My 500th Blog !

[The Wanderer Over The Sea of Fog. Casper David Friedrich. One of my favorite paintings. Source : Google search.]

Dear Followers,

Open your oldest and best cognac and celebrate with me.  This is my 500th blog post! Finding topics and putting them into (what I hope were) clever words was not an easy thing to do. And to do it 500 times is, for me, a true milestone.

I would like to use this opportunity to look back at some of the good times we’ve had together…places I’ve shared, people I’ve introduced to you and topics I have chosen to explore. I wrote some as fiction, some in the second-person and I experimented with different styles of writing.

I have a small pebble on my shelf in my office. It looks like a meteorite. Tiny craters and black as though it spent time in a furnace. This is a token I took from the floor of Death Valley. The little pebble had been baked in the 120 F of many Death Valley summers. I can’t let you feel this stone, but I can share with you how I sat on the salt flats of Bad Water, where I found it. I can share it through a blog post.

Some general statistics:

-My posts have been read in 60 countries. That’s 30.8% of the world’s recognized countries according to Google.

-My first blog was “A New Blogger on Board” [Not something written by me but a generic welcome to WordPress.] That was published on July 15, 2012. That’s roughly 7 1/2 years of blogs.

-I posted something every month since the above date. I’ve duplicated a few, i.e Coal for Christmas which I put out every year in December.

-The most number of clicks (likes) were under the category of Home Page/Archives. Apparently this is people just looking my stuff over. I racked up 10,111 ‘clicks’ on that.

-The most clicks, by far, were for A Short History of Chains and Chain Making. 1,551 people read it.

-The least number of clicks were for The Moth. Only 8 people seemed to like it.

My personal favorite is This Old House. In it I spoke of how heartbroken I was  when I handed the keys to 420 Front Street, Owego, NY to the new owner. It was the only home I knew.

[420 Front Street. Photo is mine.]

I have taken you on two cross country road trips in our R-Pod. I’ve followed my grandson, Elias as he grew up. We shared numerous trips to Europe and I’ve shared two trans-Atlantic crossings on the Queen Mary 2. You’ve met our friends, Tim and Jo Ovenden who live in North Dorset, England. They have graciously accommodated us on several trips, providing us with a place to stay.

[Jo, Anna, Thomas and Tim Ovenden. Photo is mine.]

I have shamelessly used Fluffy in several posts in a feeble effort to peddle my books.

[Fluffy. Photo is mind.]

My sincere hope is that you have found my posts thought-provoking, funny, sad, introspective and at the very least, interesting.

I posted my 400th blog from a rented house in Joshua Tree, California almost two years ago.

I hope I get to a 600th with all of you.

Thanks for reading.

Patrick

 

I’m Not Sleepy

[Goya’s The Sleep of Reason. Photo credit: Goodle search.]

[NOTE: The following post is rated for sad.]

When I was a young boy, about a hundred years ago, my mother would sit on the edge of my little bed and stroke my brown hair. It was well after my bedtime. I should have been sleeping the sleep of the innocent.

“What do you think you’re going to miss, honey?” she would ask, her voice soft and concerned. “Try to sleep, please.”

“I can’t,” was all I could say.

“Close your eyes so that the sandman can find you and help you go to dreamland.”

“I can’t,” I said again. I wasn’t been bratty or difficult. I just couldn’t stop staring at the ceiling. Nothing much has changed in all these years. I fear the setting of the sun and oncoming darkness. I plead to my wife to not turn out her reading light until I fall asleep.

Sometimes it works.

And then in the morning, I wake from the usual nightmares with my heart pounding and my breath coming in gasps. (At least I don’t wake her up screaming and flailing about the bed like I did twenty years ago.

My dreams are full of frustration and anxiety. Typically, I’m caught in the school where I used to teach, frantic because I can’t find my classroom or my list of students. Sometimes I’m lost in a horrific version of a Manhattan that doesn’t exist on any map. I’m walking endless streets and wandering through a warren of a broken landscape. I’m trying to find my way home. I’m lost. I’m terrified and lonely…and then the dawn comes and I’m back at Rainbow Lake.

[Photo credit: Google search]

Out of breath and fearing what the next night will be like.

Bob Dylan wrote: “My dreams are made of iron and steel.”

My dreams are exercises in frustration and…loneliness. I feel somehow blessed if I can remember nothing of my nighttime. That is a rare morning.

I read that dreams occur during REM sleep. That’s not a good thing because it robs you of the deep sleep you need for a true rest. I never greet the dawn like they do in TV commercials…stretching and ready to take on the day.

I think my condition is inherited from my father. He struggled with insomnia for as long as I can remember.

My legacy to my children? I hope they have a love of books and reading and traveling…looking forward to drifting off with a good novel on their chest.

