far too much writing, far too many photos

For those who enjoyed Bejeweled (sometimes called Diamond Mine) and who are up for serious time-wasting of the simple game variety, try Collapse.

This is old news, I know, but: Brazil advanced to the finals, as expected. Sunday morning, good and early, Germany and Brazil square off for the final game of this World Cup.

Meanwhile, the runner-up game between S. Korea and Turkey takes place Saturday morning. Don’t know if I’ll be dragging myself back to the land of the living for that one. It’ll be broadcast later in the day on Univision, ESPN and/or ABC. I can probably live with seeing it after the fact.

Am heading off to see Laurie Anderson tonight — should be an interesting show.

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To get in touch with your inner Valley Girl: go here and plug a URL — any URL, even www.runswith.com — into the space provided. Then prepare for, like, awesomeness.

On the chance you were wondering –- the upside of mowing a Vermont lawn in the rain: no blackflies.

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World Cup action: S. Korea is out, Germany is headed for the finals. Tom’w a.m., Brazil squares off against Turkey. Odds are pretty good Brazil will face Germany in the finals.

There have been some key instances of godawful officiating in this Cup, controversial calls that determined the winners/losers of certain games. Some thoughts re: that from my Irish friend, currently living in Stoke-On-Trent, England:

“I can easily understand many of the comments coming out of Spain right now — about incompetent or cheating officials at the World Cup. Having seen replays of the decision to disallow the goal Spain scored in extra time, it was definitely a legal goal, and should have been a winner for them. Mistakes do happen, but I can understand that with Korea being [one of the hosts], the accusations are flying around. Italy also felt the same way, and the U.S. had a good case against Germany, with the hand ball on the goal line.

“My view is that this is all part of sports, humans make split-second decisions, and sometimes get them wrong. Maybe they (the refs) are too inexperienced at this level, I can’t say, but I have learned to accept wrong decisions just as if it was one of our players missed a very easy chance to score — it happens, apparently for no reason, but c’est la vie. Having said all that, I would be very pissed if it happened to Ireland!!”

Man, there have been some impressive storms coming through here lately, the latest rolling through yesterday evening around 8:30 — black clouds advancing down the valley from the north, flashes of lightning immediately behind the leading edge of the clouds, along with wind and a curtain of heavy, heavy rain. A great show. I’ve seen more lightning storms in these last few weeks than I saw in the whole 20 or so months I was in Madrid.

This morning, yesterday’s oppressive humidity has been completely wiped away, leaving the sky a deep, cloudless blue, the land beneath green, green, green, bathed in sunlight that is gradually dragging the outside temperature up through the 60s toward the 70 mark. Very nice.

Dear God, it’s humid. It’s professionally humid, so humid that practically the only difference between this and rain is that rain moves. Bleah.

Ten days ago I began a program to improve my eyesight. For the last two or three years, my eyesight — which had always been real damn good — got a little bit less sharp. I began having trouble reading small print, both near and far. Not a development that brought joy. I like being able to see well, and I especially like being able to see well on my own, without needing ocular-adjunct type stuff. I decided I was going to do something about that — I knew there were resources like the Bates Method out there through which people had dramatically lessened or eliminated vision problems, I decided to keep my eyes open (HAR!) and see what presented itself. And what presented itself was an ad for The See Clearly Method, which caught my attention enough that I checked out their website. The SCM came across essentially as an elaboration of the Bates Method, well enough organized and put together that my interest was further piqued.

Allaboutvision.com, a website that pushes glasses, contacts and laser surgery, rather predictably poo-poos the potential of the See Clearly Method. The material in the See Clearly Method’s website clearly and prudently states that results will vary from individual to individual, which allaboutvision.com uses as a cause for great finger-wagging and grave, cautionary tones of voice. The See Clearly Method also states that one needs to commit to doing the exercises on a daily basis, and cautions that one may not see noticeable results for a month after starting the work. Ten days after beginning, my vision is already improving. It’s working.

I’ll inflict more about this on you as I continue working with the exercises and see how it all goes.

Yow! Spain and Senegal are now out of the World Cup. This means that Germany faces S. Korea this coming Tuesday — which should be a very interesting game. Brazil will face Turkey in the other game, whenever that is.

I could be wrong, but it’s starting to look to me like Brazil may have a lock on this Cup.

But then what do I know? Virtually every prediction I’ve heard so far re: this Cup has been wrong.

And how, I ask myself, did this journal become a World Cup forum? Don’t know, he answered himself, shaking his head.

It has been pouring here since the wee hours. Last night off beyond the mountains to the north, lightning slowly walked its way from the northwest to the northeast. Methodical, and since there are essentially no lights out here, strikingly clear and vivid. No thunder — just jagged shafts of light illuminating the darkness, strobelike. Yesterday’s humidity was so high that the air appeared misty, a kind of weather I haven’t experienced since before I headed off to Madrid nearly two years ago — a kind of weather that will make the covers of paperback books curl up. A kind of weather I didn’t mind leaving behind.

Today the mountains are cloaked in mist (the real item), the higher ones visible as vague, distant shapes, if at all. Between the drumming of rain on the roof and the sound of water pouring through the downspouts at the corners of the house, the afternoon has a soothing, meditative feel. Which suits me just fine.

