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Category Archives: Travel

Boone Tavern Hotel

Rocking chairs creak
At the Boone Tavern Hotel.
Two rows across the wide
Inviting veranda.

Rails, boards, seats all
Singing smoothly in the
Kentucky July.
We were simply passing by,

My friend and I,
In the impossibly bright light
Of afternoon. Walking
Far too industriously.

Inviting and comforting
Like an old black and white movie
Of Southern days gone by
The veranda calls us

Though we are not guests
Of this hotel. I think of sitting
Among the paying customers
As illicit; theft of comfort.

Still, I am a traveler,
same as they, though
who knows how many
are registered at the desk.

I am a traveler,
Same as they,
Looking for a way out of
The summer heat

On my way to where I am going
Why not stop and have a seat
On the broad chairs
In the cooler light?

Two empty chairs together
We take our places
And begin the slow, rhythmic function
Dictated by form.

If the air will not move against us,
We can move against the air.
We are our own easy breeze
In the thick, tepid quiet.

Soon, silence turns
To slow talk. Before we
Know it, we are
Discussing spoonbread.

The temperature of a slow oven,
Debating the perfect number of eggs,
Their size, sour or sweet milk,
The color of corn.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2011 in Food, Poetry, Travel

 

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Rememberance

The dates had been set for a trip for Lee and I to New York City. A drive up with the remainder of my daughter’s boxes, sixteen of them in varying sizes and weights, two portfolios, two pictures carefully wrapped in blankets, one tool set and a two by six by eight inch stone signed by fellow students from the inaugural class at The America Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, NC. The dates were changed from later in the month to earlier – her work schedule changed and, always overprotective, she worried about us traipsing around NYC by ourselves. On our end, work became heavy and, heading into summer, we were reticent to tell patients they could not have appointments.

It had been months since we’d seen her. Too long for me. But, in the end, though I missed her enough to bother her by phone nearly every day, it seemed a trip destined for difficulty. I felt we were pushing it somehow – the fast drive up and back, the shuffling of patients, the challenge in accommodations as she had, as yet, no couch or blow-up bed and I was not looking forward to arriving in NYC and immediately dropping a few hundred on a sleeper sofa.

Lee suggested Alek go along instead. We made the plans but, at the last minute, he felt it was a bad idea. Not just for him, but for anyone. In the end, it seemed he was right and we canceled. But I still needed a day or two away and Lee suggested Gainesville.

I had shied away from Gainesville. But, now settled into a home I like, visiting the place I considered my home for so long no longer seemed melancholy and bittersweet. I could go to my favorite gardens, walk the trails, climb the sinkhole, sit downtown, stay up late at my favorite coffeehouse, spend the afternoon at museums. And I can get from here to there well before a single MP3 disk runs out.

I asked Alek if he wanted to go – to get away with me and leave Lee the house to herself for a couple of days. Happily, surprisingly, he said yes.

This might have something to do with my having invited his girlfriend too.

Jessica is a sweet kid. A smart kid. We have made it a point to include her in the household whenever we can. She’ll watch TV with us, have dinner with us, go out with us. We want her to feel welcome and to know that she is. This is no chore – she’s fun to have around.

A week ago, Alek took her to South Florida to visit my father and brother, my in-laws. She learned quite a bit about the family and, yet, she stayed. So why not take her to Gainesville and show her some old haunts and tell her some odd stories. Let her see where Alek was born, where we lived, learn a bit about his parents.

Besides, Alek is quiet, Jessica talks. She and I will sing in the car while he sits. When we go out, he is worried about which one of us will embarrass him more. In short, it’s fun to have her along and it makes Alek happy. So why not?

The day was set. We leave Thursday. An easy trip. One night there. Gardens, sinkholes, museums, flea markets, thrift stores, retro clothing, coffeehouses. Maybe I’ll look up some people I know. Maybe not. I post a status message on Facebook. “Anything musical, festival, artful, eventful, funful or playful going on in Gainesville this Thursday of Friday?” I should have known not to, I did know not to, and I did it anyway.

Wednesday night I got this reply as a message on Facebook. It is from Tori, a friend of fourteen years. Tori thinks it is longer and I don’t tell her any different. The subject was “The Wild Young Zikr, Poetry Jam and Potluck”

I had gotten an invitation to this a month or so back but, since it was in Gainesville and I am in Palm Bay, three hours away, I said no. That and the fact it was a potluck which means there will be food and people which means eating food and talking to people. Actually, that was the only reason I said no.

The entire body of the email was two words. “Come by.”

People who know me, who spend time with me, come to understand that somehow, often somewhat uncomfortably, often somewhat frequently, they are in for new experiences. Tori, later, Victoria, later Murshida, always Tori to me, is like that as well. Having seen the comfort-stretching, learning and experiencing my friends tend to endure when around me, I knew what I had to do.

I had to say no. I had to say it quickly and before it was too late.

Why did I not use the word no? I walked right into it. I said “My dear Dear, It is a party. That means I will be struck with near paralyzing fear, cold with sweat, and wanting to crawl into any hole I can. Then I’ll cling to anyone I actually know and then worry about having done that. How’s THAT for a confession and knowing myself?” I added, “Besides, I won’t have been able to have cooked anything.”

There. That would be that. Done. Over. Crisis averted. After all, I promised no more forcing myself into social situations. I didn’t need them, didn’t like them, didn’t want them. And I can lie to myself as well as the next guy.

On the occasions I have needed a psychotherapist, and I assure you I have and do, I have not seen one. Why? Pack of idiots. Pulling out their tricks and counting on their common logic. I know their tricks and can out-logic them half asleep. Too smart for my own good, I am told, I have never found them to be effective. In psychotherapy, a good therapist has to get past your mind, past tricks and leave you with no place to go but in the direction of discovery, experience and growth, of finding or leaving. Tori is a psychotherapist. I should have known better. I should have just said no.

Her reply.

It’s not a party– it’s a ceremony– does the invite say party? That was a student’s oversight.

Come at 8:30 to eat and for Zikr– helping clean the dishes as your contribution to the meal will help manage your social anxiety between the eating and the invocation– bring a couple of dark chocolate bars to add to dessert– you can break them up and arrange them on a plate once you get here– another activity to manage social anxiety…did I tell you I was almost paralyzed by this for years… covered it up because I am an actor. It sucks. My heart to you! I love you.

And Zikr… Zikr is… Zikr is…

5,000 years of Dervish Divine Magic. 130,000 prophets in the room, Illumined Teachers in the room, music beyond what is being sung… such beauty.

During the height of the Moorish Empire when our ancestors lived in the Iberian Peninsula enjoying what is sometimes referred to as The Golden Age of the Jews, there were seven generations of Jewish Sufi Sheiks. And you, my dear, area Dervish to the core. So… if you don’t come I won’t be insulted for a moment, but what a thing to pass up… eh?!!! ♥ ♥ ♥

Damn. She did exactly what I would have done. The sidestep. She deflected my issues, piqued my curiosity, spoke to my longing and left me nowhere to go but discovery and experience and growth. She left me nowhere to go but her house on Thursday evening.

Hmm… social interaction and food. Nothing like dropping myself directly into the lion’s den.

But, if it is religious as well, it would probably be interesting to Alek, soooo…

Mind you, my newest poetry is not printed out so all I have is some older things. I mean, I have the new stuff on Internet access and on the computer, but not on paper. So if I read it might be something you have heard before.

Eight-thirty, eh? Dark chocolate, eh?

You know, if I’m on stage, I’m fine. If it is my job, I’m great. But I have even stopped going to contra dances for fear I won’t get asked, or, if I ask, I’ll be turned down. I never am but I know, next time… next time… so I don’t go. I just stopped forcing myself.

So what’s the dress code?

Why was I asking her that? Was I actually going? I asked the kids to see if they might say they’d not want to go. I prodded. I suggested.

“Sounds interesting,” they said. Damn.

Tori’s reply to my queries and misgiving?

Dress code is comfortable. Alek is welcome of course. Lots of young people. Not a place for performing actually. But what comes through comes through… you’ll see. Someone will be holding your hand most of the time and guiding you through… I promise that! lol. ♥ VA ♥

I wrote back. “Guiding me through? I’ll have Alek’s main squeeze with me to. Guiding me through?”

Notice the sidestep here. “Awesome… ,” she answers. “The Path of Love Loves Lovers… yep yep yep ♥”

“Damn, it looks like you are giving me something to write about. CRAP!”

“Yes!”

I have not written much in the last two months. It’s not that I have nothing to write about. I am working on a revision of a book coming back into print, on a novel, on a series of vignettes, on promotional material for the office. I have things I could write about. Maybe too many. A friend joked the other day that my problem was I had so much to write about that I don’t know where to start. I said “I need assignments. Write about this event. Write that story. Even better, maybe someone will give me an adventure. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a something interesting I could go to, less than a day away, that I could write about.” Make sure you really want something before you ask for it.

