far too much writing, far too many photos

Paid a visit to my g.p. yesterday for the annual physical exam (me being the responsible boy that I am). And I will say this: there is nothing quite like the sensation of latex-gloved fingers forcing their way up one’s butt to make sure one’s prostate is behaving itself. Thank god my g.p. is a diminutive, petite woman and not some big bruiser with a hand like a bunch of bananas. (Anal probes aside, I’m in dynamite health.)

Yesterday was a fine day to take a jaunt to the doctor’s office. A perfect late-July Vermont day, in fact — countryside awash in green, sun shining brightly, temperature hovering in the user-friendly upper-70s. The single recent instance of a full day’s worth of truly summerlike weather, the last week or two having looked and felt autumnal. Nights cool enough to warrant closing all the windows in the house, days either gray and damp or sporting dramatic skies packed with clouds through which sunlight filtered, producing dramatic shafts of light. Before rain arrived maybe 11 days ago, isolated trees had begun to exhibit distress from the long dry spell, leaves just beginning to turn. Not many, just a cluster of yellow here or there. Enough that between that tiny tweak and the general look of the skies and sunlight, the second half of July felt more like the second half of August, with a feeling of the year tilting heavily toward shorter days, cold nights, jack-o-lanterns, turkey dinners, etc.

Most of this month has been spent in heavy work mode, activity which gradually focused itself on the two large rooms off at the far end of the house, rooms which had functioned as storage areas. I found myself down there more and more, going through boxes and heaps of dreck, getting rid of some stuff, reorganizing the rest. Gradually clearing out the larger of the two spaces, a 10′ x 23′ room with three good-sized windows, two with views of the valley as it extends away to the north, one which looks out on the woods across the road. A door stands between the windows, a big heavy bugger with no windows and no storm door, leaving a dark corner in a space that otherwise gets a lot of light. About four weeks back, I finally installed a storm door, which allowed the inside door to stand open in fair weather, completely changing the feel of the place and provoking all the transformation activity that came after.

You don’t want to know the boring details of the work. Suffice it to say that I awoke this last Sunday morning with the urge finish it all up, by midday it was done — big, airy, comfortable. Finished, for now. A floor needs to be put down on top of the painted plywood that’s currently there, something that will be tackled next summer. (Or maybe the summer after.) Until then a large green rug covers a lot of the floor. That’ll do.

Since then I’ve wavered back and forth between working outside, reading and kind of collapsing. Feeling strangely content. More than content. Appreciating the bejesus out of my life and where it currently is.

But I won’t bludgeon you with that kind of rustically euphoric hooha.

Yesterday morning: got out of bed, dragged on clothes. Opened the kitchen door, stepped outside into a beautiful morning, the grass still wet. After watering some plants, I stood looking around, absorbing the scene, the day. Something made me look to my right, upward. On the power line that runs between the house and the single utility pole over by the barn, about ten feet from me, sat a pair of barn swallows. Quietly preening, looking around at the scene (just like me), completely unmindful of the nearby human.

A bit later, again stepping out the kitchen door, I saw a doe and a fawn out on the gravel road, just past my property line. The mother staring at me through downhanging tree leaves, me gazing back at her. We remained that way for a few seconds, until they turned and disappeared into the trees on the other side of the road.

Life. It’s everywhere.

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

I have not been wanting to write these last days. At all. Not here, not fiction, not correspondence. I’ve produced a lot over this last year — I’m apparently taking a break. To all those who have sent mail and have yet to receive a reply, it’s not you. Be patient. Cut me a lot of slack.

Heard on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me yesterday during the drive down to New Hampshire: Uday and Qusay Hussein were shot last week, but it’s believed that Little Joe got away.

Seen while waiting to turn onto a local two-lane from the I-89 exit ramp in Warner, N.H.: a Jeep moving by at a pretty good clip, top up. The front passenger seat was covered with loose fabric emblazoned with a nearly life-size image of the Tasmanian Devil, which (a) first appeared to be alive as the wind in the open Jeep made the fabric billow and move about, then (b) (as it quickly became clear it was only an image, not an actual, er, being) looked briefly like an inflatable Tasmanian Devil sex doll.

