far too much writing, far too many photos

Bumper sticker seen this morning:

If I must die, let it be
DEATH BY CHOCOLATE

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

Today, northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

Talk continued, along with waves of sensory input from the overall scene — the light from the lowering sun flickering through sheer white curtains made restless by the breeze, the ongoing sidewalk promenade of passing local folk, noise and motion from restaurant activity. At some point, the sun slipped down behind trees and the main course showed up, a lamb thali platter settling onto the table before me. They’d asked for our spiciness preference when they took the order, I’d said medium. After the first course, I was ready for further culinary partying, and dug into rice/curry to find… they’d ignored my preference and given me zero spiciness, the dish tasting like something I could pick up in any decent 1950’s stateside cafeteria. Not bad, but a let-down after the kick in the butt of the initial plate. T. attempted a remedy, calling for spicy sauces. They brought the customary Indian restaurant table-top combo (one hot, one sweet, one weird) — it helped a teeny bit, but couldn’t completely compensate for the curry’s total lack of heat. Ah, well. One out of two plates ain’t bad, and the first was world class.

We stepped back outside as dusk was settling in, decided a cup of caffeine would hit the spot. T. aimed the car toward a neighborhood he liked, we found parking on a side street, across from a small park, a white Greek-style building shining softly in the fading light, couples on benches talking quietly. T. was sure this neighborhood — more chic than his, more moneyed — would be worth wading into, with interesting people and, in particular, beautiful women. (Hey, we’re hetero — so sue us.) And god knows, the scene on the main drag was active, each side of the street sporting restaurants, cafés, other shops, the sidewalks crowded with people walking, the aprons in front of businesses filled with crowded tables, the air humming with laughter and conversation.

We found a promising shop, ordered, planted ourselves at a table outside for further blathering, armed with cups of brew (mine started off with a rough edge, mellowed as I worked my way through it). The sidewalk show didn’t disappoint, happy folks strolled past in abundance — a bit more upscale than in T.’s neighborhood, though not, thought I, any more eye-catching. (Except for one tall, slender, dark-haired woman in a slinky black number, standing by a car a short way down the block. Damn.)

Er, where was I?

And during all this — during all the cruising around, all the chow hoovering, all the liquid sipping — the conversation seemed to concern itself more and more with writing, authors, that kind of thing, T. really hopped up on Chandler, Hemingway, screenwriting, and a novel T. himself had just finished. A novel written very much in a Chandler/Hemingway mode — each chapter a self-contained scene, each scene moving necessarily to the following scene, each one thrusting the story forward. Clean, vivid. Muscular, even, in its way. And somewhere in all the blabber, T. referred to Chandler as the greatest American writer.

Something I appreciate about T.: he’s right out there with who he is. His likes and dislikes are clearly expressed — he loves the things he loves and makes no secret of it. And when he’s focused on something, his gaze is unwavering, he stays with it.

I love Chandler. I’ve been through his novels and short stories a bunch of times. I appreciate other authors who work in the same vivid, austere style, whether I’m a major fan of what they produce or not. If that style of writing has come to represent the best of American scribbling to T., that’s all right by me. At its best, in the hands of good writers, it can produce stories along the lines of Hills Like White Elephants and novels like The Long Goodbye. Big-time material. And it produces passionate, hyper-earnest monologues from T., a brand of talk that’s worth the price of admission.

And that evening talk he did. Which suited the circumstances, me working on about two hours’ sleep, the batteries starting to run low. (It sometimes happens that shuteye doesn’t come easy for me the night before a trip. The night before this trip had been one of those sometimes.) Every now and then, T. would pause to apologize for the ongoing torrent of verbiage, I’d wave a hand in sincere dispensation. He finally seemed to believe me, carrying on in guilt-free fashion from that point.

I’d planned on hopping the Metro back downtown, T. pooh-poohed that, driving me back to my squat for the night like a true mensch. I opened the door to my penthouse cubbyhole as the beat-up bedside clock read 10 o’clock, turned on a light, drifted to the window to the admire the view of this fine city’s nighttime version. The only sounds: vague, generalized traffic noise and a mild breeze, the combo working together to produce a gentle kind of white noise. I lay down on the bed with a book, gradually drifted off as life in the city carried quietly on outside.

