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Wednesday, September 22, 2010



We recently went camping with our neighbors at lovely Schroon Lake in the Adirondack Park area of upstate New York. If you really want to get away by yourself and get in touch with the outdoors, take your family camping once in awhile. What is lovelier than sitting in the shade, reading the paper as nature hustles and bustles around you? Eventually the rest of your family will find your campsite, but you might be able to get through the Sports section. There is nothing like the aroma of burning wood to greet you as you unpack your car. To be honest that burning smell turned out to be our clutch. The sounds of the wild permeate the scene: mostly other couples arguing. I thought how it would make a great reality show: “Housewives of Schroon Lake.”

It takes a little while to set things up, and I’m sure most of the couples were arguing about where to put up the tent, hanging the tarp, how to situate the kitchen facilities. But at our campsite, I am for once the king. The reason? I am the only one who knows how to tie a bowline knot. No campsite can long survive without a bowline knot holding everything up. At the campsite I answer to NO ONE, which basically means that I don’t know how to work my cell phone. As it happened there was no cell service there anyway, and we had to resort to communicating the old fashioned way: email.

We sat around that evening drinking beer by a fire, wondering if the office was supposed to be on fire. Normally we would tell ghost stories, but we didn’t know any ghost stories. Instead we recounted all the ways in which we had abused children. Paul admitted to spilling beer on a baby. He was carrying a full cup in one hand and a bulky bambino in the other. My guess is that someone asked him what time it was and that’s all she wrote. If he wore his watch on the other hand that baby would have a welt on its head the size of a golf ball. I told about the time I was at Kenny and Claudia’s party and I felt that the children were not toasting the marshmallows correctly on the fire. I tried to demonstrate the most efficient method (basically sticking it into the coals and singeing it beyond recognizability), and when I went to grab the kid’s marshmallow stick the little white cylinder went careening about 10 feet and landed on another kid’s leg, where the gooey meteorite stuck long enough to give him second degree burns. All night long, moms were pointing at me, whispering to one another and shaking their heads.

Campground restrooms are not a welcoming sight. Every visit is a new opportunity to commune with all types of bugs and other wildlife. I saw this cootie climbing up my commode that must have been four inches long. This creepy crapper crawler must have been training for this day for months, his Mount Everest moment. He was prevented from reaching the summit by the Times crossword puzzle. During that time a spider had built a web from my leg to the door. Then when you go to wash your hands, there are never paper towels in any campground. If you’re lucky they have a blower, which sounds a lot luckier than it actually is. The thing takes a half hour longer than just wiping your hands on your pants. At least there are no automatic paper towel dispensers. When did we, as a society, become too weak to remove paper towels from a holder? I put my hand under one of those and NOTHING EVER HAPPENS. Then as I am walking away I hear the noise, I turn and there is the towel. I run back over and the machine sucks the towel back up. I coax it back out, dry one hand and try to get another out to wipe my other hand, but it feels I should have gotten the job done with one. I have to go away and return disguised as someone else. On the plus side I pass by the urinal and set off the automatic flusher 3 times.

That reminds me I am thinking about putting separate men’s and women’s rooms in my house. Our bathroom requirements seem to overlap only minimally. For instance whenever I’m at someone else’s house and go to take a pee, I find that the wife has installed a fuzzy cover over the toilet seat. Guys: you know what happens next. You put the toilet seat up, and let her rip, and right in the middle the thing falls down and the startling sound causes your directional gyroscope to go haywire.

Anyway, it was time for bed. You don’t realize that your tent is pitched on an incline if you’ve been drinking; you assume it’s just YOU listing to the left. But when you wake up you are both huddled in one corner, and everything round in shape that you happened to bring along has rolled there too.

One time we heard some rustling noises outside our tent. It sounded like something large, and we speculated quietly as to what it might be. I suggested that it could be a rustler, because of the noise. My wife thought it might be a skunk or an opossum, but what if it was a coyote or a bobcat, or even a bear? Luckily we were armed, since I had one of those camp tools that has a pair of pliers and a knife that I can’t actually get my fingernail to coax out of its niche. My wife thought I had better go chase it away whatever it was, or vice versa, either way she is a winner. It turned out to be a cat, but it was pretty big and possibly wild, and there was a shape in its belly that might have been that of a six year-old boy, so I let it be and got back in the tent. I thought it was best to err on the side of caution, although I am not picky and will do it just about anywhere.

Cooking breakfast at the campground is one of life’s little pleasures. Food in general tastes so much better, maybe because you have to work so much harder for it. The last time we fired up the cookstove, there was a tiny ripped gasket and the whole thing caught on fire and almost blew up the propane canister. I knew we were almost out of gas, so I was reluctant to put out the fire before at least cooking the eggs, but hysterical screaming and yelling really inhibits my creativity in the kitchen. As a public service let me remind you always to plan an escape route before starting any fire around an open propane tank.

