It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

~~A.A.Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh

So, what brought you back to me, Moxie? I watched you wandering around the pool, and you looked intent. You found me back here among the palms, in the cool air. The sun was getting too intense for me. And I needed this quiet space…away from the chatter and the waterfall that makes a bit too much water music. Soothing, I know, but I need the quiet. But you know that already, don’t you? This is where you found me on that first day. Now you’re back. Are you here to say goodbye? Did you want a farewell kiss on your forehead? Did you want to brush my grey hair once more with your tanned fingers? A hug? Why did you seek me, Moxie?

You: I want to hear the rest of your story. I want to hear about how it all ends for you and your lovely wife.

Me: Well, come closer. My throat is a little rough today. But the story won’t be really over until we are seated on American Flight #AA4555 tomorrow afternoon. I suppose you could argue that the real end is when we deplane at LaGuardia and wait for the Uber in 41℉ weather. In case you’re curious Moxie, where we sit it’s 76℉. Sorry, my friend, I got sidetracked. I’m an old science teacher remember.

You: The story, Patrick. How does it end beneath these palms? LaGuardia will have to be your problem. I’m only here for you when you are here.

Me: Well, I finally got to sail again. It’s one thing that I can say I truly love. Mariam and I sat at the stern. The winds blew strong. I heard the Captain say that we were doing 8 knots. Then I heard him mumble, ‘that’s fast for this ship.’ We watched a glorious sunset to the west and the Full Moon rising in the east. I was in my element, Moxie. The wind. The sun. The sea.

Let me tell you a story within my story. Do you have to be anywhere? No? Good. Move a little closer. Mariam and I made the required pilgrimage to the Hemingway House. (I stood behind the velvet rope holding the tourists from his writing studio.) There was his typewriter. His desk, books, cot, chairs and open windows. Our guide said that if you stood long enough you might channel Ernest’s spirit. I think he spoke quietly to me. He said something like ‘you’ve got a long way to go, friend, to catch up to me’. I’m sure he meant it with all respect. But, I dunno, Moxie. The man put a shotgun in his mouth when he was sixty-one. Curious. It was in 1961.

You: But that’s not the story is it? It’s kind of depressing.

Me: He was a depressed man, Mox, from a line of depressed family. But you’re right, it’s too sad to dwell on. So the rest of the story…He went abroad to cover the Spanish Civil War. His second wife stayed behind, here at his house in Key West. The guy was quite macho to say the least. Hunting. Fishing. Boxing. Yes, he had a small boxing ring built beside his house. His wife (the 2nd remember) got wind that he was traveling in the company of a certain female correspondent. The man was a lot like me. He fell in love quickly and often. So, his wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, had the boxing ring torn down and put a full size swimming pool in its place. Out of spite.

When he returned from Spain Pauline met him at the front gate. She had a surprise for him. She led him around the corner, through the palms, scattering the polydactyl cats and brought his to the poolside. He took one look.

“Where the hell is my boxing ring? How much did this…this pool cost anyway?

“$20,000, she said.” I’m sure there was not a great deal of love in her eyes.

The famous author reached into his pocket and pulled out a new, shiny penny.

“If you’re going to take $20,000 from me, you might as well take my last red cent. He threw it on the ground and stormed away, most likely to Sloppy Joe’s to drown his sorrows. Pauline had the penny embedded in a patch of cement.

[And here is the penny.]

Me: So that’s my story inside my story. There’s not much else to say. We bar hopped and listened to Wagon Wheel played well by a 3-piece band. We ate great seafood. We swam in our pool. Mariam sipped Chardonnay. We began packing this afternoon. I will pull out my fleece jacket and ready it for New York City.

I guess the time is approaching when we have to say our goodbyes. We may never meet again, Moxie. But we will stay close in each other’s memories. We’ll at least be in the same Time Zone. I will think of you when the summer wind blows. I’ll think of you when I walk barefoot on the beach of Coney Island. I’d send you a message in a bottle, tossing it into the Hudson River when the tide is going out. I would, you know that. But, alas, the ocean currents would take that bottle and deposit it on a lonely stretch of the Irish Coast. Whoever would read it would have no idea of who you are or who I am.

Maybe that’s all for the best.

If I see you standing in the moonlight tonight in the middle of Fleming Street. I may walk out and give your damp curls a brief innocent kiss. Maybe.

But maybe it’s all for the best if I didn’t. I will always remember how you were eager to hear my stories.

It’s about stories…

A few extra photographs for you.

[An olive oil jug. The rectangular tiled piece was once a men’s urinal. Now it’s a drinking trough for Hemingway’s cats.]

[A note to my readers: I used yet another quote of Bob Dylan for the title. All photos are mine.]

My 600th Blog: Lat. 24 N./Long. 81 W.

[Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter. Located at the Hemingway House Museum, Key West, Florida. Photo is mine.]

Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be.

~~Ernest Hemingway

I am sitting in the air-conditioned Monroe Country Public Library (Key West Branch). It’s quiet, cool and has a WiFi that takes no prisoners. I chose this place to celebrate the posting of my 600th blog. (Confused? See Title.)

