Friday, September 30, 2011

The Shark & I

Z is a shark.

I don’t mean she’s mean or will bite off your head or anything for buying the wrong kind orange juice

I’m not saying that….


But I’m not saying that….

What I mean is, she’s a perpetual motion machine…like a shark.

Sharks have to keep moving or else they drown or something.

I think I read that somewhere…I think.

Or maybe I heard it during Shark week.

Or maybe I’m making it up….

Anyway, the point is that sharks have to keep moving or something bad happens.

Z needs to keep moving because she’s afraid something bad will happen like the refrigerator won’t get cleaned … or the basement, or the garage or the big maple tree out in front.

I do not….

I’m perfectly happy not to move for hours…even days…sometimes weeks, at a time.

I’m very patient that way.

The weekend is upon us—not to mention October, brrrrrrrr month # 2— so let’s take a look at a typical Saturday.

I’ll get up at 7 AM, go down stairs to read the paper and have some coffee, while Z will have already washed 7 loads of laundry, ironed, folded and put it all away…including the shorts I went to bed in, which is a little disconcerting.

I will read my horoscope.

Z has now removed the metal covers off the washer and dryer and is vacuuming the dust that’s accumulated over the past few days since the last time she disassembled them.

She’s also repainting the boiler room.

I’m having a second cup of coffee and worrying that a person in authority is talking poorly of me, which is what my horoscope said. 

Z is then off to Zumba, which gives me a bit of a break from all the clanking that was coming out of the basement while she was re-building the boiler.

While she’s off Zumba-ing, whatever that entails, I’ll often take a walk around the gardens and admire all of Z’s horticultural efforts. I’m nothing if not supportive that way. Sometimes I’ll even make a mental note to point out a few areas where I think there could be some improvement. But for the most part Z is usually right on top of it.

After Zumba, we go for a 4 mile walk, which I actually find relaxing, if not a bit taxing physically. This takes about an hour or so, depending on the condition of my knee that day—which has been feeling quite a bit better—thanks for asking—then, immediately upon our return, Z will run out into the back yard and start dead heading.

I’m not exactly sure what that entails either since I’ve never actually seen her do it since I usually have to lie down for a bit after all that walking.

I think it might have something to do with Jerry Garcia, or maybe squirrels.

Anyway, after I’m refreshed from my little nap, I’ll often find Z cleaning out and reorganizing the garage.  She usually does this after tuning up the lawn mower, but before actually mowing the lawn.

By this time, I’m usually enjoying the lunch that Z prepared while I was napping and while it’s not always the thing I was hoping for, I usually just let it go without a comment.  


This goes on and on for most of the day. I tell her to relax but she won’t listen. She says the cracks between the sidewalks won’t clean themselves.

I guess she’s right. Nobody ever really thinks about that do they?

After a long hard day like this Z will finally, but reluctantly, conclude that there’s just not another chore to be tackled, at least until tomorrow.   So being the good sport that I am, I‘ll often offer to take her out for a nice dinner.  I mean what the heck; I’ve had 2 naps already and can probably grab a third before we go.  It’s not gonna kill me.

Besides, Z is always good dinner company; even that time she fell asleep in her Chicken Francaise.  I thought that was so endearing; just like a little puppy.

I still tell people about it.

The only downside to all of this is Z gets a little restless in her sleep. She has that thing where she's constantly kicking her legs…usually into me.

And sometimes she walks in her sleep a bit. One time I even found her holding the air conditioner over my head.  Poor kid… She was probably dreaming about putting it into the window, which I promised to do back in June but never got around to. I can’t let Z take on everything herself. Luckily we only had a few weeks of really hot hot weather.

Afterwards, we had a good laugh about that too.  Although it might have been more me than her doing the laughing, now that I think about it.

Oh well…all this writing has been a bit of a drain. Guess I’ll grab a quick nap before lunch.

I hope Z got it right today….


