Friday, February 8, 2008


Nadar is the radar for the nadir of nada. When Marcello thought the best way to dispose of excess Christmas cookies would be to have an eat off I bailed with, “Sorry pal, but my nadar’s freaking out.” When the sun is threatening to rise on the Lower East Side and a slice of pizza after last call amidst a stag party seeking tail still hadn't killed hope for play and Jay says, “Ho’s and treats guaranteed at Ho-Min’s Chinese speakeasy down the street” and another table of the sloppily sloshed says “Grandissssimo” and Jay says “Vamanos!” that’s when you say, “Would love to man, but this selection of satyrs is making my nadar blow up -- manana manana can’t wait to hear your tales of conquest at coffee manana” and hail one home. A gaggle of guys at five in the morning might also set one’s gaydar afire, but in this case they are simply failures. When “What’s your sedar say?” is responded to with “Just counting the omer until I strike this homer and lap her shebrew” you say “then see you after Sinai, shalom holmes” and wish your friend good luck. When “Hey, and how’s your haydar reading?” is responded to with “Everything stable, everything’s stables” things are going rather well.

-- Chris Leo

A nanone (literally a “giant midget” but sounding like a “not not”) addresses the philosophical concept that diminutives added to nouns must make the word larger in order to indicate that the idea is smaller.

-- Chris Leo

Negrotiate. What makes a word a word? What validates it? Can every utterance a child spits out properly be considered a word? River Plates has fluffed its feathers proudly flaunting the maxim that we accept them all while enjoying/provoking the instability as we wait and see how they fall. Good, bad, and indifferent all words are temporal. The question is how temporal, millennia or minutes? And does temporality have anything to do with merit? And does it reflect deeper things about the cultures at large who inherit these sounds? In more than one definition we’ve pugilistically shoved the “most words come from the street” threat into your (possibly paranoidly perceived) airy eruditical mugs eager to hear what you’re gonna throw back at us. Have we been scared? No, we haven’t been scared. So you connect. So you land us a black eye. Girls like guys with black eyes. It’s the guys who walk away from fights without even a scratch on ‘em that really freak people out. Too studied, no heart, just like our streetless words. And then you get to a word like negrotiate, a word straight from the streets, and for a few palpitating minutes we think maybe it’s time to take back every linguistic lunge we ever levied.

I heard this word only once from a man who nicknamed himself off a nickname. “My name’s Big John, but most people call me Botswana.” Very curious for an Italian-American who goes by Botswana and who orders a side of "blackeroni and cheese" everyday at lunch to invent words like negrotiate, but hold these thoughts for a bit and ride this with us. Botswana was the foreman on a house I was building an extension on in New Jersey one summer. In typical Jersey fashion, the extension to this house would not only eventually be bigger than the house itself, but also cost more than if the sentimental guinea who didn’t want to give up “his casa” was just to have built a whole new one from scratch. When it came time for lunch, being the youngest and least experienced of the crew, I’d be sent out to get the hoagies. “Leo, just nigger-rig that thing already and go get us our food” was Botswana’s way of saying, “Expediency is more important here than efficiency. Just put a nail in it and run.” “Dude, I don’t respond to anything with the word nigger in it. Is jerry-rig too neutral a term for you to use?” “Ooooh, look at lil’ Leo with all his social conscience. Gonna go to a nigger free lil’ campus college somewhere in New England next year and argue for the equality of the black man, eh? Oh you good little guilt-ridden pussy you. So you mean to tell me if the hottest bitch in the world was to walk onto this site right now in nothing but a fur coat and a slab of beef blocking the path between your mouth and her crotch and said ‘eat your way through it nigger’ you wouldn’t start munching like a hyena with a giraffe’s cock up his ass?! You sweet thing, you.” Neither “nigger-rig” nor any word in any way involving “nigger” will ever find its own private nook in River Plates. Why? They’re just words aren’t they? Why “negrotiate” and not “nigger-rig”? The short answer is that, unlike all the other racial libels Botswana would hurl at me, Ahmed the “abalabalaba” (Arab), or Tommy the "Moulinyan" (Southern Italian dialectical slur of “melanzane”, Italian for “eggplant”, New Jersey way of saying someone is from so far south in Italy it mine as well be considered Africa and hence their cocks are as black as a moulinyan -- which somehow amounts to an insult), this one made me stop dead in my tracks, try desperately to think, and eventually give way to laughter: “Shut your whining mouth lil’ Leo, you are not about to negrotiate your way out of this job!” “…Sorry, what the fuck did you just say to me, negrotiate?!” And yes, I must admit, I finally broke down and laughed. Negrotiate made me laugh. Whether it was out of appall, shock, disbelief, fatigue, or just humor, I laughed.

