far too much writing, far too many photos

[Continued from last entry]

As I headed down Mass. Ave, approaching Haskell Street, I could feel something internal cranking up, an anticipation of some kind, mostly having to do, I think, with deeply mixed feelings re: moving my life up to northern Vermont at the end of this last year. I’ve been down this way two other times in the last four months, both times coming into Cambridge via the same route, both times feeling that sense of anticipation on approaching Haskell. On those occasions, I felt a pang of something on actually passing the street — regret, longing, melancholy. Nearly 20 years of this life passed during my time in Cambridge, enough time to cover several different lifetimes, accumulating history, experiences, good memories. This time on driving by, turning a quick glance down the street’s orderly progression of older houses and tree-shaded sidewalks, the anticipation evaporated, sans melancholy, etc. Life’s moved along. The passing days feel great, the coming days hold the promise of more of the same.

From that point on, Mass. Ave. becomes more urban, heading into Porter Square, one of the city’s main points of transit, stores and restaurants, with a resulting concentration of people and traffic.

The apartment I’m staying in is on Arlington Street, on the southern outskirts of Porter Square. A lovely, comfortable, old-time city apartment in a large, old-time city apartment building, a long brick structure of several stories, long enough that it has two front courtyards, each with an entrance to the building. A kind of edifice I remember from visits to relatives in New York City during my childhood years — gracious, well-built. A kind of place I wouldn’t mind living in.

So. Yesterday morning, I had to get up early to bring my car in for maintenance. I awoke with part of a David Bowie song going through my head, a verse of “Moonage Daydream” from the Ziggy Stardust album, repeating itself over and over:

Keep your ‘lectric eye on me, babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!

(Lyrics by David Bowie)

Where did it come from? Why that song, that verse? Who the hell knows?

I drag myself in and out of the shower, I do the shaving bit, pull on some clothes, go out into the morning (blinking with bleariness), find my car — all the time with Ziggy zipping through my head. I turn on the radio, find WMBR, the M.I.T. student radio station. A song by a band I’m not familiar with is playing, the Bowie fragment in my head gets replaced with:

I don’t get no satisfaction,
All I want is easy action,
Yeah!
Hey, hey, hey!

I drop the car off (Yeah!), take a long walk from the Arlington-Somerville line into Davis Square, passing stores and restaurants like:

Divine Signs
Complex Hair Design
Yum Yum — Chinese Cuisine
Skin Skedaddle — Skincare Clinic

(Hey, hey, hey!)

According to dictionary.com, BTW, the definition of the word ’skedaddle’ is To leave hastily; flee. Would anyone actually trust the care of their skin to an outfit whose name is synonymous with ’skin leave hastily’?

The day begins gray, I go to lunch with a friend down by the waterfront in Boston. I leave there, the sky suddenly clears, the hours pass.

Last night, my friend Woody and I decided to go over to East Cambridge, another working-class section of the city, this one settled by Portuguese. Cambridge Street, the main drag that runs from west to east through the district, features many Portuguese restaurants and bakeries, neither Woody nor myself had ever been to any of them. I lived here nearly 20 years; Woody was born in Cambridge. This shameful gap in our local experience needed to be rectified.

We find a likely-looking place, we sit down, they immediately bring us plates of black olives, feta cheese, bread, other finger food. Three acoustic guitarists play Portuguese numbers. The waitresses are from Brazil and Portugal, all looking like the kind of woman I got used to in Madrid. The woman waiting on us brings me a bottle of Portuguese beer, a good lager, clearly a first cousin to the Spanish beers I became accustomed to having with dinner in Madrid. Two huge salads arrive, followed by large platters of pork, potatos, vegetables. I’m eating, I’m watching the activity around the restaurant, I’m listening to the Portuguese being spoken by various diners. I’m thinking, damn, I’m back on the Iberian peninsula — no wonder it all feels so good. Woody let me talk about Madrid some, something that — surprisingly, to me anyway — most people here don’t seem to want to hear much of. I’m thinking I’ll be heading back to that amazing city come November or December, I’ll stay for a while, as long as I can manage. That’s what I’m thinking now, anyway. We’ll see what happens as the coming weeks unfold.

Today I’m off to spend the afternoon and evening with friends, one of them a smart, wacky, rebellious character who’s fun to hang with. I may not be back online again ’til I’m back in northern Vermont, tomorrow night or Monday. Or whenever.

Yesterday: I made the drive south to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I’m staying in the home of friends who are in Provincetown for a couple of weeks. (Yes, they know I’m here. I even have keys, so that I didn’t have to crawl in through the laundry room window. A good thing, as that room has no window.) Also staying here: another friend, him occupying the more responsible position of housesitter. So here we are, two males squatting in the lovely home of two absent females (no, we’re not snooping through their belongings or going through their underwear), having a kind of small-scale, grown-up pajama party. Except I don’t wear pajamas. And we’re not jumping up and down on the beds or gossiping about anyone or staying up to all hours carrying on in coltish, carefree ways. After I arrived, we went down Mass. Ave. Boca Grande, where we pigged out on piles of decent, cheap Mexican chow and blabbed about life for an hour or two.

But I get ahead of myself. (Cen one actually do that without rupturing the laws of physics?)

Rain came down in northern Vermont yesterday, a gentle, steady watering of thirsty land that intensified as I headed south. By the time I-89 crossed into New Hampshire, the weather had gotten more serious. By the time I reached Manchester, it had morphed into something wild, the sky opening up, sheets of rain whipping down as I approached Boston, wiping out visibility, forcing traffic on the Interstate to slow down. When I exited the highway, it finally began to let up.

Getting to Cambridge from I-89 takes me along several miles of surface roads, first through Medford (local pronunciation: MEH-fuh), then Somerville (local pronunciation: SUM-uh-vul) and finally Cambridge’s northern edge where I turn on to Massachusetts Avenue (local name: Mass. Ave.) and head south toward Porter Square.

It’s a strange area, that part of North Cambridge. Once extremely working class, now in transition, the buildings along Mass. Ave. mostly old and tired-looking, the stores and restaurants mostly less than attractive. Billboards, concrete, not many trees. Power lines for the trolleys that run to and from Harvard Square run above the road, ending at a large town lot where the trolleys get parked and repaired. Kind of a bleak-looking area, to my eyes. Few of the buildings stand more than one or two stories tall until a mile or so along where a large Catholic church thrusts itself up. A big structure, with bells (or an amplified recording of bells) that rings on the hour and half-hour — dark tan, kind of blockish yet with an element of something Moorish in its design. All of which gives it the look of a huge mausoleum.

