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.

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.]

Friction Rubs Me The Wrong Way

fric-tion (frik’shen) n. 1.The rubbing of one surface or object against another. 2. Conflict, as between persons having dissimilar ideas or interests, clash. 3. Phys. A force that resists the relative motion or tendency to such motion of two bodies in contact.

[Source: Google Search]

Friction is really good for only one thing…okay, two…no three. One important use is the simple act of striking a match. This would come in handy whilst camping, setting the stage for a special dinner for that special someone, arson, lighting a fuse of an M80 on July 4th or offering a light to that special someone you are hoping will come back to your place for that special dinner. (Full Disclosure: I would never date a smoker! Lips that touch tobacco shall not touch mine.) Besides, the above would have to take place in the rain or snow outside a Smoke Free bar. There are many ways to strike a match but I will leave those details for you, dear reader, to research. I will simply say: Watch any Bogart film. Striking a match is not to be taken lightly. The person striking the match must consider the coefficient of friction (fr). That is a number that is the ratio of the resistive force of friction (Fr) divided by the normal or perpendicular force (N) pushing the objects together. This is easily shown in the equation: fr=Fr/N. If you’re having trouble following all this, I would say: Trust Me or Get The Cliffs Notes.

But I digress.

Another vital use of Friction is the idea that involves static cling. As someone who has washed more than a few loads of soiled clothes, there is nothing worse than static cling. My personal solution to this problem is bounce. The only issue I have with dryer sheets is that the sheet clings to the clothes. This can be a very serious issue if you have to get dressed quickly. It is common when that special someone has a special someone who comes home from a business trip to Toledo. That rascal dryer sheet can cling to the back of your shirt or pants. People will stare. But static cling isn’t all bad. At parties it can be great fun to rub an inflated balloon on your shirt. The static will allow the balloon to stick to you. All kinds of obscene situations can be arranged.

A third and perhaps the most important use of friction is starting a fire. Putting matches (and Bic BBQ starters) aside for the moment let’s shed some light on fires. It is a well known fact that friction produces heat and enough heat can cause a flame to appear. We’ve all heard that one can rub two sticks together and make a fire. In fact, that is usually done in movies (Westerns). But if you ever saw two boy scouts rubbing two sticks together you would observe an exercise in frustration. It isn’t that simple. However, variations on that idea do exist. Take a close look at the photo below:

[Source: Google Search]

This method actually works. Notice the smoke wafting near the guys foot. This, dear readers, is friction in action! Personally, I would not attempt this in the heart of New York City. One problem is finding appropriate sticks. That would entail visiting Central Park. And most of the sticks readily at hand there would be covered with dog germs. In extreme cases of darkness, i.e., a Blackout, one could use a flashlight. However, when the AAA batteries lose power there is always the torch. (Not a British ‘torch’…that’s a flashlight), but a real kerosene-soaked torch like the angry villagers in Frankenstein (1931 Dir. James Whale). That would, of course, bring the Law down on you. You would likely end up making candles in Dannemora.

I will follow up this enlightening blog post with something else that has annoyed me for years…Gravity.

A Brief History of Kimonos

To be fully alive is to have an aesthetic perception of life because a major part of the world’s goodness lies in its often unspeakable beauty.

~~Yukitaka Yamamoto

[An old triptych of three women wearing kimonos. Source: Google Search.]

Recently, my wife and I spent an afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET). She wanted to see the Tudor exhibition. I went through it quickly…I love English period decorative and portraiture art but that interest peaked with the final season of Downton Abbey. The newly restored (and painted!) ancient Greek and Egyptian statuary was where I wanted to spend more time. So we did both. We then visited the Asian art wing and saw the Kimono Style exhibition. From there we retired to the Member’s Lounge for a glass of white wine ($17.00) and a bottle of Pellegrino. While eating our Hummus and Pita plate, we discussed what we had seen and I mentioned that I would like to revisit the Kimonos once more before it closed. We finished our visit to the Hall of Medieval Art to see the Christmas Creche.

The Kimono Style (which closes in February) was more than fascinating. Within three minutes of entering the gallery, I realized that my concept of Kimonos was, to put it mildly, somewhat simplistic. The background, styles and fabrics were intricate and beautiful. So, I did what every good blogger does in such a situation…I ran straight to Google to find out as much background as I could. And, like yours truly, I fell asleep before I could get to the Edo Period. I awoke after a brief nap, shoved my laptop aside and headed for the bed. I slept the sleep of an opium smoker.

