Monday, January 30, 2012

The House That Still Haunts

There’s something weird about me.

Okay…I see the heads nodding out there. 

I also see your point….but that’s not what I mean.

What I mean is, I seem to absorb whatever sense of history exists in a place wherever and whenever I come across it. 

The obvious are places of historical significance like Ellis Island, the remnants of Thoreau’s little house in the Woods or famous battlefields, like my grandparent’s old house on Oak Street.

I think everyone gets some sort of vibe from those places; they’ve come prepared for that so they’re already open to it.

No…I’m talking more about your average, everyday encounter with the past in everyday situations.

For instance, whenever I walk down Main Street in my little hometown, I pick up all sorts of things, not including the parking ticket that was left on my windshield during the 30 seconds it took me to walk down to the new and improved fancy shmancy central parking pay station thingie.

No…not including that.

Most of the buildings downtown date back to the early to mid-19th century. Even before that, these same streets bustled with all sorts of commerce schlepping back and forth to the schooners tied up in port. 

So when I’m strolling through the village, I pretty much shut out all the hub bub taking place in all the fine international dining establishments, check cashing services, long distance phone stores and other small retail businesses that have taken up residence in those old spaces and just soak up the ripples from the past. 

I see shop owners squeegeeing store front windows clean and sweeping street dust off the sidewalks. There are horses drawn carts carrying logs to the saw pit and carriages carrying people to the shops. An old fire pumper rolls down the street as men, dapper in bowlers and cravats, ladies, sublime in bodices and skirts, stroll the streets after lunch. The butcher, still in his blood stained apron converses with the shoe maker, his fingers hopelessly blackened with shoe polish.
I don’t know where this comes from, really. Just echoes from the past I guess. 

When I was a kid, there was no one place that resonated with these echoes more than an old deserted mansion, set back on an isolated hilltop, up in the woods off North Ridge.  There were actually two of these huge houses, one a bit smaller than the other, both of which we called haunted, because to a 10 year old that’s exactly what we wanted them to be.

I imagine at one time they served somebody well, but right at that particular time they served to pretty much scare the bejujus out of us.

One by one, we would sneak through the woods and approach the house from behind this low stone wall that I guess served as boundary marker at one time. From there, we would peek to see if there was anyone in sight.

If the coast was clear, one of us would give the signal and up over the wall we would fly, making a mad dash for the front porch and door.

Then suddenly…we were in!  

I’m talking in your classic “Vincent Price” haunted mansion here, except the only ghosts around were in our heads. But believe me…that was more than enough.

Today, it boggles my mind to even think that this place actually existed. Even more, that we actually had the courage to go inside, which now that I think of it, was probably trespassing and a violation of several laws.  So, for the remainder of this story, let’s just say this is all hypothetical. 
So “hypothetically” speaking, I recall the main hall housing the remnants of an old baby grand piano, just sitting there, keys missing, along with one leg, or maybe it was two. In fact, it might have been merely a small upright piano, but baby grand is more impressive, so that’s what I recall.

Wall sconces, equally spaced, graced the large room, which was divided into sections by tall, foggy windows, some of their panes long gone, other cracked and broken.  There was even what we called a secret doorway, a discreet opening that blended into the wall, which lead to what we thought of as a secret passage and stairway that snaked through the interior of the house. 

Of course there was also the ruin of an old chandelier, at least, again, in my memory, that lay in the center of the room and a staircase so majestic that one expected Scarlet O’Hara to come sweeping down from above.

Once inside the house, we proceeded to spook each other with every ethereal squeak and groan of the floorboards and the real or imagined sounds of car doors slamming…they were coming to get us!

In and out of rooms, we’d go, some stripped bare, except for a coating of time, others decorated with empty beer cans and bottles, undoubtedly the product of another sort of activity that took place by night with kids somewhat older than we.

Some rooms even showed signs of transient habitation; a refuge on a cold winter night for some unfortunate, I suppose.

Were they lurking somewhere behind the walls, peering out at us, pick ax at the ready?

