far too much writing, far too many photos

Found myself awake and up early this morning, after falling asleep early last night — early enough last night that I saw none of the Academy Awards broadcast, early enough this morning that the sky remained dark, the moon shining blurrily through hazy clouds.

Me not watching the Academy Awards hooha: not so unusual. Too long, too bloated for my taste. Yes, each year there are moments of fun, drama, emotion. But when I try to sit through it, I get bored, unhappy, feel like I’ve been gorging on the video equivalent of empty calories. So I tend to read the following day’s rundowns of the event and leave it at that. (Yo, Clint, Hilary and Morgan — way to go! Ditto to Alejandro Amenábar, Javier Bardem, and Belén Rueda of ‘The Sea Inside.’)

I’ll admit the Chris-Rock-as-host thing caught my attention. Got me thinking I might sit through some of the ceremony, see how he did. Came 8 o’clock, though — after a day of gearing up for tomorrow’s return to Madrid, my little brain in constant activity, trying to nail down all the details that need nailing down, my little feet taking me all over the place as I carried out brain’s instructions — I found myself nodding off in my chair, finally dragged myself toward the bedroom and lay my bod down. (8 o’clock. Me, nodding off. Next stop: a room at The Golden Twilight rest home.) Next thing I know, it’s the wee hours, my bladder’s giving me the elbow in hopes I’ll make the hike to the bathroom.

Got up in stoic fashion, made the hike. Stayed up, got the stove going. Did trip prep. Ate, hoovered down caffeinated fluids. Drove into Montplier, took care of far too many things that needed taking care of. Stopped in to say a fast see-ya to my downhill neighbor, Mo, on the way back. Did further trip prep., wrapping up just about everything that needed wrapping up. By 4:30 my bags were packed, a show of efficiency that still has me feeling a bit stunned. Nothing major remains to be done, apart from small, piddling details. Damn, I’m good.

Meanwhile, people on this side of the Atlantic have realized I’m about to disappear for a while, suddenly the phone’s ringing, I’m in demand. A few others call or write to mumble au revoir.

And the passing hours continue accelerating.

When I do these transatlantic hops, I have two experiences: there’s the part of me that moves through the the trip a step at a time, doing what needs to be done as far as transit, customs, dragging baggage around and waiting, waiting, waiting (reading, writing, watching people) until the long haul is finally over. And then there’s the part of me that’s screaming Aaaaaiiiieeeee!!!! through it all, wondering why in hell I’m uprooting my existence yet another time, why I’m putting myself through yet another migration. Then I get to Madrid (or Vermont), I acclimate, I’m happy again.

It’s a strange, schizy lifestyle, featuring a huge amount of things I love, punctuated by the occasional transatlantic jolt. Not a way I would have imagined myself living in earlier years of this lifetime.

I have no idea how much longer I’ll continue doing this or where I’ll end up. I’ll probably be back in Vermont in the second half of May — that’s as much as I know.

I’m off. Back online sometime Wednesday, from Madrid.

Madrid, te hecho de menos.

Abandoned house outside Barre, Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

B., my latest houseguest, arrived Sunday, early afternoon. What ensued: hours of conversation, a trip into Montpelier for a good movie (Almost Peaceful) and a good dinner at the town’s only barbecue joint. B. had originally been thinking of returning home the following day, to Cape Ann, north of Boston. Instead, we woke up the next a.m. to find that snow had begun coming down during the night. It continued falling, the day became one of blabbing, eating, relaxing, driving back into Montpelier that evening for another good movie (Million Dollar Baby).

B. has pointed out that odd things sometimes happen when we hang out together. For instance, April of 2002: during a weekend visit here by Himself and a handful of other weirdos, we were all awakened in the early hours by a small earthquake centered in upstate New York. November, 2004: Immediately after a 2-3 day rendezvous with B. north of Milano, another small quake rattled that area. This time: nothing quite as earthshaking. After returning from the day’s jaunt into town, we got into a bit too much talk about some recent events that had gone a bit less wonderfully than desired. Within minutes, I picked up the phone to discover the line dead again. We cranked up a DVD, my stereo amplifier — freshly back from repairs needed in the wake of the person who took care of this place from November through January (see entry of February 7) — began misbehaving. Post-DVD, sitting at the dining room table discussing the phone/amplifier, B. mentioned that he’s experienced moments when ‘everything’ (his word) in his living space went down at the same time. A moment or two later, the house carbon monoxide alarm goes off. After several hilarious minutes spent exploring the various possible sources of CO, finding no problem anywhere, the alarm quieted down, we called it a night, headed to our respective bedrooms.

This impish universe of ours: it’s got far too active a sense of humor, don’t you think?