Beyond the Church is a small row of stores. Immediately beyond them lies Haskell Street, location of my final Cambridge address. Across from that is the Pemberton Garden Center, a long splash of green during the warm season, and Kate’s Mystery Books, a Cambridge landmark — an old Victorian house turned into a book shop that deals only in mysteries, new and used. Some of the windows are painted over with silhouettes of figures in attitudes suitable to mysteries, the front yard is planted profusely with flowers and greenery, just shaggy and wild enough to suggest gentility gone to slightly troubling seed. The bookstore itself occupies most of the first floor and consists almost entirely of floor to ceiling books in lovely old dark-wood shelves. The first time I wandered in, I found it disorienting, unable to put my finger on why until I realized there was no visible office or access to an office. Just books and a small desk where someone sat and did the money thing. Then a section of shelves to the rear of the store swung open and I spotted the office back there. Through a secret passageway — how cool is that?

But I blabber.

[continued in next entry]

This evening, almost exactly 48 hours after finding myself in attendance for an increasingly heated political, er, discussion [see yesterday’s entry], I went to an event in support of one of the candidates who were the subject of the discussion. Not for the politics, though, I’m afraid. I went because one of my neighbors was doing a reading at the event.

The happening took place in Plainfield, the next town over, in the Town Hall, an understated building situated on Route 2 with the words “Town Hall” emblazoned over the front doors.

Though Plainfield covers a fair amount of real estate, the village itself is modest, much of it spread along Route 2. A small river also slices through the village, parallel to Route 2, pooling up behind a dam of sorts with a small spillway off to one end that permits a stream of water to fall to the rocks below and meander away. The single well-known feature of the town is Goddard College, a small, free-spirited institution that’s had an impact way out of proportion with its size and lifespan. An institution that’s recently run into hard financial times, has been preparing to close down this autumn, though efforts were still underway in these last months to raise the millions needed to remain in operation. A few days back someone told me that a corner had been turned, that some higher officials were being replaced for paying excessive attention to lining their pockets instead of to keeping the school viable and that the college may actually remain open, but that may be only hearsay.

The reading took place in the Town Hall auditorium. The auditorium, as in town halls found in many New England villages, occupies the second floor of the building, looking like an elementary school auditorium. Stairs rise from the first floor to the second on the room’s street side, a small proscenium stage faces the space from the opposite side. The stage curtains were closed, folding chairs had been set up in vague approximations of rows. An armchair and a lit floor lamp sat together on the floor in front of the stage.

When enough people had assembled to constitute a decent showing, my neighbor sat himself in the armchair, spoke briefly in appreciation of the candidate, then read a chapter from a work in progress. It seemed clear that it was a piece in progress — meaning not polished — but it was involved, with emotional depths, comic touches and situations complex enough to be satisfying. Complex enough to have me wanting more when the reading stopped.

It’s a teeny state, Vermont, just a little bitty place squeezed between northern N.Y., western Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Quebec. Population: 600,000. Burlington, the largest city, sports a population of around 60 thou. Really, just a speck on the map compared with most other states. I don’t know if it’s because there actually are herds of writers tucked away out in the hills or if it’s because the population is so small and the writers maintain a high enough profile that simply seem overabundant, but they do seem to be present in high numbers. An inordinately large amount of writing gets done up here, maybe ’cause there isn’t much else to do during long stretches of dark, gray, wintry months. And lots of people read and show up at readings. A nice part of the Vermont picture, that.

My neighbor read for 45 minutes, after which the candidate spoke briefly. And then I was out of there. And when I stepped outside and looked along Route 2 to the west, a band of faint yellow still held above the horizon, bleeding upward into a stretch of melancholy blue which quickly gave way to black. When I got out of the car back here, a sky full of stars shone above, the night air had a chilly edge.

August is rolling downhill to September. It’s been dry enough here that in some places leaves are already beginning to turn. How the hell did the summer weeks flash by the way they have?

Oh, never mind.

At the pot luck, two nights ago: once we’d made it through the foreplay (conversation, badminton, croquet, admiring sunset) to the main event (dinner!), a group of attendees drifted to a picnic table maybe 150 feet from the house, the rest went inside, hovering around the kitchen/dining area. After hanging about the kitchen, I noticed the group at the picnic table, J. and I went out to join them. They were deep into conversation about local politics, an exchange that seemed to be heating up. And though they were all good folks, darker, angrier aspects of their personalities seemed to emerge as they talked, the vibe slipping from that of a late summer’s eve dinner party into something nastier, more rancorous.

The debate concerned a race for a seat in the Vermont House of Representatives — a race in which apparently no Republican is running, so that it’s become a battle between a Democrat and a Democrat who has suddenly declared himself an independent. Two people at the table were intensely, vociferously opposed to the independent candidate, one expressing it insistently, the other chiming in now and then in a slightly more refined manner. The others didn’t agree, disagreement which began mildly, growing gradually less diplomatic, more forthright, more of a match to the tone being set by the other two.

As the exchange progressed, the table came under siege from the insect world, particularly the local contingent of no-see-ums, who must not have eaten in centuries and were apparently spreading the word that fresh meat — fresh, noisy meat — had arrived.

So I’m trying to eat a nice dinner, political bile and microscopic bloodsuckers filling the air around me. Until at some point I realized I was being eaten alive. The speed at which I shoveled food into my mouth increased, the idea being to finish up before fleeing back to the house so I didn’t seem unfriendly or boorish to the other attendees (who took no notice of me at all since I’d contributed nothing to the debate), while at the same time I flailed at the host of flying creatures that had begun removing bits of flesh from the exposed parts of my body, until I was putting on an amazing display of high speed food hoovering and self-flagellation. And either no one else was being molested by ravenous bloodsuckers or they were so absorbed in political brawling that the wholesale siphoning of blood from their bodies simply didn’t register with their sensory mechanisms, because I seemed to be the only one going a bit wild in a nonverbal way.

Finally, meal finished, I rose from the table murmuring pardon-me’s and retreated to the house, J. fleeing with me. The folk in the kitchen showed no surprise that the air outside had been fouled with political matters, though they seemed surprised to hear about the invasion of bloodsuckers. The woman of the house ran outside with citronella candles while I remained safely in the kitchen, shoveling down samples of various desserts.

Politics and political conversations -– as Jack Nicholson once said, I’d rather put needles in my eyes.

A brief assessment of some major print outlets, sent by a friend in the Boston area — I have no comment, preferring simply to inflict it on you:

1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.
2. The New York Times is read by people who think they run the country.
3. The Washington Post is read by people who think they ought to run the country.
4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don’t understand the Washington Post.
5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn’t mind running the country if they could spare the time.
6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country.
7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren’t too sure who’s running the country.
8. The New York Post is read by people who don’t care who’s running the country as long as they do something scandalous.
9. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren’t sure there is a country or that anyone is running it.
10. The Miami Herald is read by people who want to run another country.