Madrid, I notice, has been experiencing temperatures in the mid to upper 90s (un ‘calor de muerte’ como mi amigo Jaime ha escrito), with more of the same forecast for the days ahead. Hmmm. This may be the first time since I’ve been back here that I’ll settle for being here.

Brazil and Germany (both powers of long standing in world fútbol) advance, England and the U.S. are out of the Cup. The U.S. team acquitted themselves decently, but they were at the limits of what they could do against a team as solid as Germany and simply could not get over the hump.

Tomorrow: the remaining two quarterfinal games. ¡Venga, España!

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Another note from an Irish friend currently living in Stoke-On-Trent, England — this one re: today’s Cup games:

“As I am at work, I only heard some commentary on the BBC, but they sounded like the U.S. played pretty well, and even compared them to Ireland, in that they were spirited and trying to play good quality ball. A 1-0 defeat is no disgrace at all, and I hope that the American public see it that way. The U.S. have made huge strides this time out, and look to have a good development program. They certainly deserve all the acclaim they receive.

“As for the English… most of them feel let down by the performance of the team today, and amazingly enough, many are contrasting the English lack of passion and spirit to the way Ireland and the U.S. played.

“The return home for the English team will also contrast with Ireland’s. Ireland received a hero’s welcome, with thousands at the airport and city centre, and on to a party in the Phoenix Park. England will come home to derision in the press and probably boos at the airport. I prefer our attitude.

“So, we have Brazil, to play either Turkey or Senegal, and Germany to play either Spain or Korea. My prediction is Brazil to win, with either of the other 3 against them. Spain v Korea, for me, is a real head v. heart game. My head says Spain have the quality and experience, but my heart says Korea have massive support, great spirit and nothing to lose. Germany have failed to impress but are still in the semi’s, which is scary, really, so being honest I would love to see Korea go through. I think it would be great for world football, though not for Spain. We’ll see.

“That’s it for now, back to work.”

Not that you asked, but — World Cup games coming up tomorrow:

Brazil v. England (around 2:30 a.m., EDT) — two excellent, top-drawer teams. Should be a hellacious game (and one for which I cannot take sides — good luck to both).

Germany v. U.S. (around 7:30 a.m. EDT) — don’t expect the U.S. to come out on top, though given the number of upsets in this Cup, you never know. Could be a harrowing game.

And on Saturday:

Spain v. South Korea (around 2:30 a.m. EDT) — Spain has another excellent team, and the South Koreans are revved up and playing scrappy, tenacious ball. Should be a great match. I admit to being extremely partisan here, though — ¡Venga España!

Senegal v. Turkey (around 7:30 a.m. EDT) — Two dark horses going at each other, teams that have surprised many by getting this far. Could be a very interesting game.

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Part of a note from an Irish friend of mine currently living in Stoke-On-Trent in England, in response to my sports blather of two days ago:

“The whole country here is [waiting with] baited breath for the game tomorrow morning. The TV, radio, every shop, street corner, everywhere people are talking about it.

“It may not end up being a great game to watch as their styles are so opposing. England are able to shut down teams but then are unable to be very attack-minded themselves. Brazil also tend to get quite tense, and foul a lot, if the game doesn’t go their way.

“But the prospect is still mouth-watering. Both teams are capable of playing very attractive football, and Brazil especially can be fantastic to watch. They have scored lots of goals, and conceded a few as well, so I do not expect a 0-0 draw. It is on very early here, 7.30am, so it must be about 2.30am [EDT], but I will watch it live, at home in my bed, then go into work afterwards.

“Will you get to see it live, or will you even want to?? Anyway, I hope you enjoy it when you do see it, and that there will be less of the cynical play you mentioned earlier.”

The simple pleasures — lordy, yes, the simple pleasures. I get up, it’s sunny, the temperature outside has already made its way up into the lower 70’s. I fill a bottle with water, shamble sleepily down to the end of the driveway to water a couple of young sunflowers and some newly planted lobelia, birds singing, crickets making gentle music in the long grass. The mail carrier pulls up, stopping to shove a few items in my roadside box — I wave thanks, they wave back and take off. I pick up the mail, walking through stands of orange hawkweed and New England aster along the way, then head back toward the house. A robin up on the picnic table in the yard takes off as I approach, I pause there to splash some water on some cypress vine seedlings that are just breaking through the dirt in a planting box I’ve left on the table.

Through all of that, I am not molested by a single blackfly. Not a single blessed one. Which engenders a buoyant sensation of freedom — primitive and simple-minded, maybe, but genuinely felt.

[NOTE: The winged bloodsuckers showed up later as I cut grass. #*%^@!!!]

I’m beginning to feel and think like a rustic in his dotage, tromping around my little fiefdom in wellingtons, giving thanks when the local flying bloodsuckers pass out of their season. Dotage or not, the arrival of early summer, the real item, is exactly what the sawbones ordered. I’ve been at loose ends — a phrase that doesn’t begin to put across the emotional state it skims over — on my own to an unsettling, unhelpful extent, with a deadly lack of distractions apart from the care that a house and acres of land need, and feeling less and less motivated to go through the motions of that kind of ongoing work. I found myself lying in bed this morning in a bleak state of mind, feeling like the combination of near-reclusive living and oppressive weather had brought me to a gray mental place bordering on despair.

