far too much writing, far too many photos

This morning dawned overcast, overnight showers tapering off. House quiet after the muted roar of heavy rain on the roof. Gray light swelled slowly, windows remained dark until close to seven.

Air mild, clouds cleared enough to allow patches of blue sky on the ride into town. Had no caffeine fix before getting myself out, drifted foggily through the sweaty activity at the gym. Near the end of my workout a woman I see there now and then asked how I was doing, I responded, smiling, “Slowly making my way toward consciousness.” “What are you complaining about?” she said, seemingly irked by my answer. I answered simply, bemused, “Not complaining at all — you asked me how I was.” She didn’t hear it, having continued on, apparently slightly miffed. I shrugged, resumed the slow, contented slog toward waking life.

(To the world at large: please don’t ask how I’m doing if you don’t want to know how I’m doing.)

Gave myself the decadent, post-sweaty-time gift of getting a massage, easing me into the day nicely. Finally returned to real life, took care of errands, methodically clearing the deck of things needing to done before Tuesday’s return to Madrid. (You heard me.) Small town life carried on all around, I drifted through it, tasks passing easily, quickly, one by one.

Drove to Montpelier’s working-class twin city, Barre, to pick up a pair of pointy boots left for re-heeling at the only local shoe repair shop. Stopped for a cup of espresso and a muffin at a hippyish lunch joint/market, mouth happy as bits of food and sips of caffeinated joy juice passed through it. Picked up boots, watching one smiling, birkenstocked woman ahead of me deal with the kind of personal fog I’d waded through earlier, dropping things, bending to retrieve them, hitting head on counter as she straightened up. Nothing dislodged the smile, she finished up, disappeared. Another woman picked through leather wallets piled up on the counter, on sale. She maintained a running monologue, for the life of me I couldn’t make out a word she said. The guy behind the counter seemed to know her, seemed to understand her, answered some of her mumblings with matter-of-fact kindness.

Returned home along two winding two-lanes, sky autumnally moody, dark gray clouds occasionally allowing soft flashes of afternoon sunshine. Hillsides continue the shift from warm season greens to reds, oranges, yellows. Not as intense a show as some other years, maybe the result of many weeks of little rain, but still pretty. Occasionally leaves come down from one particular tree as if it had suddenly decided to let go, bits of pale color falling across the road in a way that made them look like big breeze-blown snowflakes. Ahead of me, fallen leaves whirl up in the air in the wake of a van moving at a good clip.

Back home, I take advantage of the pause in the day’s showers to cut a bunch of lawn, crickets hurrying to get out of the way as the mower moves through grass liberally sprinkled with yellow leaves. When I shut the engine off, motor drone is replaced by the music of critters in the grass, crickets and their cousins — the late-season soundtrack for this part of the world.

The last Friday in September. Warm season slipping off into memory, cold season slowly edging its way in.

España, te echo de menos.

This evening, in the wake of thunderstorms:

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

The following day, two Thursdays ago, brought the arrival of I. from Montreal, the representative of the opposite gender I’ve been getting to know in recent weeks (see entry of August 24).

Shortly after 4 p.m. on a stupendously beautiful afternoon, we met up on the State House lawn in Montpelier (the State House looking as cute as ever, like a capitol building from a big state that someone left in the dryer too long — white and glistening, gold dome towering over everything else in the town, which makes it look almost grand; almost — it’s a low-skyline town, so low-skyline that it would be nearly impossible for the town to develop delusions of grandeur without serious long-term ego-inflation via compressed air and massive drug-consumption), picked up a bunch of provisions to ensure excellent eating, and made the drive out to my hilltop fiefdom. Via back roads, I. wondering what kind of Deliverance scenario she’d gotten herself into as the roads got narrower, more remote, until the narrowest, most remote finally gave out onto the gravel road that stretches over the top of the hill, providing sudden expansive vistas of the valley to the north, my humble dive perched on the verge of the hill, exceedingly fine views all around.

It qualified as a major step, this visit. Previously, I’d spent two or three days in that lovely city to the north, spending days and evenings with Herself, us returning to our respective hideouts for a nighttime breather — her to flat with daughter, me to B&B. A lot of time together for two individuals who’d only recently had an email connection before attempting the 3-D thing. Her foray to my rural corner of the world meant intensive time spent together of a whole other magnitude, four days worth.

In other words, we were in for adventure. Which turned out to be fun, tender, interesting, sweet, occasionally hilarious. With occasional ups and downs as we waded through the process of getting to know each other, bumping up against differences in personality, perspective, all that.

Adventure: it’s good.

Sidenote: I hadn’t heard a peep out of the household ghost in many months — since sometime last year. During the few days before I.’s arrival, I began hearing it again. Always quiet and subtle, nothing hair-raising, unless the sound of someone else moving around the house when you know no one else should be around is a cause for nerves. The morning after I.’s first night over, she mentioned that she’d heard the creaking of floorboards, as in someone walking down the hallway, added that she felt someone standing over her at one point, thought it was me. Must not have felt threatening — she turned over, went back to sleep. And that was that.