*************

At the potluck here on the hill last night: I told a neighbor about the occasional strange happenings that take place here in the house [see entry of August 14], he mentioned that he had seen several examples of what was called a “ghost clause” (and sometimes a no-ghost clause) — clauses included in Purchase and Sale agreements of house sales which stated a) that the house being purchased was not haunted, b) that should the house turn out to be haunted, the seller would have to prove he/she had no knowledge of that when they entered into the agreement with the buyer, and c) should the seller be unable to prove that they had no knowledge of said haunting, they would have to pay the buyer the full amount of the purchase price. (I assume that meant the house would also be returned to the seller, ghost and all.) According to my neighbor, ghost clauses were a common element of purchase and sales agreements drawn up in earlier times here in New England, as recently as the mid-1800s. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that ghosts or hauntings were widespread. It may indicate more about beliefs, attitudes, superstititions, fears and, by extension, the religious atmosphere of the time more than anything else. We’re talking, after all, about the region that produced the Salem witch trials.

The family of this same neighbor had a cat which disappeared about three weeks ago. Another neighbor, Maurice (pronounced Morris) — 80+ years old and a tough old coot — mentioned that he saw a fisher cat around recently. They’re ferocious predators, fisher cats, and when they appear, small domestic animals have a tendency to disappear. We sometimes forget that we’re living in fairly wild country out here, where encounters with foxes, coyotes, deer, moose and bear don’t come as a big surprise.

After a gray, cool start, today turned out to be yet another spectacularly beautiful day. No humidity at all, temperatures in the 70s, clouds and sun trading off. Wildflowers are everywhere, the crickets and their brethren have been singing around the clock. They’re out there in the cool night air right now, still at it.

I have the feeling this is going to be an excellent night for sleep. Time to go enjoy it.

During the invasion by my best friend’s clan earlier this week, I noticed that the bathtub seemed to have trouble draining. Suddenly, with no warning, having been fine immediately prior to their visit. Yesterday I step in the shower, turn on the water, discover that it had become completely plugged up. I pull out a plunger, get to work on it — no results. I finally call a plumber that Kit, the woman who housesat here last year, knew — no one’s there, I leave a message, wondering if I’ll ever hear back from the guy. I not only hear from him a couple of hours later, he suggests that I try the plunging routine again after I stuff some rags into the overflow slit in the bathtub, thinking I may be able to build up more pressure that way. It works. He offers me employment. I refuse, thanking him, then ask if he knows an electrician so I can get some work done that’s been on a backburner for months and months. He immediately gives me a name. Man, that was easy.

This morning my eyes opened early, something that’s been happening a lot lately. Early enough that it’s just getting light, the birds just beginning to shout back and forth. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be unconscious at that hour, so I remain in bed, drifting in and out but not truly asleep. Around 7 a.m. I give up, haul my carcass out from under the sheets. I shuffle into the kitchen/dining area where I see a good-sized doe out in the yard between the barn and the house. Deer have done far too much dining on plants of mine this summer, in particular tomato plants and sunflowers planted near the house. The tomato plants are just now coming back from having been a critter’s snackfood producing brand new, tender, bright green foliage and blossoms, so I decide to discourage the doe from coming any closer to the house/plants. I knock on the window, she starts a bit, looking in this direction but not taking off. I go to the kitchen door, open it, swing the storm door open — the doe gathers itself, bolting out of the yard and down the hill in huge, bounding leaps. There are muscles under that fur, and when they’re in use, those animals can cover some ground, powerfully, gracefully.

Shortly after that, I’m sitting here at the dining room table working at the computer. I notice something out of the corner of my eye, also in the yard between the house and barn. I look over, I see a thick cloud of smoke, apparently coming from the house, from maybe 20 feet further along, toward the far end of the structure. I jump up, run through the kitchen, pull open the door, lean outside — turns out the boiler had come on, sending a mass of smoke out the vent as the boiler’s cycle got underway. Why? Good question. A week and a half ago a character from the oil company showed up and did the annual maintenance [see journal entry for August 15]. Everything with the boiler should be A-OK. No sign of trouble since then. No sign of trouble before then either. Just like the tub.

Hmmm.

It’s been cool here during the last 48 hours, feeling distinctly autumnlike. The sun’s going down earlier, coming up later, the August days sliding more and more rapidly toward September. I went to a potluck tonight up here on the hill, accompanied by J. People were dressed for autumn, a lot of the food seemed to be autumn food — not that I have anything against turkey and cranberry sauce. I love turkey and cranberry sauce. It just feels like someone’s jumping the gun. Autumn will get here quickly enough without us pushing it along.

I found myself talking about Madrid a lot at the potluck, feeling a kind of melancholy that I hope did not seep into my voice. I think about that part of the world, dream about it. I want to go back.

In the meantime, life continues here.

Excerpt #4 from a novel in progress (© 2002, 2005 by runswithscissors):

We arrived in Oberlin the next afternoon around 12:30, exiting a four-lane highway onto a two-lane that gave out onto local roads. Thin sunlight shone through high clouds as we drove into town; faint, slanting shadows from telephone poles and bare trees flickered across the windshield.

Faded green lawns. Houses, some older and gracious, some suburban, nondescript. Yards mostly raked clean, with leaves clustered under bushes and shrubbery. Some apartment buildings.

A small Ohio town.

We knew we’d reached Oberlin center when the park appeared ahead to our left, the kind of oversized town square that would be called a common back in Massachusetts — a few acres of grass, tall old trees, memorial statues, complete with gazebo/bandstand. Nice. Quaint.

Instead of turning left where Edith Ohls said the Inn would be, we continued on ahead and did a circuit around the park, past grand old buildings and large new ones, all apparently part of the college, past stores on the south side, finally arriving at the Inn. The Swift found its way into the small front parking lot and into a space. “We’re here,” I said, killing the engine.

“Thank God,” said my boy, sounding like one whose patience with life had grown prematurely thin. I looked back at him, saw a face wreathed with lines of unhappiness.

We’d gotten up and out in time to have a truck-stop breakfast at exactly the hour everyone else wanted to eat. Colin quickly burned out on peoplewatching — by the time our food materialized he’d become cranky and taciturn.

On the way back to the car I considered calling Steve again or trying my place to see who picked up, but Colin’s mood had remained dark enough that hitting the road seemed like a better idea. Oberlin would have telephones, Colin might be happier by that time. I could call then.

Before long we’d crossed from Pennsylvania into Ohio, where highway signs bore names like Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland. I played with the radio for a while, finding nothing of interest until a weather announcer started talking about the lake effect and possible flurries.

“What’s the lake ‘feck?” Colin asked.

“I think it means they get more snow and rain than they would otherwise because of all the moisture that comes off the lake.”

“What lake?” he said, looking around, sounding genuinely puzzled.