My dream came quickly. There were cherry blossoms everywhere. I was standing at the edge of a Dark Forest. “Don’t go in there”, I was told. “Those who do often end up as suicides. It was the Aokigahara, where the ghosts of Japanese mythology are said to dwell. I was not alone. Her name was Akari, which translates to ‘vermillion red’. Her beauty was heavy with gravity. A deep, peaceful and somehow alluring aura made the air around her radiate a golden light. Her face was as while as the first snowfall of winter.

She was a Geisha. But unlike western stereotypes, she was not for sale. A Geisha is not a prostitute but instead is a highly educaated woman trained in the Art of the Tea Ceremony, music, literature and calligraphy. She was one of about 1,000 active Gheishas in Japan today.

In my unenlightened world, I thought she would take care of my every need, even before I knew I had it. She took my hand and led me to a low desk. She mixed the ink and began making brush strokes. She made me try to copy her bamboo leaves. My attempts were embarrassing. She smiled and led me back to edge of the forest. I took a step toward the trees…

I woke up.

I’ve digressed.

Kimonos were first reported in the Kofun Period (300-538 CE). Over the centuries, the style has changed in many ways. The first Kimonos were of Chinese design. The trade between Japan and China brought new styles to Japan. In 718 CE, the Youo Clothing Code was enacted. This determined who was eligable to wear one, the kind of material and even the fact that the robe opening was to be Left to Right. The opposite closure was reserved for the deceased.

During the Edo Period (1603-1867), the obi was added. Length of sleeves and multiple layers were common.

By the early 20th Century, many class distincions were abololished. Western clothing came into style. But the Kimonos remained popular. After an earthquake in Kanto in 1923, a shortage of fabrics became available from unused clothing. In recent years, the Kimono has grown in popularity. Men are wearing western suits to work and changing into a Kimono robe in the evening.

[A present-day mother and child with modern Kimonos. Source: Google Search.]

What follows is a gallery of Kimono photos I took at the MET. I regret that I can not give you the style name, fabric or historical context of each one. Just marvel at the subtle striking beauty of this small sample of Kimonos:


[My personal favorite.]

A few days later we returned to the MET. I headed straight to the Kimono Style exhibit. I took a few more photos and went further into the Asian Art wing. I wanted to sit in my favorite place. It’s a replica of a Chinese (or Japanese) Courtyard. I sat and listened. In years past, there was a small trickle of water from a fountain. I loved the tranquility of the murrmering water.

It was silent in the room. For some reason the fountain had been turned off. I was disappointed. But, if nothing else, I am a resourceful guy. I pulled out my ear buds and plugged into my iPhone. I went to my Calm app and found “babbling brook”.

I think you can work out the rest of the story…

[Sources: the historical material is from Wikipedia. All the MET Kimono photos are mine. The rest are the result of Google Searching. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I did not have the aforementioned dream.]

Lost in a World of Cardboard

box noun A container.

–American Heritage Dictionary

[Our future Livingroom. Photo is mine.]

Call it propriety. Call it embarrassment. Whatever you wish to call it, I’m not going to reveal, through iPhone photos the extent of the cardboard that has found a place in our apartment. We used Westside Movers (the very same company that moved us away from the City in 2011) because the estimate was reasonable and they work fast. And the movers will pack anything that isn’t Epoxied to the floor. Don’t put a Sharpie down and turn away because it will disappear and end up six hours away and it will be weeks to uncover. If it ever surfaces again in this familiar universe. Yesterday I was unpacking something, at least I thought there was something, bound in the volumes of newsprint. I tore and ripped savagely with extreme prejudice only to find a scented votive candle, maybe an inch tall, in the palm of my dusty hand. Finding the TV was not a big problem: it surfaced on Day One. Great! The remotes were packed in another box. They were found on Day Five.

But I digress.

We are now officially relocated in New York City after nearly eleven years in the Adirondack Mountains of Northern New York State. You’ve read my posts over the years about our experiences in the Lake Placid region. If you read the blogs closely you would have detected an arc in my narratives. It goes something like this:

~~Finding a Real Estate Agent

~~Elation

~~Reality

~~Fear

~~Loneliness

~~Depression

~~Finding a Real Estate Agent

But, make no mistakes. We enjoyed our time in the woods. But how many times can I shovel the never-ending snow?