Sign seen in a gas station/grocery store in Grantham, N.H.:

Ignore the heat

EAT MORE ICE CREAM

From News Quirks, a weekly column (”odd, strange, curious and weird but true news items from every corner of the globe”) appearing in Seven Days, an alternative newspaper based in Burlington, VT:

Crossing the Line

After the Rev. Jimmy I. McCrary Jr. was convicted of prostitution, members of the Morning Star Baptist Church in South Richmond, Virginia, forgave his temptation and voted to keep him as their pastor. Then the police mug shot surfaced, showing McCrary wearing a woman’s wig and makeup. Realizing that he wasn’t the john but the hooker, the congregation voted to reverse its earlier decision and oust McCrary.

Goddamn, once more I wake up on a Friday morning with no clue where the rest of the week skipped off to. I have been drifting through time. Not that I’m complaining. It is outrageously, possibly even criminally beautiful here, and I’m pleased to be in the middle of it all, days skipping by at light speed and all.

Light speed or not, I have been in production mode, getting done piles of things that need doing. The difference between my existence in a rented flat in Madrid and the life of a homeowner here is, well, there I actually have free time because I don’t have to work on the place. Here I do, and any time I get the impulse to do some work, there’s work waiting to be done.

The last few days: rain or gray skies w/ intense humidity, broken up now and then by short, sudden spells of brilliant sunshine. Days during which the thirsty earth got a good, deep soaking.

I ate my first home-grown tomatoes of the season last night. Or the night before. One of the two. I’d forgotten how nice it is to be able to step out the door and pick your own. Orange tomatoes, though, instead of red. Weird. Tasty, but weird.

Speaking of food: I did not slip into the potential take-out dinner binge I mentioned at the end of this journal’s last entry. Too much going on. I realized something about the woman who runs the café, though. When I picked up that first meal, she and I stood chatting about N.Y. and Madrid for a while. She’s a woman of a certain, classic look, a look I know from N.Y.C. and the N.Y.C. area — short, pretty, Jewish, intelligent, with a lively personality, black hair, a certain kind of cast to her features. As we talked, something about her rang a bell somewhere up there in my teeny brain, but I couldn’t put a finger on why. Later it hit me — something about her reminded me one of my oldest friends, a woman I know from college. Not her voice, not her manner, not her body or bearing, not her hair, not her clothes, not her voice.

Her face. Only her face. But the facial resemblance was so strong it was eerie. Hence the bells.

Right. Tomorrow I drive down to New Hampshire to spend the day with friends. But before I go: the following are actual search requests made via Google and its brethren (or sistern) that have led people to this page during the last couple of weeks (if these are any indication, there are some strange folk passing through the neighborhood):

skimpy tight dress

pignose spain

satanic souls defaced websites

second toe longer than the big toe

female pee desperation

group diaper changing

helen hunt dryer picture

transvestite ADVERTISING

soda floats beer sinks

stocky guys in tight shorts

bulemic blowout game

This area has seen little rain since my return from the other side of the Atlantic a month ago. Good vacation conditions, but abnormal, leaving the ground thirsty. Just enough precipitation to keep the countryside in general green, while the land around the house here has been slowly turning brown, dry, patchy.

Looks like some balance is now being restored. Sun, showers and misty conditions traded off all day yesterday, until the weather got serious just after dark. After an hour’s foreplay of thunder/lightning, rain came abruptly down as if someone had flicked a switch, falling so heavily, so intensely that it produced a roaring sound. Kind of eerie.

All night long, on and off, the roar of the downpour, broken up by silences when it let up, the air still and thick during those breaks. I tossed, I turned. I wrestled with the covers. Big fun.