I don’t want to meet my daughter or my son on the midnight lanes I frequent.

I’d rather they find time to let the sandman into the bedroom.

[Nightscape. Photo source: Google search.]

 

It’s Not Easy

Elisa Pumpkins[Elias has to choose. It’s very important what to consider.]

[DEDICATED TO ELIAS MUIR GOLDSTEIN, MY GRANDSON]

It’s not an easy life being a child. No, the easy part of life is being a grown-up.  They can go to bed when they want, they can watch any TV show on the cable…like The Bachelor in Paradise or Hoarders, take a bath when they choose and even get to drive a car.

All is not perfect in child land at certain times of the year.

Like October. This is when the difficult choices begin to manifest themselves. The major issue at this time of the year happens to be pumpkins. Every year a child (except those that are home schooled and believe that Halloween is a satanic practice) has to choose the perfect pumpkin to display on the front steps of his or her house. This is not an easy matter. There are endless considerations to be made. To make a very long story somewhat shorter, I will use bullet points to illustrate my…points.

The usual first step for the parents is to take the child to a Pumpkin Farm. At such places, many choices come into play. Shall the child have a cup of cider? A candy apple? Or, perhaps a doughnut?

But then, reality begins. Choosing the absolutely perfect pumpkin. And this is the most difficult process of all. A child has to consider a number of factors in selecting the correct pumpkin. if I remember correctly from my childhood, this is what the youngster needs to consider:

  • How does the pumpkin heft? How do two pumpkins feel when held in each hand?  Is there a proper equilibrium?
  • How does the weight (or mass) compare with others with the same volume? This can be determined, in large part by the heft, but it is not based on solid scientific empirical data.
  • What is the carvability factor? How easy would the knife cut through the orange skin?
  • The size. Will the size support a proper face carving?
  • Is there enough surface area to support a carved face? Should it be scary or funny?
  • The specific gravity. How does the pumpkin relate to it’s volume in a bucket of water?
  • Does it have enough internal space (post-carving) to support a stub of a old dinner candle?
  • What is the Curb Appeal? Can this be seen easily from the street? Will it scare away trick or treaters or will it signal that goodies are to be had in the house that sits behind this special pumpkin?
  • What is the life span? How long can the child keep the pumpkin on the front porch before it becomes a moldy mass of yellow pulp that needs to be shoveled from the steps? Can it last into December?

So many things to consider when you’re a child. But the one thing that will not be a worry is that you will have a loving Mommy and Daddy that will tuck you into bed and tell you that the spooks and goblins are not real and that the candy will have to wait.

Then they can get back to Hoarders.

 

A Cemetery With a View

[The grave of Sa Sa Na Loft. Evergreen Cemetery, Owego, NY.

Photo credit is my own.]

I’m back in my home town of Owego, NY for a reason.  I have no one to visit.  Nothing to purchase (I did buy two books at River Row Book Store), but I was there on an early September afternoon for a sad occasion.  I was there to attend a memorial service for a long time friend of mine, Teri Ware Bramlett.  It was held at the Hickories Park under a glorious sky.  The Susquehanna River flowed slowly behind my chair. It was the color of an olive.

But this post is not about that.  Perhaps I’ll post my memories of Teri at a later date.  I had errands to attend to.  The top of my list was going to TOPS and buying flowers for my family’s grave at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.  Then I had to center myself.  Find the place where I can take in the whole of my early life.  And there is no other place than the “Indian Girl’s Monument” on Cemetery Hill (Evergreen Cemetery).  From there I can scan the valley below.  I can oversee my hometown like a king rules from the highest castle tower.

Certain places are obvious, other less so.  The trees are still full and green block some of what I wanted to see.

I sit on the bench with my wife.  I can see St. Patrick’s Church…where I was baptized and where most of my family’s funerals were held.  I can’t make out my old home, too many trees.  I can barely see the backyard of my childhood girlfriend’s house.  I see the Susquehanna, entering the view from the far left and fading off toward Pennsylvania to the right. I can see the Court House.  There’s Lake Street where I hung out with my friends in the 50’s and 60’s.  All of us overwhelmed by the power of hormones we never knew about until we bacame adults.

It’s all below me, but so far out of reach.  My youth was spent on these streets.  Memories began to flood my mind.

It’s time to go.

I realize I’m no longer a physical presence in this village, but I can never fully find myself free from the chains of the past.

There Must be a Story Here

[From my Instagram post. A Year or two ago.]

For those of my followers who track my movements or care where I am at any given time, here’s some help: I’m not wandering the forests of the North Country at this time.  I’m in New York City for the usual doctors appointments, Mariam’s meetings and visits with friends.  I also get a chance to check in with my son, Brian.  At this very moment I am avoiding the 91 degrees on the street by hiding out in Room 712 of the Marriott Courtyard…just across the street from Macy’s.

