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 Two Faces of the Summer Solstice

[Summer Sunrise over the Heel Stone at Stonehenge. Photo source: Google Search]

A short time ago a friend posted this on Facebook:

Hooray! Only 59 Days Until The Summer Solstice!

Most of us know that the Solstice marks the first day of summer.  It’s a moment when the sun rays are directly overhead at 23.5° N. Lat.  Where I live, this will occur at 11:54 am (EDT) on June 21.

[Diagram of the relative position of the sun (R) and the earth (L). Source: Google Search]

People think of BBQ’s, swimming, hiking and kayaking over seventy foot waterfalls.  Kites will fill the air at beaches.  Pyrotechnics are being prepared for the 4th of July.  Pom-Pom girls are practicing the baton tosses in their backyards while toddlers splash in small plastic pools under the watchful eye of parents, sitting in camp chairs, sipping bottles of Coors Lite.  Cans of Deep Woods Off are flying off the shelves at Target.  Tubes of SPF 65 lotion are in every picnic basket.  Big drinks with little umbrellas are served at pool-side.  The quarterbacks of the Fall flirt with the cheerleader/lifeguards of the Summer.  Sandcastles, surfing, hang-gliding, rodeos, NASCAR races, deer-tick bites and human pyramid water-skiing are the activities on any given day south of Manitoba.  (Actually, most of these events happen in Canada as well, but no-one goes up there this time of year to see for themselves.)

[This is how I spent my summer days at the lake. Source: Google Search]

And, in sunny England, the Druids are allowed among the Sacred Stones of Stonehenge to welcome the arrival of the SUN.

[Druids at Stonehenge on June 21st. Source: Google Search]

The Glory Days!  The Endless Summer.  Autumn is months away.  The Farness.  The Freedom.  The Freshness…it’s the eternal now moment everyone wants to be in and stay in.

And, best of all…it’s the longest days of the year!

[Allow me to muddy the waters a bit here.  The longest day?  No, of course not.  The length of the ‘day’ is and will remain twenty-four hours.  Can’t change that.  First day of Summer?  That depends on how you think of summer.  There are really two “summers”.  One is the Meteorological Summer, which traditionally is from June 1 to August 31.  This is when the thermal load begins to build in the Northern Hemisphere.  Hence, one can go swimming on June 7 because it’ll likely be warm enough and you are willing to hold your breath for twenty-three minutes underwater to escape the black flies.  But this post is mostly concerned with Astronomical Summer as described in the diagram above.  None of this seasonal stuff would happen if the earth was not tilted 23.5 degrees off the vertical plane in our relationship with the sun.  The planet Mercury has no tilt and therefore no seasons.  If you lived on Mercury, SPF would be your least problem.  The daytime temperature is approximately 800 degrees Fahrenheit.  Hot enough to melt your nail polish.  Hot enough to even…well, you wouldn’t have an arm to apply anything on.  It’s very difficult to rub SPF on a gelatinous mass of bubbling protoplasm.  But in the few seconds you perhaps survived, you’d need an SPF of 2,500.  I haven’t seen anything like that at Walgreens lately.  And, forget about a beach book.  The temperature is twice that of the burning point of paper.  You’d need a Kindle for sure.]

Back to earth.

And, there’s the catch.  Just when you’ve reached the peak (the Summer Solstice) you have to begin thinking about going down.

After June 21, the days begin to get shorter.

You may say that after reading this that I’m a glass-is-half-empty kind of guy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I’m the eternal optimist.  After all, in a mere six months, the days will start to get longer!

And then you have the Holidays to look forward to.

 

Staring Down at 72

[A post card image from Inkognito.]

As I write this post the weather here at Rainbow Lake is unsettled.  Windy with thunder in the distance.  I fell asleep in the screened-in porch last night listening to heavy rains falling.  I’m staring at a calendar (The kitchen wall calendar…this year: Japanese prints).  I see that I have eleven days until I turn 72.

[My photo.]

72!

When I was a young boy of perhaps nine or ten years of age, I used to play Wiffle Ball with my older brother, Denny.  After many swings and hitting little or nothing, I asked him something that worried me:

“Denny, how many fouls make an out?”

Without hesitating he replied: “72”.

I had no reason to not believe him…I was young.