Finally, mid-morning, it cleared out. When I headed into Montpelier, the land up here on the hill remained damp and soggy. Until I got about a mile down Route 14 where everything suddenly dried up. Dry pavement, dry ground. Apparently at least part of last night’s rainfall was highly localized. Highly, highly localized. As in hanging about over my house and dumping its load on my roof while the rest of the area got a good night’s sleep. (Grumble, grumble.)

I’m talking about the weather. I’ll stop.

Down at the bottom of this hill, a stone’s throw to the north along Route 14, stands what used to be a horse farm. A lovely place fronted by a rambling old farmhouse before which stands an enormous shade tree. A barn/garage, stables, a large arena, and many acres of land on either side of the two-lane — rolling meadows that give way to wooded land as they extend away from the road. And horses. Lots of horses, sprinkled about that beautiful expanse of land, tales switching as they grazed. It couldn’t have been more bucolic.

Two summers ago I began hearing rumors that the owners were thinking of selling out. The rumors turned out to be true, and once the wheels began turning, things happened quickly. Last summer, papers were signed, the place changed hands, by August a couple from New York had moved in.

When I got back here last month, a neighbor told me the new folks had been hard at work converting one end of the farm house into a café, a small space with a dining room big enough only for a couple of tables, a small porch outside for the short warm season, big enough for two more teeny tables.

A café, owned by people, my neighbor said, who could really cook. Those were the rumors, anyway. Not hacks. Real cooks, with a N.Y. catering service they’d run for years. And now about to provide us, the occupants of East Calais (d/b/a East Buhfuh), with a place to go for a good meal, eating in or taking out.

A huge deal, this, for us, residents of a locale where the nearest eating spot is a 10-15 minute drive. Huge.

And sometime within the last week or so, the place opened for business. This evening I picked up the phone, ordered the day’s special. Drove down the hill, picked up a container of some pretty fine-looking fare. Got home, sat down (yes, in front of the TV, I admit it). And found myself eating the single largest and most delicious fajita I have ever had the privilege of stuffing (slowly, with great self-control) between my quivering lips. Accompanied by a mound of very respectable rice&beans, veggies, avocado, and a small container of real damn tasty mango garnish.

I may be poised at the onset of a dangerous take-out binge.

We’ll see.

The last couple of days: quiet, solitary. Decided on Friday to spend the weekend here, work around the house and yard, reading, eating, turning on the TV in my more lowbrow moments.

Some other moments:

– Standing out in the yard yesterday afternoon, looking up at blue sky, becoming aware of an intense humming sound, then noticing out of the corner of one eye the kind of movement that could be a deerfly buzzing around near my head. A quick glance revealed the source of the sound/movement to be a hummingbird, a few feet away, flying up into the air then back down toward the grass in a large, looping oval, repeating that two or three times before shooting up to the top of one of the row of pine trees that form the wind break off this end of the house. It perched there, at the tree’s topmost point, suddenly quiet and motionless, the treetop moving slightly in a breeze.

– Have spent almost no time on-line. Checked in briefly yesterday afternoon to find email from a young woman in L.A. who mentioned having read this journal’s entry of the 15th, saying she too was in the process of packing and moving (in the L.A. area). A moment of disorientation as I noted that this journal’s last entry was on the 14th. Meaning she referred to the June 15th entry, my last full day in Madrid before returning here for a few months. Thought about how distant Madrid feels right now — like another universe, another lifetime, an opposite end of the galaxy from where I’m currently eating and sleeping. A much noisier, busier end of the galaxy.

– Standing at the kitchen sink, eating fresh cherries out of a bag. First washing, then popping them into my mouth where my teeth cut into them, their flavor washing over my tongue. Addictive.

– Installing wind-retention chains on two storm doors early yesterday afternoon, standing halfway up a stepladder, drilling holes through the aluminum inner-surface of the doors, the Dandy Warhols blasting from the stereo in the living room.

I seem to be on something of a vacation from writing right now, my time filling up with work being done in my 3D existence. I have the feeling that may continue for a while.

Or maybe not. We’ll see.

Later.

Saturday it was muzak. Since then it’s been jingles, and commercials trashing rock ‘n’ roll.