No…but we liked to think that maybe they were.

Sometimes we would venture into the attic, a somewhat cramped space for such a big house, and there we would discover old hangers from a local cleaner—back when phone numbers featured far less numbers than they do now—and some ancient invoices from a girl’s boarding school.  Were those poor girls held captive in this dusty space by some cruel headmistress, perhaps for missing the correct spelling of Megalosaurus?

These are the thoughts that raced through our minds, along with our hearts, as we tore from floor to floor…again…hypothetically.

The house was 3 floors including additional living space in the attic, with at least two wings, so we could spread out and go off on own adventures until, eventually, we’d stumble upon one another, sneaking around this corner or jumping out of that crawlspace over the hall.  Usually a conspiracy would be hatched by a few to scare the many…which always succeeded, even when we knew it was coming.

And while the others were content to run from room to room, I would often just wander and breathe in the past.  

Perched by a large second floor window I imagined myself Gatsby and took in a large party of flappers and scoundrels making merry on my finely manicured lawn.

Bedrooms hosted house guests warmed by cozy fireplaces.

Below, the main hall was alive with music and light as elegantly dressed women and men mingled and danced, while tuxedoed servants offered canopies and drinks from silver trays, then silently disappeared back into the walls.


Yeah…I guess. I do have a pretty good one.

But when I have these sensations it feels like something so much more.  Like looking through the veil of the present, right into the past.

As it turned out, I learned some years later, the old mansion was just that: the home of a rich local benefactor who along with his wife willed the estate to the Town of Rye to be used as a public space upon their deaths.  The period of decline that we so enjoyed was the transition period in between the time the widow vacated the premises and the time the town took over sometime in the 70’s, restored the mansion to its former glory and created a park for all to enjoy. I even played softball on a field situated not 100 yards from the place whose deserted nooks and crannies I once roamed and explored.

Today Crawford mansion is used for weddings and other such events, and yes, I believe they serve canopies and cocktails from silver trays while music fills the halls.   

So maybe I wasn’t looking back into the past after all. Maybe it was really the future…or more likely a little bit of both

As it turned out, even though it’s the house that still haunts my memory, from time to time…it really wasn’t a haunted house at all.

It was more a place of happiness and joy, waiting to be reborn. 

It just had to make do with our brand of joy, in the meantime…but I don’t think it minded at all.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Risk Taker

As we sit here, closing out the last full week of January, I have a confession to make.

Since 2012 began, I’ve become quite the risk taker.

Yep…up 'til now I’ve been playing it pretty safe my whole life, so I just decided to go for it.
Just like that Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half of the Giants/Packer game a couple of Sundays ago.

So here’s what I’ve been up to.

I started putting my pants on two legs at a time, every morning.

Yep…took some getting used to, and I admit that a couple of times I kind of put two actual legs into one actual pant leg, but that was early on.

I’ve pretty much gotten it down to a science now…once my ankle healed.

And I have to tell you, I do feel kind of empowered.

Plus it saves me at least a minute a week in dressing time.

I’m also planning to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear…if I can catch a sow…after I figure out what it looks like…and how to make a purse

But I guarantee it’s gonna be a nice purse, being silk and all.

I’m definitely counting my chickens…way before they’re hatched.  Probably before I even have any chickens, cuz chickens can make quite a mess, so why would I want chickens.  But I’m still gonna count ‘em.

I’m finding an old dog and teaching it new tricks. 

I’m closing the barn door after I let the horses out.  Why wouldn’t I?  I should just let all the heat escape too?

And speaking of horses, I’m definitely gonna lead one to water and make it drink...a margarita.  Who doesn’t like a margarita?

I’m gonna keep the bird in my hand, which to be honest is a little weird, but I’m gonna get the two in the bush, as well. Maybe three….

I'm also not killing them, with one stone or any stone. Besides being cruel, after going to all that trouble to get these stinking birds, why on earth would I want to kill them…?

And If I come across a sleeping dog…I’m defintitley waking it up.