So I posted my first real blog on July 18, 2012. It was an excerpt from my first published novel Standing Stone (2012). I was totally unsure as to whether I had the energy and ability to write real content. In truth, only a year before I had very little idea what a “blog” was. I’m still learning. If my math is correct, that’s close to eleven years ago. I was sixty-four years old. When I’m sixty-four, I probably thought at the time, where will I be in eleven years from now? It wouldn’t be telling lies if I said that in my most dazzling dreams, I’d still be pounding on the keys of my laptop (actually, today I’m using my iPad) and trying hard to amuse and inform and entertain. Time will tell if I’ve succeeded.

What follows is a short list of the various places and topics I’ve written about in the years after 2012. They are scatter-shot…in no particular order. Just a quick look back:

I’ve told you stories of Adirondack Trolls, my frustration with snow, ice and sub-zero weather, thermometers that never run a battery down. You’ve heard of the joys and hardships of living in Big Bad New York City. I’ve reposted a true story of my father’s youth, “Coal for Christmas” every December (does that throw my count of posts off??).

I shared my joys of visiting my daughter, Erin and her husband and my only grandchild, Elias from Orting, WA. You’ve read numerous complaints about my bad back and the health issues I’ve had (including my diagnosis of leukemia).

I wrote of my love for the desert and our wandering in Death Valley and the Mojave. Numerous tales were written from England, Ireland, Portugal and Paris. I told you how I celebrated several birthdays in recent year (i.e., when I turned sixty-eight, Mariam and I walked sixty-eight steps along the nave of Wells Cathedral and paused to kiss).

Sadly, I wrote too many posts of sad farewells of my family…and my very best friend of over sixty years, Greg Stella who passed in July, 2022. Rereading those posts still make me cry.

I’ve concocted outrageously silly stories of the demise of or moral failure of our favorite cartoon characters like Popeye, Dennis the Menace and Mr. Peanut.

I’ve shared ghost stories and posted ghost photographs (leaving you to be the judge of the real and the fanciful).

I wrote numerous recollections of my childhood sweetheart, my family home in Owego and my time-warping walks down Front Street in my aforementioned home town.

I described how, on a beautiful autumn afternoon (or was it in the spring?) of helping a cemetery caretaker dig a grave for a woman I never met.

There are many posts that told you of my love of the poetry of Bob Dylan. I even wrote a pre-death eulogy for him.

I’ve tried to celebrate my love for my wife, my children and my grandson. I told you how sad I got in Bruges, Belgium, Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and along a footpath in England.

I have played with different writing styles like noir and meta fiction. I’ve written short short stories.

And I did it all for you, my readers. I never wrote anything cruel, hateful or boastful. I was honest with you. I respect those of you who took a few moments out of your busy lives to read my efforts. Scrolling this page, I see that there are too many “I’s” and not enough “you”. I apologize.

I will close this rambling post with a photo and a microscopic story:

[The famous Key West Kapok Tree. Photo is mine. Taken by Mariam Voutsis.]

Legends about about the Kapok (native to Indonesia) Tree. One belief: The Devil entrapped a unwary carpenter inside the tree because he had the temerity to carve out rooms in the ginormous trunk. Another: The Tree is said to grow into the heavens (it is known to grow up to ten feet a year).

The Tree has many uses. It is soft so artists use the wood for carvings. It is used for dugout canoes and…caskets.

Good-bye for now. The beach beckons.

Be kind and never let anyone to be lonely or forgotten or be invisible.

Paradise Lost

[Sculpture from the MET. Photo is mine. Sadly, I failed to record the sculptor.]

No matter where you’re going it’s the wrong place.

~ ~Tobe Hooper

[BEFORE YOU CONTINUE: This blog post is not, in any way, an attempt to denigrate any staff, employees or anyone else who made every effort to make our short vacation enjoyable. Further, from Big Mama (that’s what her name tag read), to the housekeepers and food servers, they were more than helpful, friendly and eager to please. Any negative comments that follow are directed at the physical facility and the misrepresentations by the Travel Agency that apparently ran the raffle, that I won, that got us to the Bahamas. Think of this post as a kind of Yelp review.]

It’s a good thing I wasn’t even thinking about marijuana when I passed through Customs upon our arrival at Freeport in the Bahamas. I would never had made it through. But I wasn’t so I did. Once we stepped outside and into the warmth, I was very tempted to cross the taxi lane and peruse the souvenir booths. I had my eye on a “Tropical Shirt” or “Hawaiian Shirt” that had a color that made my eyes water. Your gaze needed to rest on the coconut trees to get any relief. Without even a chance to haggle the woman dropped the price to $25.00. I was sorely tempted, trust me. But I already own a respectable collection of those ‘retro’ shirts back home in New York. So I kindly declined and went back to where Mariam was guarding our luggage. I looked out at a few rusting sailboats and fishing boats. But before I knew it our taxi was pulling up to the curb. The taxi was loaded to capacity and we were off to our Resort hotel.

[Yet another stamp in my passport to brag about. Photo is mine.]

We stood for more time than I would have liked to get our room key. Then across the lobby to Big Mama’s desk. She was the concierge at the Taino Beach Resort & Club. I was handed the ferry schedule that would take us to Port Lucaya, where the shops and restaurants were located. We had a restaurant on the property but after being informed of the hours (11:00 am to 7:00 pm, with the last orders taken at 6:30. Lights were out at 7:00 pm.). I haven’t eaten dinner at 6:00 pm since the late ‘50’s, so it would mean stocking up on junk food from the hotel lobby to see me through the night. The hours the shop were somewhat unclear, because every time I went down to grab a bottle of fresh water, I was often met by darkness and locked doors.