We’ve enjoyed the company of awesome neighbors and we already miss them. We’ve shared many dinners and fireside chats on cool evenings. But, all good things must come to an end…and we came to a point that new adventures in Manhattan was something we wanted very much.

So, visit me often on WordPress and please click ‘like’ at the end of each blog. Pay your love forward, I work hard on these posts.

[Manhattan Sunset. Photo is mine.]

{Note: If you want my mailing address please ask me through Messenger.}

The Pump: I Can’t Handle It

[The Pump. Located at the village green in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.]

“How does it feel?”

–Bob Dylan Like A Rolling Stone

For many years Bob Dylan has provided a plethora of quotes for me for use in most social situations. Armed with these literary bites, I have made something of a name for myself as a Dylanologist. Yes, I’ve read many books about Bob and I can often be seen leafing through the big volume of Lyrics, looking for just the right wording, the satisfying cadence, the rhyme, the syntax and the deep theology found within his five hundred + songs. If you’re a follower of mine, you know that I often find appropriate places to insert a quote or two into a Blog (like I’m doing here) or a Facebook post.

Dylan was not awarded the Nobel Prize for scratching girl’s phone numbers on phone booths or public bathroom walls.

Just the other day I asked an attractive woman:

“My warehouse has my Arabian drums, should I put them at your gate?”

She stared at me with a blank expression. “Watch it, buster. My husband lifts weights.” I closed my trench coat and retreated back into the alley. I didn’t want to hear that her husband was kicked out of the Soviet Secret Police for being too rough on snitches.

Years ago I walked over to the Typing Teacher at the school where I taught. “Time is an ocean and it ends at the shore. You may not see me tomorrow.”

“What? Are you taking a sick day?”

Another time I was struggling to recall the name of a somewhat obscure song by Dylan. My head was lowered in concentration. A woman standing near me apparently thought I said something. She asked: “What did you say?”

At that very moment I recalled the song.

“Wiggle. Wiggle,” I said. I can still feel the stinging of my cheek. It was a left hand swipe and I can tell you that she was sporting a ring on her finger the size of an oxen yoke.

You can see that I’ve had varying degrees of success with these quotes. And I have the scars to prove it. But there is one line, buried deep inside Subterranean Homesick Blues. In fact, there are several keepers from that song. I once asked a woman who was sitting next to me in a bar: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” She glared at me with big brown cow eyes which quickly narrowed to evil slits. She seemed to breath fire, and not the good kind.

‘Hey grandpa,” she said, “I don’t need a weatherman. I have an App.” She shook her iPhone with a barely hidden malevolence that would frighten any witch in MacBeth.

But I digress.

The real story I intended to tell you about is how a long-time search on my part led me to a quaint upstate college campus on a day just like today. Actually, it was yesterday, in the afternoon. After several Google searches I finally located the famous pump that does not have a handle.

“The pump don’t work ’cause the vandals took the handle.”

You may have seen the music video of the song. Dylan is standing in an alley near the Savoy Hotel in London. He’s holding large cards which has bits of the song written on them. He drops each one as the words are sung.

[The Pump. A Closer Look]

I read somewhere that there is a picture of a street in London supposedly showing the Beatles crossing the intersection. Maybe there’s a song about that. Maybe there are some lyrics that I can adapt for a supply of pick-up lines.

I heard a song from those days once. Now I remember. I was riding an uptown M104 bus in New York. I was sitting next to a ravishing redhead with green eyes and a provocative plaid flannel shirt from L. L. Bean. I turned to her and, pointing to the Chrysler Building, I said in my best Ringo nasal voice: “You know that in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

It took three doctors and four nurses, using industrial strength Saline Solution to wash the Mace from my eyes.

I waited for everyone to leave except the younger blonde RN. I quietly said to her: “Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it.”

I woke up in the ER twenty minutes later.

My jaw was wired shut. No more quotes from me for a while.

[The video.]

[All photos are mine with the exception of the Dylan picture with the sign Government. Credit: Tony Frank/Sygma/Corbis.]

Out Of The Woods

Goodbye’s too good a word, babe

So I’ll just say “Fare thee well”

–Bob Dylan “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

[Our front yard on July 10, 2022. Photo is mine.]

