Day And Night At The County Fair–August, 2015

RidesNight

It was my third visit to the Franklin County Fair.  I came on Senior’s Night when the admission is a mere $2.00 for older gents like me.  It was crowded with North Country folks of all sizes, shapes, and ages.  Teenage girls clung to the arms of their ‘guy’.  Wounded vets were pushed in wheelchairs by their caregivers.  Old farmers, old as the fields they just hayed or plucked corn from, walked silently around with their silent wives.  This may well have been their fifty-sixth Fair…they’d seen it all.  Gone were the ‘girlie’ shows.  No need for the old men to finger a dollar in their overalls anymore.  No need for the wives to push them past the glittering enticing lights, while they looked back over their shoulders at the three strippers on a narrow stage.  No need for them to wonder about their faded beauty.  Gone were the freak shows in the tents on the margins of the midway, on the margins of the bright lights–the deformed and the odd lived out their lives on the edges of a society that stared into their world for a quarter.

No, the new County Fairs were squeaky clean, except for the rigged games where a guy could lose $17.00 throwing darts at balloons that wouldn’t pop.  Eventually, just to keep ’em coming back, the carny would let the guy win a Teddy bear worth $1.50.  The kid would promptly hand it to his sweetie…hoping it would help him rack up the points in her young heart.

popcornStand

I sat and ate a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich that would test the limits of my immune system.  My friend wanted an ice cream…I wanted an ice cream too.  I paid $5.00 for a chocolate caramel mix in a small plastic container.  [I knew I had to stop eating anything more than a salad every two days for the next two weeks to lose the weight in time for my 50th high school reunion.]  Cotton candy stands were everywhere.  If you didn’t like Coke, you were out of luck.  As I stood eating my ice cream, I turned around to see a tent filled with South American clothing and jewelery.  A young man with bronze skin and black hair sat behind the counter playing the pan flute.  He was playing Let It Be.

Candyapples

The giant wheels of lights put you in a daze.  The mountains of cheap plastic toys (?) were everywhere.

Plasticstuff

I ducked inside the 4-H building.  There was a stand of real vegetables with ribbons.  Someone grew food on a farm somewhere nearby…and it won first place in a contest.  How do you judge yellow string beans?  What do you look for?  I pondered these things.  I bought a tee-shirt from the maple sugar booth that read: Big Or Small: We Tap Them All.  

BlueRibbons

The loud-speaker announced the start of the parade that was to pass in front of the grandstand.  I hurried to a spot by the fence to get a good look at the troop of DEC Forest Ranger Police who helped in the search for the two guys that broke out of Clinton County Correctional Facility in June.  The Dairy Queen went past me riding a small John Deere.  Her court followed on foot, their flip-flops kicking up dust in the dirt track.  The Queen looked straight at me and waved.  Boys and girls with fresh faces and neatly cut hair followed along with sheep, cows that needed milking, (the udders looked bloated to me) and goats, horses and pony or two.

DairyQueen

We found a seat in the bleachers and settled in for the Franklin County Has Talent Show.

CottonCandyGirl

A little ten-year-old in a white ankle length dress sang about having a broken heart.  She was standing in the spotlight’s glare.  Tiny and white.

GirlTalent

Girls danced to tunes I never heard.  A guy played a mean fiddle.  A teenager in a red dress that dragged the stage just above her bare feet sang beautifully.  Her song, “I’ve Got Nothing” came from her heart…one can tell when a singer means the words she vocalizes.  But, she is so young.  What does she know of love?  What mistakes has she made?  Can a fourteen-year-old heart really be broken?

I began to think back on my own life.  I was getting close to an answer when someone let go of a helium balloon about ten rows in front of me.  Even in the evening light, I could see the white sphere drift slowly up and hit the inside of the roof.  It bounced about in the breeze.  I saw several more.  One was blue.  Another red like the girl’s dress.

I looked back at the stage and thought about the brave little hearts that stood in bad lighting on a vast stage, in front of hundreds of strangers, and sang about your pain, or your joy or your dreams.  I could never muster the guts necessary when I was twelve to do what these kids were doing.

Risks.  They were taking a risk.  A dangerous risk.  They were risking their self-esteem.  I’ve had these same thoughts and wrote these same words two years ago–at the same County Fair.

I looked back up at the balloons.  When, I wondered, would they lose enough helium through the micro-pores of latex and begin to weigh more than the air that held them aloft?  I knew they would slowly fall like big wet snow flakes in the northern winter.  They would end up in the seats, snagged on a fence or on the ground being walked on and ground into the boards.  Sloppy bits of latex with a string and a bow attached.

Is this what will happen to the hearts of the girls and boys on stage, on this night in August, if they lose the competition?  Slow deflation, of a gas or an emotion, from a balloon or a fragile and tiny ego, can bring down the strongest of us all.

I sent out a ‘prayer’.  I hoped their dreams were made of a metal, yet unknown, that would carry their song, their heartbeats, their dreams and their hopes up, beyond the clouds and into the stratosphere.

