Expostulation by Thomas Cook
Managing Editor Tim Johnston and Nonfiction/Hybrids Editor Matthew Gavin Frank wildly over-introduce today's bonus essay.
Tim Johnston: If I had to guess what Matthew Gavin Frank would say about “Expostulation,” I’d say he’d use the word *delicious*—not because it has anything to do with a beverage that might be delicious (I don’t know. I’ve never had it, never heard of it until Cook), but because I spun the MGF Wheel of Yes and landed on D. If I pulled the lever and got A, then *Adooooreee* (said, sultrily, for no given reason other than to project an uneasiness to the room). S: Seduced, (said, oddly enough, as though he’s ashamed to admit it, as though he was hypothetically turned on, for the lack of a better image, by a cactus). I could go on, but why waste ammo? But overall I think Cook’s piece resonates (yep, MGF’s go-to letter R) with him because it’s a piece about the writer at a desk who doesn’t want to be, and finds a way to escape. I’d say *relatable*, but I already used up my R word.
Matthew Gavin Frank: As if engaging an odd Oulipo experiment ("In three pages or less, shoehorn your favorite carbonated beverage into the form of remonstrance both breezily interrogative and scholarly...OK: Go!"); as if stringing a tenuous rope bridge from Harry Mathews through Donald Barthelme to Patrick Madden; as if rifling through Fabio Morabito's beach bag (if not his Toolbox), Cook manages, in "Expostulation" to do one of my favorite things the essay can do: maintain a singular focus on a seemingly mundane object and scratch at it until its weird inner holiness begins to leak out. As a result, "Expostulation" is a little bemusing, a little goofy, a little profound (in spite of itself), and a whole lot of fun. Indeed, I am deliciously seduced by this piece, which resonated like a cold burst of cracked carbonation in the face. And I adore (one E) being deliciously seduced in precisely this way.
At around 4:00 PM, I crack open an ice-cold can of limonata, which, if you don't know, is a beverage flavored with lemon juice and sugar made by the San Pellegrino company of the famous city of Milan, Italy. Milan, if you don't know, is known as Milano in the native tongue and it is found in the northern, Lombardy region of Italy. A couple of other things about Milano occur to me. One is that Milano was briefly (third century C.E.) the capital of the (Western) Roman Empire under Diocletian, who enacted large-scale military reform. Another is that Milano is not very close to a beach. In fact, I'm closer to a beach right now in Hadley, Massachusetts than Constantine was when he declared Milano the capital of the empire. I do like to sip my limonata as I read from the poet, however, the poet who writes, "No joyless forms shall regulate our living calendar." Specifically, the poet is talking about spending an idle day with his sister in Nature, not squeaking out thoughts at his desk, but I think I understand the idea of not letting un-joyful forms into the old living calendar. For me, limonata is a form of joy. It gives me some heartburn, especially when I drink it on top of garlic pickles, but have you seen the can? The can is composed of a calming powder blue and brilliant bright yellow combination that takes me directly to the beach on a cloudless day, miles from the thoughtless khaki of my walls, my chair, my pants. I imagine the folks in Milano, far from a beach, feel the same way as they walk around Milano sipping their ice-cold limonatas. The leaves of the lemon depicted under the San Pellegrino name are a vibrant green (the green of the green leaves of citrus trees) and the familiar red star of the San Pellegrino label rounds out a color scheme that regulates my calendar with pure joy, as I mentioned.
I count seven fonts on the can, four within the design that I am sure the smart marketing people at San Pellegrino are responsible for, and three more contributed by whoever stamps the can's weight and indicates that the can is recyclable alongside its redemption value. (I feel that I know something, very vague, about Milano and fonts, but it does not occur to me.)
Before I collect my can from the office kitchenette in the afternoon, I've moved it from the refrigerator to the freezer, where I've let it rest for around thirty minutes, ensuring that it's extra cold for my trip to the beach. I try to drink the limonata while it is at its absolute coldest, both because it tastes great when it is very cold and also because the colder the can remains the smaller the amount of condensation that collects on the outside of the can while my stinky-warm office brings my delicious-freezing beverage up to room temperature, a temperature far from Nature. A not-so-joyful thought is that someday I may run out of limonata. Right now, however, I am working my way through a number of six-packs my wife bought me when she saw that my limonata was on sale.
The sands of time, the beaches of Milano or Hadley—I am always careful to return the limonata to the napkin that I place on my desk during my limonata hour. The napkin collects the small amount of condensation that inevitably occurs. I take the condensation-dampened napkin and wipe up a dusty corner of my desk when I'm done drinking, a corner I've typically missed during my normal dusting routine.
What will replace the limonata when it's gone? Coffee? Tea? I imagine the poet drinking stream water with a twig and a piece of cinnamon jutting out of an earthenware mug, some maple leaves or berries muddled in the bottom. The man of Nature I could be. The poet never would have had a limonata unless he traveled to Italy (which I think he did when he was ill?) toward the end of his life. My guess, though, is that he sipped his healing tonic on the beach, head tilted back, eyes to powder blue sky.
Thomas Cook lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and is co-editor and publisher of Tammy.