And the world thoughtfully provided some relief.

Last week, during days of rain and 50ish temperatures, I had to put the storm windows back down as if winter were coming on. This morning, raising the windows one by one, pulling the screens down in their place, I discovered that one of the small black & white jumping spiders which literally come out of the woodwork here when the temperature drags itself up above the freezing mark had spun the most perfect spiderweb I’ve seen in a long time. In one of the living room windows, in the space between the inner sash and the storm window — a sizeable web, almost as big as the storm window itself, shining in the morning light, its lines clean and spare. I admired it for a moment then had to wipe it out to open the storm window, after which I got a piece of paper and maneuvered the spider outside before bringing the screen down.

And as I wrote that last paragraph, a good-sized doe ran through the yard outside the dining room where I sit writing this, heading quickly past and downhill toward cover.

Last night: made the drive into Montpelier to the local artsy movie theater to see Monsoon Wedding, a film I’ve been hearing about since it opened in Madrid to raves months ago. Deserved raves, as it turns out. Fun Great soundtrack.

Hey, except for a shower during the wee hours, it hasn’t rained today! Woo-woo! And not only that, there were times of actual sunlight during the course of the day. Not a lot of them, and they didn’t last very long, but it’s a start. Those nutbags in the weather service are claiming that tomorrow will be sunnier with temperatures in the upper 70s. They even claim the temperature will be sliding up into the 80s by Thursday. We’ll see. (Grumble, grumble.)

The absence of rain during the daylight hours meant the ground dried out enough that I could drag myself outside and cut some grass (which grew this last week like it’s been raining steroids, not water). Which meant I got to spend some time out in this amazing northern Vermont country, the blackflies far less oppressive then they’ve been for the past month. Not gone completely, but down in numbers. It’s mid-June, the time their season usually peters out. I have hopes that liberation is at hand.

But enough about blackflies and steroids. I want to talk about the World Cup for a moment.

I’ve spent far too much time in front of the television since the Cup started a couple of weeks back, and have seen some strange games. For instance, yesterday’s U.S. v. Mexico game — not a pretty match — and this morning’s Italy/S. Korea game. I could be wrong (god knows, it’s happened before), but there seems to be a huge amount of outlandishly physical play going on, a huge amount of fouling that seems emblematic of poor sportsmanship to me. But maybe I just don’t have enough exposure to top level play — maybe this is par. Maybe it’s just a sign of high adrenalin, of high tension and keyed-up nerves. I don’t know. But even in the Ireland/Spain game, there seemed to be a huge amount of unnecessary, unintelligent conduct of that sort. For instance, if it hadn’t been for Hierro’s (a Spanish defender, the team captain) foul at the end of regulation time — the bizarre, highly-visible two-handed holding of an Irish player’s shirt, a blatant foul committed in the middle of action right in front of the Spanish goal — there would have been no free kick and very possibly no equalizing goal for the Irish team. A little restraint, a little cleaner play would have served the Spanish team much better, wouldn’t it? Or am I being naive?

And about the Ireland/Spain game — Spain has the deeper team, I think, and the Spanish team may be superior to the Irish team, but the Irish took the Spanish out of their game, transforming them from a group of virtuosi into a plodding group of players — a real triumph for the Irish players. I watched the game on a hispanic channel (Univision), and you should have heard the commentators laying into the Spanish team near the end of the event, talking about a lack of desire and will — the product of Ireland taking Spain out of their game. They also loved when the Irish team lined up, arms around each other, during the tie-breaker.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. If you haven’t watched a game or two of the Cup, you’re missing some great entertainment. The quarterfinals start in two days. Get out your VCR, tape a match or two. They’re worth checking out.

Another gray northern Vermont day of on-and-off rain. This morning and early this afternoon the temperature seemed mired in the mid to upper 40s (this is June 16, mind you), the house got chilly enough that I had to turn on the furnace. Once I did that, the outside temperature shot up ten degrees. Since shutting the furnace off the temperature outside has been gradually sinking to its earlier levels. Hmmmm.

Tossed a bunch of things into a pot of chicken broth, it’s all simmering away on the stove. Weezer’s green CD is playing on the stereo, the view out every window here shows a thousand more shades of green, greens that will look much happier when the sun returns.

A gentle, aimless Sunday (sunlessness notwithstanding), nothing much to report. Not right this nanosecond anyway.

There’ll be more. Some other time.

Excerpt #2, an entire short chapter, from a novel in progress (© 2002, 2006 by runswithscissors):

The steps extended down from where I sat, three of them, in neat rows of brick and mortar, descending to the front walk. I saw the legs of a young boy — my legs — bare and slim below well-worn shorts, sneaker-shod feet planted on the middle step, the right one jiggling in time to an inner rhythm. The legs to the left of mine belonged to someone much bigger, the feet clad in black wingtips, the pants above them sharply creased and dark, dark blue, almost black.

I didn’t know the man to my left, though he seemed to know me. He sat talking about something, I don’t remember what, his forearms resting over his thighs, a cigarette perched between the fingers of the left hand. He nudged me, his right hand rose to point at something — a plane passing overhead, high enough that its progress across the expanse of blue reminded me of an insect’s steady, singleminded crawl across cleared ground. For some reason, the man’s voice seemed to come and go, murmurous, other sounds washing over it like surf on a shore: the breeze, passing cars, the drone of the plane.