Monday morning: after taking the needed time to get the stove going, eat and inhale enough caffeine to drag me somewhere near full consciousness, I pulled on heavy weather gear, got ready for the drive to a phone booth and the latest in the ongoing series of calls to Verizon’s repair service. Just as I headed out, the neighbor whose phone I’d used two days before [see entry of February 20] materialized, letting me know that this time their phone was also out, as was my uphill neighbors’. He’d tried to call Verizon the night before, failing to locate a real person to speak with, leaving many long, stressed messages instead.

I drove slowly — through countryside sleeping beneath accumulating snow, wind blowing sheets of white powder across the sparsely-traveled two-lane — to the nearest village. Called Verizon, managed to get a genuine human being who then put me on hold, disconnecting me. Called again, got another human being who did the same. The third managed to hang on to me, said they were aware of the outage, that it would be taken care of by that evening. And since it was a line problem, no one would need to get into anyone’s house — important, that, considering the goofiness of two or three days earlier.

By 2:30, heavy snowfall had become flurries, phone service had been restored. Since then, everything technical has performed flawlessly — me appreciating the bejesus out of it all, enjoying the adventures, feeling mighty taken care of in the middle of wacky happenings.

Shortly after the dial tone reappeared, during meal prep. and continuing conversation, B. and I found ourselves getting into a heated exchange, seriously, intensely so, one that developed unexpectedly after him mentioning the suicide of Hunter S. Thompson. A kind of event I rarely experience, am rarely inclined to get into — in this case, I felt the inclination and stayed with it, a measure of my trust and regard for B. The conversation moved forward, the air thick with energy and flying words, neither of us having what I would call a ball, but hanging in, listening to each other and to ourselves, gradually pulling out of it into a place of greater clarity, ease, relief.

I haven’t experienced much of that conflict-leading-to-positive-result thing in this little life of mine, and sure as hell didn’t see it role-modeled in my family. Anger generally meant danger in the childhood home scene, of the physical variety in younger years (beatings, or poundings around the face and head, that sometimes seemed to explode out of nowhere), emotional violence at other times (from lack of training, lack of inner resource, not from lack of personal quality or good intent, both of which were abundant in our clan). So I appreciate that my inner radar has sharpened to the point of being able to indicate who might be capable of working things through in healthier ways, and I appreciate attracting relationships into my life that can weather passages like that and come out of them intact, maybe stronger.

A great person, B. — a fine individual to spend some time with.

He hit the road Tuesday morning, real life has since taken hold here with plenty to be done. Next Tuesday brings the return trip to Madrid, I’m well into the speeding up of time that customarily takes place in the days before one of these transatlantic shifts — the days packed with things to be done, details to keep track of, the passing hours gradually accelerating as the calendar slouches closer and closer to the departure date.

This life of ours: it’s one big kick in the pants.

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

Thank you, Hunter S. Thompson, for producing some groundbreaking, deeply influential writing. There are professional scribblers who would kill to have come up with just one installment of your early publishing trifecta.

Anyone looking for a good read could do worse than to seek out ‘Hell’s Angels,’ ‘Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas‘ (still one of the funniest, most outrageous books I’ve ever read), and ‘Fear and Loathing On The Campaign Trail.’

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Snowshadows

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Am back online after three days without phone service. The following was written Thursday:

“Phone service went out here this morning, making it impossible to do the ongoing work on this journal’s older entries (updating links, edits/rewrites, moving photos from pbase to this domain, altering HTML to reflect the difference). Providing an unexpected block of time to simply sit and run off at the mouth.

“This is the first day of full-bore sunshine this little corner of the world has seen in a while. The last week mostly brought gray, cold, rainy/snowy conditions, after which this morning’s blue skies felt pretty stinkin’ good. A good time for the phone lines to act up, my mood/attitude being pretty much unsinkable.

“I have dial-up service here, with a fair amount of background noise on the line, which can, at times, slow down the loading of pages/data to a crippled, drunken crawl. This morning, that crawl outdid itself, becoming slower and slower (repeatedly kicking me offline), finally going belly up, the dial tone disappearing altogether. Picking up the phone confirmed the dead line, I checked other jacks in the house with a second phone — same thing.

“Finished some things here, pulled on a coat, drove down the hill to Mo’s place. His phone service continued without problem, I put through a call to Verizon repair service, suffering through five minutes of automated voices making me wait, jump through hoops, sit up and beg, apparently providing Mo and Barbara with some fine entertainment. An extremely nice woman finally spoke with me, instructing me to go back up to the house and plug a phone into the house junction box to make sure the problem was in external lines.

