Let this not be a scorched with boredom bla bla piece of writing as all the elements are with me this Sunday. No one is mowing their lawn, the sky is a metal grey shield against sunlight, a light freckly kind of rain falls outside, and Bill Evans and Jim Hall’s sublime mix plays into my pulse.
In upstate New York, an overwhelming enthusiasm erupts for pumpkins, apples, and cider doughnuts. Advertisements appear in my Saratoga news feed of festivals at the local farms, homemade apple cider, witches and hayrides, pick your own pumpkins, and doughnut-eating contests.
Instead of smirking at this unfamiliar custom, I took a ride out to Lakeside Farms Cider Mill to riddle my sensibilities and get into the autumn groove. It’s a short distance away but, after you make the third turn off the main road, the gladiator trees blushing with yellow and gold formed a canopy over my convertible. It reminded me of an amusement park ride. My mood melted with the colors and as I pulled into the driveway of Lakeside, packed as if the Rolling Stones were going to perform my internal stick shift went into submission. I’m guessing the farm sits on several acres, and on one side is a field of grass, with pathways to walk, and then as I moved closer to a small brown barn, I noticed a witch outfitted for the children standing with her pitchfork.
Shoppers with carts passed filled with pumpkins and apples, and as I looked for a shopping cart, a woman noticed my puzzled expression. “You lookin’ for a cart?”
“Yes, where do I find one?”
“There’s an empty one behind you.” I felt dumb as gum and thanked her. Then I had the choice of going into the open farmhouse where a display of a dozen diverse kinds of apples stacked in crates, farm-fresh vegetables, pumpkins of all sizes, and an assortment of Apple Brown Betty mixes neatly placed on shelves next to jars of honey, preserves, syrup, and pancake mixes.
It is now a full-blown bumper car amusement ride as carts are pushed by shoppers unaware of colliding with other carts. Children are jumping up and down, and screeching with sugar craving desire. I cannot decide which aisle to choose. First, an eggplant that wasn’t the size of a dinner platter, then a few green chilis, and sexy plump tomatoes. I could have chosen a dozen more items. Since I am single, my lesson has been learned not to overbuy only to throw it away.
Apples were tied in bags, a dozen the smallest amount, so I chose one bag of Cortland amongst the other twenty-five kinds of apples! Macintosh, Macoun, Gala, Empire, Jonagold, Honey Crisp, Red Delicious, etc.
I knew I was in the jive when I bought a two-pound sack of Buttermilk pancake mix, a jar of Vermont Syrup, and a jug of Apple Cider. At the counter, in line with half a dozen others, the clerk whom I’m sure was part of the family greeted me.
“How are you today?” He said this as if he was on stage speaking loud enough for an auditorium of guests.
“I’m doing very well, and you?” I don’t usually project an openly loving tone but he sort of earned my delight. With all that I bought, the bill was twenty-eight dollars. I used to spend that at Sprouts in Los Angeles for half the items.
Next, the bakery for those tantalizing apple cider doughnuts. Now I go indoors to a converted barn where they serve food and more grocery items. Another reason for this jaunt was to pick up a dozen doughnuts for the seven firemen who answered my call this week when my basement began to flood. We had so much rain my sump pumps gave up, and the water was just about to fill the hot water heaters in the pit. After they hosed out all the water, we chatted outdoors. Someone mentioned breakfast time. I chimed in,
“Let me guess, cider doughnut!” A round of laughter and oh yes, they all love them. They would not take any money and so I thought I’d buy them what they love.
The sandwich line was twenty groups long. I squeezed in next to the bakery and was called on right away.
“What can we get for you today?” Another gleeful greeting from a woman who looked like she grew up next to the oven. I looked at the selection of pastries oozing with sugar, cream, icing the works.
“A dozen cider doughnut in a box please-it’s a gift.”
“Sugar glazed pleased. And six cinnamons in a bag.”