Look close. It’s hard to see. If you’re reading this post on a laptop, you’re out of luck. On a mobile device you can use your fingers to enlarge the photo. See the sign in the background? The one that reads: Tir Na Nog. It refers to a very old Irish legend. Tir Na Nog is (was) the Land of Eternal Youth. If you lived there, you would never grow old. If you left that place, and touched the ground in the ‘outside’ world…you could never return. And you would grow old and eventually die. This was the name of our camp in the Adirondacks. The whole spell worked for a time, and then it didn’t. I grew old.

The sign in the foreground speaks for itself.

A small bit of backstory here.

I have been coming to these mountains since I was five years old. Seventy years of family camping, canoeing, hiking, climbing and building sand castles became part of my DNA. As a teenager I first had the feeling that living in these glorious hills was a dream to be wished. Time passes. Hiking partners, several dear friends and a brother or two…fellows who shared a cramped lean-to, built campfires, swam and sweated together began to move on (a sweet euphemism for death), leaving me alone without the motivation to climb just one more summit or paddle to just one more lake.

Did I mention that I have a deep fear of being alone? Loneliness most often brings me to tears.

A hiatus set in for several years. Then I met the woman who would be my wife. Even though she was born and raised in Queens, she took to camping like a bird takes to the clouds. She loved it. She often said that the Adirondacks were “soul satisfying”. So we bought a house in the woods where deer and bears roam, by a lake with a dozen loons, under skies that rang out with thunder and the rain fell by the pailful. We moved from our apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Rainbow Lake in November, 2011. We decorated with gusto, bought a wood stove, hung Adirondack posters, bought several kayaks and a new pair of hiking boots. We were happy…until we weren’t.

[Our house is nearly hidden by the trees. Photo is mine.]

Those of you who have followed me on WordPress have read my many posts highlighting my many complaints about the harsh weather, the length of winter and the incessant presence of mosquitoes, gnats and black flies. A winter or two ago we had a week of frigid arctic air. The high temperature for that week never rose above -9° F. But make no mistake. I have also celebrated the quiet snowfalls, the early summer wildflowers and the jaw-dropping autumn colors.

So, I’m turning another page in the book of my life. Pending any financial issues, we have found a buyer. Boxes are already filled and labelled: BOOKS FROM PAT’S OFFICE. TO NYC. Eleven years of memories are going with us…but just as many are staying…for the new owners and for a few friends.

Not an hour ago I said a tearful farewell to my daughter, Erin, her husband, Bob and to my precious grandson. Elias got to see where grandpa has spent the last decade. I’m so thankful for that. The next time he visits, I’ll be taking him to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

I will be trading the tall pines that surround our house with skyscrapers of glass and steel. Some of my friends don’t care for urban life but I thrive on the buzz, the convenience and the lack of isolation. As I wrote a few lines ago, the wilderness (the Adirondacks have lost the real sense of wilderness experience to the masses of hikers seeking this very isolation…ironic, but true), breeds loneliness in my soul. Where I once found solace and quiet, I now find sadness. The ghosts of my brothers and close friends lurk around alder thickets and shadowy forests. I can not escape them.

[Manhattan skyline. Photo is mine.]
[Our front yard. Photo is mine.]

But the Adirondacks haven’t seen the last of me. I will surely be back to take care of the items still resting at the bottom of my bucket list. I’ll return on a glacially cold day in a future January and ski the slope on Whiteface Mountain where the Men’s Downhill was held in 1932 and again in 1980. Then I intend to learn the intricate moves of curling and join a pick-up team.

Or maybe I won’t.

I already have a plan. Once we’re settled in an apartment, I’m going to order Chinese take-out. Or perhaps I’ll take a walk in Central Park to experience nature.

I will have the freedom to choose.

Into The Woods

[The Adirondack Forest. Photo courtesy of Brad Brett]

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.”

–Carl Jung

In the rearview mirror of the last three weeks of my life, I see I’ve left behind many things and added many memories. I’ve left behind the heat and sand of Florida, the peaches and boiled peanuts of Georgia, a friend and his wife in North Carolina, the breathtaking vistas and overlooks of the Blue Ridge Parkway and later, Skyline Drive. Mariam and I sat in a restaurant in Lebanon, Pennsylvania and played music bingo. We passed Carlisle where my daughter went to college so many years ago. We drove apace with the trucks and cars across New Jersey and plunged straight into the Holland Tunnel.