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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Remembering The Village

This past weekend my hometown celebrated the 23rd edition of  “Port Chester Day” and for a village that’s about 143 years old, at least in name, I’d say we missed a few along the way.
But who’s keeping track…?
While the forecast was not favorable to any sort of day, the festivities went on without a hitch, albeit one day delayed, with plenty of unexpected but welcome sunshine.  Z even won a basket of wine in the band raffle!

Port Chester Day really is a great idea—mostly because to celebrate “Greenwich Day” would have been silly, not to mention frowned upon by those Connecticut snoots up the street.

It’s also a time to celebrate the present with neighbors, good food, fireworks and that crazy bouncy thing with the polar bear I so look forward to every year.

But taking a day to celebrate your hometown, wherever that may be, is also a good time to look back and remember where we’ve been; to see how we measure up against the test of time.

I’ve heard a lot of talk about a site on Facebook that has people writing in and reminiscing about where they grew up. Apparently this is big in a lot of towns around the country right now.  I haven’t seen it myself since I’m not a Facebook guy.

Not that I have anything to hide; at least anything that I haven’t buried under 15 feet of concrete in my garage.  I just don’t like the idea of coming down stairs one morning and finding that odd little Zuckerberg guy nosing around in my refrigerator, checking to see if I’ve made the switch over from Sam’s Summer Ale to Octoberfest.  I’m very protective of my beer choices. 
I’m not really sure what that means, but I’m hoping you don’t either and will think it’s supposed to be funny and laugh, or at least chuckle.
Anyway, this got me thinking about my own memories of growing up in this hardy blue collar town, which some will say is still an ongoing process.  I’m only 57, which I would like to think is still considered to be on the young-ish side of old...or the old-ish side of young, depending on how you want to look at it…if you want to look at all.  So it may seem a little odd for me to wax nostalgic—or even to wax my car, which is an even rarer occurrence—but I guess coming of age in the late 50s’ and early 60’s, I did know PC, in what might be considered the waning days of its golden age as a true village.

Not that there’s anything wrong with its current face of eclectic restaurants and rising condominiums, but there’s something disconcerting about driving into old Liberty Square, what many used to consider the heart of PC, and being confronted by an assortment of retail and entertainment monoliths that, at least to me, serve only to block out the sun, which used to illuminate our proud little village.  Not to mention block out our proud little village from the shoppers in search of shoes, art supplies and beyond.

When I was a kid, that’s what I remember my grandmother calling downtown…the Village 

“We’re going to the Village. Want to come?”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?  

Does anyone say that anymore?

Long before there were any shopping centers, it’s where you went when you needed just about anything. Shoes, clothing, school supplies, furniture, hammers or even a quick sandwich at the lunch counter in Neisner’s 5 & 10. 

And speaking of the movie theatres, the Village was where you went on a rainy Saturday afternoon to stand in line at the now defunct Embassy, where its grand marquee, now long removed, announced the appearance of Herman and Grandpa Munster, live and in person, or perhaps in their case, dead and in person, right there on Main Street. 

No kidding…actual Munsters…in PC.

Scary, huh?

And speaking of scary, down the street from the Embassy and directly across from Neisner’s, which was a kids delight, with all its cool toys, was something that was far from delightful, at least to this kid…Kaplan’s Department Store, now the home of the Salvation Army thrift store.

To a kid like me, Kaplan’s was like stepping back into the 1920’s…and not the “Roaring 20’s”…the “Boring 20’s”.

All a little kid, especially a little boy, took away from Kaplan’s was an image of a musty, dusty, dark array of endless display and clothing cases, scattered over what seemed like a hundred floors, serviced by this old elevator, circa 1900, with an iron grate that was opened and shut by hand by this scary guy, straight out of the Twilight Zone, who asked “floor please” and wouldn’t let you ride, unless you were with an adult. And since riding the elevator was the only fun thing happening in Kaplan’s that kind of left you to sit on the dirty old steps, day dreaming of all the toys you were missing at Neisner’s, or John’s Bargain store or even Delson’s Shoes with its vast selection of Buster Browns, while your mom looked at an assortment of foundation wear…whatever that was.

