The Angels of Midnight

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

~~Maya Angelou

I

You’re trying to sleep in the ER of the Albany Medical Center. It’s sometime between the hour of midnight and dawn. You know things are going bad for you when all your dreams and desires are for a red paper cup of ice chips.

Even the night shift nurses with $1,000 worth of tats were of little distraction. And the finger nail polish that glowed (only the tips) were heavenly pink and emitted a beam of ethereal light that was almost supernatural in nature, did little to distract me from my greatest need…ICE!

On one level I was in the middle of an older man’s fantasy. On the other level I was positive I had yet to pay my moral dues. I felt caught in a special kind of medically induced purgatory. My entire right side was in a kind of agony that one only begins to imagine. I’d rather have triplets.

On the other side was a cadre of highly trained nurses, nurse practitioners and medical staff. They wanted to hold off on the water in case there was a test in my future that demanded nothing by mouth.

II

One of the midnight angels gave me a powerful pain killer. I was asleep in minutes. I dreamt about drowning in ice cold lemonade.

In my man’s eye, these women were all as beautiful as Aphrodite…but with green masks they likely resembled a woman you’d pass on the street on your way to Starbucks. It was the inner beauty that I was drawn to…something to be said in favor of a veil. The more that is hidden, the more you’re imagination is free to run wild.

III

So leaving out a great many details, how did it all turn out? I was discharged late Friday morning. It was hotter than Hades so we stopped at the nearest Panera and I had the best lemonade on the planet. From there to Starbucks in the lobby of our hotel. I couldn’t face a Cold Brew which I love and tried a Kiwi Starfruit Refresher with Lemonade. It was heavenly.

IV

Settled in our room at the Hilton Garden Inn, I ate for for the first time in days, a steak salad, while Mariam had a salmon salad. I was fully awake and asked to watch Mulan, a film I wanted to see for months. I was asleep before the opening credits.

I don’t remember my dreams anymore but they must have included the kindness of the ambulance EMTs that got me to Albany, the attending staff in general and the orderlies.

And the angels of midnight who choose to dedicate their lives to alleviating the pain of shleps like me.

The Tragedy of the Commons

[The High Peaks.]

But the darkest scriptures of the mountains are illumined with bright passages of love that never fail to make themselves felt when one is alone.

–John Muir

There is irony lurking just below the surface of this blog. Irony, youth, pleasant times and not so pleasant times. There’s quietness and beauty sublime. And, dogs.

It is a blog that truthfully depicts two divergent paths. My own and that of a geological ancient mountain range. Neither narrative ends well. Unless you are gifted with a perception so delicate and deep, you can feel the moods of mountains. Alternatively, the other track is owned by me. That’s not so difficult to read…for you or me.

The photo shown above is the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. Nestled in the skyline is Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York State. Now for the irony part…every mountain you can see has been climbed by me, at least once. I’ve summited Marcy at least twenty times. I began my quest to be a 46’er in the fall of 1959. I climbed about half of the required peaks…then decided my efforts were akin to earning a Boy Scout Merit Badge. I simply lost interest in accumulating mountains so that I could wear the coveted patch proving I “knew all about climbing.” I must say that I had unforgettably great times back in the day. My friend, Greg Stella and I once spent the night on Marcy’s summit…illegally. It was great fun to count endless stars and to wake up to an ice storm. Ah, we were young and strong. As Gordon Lightfoot puts it:

We were brave mountaineers we never were bothered by time.

Now for the irony part. Back in the day, we indeed were brave mountaineers…and then, somehow, the years caught up with us. Greg is now battling an illness and I can hardly walk the breath of our living room without pain…low in my spine and spectacularly painful.

One moment we were arguing over whether to climb two or three peaks before the sun set. A few blinks later, I’m reaching for a cane and waiting for a new injection in my L-2 and L-3 section of my spine. Irony. The thing I loved the most is the thing I cannot have.

Jump to the early 1960’s. Two events colluded to make my love of the High Peaks begin to evaporate like a late morning mist.