“While I did that (confirming that the trouble was outside the house), I heard a truck rumble by, disappearing uphill. On returning to Mo’s to follow up with repair service, he told me that the truck had been a Verizon vehicle, possibly responding to a call from a neighbor further up the hill, maybe on the way to check out our hilltop junction box, where the trouble might be originating. While we discussed that, the truck passed, heading back downhill. Mo theorized that the problem might have been fixed, I scooted home to recheck the lines. Service had indeed been restored, I dialed repairs to let them know all was well. And as I waited for their number to ring, the line went dead again.

“Trudged downstairs, checked the house junction box — dead. Pulled on coat, drove back to Mo’s, called repair service, eventually got through to a guy who sounded terminally bored, flatly disinterested. We went through the motions of a repair call, he eventually told me service would be restored by tomorrow at the latest, my jaw dropping in response as the word tomorrow reverberated in my teeny little brain. ‘Tomorrow?’ I finally managed to get out. ‘That’s right,’ he answered, his tone of voice communicating something along the lines of ‘Big deal, who cares, go away, let me sleep….’ I said nothing, mouth open, brain still processing the unexpected word ‘tomorrow,’ still marveling at the loss of phone service on a day of such beautiful weather — no trees going down, no ice or heavy snow causing headaches. Sunlight, temperature heading steadily upward. ‘Sorry,’ I finally said, ‘I’m speechless.’ Nothing from the other end of the line, the guy not feeling inclined to give me anything more than bad news, perhaps slowly expiring from ennui, lacking the energy or will to drum up any kind of bedside manner. ‘Well,’ I eventually enunciated, ‘do what you have to do,’ hanging up without waiting for a final terse, disinterested two or three words from the other end of the line.

“Went out into a beautiful day, realized my mood remained unshakeable, me feeling pretty good. And this is where my normal charmed life kicked in.

“Went to a dental appointment in a neighboring town, decided I’d call back repair service afterward and express some appreciation for the woman I’d initially spoken with, give her a commendation. Post-appointment (mouth happy, teeth sparkling), I asked the receptionist where the nearest pay phone might be. Right nearby, she said — in the parking lot, it turned out of a small, square, windowless brick Verizon building, a combo switching/relay depot and technician hangout. I’m at the pay phone, a guy walks out of the building, I ask him if he and his compatriots were aware that we’d lost phone service on our hill. They weren’t, he asked for details, went back inside to make a phone call. I finished up with the commendation, walked over to the brick building, knocked on the door. The guy lets me in, I find myself in the local linemen’s hangout, ambience strictly industrial, the guy quizzing me for details about the outage, passing the information along to people on the other end of the line. Ten minutes later, the local servicing network is alerted, the guy tells me he’ll be driving up himself to see what’s going on. I thank him, we shake, I return home feeling just fine.

“And here I am, sunlight pouring in the windows, house quiet, birds coming and going at the feeder outside the nearby window. Service is still out, but that’ll pass. In the meantime, I get to hang out for a while — write, eat some lunch, stare out at the Vermont countryside stretching away up the valley. All of that leaving me feeling obnoxiously content.”

That was Thursday.

Obnoxiously content. And I was. After all, we’re only talking about the phone line being out, not a dread disease, not a home invasion, not catastrophic weather. Me, in a warm, comfy house on top of a hill in the middle of beautiful country. With running water, food to eat, things to read, music to listen to. All that and more.

Now and then, as that afternoon and evening rolled by, I’d pick up the phone to see if the line had been resuscitated. Nothing doing.

Next day: called repair service around noontime from a pay phone in Montpelier, spoke with a nice woman. My situation was second on the technician’s to-do list for that day, she said. When he got finished with the first one he’d come out and do the work.

Went home, worked, hung out, now and then picked up the phone. The line remained dead.

Saturday morning: line still out. Just before the 48-hour mark, went down the hill to Mo’s, used their phone to call repairs.

“Well,” said the woman who answered, “a technician came out yesterday and you weren’t home.”

“Huh?” says I.

“They need to get to your house’s junction box, it’s apparently inside.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “in the garage.”

“You weren’t home, he couldn’t get in.”

“I was home. I didn’t hear anything. I wasn’t listening for anything because this is the first time anyone’s told me I needed to be home.” Me assuming all along that — the problem being in the lines outside the house, no one mentioning that I’d need to let anyone inside — work would be done outside somewhere, at some point the dial tone would miraculously reappear. Never occurred to me that I’d need to be in the house, much less on the alert for a hard-hatted, toolbelted visitor. Maybe it should have. Or not. Got me.

The upshot of the call — it was a long weekend, no one would be able to come out to take care of the line until next week. Leaving me, once again, openmouthed.