I’m not even going to mention the old ladies who wore those funny little glasses around their necks and who I believe made pudding out of little kids, just for fun.

That’s only a small slice of my PC early Day memories. I haven’t mentioned the scent of butter scotch or peppermint filling the air, all over town as the daily run of Life Savers was coming off the line.

Pizza at the Square Tavern, or watching my first color TV in one of the original old Caldor’s, that had just about every appliance and TOY that you would ever need...all neatly tucked away in the smallest of spaces in what is now, partly, Tandoori-Taste of India.  

Or Al’s TV, across the street, where Al would actually come to your house with this giant old tool box filled with all sorts of magical tubes and get your old TV back up and running just in time for the Flintstones.
Rocky’s Hardware store, where your dad would go to buy something that resembled some sort of hand cranked implement of torture from crusty old men that knew exactly where to find it; hidden in the back, in a dark smelly corner, on the top of some shelves, covered with about 50 years of dust. 

The sweet smell of raisin bread wafting up from Arnolds Bakers on Brick Oven Road.  

Picking up the early afternoon newspaper at The Daily Item building, where Superman was said to frequent as he passed through town…maybe.

All of this and so much more are my earliest memories of my hometown.

So I consider myself lucky, me, on the young-ish side of old...or the old-ish side of young, to be able to celebrate Port Chester Day, and remember a time when the Village was really, just that…a village.

Then came the shopping centers, and downtown— the Village—like so many small towns across the country, changed. 

Sure, things are on the rebound now…a bit, after a long time coming. There are a lot of new places that have taken over for the old places, and some say we’re the restaurant capital of Westchester, which I guess is kind of cool.

But like a lot of folks—many who were here a long time before I was, who remember way more than I do—I miss the sight and the “feel” of a village alive with shoppers—hometown shoppers—strolling up and down a busy Main Street, chatting with neighbors, grabbing a sandwich, taking in a movie or just enjoying the warmth of the day on a sunny corner bench.

Port Chester…the Village…there’s a real history here; in its buildings, it’s streets and its people.

. Now, all we have to do is to get the people out from behind the walls of “The Waterfront” and rediscover it…before it’s too late

Old PC Post Cards from PCH class of 64

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Sturbridge Sojurn

After our sojourn into the land of Revolution, Dead Writers and Enchanted Ponds, we left Concord behind and asked Michelle, our faithful if not congenial, GPS guide to take us down to Sturbridge, the home of Old Sturbridge Village, an authentic recreation of a 19th century farming town. 

Michelle still had a little “tude” over the Skippy incident, but after an hour so she delivered us to our very nice hotel.  We checked in, relaxed for a while, then off for a pleasant dinner at a highly recommended restaurant, followed by lights out at 11.

Yes…we are known for our recalcitrant late night partying ways.

The next morning, we’re up bright an early, dinning on our complimentary “enhanced” continental breakfast, meaning there was some egg like substance and sausage to sample in addition to the normal assortment of muffins, cereal and fruit.

The eggs were okay, but I only had 2 helpings instead of my usual 3 since after awhile in the warming tray, kids started playing bounce ball with them.

Old Sturbridge Village, as I mentioned, if you were paying attention, is an old 19th century farming community, restored and brought back to the future, sans Michael J Fox. 

Unlike Plimoth Plantation—that’s not a typo, Mr
Spell Check person. Pilgrims were notoriously bad spellers, so that’s how they spell the place, so deal with it and back off— where the “interpreters” as they’re called really get into it and refuse to acknowledge the present in any way, shape or form, bordering on creepy, the Sturbridge folks take a more laid back approach and, while they dress the part and work the part, they talk to you like people from the here and now.  Like the Blacksmith, who after making trivets all day, and apparently pretty sick of it, regaling us with the tale of ye old sump pump failing during the hurricane a few weeks back and his subsequent and apparently ongoing  battle with his insurance company over damages to his finished basement including his plasma TV.