I’m going to wait on that stitch…even if it cost me nine.  One stitch… nine?  I mean really, who cares?

I’m gonna pass on the apple a day.

I might even bite the hand that feeds me.

Or add insult to injury…just because I can.

I’m definitely having my cake and eating it too. I mean what moron wouldn’t?  You’re supposed to just let it sit there and go to waste?

I’m calling a spade a shovel.

I’m gonna spray it when I say it.

I might beat around the bush all day…all night too, if I feel like it.

I going to Barnes & Noble and judging all the books by their covers.

I already spit into the wind… but I don’t recommend it.

If I don’t succeed I’m quitting.

I’m gathering moss with a rolling stone.  Maybe the weird little drummer guy.

I’m waiting until dark to make my hay.

Even though the iron’s cold…I’m striking.

I’m gonna start a journey of a thousand miles with two steps…maybe three. Hey, if I can put my pants on two legs at a time I’m pretty sure I can figure that out too.

I’m also getting blood out of a stone.

Leading a bull through a china shop.

Switching horses in mid-stream.

And when I fall seven times…I’m not getting up an eighth. I’m getting myself a walker.

I’m going to beg…and be choosey.

If it didn’t hurt so much I would cut off my nose to spite my face. But that would be silly. 

I’m going to be proud...after I fall...all 7 times 

And leap before I look…which is probably why I fall so much, in the first place.

So that’s where I’m at so far in the first month of 2012. 

I don’t know what February will bring.

Maybe something even more stupid.

But you know….

“Stupid is as stupid does.”

Unless there’s a box of chocolates involved….


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter Walking

Back in June, I wrote about my summertime walks and the various friendly folks I routinely encountered along my wayfaring ways.

Even now, I do my daily walk, though only once instead of twice a day. 

In the summer I usually walk alone, early in the morning, and then again with Z in the evening. However, by mid October the early dark necessitates Z walking on the treadmill in the basement, at least until March.

We tried walking on the treadmill together for a while, but that didn’t work out since I had a tendency to step on Z’s heels, which usually ended up with me sprawled in the trash bin.

Plus we always fought over who controlled the TV remote.

So now I walk alone, once, about late morning.

Granted this winter has been nothing like the overbearing last couple of snowy, Arctic winters, but, even still, winter walking under any conditions is much different than summer walking.

For one, it’s always a lot colder, even on the nicest of days.

When I walk in the summer I usually throw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, sometimes a tank-top, and I’m good to go.

When I walk in the winter I usually roll around in a tub of Vaseline for a good half hour, then spend another 45 minutes layering on several types of shirts and sweatshirts, zip my hoodie sweatshirt jacket over that, and then, sometimes snap a down vest over the whole thing.

I don’t get to use “hoodie” in a sentence very often, so I’m happy that I can use it here, and that’s why I bring it up.

In the winter I usually wear a heavy wool baseball cap, as opposed to the light weight khaki, cotton cap I wear in summer.

 I wear my sunglasses in all seasons, so when I pull my “hoodie” up over my ball cap, Z says I look like the Unabomber.

In the summer, she says I just look like Ted Bundy, that whacky, but charming serial killer of the 70’s.

I say, this is unfair, since Bundy’s legs weren’t as nice as mine.

In either case, people pretty much give me a wide berth, crossing to whichever is the opposite side of the street I’m walking on.

But the truth is, in the winter, there aren’t that many people out walking. Just the die-hards, so there really isn’t a lot of interaction to talk about, as there is in the summer when everyone is just happy to be out in the nice weather.

In the winter, the other walkers and runners know this is serious business for all of us and not just something we do to get fresh air on a sunny day. So for the most part, you might get a slight nod of recognition from a passerby, but you have to look closely for it, because it’s usually buried in a lot of winterized accessories and the best you can hope to see is a little pink face peeking out of a little woolen hole. 

Plus, sometimes it’s hard to tell if they’re actually acknowledging you with an actual greeting of sorts, or just trying to break off the little piece of frozen mucus that’s stuck to their nose. 

