Tuesday, July 29, 2014

You'll Always Know Your Pal

Roller coaster recovery time.

Yesterday we arrived in Maine. One of the things I like most about traveling is the opportunity for unexpected moments with random strangers. This can happen at home of course, but the odds are better on the road.

Somewhere between Erie and Buffalo we stopped for coffee and car snacks. I stood at a bank of coffee pots along the side of the raised box where the cashiers stand and poured myself some "bold" roast coffee, but I couldn't see anything to put in it. David had already gotten his so I called back over my shoulder, "Where's the cream?" He was involved in some important junk food negotiation with the kids and didn't answer right away. "David, where's the cream?" I asked again.

The woman behind the counter gave me an odd look and said, "It's behind you." A second later David chimed in and said, "It's over here."

I shrugged at the woman and apologized. "I was trying to ask him," I explained. "I wasn't trying to bark questions at you."

She said, "I thought you said 'baby,' like 'Baby, where's the cream?'"

"I wouldn't have called you 'baby,'" I said. "I was calling him."

She said, "Well, I thought maybe you were just being nice. I could've said, 'It's behind you, darlin.'" Then she thought a second and asked, "Is he Baby?"

"No, his name is David. I said, 'David.'"

She shrugged and said, "Well, my brother-in-law's name is David, so I guess that makes sense too."

"OK," I said, failing to understand how that made sense, and turned to the cream.

A few minutes later, junk food negotiations complete for the time being, I gathered the cookies and chips and coffees and headed to the cash register.

"I'm ready now, baby," I said.

The cashier smirked and said, "OK, sweetheart," then lowered her voice to a conspiratorial stage whisper. "People're going to think we're nuts," she said and nodded toward David, perusing the Pringles display. "Especially him."

"He's pretty easy going," I said. "We don't have anything to worry about."

She gave me my change. "You take care then, Babe. Bye-bye."

Reading: Continuing with Gaiman's American Gods, which is nicely apt for me right now. I want to type out the passage I marked about choosing roadside attractions over shopping malls, but I am too lazy to go upstairs and get my book.

And in the car David read to me from a recent Janet Malcolm essay from the NYer about the Argosy bookstore. I love bookstores and the day to day work of them. I had an alternate life path in which I was offered the position as head of the used book department at an independent bookseller in Manhattan. I was not really qualified to take this position, but I had worked at the store, in new books, for quite a while, and who knows, perhaps I would have learned the trade. I moved to Cleveland instead, because I was in love with a Clevelander and tired of being poor and overcrowded in New York, and I wanted to grow green things and have solitude. Cleveland and that Clevelander have been good to me, and I have good relationships with Cleveland booksellers, some of whom I have worked for. I wonder sometimes, though, about that other life.

Writing: No. I've decided to take a reading vacation and not make a writing schedule. I had a really great, very helpful conversation with my friend Charlie before we left town, and I was able to clarify some important aspects of what I've been working on this summer. One of the things I clarified was how starved I am for extended reading time.

Dinner: The most wonderful meal on the road was at the unexpectedly good Chowder House in Utica/New York Mills, NY. Every single thing we ordered was fresh and deftly prepared from the crostini with marinated mozzarella to the absolutely dreamy beer battered haddock. Z's penne with pesto and veggies was a tad bit too oily, but it was beautiful and delicious. And the chowder was quite good, too.

Soundtrack: The whole time we drove beside the Erie Canal, I kept singing "16 Tons" to myself, because I conflate that song with the song "Erie Canal." They are not the same song, but for those keeping score at home the title of today's post is from the latter.

I've decided Rainy Days in Agawam is the name of my next album. David thinks this sounds like it will be a faux Joni Mitchell kind of thing, but I am really thinking something more of a deep, moody electronica deal.

Random thing: We feared a rainy day in Agawam because we were driving through thunderstorms on our way to a full day at the amusement park housed there. We arrived just when the storms broke and left 7 hours later when the lightning started again. In between, Z&O dared many rides.

For the white water rafting we rode in a big round floating car with three other people, including a teenager who'd been separated from his pack because they had one too many riders for their car. I felt bad for this young black guy suddenly faced with a thrill ride with some strange white family. He'd been exuberant and silly with his friends, but he looked down and avoided eye contact with us as we fastened our seat belts. "They totally threw you overboard," I said. He looked up and smiled. "Yeah, who needs them?" he said, and we proceeded to have a perfectly fun time. He and Orson both vocally called for the water to douse them, but I ended up the wettest of us all.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Miscellany, with mink

American mink - I saw one in the wild at Shaker Lakes last week!

I'm plagued with the sense that the summer is passing me by, which morphs into one big existential cliche that bores me too much to elaborate. Regular readers will notice that I have not been blogging at all, which could contribute to this syndrome -- not catching the quick silvery moments, and so on. This is not for lack of thinking about what I would write if I were writing here, but thinking is not writing. Rather than reconstruct weeks worth of observations and interesting bits, let me tell you about the nowish things, a few of them.