But to return to Big Mama and our check-in and orientation: She keep telling us and everyone else about the necessity of having bottles of water. That was all I needed to hear. The red flags went up. I recalled a very good friend and former teaching colleague telling me about how he (even after many warnings) ordered a gin and tonic in Istanbul, Turkey with ice. He developed a case of Giardiasis. Let just say it was a nightmare for him and something that stuck in my mind.

So I mansplained to Mariam that it was only to be bottled water, even to wet a toothbrush while we stayed. It was only after a Google search to the World Health Organization that I learned that tap water in the Bahamas was safe.

Next, Big Mama snapped a wrist band on the two of us. Since there were only a relatively few people around, I wondered why the band? I thought of the following reasons:

—Glass Bottom Boat Excursion

—Deep-sea fishing

—Snorkeling

—Ocean swimming

—Capsizing

On that level it all made sense. But the band reminded me of the last overnight stay at a hospital. Wearing it around the Resort, I felt like an escapee from Bellevue.

[The infamous band. Photo is mine.]

I’m now looking at my watch. It’s 4:14 pm on Tuesday. We’re in a Marriott Courtyard in Fort Lauderdale and I so want to get to the roof-top pool and bask in the 82℉ and read.

So, I’ll speed things up a bit.

We arrived at Room 210. We opened the door. We saw what was essentially two single beds…not true singles, but not double. There were no beach/palm tree paintings on the wall. In fact, there was nothing on the wall. I went into the kitchen and flipped on the light. I opened the cabinet that contained one wine glass, one bowl, one coffee cup, two plates and zero utensils. I checked the bathroom. The water was loudly dripping into a tub with no stopper. I saw my soaking bath fly out of the Venetian blinds. I was momentarily conflicted. Should we accept this and tough it out or should we try to locate another room…or another hotel? I thought: We seasoned travelers and we are adaptable. The the housekeeper left. I flicked the switch on the wall. Nothing. There was no light in the living area. I even pulled the chain on the ceiling fan thinking there was a light up there. There was indeed a light, but the bulb was dead. I ran after the housekeeper who, after looking my panicked eyes, went to another room and returned with a table lamp. I hope the occupants of that room weren’t as needy as I was concerning light.

It wasn’t long before Mariam and I discovered that we were in WiFi Limbo.

Mariam: “I think I remember Big Mama saying that the WiFi was only available in the office, by the pool and in the restaurant. We did have a signal but it was so weak, a slight breeze would blow the WiFi signals out through the Venetian blinds.

We made two trips ($16.00 r/t) to Port Lucaya. The ride was a tediously unbearable six minutes long. On Sunday evening, we visited Port Lucaya for the last time…mostly for two reasons: To have dinner at a civilized late hour and to mail three postcards (one to a friend in the City and one to Brian and one to Erin). We’ll be back home planning our next trip before they get their cards.

So that’s about it. Our voyage back to Florida on the Margaritaville-at-Sea went uneventful save for last night howling nightmare I had. But that’s another story for another time.

I did love the beach at our Resort. Beautiful sand and that sea color I’ve never seen on any artist’s palette. I just wish the Travel Agency had been a little more honest about what we were getting into. Their descriptions were not outright lies. Rather they were grossly misleading and overstated.

We saw a young couple standing outside the office on our second day.

Me: “Enjoying things, so far?”

The Man: “We saw our room. We’ve booked another hotel.”

Me: “Really?”

The Man: “It’s a case of I worked too hard to settle for this.”

I took his point. But I lacked the energy to move out of a house that was very slowly burning down.

[Taken a few hours ago in the lobby of the Marriott Courtyard on N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. I have no idea what it means but I’m sure it has to do with sex. Photo is mine.]

We Dream In Colors Borrowed From The Sea

[The beach at Taino Beach Resort. Photo is mine.]

Like painted kites

Those days and nights, they went flyin’ by

The world was new

Beneath a bright blue umbrella sky…

~ ~The Summer Wind. Lyrics by Henry Mayer & Hans Bradtke

Slide your beach lounger closer, Mariposa, the white plastic is making my eyes water. There plenty of room for the two of us under the Palm Thatch Tiki Hut. If the onshore breeze get too cool for you, you can always rely on my warm arms. But don’t get too close. The Aloe Vera gel on my sunburn is still sticky. I have a few things to talk about. You do know, Mari, that I have two more nights here before I have to get back to Jimmy Buffet’s Cruise Boat. (Why it’s called Marguaritaville-at-Sea is beyond me.) I know you will miss me like the sun on a rainy day…but who knows…I may come back sometime, in the distant future, riding the summer wind.

But, I digress.

Yesterday we handed over $18.00 for a return trip to Port Lucaya. The trip lasted all of five minutes. That works out to $3.60/minute. If you calculated a similar trip from New York City to California…I don’t need my calculator to tell me that trip would run about $68,000.

Port Lucaya is where there are more restaurants and Gucci gift shops and bars (The Rum Runner looked inviting) than we have here. And it’s only five minutes away. Most of the shops were closed but we did manage to find a convenience store where I stocked up on my midnight snacks and a can of Coconut Water. That last purchase got me to thinking. How did water get inside a coconut? I’ve seen enough castaway movies to know that the person with that Island Survival Knowledge always chops the top of a coconut and gulps the liquid thereby avoiding dehydration and thereby saving all the others from a grisly death from drinking fetid seawater.