That stopped me. Lake Huron? Lake Ontario? Shit. There are five Great Lakes, right? Or is that the finger lakes? “Ehh, er, ahm,” I hemmed, “I’m not sure. The lake. Lake Erie maybe.” We’d just made it through Pennsylvania, I was pretty sure we’d passed highway signs mentioning Erie, Pennsylvania.

This is why I’d be roadkill on a game show. Ask me a question like Colin’s when you actually want the answer, my faculties seize up, squeezing out the informational equivalent of pocket lint and sawdust. But try to get me to quiet down when you’d like some blessed peace, that’s when the useless information gushes forth.

Oddly enough, snow began falling lightly right then, descending in sparse swirls, swept before a breeze. “Is that the lake ‘feck?” Colin asked.

“Could be,” I answered, masterfully vague.

“But it did this yesterday. Were we near a lake then?”

“Well, we were in the mountains yesterday. The air’s colder when you’re up in elevation.”

“Is the air colder near the lake?”

“Maybe. Lots of moisture, lots of wind. And it’s further north.”

“Uh-huh.” He stared out at the late autumn display, having gotten nothing of substance from me, his attention drifting somewhere internal and sad.

“Hey,” I said gently, “what’s going on, buddy?”

“Nothing.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.” He showed no annoyance at my questions, also showed no pleasure or appreciation. Didn’t show much of anything. How the hell do I get on the short list for Father of the Year when I’m half the reason my son’s life is in a sinkhole?

We drove in silence after that, getting off the interstate southwest of Cleveland to head south. Sunlight broke through clouds, the sky showing patches of pale blue as the flurries tailed off.

After climbing out of the car in Oberlin, we stood for a moment, me scoping out the environs. A breeze blew, cold and disrespectful, riffling hair, making Colin fidget.

“Let’s go, Dad,” he mumbled.

I put a hand to his back and gently drew him along with me, moving toward the Inn’s entranceway. “Let’s go,” I agreed. The warm air inside enveloped us comfortably, the woman working the front desk — Melissa, according to her nametag — devoted smiling attention to Colin as we checked in, which he enjoyed shyly. During the process, I discovered we’d be paying a paltry $50 a night for a room — a BAH-gen, as they might say in Cambridge. Melissa, a hefty, mid-height, 20-something bruiser with a nice smile, said we looked tired, and booked us into a room on the third floor where we would supposedly be the sole tenants. The third floor turned out to be the top floor. Three whole floors — the big city.

[See entries of 5/24/02, 6/15/02, 8/13/02 and 12/28/02 for further excerpts, or use the links located in this page's right-hand column.]

Written yesterday, Tuesday, around 4 p.m.:

My friends -– Grey, Maria and their two daughters (Georgiana Rose, 4 years old; Madeline, 1 year 3 months old) -– drove into Montpelier two hours ago, leaving me time to clean partially-chewed children’s food off numerous surfaces and reflect on the home invasion that commenced with their arrival 24 hours ago.

I will state right off the bat that, as far as I know, I have in this life produced no kids, in large part due to me having my hands full with my own, er, actuality in my earlier years. The mere thought of trying to raise one or more little souls while my own life wobbled along on shaky legs makes me want to offer profuse, heartfelt thanks to the universe for not putting me in that position. So I’m a stranger to that particular country, the land of parents and kids. Every now and then representatives from that principality come calling and I’m given a glimpse of existence there, after which I find myself wanting to fall on my metaphoric knees to give further thanks. ‘Cause I’d be a godawful parent, I think, at least as a full-time gig.

So my guests arrive, my house is suddenly busy with people, strewn with other humans’ possessions. Two kids have taken over much of the space. The older child, Georgiana, won’t talk to me, won’t look at me if I’m looking at her. If she has something to say, she whispers it in a parental ear. If I say something nice to her or ask a question, she maintains a determined stare at some other point in the room or out a window. The younger one, Maddy, is in full force-of-nature mode, motoring around the space tirelessly, pulling on any handle she can find, opening any closed cabinet door, closing any open one, removing any item that catches her eyes from tabletops or storage spaces. She developed a circuit: around the kitchen, investigating whatever caught her eye, then through the dining room, stopping at a cabinet to try to grab two answering machine cassette tapes stored there before anyone could stop her, then to a kleenex box to grab two or three tissues, rub them against her nose, drop them to the floor. After grabbing another tissue or two, she’d continue into the living room to a small fountain I have there, marveling at the water, putting her hands in it and displaying wet fingers to anyone glancing in her direction, a wide open-mouthed grin plastered on chubby-cheeked face. Then over to the stereo cabinet to shut the glass door (which unfortunately needs to be left ajar if the equipment’s in use to prevent overheating, since the cabinet has no real ventilation in the rear)(how’s that for brilliant design, huh?). A minute or two of smearing her hands all over the glass, studying it closely, then she’d continue deeper into the living room to stuff a used kleenex between the cushions of the couch, maybe stop at the shelves that hold cassette tapes (from the pre-CD era when I actually listened to cassette tapes), grab one or two to take on her travels. Then back into the kitchen door to begin the cycle all over again or down the hall to the bathroom, bedrooms or large rooms at the other end of the house, currently being used for storage, before returning to the kitchen.

Once in a while an adult would disrupt that routine to direct her attention elsewhere, take her outside, change her diapers if necessary. She’s a sturdy baby, that Maddy, consuming an impressive quantity of food to maintain her current hefty physique and rigorous level of activity. She’s also the first toddler I’ve ever met who snores.

Meanwhile, Georgie -– beautiful, bright, almost five, reminiscent of my niece at that age (also beautiful and bright) — had rediscovered a pack of crayons I keep here for visiting young ones, which Maddy quickly noted. Between the two of them, they maintained near-constant possession of the crayons, Georgie generally using them as crayons, Maddy as a combo talisman/worry-bead kind of deal. I’d find crayons scattered around the living space, put them back into their pack, a minute or two later little hands were tossing them under furniture again.

Two full-time jobs, these kids — sweet, funny, full of developing life, but full-time jobs. My buddy Grey gets up early, works long days away from the house, then returns home to help with the kids. Maria told me he falls asleep reading to Georgie before her bedtime. I can see why.

With all of that, you’d think I’d be glad to have the space back to myself. And I am. At the same time I miss all that life, that energy. When they left earlier today, I guided them through a network of dirt roads to Route 2 where they headed east to New Hampshire. The first thing I noticed upon my return to the house was how quiet it was, how empty it felt.

It’s an interesting life, filled with contrasts and seeming contradictions. I would not trade it for anything.

