The Troll Of Barnum Brook Bridge

[The only known photo of the Barnum Brook Bridge Troll. Photo source: Google search.]

I stood in my kitchen staring at my Costco weather monitor. Mariam was busy looking for a container of low-salt broth. For twenty-two minutes I glared at the humidity reading. It was our eighteenth day of self-isolation. Except for a small incident involving two garbage bins, I hadn’t left the house. I was hoping something would happen with the humidity that would excite me, but it stayed on the Very Dry mode. I turned away in anguish and went downstairs to use our stationary bike. I plugged in my iTunes, put on my earphones and listened to Elvis Costello for ten minutes. The left peddle began to wobble. Not wanting to let it loosen too much I decided that ten minutes was more than enough.

Back upstairs in our living room, I stood at the picture window and waited thirty-three minutes for the Blue Jay to land on my suet basket. Nothing.

Mariam came to the door and said:

You need to get out. Go for a walk.”

As I layered up, my thoughts drifted to Coney Island. The sand, the surf, the hot dogs and the bikinis. One can still dream. I’m not dead yet, I thought.

I drove over to the Paul Smiths College’s Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) and went to the start my favorite short walk, the Barnum Brook Trail. I reminded myself to stay at least six feet away from anyone I met, but the parking lot was empty. I was on my own.

Part of the trail is a boardwalk with several bridges. I crossed the first bridge in fine spirits, my head was clearing. I was almost in a good mood, considering. I slowed as I approached the second bridge. This is not going to be pleasant, I thought. Sure enough, as I stepped onto the wooden crossing I heard the voice. It was louder than usual, rougher and more ugly than usual. There was true anger this time. From beneath my feet I heard:

[The Barnum Brook Bridge. Photo is mine.]

“Who’s crossing my bridge?”

It was the Troll of Barnum Brook Bridge. We’ve met before. He pulled himself out from the underside of the crossing and stood, blocking my path.

“Oh, it’s you. Well then you know what the deal is. You must answer my riddle or face a horrible death.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Okay, Troll, ask away.”

“Right then. First question is:

A boat is filled with people yet there was not a single person aboard. How is this possible?”

I pretended to ponder the posed puzzle.

“Because they were all married,” I finally said.

“Humph. Too easy. You must answer another one.

“Whatever.”

“I have branches, but no fruit or leaves. What am I?”

“Are you kidding? That’s easy,” I said.

“Answer!”

“A bank,” I said. “I need to move on.”

“Okay, those were easy, but you must answer one more question.”

“So ask, already,” I said.

“The more of this there is, the less you see. What is it?”

This was a new one so I had to pause. But I paused too long.

“You’ve lost! Now you must suffer a horrible fate.”

Then the answer came to me. “Darkness,” I said.

“Too late,” the Troll growled. “I will now grind your bones and have you for dinner.”

“You’re not grinding anything, except your green teeth. Order take-out tonight.” I squeezed past him, avoiding his fetid breath. “Besides, you’re not real. You’re just a bit of Norse mythology.”

As I walked off the end of the bridge I suddenly felt sorry for my final comment. We’re supposed to be kind to each other in these unreal crazy days. I turned around and said:

“Stay safe, Troll. See you when times get normal again.” He gave a small wave and climbed under the bridge, presumably to self-isolate.

When I walked into our kitchen, Mariam was busy preparing Tortellini and Zucchini Soup. I poured myself a glass of Chardonnay.

“I have a riddle for you, Mariam.”

“Hmmm.”

“What has to be broken before you can use it?”

“Oh, please. An egg of course. Now hand me the rosemary, please.”

I felt grateful that we were in self-isolation together. So many people are alone. Sad. But I felt so lucky to be in lock-down with such a smart woman.

“Baby, you’re the greatest,” I said as I handed her the jar of the herb. Then I went back to look if the humidity level had changed. It hadn’t changed a bit.

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

 

Casper “The Friendly Ghost” Reported Dead

I

 

It seems impossible. It seems beyond belief, but the news channels are reporting that Casper (aka The Friendly Ghost) has apparently been killed by an amateur Ghost Buster team operating out of Canarsie, Brooklyn. This unlicensed group called YOU FIND ‘M WE’LL SUCK ‘EM OUT OF HERE. LLC, apparently mistook Casper for a real demon ghost (we all know he’s not) and using a Neutrona Wand and Proton Pack (apparently ordered from eBay for $79.99 + tax) sucked Casper’s ectoplasm into their unit.