Negrotiate stayed in my cap unwhispered until now, more than fifteen years later. It popped into my head again on a recent train ride back from Rome to Bologna. I’d forgotten my novel to read at home and only had an Italian grammar book and an Italian dictionary with me. Grammar books are infinitely more useful at learning languages than dictionaries, yet for one reason or another I don’t find the same joy in syntax as I do in words. I picked up the dictionary with a bit of frustration because I knew I was making the wrong choice and for the first time I said it with the prictulation of a brat, like dicktionary. Yes, here I was like a man, unable to relax and dig into the subtler, nuanced, and more fabric relevant feminine sides of language like syntax and conjugation. All I wanted was the meat, the words, the lame dicktionary. Oh, so weak. I wanted to get this weak word out of my head before I wasted any more time rationalizing child’s play. So I leafed through the pages eventually stopping at “nazialismo” (“nationalism” in Italian) and as my train zipped through the beautiful Tuscan hillside, rather than enjoying the view, I instead scribbled down thoughts about how “natalismo” (from “natale”, the belief that Jesus’ virgin birth through a Jew came directly from God and therefore officially made Jesus Jew free, not a Jew himself) can give birth to the very Jew free sounding “nazialismo” in a very Catholic country. “Negro” was on the same page and it was right next to "negoziare" (negotiate)! Did this mean Botswana therefore read dictionaries too?! Did this word in fact not come from the street at all but from a living room couch where a foreman by day studied words by night? I frantically started ripping through my memories, tearing the long dormant neurons open, trying to revive any old withering words of wisdom teetering on the brink of disintegration Botswana may have given me that summer, anything that may shed a deeper light on his increasingly mysterious character. Finally I found something. I remembered Botswana complaining one day about how everyone else was complaining about the pejorative undercurrents of the word black. “Black,” he said,” what it comes down to is that people are just babies and need to grow up and move beyond words already. This is boring the hell out of me. Black, you either live with it or you live under it, but we all share the same amounts of black.” “What the fuck is that supposed to mean,” I said. “It means they’re black because their sky is white. We became white because our sky was black. What’s fucking worse and more importantly, what’s the fucking difference?”

Maybe Botswana was just trying to be playful with his use of negrotiate. Maybe building houses in rich white suburbs made him feel as if he were close enough to blacks to make deprecating jokes only kin technically can. This is a mistake of course, but possibly an honest one. Once he rather clairvoyantly asked me if I knew the difference between Town Hall and the Police Station. He informed me that "one is where white people go to pay there taxes, the other is where brown people go to pay there taxes, and seeing as you have too much guinea in you to fully qualify as white, looks like you'll be paying your taxes in both." When living in New York, London seems nothing like New York. But when in Italy, I head to London for a weekend here and there when I miss the New York/London find-life-enthusiasm-and-energy-through-self-destruction approach to things that somehow works so well. From this angle, London feels like family to me. That’s why last time I was there I felt free to make a joke from stage about a friend’s band that went over like a lead balloon. “You know the next band is called ‘Dear Thief’. In Italian a thief is a ‘ladro’ which is etymologically linked to your word ‘lad’. When the Roman Emperor Hadrian was here he considered all of you lads just uncivilized ladros! He didn’t lose any battles here. He left on his own accord to return back to civilization!” Why did I make that joke? Because coming at it from this angle, from Italy, I thought New Yorkers and Londoners were brothers. I felt the freedom to make fun because I thought I was making fun of ‘us’ not 'them'. Nope.

