Sunday, November 25, 2007

James Harold Stranger and the Maniac Prophet

Most of the week my computer is infected with the blank Google posting screen. It isn't writer's block. I want to write. I love to write. I just am not sure what it is I want to write about. So I leave the blank screen up there, a temptress, a whore sitting in the window waiting for me to walk by, stop a moment, admire her sensuous curves, fantasize for a few seconds, then open the door and walk in. Make love to me, she whispers. I oblige. I know I will pay for this sin. Her hand is outstretched, naked beast. Pay me, she demands.

Yesterday, I started writing a book on her lovely face. The first paragraph hung there for hours, like a skinned possum over a fire, slowly burning up. We will not eat what was burned tonight, my temptress tells me. As I gaze into the fire, an ember flies up on the wind the fire has created. It rises high above my head, shimmering like a star. A new character is born.

All day today, I considered his fate. Not his hair color or the crooked smile on his face, but his fate. Will he live or die? Will he be a flawed hero or not a hero at all? Other embers danced around him- more characters. They took shape, burned hot, lit fires on the hillside and burned the ground all around me.

Soon I was dancing around the fire, shaman writer conjuring up people, places, scenes, dialogue, stories of life and death. I had become a witchdoctor of the tale-mad medicine and even stranger- his name suddenly chiseled in fire upon the rock of time- James Harold Stranger. Most folks call him Jimmy.

The first paragraph was now burnt and lifeless. The story would not begin this way. The story with no ending, no outline, and the whore waiting for me to place it upon her moist lap. James Stranger is alive and finding his way in the world. His story will soon begin- after the first paragraph has been viciously edited.

Away from Google and further into the day Waterbunny and I made an offer to buy a house. We met our Stephen/Jason in court this past week. He remains in jail. One day he will be released. I studied him in that small courtroom. He will burn this house to the ground. It is there in his eyes- dead eyes of a dead soul.

Stephen's dark ravings outside our home have become ironically prophetic.

It is time for us to leave.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My Father and the Crickets

Yesterday was "take your father to work" day. Mom said he needed to get out more. He has been driving to the town dump 4 times a week, making small deliveries of discarded household items. Nothing stays on the floor very long in my father's house.

Dad is a 79 year-old retired Junior High Phys-Ed teacher, and an avid Philadelphia Phillies and Eagles fan. Mom is younger, not retired, and was recently appointed Dean of a local college. She works and, more often than not, he is home alone. When your father decides the town dump is the best place to keep returning to, it is time to give him some serious attention.

Men of my father's generation don't talk much. They say what needs saying and not much more. But I was excited about helping dad. We were going to bond, he was going to see his son at work, it was going to be something special. I picked him up at his house at precisely 830 a.m. and our day of conversation began...

Son: "Are you guys going to come to our house for Thanksgiving?"
Dad: "Don't know. Your mother hasn't told me what we are doing yet."


Son: " I'm reading Flags of our Fathers. Did you see the movie or read the book?"
Dad: " No"
Son: " You were stationed in the Pacific during the war. You might enjoy it"
Dad: "Been there, done that."

*Yessir, I hear crickets*

Son: "Everything OK with you at home? You feeling OK?"
Dad: "I'm fine"

*Many fine crickets indeed, Sir*

Son: "I'm going to stop for coffee. Do you want anything?"
Dad: "No"

*More crickets than I ever thought possible*

Son: "That guy up ahead keeps breaking on every curve."
Dad: "Know what is wrong with people? They're afraid to die."
Son: "I'm afraid to die. I have issues with that."

*Crickets, lots of them, just about everywhere*

Son: "I can't believe how much the price of gas is now. It's getting ridiculous"
Dad: "That Bush is an idiot."

*Millions of crickets chirping in a lovely chorus*

Son: "I'm stopping for lunch. Would you like a hamburger?"
Dad: "I usually eat half a peanut butter sandwich"
Son: "Do you cut it in half or fold it?
Dad: "I fold it."
Son: "How about a Chicken Salad sandwich?"
Dad: "I don't eat chicken. I'll have a hamburger."

*Deafening cricket infestation*

Dad: "Don't turn here."
Son: "But it's faster."
Dad: "No it's not."

*Can't you hear the crickets now too?*

Son: "There is Twin Willows where you like to go for dinner!"
Dad: "I eat there every Monday night....alone."
Son: " Why?"
Dad: "Your mother goes to Weight Watchers and doesn't get home until 8. So I go to Twin Willows every Monday night...alone. It's OK tho, I talk to the bartender. He's a Mets fan. He's also a Giants fan."

*chirp chirp chirp chirp........*

Dad: "Thanks for the hamburger."
Son: "Thanks for helping me."
Dad: "I didn't really help you."

And with that he gets out of the truck, grabs his mail from the mailbox, and waves without ever looking back as he walks up the driveway to his home. And I'm driving through a sea of silence, lost in my thoughts, the crickets chirping quietly from somewhere deep inside me, in the field of my youth, long ago.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Autumn in Vermont (Part 3)

We drove South on 95 and then north on 91 - straight on for Brattleboro, Vermont. As we made our way North. the weather improved. Rain gave way to cloudy skies and then peaks of sun. The cold front had stalled along the coast, but further inland, cool winds were blowing down from Canada.

Within a few hours we had reached the Vermont border and the Interstate 91 Welcome Center. In Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania the state recently re-built their welcome center in the floodplain of a tributary to the Delaware River. They graded all around it to give the landscape a nice, bowl affect. Then it rained. Several months later, after it dried out, transplanted NYC gangs "tagged" it with graffiti.