******

An addendum, written today:

When I went to bed last night, I could hear Maddy snoring in the bedroom across from mine. This morning she was up at dawn, running from one end of the house to the other, heavy, rambunctious steps fading into the distance then rushing back, accompanied by wordless sounds of toddler joy. Tonight when I hit the sack the only soundtrack will be cricketsong drifting in the open windows. Right now that’s sounding pretty good.

Last night I drove back from the central part of the state as dusk crept in. I don’t have sunset views here at my little fiefdom — the sun gradually disappears behind trees and the top of the hill, I miss whatever show the last light brings. For that matter, I didn’t get to see many sunsets in Madrid — same story, with brick and concrete replacing trees/hill. When I get the opportunity to see a real display, I soak it up.

Route 89 cuts through a tremendous expanse of beautiful land — green mountains, long winding valleys, wide vistas. It enters the state at White River Junction, stretching across the Connecticut River, continuing west, gradually curving north and continuing toward that point of the compass until Montpelier where it bends west-northwest again, toward Burlington. I’ve driven it many, many times, yet it remains fresh and wears many faces, depending on the season, the time of day, the weather.

Yesterday evening, well into the protracted northbound leg of the drive, I came around a long turn where the western sky became visible and found that expanse nearly bisected from west to east by three or four rows of long, narrow clouds. Arranged like parallel strips, but broken, a bit ragged. The sun had dropped behind the hills, the clouds caught the slow final stretch of direct light, and they shone, a brilliant deep pink color, almost flamingo pink. But concentrated, intense, insistent. They shone, nearly electric, though for some reason not casting the kind of glow that colors the land below. Nothing reflected it back, nothing pulled focus from the intensity of their light. Above them, extending off to the east, rising to tremendous heights, stretched thunderheads, slate gray, containing the occasional burst of lightning, the only light that could compete with the clouds.

With time, the clouds paled, the thunderheads loomed larger, flashes of lightning becoming brighter, more distinct.

There’s nothing like a spectacular sky at sunset. It’s a miracle I managed to stay on the road with all that distraction.

I blabber, I know. I’ll stop. Friends just arrived to visit for a day or two — my best friend, his wife, their two kids. Their 1-1/2 year old daughter Madeline is beginning to dismantle my house, so I should probably go take preventive measures. Wish me luck.

Today’s activity: a field trip. To east-central Vermont, to visit J. Drove down I-89, got off at exit 1, took local roads through Quechee (home of the Quechee Gorge and hordes of tourists), Windsor (original state capital), through the longest covered bridge I’ve ever seen to a beautiful national park based around the house and grounds of the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. But I’m not going to inflict thoughts about art on you right now. I just want to mention some signs spotted during the drive.

First, a mile or so along a narrow, winding two-lane (the Quechee-Windsor Road) I passed a dirt driveway that appeared to lead to lots more dirt. To one side stood a crooked wooden sign with the following hand-scrawled legend: Grandpa’s Gravel Pit — Now Open.

Two or three miles past that, a dirt road intersected the Quechee-Windsor Road, disappearing quickly into overabundant greenery. According to the street sign on the corner of that intersection — keeping in mind this is in land-locked Vermont, with nary a lake, pond or puddle in sight — the name of the road: Ocean View Drive.

Later, in White River Junction, Vermont: the only visible legend painted in huge white block letters on the slanting roof of a store probably catering to tourists: 25000 GIFTS — WOOLEN WONDERLAND. The name of the store? Got me — could be 25000 GIFTS. Or WOOLEN WONDERLAND. There were no other visible legends anywhere on the building.

As they used to say in catechism class, it’s a mystery.

Two quick items:

1) A friend pointed out the latest entry in the weblog that Wil Wheaton keeps at his website, in which he describes his experience of finding out that his cameo in the forthcoming Star Trek movie was cut. It’s actually a nice piece of writing, and an interesting window into the person and the situation.

Thanks to Kristen for the heads-up on that one.

2) Two brief articles from Seven Days, a weekly alternative newspaper out of Burlington, VT. Both articles appear in the News Quirks column (”Odd, strange, curious and weird but true news items from every corner of the globe”) of August 7.

– In the German town of Aachen, police were called to investigate loud yells coming from a local forest. “We found a 25-year-old man who said walking into the forest at night alone and screaming as loudly as he could was his way of dealing with the stress of everyday life,” police representative Paul Kemen said, noting that the man’s screams had prompted neighbors to call police three other times. When the man learned he faces a fine of $75, Kemen said, “that stressed him out again, but officers told him not to go [into] the forest this time.”

– When two men at a wedding reception in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, began playfully tossing watermelon rinds, a security officer asked them to stop. The men responded by shouting obscenities at the guard, who called police for help. Officers were greeted “by an uncooperative group that shouted obscenities and refused to leave,” according to a police statement, which noted the guests “encroached on the officers, causing the police to fear for their safety.” Officers summoned reinforcements, until as many as 40 squad cars from eight police departments had arrived, sending dozens of officers and at least one police dog into the crowd of 100. After restoring order, police arrested the groom’s father, Dennis Draack, and either other guests. Newlyweds Jeff Draack and Nacole Blum weren’t arrested, but canceled plans for their honeymoon.

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

I find myself chortling at such news items, then wondering if I should be concerned about that.

“…playfully tossing melon rinds….” — is that a classic turn of phrase or what?

An addendum to yesterday’s entry:

Lately, for some reason, I’ve been talking to various folks about the house and the strange happenings, in part just from the sheer amazement at finding that kind of entertainment taking place in my living space. So it’s been in my thoughts.

Yesterday afternoon I’m on the phone with a friend. I’d told them some about what’s been happening in the house –- if nothing else, it’s a real conversation piece -– and I hear, very suddenly, a noise from downstairs. Sharp and distinct. Loud. Louder than most of the odd noises I hear around this place. Far as I knew, I was alone here, so I immediately headed downstairs to see what was up, telling my friend about it as I went. (God bless cordless phones.) I open the door to the laundry room, I see movement, I could feel my heart rate increase. Someone I don’t know is in there. A guy. He turns around, I remember I had a 2 o’clock appointment for the annual furnace maintenance, I see his tool kit, my heart slows down. I’d left the garage door open, when he pulled up the driveway by the garage he walked in and knocked on the inside entryway, which opens into the furnace room. Getting no answer (me being upstairs on the phone), he tried the door, found it open, stepped inside, saw the furnace, started setting up.

Comedy: it’s everywhere.

We get to talking, me and the furnace guy. Turns out he was born in this town, has lived in the area his whole life, knew the folks who built this house. Which means he knew the woman who took the header down the stairs and joined the choir invisible. He couldn’t remember their last name, I didn’t press him. I’ve learned enough.

************************************

I recently came across some notes made in my last day or two in Madrid and during the trip back.