Lake Placid (and New York State) decided that the joys of hiking would convert to commercial success. That, along with the rapidly growing interest in hiking resulted in several elements (mostly negative). The crowds came and they never stopped arriving. Essex County is now faced with a traffic situation worthy of Manhattan. Permits are being tested. The groups of hikers have no place to camp. And the dogs are more often than not, off leash. It’s a perfect example of The Tragedy of the Commons. A village in the Alps decided to allow the sheep, etc to graze on a common pasture. Within a few years, the overuse of the land and the hungry sheep rendered the commons useless.

I was lucky. Once I hiked the heart of the High Peaks for five days without encountering a soul.

One has to look long and hard to find anyplace in the Park that can deliver a modicum of a true wilderness experience.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a Forest Ranger. Not anymore. I don’t want to spend my precious time rescuing hikers who have no idea about this once-special environment and who don’t have the mind-set to appreciate the quiet times that we all need now and forever.

Adulthood Rising

I have a hard time learning languages. Some people have an ability to pick up German, Portuguese, Farsi or Russian with ease. High School French was the first of my stumbling blocks. I used to “get sick” in the morning to avoid Mrs. Lowe’s first period freshman French class. I tried…I really tried…to understand the conjugation of verbs, but found only limited success. As an adult I can order dinner in Paris and get a hotel room arranged. That’s about it. Then again that’s about all a guy really needs to know.

In the 1980’s I asked the French teacher at the school I was teaching in (I was a possible chaperone for a trip to Paris with the French Club) how to say “Hi Cupcake, can I buy you a drink?” Petite gateau is a far as her suggestion went. I never chaperoned the trip.

But I digress.

I didn’t cut all of Mrs. Lowe’s classes however. Every so often she would abandon her grammar lessons and show us a film about French culture. That was very cool because no one is as cultured as the French. One day she ran a documentary about Maurice Utrillo, the French painter (1883-1955). I was fascinated by his work. He became one of my favorite artists. There was something about his style…

An Utrillo Painting
[Source: Google Search]

Something changed in me that day. I was suddenly alert to nature in a way that was new and fresh. I had grown up a little after that film. I grew up more than I was expected. I took a renewed interest in our backyard. It was in the Spring. I would lay on my stomach in some hidden corner of our yard and would begin to believe I could watch the grass grow and the flowers bloom. All this before any Cannabis was in the picture.

The air smelled different and clouds took on meanings and shapes I never noticed before. Teenage love permeated every cell in my young body. The whole wide world had crossed the threshold of my early timid feelings of adulthood. Yes, teenage love had its grip on me. But, being me and being full of self-doubt and insecurity I was unsure of everything–even love.

I spotted a daisy. I knew the drill, that age old practice of using a daisy to find out if she loved me. I never gave much thought to the idea of raping a daisy to learn the fate of my love. I see it now as akin to a Native American killing a buffalo or a deer. You apologized to it and thanked it for giving up its life and aiding in your survival. So, there I sat in the grass and plucked the petals…one by one.

“She loves me. She loves me not.”

As I was approaching the final half-dozen petals I could see ahead. It was going to end in a resoundingly quiet “She loves me not”. I had to think fast. I feigned pulling the white petal and continued the countdown.

In the end, she loved me. Ultimately I should have continued my count if you get my subtext.

Now I sit, an old man, musing and missing my early life before I knew real pain. That’s what old men do…they sit and think. My daughter is now riding a heat wave from Hell in distant Seattle. My son will soon be married and will rely less on “Pops” as the years move on.

Yes, I sit and think. I gathered a small bunch of daisies today during a short walk and put them in a pale green vase. I thought of that daisy from my backyard.

And thanks to Mrs. Lowe, I have an abiding love of Maurice Utrillo.

Some Awesome Suggestions for Awesome Summer Reading

If you’re smart you’ve been vaccinated and now, mask free. And it’s summer! Time to dust off your Speedo or your polka dot bikini and head for the nearest beach. The nearest beach to us is Lake Clear…about five miles away. Normally I would avoid going anywhere near water. This is the Adirondacks and the summer is under control of black flies, gnats and mosquitos. But I do make an exception for Lake Clear Beach. There is a constant breeze from the lake that keeps the number of biting insects to a reasonable level, whatever that is. One is too many for this less-than-hardy soul. But it’s nature, it’s the Northern Forest and we should all make an effort to become one with our environment.