What does it all mean? No idea. Interesting, though.

She’s an adorable soul, I., and there were moments during the weekend when she really seemed to be enjoying herself, times when I watched, smiling, feeling so pleased. Sitting in the Rainbow Sweets Café eating a pretty good pizza (w/ everything) while the owner blabbed his way through his ever-evolving comedy monologue. Standing on the overlook at Nichol’s Ledge, northern Vermont countryside spread out below in panoramic fashion (not much autumn color in evidence, but still beautiful beyond words). Spending an afternoon in adirondack chairs out on the hillside here, soaking up sunlight and the view of the valley. Sitting out on the back stoop in chilly night air, listening to the quiet.

Lots of moments in that vein.

Four days of company, then back to a quiet house, my thoughts turning more and more to the coming return to Madrid.

[this entry in progress]

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

This evening, southern Quebec:

España, te echo de menos.

Last week, Wednesday: I found myself sitting in a windowless courtroom in Barre, VT, Montpelier’s working-class twin city. My second day of jury selection.

The first such occasion happened in July, me spending a warm, beautiful day in the big, sensory-deprivation chamber called the District Court of Vermont (Unit No. 3, Washington Circuit), along with nearly 50 other souls summoned to do the civic duty thing. It was supposed to have happened for me in early May, the day I got back from Madrid, but the two guys taking care of my mail — good guys, normally very responsible — didn’t notice the envelope emblazoned with the big words JURY SERVICE, and I didn’t find it until the morning after my return, when I was supposed to be there hanging about with the rest of the jury pool. A phone call to the courthouse got me the woman in charge, who accepted my explanation with good-natured kindness and rescheduled me instead of hitting me with the heavy fine the law allows in cases like that.

I’d had a brush with jury duty once before, in Massachusetts. On a mild February day, I drove well away from Cambridge/Boston to lounge around a district court until the legal folk were ready to roll, then filed into a courtroom with the rest of jury herd for a bunch of Q&A. A drunk driving case, the attorney for the defense decided he didn’t like something about my answers and they set me free, me skipping back out into what remained of the afternoon, feeling like I’d been let out of school early. And that was it — simple, not terribly demanding.

But in this small, green corner of the world, where so much about life is so agreeable, so reasonable, someone with a nasty sense of humor cooked up the requirements for prospective jurors. None of this one-day-and-you’re-free rubbish — once you’re called, you must accumulate either three days of jury selection or three trials served. Not a total of three of either –- one or the other. Meaning you can potentially go through two days of jury selection and three trials, or two trials and three days of jury selection, before you’re released from indentured servitude. Not reasonable at all. But that’s the way it is. And it complicates life in a major, onerous way for those who get called. In July, three farmers sat and fretted about all the work they had waiting for them at home, not bitching about it but clearly stressed and knowing they would be detained for two, three, four or more additional days in the weeks to come. (One of them: a large, big-bellied, salt-of-the-earth type, skin weathered and ruddy from years of work out in the elements, dressed in clean work clothes, including a faded “Wilson’s Heavy Equipment” baseball cap and pants held up by suspenders designed to resemble yellow measuring tape.)

Courthouse personnel made an effort to communicate appreciation for the imposition, but without apology for the extreme commitment of time required of their jury slaves those called to serve. Juries were empanelled for three different cases, I was only called for the pool of prospective jurors for one of them. The trial date conflicted with a day I would be out of state, I finished the day a free person.

Last Wed. they picked juries for four cases, calling me to sit in three pools (of potential jurors, not of the wading variety). One was a domestic violence case. I was willing to serve but identified myself as having grown up in a violent household (true) and found myself not included in the final jury.

The next case featured an individual defending himself on a traffic violation, an event that would have been worth witnessing just for the potential spectacle. The defendant had shown up dressed down, in a less than sparkling outfit that included a baggy, untucked t-shirt featuring a startling, oversized image of a bosomy female — the message being that here was someone who could have cared less what we thought of him. Seeing what he wore to the actual trial might be worth the price of admission all by itself, I was ready and willing to be there. But the trial date was set for the day I fly back to Madrid, disqualifying me.

The defendant in the third case turned out to be someone I knew (also defending himself) from the gym in Montpelier, someone I liked. Making me a bad choice for a potential juror, even if the date had worked. Once again, I skipped out of the courthouse a free man.

[continued in next entry]

España, te echo de menos.

A short while ago, shuffling through the kitchen during my customary barely-conscious morning stupor, I glanced at the calendar, saw that today was Labor Day and nearly screamed. Jerked the kitchen door open, stumbled outside and wandered aimlessly about in the yard for a few minutes, soaking up lovely warm sunshine, trying to figure out where in hell the summer went.