So Thursday morning we set off.

It is a three hour ride and we arrive in town with plenty of time. I take the kids on a tour, showing Jessica the house we lived in that we bought because of the live oak tree (age three), where the Lubavicher rabbi, one Shabbos eve, got Alek drunk on vodka and he spit up all over the rabbi in return (age four), where I died in my orange VW bus after a head-on collision with a blue truck, laying across Alek keeping him safe (also age four for him), his elementary school, Littlewood (ages five to nine), the old cooperative school we started out in the woods (ages who knows), Civic Media Center, where I got my start reading poetry at a clothing optional event (age who knows again), the bookstore we owned (age seven to nine) which now sells cigarettes and beer, and the house he was born in (not age four).

We pass the houses of people we know and decide to not stop in. Many we have made attempts to keep up with and most of the friendships fell apart from disuse as the distance and time grew. Some I email and some I call and from none do I get replies. That evening, I clean out my phonebook.

We explore downtown a bit and stop in at Flashbacks, a retro consignment shop. We buy a dress for Jessica and some cool whacked-out multi-coloured skater shoes for me (women’s size ten) and a great, magnificent find – a plaidish wool fedora. Neither appear to have been worn at all. Ever. Divesting myself of fewer than twenty-five dollars and feeling well on the upper-side of the bargain, we set off for lunch.

El Indio. It is not hard to find it and we have a great lunch of Mexican food under the trees on Gainesville’s main street, which is not Main Street, but 13th Street, US Highway 441. From there we walk a block to Mother Earth and buy three bars of dark chocolate. Green & Black’s Organic 85% Cocoa Dark Chocolate.

There is a whole lot of tired going on. We head back to the West Side, near Archer Road, and look for a hotel. Classes let out for the summer a week ago and rooms are plentiful and inexpensive. We settle in, me in one room and Alek and Jessica in another. We will rest and, in an hour and a half, at quarter ‘til seven, leave for Tori’s.

Out Hawthorn Road, in the Southeast region of the town, down towards the lakes, in a hidden area of small to medium, iconoclastic adobe, A-frame, tin-roof, shack, balcony, geodesic houses, each more improbably different than the next, we wind around dirt roads until we find Tori’s home as described, notice the many people sitting, standing on the wide front porch. I had hoped we’d arrive before most of the people and I feel my heart rise in my throat.

It is difficult to find a place to park and we squeeze past the cars on the narrow lane, turn around at the end, at the bank of Calf Pond, and squeeze past them again to park by the top of the street, unblocked and unblockable by any car obeying even the rudiments of the spirits of logic and the traffic laws. I have planned my escape.

The kids exit the passenger side. I left not quite enough room for me to get out and I step into the vines and loam, smoothing my way against the side, compressing myself over the hood. Down the road, up the short path, two steps up to the porch.

“Adam!” She rushes toward me, slams into me, hugs me. It takes me a moment to process the voice, now buried in my shoulder. Kat. Katey. “Katey!”

In her mid-twenties, tall and thin, other than a sporadic picture on-line, I have not seen her for nearly ten years. Long among my daughter’s best friends, even when distant. For years we saw her nearly every day.

I introduce the kids. Alek, of course, she knows though he has changed much since his age was in the single digits.

She takes my hand and brings me, around the people, inside. A small house. An adorable house. Different coloured walls, arches, stucco, sashes and prayer flags over doorways, devotional items on the walls, a fireplace to the left on the front outside wall as soon as one enters, and a table at the far end covered with food. A floor. The floor looks like people. Pillows and people. A sea of people between the front door and the table. A sea of people wearing shorts, t-shirts, sarongs, tank tops, less, more. I step around, over, through.

Really, it is not that crowded, but I don’t look down. There are many people but I don’t look down as that is where they are, sitting. Katey tells me her mother is busy talking with someone and points to a door through which I assume Tori is. And she must go as well. “Wait a moment.” I reach into my backpack and hand her three large bars of the 85% cacao chocolate. “For the desert table.”

We stand. It must be a few minutes or maybe a few seconds. I look at Alek and say softly, “I’m going to go outside where I’ll be less conspicuous.” I am not thinking about the fact that I am dressed in a button-down, albeit flowered, forest green shirt and dungarees which is as comfortable as I get when I don’t know the people. No, I am thinking about my mere presence and palpable, I am sure to everyone, discomfort.

And from some part of the room I hear, “be less conspicuous?” And so confirmed becomes my belief, my self-fulfilling prophecy, that people notice me, laugh at me, talk about me. I walk out the door again. Across the porch, down the steps, to the road and walk to the left, the right, one end, the other.

Out comes Tori. Tall, bright, nearly buzzed white hair, dressed in white, flowing inside and out, she hugs me. And I do so adore her. Always have. And miss her. Always do. She senses the discomfort even as I melt. She tells me how good it is to see me. She takes my hand, leads me around, introduces me to people, tells them she knows me much longer than she does. I don’t argue. “Want to take a walk to the pond? We have a dock that goes out into it.”

We walk down the road, onto the narrow, single file, wooden dock. In the water baby gators swim by.

“I swim in there,” Tori tells me and a few other people who have followed us, met on the way, or were already there. “I just listen to my instincts.”

It’s time to go back to the house. Time to eat. Back up the lane, inside. Tori walks to the table, gathers people around, points to the dishes and tells us what is what, what’s in it, who brought it. Time for a blessing and we all gather in a large circle squashed by the walls. Someone is missing. Tori’s mom. I’ll get her, says someone and leaves the room. A few moments later, her mom, thin and white, sitting in a chair, is slid into the room, chair legs across the tile floor.

The last time I saw her mom she spoke. The last time I saw her mom, she walked. Last time I saw her mom… I want to go over and say hello. She smiles. People talk to her. I can’t. My lack. It has not been long since my mother died and it feels like that. Far too much like that. Far too soon. And immediately I feel badly for my inability to communicate with her, my desire to distance, the feeling, if I walk over, I will begin to cry and see my mother, again, cold, dry, dead. My last image of her and I can’t do that now.

It is my lack. But I choose to be kind to myself. As kind as I can be while still dishing self-reproach.

The blessing begins. Tori leads it, blessing the food, our gathering, that we have come together to share this meal, this love, this precious time together and our reaching out to one another in union, in expansiveness, in joy. That we all move toward the one and the one moves within us all, each a ripple or wave in a single expansive sea.

And we eat. I wait, as always, not wanting to be seen eating, that someone might say, “he’s fat but he’s eating?” knowing, as I do, I am the only one who begrudges me food. But I wait, regardless, until the line is down, ’til seconds have been had, ’til cleanup has commenced, ’til most are busy talking, or laughing, or walking in the warm night.

I grab a plate and find the food is gone. This was my hope, of course. My son tried to get me to eat. I told him I would. But if the food is gone, what’s to be done?

There is half a slice of bread left, made by Tori, spelt and seeds and dense and delicious. There is a handful of cucumbers and a few fork-fulls of salad. I eat. Beside me is a conversation about massage therapy and sore legs. One woman has shin pain and wants to know how to stretch to alleviate it. It is a chance to help and I apologize, ask if I might make a suggestion, and, with leave, do. She is a massage therapist, not a student as I thought, and I think they might believe me to be egoistic. But it is information she did not have and seems happy for it. And I back out off the conversation before I have worn thin my welcome.

I bring my plate into the kitchen and, among three other people, wash my dish. Then other dishes on the counter, then gather other things to wash, happy to have a chore – doing something that allows me to face away from others and with no expectation of socializing. When there are no more dishes to wash, I walk outside. The kids are sitting on a set of steps.

Jessica is feeling uncomfortable. Her stomach hurts. She feels somewhat nauseous. Part of me wants her to want to leave and I will, of course, concede. part of me wants her to come in. We’ve come this far, why not go all the way? Tori comes over, crouches, speaks with her, assures her no one will ask her to do anything she feels unable to. She agrees to come in and give it a try. I am heartened. I am undone. My mind, my will, divided, opposed to itself, gets what it does and does not want.

Then, we are called back into the living-room and asked to take seats upon the floor. There are pillows. I refuse one, knowing, within ten minutes, my legs will be asleep. People push in, Tori askes we get closer. “Smush. Smush.” My son to my right, Jessica beside him. To my left, a young lady who’s name I do not know. I do not know anyone’s name save my son, Jessica, Kat and Tori. She wears a green dress and sits on a pillow. Everyone has a pillow and she leans forward and grabs one of the few remaining, piled in the middle of the room, and insists I take it. She has a Spanish accent, South American. Argentina, I am nearly sure. I refuse the pillow. I refuse the kindness.