My nose began to run, I realized the weather had turned cold, that it was winter even though the trees still had all their leaves. They moved in undulating waves as the wind blew through them with increasing strength, rippling with the gusts of cold air, the many leaves calling ssshhhhhhhhhh, SSSSHHHHH. The man noticed me wiping my nose and pulled a box of tissue from under his suit coat, placing it on the stoop between us. I took one, blew my nose into it, then took another and held on to it, crossing my arms and hunching up, starting to shiver.

The noise from the plane’s passage grew louder, I looked up to see sunlight reflecting off its wings in lucid diamonds of intense white. I felt motion next to me, looked to find that the man had taken the tissue box and gotten to his feet, his silhouette clear and sharp against the sky, the trees behind him moving majestically in the strengthening breeze. He threw the box up into the air as one might hurl a frisbee, drawing his arm across his body then flinging it out and away, the box soaring up into the light, spinning rapidly as it flew. Reaching into his coat, the man drew out a gun and took quick aim at the box, firing three shots in rapid succession, startlingly loud. I could see the flashes burst from the end of the barrel, vivid and bright. Instantly, the box blew apart, the tissues exploded into the air, bursting into wild flight before the wind like a cloud of mid-winter butterflies.

I heard another report, my eyes jerked partway open, I found myself sprawled on the motel bed listening to people in the adjoining room. The dull thumping of things being carried in, then muffled voices, a woman’s loud enough that I could discern the edge of a whine as she spoke. A man replied, lower, then a door closed with a solid sound. Steps moved away outside. I rubbed my eyes, looked around. The air in the room had cooled. The clock radio on the night table by the bed read 3:51.

The television still mumbled away in the room opposite that of my new neighbors. I hoped it would shut up at some point.

I labored to a sitting position, tried to clear my head, thought better of it, lay back down. A minute or two later, I rolled my legs over the edge of the bed and worked my painful way upright. When I finally shuffled into the bathroom, my hand groped around for the light switch without success until I got that some engineering genius had located it on the wall outside the room. Reached out there, flicked it on, took a moment to cover my eyes while they adjusted to all that illumination. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t especially care to see that clearly right after I wake up.

The mirror featured an individual who’d seen better days. Bloodshot eyes stared back until I gathered myself and took inventory of what the motel had given me to work with. Towels, a small bar of soap, a teensy bottle of shampoo, two plastic cups wrapped in plastic. And to my grateful surprise, a disposable razor — I’d managed to leave mine home. I did, however, bring the envelope containing the photo of my parents, which I suddenly remembered. Exiting the bathroom, I found my bag, dug around in it. A minute later, the photo stood propped up against the stem of the dresser lamp, near the TV, so I could see it from most any point in the room. Something about their image in the space provided a slight feeling of counterbalance against the overall vacuum in my life, family-wise. A thin, flimsy counterbalance, but in my current circumstances better than nothing. I gazed at the picture for a moment, then returned to the loo.

A shower and shave brought me some distance toward rejoining the human race. A change of clothes took me a little further. By the time I wandered back out into the waning light of the late November afternoon, I’d reinstated the illusion that I had some vague idea what I was doing. It occurred to me that early darkness might work in my favor when it came to sitting watch over Sheila’s cozy burrow. Of course, if I hung around long enough someone, sooner or later, would wonder who I was, what I was doing. Be interesting to see how long I could forestall that.

A quick stop at a deli for a bag of chow, then back to Verbena Lane. The Swift and I passed no. 37 — no visible sign of felonious activity — exiting out at the end of the street, turning around and coming back in that way to settle into a slot in front of no. 24. A distance from both the morning’s vantage points, the opposite side of the street from no. 37. Just as darkness settled in.

The GrandAm sat in the driveway, white and sleek, reflecting light from the faux lantern by the front door. I considered getting out, strolling casually up the block to where I could take a few quick steps across the grass and see if the hood felt warm from use. I considered that for a minute. I also considered calling the cops, taking Tae Bo or moving to New Orleans and investing in unhealthy amounts of liquor, spicy food and Mardi Gras beads.

Instead I stayed put, keeping an eye on no. 37 as I ate my supper. Chicken salad with lettuce in pita bread. Cole slaw, fries, O.J. There is something nice about unwrapping a take-out meal in a car and digging into it. The feel of paper napkins, the aroma and taste of the food. An infrequent enough happening for me that I always seem to sense echoes of other front-seat picnics welling up from the memory banks. I enjoyed that until I remembered why I was there this time, after which the sandwich and fries seemed dry and tasteless. (The slaw had been tasteless to begin with.)

Two or three cars pulled into two or three driveways, a 30ish woman passed by on the far sidewalk taking a dalmatian for walkies. No one seemed to notice me. Dennis Marlowe, invisible man.

A light went on in the corner room over the driveway at no. 37, the blinds in the front and side windows brightening softly. I saw no movement or passing shadow to indicate who might be there. The chicken salad lay in my stomach, sullen and unamused.

Since seeing Colin that morning, alive and going to the store with his mom as if life were somewhat normal, I’d begun experiencing the strange, subversive feeling that maybe things weren’t really so bad. Kind of a nudging whisper suggesting I might be making more of the sitch than it deserved. That I might be the real problem. And of course a good argument could be made that as far as my life goes, I am my only real problem. Me, my choices, my judgments, my mistakes. I thought about that as I watched the gently glowing windows, coming up with nothing helpful.