The groups spokesperson, Burt “The Buster” Banks had only this to say to waiting news reporters:

“Hey, he’s a spook…what do I know about friendly spooks?”

The initial report to police came in from some woman who only identified herself as “Wendy” and said that Casper was lonely and tired of scaring people.

“I don’t like this,” Casper was reported to say many times. “I want to make friends, but everyone is scared of me.”

According to background researchers, Casper was born Casper McFadden to an inventor father named J.T.McFadden, somewhere near New York City. Professor McFadden passed away years ago, but not before witnessing the death of his son Casper. The twelve-year-old child had been playing outdoors in cold weather and came in after midnight. He soon developed a fever and three days later died of pneumonia .

Meanwhile, Wendy has not stopped weeping. “He was so lonely. And now we don’t even know where he is.”

A spokesperson from the “YOU FIND ‘EM, WE’LL SUCK ‘EM OUT OF HERE. LLC. said that there may be ways to extract his ectoplasm from the unit, but the outlook looks dim since the physical facility is located on Staten Island.

As this reporter over-heard: “What goes to Staten Island, stays on Staten Island.”

And as this reporter cries, I can’t think about how lonely Wendy will be.

Casper was her only true friend.

 

 

Good-bye Rosie

[Rosie. Photo is mine.]

My mother passed away in her sleep on a quiet Easter Sunday morning in 1992. A sad event indeed. Just days before on Holy Thursday, she sat in the living room of our home and told the priest that she was tired and was prepared. She was ready. She also told him she wanted to depart this life on Easter. She got her wish. This event put into motion a series of events, a journey of sorts, in my life, that of my wife, Mariam and Cracklin Rosie.

A day later my wife and I drove to Tioga Gardens Nursery to pick out a spray of flowers for the funeral home viewing. The nursery was owned, I believe, by my high school classmate, Ed Kuhlman. He commiserated his sorrow at my mother’s passing and took an order for a floral display.

“Wait;” he said as we were leaving. “I have a gift for you, Pat.”

He disappeared into the depths of the greenhouse and emerged a few minutes later with a small potted plant.

“Here, this is from me. No charge. It’s a Begonia and I’ve named it Cracklin Rosie. I love Neil Diamond. Take care of her and she will bring back memories of you mom.”

[For all my botanists readers: Begonia x corellina hybrid. The plant scientist who created the hybrid named it after the Neil Diamond song. For years I thought it was Ed Kuhlman’s favorite song.]

We took the plant and departed.  After the funeral and all the necessary things that had to be done, we headed back to New York City. I was a teacher and my wife was a nursing administrator at a major city hospital. We had to go forward to our lives. We put Cracklin Rosie in a nice place in our one bedroom apartment.

The years passed.  We grew older and Rosie (we dropped the Cracklin part) grew up and out. Then up and out some more until she became as prominent a part of our home as a sofa or a library.

In 2000, we bought a lake side house in Rainbow Lake, NY. We rented it out on a weekly basis for several years. It helped to pay the mortgage. Then in 2005, I retired from teaching. Over thirty years of pushing chalk was now to become a memory.

In 2011, we let ourselves be bought out and left the City for our home in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York State.

We brought Rosie with us. By now, she was the size of a china closet. Every time we travelled abroad we had to find someone to watch over her. It was like having a pet; but one that never crawled on to your lap or wagged a tail. In our dining room, she became a presence…a conversation starter…a center of attention. It was like having the skeleton of the Elephant Man watching you eat your pasta primavera.

Sadly, an era is about to close for us. My son, Brian and his fiancee, Kirstin are coming for a visit over Columbus Day weekend. They have agreed to take Rosie back to Queens and become her new owners.

I’m sitting here as I type this and staring at her in her floppy green glory. She has witnessed dinner parties, made way for a Christmas tree or two, watched us having a candle-lit dinner, an argument, a deep philosophical discussion and all the events of life that come with a happily married couple who live in the North Country.

Knowing how this plant/human relationship will eventually end, we gave cuttings to many of our friends. There are baby Rosies in many homes. And, when Mariam and I visit Brian and Kristin, we’ll meet up with Rosie and talk about old times.

She has felt us brush by her as we haul luggage out to the car or back into the living room from our travels. She sensed us. She welcomed us. I think she’ll miss us.

I’ll miss her just like I’d miss an old friend.

Just like I miss my mother.