Got off the phone, not happy. Decided to take a drive and see if my neighbors at the end of the road had a working phone, just to get a picture of how widespread the problem might be. Went, found no one home. On the way back, came across another neighbor out taking a stroll in the 0° weather (temperature at 8 a.m.: -9°) with his two dogs (golden retrievers, happily cavorting, oblivious to the polar conditions). His phone was working, he offered me use of it. I decided to call repair service again, draw them a clear picture of me not having been given important information, try for a different outcome. I called, the person I dealt with heard me, made arrangements, told me a technician would show up either later in the day or first thing Sunday a.m.

No one showed Saturday, the line remained dead.

This morning, 9:15: a truck pulled into the driveway, I went outside (temperature: -1°) to meet the technician. He pulled on vest, jacket, gloves, hardhat, toolbelt. He checked the junction box, confirming the line was blinkered. (Duh.) Went outside, grabbed the extension ladder from his truck, trudged through knee-high snow, climbed up the utility pole over near the barn. Half an hour later, the phone came back to life, me practically doing cartwheels in response. He left, I called Verizon to give the guy a commendation, then cranked up the computer. I’ve been online ever since.

But here’s the thing: apart from the moments of phone conversations with Verizon folk, being phoneless had limited impact on my life. It made the day quieter, gave me more time to do other things — read, clean, work around the house, think. Watch a bit more video than I otherwise might. Listen to a bit more music. Life went nicely on.

As it does now. An overnight guest arrives this afternoon (B., of last November’s adventures in northern Italy.) Time to get social.

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

This morning, first light:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Underground house, post-snowfall — Montpelier, Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Spent a lot of the morning getting an old laptop computer ready to bestow on a ‘puterless friend, prep. that consisted in part of purging a hefty pile of documents. During which I stumbled across the text of some old theater pieces I’d written and performed years back. One-person stuff, autobiographical. One of which caught my eye and got me reading. Felt kinda weird to find myself plowing through something from my past about other things from my past, but it produced enough chortles that I’m afraid I decided to inflict a bit of it on, er, you.

From ‘Hormones on Parade’ (all of it true):

…in fourth or fifth grade, the kids in my class acted out a nifty version of the war between the sexes — groups of one gender scoping out the representatives of the other gender, looking for one or two off by themselves, alone, vulnerable. Lengthy, languid bouts of reconnoitering erupting into sudden raids, hit-and-run skirmishes aimed at taking prisoners of the enemy sex. Which meant that if a guy played his cards right, he could actually find himself captured by women — an unbelievably tantalizing prospect. Nothing much happened once you were a prisoner, of course. No real mistreatment, no unspeakable sexual whims. No one actually knew what to do with captive combatants, so that all the deliciously tense anticipation -– the game’s foreplay, I suppose — gave way to boredom, impatience, existential disgust.

The war skidded to an abrupt halt on a day I’d managed to get caught and found myself hanging suspended just above the playground earth, Karen Schneider pulling on my right arm while Paul Mortensen tried to save me from capture, pulling on my left leg. They jerked me back and forth, me facing up, studying the sky — there was a light cloud cover that noontime — until Karen dropped my arm, suddenly tired, no longer interested in our clown show. “This is so stupid,” she said. “I’m not playing any more.” It felt to me like all that tugging, all that pulling me back and forth had stretched my little body until it became long, attenuated, ribbon-like, rippling in the breeze like a pennant. When Karen let go I snapped back to my normal shape, landing in the dirt. She turned sharply away and walked off. Paul looked at her, looked at me, then exited in a different direction. And war gave way to sad, boring peace

School life resumed its normal droning tedium after that, me distracting myself by drifting through crushes on various females. I developed a jones for one of my classmates, a diminutive, button-nosed minx named Carolyn Sutton — a bit of longing that climaxed in an especially vivid dream. I found myself in a dream version of our classroom, other kids around, the school being terrorized by a gunman who lurked outside, out of view. Shots were fired through the windows, broken glass and capsized desks littered the floor. Tension, angst. And then Carolyn took a bullet. And as I knelt crying over her sweet, dead body, I woke up, tears streaming down my face, dismayed to find myself in my waking world and refusing to accept it. I turned over, willing myself back to sleep. And found myself back in the classroom amid chaos and mayhem, Carolyn still alive, the dream replaying itself. This time at the crucial moment I threw myself in front of Carolyn, taking the slug meant for her. And as I lay heroically expiring — sprawled amid the wreckage of the classroom, bleeding profusely, noble as hell — my dreamgirl hugged my chubby little bod, weeping, and I woke up a second time feeling pretty good about the way things had worked out. I mean, not only had this babe draped herself over my fallen body — awash in grief, declaring undying love — but my finer qualities had been showcased in a way I definitely approved of.

It was after that, that I first fell in love.

