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It Comes From Modena

Born near the ocean with no mountains in sight. I believe I can see clear across the world.

* * *

It’s 1987 and the pasta salad my mom makes in giant batches for parties, always much better the next day, sits in the fridge, in a large red bowl with a cracked plastic lid, taunting me. No typical pasta salad, this is Long Island chic pasta salad with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, fusilli, fresh basil, and dressing made with the fanciest ingredient of them all, Balsamic vinegar.

* * *

I’m trying broccolini for the first time at my high school girlfriend’s house, leftovers from a party. I ask her why I wasn’t invited. Her dad pokes his head in - “Learn to be polite and people will invite you to parties.” The broccolini is cold and crunchy, bitter, and satisfying, with Balsamic vinaigrette.

* * *

I learn how it’s made in college from my best friend. His last name means horse in Italian, which makes him laugh, but I don’t get the joke. “In Modena they take the leftovers from making red wine, called must, and age it in barrels, sometimes for decades, until it leaves a thick, sticky sweet, sour slurry behind.”

The version my mom uses is a shadow in comparison, watery, artificially colored, harsh tasting, no more authentic than the “shakey cheese” we dump on pasta is compared to the real Parmigiano.

* * *

We’re touring Europe in a large van stuffed with 7 people from 3 countries. It sounds and smells like a warehouse the day after a rave. We pass the food famous cities — Modena, Reggio Emilia, Parma. The old horse friend who is now my bandmate calls out their staples as we zoom by — Balsamic, Prosciutto, Parmigiano. I daydream about Mom’s pasta salad.

At the gig our host laughs at the horse joke but he can’t explain it to me — language barriers. Later he gets us drunk and swings a pineapple at my horse friend’s head, connects with a tropical thud, gets pushed back, falls down a flight of stairs, and pisses himself. Time to go home. Unloading in the parking lot, a kid in a Berlusconi mask scolds us about George W. Bush, takes his shriveled cock out, and pisses down his leg while running around in circles. Time to sleep.

The next day near the Swiss border we eat panini with mozzarella, chunks of Parmigiano, tomato, basil, olive oil, and a squirt of aged Balsamic that reminds me of maple syrup. We stare at the mountains and I study the shadows, the sun’s leftovers, engulfing hundreds of small homes. I wonder about who lives there, why they do it — it seems like an imminent threat. I imagine that living in the shadow of a mountain causes a certain amount of stress, or at least changes how you see things.

* * *

On a family vacation to Montana and Wyoming with my wife and kids, we meet several people who claim to be under the influence. Of the mountain. The mountain made them move here. How? What power? They say “I quit my job as a real estate agent,” “I dropped out of life,” “Tens of thousands migrated West.” To what? A shadow? A puddle of cheap Balsamic spilled from a glass bottle with a cracked plastic top? I feel a familiar sting and mourn for the lives they left behind.

* * *

Another 4:30AM wakeup with a terrible stomach ache. I get high and turn on Netflix — a competitive cooking show where the objective is to turn leftovers into other dishes. Food alchemy. The hostess is a woman I grew up with, she lived across the street from my best friend Matt. I assumed she would want to get in touch with me on social media — who wouldn’t? — to recapture our youth. No luck yet.

* * *

On a bike ride around DC on the first day of Spring, we cruise through an underpass known for being a homeless encampment. It’s recently been improved to include a public art installation.

“At night, lights flicker on strands, frozen trapped fireworks displays.” Write a sentence to make something despicable sound beautiful.

* * *

I wake up before everyone else and end up reading for hours. It feels like I’m the only one left. Everything feels like an obituary.




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