All that night I drifted in and out of sleep, the soundtrack of nighttime Montreal sifting through the open windows, quietly constant. The dark bulk of a large office building loomed off to the northwest, its upper form delineated by a simple, continuous line of deep blue neon light. At some point, the sky began the shift from black to blue, sunlight creeping across urban landscape. Intense, orange light at one point, the kind that made the city shine in a mighty photogenic way. I thought about dragging my carcass out of bed, fumbling my camera out of its case, taking some shots. Then I came to my senses and drifted back off to sleep.

Breakfast was to begin at 9 a.m. I planned to be stumbling in the door of the B&B at the stroke of the hour so that I could sit myself down and have a leisurely meal. All of which meant, of course, that I’d need to be awake, packed, showered (etc.) and out the door of my penthouse cubbyhole around 8:55.

Got up at eight, the city coming to life outside, the day shaping up to be beautiful. Was ready to go by 8:30, turned on the TV, skipped around the stations to kill time. Found more French than English-language channels, and one station broadcasting in Italian. (Go figure.)

Stepped out the door at 8:55 and into an empty elevator, by the time it reached the lobby empty had become crowded. Dragged my bags along sidewalks nicely cool in the morning shadows (passing one building where two French-speaking males sat blabbing, one slim and gray-haired, one hefty, older and dark-haired — both sitting in the same spot they’d sat the two times I’d passed the day before, raising the question of whether they’d passed the night there).

[to be continued]

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

T-shirt seen in Montpelier today:

FORCED TO BLEED

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

You know, that simple, brief jaunt to Montréal kicked up some dust, producing the kind of internal unrest that gets me withdrawing a bit — doing what absolutely needs to be done (errands, gym, lawnmowing/gardening, making meals) and backing off from just about everything else. Staying offline. Retreating to the sofa with a book or with the tube cranked. Staring out the window at beautiful Vermont countryside, thinking (or not).

We all have ways of coping. Better two or three days of retreat than some of the ways I dealt with internal unrest in earlier years — coping mechanisms cobbled together with little or no sane, positive guidance, producing many colorful stories along with deep, subtle bruising.

In many ways, my life is good. I am well cared for by this universe. But big changes are needed. And a fast trip to a place like Montréal — alluring, attractive, packed with possibilities, feeling inexplicably homelike — is just the thing to point that up in unmistakable fashion. (Finding myself in a penthouse flat didn’t help.)

Change will come. My job: be ready. Or as ready as I can manage.

So. Wednesday. Late afternoon in Montréal. Me — showered, in fresh duds, skipping through the city center. Stopped in at a museum, did the arty thing. Hopped the Metro, made the trip out to see a friend, T., who would be putting up with me for the evening. (The Metro: fast, clean, with streaming humanity everywhere, an ongoing show of wildly multicultural city life.) Showed up at T.’s, his son Ben let me in and Jack, the household door, immediately buried his nose in my crotch. T. and I got blabbing, continued blabbing for quite a while — the usual themes: writing, films, recent personal events, writing, films, food, writing, films, women.

At some point, we roused ourselves, headed out for the evening’s meal. Neither of T.’s kids came along (apparently believing they have lives of their own), I found myself in the passenger’s seat of T.’s little car, cruising through Montréal streets, French signage everywhere, hopped-up drivers zipping by in every direction. I love being in the passenger’s seat. It’s a place I rarely seem to find myself, and I savor it when I’m there. Especially when in extra-interesting locales like this one, summer evening streets alive with interesting people, café life in full swing.

Tom eventually found his way to a largely Asian neighborhood, where we were going to toss down platefuls of Indian food. Last summer, we’d gone to a down and dirty cafeteria-style Indian joint. This time Tom suggested somewhere slightly more refined. By the time we pulled into a space across the street from the restaurant, I was ready to inhale a pile of chow, refined or not.

We got out of the car, I soaked up the beautiful August evening, sun low in the sky, a slight breeze coming and going. T. fed the meter, meaning, I realized, that city charges for street parking until 8 or 9 p.m. — not a very people-friendly method of revenue raising.

Inside the restaurant, we moved toward a table in a corner, T. glommed on to the wall chair, meaning I would have no view of anything but the wall and, er, T. I like to be able to watch people, activity, life going on — T. saw the doubt on my face about the seating sitch and graciously moved with me to a table by an open window. Sunlight, friendly breeze, people passing outside, restaurant life happening inside. Much better.

A friendly, middle-aged woman took our order — wearing a comfortable-looking outfit reminiscent of designer pajamas, missing half of a finger on one hand — the first course an appetizer on which T. had leaped lavish praise (then fretted about having heaped praise so lavish). It eventually showed, looking like a soupy, stewy kind of affair. I took a forkful, slipped it into my mouth where it burst into a nimbus of textures and flavors, my mouth tingling from the after-burn, post-swallow. Killer chow, in other words — exactly the kind of thing I was looking for.