My thoughts went back to the young man with the pan flute and the words:

Let It Be.

If Hand-Hewn Beams Could Talk: A Proper English Pub

PubBeams

I’ll repeat what I said in a previous post:

“If you want to know what is happening in an English village, just sit in the pub for an hour or two.”  I am convinced that this is true.  Pubs and not bars in the way we know bars in the States.  If the village is small enough, nearly everyone who lives nearby will stop in for a pint, a dinner or a quick chat.  It’s the way the social network works in this little country.

I’ve been in quite a few pubs during my time here.  As many of you know, I lived in Dorset for a year and have returned to see old friends and visit old haunts in 2012, 2014 and this year.  I seem to gravitate to Dorset because there is something about the ancient footpaths, hedgerows and pubs that have made their way into the core of my being.  In my second book, “An American in Dorset”, I try to explain my feelings.  I’m not sure I can fully describe how the wind blowing through a field of rape or an ancient copse of oaks hides secrets or how an ancient tumuli holds the bones of someone who walked the fields and tended sheep while the Egyptians were building the pyramids.

As I’ve tried to give you, my faithful reader, a look at a small English church, I will take you into a typical pub and make a humble attempt to give you the feel and the experience.

My photo gallery:

MinsterTavernSign

[Most pub signs are decorative, clever, artistic and usually relate to something local…though not always. Common themes are Kings, Queens, Harts, Arms, it goes on and on.  My personal favorite is the pub I spent a great deal (in the year I lived in Dorset, 1984-85), of time having dinner and sipping my Best Bitter is the Barley Mow]

PubFireplace

[There is usually a cozy place to sit beside the fireplace.]

pubTV

[I would say that it’s a rare pub that does not have at least one TV so you can keep up with the Leeds football game with Liverpool.]

SkittlesAlley

[Other than the ever-present dart board (failed to get a photo, sorry mate), there is often a Skittles game in the rear of the pub.  It’s a bowling sort of game.]

PubGirl

[A great selection of beers is found in most pubs…and sometimes a pretty barmaid to serve it to you.]

pubPoster1

[Many pubs have charming posters…here’s one.]

Pubposter2

[And another.]

PubDessertMenu

[Here is the desert menu.  Third from the bottom??? Don’t ask.]

PubUrinal

[Yes, I took a photo in the Gents room to illustrate the communal nature of the urinal.  These are not found as often as they once were.  But, at least you had someone to talk to while you went.  Remember: you don’t “buy” beer, you “rent” it.]

pub bell

[And, at the hour that all men dread…it used to be 11:00 pm for decades…the pub owner would ring a bell (at 10:50 pm) and say rather loudly: “last call!”.  Then at 11:00 pm sharp, the bell would ring again with the age old…”Time, gentlemen, please.”

I loved the culture and atmosphere of the English pub, from the Duke of Wellington in London to the Horned Ram in Puddletown.  There is a long and lovely history of uncountable lives that played out in the pubs of England.

This is my final post from England.  Tomorrow, we fly to Dublin, Ireland and spend eight days in the country where people walk and work and drink…that have my very own blood in their veins.

Tomorrow I’m going home.

Arriving, Departing or Just Passing Through

I stood hard against the tiled wall and made room for the rush of human traffic trying to pass me.  I was thinking about insanity and the blindness of powerful people to hold sacred something that once had beauty and class.

Beauty and class are rare commodities these days.

I was in the bowels of Penn Station, somewhere between 7th Ave. and 8th Ave.  Somewhere between 34th St. and 31st St. Somewhere below the giant oval that is Madison Square Garden.

Somewhere, somehow something was missing.

I was waiting for the Adirondack, the train that would take us to Albany where our car was parked.  I looked around for the great wooden benches.  All were gone.  I had to wait inside an enclosed “waiting room” filled with plastic and metal seats.  The fast food outlets all sold the same wraps and bags of chips.  Somewhere, I’m sure, was a bar.  The small kiosk that sold the several daily newspapers were now Hudson News stores where I could get a hundred copies of Elle, Glamour and Men’s Health. I’m sure there was a shoe-shine, but I wouldn’t know where to look.

OldPennStation

I thought of the thousands of GI’s who kissed their Bronx girlfriends good-bye during WWII.  Some of them came home.  I thought of the many others, soldiers, men and women, who went off to conflicts.  Some came home.

I thought of an out of work salesman heading for Chicago…there was a possible job waiting for him.  Sometimes he came home to get his wife and head back to the Windy City to start life over.

There were the thousands of runaway girls (and boys) who could afford a train ticket from Wichita or St. Paul who came to the City in search of fame or fortune, or just wanting to disappear into the masses.  A few made a new life.  Most didn’t.  But at least they were solvent enough to afford a coach seat.  The ones who couldn’t save enough from the waitressing job in Akron, had to arrive at Port Authority Bus Terminal.  So many ended up on 8th Ave. selling themselves for a bottle or a vial.

PennStationSign

I looked for the Grand Staircase.  I found only escalators.  Where were the places where people stood and embraced?  Saying “Good-bye” or “Thank God you’re home”.  There was no place to stand and embrace.  Everyone was hurrying to somewhere.