In Botswana's corner, "bleach" and "black" both share the same root, burn it down past the amber to the embers.

-- Chris Leo

Nightmare Fantasy. I watched the Towers fall from the Pulaski Skyway as I was racing Grace, my girlfriend at the time, from my loft in Newark to her work in the City. We were late as usual and should have been on that side of the Hudson at the time of impact. Instead, we were trapped in Free America listening to the screams on the radio and watching the sky blacken from our impotent stance. We grabbed my brother and our other loft mate from home and headed to the hospital to give blood, but they weren't sure any was needed seeing as their were only casualties and survivers, nothing in between. So we headed to my parents' house in Bloomfield, long since vacated by their children a decade ago, yet our bedrooms were all still preserved and the pantry was stocked with enough booze and canned goods to get us through fall-out. As American family's get older a film forms. It becomes easier to make room for the exotic ways of a complete stanger than those of your family because you believe your family were all raised on the same fundaments and therefore minor differences feel major. In this moment nothing was unclear though, the language of the reunion with my parents and my sister was one unified thought: this was it, we all knew what we had to do. And though these first hours of World War III were getting Grace wet, I just wanted my dead Poppy's guns. Too large a part of me felt like I was born for this.
"Mom, where're the guns?"
"We went to get them last week to throw into the lake...but someone had already stolen them."
As the sun set, everyone in Essex County intuitively moved together to the highest point, Eagle Rock Reservation, and tried to formulate the next steps in their heads, no one uttered a peep. I was afraid to leave my brother and our loft mate, and knew that if my father could find a reason to martyr himself for us and the greater good at this moment he would so I really didn't want to leave, but when Grace said "Oh my god, I have to find my brother" I knew I had to take her. No phones were working, and anyhow, I knew her brother would have guns and other soldiers we could organize with.
Grace's parents lived in a pre-fab mansion in Fort Lee, an enclave of rich Korean Americans. We went there first, but when not even her ancient ama was in her rocking chair knitting or peeling garlic, we knew they must all be out looking for Grace. Her apartment was above a pizza parlour on the Bluffs in Edgewater, less than a football field from the Hudson. We went there thinking we'd find them, but even the pizza parlour was shuttered, x off another hope for guns.
Night had fallen and, despite what the people on the streets were saying, we headed for the tunnel. If a militia was forming in Midtown we wanted in. To their credit, the Port Authority police who would not let us in were also made for this moment and ushered us away with kindness and concern and assured us our roles would be better served in Free America.
What to do?
I drove my car, another relic of my dead Poppy's, to the edge of the river. Grace and I moved into the back seat. As I was lifting up her dress I kept thinking about Poppy, who spent three years of his 20's in the 40's in the Pacific, who professed that "the only good Nip was a Nip in the box" but simultaneously maintaned a loyalty to the Chinese and Koreans for their Allied support that made me think there were other stories and...was I with the same girl underneath the same bomb? When we were done I cupped my hand between her thighs and massaged anything that thought it was getting out back up in. Maybe one day Mommy would tell them about the cause the Daddy they never knew died for.
Despunked, the snowbaling toxicity was neutralized and reason gradually seeped back in occupying the vacated chambers.
No guns, no World War III, no war period, but I had to face it, I mustered up the courage and asked her if she felt the same.
"Grace, what percentage of you wants this to be the beginning of it?"
"40...maybe 50."

-- Chris Leo

Numenous thoughts can’t see the fours through the threes. Their nebulous numeric looming just as easily gives way to numinous luminescent leaps as it does to breaches with faith. Never forget, neither Darwin, nor Galileo, nor Copernicus, nor Hawking ever renounced God. It’s God’s frenzied vocal advocates that renounce them first. In fact, they like God just fine and can't for the life of them understand how thier proofs contradict anything he says. If he made anything didn't he make the numbers as well?

numbers + numinis (Latin for “Divine Will”) = continuous fractions, wherein continuous means nothing short of continually continuous

-- Chris Leo

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