So I googled Coconut Water like a good blogger. The ‘water’ is really a clear liquid that serves as a suspension for the endosperm of the coconut during its nuclear phase of development. [Note: “Nuclear” in this case has nothing to do with Polonium 210 or any other of those fun elements at the bottom of the Periodic Table.]

Back to Port Lucaya. I managed to find a post box to dispatch two postcards to my daughter and son. Interestingly it was fire-engine red and had the E-R logo. As a former colony of Great Britain I get it. But I wondered if the changeover to a King Charles logo (it’s gonna be very expensive in England!) will apply to former colonies. I wonder. We (the USA) does have our own issues with former colonies. Texas and Florida come to mind. But I’ve found myself caught inside yet another digression.

As I write this, I’m keeping an eye on my iPad battery. I’m down to 60% and nowhere to plug in. Mariam’s iPad is at 51%. The sun is burning my shoulders while my fingers are slightly numb. Don’t ask. The beach is beckoning. I need reading time as does Mariam. We should also take a walk to burn off last night’s midnight snacks.

So it’s back to plug in at Room 210. Time for a walk. Time to think, read and dream.

Reading and dreaming is always best left to a chair and shade and sound of the never ending waves from a silver-green sea.

[Why do they need a pool when you have the ocean? Photo is mine.]

[Author’s Note: In no way am I attempting to make many of my friends and readers be jealous of me. Many of you have just finished shoveling several feet of snow. This trip was ‘won’ in a drawing. But I’ve paid my dues at the working end of a shovel. Enjoy these posts for what they are meant to be. Entertaining and enjoyable.]

Balmy Latitudes

I’m sailing the summer wind

I’ve got whiskers on my chin

And I like the mood I’m in

As I while away the time of day…

~~Gordon Lightfoot “Christian Island”

You’ll have to move your stool closer, Gloria. I need to multitask right now. I’m making notes on a new blog and, while talking to you, I have to filter out the ‘music’ being piped in about six feet above my head. I will never understand why piped-in music doesn’t include a Nocturne by Chopin or a long movement by Scriabin. I’m not sure what it is I’m listening to. There is a bit of Island music, some beach songs and “Wasting Away Again in Margaritaville ”, all twenty versions. To make my meager efforts even more difficult, I’m going to write the blog on my iPad…something I’ve been able to accomplish only twice before (well, maybe three times). This is not an easy task since my iPad is probably older than my son, who is slowly making his way to middle age. My apologies, Brian but July is your thirty-sixth birthday. Gloria, do me a favor and find the bar…it’s behind the potted palms and order me a Diet Tonic with an ample slice of Lime. I need my Vitamin C. You can order yourself a Double Lime Ricky. Put it on my tab. Oh, and don’t forget four bags of Cheez-its. I’ll need the Polyunsaturated Fats (1.5g) to get me through this blog…not having my laptop at hand.

But, I digress.

I’m sitting on the deck of Level 11. We’re abroad Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Cruise Ship, the Paradise. My Apple Watch tells me it’s Breezy and 82 F. That’s a far cry from 36 and rainy back in New York City. I’m not a Cruise-Guy, so you, my dear readers, might be wondering why I’m on this boat, (which will depart around 5:00 pm and will be setting our bearing for Freeport in the Bahamas. What I will relate is not a long story so you still will have time after reading this to order in a pizza and a dozen donut holes with Chipotle sauce.

I guess it’s time I got down to the real writing…

Please do not misconstrue this blog as a faintly disguised attempt at bragging. I’m not a braggart in anyway. In truth, I despise those who feel the need to embellish their barely tolerable lives by making the little simple things more than they are. I simply feel the need to make my barely tolerable life interesting by doing the right thing and telling you the truth.

So, here’s the truth…

It started last April 21, 20022. Mariam was having PT after her shoulder surgery in February. We were in Fort Myers, Florida. I always met her after her sessions and we would go somewhere for lunch. Our usual Cafe was closed and a sign in the window directed us to their sister restaurant…a Greek place on San Marcos Avenue. It was very warm so we elected to eat outside, in the shade of a large umbrella. After finishing my cheeseburger and Mariam polished off her salad, we went inside…she headed to the cashier and I for the restroom. She was waiting outside in the sun as I walked to the door. Something on a card table caught my eye. It was a clear plastic box with a slot on the top. The placard behind the box had an enticing image of sandy beaches and Palm trees. I don’t remember even reading the message, but I instinctively knew it was a raffle. The only time I ever entered a raffle was in the late ’70’s. I think I won a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. This time I took a few minutes to fill out the slip of paper. I folded it twice and pushed it into the plastic box. What can it hurt, I thought?

Yes, you guessed it. A few months later I received a call from a man who said I had won a raffle. By that time, I had totally forgotten about the plastic box and the slip of paper. Of course, I immediately had suspicions so I cut to the chase.

“It’s a Time-Share thing isn’t it?” I said.

“Nope.” He said.

“Be honest with me sir, I’m nobody’s fool. I’ve been around the block. I’m a senior but you can’t intimidate me because of my grey hair” I said.

He said: “No strings, sir.”