 

 

The No-Name Motel

[The motel with no name]

Most of the time I can erect a fence to contain the images and imaginations from escaping my brain.  Sometimes a little white picket fence with pink daisies in purple pots are enough to hold back the most innocent and decent imagery that my mind can create.  Then, there are times when a more sturdy wooden enclosure is necessary.  My thoughts have gotten a little darker and far-fetched.  At the end of the line, I need to put up a stockade of lichen-covered stone, dusty bricks or cement blocks…topped by razor wire.  These keep in the real demons; the ideas, thoughts, dreams, musings and nightmares that one finds along a dark path in the dark woods, deep ravines and foggy patches in misty churchyards.  These fences hold my odd thoughts where they belong…in my brain.  It works.

Most of the time.

I’m on Route 11, the main highway that crosses the North Country.  I’ve been on this road many times heading either west or east out of Malone.  This isn’t the first time I’ve spotted the old motel.  I pull over.  The weeds in the old lawn are chest high.  The welcome sign is getting loose around the hinges and bolts.  I don’t know how long this place will exist.  Perhaps the next time I drive this way, the whole structure may be replaced by a Tractor Supply, a Bowling Alley or a Car Wash.

To me, that would be a shame.  It’s obvious it will never again function as a motel…and that is why it attracts and charms me.  Here, in what may have been the driveway, I sit in my Honda and survey the old buildings.

The style of the buildings could be 1960’s, but I’m going to place it in the mid-1950’s.  It suits my narrative style better.

Then I close my eyes.  I can see the phantoms that once stayed here.  I can imagine their stories.  I can feel their history.  It’s happy and sad, tragic and fortunate.  The lives that passed through these rooms, pass through me now.

I see the shadows move about.

The traveling salesman, with his valise full of brushes and combs, slips into Room 2.  Once inside, he hangs his seersucker jacket on the door hook, kicks off his worn wing-tipped shoes and stretches out on the lumpy bed.  He unscrews the bottle of bourbon and takes a long pull.  He doesn’t want to go home.

A blushing teenage couple from Watertown just bluffed their way intro Room 9.  He has a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon that is slowly getting warm.  He uses his church key to open two.  They sit awkwardly on the sofa before moving to the bed.  In exactly ten months, she’ll give birth to a baby boy who will grow up to own his own auto repair shop outside of Burlington, VT.  His parents will each die in separate car accidents in 1974.

A cheap thug who just robbed a liquor store in Plattsburgh takes Room 5.  His girl has a bruise on her cheek, her arm and her thigh.  They will stay one night and then drive non-stop to Chicago. There she will leave him for a chiropractor.

A family is on their way into the heart of the Adirondacks.  They have driven south from Quebec City and will spend the next two weeks swimming at Golden Beach on Raquette Lake.  One child  will become an astronomer and the other will become a teacher.  Room 10 is their final night under a roof.  Tomorrow night the tent comes out.

A troubled couple from Binghamton will argue well into the night about in-law problems.  The wife will turn up the radio when Billie Holiday comes on.  Maybe the volume will drown out the threats from Room 14.

An insurance salesman from Buffalo will quickly enter Room 7.  He knows this motel well.  Room 7 is hidden from the office.  Following him through the door is his secretary, Helen.  He promised her many things during the long drive.  Anything, he thinks, as long as she gives me a night of pleasure that he can’t find at home with his lawful wife.

Two young men in their twenties passing themselves off as brothers on their way to visit family in Lake George walk boldly into Room 11.  Here they can be themselves and love each other like they have wished for the past three years.

Yes, the lawn is chest-high with Timothy grass, Ragweed and Queen Anne’s Lace.  Butterflies and black flies flit from flower to flower.  No more cars will be stopping here, ever.  The motel once had a name, but even the sign is gone.  A little VACANCY sign is visible.  Those who passed through this office, slept on creaky mattresses and used the stained toilet are long gone.  Some of the stories had happy endings while others ended with a broken heart or a bleeding nose.  These travelers have moved on.  Many are still alive, most are buried in some local cemetery or a burying ground a thousand miles away.  A few who laughed, drank, sinned and prayed in these rooms are possibly being sedated by an RN in a nursing home…somewhere.

I go back to my car after taking a few photos and I notice something that may seem ironic.

The empty motel with no name is directly across the road from a hospice.

Another flood of imaginings come rushing from my brain.

[All the lonely people.  All the empty rooms.]

 

 

A Sad Good-bye

[“Old Paint”. Now a part of history…ready for its final ride]

The white Casier truck backed down our driveway.  It was 10:30 on a muggy morning.  Before ten minutes had passed, we had brand new chairs in our living room.  The old L. L. Bean pair of overstuffed sofa-like seats were showing signs of aging.  Mariam’s was still in fair shape so a few hours later, a man came in a smaller truck and took hers away later in the day.