With a cart loaded up, I suddenly realized I would have to wheel it all the way to my car over puddles, chipped brick, and steps. Instead, I used my less-than sturdy arms. As I walked along leaning slightly to the right (my left arm hasn’t behaved since I fell on the stairs) my LA persona surrendered to old-fashioned, no dieting, family-friendly shopping at Lakeside.
As soon as I entered my kitchen, I dug into the bag of doughnuts, poured a cup of coffee, and dunked.
Truth is out of style, it rather went the way of 600-page novels, bicycles built for two, print magazines, street theater and many other authenticates we don’t have the will or patience to seek. We take shortcuts and improvise our way through the encrypted labyrinth of electronic modernism. We are in revolution, it’s been coined Cancel Culture, that’s just a tagline. Our Democrats and Republicans, are trafficking disinformation. Not a day goes by that a political analyst or news anchor doesn’t say it. They wand me up.. and I line it down with opera and wine. Be creative, I say is the best booster.
IT’S CALLED NON-CONVENTIONAL but on our own personal level, if you fall in that broad culture and it is a unique and historically significant tribe, especially in the arts and the military. Artists skip from creating to counting change, very few make a comfortable living. The Military are more unconventional than any other profession. I’ve tried to imagine choosing to fight our wars knowing I could be shot or tortured.
Do you think that not choosing the basics: family, friends and a comfortable living are enough? They are, now I know that.
How did this become my spotlight, like a bulb that flickered and whispered, you thought you knew more. Well, I didn’t and now I am adapting my fictional life to nonfiction. Beginning with: relinquishing luxuries, vacations, replacing outdated or broken furnishings, buying my favorite designer garments, and most important a monthly budget. Now instead of withdrawing from my savings account, I am depositing. Friends and family pose a more rigorous effort to the depts. I’m a loner. There is nothing glamorous or mystifying about this stain at least not for me, more like solitude for longer periods of time.
Photo by Philip Townsend. London 1964
As I watch and hear the interviews of Veterans, Gold Star Families, Military groups, former Iraq and Afghanistan Marines, Army, The Navy and Airforce, and the ones left behind because their hero was killed have one knot that holds them together, and it is their family, their comrades in arms and friends.
It’s raining, the tiniest little drops, like new bourns. The sky is a saddened muted white gray, like it’s in mourning. Hoagie Carmichael is singing Two Little People, simple lines that rhyme. Without music, and I don’t listen as much as I did a month ago, I’d be in bed today, it is a day for music medics to carry my pen where it sinks.
I was selfish, spoiled, and myopic, now I am awake to eternal gratefulness for being born American.
Trying not to watch the news as my heart needs a reprieve from Afghanistan. I’ve never appreciated, honored, respected, and loved our Military more these past two weeks. Do you know that feeling? What happens next? Eventually this presses to a USA attack.
I FEEL A SENSE OF GUILT to seek pleasure, amusement and escape. This weekend fifty-seven innocent people shot in Chicago; Nyiah Courtney, a beautiful six-year old in W.DC, a violent riot in Los Angeles, a woman and son robbed before falling down a flight of concrete stairs at the Subway station in NYC, and in Tucson: “The gunman parked his silver SUV by the park, got out of the car and opened fire on the two paramedics who were inside the ambulance, Magnus said. The 20-year-old male EMT who was sitting in the driver’s seat was struck in the head and the 21-year-old female EMT who was in the passenger’s seat was shot in the arm and chest.” Bullets’ targeting fans outside the Washington DC Stadium will be what everyone remembers.
That’s all I could handle this morning. So, why aren’t I talking about it with friends? ‘ I don’t watch the news anymore’ is what I hear and so my feelings remain unspoken. Maybe because I do not have a family, or the man I could love, and so my emotions stretch to a world of strangers in pain and agony.
It is not depression that leads my day, it is mild shock, anger, and a halo of sadness for the cloud of hate, crime, corruption, and divisive storm looming over.
My heart is especially raw for the youth, embarking on adulthood, the unsolved immigration crisis, and knee-jerk mask attacks on one another.