“Nothing is not without strings” I said, quietly questioning my grammar.

“So I’m not going to end up selling my car to a guy named Pogo behind a used car lot in Boca?” I said.

“You have my word.” He said. “Now, let’s talk about your trip.”

“Okay.” I said.

He said: “There are port fees and a few other monetary details to go over.”

There always are, I thought. There always are.

~ ~ ~

So, by time you, dear readers, will get around to reading this, we will be on our way to The Fins Restaurant where we have an 8:30 seating. It’s not a long cruise but we will be passing near The Bermuda Triangle. So if we get sent through the portal into a parallel universe, I certainly hope you enjoyed my blogs. You can always click ‘LIKE’ in memory of all I’ve done for you.

It’s been great.

[Me, I hope. Soon. Photo: My picture from the hallway of Level 6.]

[Last evening in West Palm Beach. Photo is mine.]

Don’t Be Fooled By Trompe-l’oeil

[Illustration source: Google search. Artist Erik Johansson.]

Why did Van Gogh become a painter?

–Because he didn’t have ear for music.

~~

Whenever my artistic girlfriend is sad, I let her draw on my body…

–I gave her a shoulder to crayon.

~~

I used to do fine arts, until I decided I didn’t like arts.

–Now I’m doing just fine.

~~

When you’re colorblind in an art gallery, every thing is a pigment of your imagination.

~~~

So, as I was saying, I came close to being arrested by the Art Police (Security) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) about two weeks ago. What, you may very well ask, were you doing? Trying to find a cavity in Mary Magdalene’s molar in the Medieval Hall? Did you haggle over the $17.00 glass of wine in the Balcony Lounge? Unwrapping a mummy? Or did you try to slip a halter top on Andromeda in the Sculpture Hall?

Actually it was none of the above.

I had spent more time admiring the newly restored and painted statuary in the Greek and Roman Art Gallery. It was awesome to see the statues in living color. I felt like Marcus Aurelius in flannel-lined jeans. We lingered until Mariam pointed out that she thought there was another exhibition I had mentioned. Yes, I said. There is something about Cubism and something or other on the second floor. I checked my Apple Watch. We had forty-five minutes before we were due at the Balcony Lounge for S. Pellegrino, Chardonnay and Hummus with Pita. We had time. The walk would be good for me. I needed the exercise. We headed for the escalator.

On the way, Mariam pulled out the exhibition folder and said: Here, is this it? It’s called Cubism and the Tromp…I stopped on a dime. Wait, I said. Trump? I’m done here. Let’s go home…No, wait, she said. It’s called Cubism and the Trompe-l’oeil Tradition.

I told her the only French I knew was to say “Zwei bier, bitte”. I had so find a bench to sit. I was shaking. I thought it you said…C’mon, she said. It’s not anything political. I felt relieved. A few minutes later we entered Gallery 199. We walked slowly through the rooms, absorbing the ambience of artistic…art when I spotted something on the wall. I walked over. It was framed (!). But something wasn’t right. There was a nail sticking out. I stared. No, there are several nails sticking out. I glanced around for the Security to alert them to the danger of someone snagging a sweater or a Polo Golf Shirt on those dangerous nails.

[Notice the nails. Photo is mine.]

Upon closer inspection I was astonished to see that it was only a painting of a nail. My tension eased. Besides, the Security Guard, whose name tag read: Richard, was chatting up the red-head Security Guard from Gallery 201, (name tag read: Amber. He was making headway.) I stood back. This was something else indeed. I walked back the first room and read the writing on the wall. Whoa. This was Trompe l’Oeil. I scratched through my fanny pack for my French Phrase Book. It meant the eye deceives. Suddenly, a memory flashed before me. I remember a poster I had back in the early ’70’s. It was M. C. Escher, perhaps one of the most famous graphic artists in a long time. It was all coming back to me…

I returned to Gallery 199 and looked for more. I saw a painting from half-way across the room. I swear it looked like something was painted on wood. Wait, I thought. I assumed that artists used stretched canvas to paint on. Moving closer I was amazed to see that it was a painting of wood on canvas. I was feeling dizzy. This was awesome. This was really fun to look at.

[Indeed. Wood painted on canvas. Photo is mine.]

This was heady stuff. And there was more:

[I wanted to open the curtain a little more. Boy, was I fooled. Photo is mine.]

I felt Mariam pull on my sleeve. Look at that one, she said. I looked. Whoa. I’d better get over there and keep all that stuff from falling on the nicely polished hard-wood floor.

[Fooled again…Photo is mine.]

The painting above impressed me the most. Notice the comb interacting with the leather strap. This was not an exhibit I will easily forget. We walked through a few more rooms. I checked my Apple Watch. Time for hummus at the Balcony Lounge. After paying the bill (large enough to choke a horse) we made for the main exit doors and. There’s a yellow, Mariam said, let’s hurry and get it. I slowly descended the grey granite steps and walked to the cab, passing a saxophone playing the blues…in the rain…on glorious 5th Avenue…under a leaden sky…in the Greatest City in the World.

I was secretly hoping that cab was really there…and not just painted on the pavement.

~ ~ ~

I am sad to say that I lost my M. C. Escher book sometime in the last forty years. (I think it was a Tuesday). In the meantime, I’ve been busy trolling the Internet. Talented street artists have done some mind-blowing work with 3-D visual arts. Here are just a few examples: Enjoy…

[Park Bench. Artist: Julian Beever. Bored Panda.com]

[A common theme in this genre, fear of heights. Source: Google search. Bored Panda.com]

[Source: Google search.]

[Source: Google search. Artist: Erik Johansson]

[Source: Google search. Paste magazine]