While I have gone on and on about Montreal, etc. in this journal’s recent entries (squeezing it all out at a velocity that can only be called glacial), the weeks of August have coasted past. The songbirds that once carried on all over the local countryside finished producing broods, quieted down and crept off in southerly directions, leaving a strange silence in their wake, a void that crickets and their cousins filled with soothing music. It’s a kind of music that usually carries a bittersweet edge, its presence a clear sign that the days are sliding toward September, toward autumn, toward fall colors and leaves coming down, toward bare trees and cold air, toward the coming of winter.

No big surprise, this transition, in some ways. The slant of the sun has shifted dramatically, the first light of the day has progressively happened later and later, while night has begun elbowing daylight aside at a disturbingly early hour. Used to be, not so very long ago, that the hours of sunlight stretched on enough that the days felt deliciously long. Evenings were actually part of daytime. In a few short weeks, evening will be gone. We’ll have daytime and nighttime, all of it out of balance, night smugly taking over, ceding us just a few short hours to be able to walk around without having to turn on all the lights to keep from tripping over everything.

I know I’m blabbing on about this. I’m working my way through the annual stunned mourning at the big seasonal change. And the seasons haven’t actually changed yet — it’s all because of this silly holiday weekend, when much of the population in this part of the world leaps into their cars and skids off to other places for a day or two, before summer is officially pronounced DOA. (Not so silly at its roots, maybe, commemorating as it does workers and labor unions, who were struggling at the time the holiday was being birthed to win an eight-hour workday in the States).

I had a lot of fun once July 4th weekend lurched by and the weather in this part of the world stopped with the cold, gray, rainy ugliness. At some point, the weather gods/goddesses came to their senses and flipped the switch labeled “summertime,” and life here became a joy. Amazing, spectacular weather, the Vermont landscape thriving beneath lovely July and August skies that smiled down upon us.

And I began a series of road trips, the first heading down to the Hudson Valley. A friend from England was flying in to N.Y.C. on a Saturday night, I’d pick him up on Sunday morning and spend the day ferrying him north to Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, where he had to be that evening to register for a week-long course he’d be taking. A fine excuse for me to veer around the southeastern New York landscape, inflicting myself on friends ‘n’family, beginning Saturday morning with a five-hour drive south (through many miles of near-apocalyptic rainstorms in Massachusetts, producing white-out conditions and panic among drivers) to Westport, Connecticut for lunch with a friend and her teenage daughter.

Westport: a green, wealthy enclave I’d never passed through before. The friend: P., a woman I’d known for nearly ten years via an online community but had never met in 3-D. A smart, attractive, interesting person who left behind a marriage that ceased functioning, relocated from Pennsylvania to Connecticut. The directions brought me through a pretty, affluent community to a small house up on a ridge, surrounding by greenery and towering trees, insulated enough that you’d hardly know it loomed over one of the town’s main drags, a busy four-lane road lined with small malls, stores, restaurants.

I met the 3-D version of P., met her teenage daughter, met the household dog (who appreciated the attention). We piled into P.’s car, drove to a neighboring town for lunch at an Italian joint, me adoring being driven around after five hours of doing it myself (also adoring warm, sunny weather after the meteorological goofiness in Mass.). Had a decent lunch, enjoyed 3-D conversation with Herself. P.’s daughter came and went once she’d finished her chow, off for shopping, calling friends, etc. She returned, we got talking about MP3’s, and from that point on, the visit mostly centered around music in one way or another. Out crossing the main drag so P. and daughter could do something in a video store, I had the strangest sense of quasi deja vu, the street, traffic and people so reminiscent of what I’d known growing up on Long Island (and also so different from Madrid’s version of street, traffic and people).

Post-lunch: got back on the road, made the fast drive west to the Hudson Valley to spend the night at my best buddy’s home in Nyack. He was not there when I arrived, Mrs. best buddy greeted me with a hug/kiss, I hung with her in their extremely lived-in kitchen, household life swirling around me, daughters #’s 1 and 2 (bright, high-energy beings, both) causing most of the swirling.

They’re a wacky bunch, my buddy’s clan. Buddhists, of the nom-yo-ho-renge-kyo- chanting variety, though a buddha-like mellowness is not exactly the term that would describe the household atmosphere. Lively, yes — the two girls bring an element of intensity to the mix that sometimes verges on chaos. But mellow? Not so much.

Daughter #2 in entertainment mode

BB arrived home not long after, having had to take part of his weekend out for work-related matters. He’s on the staff of a high-profile N.Y. area public radio station, meaning the job sucks up huge amounts of his time while pay is minimal.

(An exchange between BB and daughter #1:
She: Did you have to go to work, Daddy?
He: Yes, I had to work.
She: Why’d you come home?)