“Smush Smush.” We do, I am pressed against Alek and he sits tightly. I try not to impose on his space. Ms. Argentina is pressed against me and I try to move to give her room, but there is no where to go. She sits cross legged and lets her legs fall to the sides, her right leg resting on my lap. I thank her for the excellent suggestion of the pillow, taking it from behind her and popping it under me. Newly elevated as I am, her leg still drapes over mine, resting on my thigh. I have no choice but to melt and breath.

Tori lays a sheepskin down in front of the fireplace and sits. “This (drawing a large circle in the air) is Islam. This (drawing a large circle slightly intersecting the other) is Sufism. This little space where they come together is Islamic Sufism but the rest of this circle is Sufism too. A long time ago, Mohamed welcomed the mystics, persecuted elsewhere, into his protection. Everyone was welcomed. Muslims, Jews, all the mystics. And they sat on sheepskins, or ‘sufs.’ So they were called Sufis.”

Zikr. It means to remember, to praise, to celebrate, to devote. It is movement and a spiritual state. It is to occupy ones body and mind, simultaneously, with the act of devotion so there is no space, no thing within that is not involved in devotion, not filled with celebration, not engaged in remembering, not suffused with love. The entire being becomes a celebration of all that is within and without and, soon, cannot tell one from the other. All things are divine and nothing is not the ground of creation. Zikr. Dhikr. Daven. Sway, rock, recite, repeat, praise, sing, move, move move.

She speaks about recognizing each other. Sufi’s, those on the path, mystics, though not all alike, recognize each other, as she recognizes us tonight.

There is further, but brief, explanation. Some chants will be in Aramaic, some in other languages, but all will be translated and all are here to bring us toward the one, toward unity, to ecstasy, out of our bodies and out of our minds to expansion past our skin-encapsulated egos, and into the ocean of being. We will be soaked, drenched in the one. We shall be drowned, encompassed without, filled within, by the love of all that is.

“Allah hu. Hu Allah.” A name of the one and the universal sound, a breath. We chant. I was taught a similar chant by Rabbi Isenberg, now the Chairman of the Department of Religion at the University of Florida. We would breath, chanting fast, bowing our heads. ” Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil / Adonai Eloheinu / Adonai echad.” Three bows each time, one for each part. Fast, faster, breathless. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour. Shaya would gather the Jews of a mystical bent and the Muslims of a mystical bent and have evenings he called “Jufi Dancing” to prayers and songs and chants. The Dances of Universal Peace. On Sundays, often, we’d play soccer, the Jews against the Muslims, no one keeping score. A name for oneness is a name for oneness.

Yet, I have trouble as the chant takes hold around the circle. First I sing not at all, then quietly, barely moving my lips. Then, as time passes, the chant starts singing itself and I feel no choice.

Words have meaning, rhythm and sound. Their power comes from the vibration of these three. But we don’t need to understand the words. Sometimes the words are lost. Sometimes we can’t pronounce them. The rhythm and sound are all that is needed as these impart their own meaning.

A rabbi taught me , if I don’t know the words, hum. There is power in the tune, in the rhythm and sound. Some chants come and go. Some, though, have power in their tunes, power in their sounds. They last. “Allah Hu.”

So I sing. And Tori begins to twirl. She spins and spins and spins in the little space there is within the circle. She bends down and grabs someone’s hands and they spin together. She lets go and that person grabs someone’s hand and they spin. We chant, we breath, they spin. With each choosing of a new partner, I wish simultaneously to be chosen and overlooked. We sing we sing we sing, they whirl, they whirl, they whirl. Faster and faster and then, as though by cue, we slow and breath and slow and slow and stop.

We had all pulled our legs in, to make more room, to not get our feet spun upon, and Ms. Argentina and I are now rather nestled into each other. And it is time for the next chant.

We count off into ones and two. Hold hands. Ones turn to the left first, then right. Twos to the opposite. Say “I don’t exist.” Turn. “You exist.” Turn. “I don’t exist.” Turn. “You exist.” Again. Again. Look in the eyes. Repeat. Again and again Ms. Argentina and I look into each others’ eyes, tell each other “I don’t exist.” Alek and Jessica are doing the same. Alternately, I turn to Alek, tell him “You exist.” Back to Ms. Argentina. “I don’t exist.” People are snickering, some laughing, some looking down, some follow through, more and more, look around, smile, radiate, expand, glow.

We rise and learn a song. Umbay alahay alahay alaho / Umbay alahay alahay alaho / (Rise an octave.) Umbay alahay alahay alaho / (Drop and octave.) Umbay alahay alaho. We sing. We sing. The circle breaks and the beginning of the line moves, sways, walks, dances. We become a snake, moving, swaying walking, around the house, into the kitchen, out the back door, into the yard, singing, walking, spiraling, singing, singing, faster, slower, louder, softer, tight, loose, drawn, compressed, expanded, pulling, pushing, singing singing singing. Passing eyes, looking, gazing, singing, the line doubles on itself, we face each other, it spirals again, we face away, it folds, circles, folds. We coil, coil, sound in our ears, singing all around and after an unknown time, we are all spiraled into a singing coil, tight, tight against each other, side by side, front and back, singing, pressing, pressing. Warmth and sound and naught else.

There is nothing to do but sing and melt. I cannot tell where I end and the next person begins. How long have I been holding Ms. Argentina’s hand? Alek’s hand? I am pressed between them, against the person in front of me, the person behind me. Briefly, ever so, I take inventory. What is there? Sound. But so much is missing. Anxiety. Worry. Boundaries. Me.

We quiet. Sing in a whisper. Slowly uncoil. Sit on the warm Earth. Come back inside. Sit again.

We are quiet. It is time for a story. Tori starts it. We each add a bit then pass it on. I am two thirds of the way around and it falls in and out of continuity, the story of a lonely woman of the distant past. A woman who lives in the desert and wishes to see the ocean. My turn comes and I do my best to return the story to the realm from which it came, to address the original question, get the woman to the ocean and away from caves and talking cats and speeding cars and back to her home and time and desert and to help her find her ocean.

The person before Tori has his turn. “I don’t have to finish it, do I?”

“No,” she says, “I wouldn’t do that to anyone.”

He takes his turn. So does Tori. But the story is undone.

“Adam,” She asks. “Would you finish the story?”

I guess I’m not anyone. I am surprised. It is a compliment, I know. And I take it gladly, finishing the story with the breath of the divine lifting the woman and her carpet to the clouds, to the sea. Everyone blows. Everyone blows. Our breath together is the divine breath. Our wish together is the divine wish. And together her wish is fulfilled. Together, may all our wishes be fulfilled.

Tori looks across the room, smiles, puts her hands together in front of her heart, shakes her head yes, says “I love that man.”

And, yes, I believe it’s true. And, right now, so do I.

 

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Adventures in Service Doggery

The first time we went to put the service vest on Dusty, she backed up. I was on my knees, following her as she backed into a wall. That’s when I slipped it over her head and fastened its blue airy mesh loosely under her belly with the Velcro strap. She walked tentatively around the block. For week she did this, walking with the vest unsure, as though something was wrong.

Then we took her out, to a store. We went food shopping. Into the car she went, jumping in as though she thought the vest would inhibit her ability to make it from the ground to the seat. Once in, she was happy. Does this vest mean car trips? Indeed so.

She was in heaven walking into the grocery store, stayed by my side, wagged the entire time. People asked if they could pet her. Of course. She’ll let you. Many people simply gave us a wide aisle to walk. No need, but I didn’t argue. Kids yelled “doggy” and adults remarked “how beautiful.”

After that, we never had trouble getting a vest on her again. Not that she needs one. All she really needs is my service dog say-so. But the vest is the accepted symbol in this culture. She also has a tag on her collar stating she is a service dog, with the appropriate law and corresponding numbers. I have a card in my wallet but I have never had to use it for her.

One Sunday we walked to a nearby church fair. Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, whirlybirds. Games, food and many other things I had no intention of taking any advantage of. I just thought it would be a good walk for her. Cops came by, asked if they could pet her. Children patted her.

One gentleman left the game he was running to come over to us – a set-up designed to make it seem easy to knock down a pyramid of bottles, placed there for the sole purpose of giving you the easiest task in the world just so they could say you did something, anything, to deserve the stuffed animal they so very much wanted to give you. It didn’t look like they were running out of prizes anytime soon. He tried to get me to play.

“No thank you.”

He knelt down in front of my dog, nearly nose to nose. “Is he blind?”

Who goes nose to nose with a dog they don’t know? Who talks into a strange dog’s face? What else could I say? “No, you moron, the dog can see perfectly well.”

We took my daughter’s dog to New York. She had left her with us while she moved and got settled in. We took a plane up so we could drive her now unused car back.