At some point during the school year, seating arrangements in our classroom changed, I found myself sitting next to a girl named Sherry. Just neighbors at first, planted at adjoining desks. Time passed, we became acquainted, relations began to loosen up. We entertained each other another through hours of boredom, drawing silly cartoons, passing comical notes back and forth. Until the morning we sat enduring a lesson on electricity and Sherry scribbled out a pun in the margin of her notebook about a three-ring circuit. Right there, sitting next to her, enjoying the joke, studying the goofy smile on her cute face, I realized I was smitten. Knocked upside the head by the Hammer of Love. I grabbed my pen, scrawled “I love you” in my notebook, I think the first time I’d ever expressed that potent phrase to anyone. And to my amazement, when I showed it to her she didn’t laugh or turn white or throw up. She exclaimed, “Yeah?” seeming pleased.

Not pleased enough, though. A short while after I showed Sherry those three little words, she hooked up with Ralph Hippoletus, the two of them became the fourth grade version of an item.

[more to follow, er, at some point....]

Madrid, te echo de menos.

This morning (far too early), looking across the valley:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Well. We got a heap of snow dumped on us a couple of days back. It’s hard to take an accurate measurement here on the hill with the wind blowing everything around, but the total came to somewhere between ten and eighteen inches. Enough that trying to walk through it gets goofily tricky, all the drifting combining with changing ground inclines to make life far too interesting. One minute, the snow’s at manageable, upper-shin height, next step you’re in it up to the crotch, flailing around to maintain balance. Turns a simple walk into involuntary slapstick.

Must complicate existence for local wildlife, all that sudden accumulation. Traffic at the bird feeder has shot way up, gangs of birds descending on it in flurries of little bodies, battling for access. Leisurely attendance at the beginning of the month has morphed into a more intense, day-long affair, one wave of diners giving way to another, hour after hour. In conditions like this, they’re not coming for the fine ambience of Casa Runswithscissors — it’s more along the lines of survival.

Meanwhile, during the last ten days I’ve attempted several times to stop and visit Mo, my downhill neighbor, to see how life’s been treating him — on each occasion, his pick-up truck was gone, he was off somewhere having a life. At midday today, on the trek to the mailbox, it looked like his truck might be there. I made the walk down the hill, confirmed he was in, knocked at his door.

He sat at his kitchen table, peering out at the person on the porch, my face not registering because as far as he knew I was still in Madrid. I waved, he gestured me in, his face showing growing surprise as it sank in who it was. I shook his hand, studying him — a hunter’s cap riding his close-cropped gray hair, his face sporting a day’s worth of gray stubble, thick body wearing the usual ensemble of country/utilitarian clothes. Looking pretty hale for his 83 years. Looking better than folks I’ve known who were ten or twenty years younger.

He asked why I was back, I gave him the 25-words-or-less summary and took a seat, we got to catching up.

On the way into the house, I’d noticed a car parked in the short driveway next to Mo’s pick-up, figured he had company. Which usually means someone sitting at the table with him, gabbing. Not the case this time. I heard a vacuum cleaner running, saw a heavyset woman working on the carpet down the hall in the living room. She glanced my way, I waved, called out hello, getting nothing in return. A cleaning woman, I figured, Mo acknowledging advancing age by hiring someone to come in and help out.

Instead, it Mo informed me that he had a new relationship, the woman someone he’d known for 20 years, married to a cousin of his who died two years back. At some point during recent months, Mo and Barbara connected up, found they enjoyed each other’s company, decided that since they were both getting on there was no time to waste, and set up housekeeping together. “We have an awful lot of fun together,” he said, me feeling an enormous smile taking form on my silly face as I listened. Because really, this kind of news makes my day. Apart from Mo being a great guy for whom I wish the best, the old coot’s 83, an age when most folks who’d lasted that long would be slowly fading away. He’s not only tooling around the woods on his ATV and reading up on coyote hunting (they’ve apparently overrun the state) with the intent of bagging one or two, he’s got a new romance going.

Barbara finished up with the vacuum cleaner, Mo introduced us, me shaking her hand, saying it was good to meet her (and meaning it), her mumbling something shyly, looking me briefly in the eye before retreating to the living room. I heard the television go on in there, the sound of a game show.

When the time came to head back home, I poked my head into the living room to say good-bye. Barbara got to her feet, walked slowly into the kitchen behind me. I did up my coat, Mo and I continued talking right up to the time I stepped out onto the porch and beyond, Barbara watching at a window. I made the hike up the hill thinking about this neighbor of mine, a guy as unique as you could ask a person to be. Wondering what other surprises he’d have in the coming weeks and months, looking forward to further revelations.

He’s a walking reminder of the absurdity of trying to pigeonhole people. Every single one of us has the capacity to surprise in amazing ways.