Last night: the TV’s on, I’m in the kitchen during a commercial break getting some food ready to wolf down in front of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m working away, the TV spewing commercial b.s. Suddenly: the box emits the opening chords of Suzy Q. Not a bad tune, thinks I. Then some knucklehead pseudo-rock singer starts up, I hear the lyrics, “Oh, barbecue… oh, barbecue….” An ad for a chain restaurant (who will likely never get their Suzy-Q-distorting hands on any of my $$$$).

The ad ends, I stand in the kitchen smiling, shaking my head at the number of desecrated-song ambushes I seem to be experiencing lately. (Wishing, at the same time, that I could get some ad executive in a headlock.)

This morning, post-shower, I note that my hair’s gotten long and unruly. Long enough, unruly enough to warrant a warm-weather shearing. I grab the phone, give Acme Hair (Montpelier’s wackiest, most eccentric hair joint) a call. No one’s there, the shop’s answering machine picks up. The message, a three-stanza jingle sung by the owner — Tamsen, a madcap 58 or so year old woman with long sandy-colored (except where it’s died pink or blue) hair — plays in my left ear:

“At Acme hair we love you,

We really, really do.

Come see the live sea monkeys,

It’s kind of like a zoo.

So please leave us a message

And we’ll get back to you.”

After which Tamsen switches to a goofy, gruff voice: “Hiya, hiya, kiddios. No life stories, just your name and number. This is Froggy — bye-bye.” (Froggy – referring, I think, to a character named Froggy the Gremlin featured on a children’s show called Andy’s Gang from way the hell back there in television history.)

This afternoon, I’m cutting the lawn. Plodding along behind the mower, surrounded by beautiful Vermont countryside, beneath late-afternoon skies. At some point I realize “Oh, barbecue…” has been going through my head over and over. I manage to clear my thoughts. I look around at the scenery, being here now, experiencing the present moment. Much better. A minute later, At Acme Hair we love you starts up. I manage to abort it. Oh, barbecue starts back up. I clear it from my head. Acme Hair returns. I manage to clear both of them from my thoughts, pay a bit more attention to the work I’m doing. No barbecue. No Acme Hair. No music. No jingles. I am the master of my domain.

A short while later the Adams Family theme song gets going in that little brain of mine. It’s continued playing on and off since then, but quietly, politely. I am kind of the master of my domain. I have a quiet, polite illusion of mastery.

That will have to do.

Another upside to life in the country: I can walk outside and take a whiz any time I feel like it (and have sufficient bladder ammo). Standing in the fresh air, surrounded by amazing views, watering the wildflowers. Not an option in Madrid. At least not if I want to maintain the last shreds of my self-respect. (There are those individuals who relieve themselves outdoors in Madrid, but they mostly stink of booze and have problems talking coherently.)

Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. I tend to pee outside when I’m here. At least during the few months when there’s no snow on the ground and the place isn’t teeming with blackflies looking to siphon off hemoglobin. And why not? It’s easy, it’s convenient, there’s no flushing afterward (and therefore no handle to jiggle — er, except mine). The air smells and feels great, the views are massively superior to those in the bathroom. And it puzzles the wildlife. Probably leaves traces whose bouquet gives the local red fox something to think about.

Why am I going on about this? Because the first thing I did after hauling myself out of bed this morning was unlock the kitchen door, step outside, head around the end of the house then down the hill to the section of land I refer to as the UFO landing pad — an extensive, flat, circular plot of mown grass with a fine view in both directions up and down the valley — where I spent a couple of minutes enjoying the vista while passing a pound or two of ballast. Birds singing, the wide expanse of sky spread out above, air rich with the scents of grass, flowers, trees. Not a bad way to start the day.

Oh, the simple pleasures.

But enough about whizzing outdoors.

Yesterday morning in Montpelier, during my brief visit to the town supermarket. Me, walking past the spritz-water. The in-store muzak (something I tend to ignore) suddenly caught my attention. Wasn’t sure why for a couple of seconds, till I realized the musical pap of the moment had originally been a Steely Dan song.