[continued in next entry]

España, te echo de menos.

Well. Montréal.

The drive up: easy, the highway stretching out ahead through green Vermont countryside, the blue August sky studded liberally with fair weather clouds. Likewise for the border crossing — a breeze. As it should be, me being no threat to anyone. The only difference this trip: U.S. customs agents stopped me before the crossing into Québec, the first time that’s ever happened. No big deal — a little Q&A as the agent eyeballed my passport before waving me through. Lines at the booths on the Canadian side were short, Q&A passed quickly, the agent waved me on.

I once heard someone call the stretch of Québec between Montréal and Vermont ugly. I don’t agree. Big, broad skies, farmland stretching away in all directions, dramatic clouds/light. I like it. And I like seeing the change in languages, the French signage, the voices on the Quebecois radio stations. On the other hand, it’s been many years since I’ve experienced the kind of mind-bogglingly intense aroma of ripe cow poop that I experienced today. Seemed to go on for miles and miles, didn’t matter if the windows were open or closed. Brought up childhood memories of visiting my mother’s relatives — farm folk, all of them — out in the middle of nowhere in upstate N.Y., not far from Oswego. Towns like Mexico, Pulaski, Parish, Fernwood. Visits that featured time spent on big farming spreads, the bouquet of well-aged manure a regular feature.

Found my way into Montreal, found the B&B in painless fashion. Parking was not the breeze it was a year ago, the mother/daughter team at the B&B responded by providing an off-street spot, making me very happy. The big hitch: my room? Right off the dining room, with workers toiling away right outside its one window, rehabbing the rear of the building. According to the proprietor, they show up around 7 a.m., get to work shortly after — news that had me flashing back to last autumn’s nightmare in Madrid. The big gift: she offered me the use of a studio apt. two blocks down the street for the night, I went and took a look. On the 23rd floor, with a breeze, view, light, bathroom, kitchen. Ran back, accepted the offer (I’d have had to be crazy not to), hauled my bags down the street through strong August sunshine, me streaming sweat. Made the 23 floor elevator ride (well, 22 floors, this building having no 13th floor), dragged ass into the flat where I ripped clothes off, took a shower, sat down on bed and wrote for a while, breeze and sunlight pouring through open windows, the city spread out below.

When I pulled my laptop from its carrying case, a spider popped out with it — walking unsteadily, all eight little legs shaky after a drastic, unplanned relocation from Vermont to Canada. I ushered it to the window, left it on the sill outside to begin the adjustment to life north of the border.

[continued in next entry]

España, te echo de menos.

This last week has looked and felt like autumn slipped summer a mickey, pushed it off the barstool and settled into its place. Part of that’s normal — the slant of the sun has changed, the days are growing shorter. But it’s had the feel of the real thing. Cool days, cold nights. Dramatic fall-style skies. Beautiful, all of it, but not your standard early to mid-August fare, at least not day after day after day of it like this.

The unbelievable soundtrack of songbird partying that I heard outside the house here during June and July began quieting down at the turn of the month, then pretty much disappeared altogether seven days ago, when summer took a powder. All I hear now are autumn/winter bird sounds — sparrows, chickadees, crows, bluejays, like that. And the annual migration cameos have started up. Two days ago, I’m sitting outside with a book, soaking up late-afternoon sunshine. Everything quiet. All of a sudden two pair of cedar waxwings appeared about ten feet away, at the edge of a long yarrow-covered slope. Birds that only pause here as a pit-stop on the haul south — in past years, always in September. (Extremely cool-looking critters, BTW — sleek and streamlined, looking like the superheroes of the feathered crowd.)

And on top of all that, three days ago I had my first autumn color sighting, in Montpelier. August 12th.

I don’t know what it all means. (Could be it don’t mean a thing.) But there it all is. The only summer holdouts have been the hummingbirds that frequent the household feeder, who put on a show for me a few hours ago, shooting around the yard. A season’s-end spectacular, maybe. Their usual day of departure is August 15th — today.

And me, I’m joining the exodus, kind of, heading up to Montreal tomorrow. Just a brief swing north — enough time to hang about the city a little, get together with a friend for the evening. Back on Thursday.

It’ll be interesting to see what the border crossing is like this time around. Probably the usual Q&A, the agent checking out my passport while giving me the x-ray eyeball, me turning on the understated charm until they weary of the whole routine and wave me through.

