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The International Writers Magazine:

Gobble Village Chic
Michael Chacko Daniels

 “Not your beloved Bell Avenue in Chicago,” I say, as billboards beckon through fog to far planetary corners.
Her brown eyes fly.
Are they sweeping over America’s middle on to ancestral Polish lands? I wonder.
They return.

The day’s exotic odyssey tantalizes. We file past the radiant tourists of St. Francis at Union Square, re-arrange our decade’s old, thrift store decadence, waft through Macy’s cathedral to the aspiring gobble village, brush chameleon fabrics, opulent scents from a thousand distant places — conceived here in San Francisco.

My adjustable adman Dad knew such legerdemain: bootstrapping out of unemployment, he mediated a thousand glimpses of bright new tomorrows, mainly of American vintage, for several Indian newspapers published from sun-washed Bombay, Bangalore, Calcutta, and Trivandrum, beguiling a medieval country, still unsure of yesterday, to burst forth into the future.

But here, now in the 1980's, amidst Macy’s distillations of everywhere-nowhere elegance, I feel a painful reflux of here-there dissonance.
Was this affliction designed to torment media wizards’ offspring? I wonder.
Past her favorite perfumes — she tests, declines, tests again — down we roll on the down escalator to emerge into Macy’s bright, new, Arabian Nights’ caravan heart.

I point to the copper, brass, and burnt-dust obstreperous forms from India — heavy, uneven, rough. “Unburnished pre-media beauty clashes with the artful store designer’s conjured interior,” I say. “Think: dusty, sari-clad women from Rajasthan’s desert lands huddling in a San Francisco Pacific Heights drawing room.”
I imagine Kipling roar.
Listening to the wizard’s son’s words, her eyes question: “What are they?”
Blink. Unblink.
Was she struggling to demystify?
No, no, I decide; it’s only her Bell Avenue, Chicago-style, down-to-earth inquisitiveness about things put out for buying and selling.
“Pots!” I explain. “Mudkas! Beautiful, aren’t they? Western India’s oldey-goldey. For storing and transporting food. This one’s for milk.”
“My, aren’t they pretty potkas!”
Hey, Kipling, smile at the East-West word.
“But look!” she flips. “The killer prices!”
I want to say, Bell Avenue strikes again. Alas! You can’t bargain here over prices the way your mother taught you before our American present brushed away your Polish past; nor can I, as I did daily at Bombay’s bustling fish-meat-vegetable bazaar.
But I quash the words.
Instead, doffing the media wizard’s hat, I do a factotum turn. “These, the small sign warns, are for decorative use only.”
“Is it possible we miss the point here?” she retorts. “Is there any fun in the buying, if all there’s in the selling is original, or designated, use? It’s misleading. Right? Like original sin! Unwind the mystery; minus wizardry, please!”
But what will undo marketing chicanery? “The magic in the present —” I begin.
“Be serious!”
“What lies in the unknown future crock. This same principle rules the stary sky ad in your Chicago Bell Avenue ghetto, the Cathedral School’s New-To-You Thrift Store opposite Cala Foods at Hyde & Pine, and Macy’s of St. Francis at Union Square.”
She looks through me, points at the burnt earth transplant. “That one’s special. You must learn to believe. Place it under my Polish Matka Boska Czestochowa. Put a picture of Pope John Paul II in potka-mudka. If one holy picture won’t work, the other will.”

I cart a mudka-potka home.
“Start the countdown,” she orders.
What mystery unfolds?
A thousand images of yesterday? Or of tomorrow?
A new American passage through this ancient form?

A week later, the mail delivers: “Congratulations from Macy’s . . . This letter will entitle you and a guest to attend
‘A LITTLE ROMANCE’ starring Laurence Olivier and Sally Kellerman . . . .”
She says, “What did I tell you?”

And about two decades later, on March 1, 2007, Macy’s of San Francisco Imagines India with a 30-foot Lord Ganesh welcoming visitors at its Union Square entrance.
She says, “See!”
Oh, dear, dear Macy’s, on the road to and from you, bit by little bit, decade by decade, you round out our world.
© Michael Daniels May 2009

About the Author: Michael Chacko Daniels (GJ, Medill, Northwestern University), former community worker and clown, grew up in India. He lives and works in San Francisco. His short stories have appeared in dragonfire, Cricket Online Review, Denver Syntax, Apollo's Lyre, Indelible Kitchen, and SHALLA Magazine. Books:  Split in Two (2004), Anything Out of Place Is Dirt (2004), and That Damn Romantic Fool (2005). 

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