far too much writing, far too many photos

Is it me or did this last weekend go by at gonad-rattling speed?

I had a phone conversation with a friend from Québec yesterday, a talk that focused briefly on cats, us theorizing about cat-related expressions in English and French (i.e., chat de gouttière = alley cat?). Post-call, I found myself mentally drifting back in time, remembering a cat I’d known during my tenure in Seattle. A sharp little feline living with its person in a two-floor apartment. The owner had a tendency to lock the cat out of the bedroom at night, the cat figured out that the kitchen was located directly over said bedroom. Rather than sit outside the bedroom door trying to rouse resting human, the cat would head to the kitchen and commence jumping from counter to floor, each landing producing a thump — hard to ignore, seeming to grow louder, more resolute as one leap followed another. A maneuver that continued without rest until the human surrendered and opened the bedroom door.

Another cat, a thick-coated heavy shedder, somehow made the connection between shaking itself and airborne hair. So that if pissed off at its owner, rather than clawing furniture or clothing, or peeing or throwing up on the bed or in shoes, it would stand near the seated owner and shake itself until enough fur filled the air that the owner couldn’t stand it any more.

Cats — capable of high-level ploys for the training and punishment of their humans.

It rained like cats (and dogs) here yesterday evening, by the way — the first rain in a week, far and away the longest dry spell since I returned in mid-June. Rained like it was trying to make up for lost time, with major displays of lightning and numerous brief losses of power. Took down yesterday’s heat and humidity, the air now less heavy, though mist and haze remain, softening the green hills of the valley — green hills showing a bit less green now, more yellow and red. In fact, yellow leaves were flying here yesterday, a couple of nearby trees taking advantage of warm breezes to get a head start on the autumnal disrobing.

The round-the-clock end-of-summer insect singing continues in the grass around the house, a bit of it moving indoors overnight. In the theater world, a cricket in the building means good luck. Here it means waking up at 3 a.m. to the loud, insistent chirping of a tiny sleepless maniac. I had to turn on the light, hunt the bugger down, toss him (or her) outside.

Another by the way: that car full of females I’d been expecting yesterday turned out to be two cars, with only three females between them. (Not that I’m complaining.) Nice people, as it turned out, all three.

Ah, well. On to the day.

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

Abandoned farm — Calais, VT

Madrid, te echo de menos.

During this last week, a wave of spectacular, bliss-inducing summer weather has settled in around these parts, leaving my little bod mighty happy. Despite that, a few nights of cold temperatures last weekend and the slow gathering of autumn color make it hard to forget that a colder season looms. Which has me starting to take on tasks that can’t be put off any longer.

After five years of a kind of punishment most non-lawn-care-company mowers rarely see — near-daily use between April and October, plowing through 2+ acres of lawn — the wheel/handle brackets on my power push mower began shearing in half. This machine has taken the load made for a much heavier unit and plugged faithfully away — the engine continues gamely on, but the body is slowly giving up. Earlier in the summer, the handle tore apart and had to be replaced. This week I ordered new handle brackets and did the replacement work, essentially disassembling the rear of the chassis then fitting it back together. (It’s amazing how lawn sludge has found its way into every cranny and seam beneath that chassis.)

Today’s project: pulling out the stovepipes and chimney insert for the coal stove, giving them their annual cleaning. A task I generally put off as long as possible, and for good reason: on the fun scale, it’s right up there with circumcision. At least if one has to do it solo, usually the case here. 90 minutes of sheer, screaming pleasure, followed by a long shower, scrubbing blackened arms, torso and hair clean of coal dust.

I’ve also, between bouts of making manual-labor whoopee, been trawling for someone to housesit here during the winter/spring, while I’m in Madrid. A process that got a bit wackier than I’d anticipated, in part because of the way numerous individuals expressed interest then disappeared, never to be heard from again. Finally, yesterday, a nice woman came to take a gander at the place. As I showed her around, we discovered she’d misunderstood the length of the housesit and will be moving out west in March. Two months, more or less, before my return to the States. Oops.