Just one more example of the endless stream of things that make life worth living.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Two days ago, rain began falling across northern Vermont, pissing off ski enthusiasts. I became accustomed to the sound of water in the house’s gutters, a quiet pulsing that can be heard inside the building — not something I normally associate with this time of year. For a while there, it rained a fair amount, patches of bare earth surfacing as snow cover slowly thinned out.

Last night the temperature dropped, snow began falling during the wee hours. By daybreak, three or four inches had accumulated. It’s continued coming down all day, wind blowing, visibility minimal.

Left the house a little before ten, made the drive into Montpelier for gym, errands. The roads: slow, sloppy, but not bad, all things considered. Got the impulse to come home via back roads, found everything quiet, few people about. Peaceful, me ogling hard-core winter scenery, stopping now and then to give the camera some exercise.

Got back here to find the power out, giving me a couple of hours to lay down on the couch and finish up a book I’ve slowly been plowing through. Within a minute of polishing it off, putting it down and getting up to stretch, the power came back on, one or two electronic items announcing their return from the dead with happy chirps.

The house is warm, lights have the space looking cozy. Outside, sheets of wind-driven white powder whip through the yard, the storm seems to be picking up. (Earlier, traffic at the bird feeder was brisk — as the temperature fell and wind picked up, they gave up and sought cover.) Looks like a whole different world out there from the world I saw yesterday.

I sure as hell am not in Madrid any more.

This afternoon, East Montpelier, VT:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

A week ago tomorrow night, I arrived back in Vermont. A return undertaken, in part, to check out the situation here at the house, after three months of indications that D., the person taking care of the place did not seem to be, in fact, taking care of it. Some of what I encountered on getting home:

– First impression: opening garage door to find the floor buried under layer upon layer of mud, slop and salt, a display like I had never before seen in a garage anywhere. Extreme enough that it stopped me and the friend who drove me home from the bus station in our tracks, leaving us staring, openmouthed, for an amazed moment.

– A backpack left on the living room floor, partially filled. Near that, a big plastic bag full of plastic bags. All looking as if my arrival had interrupted someone packing, as if they’d ducked into a nearby dark room at the sound of my entrance, waiting quietly there to see if I might turn around and leave. The house lay empty and quiet, of course, no one about. Kind of eerie.

– All clocks were an hour ahead (I’d left on October 29, daylight savings began on the 31st; D. — living here for three months — had never made the adjustment), except for the clocks in the two guestrooms, set to random times, and the clock in the laundry room which had simply stopped, its battery having died at some point during the preceding months.

– Toast crumbs and coffee grounds, strewn all over the kitchen counter, coffee grounds surfacing after each cleaning during the next two days, having found their way into every available crack and seam.

– Small, hard lumps of something cereal-like — Grape Nuts, maybe — scattered around the floor of the kitchen, dining room, living room. (Lovely to walk on in bare feet.) Then discovered numerous bowls in a cabinet studded with dried bits of same. The cutlery drawer yielded spoons similarly decorated along with knives bearing patches of dried peanut butter. Patches of grease were found all over the place, most impressively on a couple of saucepot lids, thickly spattered about in a way reminiscent of op art.

– Perishable food left by me in the refrigerator three months earlier with the request to either use or dump in the compost was neither used nor composted, instead left to fester quietly, two or three items producing sizeable colonies of alien life forms. The enormous mass of mold found in a yogurt container looked like a nasty, antisocial muppet. (Next morning, I discovered that the act of removing and replacing the cover on the compost bin, four or five feet away from the rear stoop, had apparently been too much work for D. — the solution: leave it uncovered, the compost inside freezing solid in the frigid weather, wiping out the composting process.)

– Mail had been spread around the house, two or three piles each in three different locations. Mail I’d expected to be notified of — Christmas communications from friends, an envelope from my insurance company dated early January clearly marked with words like IMPORTANT and DEADLINE — were tucked away among magazines and junk mail.

– Mousetraps around the house (live capture traps), apparently unchecked for quite some time, contained the bodies of five little critters who probably expired in slow, hungry fashion.

– Everything in the stove room — the stove being something D. apparently never came close to mastering — lay covered with a film of ash and coal dust. The stove sat cold and dark, looking sad, neglected, unused.

– The downstairs toilet turned out to be full of densely dirty water, as if someone had emptied a bucket or two of muddy, sandy slop into it, leaving the resulting ugly bowlful unflushed.

– One end of the dining room felt inexplicably chilly. Next morning I discovered that D. had, at some point in the past opened that storm window and left it up, perhaps thinking it made accessing the feeder that hangs right outside easier — converting that part of the space into a heat-loss portal, given the inner window’s low-tech nature. Must have been like that for weeks, providing a bird hangout, resulting in a huge, sprawling mound of sunflower seed shells and bird poop.