Pulling rolling luggage, everyone stood looking at the big black board for the next LIRR departure or the next Amtrak arrival.

There was no place to stand and think.  So, I stayed pressed against the tiled wall.

old penn-8

I’ve looked at the archives of Old Pennsylvania Station.  Things looked better in Black & White.  That’s the insanity.  The City razed the old station and built the place where I was now standing.

TimeTableatPennStation

I saw my wife through the glass partition.  She was waving at me to hurry over because the Red Cap was going to help us get to Platform 7.  The northbound Amtrak, the Adirondack was on time.

The small bottle of water (water used to be free) cost about $3.00.  A bag of peanuts made me $3.25 poorer.  I looked over the turkey and cheese wraps.  More bread than turkey and cheese combined.  I thought about Ptomaine.  I passed on the wrap.

I slipped on my backpack, walked past four National Guard soldiers with AK-47’s on their shoulders and met my wife.

Before we boarded, I swallowed the diuretic I was taking.  Try dealing with that forty-five minutes later in a small bathroom on a train that swayed like sailboat in a gale.

 

 

Cooks of the North (A True Story of Survival)

If you’re traveling in the north country fair

where the winds hit heavy on the borderline…

–Bob Dylan “Girl From The North Country”

 

We who chose to live here in the North Country are a hardy breed.  You can see signs of this all around you.  The cows have thicker hides, the trees have thicker bark and the lakes sometimes gets real hard…hard enough to walk on.  Some extra hardy types actually put little wooden huts or tents on the lakes and fish through the two-foot layer of ice.  And, they do this starting in late September.  I have seen, with my own eyes, odd vehicles that don’t have wheels to move through the snow.  They have treads of some kind and the engines make a whistling noise and the air turns blue.  The people who ride around in them wear lots of clothes and all those layers are covered with a heavy one-piece suit.  They even have helmets.  It looks like a sub-Arctic Area 51.

They claim its fun.

Sometimes it’s so cold that if a guy were to go tee-tee in the woods, the tee-tee will freeze before it hits the ground.  Actually, that’s not true.  There is no ground…there is about three feet of snow and ice beneath your frozen feet.  And this happens no matter much you paid L.L. Bean for those fleece-lined, thinsulated, wool and felt-lined boots.

So, if you’re thinking of moving to the North Country, be advised that no matter what size home you buy, you will need to pay a guy named Bear to build an extra room just to hold your winter clothing, skis, snowshoes, mucklucks, and fleece gloves.  Don’t worry about the extra room in the summer…there really isn’t one.  There is a window of about 16 days where it’s not snowing or raining…and that is sometime in August (that would be the 14th to the 29th, to be exact).

You’re asking yourself as you read this: “Hey, just how hardy is this guy who is pushing 70 years of age?”

Two mornings ago, I woke up and it was 41 F in the bedroom.  Ok, it’s December, that sounds about right, right?  But this is my bedroom!  Even with the fleece blankets on me, I was chilled.  (I don’t own an electric blanket because I may want to have another child someday.)

We discover that something is wrong with the oil burner.  Not only am I hardy, but I’m smart.  It only took me about an hour to realize that the lack of heat was due to something being wrong with our oil burner.

Being hardy means being far-sighted.  Several years ago we had a wood-burner stove installed in our family room downstairs.  So, I lit a fire.  Isn’t it good?  As sure as flapjacks are good…the room downstairs got warm.  And it got even warmer until the little thermometer (digital/Radio Shack) said 88 F.  Now, I tend to be chilly a lot in these later years of my life, but 88 was a bit much.  Especially when I had no idea where any clothing not made of fleece or wool happened to be stored.

So, I watched the fire from the other side of the room.  I used my birding spotter scope to check on when a new log needed to be added.

By now it was near the dinner hour.  For some reason I didn’t feel like my pre-dinner dish of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.  But it was my turn to cook.

So, I went up stairs to the kitchen and planned dinner.  Something quick and easy.  I decided on a stir-fry.  I like to have a nice glass of Chardonnay while I cook, so I took the bottle out of the fridge and put it on the counter so it would cool down a little.  I prepared the carrots, mushrooms, peppers and rice.  I mixed the soy sauce and put aside 1/4 cup of peanuts and scallions for the garnish.

I knew that stir-frying can sometimes be splattery, I put on my special North Country L.L. Bean endorsed red apron from Macy’s.  It was lined with fleece.

I then put the silverware and plates in the microwave to add a touch of warmth, and cooked.

It turned out to be a great meal.

But, we only have TV upstairs so we bundled up in fleece and wool while we ate and watched Episode 6 of Season 3 of Game of Thrones.

I felt a chill watching all the violence and sex.  They kept saying that “winter is coming…the white walkers are coming…it’ll be a long winter.”

I can relate.

MeInApron

[I’m really not that overweight, it’s the blanket I was wearing under the apron.]

MyDinner

[The meal just before it frosted over.]