The words of condolences: ‘We pray for your family, you are in our hearts’, lasts how long? Do they get a phone call from a Lawmaker or Member of Congress? It seems laws have to be passed. Instead, all I see is a game of power. A solid gesture by the government to rename streets after the victims, a monument, or a wall with their names, so we never forget is my suggestion.
I wonder what you all are doing this July 4th. The last year had pressed us closer, and friends from years past have knocked on my FB door. Someone switched the light on our lives and I for one will find pages of material as a memoirist to unleash all that happened within and without. What took me all the way down was seeing the number of deaths. NY lost more than thirty-five thousand people, that would be like all of Saratoga County.
I vote for a Memorial somewhere in the US, maybe a wall, inscribed with the names of those lost to Covid-19. Grateful is the word of the times. I wish you all a big, loud, closely adjoined unmasked party.
If you’re a writer, then I imagine you are either writing a screenplay, historical book, commentary, or you are in the other class; how does reimagining the USA come into my writing without offending someone. For me it is too soon, my thoughts are awry, like blowing leaves dropping from their branch in Autumn. There is shock, fear, and distrust rattling our recent liberation from the directives, warnings, citations, fines, crumbled businesses, life savings, and jobs from COVID-19. I’m still mourning three million lives unexpectedly ending in a hospital without any family.
My chutzpah does not rise to the occasion of revealing my opinions, because I don’t want to be found, and renounced because I said pregnant instead of birthing mother. I hope someone writes a new dictionary we can keep in a safe place in case we are asked to speak. Those of you in your late sixties, I mean is this welcoming or alarming?
Have you had this conversation, “You’re a Republican! or You’re a Democrat!”
Talking about Politics today is like revealing your net worth. The most pitiful, aggravating, incendiary, and repellant outcome is that today everything is, whose side are you on? This is not my kind of party. Maybe ask the Pillow Man to join in on a hearing or vote in congress, and afterward, have a pillow fight and some cocktails.
Looking west to a smear of dusty crimson sunlight, a young man of twenty stood on the shoulder of Highway 66 waiting to hitch a ride. A powder blue Cadillac pulled up and the lad was caught in a puff of loose gravel. When the dust settled, a woman dressed in a two piece matching suit leaned over from the driver’s seat. “Say fella, can you drive one of my cars to California? I’ll pay the expenses,” she yelled out the window. Another Cadillac pulled up next to hers with a jerk stop. The lad stared into the shine of the car. It looked like wet paint and he was tempted to touch it. “Sure will, yep I’ll do that. Should I get in now?” The young man answered. “I need to see your driver’s license.” She added. The man hastily drew out his license from a dusty plastic cover inside his billfold. She looked it over, and smiled. “All right Maurice, keep in close to us on the road, don’t get lost. We’re going far as Needles.” Maurice held tight to the steering wheel, ‘Geez, ain’t this great, what a car. I’m going all the way from Nebraska to California in a Cadillac.’ He’d forgotten about the sharp pains of hunger, and bloody sores on his feet. Now he was sitting on warm leather seats, with the cold night air off his back, and ten dollars in his pocket.
Sixty five years later, I’m walking down the street where Maurice lives. We haven’t met yet. I don’t meet my neighbors. I move before I have a chance to care about them. It comes easy to me, being a loner. Then I met Maurice.
Without a partner, lover, or relative nearby during our feared and festive flights of life, our ribs cave. You just cannot eat cake alone on your birthday, attend a funeral without a shoulder next to you, or celebrate a finished project without your best friend.
Dodger knocked and then opened the door to Greta’s casita, wide-eyed and edgy as usual, like he’s about to eject off the ground and go air-born.
“Close your eyes.” She commanded
“I’m in a hurry, I just wanted to know if you’ve seen my glasses?”
“No, I have not, look in your back pocket, they’ll be there.”
He obeyed, “Good try butterfly.”
“They’re in your pigsty garage under a pillow. Can you just close your eyes, please?” Reluctant as always to be asked things like this he shifted his weight on one torn sneaker.
“Okay, you can open your eyes.”