I usually try to error on the safe side so I acknowledge any kind of interaction at all, even a snotty one, with a smile. 

It also helps to un-numb my face.

The runners, on the other hand, are a whole other story. It’s not uncommon to see a runner wearing the scantiest of outfits…even some who shouldn’t.  

You’ll be trudging along, huddled against the wind, yet enjoying every step, and appreciating that you're actually out there doing it on a 17 degree day, when a runner will appear from around the bend, wearing these shiny, skintight legging things, thousand dollar “running shoes”, with an iPod strapped to one arm and a bottle of Vita-Water strapped to the other.

They zip by so fast and effortlessly that you never get any sort of acknowledgement from them, other than your own sneaking suspicion that they sneered at your $20 “sneakers”. Then you turn and watch them disappear into the distance wondering how anybody can stand, let alone run, on legs that skinny.

Of course those are the really exceptional runners.  Some lesser runners come plodding around that same bend looking as if they’re on their 8th hour of eluding the hounds set loose by the chain gang boss, and their chains are still attached. 

Some of these dudes are also wearing the shiny, skintight legging things, also…but as I said before, shouldn’t.

When they pass you by they don’t have the strength to acknowledge you, let alone judge your footwear...but you have to give them all the credit in the world for being out there, doing it.

All in all, winter waking is a happy experience no matter what the conditions.

I’m outside, sometimes under a canopy of blue, sometimes under a ceiling of grey.  With the wind at my back or a gale in my face, a walk at any time of the year is a gift to be enjoyed, not endured.

I walk because I can…sometimes putting to bed restless thoughts or creating what is from what wasn’t.

Or sometimes, just being my own version of Thoreau, shutting my mind to everything except the trees above my head…experiencing the wonder of now.

Not to mention those shiny, skintight legging things….
I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements.
Walking, 1851 – Henry David Thoreau


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Monday, January 23, 2012

First Snow

So we finally had our first shovelable snow on Saturday.

I mean since the official start of the winter season.

That’s how I measure snow fall: whether or not you have to take the snow shovel out.

I was actually hoping that maybe this would be one of those years when I didn’t, but I guess that’s a fools dream this time of year.

But hey, we almost made it through all of January. Not too shabby. And while we did get a good 5 or 6 inches outside my door, it was of the soft, fluffy variety; you could almost blow it away.

Not like last year when there were days that you had to dig in layers just to crack through to the sidewalk. It snowed so often that I just left the shovels outside the door all winter.

Last year, shoveling snow was like brushing your teeth; something you just did every day without thinking about it.

So this year we we’re spoiled…or I was.

At least I didn’t lose my phone again , or bury the neighbor’s cat …I mean not as deep as last year.

And there is something cool about seeing a landscape of white this time of year, especially after the extended season of green we’ve had.

There’s not much of a moon right now, so we miss out on that frosty glow at night, but still it glows—day or night---just like a Monet.

And still it needs to be shoveled…

Shovelable snow….

Z was biting at the bit to get out there the second she saw it slowing down, about noon. My neighbor had jumped the gun and was already out there; this irked Z to no end because she fancies herself the queen of snow removal.  I think, at times, there is actual drool involved when she sees the plow go by.  

How dare someone else get out there before her….

But I quickly pointed out the fool’s errand of going out too soon as my impetuous neighbor’s driveway had already developed another serious layer of fluff.

Just to make sure, I threw a couple of heavy folders full of year end paperwork that need to be sorted through and organized at her.  The stuff I'd been putting off for the last 3 weeks.

Kind of manipulative of me, I admit, because to Z, the Shark, that’s like throwing meat into shallow water.  I knew she couldn’t resist tackling it. 

I hated doing it…but she needed to be restrained.

Then, after an hour or so, and lunch, we finally bundled up and went out. I had barely cleared off the top of the garbage cans, when Z had already zipped clean the front walk and was already halfway down the driveway.  By the time I made it to the driveway, the cars were stripped bare of any semblance of snow or ice and I saw more snow being heaved off the back deck.