The Grateful Dead: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Once we were settled in a generous friend’s apartment, we began to search for a place of our own. Both of us want to come back to New York City to live. But it’s proving to be harder than we expected. One place is too small, another lacks outdoor space. One might be a walk-up. I can’t do four floors as well as I once could. No, not now.

Why move? you might ask. You have waterfront, kayaks, canoes, snowshoes and bikes. The answer is simple and complex at the same time. We love the quiet woods. We love the sound of our paddles as we glide along on Rainbow Lake. But, so much of what the ‘dacks provides are activities that are fit for a younger man (I speak here for myself). We miss people. The quiet can be overwhelming sometimes and brings with it the loneliness of the North Woods. As a person who has struggled with insomnia since childhood, I dread the dark nights, those dark nights when the wind shifts in strange ways and the moon struggles to peek out from behind a dark cloud.

I don’t want to shovel another millimeter of snow. I don’t want to get into my car just to get our mail. I want something of a social life. I want to be able to order in Mexican or Chinese food. I want company.

Bob Dylan: “I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea. Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, at times it’s only me.”

With the exception of my mother (she never took to the camping), my entire family had strong ties to the Adirondacks. They made Eighth Lake, Raquette Lake and Long Lake special places. But these people have passed on. Around every corner I turn, behind every tree, on any lake, along any trail…there are ghosts lurking…not to harm me, but to remind me of the many great times I had among the mountains. One spirit, however, follows me. He was a good friend. I took him on his first trip to the High Peaks. On a chilly November night…I remember the gibbous moon…this friend died, not in my arms but very nearly so. I’ve told this story before. His presence, his souI and his life have followed me for forty-eight years. My memories of the night he died are dark and are the stuff of my nightmares.

Gordon Lightfoot: “Like brave mountaineers, we aren’t bothered much by time.”

I’m heading headlong toward a milestone birthday…and I am fearful. There are so many years behind me and not very many left to me. I accept that. But I don’t have to like it.

I’m not done yet.

I can only hope.

But, in the end, I will never totally forget my love of the mountains, even though they are now beyond my grasp.

‘There is beauty in everything. Even in silence and darkness.”

–Helen Keller

A Beautiful Day in My Neighborhood: Then & Now

You can take the guy out of the neighborhood but you can’t take the neighborhood out of the guy.

–Frankie Valli

[My first apartment house in NYC]

It was a spectacular day in my old neighborhood. A mild May day, breezy and comfortable with the sun splashing the sidewalks with a warm glow. I decided to take a short walk and check things out…

I was a new resident in a great building on the Upper West Side. I came to the City to teach again after an 18-month hiatus from the classroom. A difficult divorce behind me, I was determined to make the most of what the City had to offer. I stood on the corner of W. 92nd Street and gazed at my new home. My mind was overflowing with plans, ideas and questions. I stood for a long time looking at the front entrance. How will this turn out? I thought. How long will I be here? Will I meet someone soon? I felt I was on the cusp of something very different from what I was used to. City living is not for everyone, but I didn’t see myself being overwhelmed by it all. I was ready. Little did I know…

I walked up the street and turned left, downtown, on Columbus Avenue. The crowds, the crates of bottled water and delivery guys at Trader Joe’s blocked my way. This was new since the days I lived here. I reached the corner of W. 92nd St. There was a young man standing and staring at the building across the street. He needed a beard trim and perhaps a new haircut. He was mumbling to himself. As I passed him he crossed the street and entered the apartment house. I snapped a photo with my iPhone. That was my old place, I thought. Such memories of my two years there. And the rent was more than reasonable…$450/mo. for a studio on the 26th floor. How I came to live here is the stuff of another blog.

I met my wife shortly after arriving in the City. I barely had time to settle in. She lived on W. 93rd. Take all the five boroughs and the millions of residents…what an extraordinary coincidence. We used to be somewhat beleaguered by the nighttime basketball playing in the next door school yard. And the car alarms…well forget it. I once walked the entire block in an effort to silence a particularly persistent car horn. I clutched a raw egg in my right pocket. I was going to ‘do’ his windshield. Just as I got to the car, just as my grip on the egg firmed and i began to pull it from my pocket, a police car from the 24th Precinct pulled up. New York’s finest was there to silence the alarm…much to relief of several hundred residents.

I walked west on 91st. About halfway to Amsterdam Avenue I passed the same young man I had seen earlier. His hand was in his right pocket of his jacket. He looked nervous. I decided to lean against the rails of an apartment building. I looked up at the old place I had called home. I counted three floors from the 29th and two from the left. I saw two figures standing in the window. One person was pointing downtown.