For instance: at the airport in Madrid the plane was parked way the hell away from the terminal, they loaded us into buses to take us to is. A long, circuitous route, through a tremendous amount of airport traffic -– trucks, buses, miscellaneous funny-looking service vehicles, carts pulling trailers. I stared out the rear window, checking out the scenery. And noticed that several vehicles had been trailing our bus through all the twists and turns it took. The small truck immediately behind us had a teletubby hanging from the rear-view mirror. The purple teletubby. Hanging by its neck.

Madrid’s been in my thoughts these last few days. I’m aware I never finished the final entry I wrote from there [see entry of 3 August] -– I intend to pull myself together and dig into that. I’m also going to write up whatever I can decipher of these notes I found. Which means it’ll all be showing up here sooner or later.

Be warned.

Well. I am not making the following story up.

During my 20 or so months in Madrid, I had someone housesitting here. A good person, a hyper-conscientious woman named Kit. Capable, consistent, reliable. Not given to flights of fancy. After she’d been in the house about a week, she experienced something many might consider pure nonsense.

The house: long, rectangular — the kind of building that might be called a raised ranch. At this moment I’m sitting in the top floor at the eastern end of the building, the end containing the main living spaces: the kitchen, the dining room, the living room — three conjoined rooms more or less arranged in the shape of a U. A hallway begins at the inner corner of the living room, running straight down the center of the house from there, away from the main living spaces toward the building’s west end. At the point where the hallway abuts the living room a stairway begins, descending to a landing and the front door. From there a second flight of stairs extends down to the lower level of the house. You don’t need to know anything about the lower level just yet.

Back in the upper level, the hallway stretches away from the living room, passing first the bathroom on the left, then two small bedrooms, situated across the hallway from each other. Kit stayed in one of those two bedrooms, the one to the front of the house, facing the amazing view this place has. That’s all you need to know about the top floor.

So. About a week into her stay here. Nighttime. Kit’s in bed, the light on. Reading, thinking. The house is quiet. Until Kit hears the sound of footsteps ascending the stairs. The bedroom door is six feet or so from the stairs, the footsteps did not sound distant. A second person was in the house, climbing the stairs, approaching the top landing, the hallway, Kit’s room.

Kit lived alone here. That night she had locked the outside doors before heading to bed. No one else should have been in the building, no one should have been coming up the stairs.

After a moment of confusion and frightened surprise, Kit got to her feet. The footsteps stopped. She hurried out of the bedroom, turned on the hallway light, turned on the stairway light. No sign of an intruder, no sound of anyone moving, nothing. She may have gone downstairs to check the door to the garage, finding it locked, just as she had left it. She went back upstairs, turned out the lights, got back into bed. The sound of feet ascending the steps began again.

This went on for a while -– she’d get up, the sound would stop; she’d go back to bed, it would start up all over again. Finally, she had a talk with herself -– she knew no one else was in the house, she knew that whatever was going on couldn’t hurt her. She managed to settle down, eventually fell asleep. The next day she found no sign of anything out of the ordinary in the house. The next night the footsteps did not return, she never experienced them again. She never told anyone about the experience, including me.

Shortly after my return from Madrid, I lay in bed one morning. Alone in the house, early a.m., all the outside doors locked. Somewhere off in the house — sounding like it came from downstairs -– a door closed. Not slammed — closed with a solid, firm impact. I felt it more than heard it, if you know what I mean, the way you can feel when someone walks from one room to another in a lower floor of a house, the way you can hear a door close. Feeling the vibration of it through the floor, through the bed, in addition to the distant sound. My eyes opened — I lay still, listening. I got up, went downstairs, found the door to the garage locked as I’d left it the night before. The other doors on the lower level –- to the bathroom, the toolroom, the guest room, the large rec. room where the coal stove sits in front of the fireplace -– were all open, exactly as they normally are.

This was early April, still late winter here. No windows were open, no errant breeze was at work anywhere in the house.

Kit stopped by a day or two later to drop off her set of keys. In passing, I told her about the door closing. She stared ahead as I spoke, then shifted her gaze to me, the words tumbling from her mouth, telling me about the footsteps on the stairs. She then said that Mo, my downhill neighbor (a relative term here — Mo’s house sits almost quarter mile away, across the road from the extreme downhill corner of my plot) had mentioned to her one time that someone in this house had fallen down the stairs and been killed. First I’d heard of it. This house is 30 years old, during its three decades it’s had several owners. I had no idea who the original owners were, neither did Kit. We puzzled over the story a bit, then dropped it.

Every now and then I hear odd noises in the house. Not the refrigerator, not the furnace, not the water pump, not something outside. Not the house reacting to the long hours of direct sunlight or cooling off at night. Nothing big, nothing threatening or truly creepy. Nothing that feels malignant. Just odd, clear, distinct sounds, every now and then — the kind of sounds that another person might make, the incidental sounds produced by someone else in one’s living space. It gets my attention, makes me wonder.

I stopped in to say a quick hello to Mo and his wife Kay today. Mo’s lived in this town his entire life, his family has been here for generations. He and Kay have resided in their small house for most of their nearly 60 years of marriage. I asked him about what he’d told Kit, he confirmed the story: the wife of the first couple to live in this house — a woman named Mary — had fallen down the stairs and been killed. I told them about Kit’s experience with the footsteps, which came as news — Kit is much closer with Mo and Kay than with me, but had never mentioned it to them. Maybe because she expected the kind of reaction Kay displayed: disbelief. I told them about the door closing, about the odd sounds I occasionally hear around the place. They laughed nicely at it all and didn’t really seem to know what to say, though Kay appeared to find the death that happened here a touch mysterious –- Kay had been in this house once and didn’t think the stairs covered enough distance to be lethal in a fall.

So there you have it. I seem to be living in a, er, haunted house. Not a highly active one, not a disruptive one (I’ve never experienced anything as dramatic as Kit has) — mostly polite, well-mannered. Inoffensive. But still.

Who knows -– there may be perfectly logical explanations for it all. It’s possible. I haven’t encountered them yet, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.

In the meantime, the summer goes on, the days slipping rapidly by. The house feels pretty good in the middle of it all. That’s all I care about.

Excerpt #3 from a novel in progress (© 2002, 2006 by runswithscissors):

Evening fell slow and soft, the twilight stretching on, the clouds clearing away as we headed west. The terrain changed from the grand, wide expanses of valleys and mountains to tighter, more condensed ranges, covered with trees, evergreens and bare deciduous softening the outline of rises and crests against the last light of the day. Later on, the ridges spread out, flattening into low, rolling land. Farm country.

Somewhere in there Colin conked out again. I’d been wrestling with a couple of maps to see how we were doing — always a good idea when driving at high speeds in dim light — and was surprised to discover how much ground we’d covered. It looked like it might be possible to make it all the way to Oberlin that night. Assuming Colin would stand for that kind of torture. And if he wouldn’t, if we slept over in a motel somewhere, Oberlin would be an easy hike from there.