So. One candidate down. Another shows up tomorrow, on the way back from a wedding in Maine. With a car full of females.

Bet that’ll beat the hell out of snorting coal soot.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Another one-of-a-kind residence — Plainfield, VT:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

The temperature here at 7 a.m.: 39 degrees. This really has to stop.

This morning, after a peaceful summer, the house’s resident ghost started feeling its oats again. (See entry of August 14, 2002.)

There have been, during the last week or two, a few instances of the kind of quiet, unobtrusive sounds I sometimes hear around the place — the noise of someone doing something in another room. The quiet sounds of someone moving around — banal, gentle, nonthreatening. However. This morning at 7:20 a.m., as I sat in the bathroom, er, indisposed — alone in the house — a door slammed downstairs. Not closed — slammed. The kind of impact you feel as well as hear.

I knew what I’d find when I took a swing down there to see what was up — all doors just the way they should be: doors that had been open remained open, doors that had been closed remained closed, doors that should have been locked remained locked. Nothing out of place, no signs of mischief.

My first experience with this phenomenon took the same form — the sound of a door closing emphatically downstairs, me alone in the house. The weeks that followed brought plenty of sounds around the living space, the kind I’ve gotten used to — understated, well-mannered. Nonaggressive. Nothing as attention-getting as that first bit. Until this morning. I’ll be curious to see what happens now.

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

Two evenings ago:

This morning, far too early:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

The temperature here at 7 a.m.: 39 degrees. This really has to stop.

Yesterday I took part in the great American sport of outlet shopping. Rained like hell Friday night and all yesterday morning. I had to go into Montpelier for gym/errands — given the gray sky and falling moisture, seemed like a good day to keep heading west, investigate the small outlet mall in Essex Junction, near Burlington.

A beautiful 30-minute drive, at the end of which suddenly appeared: the mall. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Much smaller than the monstrous, sprawling complexes of outlet stores in Kittery, Maine. Far more manageable. Relaxed. Plenty of people about, but not oppressively so. Stores not heaving with shoppers, parking lots not overflowing with cars.

My goal for the day: black jeans. Found other stuff, of course. A bunch of other stuff, actually, though I did not lose control and go absolutely fucking wild. Just took advantage of some serious bargains. When I drove home, the back of the car was nicely packed with acquisitions. No black jeans, though. (*Sob!*)

As might be expected, the folks at the mall all looked like the Vermont version of middle Americans, out enjoying Vermont’s current damp, cool version of summer. (Within an hour of my arrival, gray clouds gave way to mellow afternoon sunshine, evoking a contented sigh from me.) All of them with the exception of a few foreign tourists (looking slightly disoriented, as if with no idea how they wound up in this outpost of cut-rate consumerism), a handful of the more redneck-style local folks and, walking with one family unit — clearly a member of the family, clearly loved and indulged by them — one lonely goth kid. Done up in a high-schooler’s version of goth duds. Head recently shaved, just starting to grow back in (save one patch of long black hair functioning as angular bangs). Clothes black, layered, torn. Big, big, big bellbottom pants, ragged leg bottoms scraping the floor, trailing behind black thick-soled boots like twin wedding-dress trains (on a particularly bad day, after a dip in a coal bin, with a serious ‘tude). And many chain loops swinging from his waist, making him sound strangely, incongruously like a spurs-wearing Western type as he shuffled along with the family unit.

He picked up his share of stares, appeared to feel out of his element, venturing gamely into stores with his family until he couldn’t stand it any more, then fleeing outside, leaning up against a convenient wall to waited for his kin, looking moodily about, not meeting eyes.

His family appeared to give him no flack at all about his get-up, about who he was. I saw nothing but matter-of-fact acceptance, as if he were no different from them. As if he were just a young soul, being who he was at this time of his life, them allowing it without self-consciousness, without conditions. Allowing it, in fact, with love. Good for them.