But the trivets were nice….

Being attentive to detail as she is, Z looked it up and saw that the old village opened at 9:30 AM, SHARP.  However, anxious as we were to get a jump on the day’s activities, I didn’t want to be the first over anxious loser tourists to pass through the gates for fear of catching a couple of farmers or tradesmen grabbing a last minute smoke or something. 

So I insisted we wait until 9:45….

Driving down the entrance road, past all the little flags featuring all sorts of 19th century folks cheerfully welcoming us to the past, the first thing I noticed was the parking lot seemed a little uncheerfuly sparse. Still, we parked and sidled up toward the main entrance gate passing several grumbling seniors and an assortment of other tourists; also not happy.

“They’re not opening until noon!” one of the disgruntled seniors announced.

  “Noon?” Z said. “Noon…?”

But to her credit, despite the fact that this was putting a crimp in our finely tuned schedule, Z handled it well. And as it turned out, the poor informative senior only sustained a slight sprain of his right arm, instead of a fracture, as we at first feared.

Okay…of course I’m kidding. We knew it was just a sprain all along….

Z doesn’t like to have her schedule messed with.

After the ambulance left and we finished filling out the incident reports I inquired to some of the maintenance crew that were milling around as to why they weren’t opening until noon.

The explanation I received was that a micro burst had passed through the area overnight and took out some trees that took out the electricity. 

“Uh…isn’t this supposed to be an early 19th century rural village?  They don’t need no stinkin electricity, so what’s the problem?”

But of course, the problem, as in most things, was money. Without electricity they can’t operate their computers, which operate the cash registers, which collect the money.

So even the 19th century isn’t immune.

After consulting a couple of brochures, Z and Michelle figured out a backup plan to kill some time over in one of those little hard to find gift shops, located in one of those little hard to find nearby towns. And lo and behold, we found it and actually purchased several items that we never would have found, whether we actually needed them or not.

Then back to the old village and our delayed trip back in time. 

It was a fun day, despite the couple of mini micro bursts that rained down on us from time to time—past or present; I wasn’t sure any more—but equipped with our 21st century umbrellas we were good to go and soon found ourselves right back on schedule, much to the relief of many of the interpreters, who had heard about Z through ye old grapevine.

We learned about cooping from the cooper, tinkering from the tinker, ministering from the minister and pie making from a nice lady making some sort of a custard pie in a rustic old kitchen, swarmed by a thousand flies having their way with all the ingredients; the genesis, I suppose, of the famous shoe-fly pie.

Z also got into it a bit with the town printer—well deserved this time, I have to say— who seemed to have an attitude over what he decreed to be silly questions. 

I don’t know…do you think I was wrong to ask what was the oddest place he found ink on himself when showering?

Anyway, cooler heads prevailed and we soon found ourselves back on the road with Michelle, en route back to the 21st century and home, where a trip to the Bronx Zoo awaited the next day.

Staycationers never rest.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thoroughly Thoreau

Last time, I was relating the tale of our visit to Concord and all the great authors that once lived there.  Now, they’re actually all buried there as well, high up on a ridge that requires a billy goat and a Sherpa to access.

It’s a nice little tourist attraction, featured on all the visitor maps, although on the day we we’re there we had the place all to ourselves.  Very bucolic as cemeteries go, populated with both the long dead and the newly dead, eternally resting, side by side. 

They even named the place, Author’s Ridge, in honor of the famous scribblers, but I understand that’s a point of contention with some of the non-literati among the reposed.