They’re strange moments, that kind of recognition. I recently came across a scrap of paper containing a few words scribbled on a December morning in 2001, as I sat in Barajas Airport in Madrid. Waiting to board a flight — 7 or so a.m., not many folks about, a few Christmas decorations strung up here and there along otherwise featureless walls. Just sitting, lost in bleary thought, until I realized that the p.a.. had begun a muzak rendition of “Albatross” by Fleetwood Mac (the original line-up). I looked around, startled, a neutered version of a classically obscure Fleetwood Mac number the last thing I’d expected to hear at that hour. No beat, no guitars. No real personality. Just the melody, all sugared up.

I thought about that as I stood absorbing my first exposure to Steely Dan as muzak yesterday morning. And then I remembered the first time I heard a muzacked Beatles tune: Norwegian Wood, in an office building elevator. Felt kind of like an ambush, that occasion. I stepped into the car, the doors quietly closed behind me, my ears slowly picked up the quietly lush sound of many violins playing the Lennon-McCartney tune, my mouth dropped open.

There never really is any knowing what’s about to come around the corner in this life of ours. Sometimes it’s muzak, altering old familiar tunes in strange ways.

I have yet to hear muzak versions of anything by Nirvana or Pearl Jam or the Donnas or Weezer. But I mostly don’t pay much attention to muzak. I don’t tend to linger too long in joints that play muzak. There may be all sorts of music I love being transformed into aural anesthetics.

On the other hand, I imagine every time a song gets muzacked, the writer gets royalties. A bunch of studio musicians make some money playing the new versions. Resulting in a product that will play quietly in the background as I pay a quick visit to a supermarket., occasionally providing a strange surprise.

I’ll survive. And maybe I’ll spend more time at Montpelier’s food coop — a muzak-free zone.

Later.

Sloth. Indolence. This journal’s current minimal activity is, I think, the most minimal of its nearly two years of existence. Feels kind of weird. Be real easy to slip into lack-of-productivity guilt if I allowed myself to slouch off in that direction. Not a place I’ve slouched off to very often, I notice, ’cause lower productivity comes from needing a break. I’ve written a lot for this bugger during the last couple of years (some of it actually worth reading). It’s easier to maintain focus, crank out a page or two of text most days when I’m squatting in a rented piso in the middle of a wonderful city. Tons of fodder for production. Loads of people to watch, lots of street happenings to spy on, then run home and write about. And no homeowner-type work to wipe out the passing hours. No lawn to mow, no screen doors to repair, no shorted-out light switches to replace.

Here in my little hilltop fiefdom, on the other hand, there’s as much homeowner labor as I feel like taking on. Sometimes that’s okay. Sometimes it’s a big pain in my shapely little butt. Depends on my state of mind, or on how tired I’m feeling.

Since arriving back here 2½ weeks ago, I’ve found myself feeling tired. Surprisingly tired, surprisingly often, my body maybe still working on some version of Spanish time. I remain in Madrid stay-up-real-late mode, while at the same time already having absorbed the local wake-up-early thing. Not a great combo if one is looking to catch up on shut-eye.

Folks around here have a strong tendency to get the day going promptly. Far more promptly than I’m looking for. Saturday morning in Montpelier, people are out shopping before 9 a.m, some stores being open at 8 a.m. Jumpin’ Jesus — that can’t be healthy. And then of course everything shuts down early to compensate, Saturday Montpelier shutting its doors between 1 and 2 p.m., weekday Montpelier pretty much boarding itself up and going dark by 6 p.m. A few places stay open till 8 p.m., maybe 9, trawling for tourist $$$$. A handful of eateries remain open a bit later in a token show of civilization, for which I am deeply, pathetically grateful.

A major upside: it is unbelievably beautiful in these parts. After a couple of gray, cool, rainy days, this morning’s skies opened up, sunshine streamed down between fair weather clouds. Montpelier was pretty, folks were about enjoying perfect north-country summer weather, looking relaxed and happy. (Lots more clouds have moved in since then, cutting down on the sunlight. It’s still beautiful, just with less radiance.)