[A living room rug to die from for. An advertisment from Tempu.]

[The shower is especially dangerous. Tempu]

A final word to my friends and readers: I apologize for not providing a full description of the artists at the MET. I don’t think I ever forgot my Moleskin notebook before that day in the Museum. The two ads were photos of iPad images. Tough to do. If you’ve enjoyed this post, ‘like’ it and move on with your life…which is, I’m sure, far more interesting than the musing of someone who can barely paint a brick with a brush from Ace Hardware. I never had an art class until I moved to NYC in the early ’90’s. Well, actually I took a six-week Screenprint and Etching course in Poole, England during my year in the UK. Full disclosure: My etching of Durdle Door in Dorset…I did it the way I saw it. But, it will print in the reverse.

Oops, I’ve done it again.

I will leave you with Escher’s most famous pieces. I believe it’s called Waterfall. Find a book about all this. You’ll love it.

[Artist: M. C. Escher. Source: Google search.]

To Elias on His 10th Birthday

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

And may you stay Forever Young

~~Bob Dylan Forever Young

Dear Elias,

You have been the very best grandson anyone could ask for. I remember when your mother called me with the news that she was expecting a child. It seems like yesterday. In the years that have passed we all are ten years older. Emmy and I were in our 60’s. Oh, where do the years go?

I came to Orting to visit you when you were an infant. Many people were in your mom and dad’s house to watch the Super Bowl. You fell asleep on my tummy…you slept until half-time. Then someone else took you so I could go to the bathroom! I would kiss your tiny head and I nearly cried when my lips touched your warm head. You were always warm.

[Elias has a treat.]

You grew up so fast, Elias, so fast I could hardly keep up with you when I visited you a few years later. I remember how you would always wait by the big window and wave at the man who drove the garbage truck down your street. He always waved back. Someday you may forget doing that, but the driver, I suspect, will never forget the little boy in the window.

Oh, where did the years go?

After you took your first steps, I was able to take walks with you, mommy and Emmy. My legs hurt so I had to try very hard to keep up. Little boys can walk fast.

[Three generations walking in the rain.]

Your father always seem to be taking pictures of you. I’ll bet you a nickel that his Elias Photo File is very full. Every year, in late October, your mom and dad would take you to pick out some pumpkins at a nearby farm. Every year your mom would put you up against a very big ruler. It was a perfect way to watch you grow.

I remember watching you take a very sudsy bath. Your mom would sit on the floor, put her feet up on the tub and play the ukulele and sing Wild Horses to you. When I think of you, sometimes it makes me sad to think how far away we live from each other.

[Elias at a playground in Orting, WA.]

You hiked in the mountains of the Cascades. Much of the time you rode in a backpack baby carrier on the shoulders of your mom or dad. You played in the sand at Cannon Beach, Oregon every holiday trip in many Decembers.

Oh, where do the years go.

[Elias at work on a toy truck.]

Your grandma and grandpa shared many special moments with you. And it makes us sad that we haven’t shared ALL of them. When you came to our house last summer you really enjoyed the Wild Center in Tupper Lake. You even crawled on the big spider web of ropes. I just sent you a microscope late last year. I hope you will get to know the tiny things we often don’t see with our own eyes.

[A new stereo microscope.]

So, I need to close this blog now. At the beginning I used a quote from my favorite poet and singer, Bob Dylan. Your mom and dad will tell you how powerful his words are.

Your are going to be a teenager in a few years. As you move up the grades in school you will learn many things. But remember this: You can grow up to be anything you want. A poet. A painter. A writer. A scientist. A doctor. A lawyer. An explorer. Maybe even a President. But whatever you do in life…make sure it’s your true passion.

But don’t grow up too fast. You are a superhero to your grandparents. Treat others with love and kindness and patience.

Stay true to yourself and please stay forever young.

To Chris: A Long Overdue Eulogy

[Taku Towers. Juneau Icefield, Alaska. Unknown Photographer.]

My older brother, Chris, would make slight cuts in an apple from our backyard in Owego, NY. This would allow the apple to shatter into bits of apple-shrapnel. No Surface-to-Surface missile would hit with such velocity, because he would mount the apple on the sharpened end of a sturdy stick. I would know. I was often the target during one of the Egan boys infamous “Apple Fights”.

But that’s another story for another time.

I can’t begin to enumerate the ways that Chris has influenced me. The photo above was one that either Chris or I could have taken. He was responsible for getting me a position on the Juneau Icefield Research Program in 1964. During those summer months on the glaciers Chris and I (and a few others) would camp in a remote region of the Gilkey Glacier, where we were confronted by an Alaskan Brown Bear. It was not a comfortable feeling to see a bear with a chain-link fence between us.

At the end of the season, several of us made a two-day hike off the Taku (or was it the adjacent Norris Glacier?). After a night bivouacing on a rocky ridge, I woke up inside a water-soaked sleeping bag. We had yet another to camp on the outwash plain at the terminus of the glacier. My bag was useless. So I slept with Chris inside his mummy bag. That’s what brothers do. I feel he saved my life that night.

I returned the favor when he and I got ‘turned around’ in the Adirondack forest. I found a way to locate our camp.