(Another memorable daughter #1 moment: “Dad, the foot isn’t the entire body!”)

An upside of the job: many opportunities to see excellent live music. That weekend a jazz festival was underway, BB dragged me out there that night when he had to go back to help with closing up the station’s booth. Out there being an estate in Westchester County, a gorgeous place for live music, us arriving just before the final set. Got to see BB (a master shmoozer) practice the craft of shmoozing, got introduced to station folk, including the widow of a long-deceased jazz notable (nice handshake, goofily friendly manner). Saw a good set that featured some spectacular moments, including some astonishing trombone work.

Drove back through the July night talking about music, something BB and I have done many times since the year we did a late-night radio show together at university.

Next morning: made the drive to Manhattan to pick up C., the friend from England who provided me with the excuse for the weekend’s road trip. A drive I’d done many, many times in years past, a drive I enjoyed — down the Palisades Parkway to the Geo. Washington Bridge, then to the West Side Highway all the down to midtown and off into local streets. In the year or two since the last time I’d driven it, some geniuses in the New Jersey/New York bureaucracies had taken it upon themselves to allow only vehicles with an E-Z Pass to get directly onto the bridge. Other vehicles were channeled off into scenic Fort Lee, through endless local traffic to gaze around frantically for any indiction of how to get onto the goddamn bridge. I found none, wound up driving south through Jersey and skidding into the Lincoln Tunnel, sandwiched between trucks, tour busses, etc. And when I emerged out the other side, blinking into the hazy morning Manhattan light, I had to navigate busses parking wherever they felt like to take on and kick off passengers, and cab drivers who had forgotten to take their meds. Pure pleasure, in other words.

Finally, found the right stretch of 7th Avenue, found a spot to park the car while I ran over to the hotel to grab C., my friend — not a legal spot, but close enough that I could keep it in view while I grabbed C. by shirt and dragged him back to vehicle. Back in the car, we veered cross 7th and into a west-bound cross street, packed with cabs and police cars. And before I realized it, we were rounding a curve into the dark, gaping maw of the tunnel again, crawling back to Joisey, a prospect that seemed to make C. visibly nervous. And once we were out of the tunnel and through the long curving stretching of elevated roadway that finally pointed us north, I understood the nervousness: half the drivers in that part of the world were apparently experiencing some kind of psychotic break. One gent in front of us who veered across three lanes responded to my hands-up huh? inquiry with an agitated, drawn-out, spastic display of body language that left me genuinely impressed with its melodramatic wackiness.

The weather that morning: hazy, overcast, air mild, humidity high. The humidity seemed to trigger a reaction in people that got them experiencing it as heat. For C., that meant distress that I had no working a/c in my trusty Subaru (hey, there is rarely any need for fans in northern vermont, much less a/c — that’s life). Genuine distress, something I hadn’t expected, especially with the temperature as mild as it was. Kind of threw me — but we dealt with it as males traditionally deal with thorny moments: we made fun of each other then quickly retreated into the distraction of silly, obscene humor (here, doing a Mamet-esque version of Jersey-speak).

I scooted off the turnpike at the wrong exit, found my way to a u-turn, got back on the ‘pike, eventually found Fort Lee and the Palisades Parkway. We stopped at a turnoff and gazed through the day’s smog and haze at the northern tip of Manhattan, C. seeming congenially underwhelmed by it all. Stopped with the delays, returned to Nyack to introduce one friend (C.) to another (BB ). Had lunch on BB’s terrace, food disappearing as daughters came and went and conversation moved meandered here and there. At some point, C. began slumping in his chair, reminding me that I was dragging around a person who had just done a transatlantic crossing, was functioning on less than a good night of sleep. And I wondered how the wackiness of BB’s clan was impacting him, but tried not to wonder too much about it — C. is an adult and a great person, smart, capable and able to deal.

Travels resumed, we headed north, crossed the Hudson, made our meandering way toward a public garden, a small gem of a place according to the word-spewers at the New York Times. We traveled winding roads north, through green, lovely towns, then hung a right at Cold Spring. More driving, more winding two-lanes. Until we finally arrived, the place completely hidden from the two-lane it gave out to, a gravel driveway the only point of access. And in the center of that narrow gravel drive stood a saw-horse bearing a sign that read in big scrawled letters: CLOSED. A fast grab at the Times revealed the factoid that this small gem was only open on occasional Sundays. Very occasional Sundays. And this particular Sunday was not one of them. Don’t know why, but the thought of traveling all those miles, C. enduring it all because of the promise of an enjoyable payoff, got me giggling, kept me giggling as we turned around, retraced part of our route, headed north and west to the next pit-stop. (My only regret: not taking a photo of C. standing next to the CLOSED sign, an image that would have been an excellent keepsake of the Torment of C.)

[to be continued]

España, te echo de menos.

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