I’ve spent the last few hours pondering shoes.

A few years ago, I found myself strolling east on 35th Street in Manhattan, across the street from this hotel.  I noticed two pairs of men’s shoes (rather spiffy, I must say) neatly placed near a subway entrance.  I took a photo and put it out on Instagram. [See the above]

Yesterday Mariam and I were heading to Macy’s for some real shopping.  Most, if not all the shops in the area where we live would fit inside Macy’s city-block sized store.  Something caught my eye.  A flash of pink.  I looked down and there was a single sneaker, pink and small.  The owner must have been a little girl (my assumption) of about four years of age.  I tried to piece together a scenario the would result in how a lone toddler’s sneaker would be by a subway entrance on a very busy corner.  The parent was either carrying the child and the shoe fell off or the sneaker fell off a foot while being pushed in a stroller.

Whatever.  The shoe still went missing.

But, the pink shoe made me sad.  Across the street was the other subway entrance where I photographed the men’s shoes.

The street of lost shoes.

I hoped the parent of the toddler was not a needy person.  A child’s shoe is important.  Missing a shoe can be a financial burden.

What was the story about the man who left two perfectly fine shoes on the street?  Homeless?  Destitute?  Or well-off and was too tired of carrying around four extra shoes.

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so observant.  I could easily have mistaken the pink sneaker for a candy wrapper.  But I had to stop, think it over and take a picture.

I had to share my feelings of lost & found objects.  There’s a story behind everything that is left behind…on a trail in the woods or on a hot steamy pavement of a ridiculously large city like New York.

Life is hard enough.  It’s unbearable when you don’t have a proper shoe to carry you over the rough patches, the puddles, the snow drifts and the broken glass.

[The Pink Shoe]

 

The Holiday Card

[What follows is pure fiction. It is a short story that I hope you will enjoy. It’s not funny, but it’s what I wanted to write. Please don’t read anything into this post.]

It was during a brief April thaw, when a chance breeze blew the snow and a few minutes of sunlight melted the white crystals.  That was the moment I saw it.  I picked it up and slapped it against my thigh.  I could read my name on the envelope. I could read the return address in the upper left corner.

It was too late.  Things would never be the same now…never.

It’s a fairly well-known fact that men do not bond easily with each other.  We have trouble sharing.  True friends are hard to find and keep when you pass your fifties.  Friendships that last into ones seventies are indeed rare.  The thread that holds these long relationships are usually rooted in childhood.  If you’re lucky, one or two childhood buddies will grow old with you.  Such was the case of the one-time friend whose holiday card I held in my right hand.

We met in elementary school.  Played in each others back yards.  Entered into adolescence together.  In high school we traded secrets about girls…those mysterious beings that we thought constantly about.  We talked about first kisses and puzzled over the best way to find and unlock those strange bra hooks.

We had our first legal beers together.  We played high school sports together.  We went on camping trips together.

We were the best of friends.  As the years passed, other playmates drifted into different social circles.  But we stayed close.  We celebrated our jobs, listened to the same music and showered affection on each others children.

My friend and I went through divorces, sat in empty bars, looked at younger women and talked to each other and into our pints of beer.

When our retirements approached, things began to change.  He called less.  I emailed less.  Our visits to each others homes became more and more infrequent.

We were growing apart, something that seemed to me to be the opposite of what life would be like after retirement.  The phone calls went unanswered and the postcards stopped arriving.

In the late fall, I became quite annoyed by being ignored.  I unfriended him on Facebook.  I deleted his email address.  I stopped making meaningless phone calls.

I decided to put the issue to a test.  I sent him a holiday card.  If he sent one back, then I knew something of our friendship would survive.  If I got nothing, I knew that for some reason, he did not want to be a part of my life.

So, I waited.

A few holiday cards arrived but never did much to fill our mailbox.  Facebook and email greetings were slowly out pacing the USPS.

On Christmas Eve, I picked up the mail.  I placed the few cards on our bed.  There was nothing from him.  I knew then that our life-long friendship had come to a slow and sad end.  It would be a lie to say that I did not weep a little over a friendship that had lasted for over sixty years.  Men do have emotions.

* * *

It was in early March that I found myself browsing the internet.  I came to a Facebook page devoted to people in our class who had passed away.

I felt the blood drain from my face and I went numb when I read that my friend had died of a massive coronary a week earlier.

Then came the April thaw.  I had pulled the envelope from the snow and placed it on the top of our mica lamp to dry out.  When I felt it time, I sliced it open.  It was a holiday card from my friend…apologizing for not returning my calls.  I knew then that the card arrived before Christmas, but as I struggled to get out of my car, trying to avoid the unplowed snow, the card had slipped from the rest of the mail.  That afternoon, the snow-covered card was concealed…until April.