As a working dog, she was able to come on the plane with us. At twenty-five pounds, she didn’t take up much space and sat on the floor against the bulkhead. Good doggy!

The plane went from Melbourne, Florida to Atlanta and then, with an hour layover, to Newark. We were told Delta had a greenpatch for dogs, this not being the first service or working dog they’d had on a plane.

We disembarked. We asked at the gate for the greenpatch. No one knew where it was.
They called for someone to come get us. Apparently it was a security risk to tell us where it was and let us go ourselves. But the person coming for us knew. Just be patient.

One call. Two calls. We pace. We walk. Time to get back on the plane. Someone comes, apologizes, and hands us napkins.

“I’m so sorry we weren’t able to get you to the greenpatch. I don’t know what went wrong. But here are some napkins in case she has an accident so you’ll be able to clean it up.”

I let Lee handle this one. “First of all, this is cruel. You and Delta are being cruel to this animal who has behaved as well as anyone could want. Two, that would not be nearly enough napkins, I’m sure. Since she has been holding it since six this morning and it’s now noon and we won’t be landing again until two-thirty. Three, you can be sure, if she goes, it won’t be an accident. And you can be doubly sure it won’t us cleaning it up.” Back on the plane. Poor doggy.

Once we landed, Lee got the luggage and I raced the pooch outside and she saw the first plant since we left the house. She raced for it. I timed her. One minute and twenty seconds worth. What a pup!

In the meantime, Lee had procured a shuttle from Newark to New York to drop us to meet Sef at NYIT.

Seven people and a driver, us and the dog. The driver wants to know where the dog’s cage is.

“No cage. She’s a service dog. They knew that when we got the tickets. No cage on the plane and no cage now. Service dogs don’t have cages. They wouldn’t be of any use in a cage, now would they?”

“Well, he can’t get in the van without a cage.”

“According to US law, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, she goes where I go. And as long as she behaves, no one can deny access.” I showed him the tag and the card I was carrying that described the rights of the working dog and his or her owner/handler.

“Well, according to Super Shuttle law, she needs to be in a cage or she isn’t going.”

“You know, there was a time when someone would have said I don’t care what US law says, people who look like you still can’t ride in the front of this bus and you sure as hell can’t drive it.”

That did it. He just stared at me while seven people waited. “Well, if it’s ok with them,” and he pointed to the other passengers.

“It doesn’t have to be ok with them. You are going to lose this one no matter what. But ask any way if it makes you feel better.”

An old Scots lady said instantly, “Of course it’s ok. Shall we just go?” Others said similar. We were loaded, on our way and, of course, no problems with our pup at all. Everyone said good bye to her. But no one much spoke to the driver. When we departed, the last passengers, at Columbus Circle, I tipped him. Let sleeping dogs lie.

Today I took Dusty to the grocery store. Nothing much appealed to us at home and Lee wanted a sub. We walked there, walked in and waited at the deli counter. And waited.

Dusty sat by my legs, as she always does when we wait. People comment on her, as they always do. My turn was soon to come. After this, I’d walk with her to the pet aisle and let her pick out a treat.

Along came a man, impossibly tall, wearing a stocking cap that reached high enough over his head that I have no real idea how tall he really was. He could have had a cone under there. He could have been hiding three stacked rolls of toilet paper under there.

Beneath that, he had a face full of beard and a tattoo high on his left cheek. A shiny white t-shirt over a pot belly and black shorts with a white strip reaching mid-calf. Stolen, I imagine, from a middle school marching band. Up his leg ran tattoo flames. Down his arm ran the same.

Then came a shopping cart with two infants and his wife/sister/friend. “Doggy. Doggy” She asked if the children could pet my dog. Certainly. Yes.

One child walked over, cookie in hand, and gingerly started to pet Dusty. The impossibly tall idiot bent down behind the child. Now, I do not say he was an idiot for his mode of dress, hat, height or tattoos. But for the fact that, the moment the child touched my dog, the idiot barked in the boy’s ear as loudly as I think he could muster. In front of the deli counter.

The child jumped back, dropped the cookie. My dog jumped back, pressing herself against my leg. The impossibly tall idiot picked up the cookie and began eating it. The wife/sister/friend hit the impossibly tall idiot on the arm. “What did you do that for?”

“I wanted some of the cookie.”

“Why didn’t you just ask for it?”

“I don’t know.”

She asked again if the children could pet the dog.

“I think it’s best they do so they don’t stay traumatized. You can too. But I don’t think she’ll let him pet her,” I said, tilting my head towards the impossibly tall idiot.

On the way home, walking through the grass, I noticed her leash had somehow come off her collar and was dragging behind me. No difference. She was right by my side. A very good dog.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2010 in Culture, Social, Travel

 

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Accidents

By accident, I kicked a beer can. During an after-dark walk, dog by my side, my right foot grazed a beer can at the edge of the sidewalk. Clattering, out of it spilled beer, old and stale – the smell lifting even in the wet January air.

Years ago, late night, we would drive behind liquor stores, convenience stores, bars. My father, in boots and old dungarees, would jump into dumpsters and hand out aluminum cans my brother and I, ten and thirteen, nine and twelve, eleven and fourteen, would grab and drop into bags. Two and three garbage bags on a Friday or Saturday night would come home in the back of our van, a Ford Econoline, rigged by my father during the gas shortage so he could flip a switch and make the tank read empty. The next day my mother, father, brother and I would walk the shoulders of the main roads picking up cans, each of us with a bag. I would grab them by the bottom, hold them far from me and shake them to encourage the escape of the roaches within before dropping the cans in my bag. Then, back home, dumped onto the driveway, we would empty the bags, crush the cans and put them back into the bags. Always the smell of stale beer.

Every few weeks, we would fill the back of the van with bags of aluminum cans and bring them to the recycling center. They would be weighed and we would be handed cash. Nine cents a pound. Thirteen cents a pound. The value would change depending on the market, but we never worried about that. We just collected, crushed, delivered and took home the cash. It took many bags to make a buck.

And we would plan. Estimating the cash from cans, we would figure how far we could travel on our vacation. Each august we would drive, in the van with the shorted out, always reading empty gas gauge, to Tennessee or North Carolina or Arkansas, pulling behind us a pop-up camper. We would camp in the valley, by the river, on a mountain top and mine for emeralds, pan for gold, dig for rubies, search for diamonds.

And we would find them, take them home, cut them, polish them. Some we’d sell. Some we’d give away. Some we’d keep.

One night, on top of a mountain in North Carolina, it rained. It rained hard. It pelted into the rocky river next to us, hit the canvas roof of the pop-up above us, pinged the aluminum of the camper encasing us. We were surrounded by rhythm and wet. The air smelled of freshness and clay and pine. With every rain, it still does.

Such things come of accidents.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2010 in Family, Travel

 

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Appledance

I can’t remember having waited in a line this long. And certainly not holding this much. Not in DC waiting to get into the Capitol. Not in New York City waiting to get to the top of the Empire State Building. Not at the DMV. Maybe at Disney World, but I was twelve and that was Thanksgiving weekend. I haven’t been back since.

I am holding five bags containing a total of three pecks of apples while balancing a spaghetti squash and three jars of elderberry preserves. Lee is holding her purse. That seems fair.

Homestead Farms is crowded. With hayrides out to pick your own pumpkins from the fields, stands for freshly made caramel apples, squashes of various kinds still happily on the vines, and trees full of apples – Rome, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Stayman, and who knows what else. Now the apples are picked-clean but the pumpkins are still out there and the lines are crazylong with kids sticky, wheelbarrows full and parents camera-laden. Summer is full of berries, but fall is all pumpkins and apples.

I walk to a window. The sign above it says it’s for hayrides. I poke my head in front of the lengthy mass.

“How do I pick apples?

“All picked-out.”

“Just walk in?”

The gal behind the window, underneath the goat overpass, looks to be sixteen, maybe, and happy to be where she is. She repeats herself a bit more slowly as I might be hard of hearing or, perhaps, a moron, “The apples are all picked-out.”

“What if I pout and make sad eyes?” I draw a line with my left index finger from the outside corner of my left eye, down my cheek.

“Then you will be sad and still have no apples.”

“Good point, but can I go look anyway? I bet there will be at least one apple out there for me. Things are just like that.”

She smiles. “You might be right. Just for you.” And she points the way. No need to wait.

We walk between the barns and weighing stations to the orchards, find it empty of people, walk the rows, smell the fermenting applefall under the trees. Among the Fujis, at one of the trees, I reach my hand in, drawn deep inside. There is an apple for me. Just one. Huge. Monstrous. Forgotten. I pick it. It is red, perfect, without blemish.

As we walk between the rows of trees, the air is cool, the fall hues have set into the leaves coloring the trees and the ground, and I have a fresh apple in my hand, sweet and all mine.