Before leaving, I ordered a plate of chicken lo mein at a small Chinese restaurant at the mall. A mountain of surprisingly tasty food, complete with fortune cookie. Which got me remembering occasions back in Cambridge, Massachusetts — meals eaten with friends at various Chinese joints, where I learned the ironclad rule of reading cookie fortunes: the true meaning of the aphorism can only be divined with the words ‘in bed’ tacked on to the sentence. “Good fortune will find you (in bed).” “Love awaits you (in bed).” And of course, the fortune must be read out loud, preferably in the company of friends who will do the same. Very silly, sometimes producing extreme hilarity.

The wildest, most intense display of fortune-cookie comedy ever: with friends, at the end of a meal in a crowded restaurant, communicating our fortunes via charades — an activity that extended the meal by 30 or 40 minutes and had us nearly prostrate with laughter, to the point that other diners cast many startled glances our way, the waitstaff with no idea what to make of the loud goofiness taking place at our table but smiling gamely as they let us enjoy ourselves.

My fortune from yesterday’s meal: “Someone is speaking well of you (in bed).”

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Made the drive into Montpelier earlier today. Parked the car, decided I didn’t feel like carrying my camera as I went from one place to another. Left it out of view on the floor.

Bad decision. Not because of theft. Because of missed photo opportunities.

The first: a slender, eccentric-looking 70-something with white hair, a feisty air and a C. Everett Koop style moustacheless beard. Wearing a t-shirt with the large, emphatic message ‘OLD AGE AIN’T FOR SISSIES!’

The second: an even more slender, inoffensive-looking 80-something woman seated in a folding lawn chair, wearing a t-shirt that read ‘Raging Grannies.’

The guy got into a Lincoln Continental and took off. The woman didn’t look like she was going much of anywhere. I hustled back to my car, grabbed the camera, trotted back to get a pic or two of the raging granny. In the few minutes I was away she disappeared, folding chair and all. I have no idea how she moved so fast — someone must have picked her up and carted her off.

Now that I think about it, photos of those two would have been a perfectly matched set. Bugger.

Lesson: carry the goddamn camera around.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Late summer has taken hold here, slipping sneakily in as the days roll unstoppably past. Daytime skies change with erratic fluidity between sunlight and overcast, often overlain by the haze of summertime humidity, softening the air, softening the vistas of green, green hills and mountains. Lots of rain, punctuated by misty mornings and the relief of sunshine.

The critters in the grass sing louder and louder, making late summer music 24 hours a day (a kind of soundtrack that promotes fine sleep). More and more trees show autumn colors. Rolls of mown hay appear in farmers’ fields.

Three days ago the robins disappeared, heading south right on schedule. The hummingbirds, usually out of here in sync with the robins, continue hanging about, but I expect they’ll bolt at any time. In general, the noise of songbirds has gone quiet, even the singing of the thrush in the woods across the road, a near constant sound this summer — an indication that the stampede out of here in advance of autumn temperatures is well underway. And birds migrating south from areas further north have begun passing through, some in flocks, others showing up singly or in pairs, resting briefly then moving on.

In the spring, as the day of my return to this side of the Atlantic approaches and I find myself feeling good and rooted in my Madrid existence, I resist coming back. I complain. I bitch and fuss. But once I’m back and have made the adjustment (often a heavier process than expected), I find myself slipping into a state of pleasure that’s hard to describe, just from being back in this part of the world at this time of the year. I drift through my days (being productive or not), I do errands, I swap email and, less frequently, phone calls with friends. I push the lawn mower across oceans of grass, I stick flowers in the Earth or in pots, I pop a young tree or two into the ground. I eat, I write, I read, sometimes I crank up the stereo, occasionally the T&V goes on. Then I glance at the calendar to find that days/weeks at a time have disappeared in no time flat.

I arrived back here 60+ days ago. And the calendar entries continue to push and shove each other out of the way as they hurry make their way through, briefly here, then gone. Temporary, transient, always in motion.

There’s a sweetness to that, a poignancy that could easily be experienced as bittersweet. If I’m in the moment, though, what permeates the passing hours is the sweetness, minus the bitter.

But I blather.