I had myself into town around 9:15. Grocery store, hardware store, gas up the car. A quick stop at an ATM, another at the library. Followed by a fine drive home via back roads, car radio tuned to Car Talk. Tooling along at a leisurely pace, along country roads as lush and green as one could possibly ask for, the hysterical laughter of two 50-something knuckleheads providing the soundtrack. Not a bad way to pass a mid-July Saturday morning.

(Aaaaiiieeee!! Mid-July! Already! How the *%^#!!!!! did that happen?)

But I blabber. There have been stories I could report, but they’ll have to wait. Saturday afternoon calls.

Later.

Have been working on rewrites for some of the early entries in this journal, will be doing more of that in days to come. (An example: August 30, 2001.)

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

A few genuine websearches, conducted through Google and its cousins, that have led people to this page in recent days:

bedspreads with a track or cross country theme

looking at men wearing pantys [sic]

ghost hauntings in marshfield and plainfield vermont

Diaper Pooping

fuckin success soccer quotes

reebok classic squish

Someone finally did it. After a week and a half back in northern Vermont, a span of mostly high-temperature days during which not a single individual I ran into came out with the classic meaningless hot-weather conversation opener — a fact I have appreciated tremendously — someone finally let loose with it.

This morning: July sun high and intense, the humid air hot and muggy. I pull into a parking lot, swing into a space next to a huge, hulking pick-up truck, one of Vermont’s ubiquitous pick-ups-on-steroids. Sitting in the truck’s passenger seat is a small 60ish woman, staring out at the world through sunglasses, expressionless. I’ve got a Spanish-language tape playing, she hears a bit of it before I shut the engine down and get out. She glances at me then quickly away, her expression looking dour, dark. Maybe the blaring of something other than English from my vehicle made her skittish.

I go into the store, return ten minutes later. This time as I’m pulling my keys from my pocket I call out to the pick-up’s occupant, “How’s it goin’?”

“Hi,” she says, her expression relaxing. Then she comes out with it. I’m opening the door to the car, she laughs and practically shrieks, “HOT ENOUGH?” The shorthand version of “Hot enough for you?”

No, ma’am, it’s not. I’m hoping to reach the point of spontaneous combustion. Then it’ll be hot enough for me. Then you’ll see some post-July-4th fireworks.

High-powered thunderstorms may roll through here later, some hazy overcast has shown up in advance of them, cutting down on the heat a bit. Which is fine with me. (Hmmm. Maybe it was hot enough.)

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

Recent acquisitions:

I must confess to two recent purchases which have brought me devices not normally found out here in the hills.

1) An espresso maker. A good one, a large bugger, capable of making two cups at once. (Not as big a deal as that makes it sound given that espresso cups are little teeny things.) Factory reconditioned and sold at a price that, given its performance so far, was a genuine bargain. A steal. Una ganga, as they’d say in Madrid.

This is turning out to be one of the more brilliant purchases I’ve ever made. After a few days’ futzing around, I’ve gotten the hang of it and have begun producing good, smooth cups of joe. Addictive stuff. In Spain, I go out, buy a cup somewhere, read the paper or watch people or let my thoughts wander. Here, I get a cup ready, take a pull off it, then find myself unable to stop so that before I know it I’ve inhaled the whole thing and need to brew up another one. (The first round: high-test; after that: decaf.) It’s easy to go through three cups in no time flat.

Not that I’m complaining. I’m feeling a bit too smug to complain right now.

2) This one feels more like a confession.

One afternoon a couple of weeks back, me, drifting around the internet. Following links from one page to another. Just flying back and forth across what those with a gift for the grandiose call cyberspace. Until I stumbled across an article that led me over to epinions.com, where I found myself scanning a bunch of reader reviews of the roomba. Which proved interesting enough to keep me perusing, after which I went to the roomba homepage to snoop around there for a bit. Harmless fun, kind of intriguing, but not intriguing enough to get me to do more than snoop around.