It occurred to me that a serious downside to this sitting and waiting thing was the abundant time it provided to brood, something I’d always had a talent for. Not that brooding takes great bunches of talent or effort. All one needs to do is let one’s thoughts slink down avenues of resentment and self-pity, where one then settles slouchingly in and hangs out for long periods of time. It’s easy to piss away otherwise useful hours hashing over things that have gone badly, old injustices. And just as easy to conjure elaborate imaginings re: how things could go wrong up the road. An old friend of mine used to call that second bit living in the wreckage of the future. Doesn’t help anything very much, but it’s easy to learn and you can do it anywhere.

I shook my head to clear it, came back to me sitting in the car. Dump the brooding, Dennis. A nasty habit, like smoking or picking your nose. Not an indicator of vibrant emotional health.

I turned on the Swift’s radio, went up and down the dial, voices and music bleeping and yawping by, finally settled near the bottom end, a college station. Jazz. Guitar, piano, bass, drums, swinging quietly along. Fine sitting/waiting music.

I looked around at the neighborhood, all the houses with lives going on inside them, families having dinner, maybe waiting for someone to get home. Or fragmented families in the aftermath of unanticipated events, making a life with the pieces left to them, putting together spare meals of hot dogs and macaroni. And then I wondered if, in my travels around the local thoroughfares, I’d driven by the building my mother and I had lived in — something that hadn’t occurred to me, I realized, since arriving in Massapequa thirteen or so short, blissful hours ago. That stopped my breathing for a moment.

In reflecting on it, I couldn’t come up with any place I’d passed that rang a bell, though who knows, I might have been too spaced or preoccupied, or the locale might have changed beyond recognition. It had, after all, been thirty-odd years since my last glorious day in this burg.

The thought that I might be somewhere near the site of my earliest memories persisted, and the chicken salad didn’t seem to be taking it well. I cranked down the window, breathed some relatively fresh air. A chilly breeze nosed its way into the car, I cranked the window most of the way back up, reached over to the radio, boosted the volume a hair. The music had ended, the student announcer had started murmuring, but I couldn’t make out who’d performed the last cut. I hate that.

A walk would have been exactly what the sawbones ordered, but I wasn’t sure it was a good risk. If I was going to be lurking around the neighborhood much longer, it probably wouldn’t be a great idea to display myself up and down the length of the block, even if it might help settle my inner cabaret down a touch. How the hell do people do this for a living? And with that question I felt the long shadow cast by the old man.

Does everyone do some version of this, carry their family with them wherever they go? Or is it just one of the earmarks of my own personal neurosis?

Across the street from no. 37, a matron wrapped in a full-length puffy coat emerged with a teensy dog on a leash, hurrying to a foreign-made SUV parked in the street. The dog: one of those tiny breeds that look like the business end of a mop, only with ears and legs. Little bitty legs in this case, that needed to move at a tremendous, calorie-burning rate to keep up with its outsized person. (Every one of those critters that I’ve ever seen has worn an expression of embarrassment, as if aware of what they look like.) The woman opened the driver’s door, lifted the dog up and dropped it onto the seat. It turned around, looked at her, she said something, making a shoo motion with a hand. It disappeared, the woman got in, pulling the door shut. Headlights came on, the SUV pulled out and took off, disappearing down the block away from me and out of view. When I looked back at number 37, I saw that the corner windows had gone dark. Hrm.

That roused me, don’t ask me why. Shutting off the radio, I pulled myself carefully out of the Swift, closing the door with a quiet click. For a moment I stood motionless by the car, then moved silently along the sidewalk, doing my best to make like a homie from the ‘hood out for an evening stroll. Casual. No one seemed to be giving me the laser eye from nearby houses. I ambled up the block until I stood opposite no. 37. Stopped, looked around, breathing in the night air, innocent as can be.

Number 37 betrayed no secrets. No muffled sounds of child abuse, no frightened screams from son or mother. No nothing. Just a house in the ‘burbs — some windows lit, little amber front stoop lantern shining away, no different from any other residence along the street.

I continued quietly on, crossing the street halfway up the block and starting back. Yes, it occurred to me that walking right by the house was risky and not terribly bright. I did it anyway, hunching my shoulders, collar up around my neck, moving right along. Nothing happened, no one burst out, panicked, enraged or seeking rescue. A breeze rustled shrubs and tree branches. I continued along, moving past my rented mobile lurking enclosure and well down the block before slowing up to figure what came next.

Didn’t people in movies usually have sidekicks for activities like this? Another body to trade shifts with, another personality sharp enough to ensure the endeavor wouldn’t end up completely adrift? With only myself to count on, I wasn’t sure how long I could keep from doing something terminally stupid.

The sound of a door closing somewhere down the block behind me caught my attention, I glanced around. A figure appeared, moving down a walkway, far enough away that I couldn’t make out for sure which house it came from. An adult male, far as I could tell from its dark form, though I couldn’t have sworn to it. Definitely not my ex, unless she’d experienced drastic hair loss since that morning. Went directly to the GrandAm, opened the door, got in. I heard the distant sound of the engine firing up, then the lights flashed on, the car shifted into motion, backing out into the street so that the headlights swung around in my direction. I turned and continued on along the sidewalk as I’d been, slowing under a tree for cover, my face averted, as the car glided by, turned left up ahead and slipped out of view.