On to the day.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

One-of-a-kind residence — Plainfield, VT:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Yesterday: a cheery morning (sunshine, birds singing, all that) gradually gave way to gray skies which had begun looking ominous by mid-afternoon. Sitting on the couch around 4 p.m., I became aware that the light from the windows from the south of the house remained relatively light, while the sky to the north had grown dark, intense-looking. The clouds moving down the valley began blotting out more and more light, and when dark streamers began extending earthward, something clearly was up.

I’d stepped outside to take a look around by then, felt the first raindrops. Not light, friendly drops, those buggers — big, cold, aggressive ones, striking heavily. I retreated to the house, made it inside just as rain began coming down in more serious fashion, wind beginning to blow, the sound of it all growing to a roar as a curtain of falling water hit. At which time all outside visibility disappeared. Literally, all I could see outside the house was a few feet of lawn extending out away from the structure, disappearing into a hazy white wash of driving precipitation, while the din of wind and falling water pounding on roof and walls continued swelling.

That went on for a strange, unnerving while, easing off sometime later to more normal, less intimidating showers that continued into the night. When I awoke in the wee hours, the gutters and downspouts rattlied and pinged from runoff, but no more precipitation came down.

The morning: gray skies, mist. When I took the midday walk out to the mailbox, the sky showed signs of lightening up, giving way suddenly to patches of blue sky, washes of sunlight.

I don’t mind gray weather. It can feel meditative, restful. But there’s something about the sudden appearance of sunshine that just perks my little heart up. Feels kind of silly — a smile automatically appears on my silly face, my step gets just a bit lighter.

Another beautiful northern Vermont mid-August day has now blessedly asserted itself, a bit of relief in the middle of one of the wettest summers I’ve ever experienced.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

This weekend: a friend had been scheduled to drive up Friday evening to spend a couple of nights. They were concerned about driving in heavy weather, sent an email Friday a.m. canceling out. Rained a couple of hours Friday evening, during the night overcast gave way to a classically beautiful August weekend, not a drop of unfriendly precipitation in sight.

So. Instead of conversation and cavorting around the countryside, I’ve done errands, work and gotten quiet.

Went into Montpelier yesterday (gym, bank, blahblahblah). A Harley-Davidson gathering of some kind was underway, the town center overrun with relentlessly flatulent motorcycles, machines apparently bred on steroids and drastically undercooked pinto beans.

Began digging into a library book, “As She Climbed Across The Table” by Jonathan Lethem. Sample paragraph:

“Days passed. Classes were taught, seminars held. Papers
were handed in, graded, and returned. The team won something,
and the trees filled with garlands of toilet paper. It rained,
and the toilet paper dripped to the pathways, and into the wiper
blades of parked cars. A group of students seized the Frank J.
Bellhope Memorial Aquarium to protest the treatment of Roberta,
the manatee savant. The protest was a failure. I called a
symposium on the history of student seizure of campus buildings.
The symposium was a success. In the larger world, the team invaded
something, some hapless island or isthmus. A letter of protest by
the faculty was drafted, revised, and scrapped. Bins of swollen
pumpkins appeared in the produce sections of Fastway and Look ‘n’
Like.” (copyright © 1997 by Jonathan Lethem)

Inside the house, me on the sofa reading, legs extended out to rest on the coffee table, occasionally letting the book drop to my chest to stare out the window at green mountains, broad sky. A clock quietly ticks. Outside, the late summer music continues, insect choraleers of all kinds going at it 24 hours a day, birds providing counterpoint. Stepping out the kitchen door means a transition from quiet to sudden, gently swelling noise. Northern Vermont’s late summer soundtrack.

The second wave of visitors — theoretically scheduled to arrive, er, later today or perhaps tomorrow, certainly sometime before the apocalypse — were to have telephoned yesterday to discuss details. No call. Hmmmm.

Ah, well.

Mid-August, partway through an unexpectedly peaceful weekend.

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

At the risk of flogging yesterday’s morning/evening sky thing to death — today, this morning, right outside the house:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

This morning, far too early:

This evening, after a long day:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Two days ago, standing out in the yard, hose in hand (the water hose, dirty minds), I felt a shadow pass over me, saw it glide away across the grass, its path taking a sweeping curve to the left. An enormous shadow, long and slightly crescent-shaped. It was one of those microseconds that tap into a primal part of the nervous system, the hair on the back of my neck prickling even as my brain understood the source of the shadow and tipped my head back to gaze up into the sky.