But I digress.

If you’re like me, stretched out on a Walmart Beach Chair, staring at the cumulonimbus clouds building to the west can get a little boring. What’s the solution? Read something. I’ve collected a few can’t put down books to serve as a guide to help you wile away the hours on the sand. So grab your Visa card and iPhone and Google Amazon to order these literary gems. Ready?

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

This is truly an awesome book. Unique and very original this novel imagines the grief of Abraham Lincoln just after the death of his son, Willie. Much of the narrative finds Lincoln making mid-night visits to the vault where Willie is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery on the edge of Washington, D.C. This story brought more than one tear to this reader’s eyes. Totally original and awesome. Makes for a great bed time read as well.

The Captive & The Fugitive by Marcel Proust (Moncrieff translation) Vol. V of In Search of Lost Time

If you can get past the cover you will be treated to one of the Masterpieces of Literature. Once known as Remembrance of Things Past this translation uses the updated title. It is often compared with the works of Jackie Collins or Nora Roberts. You have to start with Volume I of course. There are six books that make up this awesome piece of literature. Volume V (the one I’m reading is a mere 1,000 pages. I looked at Volume VI and was relieved to find it was only 700 or so pages long. This is a contender for one of the longest books ever written. To be honest, it’s not a real page turner unless you enjoy reading thousands of pages of nostalgia brought on by the smell of a Madeline cookie. [Note: Do not read this book in hardcover when in bed. The weight will crush a few bones in your chest and collapse your sternum.] Look, if after a few thousand pages you find that this is not for you just leave the book on your coffee table or carry it to Starbucks and stare at a few pages. It’s a real chick magnet and will impress the in-laws. Walk around with any of the volumes tucked under your arm and people will make way for you and give you more credit than you probably deserve. It helped me on my dates with a gypsy (Romani) woman named Tanya. We read to each other, cooked a chicken over an open fire, drank red wine and talked of going to Oslo. It’s truly an awesome book.

Mosquito by Timothy Winegard

This is a totally awesome book. It contains a complete study of one of the most dangerous insects. Malaria wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the tiny mosquito. Me? I just find them really annoying. Reading it brings out the urge to scratch my knee.

Ned & Ashtabula: The Erie Canal Hauntings by Patrick Egan

This awesome writer has given us yet another novel to move your soul and scare you silly. The author deftly weaves a tale of the mysterious happenings along the Canal in the 1830’s. A coming of age tale with foreshadowing and scary scenes. The author uses foreshadowing, metaphors and gratuitous nudity to weave a tale of dread. There’s magic in this book. Demons and a pretty young woman compel our protagonist Ned, to come to terms with his past and to face the future with a new found wisdom. Another awesome book by this gifted writer and is available from Amazon (paperback and Kindle).

Essential Muir

We all love Greta from Norway don’t we? Well pick up this collection of writings by John Muir who founded the Sierra Club. Nature writing from the Master. It is truly awesome.

A Freewheelin’ Time by Suze Rotolo

We all can agree that Bob Dylan is one awesome guy. This memoir by the woman who is shown clutching Dylan’s arm on the cover of A Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album. The book reflects the heady days in Greenwich village in the early 1960’s. It’s not a kiss and tell and avoids revealing the real Dylan. I could tell you more about this awesome book after I read it. Rotolo passed away in 2011.

So there you have it. A handful of suggestions from yours truly. Don’t blame me if you’re bored this summer. You could always go into your own lockdown if that’s your thing. Don’t forget the sunblock and have an awesome summer.

Tracking the Elusive Michigan

It was mid-morning and time to begin thinking about lunch. Mariam mentioned the term MICHIGAN and my mouth began to salivate like I was one of Pavlov’s dogs. I love Michigans.

If you’ve heard of Michigans but always wondered what they are, I’m your go to guy.

A Michigan is a regional sandwich from the Adirondacks. It’s range more than likely extends beyond the Blue Line of the Park. In a word…it’s a hot dog topped with a sauce that I could eat by the spoonful. It’s messy so eating while driving is definitely not a good idea. Not that sitting at a picnic table makes it any less messy but it helps with the cleanup.