Later on, over at More Stuff 4 Less — a dangerous webpage stumbled across via Lockergnome — I discovered that an online store had a $40-off promo going for the roomba. Before I knew it, I’d ordered one. Happened so fast it left me surprised.

I’d bought my first robot. A robot vacuum cleaner. Kind of embarrassing when I stopped to think about it. But there it was — I’d pulled the trigger, there was no going back. All I could do was await delivery.

Two days ago it arrived. I drag it out of the box, slip in the battery pack, plug it into a wall socket to charge up.

Yesterday I got it going, starting off in the bedroom. Prep the floor (meaning move loose articles and electrical cords out of the way), put the roomba down in the center of the space, turn it on, set the room size. It comes to life, sounding like a cross between a vacuum cleaner and a wind-up toy. Starts working in a spiral pattern until it bumps into something, after which it moves around the space in more of a grid pattern, constantly modified as the machine runs into furniture, bed posts, walls. I watch for a few minutes, then close the door to the room, head off to the kitchen. As I eat, wash dishes, clean up, the roomba works away in the bedroom. Occasionally I hear the sound of it bumping into the baseboard heater in there. When it decides it’s gotten the job done, it turns itself off.

I head in there, inspect the floor. Clean. Even under the bed. I open up the roomba’s little dustbin, empty it out, then put the machine to work in the bathroom. Same deal, resulting in a clean floor, everywhere but one or two places it couldn’t get into, which I take care of with a brush and dustpan. After which I put the little bugger to work in the kitchen. Same deal once again. After which I find myself smugly thinking this may have been a purchase as brilliant as the espresso machine.

So there you have it. I sip espresso while my robot slave takes care of the vacuuming. Mr. Fatuous, that’s me.

Right. On to the day.

July 4th. July 3rd, according to the calendar, but actually July 4th. I can tell. In the first place, all the local holiday festivities happened today in defiance of the calendar’s version of linear reality. Second — and this is the more crucial giveaway — firetrucks and ambulances are running around the countryside, sirens whooping hysterically. All the way out here — officially the middle of nowhere according to the U.S. Geophysical Survey — where I have never before heard or seen a fire truck in emergency mode.

It’s a dangerous state, independence. It leads to the gathering of humans where children run rampant while adults consume great honking piles of meat, quaff oceans of potent liquids. After which they ignite powerful fireworks. Resulting in emergency vehicles getting a good workout.

Speaking of workouts — this morning: got up at an excessively reasonable hour, tossed my gym bag in the car, followed back roads into Montpelier to be a good workout do-be before the facility closed mid-afternoon to allow people to get started on the meat, potent liquids, fireworks. Stopped at the post office on the way, where I noticed that the clerk had a large, strange-looking effigy of a U.S. soldier to one side of his station, a soldier gripping a pole from which hung an outsized American flag. The effigy: more than a foot tall, dressed in khakis and helmet, eyes and mouth wide open, combat-boot shod feet spread apart, planting him solidly on his small patch of simulated earth. The mini-soldier stood atop an oval pedestal, a large red button bulging out of it front and center. The clerk — a bearded, balding, good-humored, eminently likeable 40ish type — saw me checking out his flag-bearer He smiled broadly, reached over and pressed the red button. Immediately, the soldier began singing “God Bless America” at the top of its plastic lungs, waving the flag jerkily about, rubbery plastic mouth moving stiffly in a bizarre imitation of singing. All I could do was smile broadly back at the clerk, enjoying the spectacle. One more in that ongoing parade of spectacles we call life.

After the gym, walking around town taking care of various errands, sun shining through hazy clouds. On impulse this a.m., I’d thrown on good black jeans, pointy black boots, a nice, light silk Hawaiian shirt. Which left me seriously overdressed as everyone else sported warm-weather super-casual duds: t-shirts or polo shirts, shorts, sandals (with or without socks) or sneakers. The same number of people piloted vehicles or roamed the sidewalks as on a work day, more or less (not counting the souls seated at tables in the front yard of a church up the street hoovering down a pancake breakfast). Different attire, though. No work gear.