About a hundred feet above the house, one of the largest red-tailed hawks I’ve ever seen circled slowly, its flight keeping it directly over my little hilltop fiefdom, not drifting gradually away across the countryside as often happens with that kind of slow, circling course. A line of fir trees and jumbo-sized lilac bushes off this end of the house acts as a windbreak, sheltering lots of wildlife, mostly songbirds. Lately, there have been an exceptionally high number of them hanging about. This hawk had gotten a bead on that, knew good hunting prospects when it saw them.

Normally, a couple of sharp handclaps drive away unwanted winged interlopers (pigeons, sharp-shinned hawks, etc.), sounding enough like rifle shots to throw a scare into them. Not this time. This bird was a hunter, undisturbed by my feeble subterfuge.

I glanced briefly away at one point, when I looked back, the hawk had drifted substantially upward, appearing half the size it had an instant before. A moment later, I looked briefly away again. When my gaze refocused where the hawk had been, I saw nothing but blue sky and white clouds, shafts of sunlight refracting through it all in dramatic display.

Gone.

Other sizeable birds have passed — this morning a heron flew along the treetops, following the gravel road over the hill. No return visit from the humongo hawk, though.

Northern Vermont has hit its lush, mid-August stride, critters everywhere, songbirds carrying on in all directions, the grass and bushes alive with singing insects, tree frogs occasionally adding to the general sweet tumult. All of it combining to produce a kind of music that affects me like little else, right up there with wind in trees or breaking surf. A kind of soundtrack I wait for all year, producing a sense of peace and satisfaction that’s hard to describe. (Yes, I know I may be a weirdo, but there it is.) I tend to leave all the windows open, the stereo stays off.

That’s going to change, though. Two waves of visitors will be showing up in rapid succession, the first arriving Friday night, the second on Sunday or Monday. Everyone taking advantage of the high season. (What the hell. That’s what guest rooms are for.)

It’s going to produce a whole different kind of soundtrack, especially when the second wave arrives with two exuberant little girls in tow.

Entries here may be spotty during all the hubbub.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Northern Vermont on a perfect August day, a few trees already showing autumn color:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

My second year after college, I tried out existence in the town my brother lived in: New Paltz, just across the flats from the easternmost reaches of the Catskills, home to the state college my brother attended. A small town in those years, no longer so small thanks to its location on the Thruway (90 minutes north of N.Y.C.) and its character — not too expensive, reasonably friendly, with a slightly rural feel and the faintest tinge of hippydom.

I lasted a year in New Paltz. A fairly turbulent 12 months, as it turned out — no humongo surprise, given the general turbulence of that time in my little life. There were positive aspects, there was some fun, but also abundant weirdness, plenty of my then-customary flailing around.

New Paltz had no theater happening, apart from productions given by the college’s theater department. A problem for someone like me, with a dramatic arts degree and a serious acting jones. And then shortly after the holidays had lurched through, giving way to the new year and deep, sloppy winter weather, I came across a handbill for auditions at a small theater a half-hour’s drive north, past Kingston and out on a country two-lane, a little-used road that wound through a hollow between heavily wooded hills. When I showed for the try-out, I found an old country church that an enterprising type had taken over and turned into a performing space. The altar had become a stage, everything else remained essentially as it had been — tall, beautiful windows; rows of pews; dark, heavy wood everywhere — with the addition of some lighting equipment. And a motley handful of theater folk.

Theater folk who were glad to see me, me apparently being the only twit to show up for the try-out. (A twit, fortunately, who could act.) They read me for a two-person piece by a French playwright, Pinget, translated/adapted by his friend, Samuel Becket. A long, quirky conversation between two elderly Irish men, old friends who encounter each other in a park after years of no contact. My father’s side of my family: 100% Irish. A part like this came as no stretch for me.