I know you think I’m kidding, but Z is really like the Road Runner when it comes to snow….


I actually wrote about it way back in May, in one of my first pieces. 

I know…why was I writing about Z and snow in May?  Hey, I was new to this stuff.  I was confused. I just wrote what popped into my head.

From, I WANT AN EXPLANATION!!!  - May 26, 2011

Snowy days are the worst since my wife has a love/hate relationship with snow. She loves it on weekends and holidays but hates it during the week. I guess maybe because she has to drive through the slop, down to the Bronx and back, while I, as I said, have about a 12 step commute (notice it keeps getting longer?). 

After a large overnight snowfall, she's been known to pop out of bed at 5 AM, speak in tongue, run down the stairs, grab a shovel, bolt out the door and immediately start shoveling, long before the sun comes up.  

But she really enjoys it…at least that’s what I tell myself…and my neighbors

So winter has officially arrived; I guess it’s entitled.  Not like that sneaky back door entry it tried to make back in October. 

And, from what I hear, by this afternoon the snow should pretty much be a memory, done in by 50 degree temps.

Ahhhh….snow…can’t live with you…can’t live without you.

Well, yeah…for the most part I can. 

But stop back again, preferably on the weekend. 

Just don’t plan on staying too long…and bring Gin.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Movie Day

Z and I went to the movies the other day, which is a BIG event for us.

I’m not sure what the last thing we saw was, but I think it might have involved Dustin Hoffman in a dress.

Or was that Robin Williams in a dress?

Or maybe it was Nathan Lane in a dress?

Now that I think of it….maybe there wasn’t a dress involved at all.

Maybe a talking animal of some kind…or was it dinosaurs?

It was definitely something…and we saw it…at least the parts we stayed awake for.

Actually, we do try to go to the movies at least once a year, maybe even twice if we feel crazy.

Not that we don’t enjoy movies—we do—we just don’t enjoy dragging ourselves out of the house and dealing with parking and lines and mostly…other people.

Okay, that last part is more me than Z, but I mean do I need a guy stepping on my feet every fifteen minutes because he has a small bladder?

Okay, that last part is more me stepping on some other guy’s feet than him stepping on mine… but hey, buddy, can you at least move those big boats out of the way…especially when a fella’s gotta go?

So this year we went to see the new George Clooney move called “The Descendants”.

We went to a matinee because we both have trouble staying awake after dinner…or even during dinner sometimes.

I have to say, the movie was very good and worth all the hype; especially for the woman who plays the hospitalized mom.  A spot on performance if there ever was one.

Two Toes up as they say!

It’s kind of sad at times, very sad actually, but also very amusing and entertaining, more so than sad. So it’s definitely worth seeing—if you haven’t already, since it’s been out since mid-November—even if you have a problem with sad.  Or with people that open their very noisy package of Twizzlers during the most dramatic part of the movie.

Hey, how was I supposed to know, lady?

I admit it was a little embarrassing. The theatre is pin drop silent…George is dealing with his young daughter in a very emotional moment…and the wrapper from my Twizzlers sounds like a horde of giant mutant cockroaches are consuming the walls of the theatre.

So then I try to open it slowly, but that only makes it worse by sounding even more annoying, and, I don’t know how, but Clooney actually turns to the camera and says “Hey buddy, take it outside will ya?”

But the Twizzlers were worth it…all 20 of them.

So was the big TUB O’popcorn and big TUB O’diet Pepsi, which you pretty much have to buy in super-duper super-size since to buy anything less would only save you about 4 cents.

Plus you get one free refill on the TUB O’popcorn.

What…I was supposed to let it all go to waste?

And I swear I had my phone on vibrate…not enhanced audio.

Plus, I thought I’d eliminated the offending ring tone in question.

 Did I mention that the movie was good? 

And when it comes on cable we plan on watching all the parts we slept through.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

There’s Always Some Nun to Blame

I’ve mentioned a time or two that I attended Catholic Grammar school, full time, from 1960-1968, so I spent much of my early life surrounded by nuns.

Hey, why wouldn’t I?