Not every hot dog stand or diner carries Michigans. One has to search around a bit. We’re lucky having two sources within a few miles of our house.

If you’re a sandwich lover and you travel around the Northeast you’ll find a wide variety of regional eats. If you’re in parts of New Jersey or Philadelphia, you have the Hoagie and the Grinder. In New York City it’s a Hero or Torpedo. Also in New Jersey is the famous Blimpie. Down in Louisiana one orders a Po’ Boy. In Boston you can feast on one of my favorites, the Spuckie. Eastern Pennsylvania puts out a great Zeppelin. But another favorite of mine is the famous Spiedie, native to Binghamton, NY.

There are so many more so check out Wikipedia for other regional sandwiches.

A Michigan Recipe:

Grandma Slattery’s Michigan SauceThis is a Meat Sauce from Upstate New York that is used on top of Hot Dogs. When I grew up it was used on steamed hot dogs and steamed rolls, sometimes with raw onions (for those who like them) on top! Very good… thanks Grandma Slattery for getting the recipe!Prep:10 mins. Cook:30 minsTotal:40 minsServings:6Yield:6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter 
  • 1 onion, chopped 
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar 
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar 
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice 
  • ½ tablespoon prepared mustard 
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 pound lean ground beef 
  • 1 cup ketchup 
  • 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce 
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste 
  • salt and pepper to taste 

Directions

  • Step 1Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onion in butter until soft. Stir in the vinegar, brown sugar, lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Stir to blend.
  • Step 2When the mixture begins to simmer, add the raw ground beef breaking it into pieces with a wooden spoon. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve over steamed hot dogs. Of course you can add some raw onions if you want.

Nutrition Facts 

Per Serving: 322 calories; protein 16.1g; carbohydrates 25.9g; fat 18g; cholesterol 61.8mg; sodium 1127.8mg.

[Our favorite gentleman. The Michigan Man at Paul Smiths, NY. Source: My photo.]

Note: Keep plenty of napkins handy.]

The Little Boy And The Big Canoe: A Memory

[Not my brothers canoe. But you get the point. Source: Google Search]

Canoes were always a part of my boyhood. Our family was definitely zero-octane. It’s all very logical given the fact that our property at 420 Front St., Owego, NY, my childhood home, happened to have the Susquehanna River in our backyard. And, we used the river often. My memories and adventures on those waters often give me solace when I leaf through my Book of Youth. One of our favorite afternoon activities was to collect a few empty mayonnaise jars, a few empty bottles of Coke and perhaps even a tomato sauce jar, put them in the canoe and head up-river toward Hiawatha Island. We were armed with our trusty Daisy BB guns. After our paddle to the island we would slowly make our way back home. We’d toss the bottles into the river and shoot at them until they shattered and sank to the silty river bottom. The shattered glass is still there sixty-some years later. This lasted until my brother Dan, bought a pellet gun that would blow the jars and bottles to shards with one shot. Who would want to compete with that?

None of this would have happened if my older brother, Chris didn’t obtain and restore a large Old Town canoe. Most average canoes are 16′ long. This was a 19′ long craft. It reminded me of an Indian war canoe or something you’d find at a YMCA summer camp in the Catskills. Somewhere in my photo boxes I have a picture of Chris working on the bow of his canoe. I cannot find this photo so the downloaded featured picture is the best I could find. You get the idea.

I recall an afternoon paddle. It was getting late and I was a tired boy. The boat was large enough for me to lie down with my head beneath the bow seat. There was a tarp. I pulled it over my head and put my ear to the floor board. I listened to the faint flow and gurgle of the water that was an inch from my cheek. I thought of the broken bottles sitting in the mud below me. The BB itself would be long gone in the future. Not so with the glass.

I lifted the tarp and saw the dark outlines of Cemetery Hill and the trees along the river bank. I knew we were close to home.