We spent our younger years family camping in the Adirondacks. Most often it was Golden Beach or Eighth Lake. Later, Chris found a booklet with the title: Trails to Marcy. The late ’60’s and into the early ’70’s were spent hiking in the High Peaks near Lake Placid. His back began to go bad. We took a few years off. Then, in 1980 or thereabouts, he discovered the St. Regis Wilderness Canoe Area. I joined him on many trips to Long Pond. He in the stern of his Guide Boat and I at the other end would silently row our way along the shoreline, exploring the bays and adjacent ponds.

1994 was our last trip to Long Pond. I would watch him sitting on his foam pad and staring into the campfire. He would live another year. Chris passed away on May 31, 1995 (…my birthday).

By my calculations, today would have been his 84th birthday. So, here’s to you, brother…

[L-R Chris, Denny, Danial and myself. Photo is mine. Date is unclear.]

[The first of four photos of me and my brothers. We recreated the poses three more times. Photo is mine]

[Lean-to camping in the early 1960’s. L-R My father, Greg Stella, Peter Gillette, Chris. Photo is mine.]

[Plaque at Heart Lake, Adirondac Loj. Photo is mine.]

I could write 500 pages and more about the adventures we had, but this one page will have to do for now.

This the best place to end this post. The Plaque inscription says it all.

I miss all my family. But Chris shared a dry sleeping bag with his little brother once. Happy Birthday, Chris.

My 75th New Year

[Source: Google search]

Some of you will be reading this post late on Sunday afternoon…after several Alka-Seltzer tablets. Some will be reading this tonight, before the Ball Drops in Times Square. Some of you will see who the blog is from and move on without a glance. “Oh, him again.” Some will see my name and say: “Patrick Egan, oooh he’s good. Another gem of unparalleled literary brillance.”

I’m thinking back on many December 31 nights. My brothers and I would have Dick Clark’s New Years Rocking Eve. My father, perhaps in his fifties or sixties would go to bed around 9:30 pm. Now, here I am at 75 and waiting for 11:30 or so to watch Anderson Cooper in the fog and rain. Hopefully Lady Ga Ga will perform. Maybe Bob Dylan will pop a few confetti-filled balloons after getting the thousands of people in Times Square all excited and elated by singing Desolation Row.

Yes. It’s finally over. 2022 was a, let’s say, interesting year. My best friend passed away and we moved to Manhattan. That’s a lot to deal with.

[Photo is mine.]

I love metaphors (and similes), even when I sometimes can’t tell the difference. I know the rule: Like vs Is, but I’m easily confused about a lot of things. So, I offer this simple metaphor to you, my wonderful readers:

This is a once-a-year event and a chance to reinvent yourself. But you have a rare gift in your lap right now. You have been given a crisp new map, neatly folded and sharply creased. When you open the map and spread it out on a table you will be alarmed for a second. This map has so many trails, paths and byways you’re confused. That’s the point. You can choose any path now. It’s all going to be new. It’s your choice how 2023 will go. But it takes a first step. There may be sadness in the months to come. Perhaps unlimited joy. You may cry but when the tears ebb, laugh your beautiful heart out.

[Photo is mine. Taken somewhere in England.]

Remember to close the gate behind you and keep your eye on the distant and beautiful hills.

The best of luck and Happy New Year!

Coal For Christmas

[My regular readers will recognize this story. I republish it every holiday season with a tweak here and there. This story is true and I am passing it down to new readers and my two children and my grandson. I hope you enjoy it. Have a great and meaningful holiday.]

[Winter scene by Paul Egan. Watercolor]

I am a grandfather now, feeling every ache and sadness of my seventy-fifth year.  The stories that my father told me about his father have taken on new meanings.  I’m the old one now, the last of the Owego Egan family.  I am the carrier of the family history.  When a recollection of a family event comes to mind, be it a birthday party, a funeral, a wedding or a birth, I get my journal and I write with haste, in case I might forget something, get a name wrong or a date incorrect.  Or, forget the event entirely. This is especially true when the snow falls and the Christmas tree decorations are brought down from wherever my parents lived  during any particular winter.  There is a certain melancholy mood that comes with the wintertime holidays.  The sentiment of A Christmas Carol comes to mind.  It is a time to listen to the winter wind blow, put a log on the fire, pour a little more wine and to recall and celebrate the memory of those who have passed on.

It’s time for a Christmas story.  It’s time to think again about your family (and mine) and how they lived their lives so many decades ago. 

I was raised in the post-war years.  My parents were not saying anything original when they would tell me, or my brothers, that we had to be good…very good…or Santa would not leave us any brightly wrapped present, red-ribboned and as big a box as a boy could hold.  No, Santa would not leave such a wondrous thing.  But he wasn’t so vengeful to leave nothing in our stocking.  No, he would leave a lump of coal…if you deserved nothing more.

My father grew up poor.  Not the kind of poor where he would walk barefoot through ten inches of snow to attend school or go from house to house asking for bread.  It was just the kind of poor that would keep his father only one step ahead of the rent collector.  Dad would often make a joke about poor he was as a child.

“I was so poor that I would get roller skates for Christmas but I would have to wait until the next year to get the key,” he would say with a sly smile.  It was a joke of course…wasn’t it?