– While checking out that last bit, I noticed the ceramic birdbath just off the corner of the house — intact when I left, now sporting a huge gaping hole. Looking like someone had dropped a major rock through it. That, after everything else — and there are many strange details not listed here — got me smiling, because on one hand, D’OH!, and the other, big deal. Most of this stuff, taken one item at a time, is small, goofy, strange, but nothing to get feathers ruffled over. It’s the accumulation of it all, in combination with the parade of problems dealt with via email during the past three months, that made the handing D. his walking papers inevitable.

A good soul — or so I thought at one time — but for whatever reasons at this moment in his existence, not even close to qualifying as a housesitter.

And that’s life. You make a decision, you see how things go, then you make another decision. On to getting a replacement.

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

This morning, far too early — East Calais, Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Shop window sunset — Montpelier, Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

This morning, 5 a.m.: me, awake, my body prodding me to make the hike to the bathroom for a bit of early-hour relief. I do so, and when I flush, the toilet backs up, the bowl fills. I pick up the plumber’s helper, conveniently on hand for occasions like this one, then notice that the toilet has continued running, the water level is rising closer and closer to the rim of the bowl. To the point that plunging the PH into the water will cause an overflow.

I stare, one hand reaching out to jiggle the handle, the possibility of disaster penetrating my wee-hour mental fog, at which point the bowl actually brims over, water streaming down the porcelain to the floor. My brain, momentarily paralyzed from shock and disbelief, finally shifts into gear, I find myself sprinting downstairs where I grab a spongemop, race back upstairs and frantically attempt damage control, spewing obscenities and laughing simultaneously, grateful that this episode is not being captured on video. (No, it did not occur to me to shut off the water right then. I was barely awake, okay?)

The toilet blockage spontaneously clears itself, the tank fills up, no more water flows out, leaving me with a puddle covering a third of the floor. I clean it up, stopping to peel off my socks, which have unfortunately become contaminated with toxic fluids.

Some time later, I drop back into bed and surprise myself by drifting quickly off to sleep, my system apparently shrugging off the recent excitement, my heartrate and adrenaline levels returning to normal.

I drag myself out of bed around 7:30 to get the stove going, pass the bathroom on the way downstairs, see everything in there looking placid, normal, as if it hadn’t ambused me in hair-raising fashion just a short time earlier.

This life of ours: thrills and perverse entertainment lay in wait around every corner.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

In her pushy, eccentric way, this woman — hair bobbed, pudgy bod stuffed into tight-fitting clothes, round face, big, owlish round-framed glasses — was kind of sweet. Or at least well-intentioned. And why do I use the word ‘pushy’? Because she took to doing things for me without asking if I wanted them done. Helpful things, she thought. Moving things she figured were in my way — armrest, tray holder. Things I was using, didn’t want moved, hadn’t asked to have moved.

Now that I think about it, this is something that’s happened quite a bit in recent weeks — people offering advice or doing things for me without first asking if they’re wanted. With the best of intentions, for the most part, at times not happy if I don’t especially want to hear advice, follow advice or have something done for me I don’t need/want to have done. I’ve become less politic in recent years as I’ve become clearer about who I am. I tend not to listen much to things I don’t want to hear, and make no apology for it. I trust my feelings, my instincts, what I call the guidance that rises from within, and during the last decade, that has transformed my little life in spectacular ways. Not that I have all the answers — I’m a work in progress, like everyone else, learning as I go. But I get to choose, I get to make my decisions, and those who think they know better than me may not find me terribly compliant.

When I had to, I gently fended off the German woman’s attempts to do things I didn’t want done. At other moments, I’d listen to her free-form commentary, smile, maybe reply with something appropriate. Other times I continued reading, snoozing, listening to music. The long hours passed.

And suddenly we were on the ground in Boston, the local world white with snow. A crabby, tightly-wound cabby drove me to the bus station, his attitude easing up when I handed over some cash.

A handful of passengers boarded the bus with me, mostly young. Including one 20-something with five or six huge bags, a pile of luggage that looked far beyond what one person could manage. Until he stood up in the waiting area when boarding time arrived, picking up each bag, arranging its strap around some part of this body, everything fitting together in a way that defied logic in M.C. Escher fashion, confounding the intellect, though undeniably happening. Like a freakish kind of luggage contortionist.

Eight or nine people got on board. Some went to sleep. Some stared at the passing scenery. One sat leaning against the window, an arm angled up toward the ceiling, swinging slowly downward then upward, downward then upward, over and over like that for a long, long time. No talk, the only sounds those of wheels on highway, the sounds of objects rattling now and then in response to the vibration of the vehicle’s motion. As we moved away from Boston into southern Hampshire and then the interstate that extends northwest from Concord toward Vermont and Canada, trees and mountains replaced sprawling ‘burbs, the light of the lowering sun turned golden.