If someone had told me a week earlier that I would soon be fleeing to Ohio in a rented car with my son to pump an elderly woman I’d never met for details re: my long-absent father, I would have advised them to seek drug counseling. Just goes to show. Life has fiction beat hands-down.

The light thinned enough that I had to turn on the Swift’s headlights, which spotlit a roadside sign advertising a truck stop. It read (I swear this is real) “Emlenton Truck Stop — Home of America’s Worst Apple Pie.” What the hell is up with that? Are people so bored that the prospect of a genuinely wretched slab of pie is something to look forward to? And what do they do to make it so rank?

Sometime after the last daylight had faded, Colin came to. I heard the faint sound of body movement and glanced in the mirror to find him sitting straight up, watching the dark world outside sweep by.

“Hi, buddy,” I said.

“Hi,” he mumbled.

“How’re you doing?”

He raised a hand and rubbed his face. “I have to pee,” he said. A tired, unhappy voice.

“Me, too. We’ll pull off at the next exit and find somewhere to stop. How’s that?”

“Okay.” Mumbled, so it came out “Mmkuh.”

A few miles up the road, we caught an exit ramp that brought us to a two-lane. A gas station lay a good stone’s throw off to our right, the building behind the pumps long and low, the windows empty of signs or products. The pumps were lit up enough to indicate being open for business, but only about half the lights inside the office seemed to be on. A house sat off the near end of the building, one or two windows there illuminated warmly from within. No other dwellings or structures could be seen in any direction.

No brand name on the pumps, no signs of any sort on the canopy overhead. Nothing to indicate amenities, nothing to entice a lingering visit. Just the necessary facilities to vend petrol and take your money. I assumed that last part, since it’s the usual arrangement.

I filled the tank, standing out in piercingly clean air, a light breeze clearing away the faint odor of gasoline. Opening my mouth to breathe, a bracing sensation of cold extended most of the way down my windpipe. Winter seemed to have arrived in this part of the country. I had a feeling that if there were sunlight I’d see rows of cornstalk stubble stretching away in the surrounding fields.

When I’d finished with the pump, I went around to Colin’s door and waited while he got out and tried to shut the door. A buzzer in the car quietly asked him to try again. “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “We’ll be right out.” He ignored me, opening the door then closing it with all his 46 pounds behind it.

I took his hand, we crossed the short stretch of blacktop to the building, stepping into a small foyer. The place looked like it might have once been an old-style service station. The original garage area had become the convenience shop where a young 20ish woman slouched behind the register talking on a phone. The foyer must have once been the office, but apart from the remaining architectural basics, no tokens of the earlier gas station remained. Just a white wall to the rear with restroom doors. Near-featureless austerity, like a petrol-pumping monastery.

Stepping into the lavatory, on the other hand, was a return to an earlier time, from the tiles on the floor and walls to the urinal, sink and fixtures. All the way to the condom dispensers mounted on the toilet partition. Two of them, looking to be classics from the 50’s or early 60’s, with what appeared to be the original text and illustrations. It was the pictures that caught Colin’s eye. The first: a man and woman in coital embrace, sitting up, the woman facing us voyeuristic pigdogs, clearly experiencing intense, almost painful transports of sexual whoopa-whoopa. “New and exciting!” the text read. “Arouse her animal passion with Savage Ecstasy Textured Condoms! Raised ridges!” The neighboring dispenser sported a lurid illustration of what appeared to be a giant, pink blimp fitted out with two alarming sets of long, stiff whisker-like protrusions angled dangerously forward like pink lances. “Original French Tickler!” the text read in large, overexcited letters. “You’ve heard about them! Here they are! The real thing — not a gimmick!”

“Dad, what’s that?” Colin asked, staring in rapt, startled concentration.

“What’s what, Col?” Me pretending to be preoccupied at the urinal, hoping my boy’s attention would move to his own bodily functions.

“That up there. What is that? Is that man and woman having sex?”
“‘Are’ they, Colin. When it’s more than one person, you say ‘are’, not ‘is.’”

He refused to be diverted. “Is that what they’re doing? Having sex?” So much for the modesty and propriety of the heartland. Sex education never sleeps in western Pennsylvania.

“Yes, Col, that’s what they’re doing.”

“Why is that up there? Do women use this room, too?”

“No, this is just for guys. The women’s room is next door.”

“Are they making a baby?”

That stopped me. In part because I’d never heard him ask that question before, but also because he’d belonged to the realm of babydom not so long ago. “Well, no,” I answered after gathering what wits were on hand, “not if they’re using a condom. That’s what that machine is selling.”

His turn to pause. He stared at the machine, then spoke in a different tone, working hard to put concepts together. “What’s a connom?”

I remembered right then that we’d come into the men’s wankhole without paying for the fill-up. Whoops. “Col,” I said, finishing at the urinal, “I have to go pay for the gas. Go to the toilet, okay?”

“Okay.” Still staring, frowning slightly as he tried to make sense of this unexpected batch of input.

“Col,” I said, pushing him gently into the toilet stall, “let’s go.” He closed the door without saying anything, I hurried out to the main room of the store.

The young woman behind the counter still had the phone plugged into her ear, a half-smile on her face. “Yeah,” she murmured, “but he don’t give a damn about her. He just wants to….” Her eyes fastened on me as I pulled up. “Hold on,” she told whoever and set the phone down, looking at a pump read-out. “$9.50,” she said. I handed over a ten. She diddled the register, the cash drawer opened, she slipped the bill in, gave me two quarters in change. I said, “Thanks,” she said, “You’re welcome,” then picked up the phone. “You there?” she asked. “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yeah.”

Colin hadn’t emerged from the men’s funworld yet. I paced a small, leisurely circle, scanning the store area. A couple of shelves held loaves of bread (white), a few boxes of breakfast cereal (corn flakes, sugar frosted flakes, chocolate sugar bombs), ketchup, mustard, Karo syrup, a pile of snack cakes. The cooler had some milk, some soda, a container of so-orange-it-must-be-radioactive juice drink. Someone’s idea of the basics, I guess. All other surfaces lay stark and empty. No car-care accessories, no papers or magazines.

Colin appeared, blinking into the light of the store as if he’d just woken up. I went to him, taking his hand. “Let’s go, buddy,” I said, gently moving him with me toward the door.

“Excuse me,” the young woman called from behind us. We turned. “A couple of our kittens are under your car.” I stared, uncomprehending, then looked out at the Swift. Sure enough, a kitten sat crouched in front of the near rear wheel, another little head poking out from behind the first, both of them maybe four, five months old. I looked back at the woman. “Just be careful is all,” the woman said.

“Okay,” I said, turning Colin around and heading back out into the brisk Pennsylvania night.