Families paraded about. Folks looked to be enjoying the start of the long weekend. It was nice to be in the middle of it.

Stopped in at a video rental shop, an episode from the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation played on the store television. The shop had a good sound system, rendering the background noises of a starship clearly, vividly. The counter help and I discussed the pleasures of TNG without commercials, of episodes from the days when Riker was young and sleek, minus the heft and hair of later seasons. Of Worf, Data and Q.

And the morning moved on. As did the day. Early afternoon found me back here on the hill, swapping email with friends, doing laundry, mowing lawn, continuing to shovel my way through the remaining post-Madrid, post-travel chaos here in the house.

It’s evening as I write this. Outside, lightning bugs cruise for love, choruses of crickets sing in the grass, quiet and tranquil. A large ceiling fan spins above me, providing relief from still, humid air.

July 4th. July 3rd, according to the calendar, but actually July 4th. With a whole ‘nother day of it coming tomorrow.

July 1st. As of today I’ve been back here seven days (here being northern Vermont). Some statistics from that week:

days of sunlight: six and a half

days over 90 : three

bug bites: ten or twelve and counting, half of them big red buggers

zits: four, mostly big ones (#*%^!!!!)

cups of espresso made/hoovered down: three (all today)

hours spent online: not many

mice caught in the household Havahart trap: two

days it took to read Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenex: five

days after my return it took my computer to crap out: two

the result/cure: reinstallation of Windows XP

episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer watched: nine

hour of sunset (northern Vermont): 8:37 p.m.

hour of sunset (Madrid, Spain): 9:49 p.m. (*Sob!*)

Since my return last Tuesday, lightning bugs have put on a show every evening. Quietly, gradually starting up with the fading of the day’s light until full darkness falls, when they’re are out in force. The long, rolling incline that extends down the northern slope in front of the house is the concentration point, perhaps because of the acres of uninterrupted meadow. All that cover to hide in during the hours of daylight. Come twilight, they rise from the long grass, blinking soundlessly. Cruising for glow-worms. In the shorter grass around the house, crickets make music. Above the long grass, fireflies call silently for a mate.

One of my earliest, clearest memories is of June evenings, fireflies blinking away in waning daylight, kids in the neighborhoods pursuing them, trying to capture one or two, hold them in a bottle overnight. Nowhere near as magical in captivity. Kind of sad, in fact. But still — they make light without heat or batteries. Like foxfire, another early memory.

Three nights ago, as darkness fell: lightning bugs put on their quiet extravaganza above the hillside to the north side of the house. At the same time, up the valley to the north, lightning pulsed now and then above the hills. Silently for a while, like the fireflies. Kind of cool, that — one light show small and close by, the other grand, distant. But moving closer. The lightning display carried on for three hours, slowly moving in this direction, thunder gradually becoming audible, then loud. Rain started up around 11:45, fell heavily for three or four hours, then stopped. By the time the eastern horizon grew light, the clouds had taken off, the sun rose in a clear blue sky. Talk about nicely planned.

Earlier on Saturday, I’d driven into Montpelier, my bicycle stuffed into the back of the car. Parked in town, got the bike out, tooled around for a while, finally heading out the local bike path and riding its length, north out of town. On the way back in, I passed a sizeable parking lot behind a commercial building, far enough out from the town center that all was quiet. A scant handful of cars remained parked. At one end of the lot, well away from any other cars, an eye-catchingly blue Dodge Neon occupied a space. In the space next to it, a 30ish man sat in a folding chair, facing the sun. Sunglasses, neatly combed hair, dark blue sport shirt (buttoned up), dark shorts, black socks (pulled up), sandals, sunglasses. Motionless, hands on the chair’s arms. Quiet, formal-looking. No music playing, no book or magazine in evidence. No other people in sight, the scene perfectly still except for a breeze rustling nearby trees.

Ah, the rustic life.

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