“Well, what do you think?”
“I’m looking, hang on.” He opened the book and leafed through it, expressionless.
“It will be published this week in time for Thanksgiving and your birthday, a kind of homage to you, for reading the manuscripts a thousand times. I think it turned out really nice, don’t you?”
“Yea, then he handed the book back to Greta as if it was some other author’s book.
“Did you read the dedication to you?”
“Don’t you want to read it?”
“ I’ll buy one when it’s on Amazon.” Greta turned around and sat at her desk chair avoiding the disappointment with silence. She felt a sharp sort of shock, that left her speechless.
” I’m going to see Patsy for my Birthday,” He said in a more decidedly final tone.
” But I planned a publication party on your Birthday. You knew that— I mean this is our book once you read it you’ll see half of it is about you. He turned his head toward the glass door, he was preparing his next line.
” I know what you’re doing.” He replied.
“ What does that mean?”
“ You don’t want me to see her.” He turned around and looked directly into her eyes, unkindly.
“ I told you to move in with her, she’s your girlfriend, but I’m your friend. Can’t you go a few days later?”
” Okay, go. Get the fuck out of here, the book I wrote about our friendship and dedicated to you doesn’t matter.” Dodger opened the door and stepped outdoors before slamming it shut. The vagueness and accusatory tone pulled the plug on her adulation and accomplishment.
Greta continued to sit at her desk, staring at the book, talking out loud as if Dodger was still in the room, you are fucking insane, he wasn’t the least touched, he didn’t even fucking smile or hug me. We are best friends you asshole, thirty-five years! Like family, I can’t believe you’d do this.’ The grail of completion dissolved when a few hours later, she had metabolized his absence.
Greta applied lipstick and blush, changed from sweats to jeans and a sweater, and dashed across the street to The Beaumont Hotel. It’s been what she termed her groove cave for the last ten years, ever since moving to town. Internally she reminded herself to retain some dignity, and not to cry, which would come later after she had a few glasses of wine.
The wave that most of us have to swim through at some sandy, loose day in our life comes unexpectedly as it did for Greta. It’s been two and half years since Greta agreed to tell me her story, it feels like it was yesterday.
Clutching her book in one hand Greta strolled into the Beaumont and, stopped at the staircase on the second floor where two hostesses were patiently but somewhat nonchalantly waiting for guests to arrive. She held up her book, partly because of the dismissal of Dodger, and her craving for some kind of acknowledgment. She is never sure what she has accomplished until she is validated by another person.
“Congratulations Greta, that’s so cool. I want a copy.” Jackie and Julia chimed in. Greta has told me over and over the people here, in the pueblo, it takes no time to get to know them because there is no pretense or preparation, they speak their feelings, as they arise without premeditation. Jackie is always tired and Julia is always infinitely alert and awake. Julia is in her sixties and Jackie is twenty-two.
“ Thank you dolls, do you think I deserve a cocktail tonight, no really, would it be all right if I have one. Jackie twirled her thin waist around the iron staircase,
“ Fuck that Greta, go have two,” she whispered.
“ You can walk home so have three,” Julia added, so neatly dressed in her uniform, but her eyes are like meadows like she’s not really there.
Holding court in the bar is Captain Kurtis. He’s ageless, one of those faces that retain the youthful spirit, and his six-foot-four physique almost doesn’t seem to fit with his face. He is no second guesser or lacks self-confidence, Greta loves him for that because she is not. She knows this for certain and she can’t understand why friends tell her, she appears so. She also knows that it is her little act.
“Hey! What’s happening?” He shouts out in his usual bar baritone greeting as if Greta were in another room.
She placed the book on the counter.
“ Wow! Hey, congratulations! That’s awesome. What would you like–on the house?”
“Thanks! A Martini.” He greeted another guest and I looked in the unavoidable mirror across from me and winked.
“ Wow, I don’t read much but I want a signed copy!”
“ This is the proof that I approved, the book comes out on Thanksgiving.”
“ My parents will be here, will you?”