I take a bite. It is hard to do. The apple is so large I can’t open my mouth wide enough, my teeth can’t get a purchase on it. It’s like biting a flat surface and proof my mouth is smaller than people tell me. As I eat the apple, small bit by small bit, feeling, chewing, my chin, my cheeks, my nose become apple-sticky from continued attempts to bite the sweet red crisp fruit. I am pulled in by gravity as much as taste and texture. I dance as I walk with my face buried within the globe. It is all I can taste. All I can smell. All I can see. I am consumed.

Lee, instead of dancing with me, is just watching and smiling. She doesn’t have an apple so she can’t have an appledance.

Though she certainly did dance with me the night before.

We’re in a partyroom, behind the skyboxes, at FedEx Field in DC. The event is the becoming a bar mitzvah of Matthew Gloger, son of my Sweetie’s cousin, Fran Gloger and her husband Mark. A beautifully well-done affair, comfortable and low-key, set in Matthew’s favorite place. First there was the tour of the stadium and the locker-rooms. I had never been in a stadium before, had never even sat to watch even a moment of a football game, let alone explored a stadium, played in its skyboxes, infiltrated its innards, walked its field. This is where the Redskins play, whoever they are. And this is where the entire population of the city in which I live could sit to watch them do so. After a walk on the field, there is dining and the dancing.

The dancefloor is twenty by thirty or so. Set up in the middle of the long hall, wall to wall, it separates the room in two. Against one wall are a DJ and a large white translucent screen with colored lights behind it. On the floor are two hired dancers – a tall black fellow and a short white gal – to make sure everyone is comfortable and to lead the partiers in line-dances and Thriller dances and whatever dances were popular then or now. Adults seem to congregate on one side of the dancefloor and kids on the other.

Much of the music is selected for a thirteen-year-old and his crowd. Music Matthew and his friends like. That makes sense. After all, it is his day. But through the night there often are slow dances or music of an age or type that calls the parents, who then flood to the dancefloor. Adults flood in from the dinner tables and skyboxes, kids flood out to the kid’s buffet and party-rooms, kids flood in, parents flood out, waves and waves until that rare moment when the music is right and waves flow in from both directions, flood to the floor and dance.

Lee and I dance to as much as we can and each slow song that is played. I dance with Lee, her cousins dance with us, her aunts dance with us, her mother dances with us. As long as I have known Lee’s mother, this is the first time I have seen her dance. Not that dancing with her is strange, though it is, but there is more to it. There seems, in that dancing, an acceptance of my presence I have not felt in the past.

Before one dance, as the music starts, I step aside to wave her through the crowd and onto the dancefloor ahead of me, a normal display of deference and manners.

She keeps her place in line. “No, you go ahead. You’ve been part of this family long enough.”

Is this acceptance? It seems so. It has been only a week since Lee’s father came to the same realization – that I am permanent. Our eighteen year old son, Alek, and twenty-four year old daughter, Sef, isn’t proof enough. Twenty-five years married to his daughter isn’t proof enough. What is? An electric bass and Elie Wiesel.

It is a week earlier and Lee’s mother and father are visiting. Her father, Lou, is taking a look at some of the minor changes we’ve made in the house over the past few months. He looks into my office. A computer desk, a laptop, couch, meditation cushion, bass, dulcimer, uke and amps.

“Is that Alek’s bass?”

“Nope. Mine.”

“Yours?”

Then, seeing the walls of books, he asks me something about “Night” by Elie Wiesel. He had just heard of it and is intrigued. He wants to know if I have read it. I have, and I hand him one of my copies.

“You have this?” One would think the answer was obvious, me just having handed it to him.

“Sure. And a letter from him on the wall. We had written to each other a few years ago.” I walked him over to it and he spent a moment reading. “Sef saw him in Washington but I have the letters. I think we’re each a little envious of the other.”

“Elie Wiesel sent you a letter?”

Again, one would think the answer was obvious. As he reads, as the evening progresses, it becomes equally obvious that, after nearly thirty years of knowing me, of dinners, holidays and occasions, he has just now, just today, at the age of eighty-two, decided he has a son-in law and not an interloper. Lee shakes her head. “He could have had that son-in-law the entire time.” True. True.

And so, as part of the family, I enter the dancefloor ahead of my mother-in-law.

There is Bob on the dancing with his daughter, Emma. Bob Phillips is married to Cheryl Levin, one of Lee’s cousins. Both are artists. She works in stone and finishes and interiors soft and hard, in mosaic and mural. He is a blacksmith who creates fences and gates that give one the impression one has shrunken to the size of an ant and is looking up at blades of grass with an occasional dragonfly having decided to alight and rest lightly. You expect it all to wave slowly in the next breeze. He manages this with wrought iron. Butterflies you would expect to float on the air but are the size of VW Beetles and made or iron. Doors, chandeliers and nearly anything else you’d want, Bob can render in organic perfection so one cannot tell where nature ends and art begins.

Years ago, on a visit to his studio in the Fishtown neighbourhood of Philly, when his thirteen-year-old Emma was five, he made and presented to me, three feet long, five inches wide, a question mark. He could not have known, during my earlier college years, the faculty and staff of Miami Dade Community College, where I was teaching, had presented me with a construction paper question mark and “The Order of the Grand Enigma” during an awards function my final year on faculty. And here was a second question mark to go along with it. Bob has been one of my favorite people since.

How many times have I met her cousins, her aunts and uncles, so much more friendly than mine, so much more accepting, so much more family, but I never was able to accept myself as part of that family, no matter how much they accepted me. Not until this trip. Not until last night.

We’re in the bar at the Marriott, sitting with Lee’s cousins. Her cousin Fran is not there, of course, since she is making last minute preparations for the festivities the next day, but Harriet, Cheryl, Robin and Jack are, along with their spouses, Rick, Bob, David and Lori. Everyone wants to hear how everyone is doing. This includes, to my shock, me. How am I’m doing? I mentioned the book coming out next year and the trial of finding an illustrator for “Bud the Spud.” I mentioned the book currently being worked on, the reprints and reissues, and the success of the practice, how much I enjoy managing it and how happy I am as a massage therapist and how it brought about my delightful extremely-early retirement from teaching.

Robin says she had no doubts and recalls a foot massage I gave her nearly twenty years ago as still the best one she has had yet. Harriet, in a simultaneous conversation I was not fully listening to, mentions a photograph I took of her daughter, Tedra, now finishing college. The picture, taken of her as a baby, is still their favorite, the one that captured Tedra. The one that shows best who she was and the essence that still is. I had been liked and respected and thought of fondly and I had not known. Or not allowed myself to realize it. I filtered it out.

And so I am grateful to learn this, to see them all here, to dance with them, to be part of this family. And I am glad to see Bob, on the dancefloor, with his Emma. He is dressed more comfortably than I, though I have removed my coat and tie, as have nearly all the men. We have removed enough garments to end up in the state of dress Bob started in, except he has on much more comfortable shoes. I make a note that I must give my shoes away before the next occasion. Emma is in a dress she made herself. All fruit – the top a print of raspberries, the middle strawberries, the short skirt blackberries. The shoes, Converse, are black and white. It was a formal function, after all.

The next dance is one for all the ages and I grab Sef’s hand.

“I’ve never seen Mom dance.” I can’t believe that, somehow.

“You’ve seen me dance.”

“Contra and English Country Dance. But I’ve never seen you dance without specific steps. You’re really bad at it.”

Lee butts in. “Everybody is. Just dance and don’t worry about it.”

A few years ago she would. Maybe a few years from now she will. But right now, at twenty-four, she won’t. She can’t. What she can do is still be embarrassed by her parents. It is an unsettled age when one may be more comfortable with oneself but one still cannot quite grasp aging, that one becomes more and more like one’s parents. Sef can certainly dance but dancing with me reminds her there are things she cannot do, things she isn’t as good at as she’d like. Perhaps.

And so she dances not quite with us, not quite apart from us. She dances with Lee’s sister, Fran, who dances no differently than Lee but is neither her mother nor father.

The song ends.

I walk over to Bob. “You guys are so cute. Dance with her while you can. She won’t be dancing with you long.”

“That’s what I figured. Maybe another year or two, God willing. Then, who knows?

We talk about our daughters, passing time, fazes and fads. People join and leave the conversation, Lee’s aunts, her cousins, Sef, Lee. Another song comes and we dance. Dinner comes. Dinner ends. We dance.

The next day we are at Fran’s house for brunch. A large comfortable home in Potomac. The gathered are mostly family. We nosh on eggs, lox, bagels, fruit. We talk. Sit in the back yard in the cool October air. Sit inside at the kitchen table.

Sef had left early that morning, taking a cab before seven to the Metro, the Metro to DC and an Amtrak to New York City. Then another train an hour and a half north to Beacon. She calls to say she arrived. It is a few minutes after one.