I’ll find out soon enough.

Anyway. Later.

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

Another low-stakes game — nickels, dimes, quarters. And again, no real alcohol intake, no cigars. Plenty of chow, though, and far too much conversation, with music constantly cranking away on the household sound-system, all kinds of music. Food, music, banter. And poker.

A tighter group than the previous one, at least from my perspective. And a weirder, more complex group — drawn from a sprawling social network of several years’ duration, one that spent huge amounts of time together in one configuration or another, built on connections rooted in the 12-step universe. Which may account for some of the complexity. And some of the weirdness.

That game held together for a while — two or three years, maybe more. A couple of its members found mates and got hitched during that time. Which, in combination with me buying a house here in northern Vermont and spending increasing time in this part of the world, brought about the game’s gradual unravelling.

But for a while the monthly get-togethers continued, with attendance a bit more haphazard, the number of participants slowly dwindling. Near the end of my first year here, not long before I began shifting my existence to Madrid, we threw together a field trip, a cardplaying weekend up here, out in the middle of green hills, dirt roads and not much else. Five of us signed on, though one, W. — one of the weirder quirkier individuals in the bunch — oozed a vague ambivalence it. Never coming out and expressing actual doubts, but giving off a faint, slippery vibe of… something… that was hard to put a finger on. And when the day arrived, four of us showed up here to find a message from W. on my answering machine. Left while everyone else was en route — perhaps purposely so, to avoid having to tell any of us directly — saying he wouldn’t be coming. No emergency had come up, nothing urgent kept him in the Boston area — he just wasn’t coming. The last communication I ever received from him, a weaseling out that seemed to signal the game’s slow demise.

Ah, well. Everything has its life-cycle.

I’ve been part of other games, and when I say ‘part of,’ I’m overstating my involvement in them. None was the kind of regular event these two were. And none of the others ever really took. Either they were one-offs or once-in-a-blue-moon affairs. Or something simply never clicked — no group’s ever been so overjoyed at having me around that they made sure to have me back as a regular attendee. Or called to invite me to holiday festivities or dinner dates or wild evenings of sexual hijinks. And the truth is I haven’t felt a whole lot of enthusiasm for poker these last few years, the time when, coincidentally, the game has become vogue, stylish, hyper-fashionable. I find myself mostly playing uninspired poker, picking up one or two sizeable pots, then watching my winnings slowly bleed away, coming out a couple of bucks down or a dollar or two ahead. And not really caring either way. Feeling a kind of listless shoulder-shrug about it all.

Could be it’s not really my kind of entertainment. Or it could be I need to stumble across the right game, the right bunch of people.

Or something. As with everything, time will tell.

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

This evening: passing showers produce a twilight rainbow

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

I stepped back out into summer sunshine thinking about card games, found myself remembering two games in particular that I’d been affiliated with, both long gone, both based in Cambridge, Mass., during the years I called that part of the world home.

First: a monthly game organized and hosted by G., my best buddy, one I became part of during the year and a half he and I shared the top floor of a 3-family building in West Cambridge, a stone’s throw from Fresh Pond. One attended mostly by local theater folk (logical given G. worked as a director, me as an actor — and when I say I worked as an actor, I mean I actually at times lined up paying gigs, situations that thrilled the bejesus out of me despite the pay being less than world-class), including some affiliated with the more respectable, prestigious corners of that world, and one no longer working in that world, having shifted into television (the local Faux affiliate, working as an anchor in the local Faux News broadcast, probably making more $$$ than the rest of us put together). A game I think had a fairly long history before I happened along, G. and I the most constant attendees during my tenure. Low stakes — nickels, dimes, quarters. Which suited me just fine. The point, mostly, was a good time, though if one attendee kicked ass in a serious way on any particular night, gloating of a loud, exaggerated kind was accepted. Stacks and stacks of low-stakes chips provided the same glee as mounds of chips representing big bucks would, with the added benefit that each player’s stake was $5.00, guaranteeing no one would leave the table in dire economic straits.

The game didn’t feature much in the way of serious alcohol intake (though every now and then someone would show up armed with a bottle of hard stuff and fill a shot glass from it a few times). Ditto re: cigars. Plenty of junk food and conversation, though. Fun.

After a year, year and a half, G. began shifting his life to N.Y.C., attempting to get more serious about his directing career (and, I think, his life in general). The game became less regular, finally vanishing altogether when G. made the shift to the Apple as a full-time thing. Or at least vanishing in relation to me, G. having been my link. He disappeared and the rest of them disappeared, taking the game with them.