The temperature had risen enough that moisture hung in the air from all the melting snow, a haze that combined with late afternoon sunlight to produce shafts of dense light. Two or three times, I saw thick clouds of it hanging out over the road, radiant sunrays projecting out from between trees into open air, appearing strangely independent, almost alive.

A 35-minute rest stop in White River Junction, New Hampshire for food, stretching, attention to bodily functions, then out on the road again, just as the sun neared the horizon. As the bus followed the highway north, we had a spectacular view of the day’s wind-up, the sun edging gradually out of view between green mountains, the afterglow lingering a surprisingly long time before dimming, the cloudless sky slowly turning dark. A lengthy, strangely meditative process, more than one person on the bus watching, everyone quiet, the space dark until the driver finally switched on a couple of internal lights.

Montpelier: cold for someone just getting in from Madrid, mild for here. Meaning temperature in the 20s, snow everywhere. A friend working at the local public library was to drive me out to the house when she got off work — I dragged my bags across town from the station to the library, said hello, stashed my stuff, went out for a walk. Bought groceries, stopped in at a talk being given at Bear Pond Books, found myself in a book-lined room packed with Vermonters ready to hear a local author talk about Reef Madness. My seat: a butt-numbing instrument of torture posing as a folding chair (my adorable butt already partially senseless after far too many hours spent in far too many seats in far too many vehicles). I spent 45 minutes shifting about in futile attempts to get comfortable. Finally gave up, grabbed my groceries, crept out into the crisp night air.

Reached home shortly after. Back out in the Vermont country, hundreds of stars shining above, the Milky Way stretched across the middle of the sky, glowing faintly.

Further details will follow. At some point.

***********

This morning (far too early) in chilly northern Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

I approached the main drag just as a taxi passed, the driver spotted my flailing arm and stopped, another couple of vehicles coming to a stop behind him (having no option in a neighborhood of narrow streets). He popped the trunk, I hurriedly began stuffing the body bag into the storage space, conscious of waiting motorists. The cabbie smilingly advised me to take it easy, saying no one was in a rush. I glanced at the other cars, that seemed to be the case, everyone appearing tranquil, patient, though they might all simply have been half-asleep.

The driver: friendly, chatty. We talked about working graveyard shift (he liked it — upside: passengers mellower; downside: being awake for sunrise). We talked about winter in Madrid and other places, about snow, something I would be seeing soon. And then we were at the airport, the fastest, least expensive version of that ride I’ve ever experienced.

Inside the terminal: 5:30 a.m., few people about. Quiet. Shops not open yet, few airline desks in operation. The woman at Lufthansa check-in asked me if I wanted a window or aisle seat. My answer: window. The seat she gave me: aisle. (Discovered after boarding, when it was too late — #^@%*!!)

Hung around the entrance to a news shop until the 6 a.m. opening bell, grabbed a paper and the book of the day. (An interesting Spanish phenomenon — the two main newspapers, El Pais and El Mundo, offer books, CDs, DVDs at drastically low prices, the idea being that a copy of the paper must be bought to get the coupon for the product. I’ve picked up a pile of good reading — in Castellano, natch — at one euro a pop.)

Found myself stuffed into a long metal tube with a bunch of other humans, heading for Frankfurt, me drifting in and out of light sleep, now and then reading, watching my fellow stuffees, staring into space blinking hazily.

Flight transfer in Frankfurt: serious security getting to flights destined for the States. Everyone must stumble through the magic metal-detecting doorway, everyone gets a going-over with the magic wand.

And then I was on the long, long flight to the States. Long, long, long. A 70ish German woman — my rowmate, an empty between us, her by the window (once again the Lufthansa woman in Madrid had given me an aisle seat — #^@%*!!!) — spent the first 25 minutes reading and re-reading a newspaper looking to be the German equivalent of England’s The Sun — trashy, big on celebrity stuff and the occasional naked babe. Rustling of pages, then a little silence. More rustling of pages, more silence. Further rustling of pages, a bit more silence. When she’d finished with that, she had nothing more to entertain herself with, began talking to me. Comments out of the blue, apparently not caring completely whether I listened or not. By that time, my body had decided it wanted to go relax, go back to sleep, I began drifting in and out, did that for much of the flight, happy to be making up for a night of little shuteye. When it became clear I would not be the perfect audience, she seemed disappointed. Then she adjusted and talked anyway, whether I listened or not.

[continued in next entry]

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

Temperature outside the dining room window this morning, 7:30 a.m.: -5 fahrenheit. Temperatures during the day yesterday and today rose into the 30s, maybe even the 40s. Mild for February in these parts. Not that I’m complaining.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

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