“Your mother isn’t budging.”

“Leave her alone. She never gets to see her cousins. She’s happy.”

“Oh, trust me. I wouldn’t say a thing. We’ll leave whenever she decides to or when she discovers the time.”

“Good.”

Of course, Sef doesn’t have to drive from Maryland to Central Florida.

But looking at Lee, she is happy. She glows. The entire time here she glows and from this happiness I will not move her.

Our plan was to get to Fran’s about eleven and stay for two or three hours. To leave by one or two, drive until seven or eight. That would put us in South Carolina and leave us an easy day’s driving tomorrow. It is now after three. The crowd has thinned. It is now after four. People have left for airports, for drives to Philly and New Jersey. It is now after five. Only a few of the cousins are left and we all sit in the kitchen. Lee talks about how much she likes the area, how much she misses the North, how we plan to become bi-locational, someday, somehow.

Some understand. Some don’t. But it’s cold. But it’s crowded. Who would not like Florida?

Fran mentions the time over iced tea and apple slices. Suggests that, as much as she loves having us, we have a long drive. Or we could at least leave early enough to go do something on the way we can’t do at home. Why not pick apples?

Pick apples? Well, yes! Lee loves the idea. So do I. Fran looks up the address for us. She goes there with her kids to pick berries, apples, pumpkins, squash. It is close by. I look at the time, say nothing.

We say our good-byes. This takes about half an hour while Fran reminds Lee that daylight will end sooner than she thinks.

As we drive, the parks are full of people playing. The sidewalks are full of people walking. Late on a Sunday evening and people are out being social, being active, being a community.

Turn by turn, we arrive at Pooleville, follow the signs and pull into Homestead Farms. It might take a while to find a parking space. But that’s ok. There are apples in my future.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2009 in Culture, Family, Religion, Social, Travel

 

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Nor’easter, Part 2: Eat In or Pass Out


Nor’easter:
Being a Whirlwind Snowy Trip to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City or How Van Gogh and a Herd of Alpacas helped Lee get her Groove Back.

First day: Night. Eat in or Pass out.

After a finger-numbing walk around the car, making checkmarks where indicated, promising to bring the car back with the same amount of fuel it has now—just over three-eights of a tank and why on Earth don’t they just fill the tanks and then ask you to bring them back full—we settle into the car with a plunk as we allow gravity to seat us. Low car. Too low.

We get direction to Easton, but fifteen minutes away according to the girl at the car rental. We ask where to eat, as it is getting late, but she has the suggestions one might imagine for around an airport and not one fast-food joint was more appealing, or less appalling, than any other. She is sure we’ll fare better in Easton.

It is an easy drive. And, as we drive, it begins to snow. Lightly. Lightly. East to nearly the New Jersey border. The roads are good and we make amazing time even in the snow. At nearly eighty miles per hour we are being passed by cars whose inhabitants must be getting younger as they drive, whose speech, if only I could hear it, would sound slower to my ears, whose color shifted strongly to the red. People driving so fast they will have to reset their timepieces ahead when they get to their destination to match local time.

Lee is speaking to Rachel on the phone. Where to stay? If not for her two cats, five dogs, and various other animals, we could stay with her and her Mom. The Estonian is the suggestion. She gives us directions. We follow them and become, after getting off at the correct exit, lost. Instantly lost. While the next day we would see how easy it, in reality, was, in the snowy dark, it is anything but. Finally, after asking several people in parking lots, we are directed to The Estonian Suites. Suddenly, as we pull in, I understand and then, just as suddenly, no longer understand the hotel’s name. The folks here pronounce it East-onian. And, indeed, it is named for the city and is but a few blocks from Lafayette College. But it is spelled as though it is named for the country, Estonia. And, apparent only as we pull up, it is a Holiday Inn Express.

Within, it is empty save two people behind the desk. Past this person is a large reception area followed by a larger comfortable lounge. There is also a computer area with Internet and I make note in case I cannot find such in the room. The price is more than I am comfortable with, though, in truth, that is not hard to accomplish, but less than most places we have stayed.

It occurs to me, I have never seen a hotel lobby this empty. So empty, the idea comes to mind that I could easily break out into a Robot Dance right here and no one would notice. No one but Lee, it would seem, who apparently hears the thought and steps lightly on my foot adding just enough inertia to keep me where I am. I think of a waltz instead. She steps slightly harder.

Classes started last week, at Lafayette, the clerk explains to us. Last week, there was not a room to be had in the county. This week, hardly a room is full and we can have our pick. Non-smoking, top floor please.

Like the lobby and lounge, the hallways are lovely as well. The entire hotel is lovely and only the small sign outside under the hotel’s name would give it away as a Holiday Inn. It is clean, nearing elegant, beautifully decorated, large and with a staff than cannot think of enough wonderful things to do for their customers.

We are going up to our room. It is coming on eight o’clock.

Lee calls Rachel again. Where to eat? No worries. She’ll come over and guide us. We’ll have dinner together. She arrives about a half hour later, after we have cleaned up, put some clothes away, changed and we head out to see Rachel waving fro outside of a minivan. Rachel gets into the middle seat, as do I and Lee takes the front passenger seat. After Rachel introduces her to Mom, we head out.

What does Lee want to eat, Mom asks. A cheesesteak, of course. No problem. We’ll go to Giamanies. We ride some twisty-turnies and arrive to a closed deli. Closed at nearly nine on a Wednesday evening. No problem, We can go to The Widow’s Tavern.

It takes us ten minutes or so down roads I could never find my way back on, through neighbourhoods and past buildings I really would like to return to in daylight to explore before we find The Widow’s Tavern. This is not a new building.

It used to be a stage coach stop and an inn of quite little repute. Marvin, perhaps the innkeeper, had an affair with one of the “house ladies” and, later spurned, killed her and placed himself dangling sharply at the end of a rope. As the story continues, he is sighted now and then at the tavern, turning this, dropping that, peeking here and there.

We walk in, have a seat, ask for menus, are told no food is served after eight but we are free to drink, hand back the menus, exit the opposite door and get back into the minivan.

At no time did I see Marvin.

All the while, we are getting the special “it’s too dark to see it but that is the ____ and it was built in ____ and now it is a ____ tour.” Lee and Mom are talking about Alek, of course. I have met mom, but Lee has not, and they seem to be getting along well enough. Rachel and I are busy texting Alek and being, more or less, pains.

Lee wants to know if he is OK. Alek is seventeen, has Dusty the Dingo home with him, transportation and numbers of three people ready and happy to assist in any way he might find useful. Alek sums this up by texting me “Mom’s a pain.”

Lee calls him and asks if he’s OK. She does her mom thing. He does his son thing. The conversation ends.

Alek texts Rachel. “She is a crazy lady.” Rachel laughs and shows it to Lee.

Where to eat. Mom tells us the only place that is certainly open is Tic Toc. It’s the place all the kids go, all the adults go, everyone goes to, it is always open and always has decent food. It’s just rather run-of-the-mill. Fine. No problem. We arrive at Tic Toc about fifteen minutes later and are now two blocks from the Estonian.

Tic Toc is a large diner. New Jersey has, by all accounts, more diners than any other state. We are but a few blocks from the Delaware River and Jersey and, apparently, diners spread. And the Tic Toc is huge by any standards. By diner standards, it is a behemoth. Remember the old Sports Authority commercials? “Rhode Island. It’s a small state but would make a huge sporting goods store. That’s us. Sports Authority.” I have passed though towns smaller than Tic Toc.

We are seated amid the glorious smell of commingled eggs and coffee, toast and potatoes. We each have a menu. And what a menu it is. Five pages thick, front and back and, as always, whenever I am handed a too-large menu, I freeze up and become instantly un-hungry. Lee takes the menu from me, points to a page and says to just look at this one page and order from there. Excellent. She has removed the fried entrées, the sandwiches, the salads for which I am too hungry and the deserts.

I order hash browns covered with vegetables, two fried eggs, a bagel and, and . . . what is this? Pierogies? It has been years since I have seen them—once or twice in a box from the freezer section (Mrs. T’s barely qualify) and it has been ten years since I have made them myself. I order potato pierogies—too many for me—and ask Rachel if she will split them with me, which she happily does. Everyone else has what they want as well. The iced teas and waters arrive and we are set.

It is busy. Teens, adults, old folk, groups and clubs. Packed. And we are served as though we are the only folks here. The food is quite good for such common fare and the pierogies, large, ear-shaped, boiled and then, in this case, fried in butter quite like my grandmother would have done, are wonders. I have two and let the other two go to Rachel.

We make our plans for the morning as we eat. She is afraid we’ll get lost going to her house so she will come to the hotel and we can follow her back, where we’ll all continue on in the rental car. She’ll meet us at eight. Rachel has taken the day off from tending the alpacas and we’re happy to let her take us around as she likes. One day in and around Easton, in the Poconos, with Rachel as our guide. I have a feeling there is much more here than I had anticipated.