And me — finding myself with no roommate, a quiet flat, no card game — I got another game going. With several guys I’d known for several years. Friends, not acquaintances. A group of anywhere from four to seven that began gathering once a month, each month at a different attendee’s squat.

[continued in following entry]

España, te echo de menos.

Friday, at the gym: walking into the locker room, post sweaty exertions, I stumbled through a conversation in progress. Two gents talking about a poker game. (The gents: Andy, a blind, balding, 50ish fella, maybe 5′6″ tall, with some accumulated weight he’s gradually working off; and a taller, older guy, balding in the way that leaves a ring of hair around the cranium, graying hair in his case, bushy, angling out so that it looks like his head has grown a pair of goofy wings.) They chatted, I eavesdropped, until Andy mentioned the name Mamet and I realized they were discussing a legendary poker game, an event that took place on a more or less weekly basis for many years, based in this section of Vermont and counting among the regulars one of the pre-eminent living American playwrights, David Mamet. I butted into the conversation to ask if that was actually what they were going on about, Andy confirmed, smiling — me also smiling, pleased to find myself hearing a first-hand report on that bit of local lore.

Andy briefly described the life arc of the game: a relatively low-stakes gig founded and attended by friends, joined by Mamet at some point — the playwright first experienced, Andy affectionately noted, as an arrogant kid from Goddard College (”Which made us love beating him.”) — after which the game developed legs, evolving into a happening of almost mythical stature: the premier all-night Vermont card game, featuring food, booze, cigar-smoking. As Andy described it, “We’d start gearing up for it during the day, get together in the evening, play all night — well into the next morning — and need the next day to recover. It ate up two days of every week.”

At some point, he said, a crop of new guys joined the game. “Sharks,” he elaborated, the smile on his face becoming rueful, “playing for high stakes, and they began cleaning us out on a regular basis.” The game took on a whole different character, the fun began bleeding away for the original members, the event began a long drift toward its eventual demise.

I asked if William H. Macy, a Mamet cohort of long duration, ever took part. A negative headshake from Andy. “But,” he said, “there were a couple of times when Mamet was filming and we joined him on location for a game. Some big name actors sat in.” He didn’t specify who, I didn’t ask.

[continued in next entry]

España, te echo de menos.

Bragging? Wishful thinking?

Seinfeldian message left on sidewalk — Montpelier, VT.

España, te echo de menos.

I stink. Not that I’m bragging about it. It’s just the way it is.

I sit here in swimming trunks. Outside, warm weather and obnoxious humidity continue, a combination that gets me perspiring in ways both impressive and gross. Impressive because it’s my little bod that is somehow producing these amazing quantities of water (hence the swimsuit). Gross because the simplest physical effort leaves me sweat-sticky and scarily odorific. (The aforementioned stink.)

I am not complaining loudly about this. All I have to do is glance out the window at the green Vermont countryside to see how good I’ve got it. But I’m getting tired of the constant needing a shower (a need that starts up about 60 seconds after toweling off from the last shower). And, of course, the aromatic thing.

I’m still adorable, mind you. That compensates a little. But the malodorous bit is getting old.

The sadists in the local weather biz assure us that conditions are in the process of changing to something a touch more user-friendly. We’ll see.

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

Last night, on the way to bed — earlier than normal, my bod calling for down time, me obeying despite the hour — a half-moon hovered in the western sky, a few stars could be seen scattered randomly about. Quiet, comforting. I had a fan going near the bed, an attempt to counteract the room’s still, warm, heavy air. When I woke around midnight, a light show was underway outside, flashes of light visible through the window. I killed the fan, peals of thunder replaced its white noise. Major storms had moved in, the moon and stars were long gone. Window curtains billowed inward from increasingly intense wind, minutes later the roar of torrential rain joined the ongoing rumbles of thunder. I got up, closed windows, returned to bed. Turned the fan back on, managed to drift off.

At some point, the storm moved on, the outside world calmed down. When my eyes opened around 5 a.m., another storm had arrived, lightning pulsing erratically away outside, thunder rolling around the sky, rain starting up.

Two hefty storms. In one brief night. You’d think all that would cool things down some, give us a break.

Not this time. Summer appears to be throwing a global-warming style party. At least for today. The upside — northern Vermont remains achingly beautiful.

We’re into August. I’m not sure how that happened, but there it is — the days slip unstoppably forward into time.

España, te echo de menos.

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