Monthly Archives: July 2014

Grocery Bar: A Monument to Man’s Arrogance.

enzos vs grocery bar

This is a local interest piece I wrote for a local paper that didn’t get picked up. I’m sharing it here as a rare example of my capability for brevity.

The relevant business can be found here.

“Nothing gold can stay,” said Robert Frost, but with all respect due, sometimes it does stay; it just turns to silver in doing so. If it stays long enough, we might even start whining about it.

Let’s be clear; Grocery Bar is absolutely awesome, and our city is lucky to have it. The hot bars are delicious and varied, with great selections for carnivores and vegetable dishes an insecure male doesn’t have to be self conscious about nabbing. Moreover the staff is as helpful and attentive as Enzo’s ever was. The new additions don’t stand out from the old guard, and the same justly renowned smiling meat guys are still plying their trade behind the butcher’s counter. Even as I write this I’m munching on some of Grocery Bar’s cranberry pumpkin seed trail mix and it tastes like my own hypocrisy; also delicious.

But was any of it necessary?

Walk in the front door of the Grocery Bar and you’re greeted by a stack of artfully arranged artisanal watermelons ahead of you and a cornucopia of mid to high priced cheeses on your left. “Don’t worry,” it all seems to say, “Enzo’s lives on; your paleo friendly pasta sauce and gluten free muffins await within, just as before.”

Then you see those bars. Arranged laterally with your entrance, in contrast to Enzo’s perpendicular setup, they are four massive altars, afforded pride of place in the new layout, with space enough for entire platoons of customers to comfortably mill about them. The arrangement is as much mission statement as it is practicality, and a marked contrast to the melon and cheese supplication of moments before. “This. Is. GROCERY BAR!” it bellows, before kicking you into a pit with your stupid muffins and marinara.

Perhaps if those bars would cede some space, the souls of Enzo and Grocery Bar could comfortably share a body. But as of now they don’t, and that leaves us with a paltry selection of produce, a much reduced butcher counter (though you might not notice, with those familiar butchers flashing their movie star smiles), a decent enough dairy case, and ONE AISLE of dry grocery.

This ain’t Enzo’s. It isn’t even a grocery store. Grocery Bar is a well-stocked delicatessen.

Whether it wished to be or not, Enzo’s was as much political statement as it was neighborhood grocer. In the middle of the food desert that was the south side, Enzo’s was an oasis that precluded a long pilgrimage to St. Elmo or the North Shore. It was an alternative to the inoffensive, corporate blandness of your Bi-Los and your Wal-Marts. It was Whole Foods without the pretension (and with better lighting), and in serving a multicultural stew of locals and tourists alike it was incarnate the liberal dream that Whole Foods’ Obamacare hating founder draped around his company like a cloak made of opinion polls.

Why was it necessary? That’s the question I keep coming back to. Enzo’s gave a densely packed swath of Chattanooga an opportunity to taste something generally reserved for the SUV and soccer practice set. Now what do they have? Another place to get a ten dollar lunch in an area that doesn’t lack for quality dining?

Truthfully, it’s embarrassing to even be able to complain about this. Grocery Bar kicks ass. If it was in any other city, or had replaced any other business, I suspect I’d be embracing Grocery Bar as something new, bold, and wonderful. But this is Chattanooga, best culinary city in the South, and it is Enzo’s sign that came down mere weeks ago.

Check out the /r/chattanooga subreddit; this isn’t just me. We may not have much right to whine about it, but damned if we won’t. File it under #FirstWorldProblems.

I don’t know. I want to think Grocery Bar is something more than just a vanity project that has yanked something so briefly, beautifully, unique as Enzo’s from our community. Maybe Daniel Lindley has some spectacular future in mind that will quell my doubts. At the very least, maybe more actual groceries are on the way, to join the bars. I hope so.

There’s certainly enough space to add them.


The Perfect Drug

When I write, I feel good. When I don’t, I feel bad. Seemingly simple calculus. But it gets complex, doesn’t it? Because those moments when we decide to write or not aren’t simple ones. We’re talking big picture stuff.

My experience, then; a good writing session of a few thousand words can keep me optimistic and forward facing for two days, easily. More than that, it feeds on itself; write more, feel good; feel good, write more. It doesn’t simply feed on itself, it compounds. A torrent of artistic outpouring, the type where the thoughts seem to be coming faster than your fingers can follow and every moment spent eating/sleeping/showering becomes an agonizing void of lost moments, comes on like a hurricane, one breeze building on another on another on another until suddenly, rather than being short one major city, you’ve built one. A city that still needs windows in the skyscrapers and trees planted in the parks, to be sure, but a fully constructed, proud accomplishment all the same.

It’s not usually that close to the Platonic idea of a perfect creative outpouring, of course, but hopefully somewhere near it, coming in breezes and gusts that eventually get at least to tropical storm levels.

The converse?

Franz Kafka said that “the non-writing writer courts madness”. Delve deeply enough into the craft and you’ll discover that’s not a metaphor; it is a madness of naval gazing self doubt, questions of worth rooted so deeply in the mire you begin to see, in a very real way, where others lost themselves. Writing is a drug, to be an artist to be a quivering, gibbering addict, forever chasing the next hit. But where a desperate addict might be denied his hit by a grinning middleman, an artist’s drug is denied only by the artist himself.

Doubt is not simply the consequence of not writing; it becomes its cause, a drug of its own, albeit posessing far worse a hangover. The most sadistic lunatic of a god could not devise a more perfectly calibrated feedback loop of misery.

Reoccurring cycles of both these, accomplishment and doubt, mark the work of every writer I can think of worth the mentioning, and certainly all those I know personally. Ask them, and they’ll tell you something akin to this. Read them, and they’ll tell it to you with far more clarity. You can see it in the seemingly depthless artistic obsession with duality, and in the markedly increased tendency towards manic-depression in creative field across the spectrum.

If I’m rambling, or spilling what seems like an excessive amount of virtual ink on the subject, it’s only because it strikes so very close. A quick glance at the counters show it’s been a fair bit since my last post here, and though those months haven’t been entirely fallow as far as my overall writing output is concerned, neither have they been sufficient for an aspiring professional.

Why, then? It’s not as if I forgotten the warm bliss of my “perfect drug”, the feeling I have even now, as I near the finish of this post. Nor have I been discouraged by lackluster response to my work; indeed, it was the none too patient wonderings of multiple readers that finally got my ample posterior moving on finishing up and posting this nearly month old draft (a little inside baseball aside; from first word to last, you’ve probably never read more than six thousand or so that were written within a week of one another. I’ve always found the illusion of continuity in art to be fascinating).

There’s the always reliable canards: work has been crazy, personal issues have dominated my time, I’ve had other projects. They’re all even true, to one degree or another. But a canard is not an excuse, not a good one at least,
and the best any of these can provide is a satisfaction at their completion — certainly nothing to compare to the hurricane turned warm sunny day feeling of the writer who writes, a feeling that, as previously mentioned, can last days.

Maybe even looking for a reason is a fool’s errand. To have one certainly might help to know in the future why I might fall into these periods of low output, even prevent them. But what if I don’t find a reason at all? What if it’s just… me?

That’s even worse.

I think I’ll leave it there then, with my warm feeling of success and its accompanying certainty that more is to come. Write more, feel good; feel good, write more. To do anything else courts madness.

Motivation? The drug will have to do.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments or, as many of you have been, by email. As always, thank you for reading, and remember: words matter.