I dropped Z at a friend's house this morning and stopped for a bit to chat in the kitchen, which always amazes me with its beautiful, oddball Americana decor, complete with vintage signs and green milk glass (maybe jadeite?) tea cups. Today I noticed a collection of vintage orange juicers, each with its own unique juice glass underneath. I love this. I will try to divert myself from the wish that I could maintain a house like that by expressing my delight that someone else does.

Yesterday, I went to a wedding reception in my third barn of the season. (Barn #2 was also this weekend, at girls camp.) The weather was perfect. I wore a strappy sundress to soak up the balmy evening breezes and to show off the effects on my shoulders and biceps of my almost daily workouts since school let out. (Not Michelle O. arms yet, but I'm feeling good about them.) I found myself wishing for more opportunities for people to have grand parties besides weddings and bar mitzvahs. Like, let's just have events! Everywhere! With food! And wine! And dress-ups!

Over the weekend, Z and I walked through the dark woods with the other girls camp-ers to howl at the cloudy sky, glowing white from the moon concealed somewhere within. In the woods and over the meadow the fireflies looked enormous, their lights like glowing, fat bumblebees. Z held my hand the whole time, and we helped each other cross the muddy bits. She held my hand lightly and firmly the whole time, my 11-year-old girl.

Reading: The time has come to ask yourself why I never allow myself to realize my fantasy of holing up at a hotel with a pile of books.

The book of the moment is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I have a weird relationship with this book, on which more later.

Writing: Not really since I read at the pie event a week ago. Why not? I can't say. See paragraph 1, but don't get stuck there.

Dinner: At my suggestion, David made a skillet full of broccoli and leftover baked potato with onions and garlic and cheese, and big bowl of kale chips. And it was good.

This weekend, in the not shiny department, it seems as though Z had an allergic reaction to soy. Investigations are afoot.

Soundtrack: David Bowie, Sidney Bechet, and Sinead O'Connor - oh, and Weird Al's "Word Crimes." Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Random thing: In addition to a mink, I have recently seen a bunny small enough to fit in my hand, a hunting heron that ate something I could hear crunching 30 feet away, a bat, a suspected owl in flight, an irritated hawk over the rec center parking lot pursued by a much smaller bird, several goslings, and I forget what else.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Wandering in the Chiricahuas

I've been thinking about this place, the Chiricahua Mountains, a lot lately.
Maybe someday you will get to read what I have to say about it.

I've been trying to spend writing time out of the house.

Wednesday I made my office in a local coffee house. At the gas station across the street, a woman in an old fashioned cinch-waisted black and white dress and pumps cleaned her windshield. The guy who runs the gas station came over and took over from her, so she stood back by the driver's door and talked to him while he washed the glass with big arching strokes. I could tell he was following the edge of the arc of the wiper blades, getting that line that forms and making sure the whole pane was uniformly clean. Every few passes over the window, he would pause to wipe the squeegee off on his pants in big, loose-limbed motions.

Thursday I sat in the atrium at the art museum. I was amused to see a woman in yoga clothes clutching an ill-rolled yoga mat on her way into the current Yoga: The Art of Transformation exhibit.

Reading: Read a review article called "Ghosts in the Stacks" by Christine Smallwood from a recentish New Yorker. It's all about books that document odd feats of reading (the whole OED, the Harvard Classics, or the case of the book most discussed - The Shelf: from LEQ to LES - one particular shelf of novels in one particular library). I am always attracted to these books, but I don't read them because I have so many other books I want to read that reading about someone reading seems like a poor use of my limited reading time (so instead I read about someone reading about people reading, yeah).

Smallwood identifies the underlying emotion of these kind of reading stunts as Fear of Missing Out - the anxiety that there is some book, some writer, some experience, some access to knowledge that one is missing.

I have not decided if I agree with her, but I share the desire to read in this manner. I fantasize about holing up in a hotel room with a stack of books -- maybe all Nobel Prize winners, maybe all books published in the last year, maybe (as Smallwood suggests might be useful and as one other reading-writer, Susan Hill, did in a book called Howard's End is on the Landing) it would simply be a big stack of books that I own but have never read. For instance, the big historical novel about early 20th Century Russia that I bought at an Atlanta Public Library book sale when I was 17 and have carted around with me ever since. Or the book about the social history of table manners that sits in that weird not-cookbook food books section of my shelves.

Writing: Yes, and I am fighting the sense that every sentence is a road to nowhere, which if you know anything about my project is kind of ironic. I have humor even if I don't have faith. ::sigh::

Dinner: I don't think I ate dinner last night ... wine with M, cheese on the way to baseball, some almonds at the game, then gin with P ... oops.

Soundtrack: I've decided I need to listen to the Black Keys. I don't know why this right now, and I realize this is not a choice of earth shattering originality, but there you have it.

Random thing: How, oh how, and why and whyfor could I have managed to miss the recent Van Gogh exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art?! Van Gogh is my favorite painter. I cry at Van Gogh. I am connected to the divine through Van Gogh. This exhibit was in town for three whole months. What the hell kind of way to treat myself is that? There is something messed up about this. File this under #notshiny.