[My apartment was three floors down and one in from the left]

It was a cozy L-shaped studio. I had a nice table from IKEA and an old desk from my family’s house. Early on, I scored a visit from my father, my son Brian and my older brother, Chris. I remember one night when we sat by my window and looked to the south, the view was quite spectacular. Chris, who always noticed things before I did, pointed to the lights in the sky: “Planes approaching JFK or LaGuardia,” he said. I looked and saw a half dozen lights following the Hudson River to the north. He found his spare mattress and prepared for bed. I stared at the slowly approaching lights.

I made it around the block but felt restless. I walked into a Sushi restaurant on the corner of Amsterdam and 93rd. I went in and ordered a mug of Sapporo. It was after my first sip that I noticed the same young man I had seen earlier. He was sitting next to me. I looked at the mirror behind the liquor bottles. I looked into his eyes. They displayed an eagerness…an energy that was unusual. Should I say something to him? I sat and thought about what I would say. In the end, I watched him close the door behind him as he headed toward 92nd St. What could I possibly say to the young man that I already didn’t know.

[Once my home for over two decades]

Somehow I felt like I knew this young man, as well as I knew myself. Yet I let him walk out of the restaurant. I yelled after him, in my mind:

“My friend,” I would have said aloud. “I have a very strong feeling that a great many experiences are going to happen to you. Some of them will be happy and bring tears of joy and some will be heartbreaking and difficult and bring tears of sadness…but embrace them all, all of them. It’ll be an awesome ride and you only have one ticket…for one ride.

Just Like Riding A Bicycle

[Source: Veritas health]

I’m standing at the window of our hotel in New York City watching the snow blow upwards. Fifty-two floors below, whatever snow survives melts quickly on Fifty- fifth street or perhaps Broadway. Winters in Manhattan are infamous for the wicked winds that gust in from the Hudson and clash with the bluster through the cross streets. The top floors of the high rise office buildings are invisible in the low clouds. Heavy coats do nothing to lessen the biting slashing winds that can cut through your outer layer like a sharp scalpel, like a razor or a saber honed to the width of several microns. These winds can turn your Burberry umbrella into fodder for a trash can. February in the City can be deadly to The Little Match Girl.

But I digress.

About 11:45 am on Tuesday, February 15 I will be lying on a table in the Operating Room of Mount Sinai Hospital. Most of you, my followers and curious readers, are well aware of my history living with and dealing with my lower back pain. It’s not a secret. I’m open to this revelation because I’ve discovered one thing that set me on my journey to Upper Manhattan. Simply put, I have a very hard time walking. I lean on Mariam as if she were a well-grounded oak tree. (This is not a good thing because she has a very painful right shoulder…but that’s another story or another blog. When I walk I shuffle like someone who just finished a bowl of gluten free Quaaludes for brunch.) But the most surprising aspect of my story is that I found out that I cannot ride a bicycle. Back in Rainbow Lake I tried to get on my bike only to find that I can’t raise my leg high enough to get seated. I would up with a mouthful of Adirondack sand. This was not a small inconvenience because I love to ride a bike. Every street in my hometown of Owego, NY has been peddled by me.

So on Tuesday I will lie on the surgical table. Doctors and nurses will check on me. I will get an Oxygen tube down my throat, an IV and a blood pressure cuff. The anesthesiologist, I’m told, will insert a catheter. Upon hearing this I will make an attempt to reach the door. The very thought of the catheter sends fear, horror and apprehension to my…. .

But by that time, it will be too late.

“I’ll be gentle” he whispered. “And besides you will be totally under.” I, hopefully will be wandering in the world of general anesthesia. What most amazes me about surgery this serious is the speed at which the anesthesia works. I’ve tried before to experience the drifting away thing and even counting down from 100 like it’s done in the movies. I stare at the clock on the wall. I stare at an entirely different clock in a room I don’t recognize. Who are these people dressed in green? Where am I?

I ask the first nurse that appears and ask her when the operation will begin.

“It’s all over, hon,” she said. “You’ve been asleep for about three hours.”

God bless modern medicine.

I’ll end this narrative now. There’s not much more to say. If it all goes well, I shall be able to feel like a normal human once again. If, for some reason the results are not too successful, I have a back-up plan:

[Source: Google search]