His parents provided the best they could, but, by his own admission, he was raised in the poverty that was common in rural America in the 1920’s.  My grandfather and my grandmother should be telling this story.  Instead, it came to me from my own dad and it was usually told to his four sons around the time it came to bundle up and go out, find and cut a Christmas tree.  I heard this story more than once when it was cold and snowy in the 1950’s.  In the years when my father was a child, the winters were probably much colder and the snow ever deeper.

It was northeastern Pennsylvania. It was coal country and my grandfather was Irish.  Two generations went down into the mines.  Down into the shaft they would go, every day before dawn, only to resurface again long after the sun had set.  On his only day off, Sunday, he would sleep the sleep of bones that were weary beyond words. 

Because of some misguided decision on his part, my grandfather was demoted from mine foreman to a more obscure job somewhere else at the pit.  Later in life, he fell on even harder times and became depressed about his inability to keep his family, two boys, Paul and Jack and two girls, Jane and Nelda comfortable and warm.  It all came crashing down, literally, when their simple farmhouse burned to the foundation.  After seeing his family safely out, the only item my grandfather could salvage was a Hoover.  My father could describe in minute detail how he stood next to his dad and watched him physically shrink, slump and then become quiet.  He rarely broke the silence after that and died in a hospital while staring mutely at a wall.

But all this happened years after that special Christmas Eve that took place in my father’s boyhood.

It was in the early 1920’s.  The four children were asleep in a remote farmhouse my grandparents rented.  Sometime after mid-night, my father woke up to a silence that was unusual and worrisome.  It was too quiet.  There were no thoughts of Santa Claus in my father’s mind that night—the reality of their lives erased those kinds of dreams from his childhood hopes.  There was no fireplace for Santa to slide down.

He pulled on a heavy shirt and pushed his cold feet into cold shoes that were five sizes too large, and went down stairs to the kitchen where he knew his parents would be sitting up and keeping warm beside the coal stove.  But the room was empty and the coal fire was nearly out. My father managed to find three lumps of fist size coal hidden or forgotten behind the bin. The only light was from a single electric bulb, hanging from the ceiling on a thin chain.  My father noticed the steam of his breath each time he exhaled.  He called out.

“Mom? Dad?”

He heard nothing.  Shuffling over to the door, he cracked it open to a numbing flow of frigid outside air.  In the snow there were two sets of footprints leading down the steps and then behind the house.  He draped a heavier coat over his shoulders and began to follow the tracks.  A pale moon helped light the way.  The tracks led across a small pasture and through a gate.  From there the trail went up a low hill and faded from his sight.  He followed the trail.  Looking down at the footprints he noticed that they were slowly being covered by the wind driving the snow into the impressions.  A child’s fear swept over him.  Were the young kids being abandoned?  It was not an uncommon occurrence in the pre-Depression years of rural America.

In his young and innocent mind, he prayed that the hard times hadn’t become that hard.  But deep within, he knew of his parents’ unconditional love and concern.  He knew he and his brother and sisters were cherished and loved.

He caught his fears before they had a chance to surface.  His parents were on a midnight walk, that’s all. A nearly full moon shining off the snow gave the landscape a light that helped him keep on the trail of the four footprints.

In his anxiety my father had forgotten it was Christmas Eve.

At the top of the hill, he saw a faint light from a lantern coming from a hole near the side of the next slope.  He slowed his pace and went to the edge of the pit not knowing what he would see.  He looked down.

He knew this pit from summertime games, but it was a place to be avoided in the winter.  The walls were steep and it would be easy to slip in the snow and fall the eight feet to an icy bottom.  The children never went into that field after the hay was cut and the autumn leaves had fallen.

He dropped to his knees and peered over the edge.

At the bottom of the small hole were his parents, picking various-sized lumps of coal from a seam that was exposed on the hillside.  They had nearly filled a bucket with the chunks of black rock.  They looked up, quite surprised, and saw my father standing a few feet above them.  They looked back at each other with a sadness that was heart-breaking.  They certainly didn’t want to be caught doing this in front of one of the kids, not on Christmas Eve.  They stared at each other and then up at my dad.

“Boy,” my grandfather said, “The stove is empty.  Come on down and help us get a few more lumps, will ya?”

My father was helped down and after only a few minutes his hands were black from the coal.  The bucket was filled.  They helped each other out of the pit and walked back to the house together.  My father and his father carried the bucket between them.

In a very short time the coal stove was warming up again.  My father sat up with his parents until they finished their coffee and the house was warmed a few degrees.  Dad kissed his mother and father and went upstairs to bed.  He fell asleep, he always would say, with a smile on his face.

Twenty some years after that midnight trip to the coal pit, my family moved to Owego, New York.  I was born two years later, in 1947.

. . .

When I was a young boy, my father took me aside one Christmas Eve.  I had not been a very good boy that day, and I was afraid. Neither of my parents, however, had mentioned the threat that would be used to punish a child if you were naughty and not nice.

My fear left me.  Father’s voice was warm and full of understanding.

“Pat,” he said, “If anyone tells you that you will get a lump of coal in your stocking if you’re not a good boy. Tell them: ‘I hope so,’ then wish them a very Merry Christmas.”

[Winter scene by Paul Egan. Watercolor.]