Nuns are great….

We’d hang out at the convent to all hours, listening to the latest from Dylan; debating if this whole British Invasion thing was going to take off or wondering why no one really knew which of the five was actually Dave Clark.

Good times!

Well…not really….

I mean maybe if we actually did those kinds of things, but we didn’t.

Mostly we showed up every morning, sat quietly, hands precisely folded at the edge of our desks, backs straight, feet flat on the floor, and tried not to make eye contact with them. 

Making eye contact was bad.

Making eye contact meant that you were noticed and might be called on.

Being called on was bad.

Being called on meant you had to respond to the question being posed, and if your mind had chosen just that moment to wander back to the perplexing theories being proffered by Captain Kangaroo, earlier that morning, on hot cereal vs. cold…you had a problem.

See, the nuns of that era, had a theory of their own, which was that a little bit of pain was a good thing to get the old brain power in gear.  Not enough to draw blood or leave a mark, but just enough to help you recall those pesky times tables.

We had a nun, in the first grade, named Sister Helen, which may or may not have been her real name.

I suspected at the time that her real name might actually have been Natasha, and that she was a secret agent for the KGB who pal’d around with Boris Badenov.

That’s what I suspected.

Anyway, if you weren’t able to respond in the proper hands precisely folded at the edge of your desk, back straight, feet flat on the floor manner that was expected, “Sister Helen”, who was fairly youngish by nunish standards, would sidle up behind you—because they were experts at sidling— and grab hold of the one, precise little hair on the back of your head that was connected to every single nerve in your body…and pull. 

Never could you imagine that one little hair could be the source of such pain.

Now, panicked and totally clueless as to the nature of the question posed, you begin to throw out anything that pops into your head. Numbers, letters, historical figures and dates, bodies of water, continents…major and minor exports and imports of Brazil.  Anything and everything, hoping against hope that by some miracle you’ll hit on the correct answer. 

But you never did and the pain would continue until eventually a bright light would appear, beckoning to you, calling you home, bringing you some measure of peace, until you realized it was just Mrs. Gordon, the cleaning lady, opening the door to the cloak room, where we stored all our cloaks when we weren’t using them. 

The dagger room was in the back.

Then, to further add to your humiliation, Sister “Natasha” would keep on tugging until someone was finally able to answer the question, which was usually Marybuttercup Pennyloafers, with her smug little smile, who always had the answer to everything…including what exactly happened to Marilyn Monroe.

And then the pain would stop; at least the physical pain.

To be honest, I guess it could have been worse.  This was pretty much as deep as Sister Helen’s bag of tricks went. For the most part she was nice to us as long as we were paying attention. 

She had birthday parties for us with cupcakes, and holiday games and celebrations, exercise time when we would open all the windows on a 4 degree day, breathe in and breathe out, stretch and touch our toes.

She would even let us smoke in the back of the room….

No…I’m kidding.

We had to go outside to smoke.

So Sister Helen wasn’t so bad.

Some of the other nuns, and to be fair, lay teachers, I had along the way—those primarily left over from the Mesolithic era, when corporal punishment was widely accepted and expected— incorporated teaching methods that would have been frowned upon, even by Boris and the KGB.

But that was the way of the world before us, and even if our parents had a problem with it, there was a definite “ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies” policy in place.

In stark contrast to today, where if a teacher even hurts a kid’s feelings, they could be brought up on charges.

Someday down the road I’ll tell you about my 90 year old, or so it seemed, 4th grade teacher, a bull of a woman, who blamed us for the untimely death, over the summer, of our 100 year old 3rd grade teacher. She told us that we may have gotten Mrs. Cooney, but we weren’t’ going to get her….

Oh, and she also blamed us for killing President Kennedy.

Yep…marched right in after they announced it on the PA system, which was out and up the hall, so it was mostly unintelligible to us, and said, “The President is dead and it’s all your fault because you were talking instead of listening!”

And then we all felt bad about it.

I still do….

But don’t tell anybody. 

Especially Oliver Stone….

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