Now, well past ten, we are quite full and more than tired. We pay, despite Mom’s protest, let them drive us the two blocks as, in the dark, we do not want to chance the uphill walk on ice, and we hug good night.

Through the empty lobby and up to our room. It is comfortable, quiet. We use two binder clips, we always carry in the suitcase, to clip the curtains together to keep the light out. Lee has her computer open and we take turns looking up various bits of what-to-do-ness. There is the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center, there is the Appalachian Trail, Delaware Water Gap. There is Lee’s hand closing the computer. She is, of course, right. It is time to go to sleep if anything is to be seen though open eyes. Especially if we are to be out by eight.

And I am, frankly, more than ready for sleep.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2009 in Culture, Food, Nor’easter, Social, Travel

 

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Nor’easter: Being a Whirlwind Snowy Trip to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City or How Van Gogh and a Herd of Alpacas helped Lee get her Groove

Nor’easter: Being a Whirlwind Snowy Trip to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City or How Van Gogh and a Herd of Alpacas helped Lee get her Groove Back. First day: Afternoon and Evening. A Long Day’s Journey into PA.

My diabolical plan has worked. When my daughter was just old enough to reach the counters, open a fridge, use a can opener, I started cooking for her less and less. She learned to get a piece of fruit, make soup, pour cereal into a bowl she used a stool to get off a top shelf.

When she was adept at feeding herself, I started to feed her brother less as well. Soon, she was getting him a piece of fruit, making him a bowl of soup. Soon, he learned too. Anything they would need to live on their own, I slowly withdrew, let them take over.

It worked. Twenty-three years later, I am finally going on vacation. Without them.

*****

“What do you mean you’re going to Allentown without me?”

“We’re going on vacation. School starts before we get back.” Alek is seventeen and in his second year of college.

“You’re going to visit MY girlfriend. Without me.”

“Don’t worry, we won’t talk about you. I brought the naked baby pictures instead. Besides, Mommy has never met Rachel’s mom or dad.”

“But without me?”

“I want to see alpacas. Rachel works on an alpaca farm, right? Think I can get a tour?”

*****

I bought tickets on Allegiant Air. Fifty-nine dollars each way. Not bad. With the tax and charges, the fee for the bag, reserved seats so my wife and I would know we’d be sitting together, the added charge so we could change our tickets if need be, the total came to over four hundred dollars. We were flying into Allentown, Pennsylvania. Arriving at what the tickets said was Allentown International Airport. The return tickets were for Lehigh Valley International Airport. Strange, I thought, for the tickets to be for two different airports. Strange, but not quite as strange as an airport with two different names.

We are packing. It is eighty degrees now. It will be in the thirties, if we are lucky, when we arrive early in the evening. Packing for that requires bags that squeeze all the air out to vacuum-pack more clothes into a suitcase, the one case we paid thirty dollars to check, than we would during warm weather. We’re packing long johns and sneakers. We’ll be wearing our hiking boots, carrying our gloves, scarves and hats. I bought a messenger bag just for that purpose so I’ll know where all our things are, passports included, in case we decide to drive north to Canada. All the easier to walk through New York than having my pockets stuffed full of items. All the easier to stow under an airline seat.

The tickets are out of Orlando Sanford International Airport. Don’t confuse this with Orlando International Airport. Sanford is a half-hour further away, one fifth the size and ten times easier to navigate. I figure our two airports with nearly one name is as confusing to folk up in Allentown as their one airport with two name is to us. We’ve picked Rachel up from Sanford twice before. The first time, she walked out of the plane, looked around, turned to see what was beyond the windows. This was not Orlando.

Alek doesn’t want to be without the car. He doesn’t drive. He just wants it to stay in the driveway so it looks like someone is home even though the two motorbikes pretty much take care of that. No problem. It would be seventy-five dollars to leave the car at the airport anyway. No problem. We’ll take a shuttle.

No shuttles. Not to Sanford. It would be one hundred and fifty dollars to get one to go there. No problem. We’ll rent a car.

Thirty bucks for the car and fifty dollars to drop it off. Fifty? To drop it at a location where they rent cars will cost me fifty dollars? No problem. We’ll. We’ll… I have no idea.

Craig offers to drive us. Shelley offers to drive us. As a matter of fact, Shelley and Matt will be using their trip to Sanford as an excuse to go to nearby Mount Dora, elevation one hundred and eighty-four feet, to spend time with Matt’s Grandmother and Great grandmother. And they’ll pick us up four days later, thus ending their vacation. And the trip will be fun.

Shelley is a trip all on her own. A patient of ours, now a friend, I dare say, I met her at a Food Not Bombs picnic. Next thing I know, we were heading to Playalinda, she, Matt, Jazmen and Rhiannon. Then she was a patient and soon we were bartering for services. Help cleaning and filing for acupuncture and massage therapy. Everyone thought they are getting the better end of the bargain and was always a bit worried about evening it out, which is how barter should work. Any day Shelley had an appointment, any day we would see her dreaded (as in hairstyle) head walk through our door was a day Lee and I would be smiling. Now she is the office assistant and we can’t imagine the office running without her.

*****

The plane leaves at 4:20. Shelley and Matt arrive at our house at noon and the drive is two hours. The car is cramped but comfortable, the trunk nearly full before our one suitcase, one backpack and one messenger bag made their way there. At the last moment Lee decided the computer had to come, could not be left home. We had talked about getting a netbook but could not see spending the money on it for one trip. I am sure we will see this as an error in short order. She needs her email, to look up directions, do whatever it is Lee does with computers that, after these many years, I often still do not understand.

We are on the road with Shelley and Matt. Lee is excited. More than I had come to expect. More than I would have understood. It is surprising, delightful, enlightening and delicious. So excited she does not even seem to mind sitting in the back as we make our way up Interstate 95 to State Road 520. We need very little leg room and this is a good thing. On the road, suddenly, Lee exclaims, nearly squeals “This is so exciting. No destination and no time to be there.” This is only the second trip we have ever taken together, by ourselves. But each trip we have taken, and there have been very few over more than the last quarter century, has been on a timetable, at the summons or control of family, attached to an event, a wedding, bar mitzvah, funeral. This one has no event, no place to be and no time to be there. Only a time by which we must be on the plane to leave.

We exit State Road 520 for 417, and then, fifteen minutes later, get off and follow the signs for the airport. Exit, turn right. Next set of lights, turn right. Just under three miles later, after three signs telling us the Orlando Sanford International Airport is closer and closer, we see a large ground-level, curved the full perpendicularity from street to street, silver sign with silver letters announcing the airport to the left. It is quite hard to read and, at first glance, we think it is introducing us to the entrance of an industrial park.

We are in, follow the signs, park. Shelley and Matt come in with us and, when they know we are safely where we are supposed to be and the incoming plane is arriving reasonably on time, we all hug, we give them our thanks for the trip, wish them a good visit with their family, and they are on their way to Mt. Dora. We go to check in and collect our tickets. The cattle chute awaits.

Only we are not sure where to enter. We have long experience with such chutes. Many years queuing at The Rascal House and other Jewish delis – parties of one form a line here, two here, three here, four here, parties of five or more here please, mind the poles and no ducking under please – and we’re pros at following the taut ribbons as we inch closer, closer to the official at the end. This time, instead of an overstuffed pastrami sandwich on rye with half-sours and coleslaw, maybe a knish, at the end is a ticket to Allentown.

But where is the entrance? As we look, a uniformed man is moving the entrance to the queue, pulling one pole, then another. Four feet this way, then that. Entrance to one side of it, then another and, after each set of movements, holding his hand up, bidding us wait. The line forms behind us as the line between the ribbons becomes shorter, the end further and further away, backs to us, now facing us, now away from us again. Finally the end is in place and we are told we can have the pleasure of waiting with the others.

There is a gal behind us, a few people removed. She is not right. Deformed in a way I cannot describe, barely noticeable. I ask Lee to take a look and she does. Disturbed shen, she tells me. Her spirit is disturbed and it shows on her face. Not all physical deformity manifests from disturbed shen but all disturbed shen shows up on the body. An unbalanced cover may hide a glorious spirit but unbalanced spirit always shows up in an unbalanced body if one just looks carefully enough, is sensitive enough. Of course, this is a discussion we have had before. She has explained shen to me on various occasions. Shen, chi and jing being the three essences of the body in Chinese medicine. But, in this case, the shen was palpably disturbed, pressing on me from behind. The line moves quickly on.

Our Internet-generated passes are exchanged for actual airline tickets and we are on our way to sit quietly for an hour or so before boarding. Time to get out the laptop and watch a movie. Or maybe an episode of Dead Like Me.