“Look, Dad,” Colin said, pointing at the kittens, who stared at us from under the car. I released his hand, he moved quickly toward them. They immediately disappeared under the car, reappearing a second later from beneath the rear as if shot by a tiny cannon. Clearly wanting nothing to do with us. They stopped a short distance away, one staring back at father and son, the other sniffing around in another direction for a moment, then turning and jumping on its companion. A moment of hyperactive roughhousing, then they burst apart, running a few steps in different directions before stopping to watch me and my boy. I went to the car, opened Colin’s door.

“Let’s go, buddy,” I told him. He reluctantly got into the Swift, peering back around toward the kittens after I’d closed the door. I glanced over at the teeny felines as I went around the car, found them still observing me. They watched my feet move, their heads bobbing slightly as I walked. Not very smart, kittens, but they pack a lot of entertainment value.

Back in the car, I pulled out maps and opened them to read by the lights above the pumps. Time to figure out how much more roadwork Colin would put up with and make a plan.

“Okay,” I said, turning back toward Colin, holding a map so he could see the layout, “here’s the poop.” He gave a glance of disapproval at my descent into scatology, then looked down where I pointed. “We’re here, I think. Pretty much out in the middle of nowhere.” My finger circled around the exit on the interstate we’d gotten off at. “It’ll probably take two more hours to get to Ohio, then another two to three hours to get to Oberlin.”

“Why are we going there again?”

“To talk with that woman I told you about at lunch. Remember?”

A mumbled “Uh-huh.”

“What do you think? You probably don’t want to go all the way there tonight, do you?” He shook his head. “How hungry are you?”

“I don’t know.”

I retrieved one of the water bottles from the floor. “Want some of this?” He nodded, I handed it off, he tipped it up to his lips and drank. When he’d finished and had the bottle positioned on the seat between his knees, I said, “How about this: we’ll go for a while more, then we’ll find a place to stay for the night and track down a meal somewhere. That sound all right to you?” He nodded, stretching around to try and spot the cats. They weren’t in sight, I got out to make sure they weren’t under the car again. They were, and flew out from under the rear bumper when my feet hit the ground, streaking off together to disappear into the darkness around the corner of the house. I got back into the car to find Colin’s face pressed against the passenger’s side window, staring after the kittens. “They’re gone,” I said.

“I know,” he responded, belting himself in. A minute later, we were rolling back onto the interstate, headlights extending out ahead to create a pool of illumination that slid along the road before us, diffusing up into the dark air. Cars went by in the left-hand lane, all with Pennsylvania plates, probably on the way home from work.

Life in the Swift quieted down again. Colin sat silently in the back seat, looking off into the dark countryside, lights from the occasional house sliding by. Thinking about god knows what — family weirdness, couples coupling, kittens he could be petting.

My thoughts returned to Sheila.

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

[See entries of 5/24/02, 6/15/02, 8/22/02 and 12/28/02 for further excerpts, or use the links in this page's right-hand column.]

I’ve been sleeping restlessly since my return from Madrid. Why? Good question. Not sure. But I found myself awake at 3:30 this a.m., and after as spirited an internal debate as I could muster at that godawful hour re: getting up to check out the Perseid Meteor Shower, I finally surrendered, hauling myself out of bed, managing to find my groggy way to a window on the north side of the house. There’s been morning fog here most of this summer, this morning was no exception — stars shone above, but everything more than halfway down the dome of the sky remained obscured by mist. So that the two or three shooting stars I witnessed were brief, unspectacular, underwhelming. Bugger.

Meanwhile, the weather here these last few days has been hot — low 90’s each day, made liveable by the temperature’s immediately droop to more humane levels when the evening sun drifts down behind the trees. Hot days, cool nights — a combo I can live with. Today the heat brought humidity with it, intense enough to render the air hazy, the haze dense enough that any hopes I had of spying some earthgrazers this evening are shot. Buggerbugger.

The only other time I’ve ever tried to get an eyeful of the Perseids: several years back, also in Vermont, during a ten or twelve day stretch when I housesat at a place out in the middle of nowhere. The house sat on a dirt road way the hell off in the hills and hollows west of Thetford, hidden from the road by foliage, the property in a natural bowl, completely sheltered from outside eyes. An interesting place: belonging to a family with something like seven kids, three cats, a dog, a sable, a rabbit, a turtle and a good-sized trout pond stocked with rainbow trout growing more ravenous by the day (’cause I couldn’t find anything to feed the poor buggers except bread). A long deck flanked the morning side of the house, providing a fine spot to hoover down a leisurely breakfast, maybe soak up some pre-noontime rays, taking a moment now and then to commune with Albert, the family dog, who generally flopped by an occupied chair, knowing that the chair’s occupant would scratch his belly and tell him what a good boy he was. (And he was.) Gardens flanked the deck, well planted with flowers that attracted hummingbirds which the smallest of the three cats attempted unsuccessfully to catch.

A stream cut through the middle of the property, parallel to the house, providing a constant background soundtrack of water running over gently-descending rocks. Trees lined either side of the stream and a bridge arched over it about midway along its transit through the property, providing numerous spots to pass afternoon hours with a book.

The trout pond came equipped with two huge inner tubes, suitable for carrying human bodies around the pond, hands, feet and butt in the water. The trout (being ravenous) developed a tendency to nip at fingers and toes in the hope they might be edible, ensuring one wouldn’t doze more than a few minutes at a shot.

A beautiful place. An excellent spot to get in touch with one’s inner lazy bastard.

My brother and sister-in-law showed up at one point and, this being mid-August, my brother and I talked each other into getting up at an unspeakable hour to take a gander at the Perseids. Which we did. And we saw some. But the night was cold (not unusual in August), the mosquitoes -– undeterred by the temperature -– attacked every square inch of my exposed flesh, and I was enjoying the nights of that portion of my stay less ’cause I’d voluntary decamped from the master bedroom to allow my brother and sister-in-law the use of the house’s only truly sizeable bed, relegating me to small, uncomfortable teenager’s rooms, strewn with clothing, CDs and miscellaneous stuff. (The bed I finally settled in — crammed into a cubbyhole small enough that I couldn’t straighten my body out — had a large poster hanging over it, a big, ugly, dayglo-colored thing that read “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil ‘CAUSE I AM THE BIGGEST SON-OF-A-BITCH IN THE VALLEY!”) And the simple truth is I’d rather be asleep at 3 or 4 a.m. So I didn’t enjoy the display the way I might have if someone had been considerate enough to schedule it at 9 or 9:30 p.m.

But that was then. This is now. I’ll give the meteor shower another shot. I’m sure it will be worth the suffering effort. Easily, without a doubt. (Isn’t there some way to videotape the damn thing? Oh, never mind.)

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