and they feel the same way about you.

...

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The sea is nothing but a library of all the tears in history. —LS

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Those unable to catalog the past are doomed to repeat it. —LS

High cirrus. Middle cirrocumulus. Low altitude stratocumuliform. Towering altostratus with low to middle cloud base. Thick stratiform, cumuliform, and cumulonimbiform with precipitation of significant intensity. Cumulus congestus. Cumulus congestus. Cumulus congestus.

(we crack up)

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Right and good, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant. —LS

What if evil triumphant thinks that it's right and good, though? Doesn't it always? What if that's me? Or what if I'm right and good, but convinced by myself or someone else that I'm evil triumphant? How do you know? Because we're all both, right? Just as wrong as we are right?

Never mind. I'm just here on my own for a moment, clicking the shutter at an empty bottle of Kentucky Tavern Straight Bourbon Whiskey and wondering about the friendship, love, stories, and clouds on the night it was tipped dry.

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Pick one—a Snicket excerpt from here or elsewhere—and riff on it for me. Share an experience, objection, agreement, sentiment, cocktail recipe. I'd love to hear what it brings to mind for you.