Scrawl

There’s something about the word “scrawl” that I find appealing. Appealing may be the wrong word. Magnetic might be more appropriate. I say this because I’ve used the word in several posts on my blog. In one, I named a character “Ribbon Scrawl.” In another, I mentioned a character’s uncle, “Scrawl Lee.” In another instance, I used the word to describe a character’s handwriting. And I’ve written notes to myself about a mysterious snack-style restaurant I call Scrawl that I may include in a story I’m writing. It’s that most recent use of the word that’s on my mind this morning. All right, it’s not the word so much as it is the place that’s on my mind. Scrawl is a place where Willem Svart, a disgraced South African nuclear scientist spends much of his time. I haven’t decided whether Svart operates Scrawl or has an ownership stake in the place. Regardless, he spends quite a lot of time there. Scrawl’s menu is an eclectic mix of traditional South African and Scandinavian food. The menu includes droëwors, biltong, boerewors, chakalaka & pap, Cape Malay curry, pickled herring, bobotie, kroppkakor, gravlax, smørrebrød, kalops, kåldolmar, tunnbrödrulle, and Durbin curry, among assorted other items unfamiliar to most of us. The place serves beer, of course. The most popular brands are Castle Lager, Carling Black Label, Hansa Pilsner, Heineken, Amstel, and Grolsch. Local microbrews gainied popularity in Scrawl years before the microbrewery trend hit the U.S.

Scrawl welcomes everyone—it’s truly a welcoming place—but its clientele tends to be an odd assortment of outcasts whose demeanor makes “normal” people nervous. Think “biker bar” and your sense of the vibe of the place is heading in the right direction. Instead of bikers, though, the majority of Scrawl’s patrons are professors, philosophers, scientists, and writers, all of whom enjoy the place as a gathering spot for like-minded intellectuals and misfits.

I associate the word “scrawl” with another word I find appealing, “squall.” To my knowledge, there’s no connection between them, save their beginning and ending sounds. Maybe that’s the appeal. Or maybe the meaning of each of them incorporates an element of chaos or disarray. I wonder what a psychoanalyst would think about my affinity for the two words?

The problem of writing about a place I’ve never been is that, the more research I do about the place, the more I am drawn to going there. Knowing a trip to South Africa is not in the offing for me in the near or even distant future, I’d like to find a South African enclave in the U.S., a place where I can meet an assortment of people from South Africa who have emigrated from South Africa to the U.S. for one reason or another and have come together in a community. Is there such a place? I haven’t the foggiest idea. I guess I’ll have to explore that possibility and, if it exists, decide whether a story that probably will never see the inside pages of a book warrants a trip.

Back to Svart. He fits in with the crowd at Scrawl, but unlike his fellow patrons, he is a bad seed. He shares much in common with them, but unlike them he is not a humanist at heart. His actions, more than his words, illustrate his lack of compassion, his thirst for attention, and his unspeakable greed. His presence is a stain on an otherwise impressive and happy third place.

I see by the clock that it is time for me to make copies of the writing I am to share with my Monday critique group. Svart belongs in the story, but not in the piece I’m sharing today.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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