Gerry has left the building.

I swore at myself. If I’d been planted in my lurking enclosure like I should have been, I would have gotten a decent look at the guy Sheila had taken refuge with.

Fuming, I made a beeline back to the Swift, glancing around for any sign of being observed. Nothing. So far.

Back inside, the small white characters of the Swift’s clock read 7:40.

7:40. I hadn’t noticed exactly when I arrived, but at a minimum it had been in the neighborhood of 5:40. Two hours earlier. Two hours of driving myself quietly wacko. Dear God, with how many more to endure?

Come on now, I thought, settle down. Remember why you’re here. I took a deep breath and did so, my eyes on number 37, sitting stolid and impassive in the November chill, driveway now empty. Somewhere up the block behind me a dog barked, once, then once more. Everyone wants to be heard now and then.

My brain can be a problem. If I thought only half as much as I do, I’d probably get twice as much done and be far happier. As would those who have to deal with me.

It’s not as if I haven’t investigated disciplines that soothe the mind. I have. There just always seems to be something about the experience that doesn’t work for me. Or I find myself growing unaccountably antsy, dissatisfied.

But here, sitting alone in my rented Swift with plenty o’ time on my hands and nothing to do but fiddle with the radio, I decided sitting quietly for a while couldn’t hurt. Especially when the alternative seemed to be a growing inability to keep myself from cretinous behavior. Just sitting, following my breath as it passed in and out, hoping it wouldn’t make that annoying little whistling noise it sometimes does, a sound I associate with 80-year-old men with big floppy earlobes and hair sprouting from unnerving locations.

I shut my eyes and breathed, thoughts and images flowing through my head. Sheila, Colin, difficult years. Noticed where that was going, turned my attention back to my breathing. A car went by, my eyes opened to watch its taillights recede up the street. I tried adjusting my body. The Swift clearly had not been designed by anyone familiar with normal posture. Still had that new car smell, though. Which, when I thought about it, was not something I found hugely appealing. The aroma of new plastic and other synthetics. Mmmm.

Breathe, Dennis. In — nice and deep — and out. In, out. In, out. How do people do this without getting aroused from all the in/out? My thoughts turned to some carnal escapades from early in my time with Sheila until I remembered I was trying to calm my system, not heat it up. Took a deep breath, shut my eyes again, exhaled. Easy, nice. Much better.

I remembered the last time I’d tried meditating in any serious way, about ten years earlier. Heard about a center not far away that dealt in an Eastern religion, went over to check it out. When I got there, I found a big old domed building, impressive in an odd, affectingly antebellum way, with an air of grandeur slowly sliding into disrepair. Almost as if a conscious comment were being made about the unimportance of material trappings.

For a few weeks I went to meditation groups there, once or twice I went to their version of religious instruction. I wanted it to fit, I really did, but I just couldn’t work up the kind of eagerness and zeal the other aspirants exhibited. Whenever I find myself in a spiritual arena where someone begins laying out their version of HOW IT ALL IS, I start to drift away. As soon as I think I’m hearing some variation of We’ve got the inside track, it’s just a matter of time before I’m out of there.

In this case, I bailed after a holy guy did a weekend gig at the center, one of the mucky-mucks from somewhere back in Asia. A great teacher, looked up to by the people at this place with love and reverence. He showed up, we all gathered in the large room beneath the dome — a nice space, sizeable and airy, late-afternoon sunlight slanting in through tall windows — the talk began. Turned out he’d been drinking. And continued drinking, wine of some sort. He got sloppier as the event progressed, his attitude becoming bizarrely expansive and grandiose.

What do I know about spiritual wisdom and the forms it can take? Could be this guy was a legitimate avatar, deliberately carrying on to challenge or provoke. Behaving outrageously to shake us into fresh awareness in the present moment. It could be. I, however, didn’t hang around to find out.

I closed my eyes again, there on my vigil in the Swift, and breathed for a moment. Seemed to be getting easier. Except that any heat left in the car had seeped off into the November night some time earlier, and sitting quietly brought me to greater awareness of the fact that I was spending my evening in what may as well have been a four-wheeled icebox. Given that I didn’t want to draw attention, turning the motor over to refresh the heat would probably not be very smart, and since I hadn’t thought to pack thermal underthingies, all my body could do to take care of itself was shiver. Do people who do this kind of work for a living suffer like this? Probably not. They probably plan ahead, buy warm clothes and blankets, take them as tax deductions.

Distract yourself, Dennis. Jiggling in my seat from the cold, my hands pressed between my legs for warmth, I peered up through the windshield at the evening sky. A meager scattering of stars shone with chilly light. Not much to see, just like Cambridge. What happened to the crowded night skies I remembered from childhood? Washed away by the lights of our modern, overcrowded world. Or driven elsewhere by wildly escalating rent.

I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so inescapably at loose ends, apart from any number of moments during the previous two or three days. Back home I could take a walk, go to a movie, grab something to eat — any number of things. Here, my only available options were staring around the neighborhood and stewing or filling the time with random stabs at self-improvement.