Incidentally, the Adirondack Park is really a system of private and public lands that according to my map spans an area approximately six inches by four inches, although much bigger in person. The State of New York sought to buy up the almost 3 million original acres because it was thought that deforestation would destroy the Erie Canal and economically cripple the state. The Iroquois Nation occupied a good portion of the land. For the most part they had sided with the British during the Revolutionary War, not realizing that there would be hardly a decent restaurant if they won. As a punishment, most were displaced to reservations in the Midwest, yet if they had left them where they were (namely our campsite) they would have been more effectively punished by the constant barking of a little white poodle-type dog that I am ashamed to say I often called a particular disgusting name in its own language.

Thursday, September 9, 2010



Through the miracle of facebook my wife re-connected with her old girlfriend from high school, who coincidentally (perhaps not) used to be my first girlfriend in high school, before I knew my wife, whom I met through the girlfriend. She was my first SERIOUS girlfriend, if you put two and two together.

We met for the very first time as I was surfacing from the Croton Reservoir. I had just jumped about 40 feet off the railroad trestle on the abandoned “Old Put” train line. It was something we used to do for fun, although in retrospect it would have been a lot more fun had I worn a cup. Chris had brought her swimming, and we hit it off immediately once I climbed ashore. She was artsy, vivacious, kind of Carole Kingy. I wasn’t that artsy, but at least I wasn’t that fartsy.

It was amazing to see what divergent paths we took after high school. She embarked on a wild ride that took her from the Northeast to the Southwest to the Northwest. It’s obvious she didn’t suffer from a lack of direction. I remained in the Northeast, although every once in awhile I drifted to the north Northeast, the south Northeast, or the east Northsouth. Usually due to holding the map upside down.

It seemed that she remembered things, details of our short relationship that my porous mind could not hold onto. I know some people that live in the past, and they remember everything from years and years ago. Some people live in the future, Captain Kirk for instance. I tend to live in the present, which means by the time I get to the end of a sentence I have forgotten what the beginning was. I don’t have the memory that she does, nor do I have the memory that she does.

Although we dated only for a year or so, back then it seemed like a long, long time. I guess if you have only existed 16 or 17 years, each of those years ages you disproportionately. I believe that the first two years of your life you age in squirrel years, which have a life expectancy of sixteen years. Then after you learn to talk but before you get married you age in box turtle years, which live a hundred and forty years. After that the time really flies, and a whole year goes by as you are cleaning out your garage.

One thing that was obvious from our talk was that if we did not have parents, we would have no one to blame our problems on. I usually tell anyone who blames me for anything that my dad was an alcoholic, and that I came from a broken home. The last part is true, since our basement always flooded after the flimsiest rainfall.

Now that I realize what a negative influence parents can be, it’s a wonder people allow them into their homes at all. It possibly started with Jesus- his father, God, is Mr. Perfect. Knows everything, sees everything, infinite wisdom, blah, blah, blah. That’s a lot to live up to, and it’s a wonder Jesus didn’t turn to drugs, drop out of school and become a total fuck-up.

Anyway, she got into Wellesley, and a few other good colleges, but her mother and stepfather couldn’t wring out the money to send her. She ended up hitchhiking across the country, sleeping in cars, the side of the road once in awhile. Dumpster-diving now and then for lack of money or inertia. She married young, divorced young, had children she wasn’t emotionally ready to throw herself into. But she did what she wanted to do, on no one else’s command or behalf.

Then she asked what we’ve been up to. We have spent the last 36 years moving slowly up the Harlem Line, with higher school taxes hot on our heels. We couldn’t think of much that compared to the excitement of her post high-school days, although we did see an episode of “The Office” recently that we hadn’t seen before. Our days are fun and eventful to us, but a side-by-side comparison reveals that life is full of choices and compromises. What I have given up to have a healthy 401K is a treasure chest full of experiences you can only collect once upon a time; there are many different ways to be rich (I missed being Rich by one letter).

Had I remained with her, I wondered what it would have been like for her, trying to concentrate on our next meal, with me saying things like, “do you think we could dumpster-dive for a toenail clipper?”, or, “It was really nice of that diner to give us this food for free, but that looks like a mushroom- do you think I can get this without?” Or would she have been satisfied traveling the world in one-week-a-year increments?

It was great to see her again for the first time after all these years. Back then you could jump right into a lake not knowing was underneath. A freefall straight down, with unfailing confidence that everything would be fine when you landed. I wouldn’t try it now…. But she seems happy, content, at peace with her past, and willing to share her feelings honestly, including the fact that when we broke up, her mom missed me more than she did….

Incidentally, the abandoned New York Central Putnam Division rail line is now the North County Trailway bicycle park. From the late 1800s to the 50s and 60s trains carried freight and passengers to New York City. Since there was only one track, I assume it left them there, and they should be back soon. One spur connected the “Old Put” to the Harlem Line, and ran through Lincolndale to a depot 3,000 feet from my house. The freight trains carried milk through now defunct NYC tracks directly underneath the Sheffield Milk processing plant on the west side of Manhattan. The railroad owned the right-of-way and the milk plant owned air rights above the tracks. The milk plant is now the CBS Broadcast Center, where I have worked for the last 30 years, and evidence of the railroad connection are still visible in the videotape archives of sub-basement floor “A.”