What strikes you as you view these antiquated graves of those who, in life, stood out in such a notable manner, is how simple and unadorned they are, surrounded by generations of family members.  In fact if you weren’t carrying a map, you would pass them by entirely. 

It’s interesting to note, in a melancholic sort of way, that except for Emerson, who lived to be nearly 79, they all died before 60; Thoreau the youngest at 44. I guess that was not uncommon for those times since pretty much anything from the flu to a cut finger could kill you, but it kind of puts things into perspective when, even at a few years short of 60, we feel as if we can expect another 60.

Aside from Emerson’s granite boulder of a tombstone, all the others markers are pretty non-descript. I like Thoreau’s the best, wherein keeping with his simplify, simplify, philosophy, it merely says “Henry”. 

It’s a tradition, for some folks, I guess, to carry up stones and twigs and place them on a loved one’s final resting place. But it’s pretty easy to pick out the Author’s markers by the odd assortment of pens, note paper and reading glasses that garnish them...even an assortment of M&M’s.

Well, the M&M’s were mine and fell out of my pocket when I leaned over to pick up a snazzy Montblanc someone had left for Louisa May.   

Z just gave me that look she’s perfected through the years and made me put it back; all without saying a word.

So I took back my M&M’s…just for spite.

Then it was on to a more lively setting by way of Walden Pond.

Walden of course is the place where Thoreau built his little house in the woods.

 Most people think of a little rustic shack when they think of Thoreau’s digs, but they were far from that. In fact, a place like that today would fetch at least $1,200 a week down at the shore.

I’ve always felt a connection to Henry Davidformerly David kiddingever since I read Walden about 20 plus years ago.  There’s just something about the easy going way he breaks the whole of life down to basics.

Eat, sleep and…well, I‘ll let you fill in the rest.

Okay I’ll say it….
Observe and make note of everything around you. Everything that defines you…cuz it’s all there in front of you...if you open your eyes. 

Plus he frowned on heavy labor, a concept with which most freelance writers would concur.

I’ve been to Walden a few times over the years, but first time visitors are always a little surprised to see that it’s actually a state park or reservation now, plus a popular beach destination, complete with snack bar, beach chairs and all the rest. The same as any beach.

As you take a walk around the pond's perimeter, you find quite a few more adventurous types, setting up in little nooks and crannies; diving into crystal, blue water; little glints of sun dancing back to the shore.

Soon you approach the farthest northeast corner, and up on a hill, overlooking the pond, now somewhat hidden by thickets of trees, is the old foundation of Thoreau’s little one room house.

When I first stepped into that little granite rectangle of standing stones that mark the site, some 15 years or so ago, I immediately felt something stir in me….and I knew it wasn’t the leftover tacos we had brought from home, but left in the car.   

The woods were overcast with clouds that day and I was alone, since Z had decided to take a little snooze after lunch on the small beach below.  

So I set up my camera on one of the stones across the way and put it on a timer.

As the clock ticked down, I hurried to position myself, and leaned against the standing stone that marked where the front door would have been. If you’ve ever taken one of these self-portraits, you know you hurry to get set, then don’t know what to do with yourself as you wait for the shutter to click; all the while wondering if you even set the timer correctly.

As I stood there, for some reason I folded my arms across my chest and was just about to abandon the effort when suddenly the sun broke through the clouds and streamed in through the trees, lighting on my face.  Just then, I heard the camera click and the shot was taken, leaving behind an ethereal photo that evoked the strange sensation I had been feeling inside.

Quite a few years later, we returned to Walden, and while browsing through the gift shop I came across a simple drawing of Thoreau standing at the doorway of his cabin, arms folded, another gentle light upon his face. 

Now, I know it’s just an artist’s drawing, but I found the coincidence to be very, very cool.

Today, both pictures hang on my office wall; the writing factory as it were.

Just a reminder, at least to me, that the things that resonate, resonate for a reason and should not be lightly dismissed.

Thoreau said it best…of course….

"If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away."


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