I noticed the restless blue glow of televisions radiating softly from front windows of nearby houses. Oh, to be curled up in front of the tube like a good American. That’s probably where Colin was. Though you never knew. Sometimes he had no interest in TV at all. Sometimes he’d rather draw or play a board game. Or get me to read to him. He’d decided he really liked Tigger and the gang, so we were well into the doings at Pooh Corner. My progeny seemed determined to reproduce one of the original drawings of Eeyore, but so far all his attempts looked like a stick figure of a person with donkey ears and a snout, doubled spastically over in pain. Regardless, they wind up on his bedroom door and my refrigerator. If he keeps at it, he’s bound to come up with something decent. At that point, I’ll start framing them and they’ll show up everywhere in the apartment, covering all available wall space until I have to rent additional quarters.

What would he be watching right now? Tuesday night. Probably some benign, half-lame sitcom. Maybe Gerry had cable and Colin was developing an addiction to channel after channel of dreck. Unless maybe Sheila was reading to him, trying to generate a feeling of normalcy. Maybe they were playing a board game or crazy eights followed by a wicked bout of 52 pick-up.

At four and a half, he was not yet up for games of any real complexity, though it was fun to watch him try, the way his little features settled into a serious expression as he concentrated. Sometimes I study him when he’s focused like that, feeling a little awe at the depth of the works spinning away in there. Then he’ll do something like knock a bowl of oatmeal all over my lap and completely kill the moment.

The light in the corner room over the driveway went on again at no. 37. This time I thought I could see evidence of motion inside, a faint passing shadow on the blinds. Otherwise nothing. No one pulling the slats apart to stare out at me, no one taping a big HELP sign to the window.

More jiggling to get the blood moving in the cold dark of the Swift, hoping to God no one had a videocam trained on me. I could picture the headlines: “Man Filmed Apparently Masturbating Before Freezing Solid In Suburban Night.” Would give the term ‘death from exposure’ a whole new meaning.

The clock read 8:02, I gritted my teeth from cold and angst.

Half an hour later, I still shivered though not as much, having achieved a measure of frosty tranquility through more deep breathing. Eyes closed, I ventilated through my nostrils, exchanging cold air for warm, breathing from the diaphragm, just following the in and out of the breath with my attention. After two or three cars had gone by, I’d stopped opening my eyes, determined to maintain concentration, and found myself gradually sinking to a fairly deep state, deep enough that my muscles began to let go and relax, my system slowly calming down. At some point, the solid slam of a car door closing brought my eyes open a bit. I saw a substantial shape mounting the walkway steps at no. 37, then up the stoop to the porch, opening the screen door, then the inner door before stepping inside. A rectangle of light briefly glimmered before the door closed, its noise solidly distinct, and the street lay momentarily quiet until the muffled howl of a high-horsepower car accelerating on a nearby thoroughfare punctured the silence.

Blinking, I saw no car in the driveway, then spotted the GrandAm at the curb in front of the house. I hadn’t even heard it before the sound of the door brought me to. Couldn’t make up my mind if that was good or bad, then switched to considering the figure I’d seen. Gerry, apparently. Big. Tall and wide, in a dark leather coat. Appeared to have curly hair. That’s all I could say for sure about him.

The inside surface of the Swift’s windows had begun to collect a ghosting of mist, I wiped most of the windshield clear with my sleeve, my motions energized with a sprouting sense of self-disgust. You know, I thought impatiently, you would have gotten a better look at the Incredible Hulk there if you’d been paying attention, if your fucking eyes had been open. I took the criticism silently, clearing away moisture from the windows on either side of the front seat.

My less than stellar job of surveillance aside, the giant I’d just seen had gone home to my ex and my little boy while I sat out in the cold, alone. I didn’t care for the thought of that. I found I also didn’t care for myself very much right then. And as my thoughts roiled darkly, I found I didn’t care for much of anything that came to mind. Except the idea of getting my boy back. That appealed in a bitter way, and the bitterness seemed to bring bleak hope, the angry hope of the disenfranchised for blunt justice.

I sat in the deepening suburban night, eyes on the house that held my son, nursing bad-tempered thoughts and eking out what thin shavings of satisfaction I could manage from that as fuel for the coming hours.

And I waited.

[See entries of 5/24/02, 8/13/02, 8/22/02 and 12/28/02 for further excerpts, or use the links located in this page's right-hand column.]

The rain stopped sometime last night. (I refer to the rain that began sometime Monday night, contining off and on since then — mostly on, mostly torrential.) The sun came out this morning, playing hide and seek with plentiful clouds until early afternoon, when late spring/early summer suddenly recommenced. It’s beautiful here when it rains, in a primeval way. Low dark clouds sweep across the sky, swinging slowly between the mountains. White mist rises up from hollows, gradually dispersing. When the rain gives way and blue skies reappear, it’s a whole different thing. Birds and butterflies abound. Wildflowers poke themselves up everywhere. Crickets sing. Happier, much more fun.

The rain is fine –- this area suffered a drought, beginning last summer, lasting until late in the year, the ground has needed the water. Lots of folks’ wells ran dry during those months — something that also happened the summer I bought this place, three years ago — and they’re still spooked. I’ve noticed, however, that they’re beginning to bitch about the weather when rain arrives — they must be getting over it.