No “Dead Like Me.” It’s on the external drive at home. Lee looks for “Dexter.” She’s never seen it and has just downloaded a few. Where are they? On the external drive. She cleaned her computer out and organized her hard drive. Nothing to watch on the computer. No problem. There is always YouTube.

We try logging on. A log-in screen instantly appears and that is as far as we get. No log-in. Failed. Again and again. We try everything we know but each is met with failure. Username and password. Guest guest, log-in. Airport name. All the usual public wifi log-in methods. Nothing. Time for a walk. We leave our things at the chairs. No worries. While this may not seem prudent to many, we never do worry about our things and they are always there when we return. Computers in airports. Purses on carseats. No worries.

And time for a walk there was. An hour or so and we walk the airport three times back and forth, seeing the same sights again and again noticing how much, how little, changes in fifteen minutes.

Back to our seats. We pull out an MP3 player. I have a video, “The Blue Buddha: Lost Secrets of Tibetan Medicine,” we had been wanting to watch and, being a narrative the sound quality was such we could easily share headphones, Lee gets the right and I get the left. I had meant to pick up a headphone splitter but that trip to Radio Shack simply never happened.

As we get ready to listen, a portly woman with a badge walks up to us and asks if we’d mind taking a survey and hands us each a form about a third the size of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. It has questions and check-boxes.

“Why is there no public Internet?”

“There is.”

“Then how do we get to it?”

“The username is Guest.”

“And the password?”

“That depends on how many people are using it. It only supports twenty people at once so it can be anything from 01 to 20.”

I didn’t even ask how we’d know the difference between attempting to log-in if it were over the twenty person cut-off and simply not knowing if we were logging-in correctly.

“How are we supposed to know this.”

“Yes, it would be nice if there was a sign.” She agrees. Good for us.

We fill out the surveys. Handing them back, a look at the badge tells me she is the airport manager. It would be nice.

But consternation and the surveys have taken a bit more than a quarter hour and it is quite near time to board. We walk the forty or fifty feet to the door and wait in line. It isn’t long before we are seated, by sections, and we’re putting our things in the overhead compartment. Our seats are the two inside seats, row 32 of 45. Lee next to the window and me in the center seat. I put my hat and messenger bag on the aisle seat. Within the bag is my wallet, other documents, maps, MP3 player, scarf and gloves.

We sit and wait. We wait. I fumble with my bag and take out the MP3 player, open my earphone case and unwrap the earbuds. Tiny and white, they shut out all outside sound. I use them with my Nintendo DS when I study Japanese or listen to my MP3 player in public. I rarely do either in public. I feel it impolite to shut the outside world out. Or, at least, to appear as though I am. I’d rather just do so without appliances. Even when walking I use open earphones that allow the outside world in. All the better for not getting hit by cars.

Around me, people are fumbling with bags, removing other’s luggage, rearranging backpacks belonging to people they have never met. Placing bags in overheads far behind them over as yet empty seats. Arguments break out sporadically, grow, arc, die.

A flight attendant walks into the cabin, up the aisle and to the center of the plane about five rows shy of us. “The plane should have departed fifteen minutes ago. The sooner you all get seated, the sooner we can think about departing.”

She does nothing about the arguments. Moves no bags. Stops no rearrangement. She is part stewardess and part superego. Part attendant and part schoolmarm. She is here to facilitate travel and, perhaps, for our safety, but certainly not for our comfort. And if we don’t take off because of our own shenanigans, she gets paid all the same. She is tapping her foot.

She turns to go and ducks into a row of seats to allow a woman to pass. This woman, to really pass in comfort, would need a row of chairs removed as well. I lean over to Lee.

“She’ll be sitting next to me.”

“Are you sure? Of course you are.”

“Positive.”

She checks her ticket. Looks around, down to me. Waddles forward, targets her spot, stands next to me. I move my hat and messenger bag, place them below the seat in front of me.

She sits in her seat. She also sits in my seat. She also sits in the aisle. I move closer to Lee.

The flight attendant is closing up shop and readying for takeoff. She has told several people to find space for their bags or to hand them to her to have them checked. She has removed one bag that was obviously too large for the overhead compartment when a passenger was removing several other passenger’s bags to mash his into place. She’s asking us to take seats. She’s tapping her foot again. She looks in my direction. Walks over.

“Ma’am, I believe there is a seat you would be more comfortable in over here.” Bless her. She moves her to a pair of empty seats a few rows forward. I can move my right arm again.

“You need mountain-time, don’t you?” Lee asks in a rhetorical whisper. “How far are the Poconos?” Not far from Allentown. Not far at all.

The engines whine louder, higher. We are told to shut our electronics off. I put my earphones in. The hope is I can pay attention to a lecture by Watts while we are taking off. It is a hope. I turn the player on.

“Please remove your headphones for takeoff.” She is talking to me. I nod. I pull the earbud from my left ear. When she walks by again, I tilt my head, still listening to Watts in my right.

The plane is moving. My plan becomes quite academic as the talking in my right ear falls into the far background. I want to yell for everyone to peddle. Seriously, I do not believe planes can get of the ground regardless of my understanding of the physical laws and properties involved. Peddle. Peddle. I am gripping the armrest. Shaking. Rocking. Tilting. Up. Up, Faster. Climbing. Losing, gaining and losing my stomach. This is not good for my nervous system at all. Not at all. I grab Lee’s knee and fear I have left a bruise. The plane levels out and I begin to breathe more calmly. More evenly. I am exhausted. Spent. Wrung out. We have been in the air fewer than five minutes.

Drink carts go by. I take nothing and shut off my MP3 player, put Watts away with the earbuds so I can hear Lee. Looking through the papers in the seat-pocket in front of me, she and I spend a few minutes laughing at the Allegiant Air goodies for sale.

A flight attendant walks into the cabin and, holding the microphone, tells us there is to be a raffle. While another attendant walks up and down the aisle taking money, she explains how it works. A fifty-fifty raffle. Some tickets win prizes. What prizes? The same die-cast planes, hats, can cozies, Mickey keychains and junior pilot wingpins we had just been laughing at with such contempt.

Five tickets for five dollars. Ten tickets for eight dollars. Twenty tickets for I stopped listening. This seems so absurd, I can only laugh as it moves forward. The tickets are going into a trashbag. Why not a barf bag? I go to offer mine but Lee stays my arm.

As the attendant comes through with the tickets and bag, people paying less attention than even I am are putting their plates and cups into the bag along with the tickets. Reminded again, over the speakers, the trashbag will be coming around later, this is the ticket bag. The next person deposits her crackers.

The attendant with the mic lambastes us for not buying enough tickets. Other flights had nearly one hundred percent participation. Why not us? Do we not understand a fifty-fifty raffle? A few more tickets sell. Lee is reading and I put my earphones back in, resume listening to my lectures.

She comes by and, pretending my ears are hermetically sealed, toss in Lee’s cup and can.

On and on she talks, berates until the tickets are pulled, one by one. With each kitsch distributed, she asks us to cheer. “Cheer like you won the lottery.” Why? To impress the people outside the plane listening? The fifty-fifty won (one hundred and forty-five dollars) and finally it is over.

The window is becoming more reflective. I can see more inside behind me than outside as we travel north and the sky becomes darker, darker.

The woman in front of me has a book full of diagrams. My imagination takes over without so much as a simple “May I?” and the diagrams detail methods of Satanic worship. They are devices of torture. I stare harder and harder between the seats until, finally, it clicks – they are diagrams for creative ways to make one’s bed.

Staring past Lee, the window supplies me with an overlay for the sky behind it. Courtesy of Google Maps, it details what I am looking at – what cities, what geologic features, what main roads. Touching the window, I call up information on the map such as population, elevation, sites, factoids and ephemera. None of it is correct, of course, because it is all in my head.

The cart comes back around for the refuse, cans, cellophanes, cups, paper plates. The light comes on to tell us to buckle the seatbelt I never unbuckled. The plane begins to descend. I press the floor heavily feeling for brakes, hurt my fingers on the armrest, let slip an audible series of heavy panting and a small yelp as the plane touches the ground. We have landed.

Off the plane. In the terminal at Allentown. I am immediately struck that the people look normal. Not normal as in I expected they’d look different than those back home but look, surprisingly, the same. No. They look different than the people at home and appear in a way my mind registers as normal. These people look real. They look right.

We grab our luggage and rent our car. Not the subcompact I had requested but an “upgrade” to a car I don’t want. A Pontiac G6. Too big, too low, too fast and too fancy. We walk outside to get it and, before we even get to the door, I wish I had gotten out my gloves. I toss the scarf around my neck. Lee is smiling. It’s cold. It is blissfully cold.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2009 in Culture, Family, Nor’easter, Social, Travel

 

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