“Let’s meet up in the summer and take a hike,” he had written.

So, now I feel I know the real essence of loneliness.  I have no true male friends up here in the North Country.  My wife has always been and still is my best friend…but I don’t have a buddy.  A guy to shoot a game of pool with at the local Irish Pub, a friend to bounce writing ideas off,  a pal to sit on our deck (or his) and sip a cold beer.  We wouldn’t even have to say anything.  After all, its common knowledge that men don’t bond easily.  We have trouble sharing our personal thoughts orally, but we know each other’s minds.  Or so I thought.

But what men can do is sit, side by side, just sharing a beer and assuming we know what the other is thinking.

There is a large blank space in my life now.  My wife has to be two people.  The woman I married over twenty-five years ago and a mate that I have been close to for six decades.  It’s going to be a big job for her, but she’s more than up to the task.  The presence of my wife makes these things more tolerable but not less painful.

Me?  I can stare at our campfire and remember details of the adventures with my friend.  I can watch the ripples on the lake and remember my friend.  I can look to the far range of the High Peaks and remember the trails, snow-covered, rain-soaked and sweltering in the August heat…that I hiked with my friend.

Or, on a cold night like this, when the temperature outside is in single digits, our fire-place is crackling and warming our house and my wife is reading quietly beside me on her Kindle, I can sit mutely staring at the flames, throw on another log, watch the flames leap even higher.  I am thinking of the holiday card.  As the flames rise to the top of the wood stove, the loneliness for this old guy gets deeper.

[Photo is mine]

Like Living in a Holiday Greeting Card

[Photo is mine.]

Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.

–Lyrics by Sammy Cahn

I’ve never lived inside a greeting card before. You’d have to be really really thin, like Wiley C. Cayote after being flattened by a road paver. Never fear. My readers know that and that the title of this post is metaphorical. Having said that, I will admit that I could drop a few pounds.

So, consider the lead photograph at the top of your screen. Doesn’t our house look like a Disney version of Santa’s Workshop? It looks so cozy inside and it is. Outside, it looks like a winter wonderland…snowy and frozen.

Many of my friends from back in the day will read this blog in Florida and say: “Beautiful, but no thanks.” Others may look at the picture and say: “How cozy. How peaceful.”

[My photo.]

I used to love winter when I was growing up in Owego, NY. We had a toboggan, sleds, skates and shovels to pile the snow and make a ‘snow fort’. My views have changed since 1958. Consider this:

I have to get from the front door to the car in the driveway which means I have to shovel a path, clean the snow off the car and hope the battery isn’t dead. Then I look and see that the county plow has piled the road snow at the head of the driveway. We have a guy (last name is Winter by the way) who plows our driveway but to do so properly, the car needs to be moved. Can you see a problem in this situation? I can.

Now, for reasons I won’t get into here, we have two cars. My car is in the garage. Protected. But how do I get to said garage? I have to shovel a path from our porch to the back door. I need this path because every two weeks the recycling and garbage has to be brought to the large plastic buckets in the garage. Once these are filled, I have to shovel a short path so I can haul the bins to the roadside. Mr. Winter may have had a chance to clear that space from the garage door to the road. Sometimes he doesn’t have that chance…so I have to shovel.

The other day I brought up the idea of getting a snow-blower. They cost about $700 for a proper one that ‘drives itself’. I told my wife that we’d save on Mr. Winter’s plowing. We’d have the thing paid off in two to three winters. She said we’d still have to keep him on our payroll because when we’re away for the winter, the driveway needs to be plowed. It’s an insurance thing.

“But I have a bad back,” I told my wife.

“Then I’ll shovel,” she replied.

“Not with your dicey shoulder,” I retorted.

We’re at the classic snow-blower stalemate.

[A beautiful landscape. Photo is mine.]

So, what is the situation now? Well, I need one of those patches for my lower back after I shovel even a few yards. I possess five buckets of ice-melting stuff on hand as well as three cans of de-icer, three shovels, a child’s plastic sled to haul our groceries from wherever I can park the car to the front door.

You can see the front door in the top photograph. The one that looks so cozy and inviting. But there’s not many people on our road to invite to our cozy home. They’ve all gone south for the winter. Like the hummingbirds, geese and other seventy-something-year-old folks.

We will be spending the majority of this winter in England. We have a great place to stay at the home of long-time friends. But, last year they had a freak cold snap and several inches of snow fell in North Dorset.

I wonder if I can use an English shovel. They drive on the left…maybe there’s a shoveling etiquette?

If you get a holiday card from your son or ex-wife who now live in Tucson, savor the photo of the lovely, dry, snowless desert.

[Source: The New Yorker. Dec. 10, 2018. Artist is Peter Kuper.]