As we paddled slowly toward our property I thought of the river. I was aware of my geography so that if we left all things alone, we’d drift downstream for days into the mighty Chesapeake Bay…beyond that…the Atlantic Ocean. All the history and importance of the Susquehanna watershed began at the mouth of a moderate sized lake in central New York State, Otsego Lake in Cooperstown.

But we didn’t get to the Bay. We got home in the dark and I was left with only a memory of my evening on the floor of a large canoe.

So, on a recent trip to Owego I went over to the Hickories Park. None of the stores, hotels or the Hiawatha Bridge existed back in the day of that trip. I stand and look out over the choppy waters and think of the glass shards still resting on the river bottom. A great deal of water has flowed past the Hickories where I stood.

It’s all a memory now. Once the water passes me it’s off to the great ocean. It’s a little like life. It flows past and to really understand it and love it, one has to lie still and listen to the sound of flowing water.

A Gathering: A Farewell

The time for tears has come and gone.

You passed from our lives a year ago. It’s sad Nance, that you won’t see your son on a hilltop be married to an amazing woman, Kristin. They moved back to Binghamton, the virus, and other events delayed a final gathering in your name until this day, May 15th.

But here are many of your friends and relatives, each carrying a Nancy story in their hearts, coming together to celebrate your life. You certainly made a mark. Your memory book is filling up. We made a mark together as well. We created a boy named Brian. As awesome a child as can be. He was our gift to the world.

He and Kristin will begin a new cycle on an autumn day in the finger lakes, hopefully under a sky that will be cloudless.

Clouds will come later…they always do. But the love between Brian and Kristin will keep those clouds at bay.

Today is your day Nancy. Enjoy the multitude of friends and family that fill this room. And then… Let It Be.

Escaping to the South

[Susquehanna River. Source is Mine]

The AMTRAK Car/Sleep train sped south at about 110 mph, the deepening southern landscape getting darker. Despite the intermittent snow, rain and spectacular weather we had survived up north, we then put up with 11 barking hot days in Florida. We have become ‘snow birds’…How could anyone live in such hostility.

The train had no WiFi. All we had was each other and the data on our phones. We were in the last car of a train that was a least 20 miles long. The rocking and rolling and swaying made reading impossible. But at least we had a private bath.

Those that flee the harsh weather, snow to be shoveled and the challenge of winter have to be younger to survive the trip. We were traveling at the speed of sound. This is an exaggeration of course, it had not been broken at all.

[The Future of Florida? Common mode of transportation.]

Back To The Beach

I’m sitting at the dining room table in our house in Fort Meyers, FL. It’s probably 90 something outside. We were here before, about two streets over, back in November, 2014 to January 1, 20015. We were pulling a small RV back in those days. This time we own a small cottage which will be used to escape the brutal winters of the Adirondacks. Not much has changed here. The WiFi still is not strong but the pool is refreshingly warm (I don’t do cold water).

I admit that those winters drove us away. If you’re one of my many friends from FB, I agree. I should have moved south years ago. We took the car/train from Washington, DC to Orlando. It cut hundreds of miles off our driving time. Each hour that ticked towards darkness, swallowed us further into the heart of the south.

[The south drifts by at sundown.]

We got a good price for this place and the past several days we’ve Walmarted and Costcoed our own imprint into the place. All the posters of sand dollars and conch shells, Flamingos and periwinkle shells were everywhere.

Now we’re going to put our own shell posters and shadow boxes with shells wherever we choose.

And here is something I haven’t said in several years:

“Mariam, let’s go swimming.”

Nearly There

The purpose of this short but sweet blog is two-fold. The first is to let you know that we are on our way to our house in Fort Meyers, Florida. It was just as the snow was nearly melted at Rainbow Lake when we decided to see what it was that we bought. It’s going to be hot and it’s going to be humid, much like we needed it.

The flowers shown above are from the rear of the parking lot behind Starbucks which is located just beyond the car lot at our Marriott Residence Inn. I thought you’d like to see the colors unlike the small patch of green outside our lot at the Residence in Scranton.

We’re taking the car/train from Lorton, VA to Orlando.

The tree colors are better than snow and patches of green.

The second reason for this blog is to try out my new iPad. This my first blog attempt at this…while the fish bakes.