The Vermont Welcome Center was everything the Pennsylvania center was not. The architecture was similar to a barn, with post and beam construction. There were plenty of exhibits inside and outside, even a sign that instructed pets to "Walk Your Owner Here'. Under a separate pavilion, there was a volunteer organization offering hot cider, coffee, brownies, Vermont apples, and other treats for a donation. Sweetie Angel tried the hot cider. "It was the best hot cider I've ever had." Waterbunny walked up with a huge, red apple- half eaten. "I haven't had an apple this good since Washington State." Welcome to Vermont, the state that never disappoints.

I hadn't been to Vermont in over 30 years, yet was hoping the best cure for a terrible road trip would be one day in Vermont. Yes, I was hoping for a miracle. After Brattleboro, we drove West towards Bennington on Scenic Route 9, and the true beauty of Autumn in Vermont began to reveal itself. The view from Hogback Mountain was tremendous. We also wanted to stop in Wilmington, the town looked eclectic and fun, but this was a one-day tour and the Skipper had a plan- West to Bennington, North to Burlington, then West again across Lake Champlain on the ferry. After that, the New York Thruway on a beeline for home.

We reached Bennington late morning and began our journey North on Route 7. Beautiful mountains and quaint villages passed by as we stayed on course until our hunger pangs outgrew our desire to keep moving and we found the Silas Griffith Inn in Danby, Vermont and they were serving lunch! What an excellent family-run place, with sisters and brothers and parents and kids all putting their resources together to purchase and operate the Inn. We found the restaurant nearly by accident (it is always OK to drive around the bend in the road). The food and service was excellent and our spirits brightened considerably. One sister knits colorful scarves and sells them for a good price too. Rhode Island? Where was that, anyway?

North of Rutland, we found the Pick-Your-Own Pumpkin patch. Sweetie Angel went happy-crazy, running through field looking at hundreds of pumpkins, and wanting to bring home all of them. We settled for two large ones, a few tiny ones, and a pint of fresh cold apple cider. Sweetie giggled when she read the manufacture date- Sunday, October 7th-the same day we were buying it. You can't buy fresher apple cider than that.

All through the trip North on Route 7, the green mountains of Vermont loomed to our East and the Adirondacks of New York beckoned to our West. As we neared Burlington, we would catch small glimpses of Lake Champlain. Once in the town, we were surprised to see hundreds upon hundreds of young people, students from The University of Vermont and Champlain College. We drove around and looked at the campuses, which were lovely. We drove downtown and realized this was a true college town- with a view of the lake and mountains that was simply stunning.

Burlington, Vermont is tucked onto the side of a hill facing Lake Champlain. The colleges are at the top of the hill with center of town down the hill, and closer to the lake. The lake shimmers and shines in the sunlight, with the distant Adirondack mountains rising up from its Western shores. The mountain air is crisp with a hint of moisture from the lake, the air temperature is cool off the lake, with a steady breeze blowing from the North. This was the coldest air we had felt on our faces since April. It was a delicious, a gourmet meal for the senses.

Sweetie Angel saw the possibilities - a college near skiing, close enough to home to drive to, yet far enough away to have freedom and personal space. A town that was dominated by kids her own age, with cafes and bookstores, skateboards and bikes, boys and more boys. She smiled as she looked around. Perhaps, just perhaps this crummy trip to Rhode Island had a greater purpose? Is it possible we suffered and sacrificed in order to discover a new direction that far exceeded a single weekend trip?

Life is like that. You take a trip and are forever changed in ways you could never expect or realize before you began your journey. You expand your horizons and new possibilities are laid before you- like pumpkins in a field.

We drove to Burlington because Angel had pointed out, way back in Newport, that she had never been on a large boat longer than the Jamestown ferry River in Virginia- a quick ten minute trip. She wanted to sail on a schooner, and there were plenty of those available for hire in Newport. It wasn't meant to be, but the next morning, while driving North on 91, I provided an alternative. The ferry across Lake Champlain takes an hour. It is no schooner, but it will be a lovely boat ride. Sweetie angel agreed and so we ended our day in Burlington, Vermont, a college town, with our mood completely reversed. We were falling in love with Vermont.

It was 6:00 p.m. when the ferry pulled out from the dock. After watching an incredible sunset over the mountains, we braved the cold wind at the bow of the boat and talked and laughed and bonded. We may not have had the best trip, but we bring our home of serenity along with us and all it takes is a moment of discovery or natural beauty, and we are snuggled tight again within our love. Parents who choose not to share these moments with their children only live half a life- a mere existence- for there is no greater joy on Earth, friends.

We arrived at Port Kent, New York at 7 pm and began the torturous 6-1/2 hour drive home. It was dark and we were tired. By the time we arrived in New Jersey, we caught up to the stalled front along the coast. It was cloudy with a light drizzle, and the air was warm and muggy, just like we left it in the morning. Just like Connecticut and Rhode Island. Was Vermont a dream?

In retrospect, we have laughed over the lowlights, and talked in awe over the highlights. We sure do cram a lot into a two-day trip, sort of like putting 10 pounds of manure into a 5 pound pail. It always seems to be worth it. A review of Champlain College's degree programs is encouraging-plenty of majors in the area Sweetie Angel wants to study. Earlier this week, she was wearing her University of Vermont tee shirt (bought on the ferry). She looks awful good in Vermont green.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Rhode Island, 15 foot waves are battering an old clam shack as the remnants of Hurricane Noel slam ashore. The paint peels off from the spray of sand and salt, the sand erodes underneath. The local folks huddle by the fire, waiting out the storm, and the one coming after that.

The Coyote Lyric Video