Casier (the chair merchant in Saranac Lake) agreed to take mine.

It was over quickly.

Before I had a chance to pull out my red bandana and wipe the stray tear from my cheek.

Before I had a quiet moment with my supportive friend to whisper a few last good-byes and reminisce about the past.

I felt like my Old Yeller was being taken out behind the barn by Fess Parker.  Life doesn’t get any harder.  Where do old chairs go when they have finished their duty to your weary body?  I’d really rather not know.  I can’t imagine my heartbreak if I drive out to the Franklin County Transfer Station one pleasant Saturday and see my chair upside-down next to two Barka Loungers, a wicker love seat and a chartreuse sectional.

We bought the chairs in 2000, when we acquired our Adirondack home.  In 2011, we moved to the North Country for real.  So many hours have been spent in those pale green chairs watching important historical events unfold before our eyes.  Several World Series (but don’t ask which ones or who won…I’ve no memory of those things).  A few Super Bowls (but we tend to avoid being here in mid-winter, so don’t ask which ones we saw).  The second inauguration of Obama.  The election of 2016 (again, don’t ask!).

It would be great to say we saw the moon landing, but that was thirty years earlier.  I would love to describe our interest at witnessing the Escape From Dannemora, but we were in France at the time.

We did sit through many sad and old films on TCM.  A few classic episodes of Hoaders, an intense season of the Bachelorette and two even more intense seasons of 90 Day Fiancee.

Mariam and I were glued to the TV to watch the rise and fall of Walter White in Breaking Bad.  And, most proudly, we didn’t run to our sets to check the connections when the black-out occurred at the end of The Sopranos.

All the while, our L. L. Bean chairs sat cheerfully beneath us.  My chair took the most wear, however.  Because of my dicey back, I can not sit normally.  I have to tuck one leg (the left) under the knee of the right.  That puts my socked foot against the arm rest…eventually exposing the fiber filling.  The tangle of my legs look like a yet un-named Yogi position.

All good things must come to an end…and our lives with our chairs are no exception.  So, now we have two new chairs in their place.  It’s sad, though, like a bad divorce.  Something new and fresh is taking the place of the old and worn out.

The time flew by so fast that I never had time to give my chair a name.  I’ve thought it over and decided to call it “Old Paint” after my trusty horse I had when I rode the West Texas range…back in the day.

But, I digress (and besides, that’s another blog).

[The new chair (it reclines)]

The Box of Treasures

[A sampling of Mariam’s head shots]

We have something over our heads, above the ceiling in the room where we binge watch Big Little Lies, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Doc Martin.  Some people would call it an attic.  Others might refer to it as a crawl space (one doesn’t need to crawl, really.  You can stand up straight unless you’re 2″ above the U. S. Norm of Healthy Heights.)  It’s accessible by a trap-door in our bedroom which allows folding wooden stairs to drop down.

I hardly ever go up there.  There is, perhaps, a two-week window of survival in our attic.  One is at the end of winter and the other is at the end of summer.  If you need to search for something in December, you’ll need an Arctic Expedition Parka and bib overalls, the kind the skiers wear.  The prowling about must be swift because hypothermia lurks in the corners.

If your needs take you up there in July, be aware that the ambient air temperature can approach the level that can melt lead, a little better than the surface of Mercury.

Like I said, I hardly ever go up there.

But, Mariam is a much stronger person that I am, so she ventures up the wooden stairs when she feels the need to get a box of something down.  We once stored many items in our attic but through the culling process, we have only a few items left there.

A few weeks ago, she decided to ascend into the heat and search for a box that might contain discardable items.  I stood at the bottom of the stairs and accepted the hand-me-downs.

Later, out on the coffee table of our porch, she opened one of the boxes.  What she found was ten pounds of memories.  She spread the items out on the table.  There were Playbills and Reviews of every opera and show she had ever done.  (In case you didn’t know, Mariam was a professional opera singer and performer years before she met me.)  She sang a solo at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.

And then came the head shots.  Dozens of head shots, ready to send to agents.  Of course all were shot by a professional, but that extra touch wasn’t needed to bring out the glamorous features of my wife.

They were awesome.  Her short career was awesome.  The photo of her being hugged by Pavoratti was awesome…sadly, she couldn’t find that picture.

It’s probably in another box in the attic.

[The attic door to the Box of Treasures]