Quickly, I found myself in rehearsals, working with a guy named John, also of Irish extraction, but purer than mine, showing unmistakably in his face, a kind of Irish mug I saw in trips to Eire years later. A lovely guy, older than me, married, with an infant he doted on.

I enjoyed working on that piece, enjoyed working with John. Life in the theater beyond that was something else again. The place was the fiefdom of a talented goofball: Alan. Good actor. A dramatic son of a bitch onstage and, unfortunately, off. Dramatic and libidinous, living with a 20-something woman, carrying on with her 30-something sister on the side, messing around with yet another 30-something woman on the other side. Nice people, all three women, unhappy with it all, yet making no visible moves to disentangle themselves. Alan now and then seemed to feel he was a victim, making shows of self-righteous angst and indignation. As clueless as I was at that time in my life, as proficient as I was at creating messy, dramatic situations in my life, nothing I created during the year in New Paltz compared with what I saw at this theater.

But I didn’t have to spend too much out-of-rehearsal time around all that. I got to know John and his wife some, a nice aspect of my time in the show. They seemed somewhat entangled with Alan and all the rest of that world, a natural deterrent to me getting deeply entangled with them (my inner alarm system went off any time I began spending too much time around the wackiness happening beyond the limits of the theater’s stage, alarm bells confirmed by strange, dramatic fireworks that went off at the production’s end). Plus, I had plans to move cross-country soon after the run of the show. Which I did. And that was that.

Five years later, back on the east coast, married (the one and only such lapse in my lifetime to date) and living in New York City, I ran into John one chilly, gray day in Manhattan. Both of us were in the middle of trying times, we exchanged cheery, well-intentioned but awkward greetings, caught up briefly, awkwardly, exchanged phone numbers (awkwardly), never called each other. An outcome I felt badly about and have wished I could change. Every now and then he’d pass through my thoughts, I’d wonder where life took him, I’d wonder if I’d ever get a chance to find out.

Montpelier has an equity theater company that produces shows in the town hall during the warm season, last month they produced a script by an Irish playwright, Brian Friel, a show I’d thought about checking out. Thought about, but never actually saw. It closed just over two weeks ago. During a trip into town several days later, I picked up one of the local weekly papers. Back home, I paged through it, came across a review of the show (a bit late to affect box office), and found myself staring at a photo of an Irish face I recognized. Years older, but unmistakably John. My hands grabbed the phone, punched in the theater’s phone number. A woman there confirmed that John had been in the Friel play and had bolted town immediately after, home now being somewhere in western Massachusetts. I gave them my name/phone number, asked if they would pass them along to John with a request to call. They consented.

Nine or ten days later — this last weekend — the phone rings. I answer, someone begins laying a line on me about being a voice from the past. And there he was, sounding older, more crisp, more solid. I cut off his intro line, calling out, “Hey, John!” Hilarity ensued.

Catching up has begun.

Life — it delivers.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

A few weeks back, late one night, I stumbled across a bit of the ‘The Bourne Identity’ during a brief pre-bedtime spin around the channels. Knew nothing about the film except the names Matt Damon (talented actor) and Robert Ludlum (big-selling thriller writer), never had any interest in seeing it. Found myself watching an exceptional thriller with a great cast. ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ came out a couple of weeks ago, I’ve debated going but never felt the impulse to get off my adorable butt and do it until this evening.

Drove into Montpelier, a little town that looks its best on cool summer evenings like this, appearing and feeling a bit autumnal. Walked into the theater, discovered that the audience for the film was overwhelmingly female. Hmmm. A Matt Damon/beefcake thing? Don’t know.

The film: good. Tight, intense. (The filmmakers might want to rethink the wildly excessive handheld-camera use for the franchise’s next installment.)

Afterward, headed into the men’s room, claimed the free urinal. At the neighboring urinal, an 8 or 9 year old (dressed in classically nerdish duds, emptying an impressively full bladder) shot a quick glance at me, then angled his little body away, in paranoically exaggerated fashion, to the point where it must have taken some effort to continue hitting the target instead of the wall.

We’re a strange bunch, we male humans.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

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