Monday morning, shortly after I dragged myself out of bed, the phone rang. Turned out to be one of my neighbors, a bright woman named Charlotte, the wife of a couple that live at the end of the road that passes this house and runs around the rim of the hill. Her 14-year-old son had a Spanish final the following day, she wanted to know if there was any chance he could come over and get a little help from me. (Having lived in Madrid for most of the last two years, I’ve now become the local Spanish expert -– HAR! If only they could hear me trying to hold my own in conversation with native Spanish speakers.) This did not arise out of the blue. A couple of days previous, when I’d been out working on the section of the lawn that abuts the road, she pulled over for a chat, the subject of her son’s Spanish had come up. During this last year, he’d written to me in Madrid asking if I could give him any info. re: Madrid/Spain that he could use in a presentation in his class. I wrote back with a few things, mostly referring him to this journal and to other, more respectable sources of reference. Somewhere in there he found out from me that the Spanish word for snot is “moco,” which apparently made a lasting impression.

Long story short, we said he could show up from 5 to 6 p.m. on Monday. He did, shlepping a backpack packed with books and a paper plate of sweets his mother had baked. We sat down, he pulled out his Spanish textbook, began working on the sweets, and what most struck me during the following 50 or so minutes was how much he reminded me of myself at that age. A bit shy, a bit plump, bright but disorganized. A good kid, right in the middle of his teenage years, morphing slowly in the direction of some adult version of the personality that sat at my dining room table.

His notes were pretty much in a state of chaos, some stuffed haphazardly between pages in the textbook, others hanging out of his notebook. As far as I could tell, he was exactly the same kind of student I was when I endured Spanish classes during 7th and 8th grade, not learning a whole lot, with little real interest in the language and little idea how to study.

I asked him what he needed to know for the exam, turned out his teacher had told them exactly what material the text would cover. Some basic vocabulary, the differences between the verbs ser and estar, some other verbs and their conjugations. Numbers between 1 and 100, some vocabulary having to do with the weather. (¿Qué es el tiempo hoy? ¡Hace sol hoy!) Nothing profound. I defined a few words for him, drilled him on a couple of things. Mostly, I let him know that what he needed to do was organize -– locate the small amount of material he needed for the test, write it out and take a little time to go over it, memorize what he wasn’t sure of. I basically did what someone should done for me when I was that age: provide a vague idea of how to study (something not really learned until after college). I must have studied in my teenage and undergrad. years, though I have no memory of doing so. I mostly coasted, I think, unless a subject really motivated me, in which case I poured time and energy into it, but without a model to work from. I made it up as I went along, my grades improving as I did.

I have no memory of anyone actually giving me some idea of how to study. But maybe no one got taught how to study. Maybe we all had to figure it out for ourselves.

Regardless, he got something like a 93 on the exam. Way to go, John!

~~~~~~~~~~~~

This last Saturday the Strolling of the Heifers took place down in Brattleboro, the largest town in southeast Vermont. The following is an excerpt of an Associated Press article from Monday’s edition of The Boston Globe entitled “Brattleboro milks parade for all its worth”:

“BRATTLEBORO – The Strolling of the Heifers came off with nary a moo out of place and organizers are thrilled with the publicity bonanza it provided for the town and the state’s agricultural heritage.

“That’s why a half-dozen state officeholders, a New York City firefighter, the ‘dairy godmother,’ and the local American Legion band marched on Saturday alongside heifers led by students and farmers.”

[snip]

“Marchers drew hearty applause, especially for a rear guard armed with shovels.”

Vermont. There’s nowhere quite like it.

The nonsense continues:

10 CREATIVE WAYS TO ORDER PIZZA BY PHONE

– Ask to have your pizza “shaken, not stirred.”
– Have a sitar playing in the background.
– Ask them to double-check to make sure your pizza is, in fact, dead.
– When listing toppings you want on your pizza, include another pizza.
– Quote Gandhi.
– Wonder aloud if you should trim those nose hairs.
– Ask if the pizza has had its shots.
– Tell them you want 52 pepperoni slices prepared in a fractal pattern from an equation you’ll dictate to them. Ask if they need paper.
– When the order is repeated, change it slightly. When it is repeated again, change it again. On the third time, say, “You just don’t get it, do you?”
– Offer to pay for the pizza with a public flogging.

So here’s the truth: I’m posting the kind of nonsense I’ve been posting lately — e-mail entertainment, all that — because I don’t know how to write about what’s truly going on with me. I mean, I can scribble (or type) about being up here in the mountains, and about seemingly-eternal winter, dandelions, blah-dee-blah-dee — and I do — but it’s just a way of filling up the online equivalent of column inches. After a certain point, it becomes empty, superficial verbiage. The true activity in this life of mine right now is mostly internal, and I don’t yet know how to lay that out here. (Not that anyone’s asking me to.) At least not yet.

I’m a lousy correspondent right now — both here and in the e-mail universe — because I’m genuinely preoccupied. Not a state I’m crazy about. Friends who write often don’t hear back from me until days or weeks have slid by. More than one have simply not heard back from me yet (for which I grovel with apology). It’s just the way it is, and I’m not fighting it or giving myself a hard time about it. It’ll pass.

Enough about this. I’m heading to bed.

Be well.

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