“ Of course, I can’t not be here.”
“ Has Dodger seen it? Bet he’s happy huh?”
“ Actually Kurtis, he’s not.”
“ What the fuck is wrong with him?”
“ I don’t know, but he’s leaving for the holiday to see his girlfriend, I’ll be here alone.”
“ No way! We’ll be here. Drink your Martini and get crazy, loosen your bottom or something.” A while later, a second bartender arrived, Rooster, his hair is slicked into a rooster tail and he loves to dance and lip sing behind the bar. Greta went through her announcement, and he just beamed. “I want to buy one– where do I get it?”
A dreamy drench of joy poured over Greta, she let the martini take her away to the full euphoria of escape.
Over the next few days, she watched her royalty cart fill up. It was graduation day, a milestone for any self-taught writer. The instant a book was bought she wanted to tell Dodger.
From Greta’s desk window she views the driveway and converted garage where Dodger lives. It is now the twenty-third and she is waiting for him to leave as their incidental crossings on the street or in front of the house enrage her temper. This afternoon he appears to be preparing, and un-preparing for a departure. Greta is observing his actions with just a hint of humor as she sees him bring his bicycle up from the basement place it outside the garage, then a few hours later, he places it inside the garage, then it comes out again and he keeps repeating this action until he switches to his construction tools, they go in the van and then back in the garage. Dodger then moves on to washing his car in militant style, climbing onto the roof and manically wiping down the exterior and interior with a roll of paper towels and cloths. Greta says, ‘My God Patsy must be a car germophobic.’ On Thanksgiving Day, she sees the Van, and then Dodger comes out of the garage carrying his toiletries bag and a garment bag. He glances over at her door where she silently observed him. She opened the door to say whatever came to mind at that moment and he accelerated into his van and drove off.
Greta propped herself up in bed drew her coffee cup into both hands to warm them and wiped tears on her nightgown sleeve. She could not get up at least not for a few more calming hours so she looked at the walls of her bedroom sparked with honey sunshine inside the gold curtains and as the day passed her enthusiasm for turkey and stuffing wilted, until four o’clock, when she closed her mind like closing a book thinking of Dodger. She pulled a green sweater and burgundy velveteen slacks and dressed without even looking in the mirror, habitually applied make-up and while looking in the mirror tested her smile, to find the one that looked genuine. ‘ Oh fuck him, I’m going to make joy tonight’
Couples and families scurried the walkways on their way to dinner. Greta watched enviously having never been a mother, every child appeared distinctive and worthy of love. As she walked through the lobby her attention was drawn to a circumference of platters of food decoratively arranged on tables. The mounds of appetizers, salads, loaves of bread, and turkey slices tuned up her appetite for the first time since Dodger departed. Inside the bar, a standing crowd of guests fused in high-pitched voices, laughter, and glasses raised in toasts. Greta eased her way to the bar feeling slightly self-consciousness of her unaccompanied presence. The Dude, as she referred to the leading bartender stood tall as a redwood, his hair wrapped in a perfect man-bun.
“Greta, over here. I saved you a seat.” She smiled uncertainly, unconvincingly and the Dude noticed. He raised his chin a notch, it’s his way of acknowledgment.
“Hey Greta, you look really nice tonight. Are you ready for a martini or what?
“ I don’t feel like it, can I go now?”
“ Come on, it’s Thanksgiving, aren’t you thankful for something?” she savored the comment, it was true she did not feel the thankfulness quality of the celebration.
“ I’m grateful for you!”
“ Okay, what’s wrong?”
“ You won’t believe it, whatever it is I don’t know. Dodger didn’t stay for the publication party, he didn’t even say congratulations when I showed him the book, he’s gone to see Patsy, you know the woman in Las Vegas that he sees sometimes.”
“What an asshole, I’ll whip him when he gets back. Do you have the book with you, I want to see it now!” She kept one in her bag, in case someone came in that I knew.
“ Here, that’s yours.”
“Aren’t you gonna sign it?”
“ Of course. I’m just jilted like my prom date didn’t show up.”
“ Hang on, write the inscription I have to take care of these people. Don’t leave!”
The evening evolved into a gathering of singles at the bar, the exchange was simplistic holiday conversation, suited to the occasion, so very all American, though the holiday isn’t widely accepted by the Natives due to the fictionalized history of the holiday. Within the festive mood, the distraction pulverized the hollowness of dining without Dodger on Thanksgiving and his birthday. Greta’s closest female friend is White Zen (WZ), who is out of town, and other friends are with family, so it is one of those days for single unattached people to find refuge where they can.
The man seated next to her was so close she was tempted to move her chair but thought that would appear unfriendly. The Dude approached her,
“ This is my Dad.” The Dude went on to talk about the book I handed him and then the father started up a discussion about how he was writing a book too and so the evening, between bits of food and wine liberated Greta from singleness to a dinner companion. She knew Dude had that planned as he was continually trying to introduce her to men.
When there was a lull in the conversation Greta seized the moment to excuse herself and squeezed through the crowd to the ladies’ room. The silence relieved her as it always does after a two-hour conversational overload and incessant noise of guests whose cocktails elevated their voices to disturbing mumbling. She applied fresh lipstick, and then she took a deep exalted breath and texted Dodger, ‘ hope you have a wonderful thanksgiving.’ She washed her hands and after a few more minutes passed, the text remained unanswered.
“ Dude, I’ll have another glass of wine.” He was more than responsive, and poured a full glass of wine and left the bottle next to her. She knew he knew her heart was crumbling.
“ I’m thankful Dude!
“ Yea, you should be!’ A tipsy jolt took care of the evening and she managed to make some mocking jokes about the Dude, and how his youth at twenty-eight pleased the women at the bar as they attempted a sensual pat on his hand.
“Cougars, divorced or cheating on their husbands, women your age are weird.”
“You’ll understand when you get older.”
Over the next few days Greta texted Dodger six times, and he didn’t respond, so she called. She was blocked. Her rage erupted, and so she sent an email with a link to her Amazon book page. When days later she did not get a response, she pinned herself in front of the television and dialed WZ. The outdoor snow piled up, the trash was not emptied, she avoided going into the basement where the washer and dryer were and the temptation to begin sabotaging, or breaking his belongings.
“ Hi, it’s me. What’s left of me that is. Can you talk?”
“ Yes, you don’t sound good– what’s happened? Let me get a cocktail going I think I’ll need it.”
“ I’m into my third glass of wine, call me back because it takes you fifteen minutes to do your marvelous Martini’s.”
Greta waited as if she was about to go into the operating room. WZ is in the category of mothering it’s not just her whispery voice, or intense talent for listening, she has the appetite for drama and that’s what hooked her to Greta.
THIS ERA OF ADAPTATION is how I feel, think, and react. Tumbling through all the transitory advise forces me to examine more closely who to believe. I’ve never been a leader, nor a follower, I walk in between, trying to pave a pathway to peace of mind. Maybe that is unattainable as we are in a cultural, political, medical, and socially reimagined world. It reminds me of being a teenager when life was questionable, and confusion was like a stinging bee we couldn’t swap away.
This week, my discipline raged and said, ‘Structure your day or go in disarray. As a long-time, rebel of structure, I listened and made a daily plan. Get out of bed by eight, answer correspondence, get dressed, work out on the treadmill, take a shower, eat something, then back to the home office and that’s when the improvisation kicks in. Do I write a column, work on my next book, or look for an attorney for an unsolved tribulation? Mother Nature punctuates my attention as she blooms into spring; the neighbors begin mowing and planting, the adorable little children next door play in their front yard, joggers, walkers, and horse-carrying vans pass in front of my window. The Season in Saratoga is about to open, masked and limited attendance will be at Saratoga Race Track, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Bistros, Bars, outdoor concerts, Theater and Chamber Music, Lakeside sailing and motor boating, fairs, and wine tasting.
A quintet of small-town celebrations that will inaugurate us to each other once again.