But that number, 72, kept echoing in my mind over the many years since I sat in our backyard with my older brother. I decided to do a little research.  Google was smoking for me two nights ago as I found many references to that magic number.

The fact is, that number is VERY significant in many ways…mostly to Numerologists.

Here’s a small sample of what I found:

–It is known in esoteric numerology as the Master Number.

–72 x 12=864…the diameter of the sun. (www.netfind.com)

–The average human lifespan is 72 years.

–December 21, 2010 (Winter Solstice) was the date of a total lunar eclipse which lasted exactly 72 minutes.

–The human body is 72% water.

–The Zodiac has 12 constellations and 72 secondary ones.

–72 is the par on an 18-hole golf course.

–There are 72 spaces on a Parcheesi board.

–72 Hz is the frequency commonly used to examine the emotional spectrum.

–In the Old Testament, God destroyed the Tower of Babel and divided the people by 72 languages.

–Jesus died for 72 hours.

–Muslims are awarded 72 virgins in heaven.

–The Pentagon in Washington has 5 angles, all of which are 72 degrees.

–WWII lasted 72 months.

–And, in numerology, 72 = tolerance, philanthropy and intuition.

And there is so much more.

So, what does all this mean for me?  That’s a good question.  All I can say for sure is that I’m not anticipating that day…a week from Friday.  There are so many more years behind me than in front of me.  Have I done right in all those years on this planet?  Have I always made the right choices? (No).  Have I lived a moral life? (Mostly).  There are so many more questions but so few answers.  My only real hope is that I will be here to write about the significance of the number 73.

My dreams at night are those of a young man, not with white hair but merely salt and pepper.  I have no aches in my legs and back…in my dreams.  The young women in my dreams say to me: “Yes, I could love you tonight.”

In the brightness of day, those same young women think: “He looks just like Grandpa.”

“If I’m here in the morning, baby, I’ll know I’ve survived.  I can’t believe it.  I can’t believe I’m alive…but without you it doesn’t seem right.  Oh, where are you tonight?”

–Bob Dylan

“It is hard to do justice to old pleasures that cannot be revived–we seem half to disown our youthful selves, who loved and treasured them.”

–Alan Hollinghurst The Sparsholt Affair.

[Vitruvian Man. A sketch by Leonardo da Vinci. Source: Google search.]

[Full disclosure:  No humans or animals were harmed while writing this post.  The facts listed above have not been verified by me.  They were found during a Google search.  And, most importantly: This post is in no way a shameless and gratuitous plea for LIKES on my Facebook page on May 31. But, don’t let that stop you…]

 

 

 

 

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]

Autumn And Gravestones

[Sitting and thinking at Forest Cemetery, St. Regis Falls, NY.]

Now that there is six inches of fresh snow on the ground and the trees are bare and the world outside our picture window is monochromatic, I can admit that I miss the late summer, the coolness of autumn days and the color of the trees.

I’ll also miss my favorite cemeteries. The best time of year to roam the country graveyards has come and gone. I’ll have to wait until mid-summer, after the mud and the bugs, until I can go “graving” again.

Does it all sound morbid to you? Too melancholy? It shouldn’t. I enjoy old cemeteries where I can learn local history and make up life stories of those who are interred beneath my feet.

And I have a perfectly good reason to wander the burying grounds. I am a volunteer photographer for Find-A-Grave.com. I get requests from people who live in places like Iowa and Nebraska asking for a photo of their grandfather’s headstone, or a memorial to an aunt’s grave they will never visit…never have a chance to leave a flower or a penny on the gravestone. They reply in emails how glad they are to have such a photo. It helps them build their family trees on Ancestry.com or some other genealogy site. Or (as they have written), share the photo with a grandchild, son, niece or spouse.

I love doing this for these people. I ask for nothing in return, except for a simple “thank you”.

Every human has a story that tells of their lives, even those who have been buried 150 years ago. I’ve stood over the graves and photographed headstones of suicides, murder victims, children who lived two days and men and women who lived to their 90+ years. I’ve wept over the graves of people whose families could only manage a hand-made headstone made of poured concrete and wrote the name and death dates with their fingers.

So many stories. So many headstones. So many epitaphs. So much grief.

But, time heals those wounds…they say.

My Son’s Beard

 

I saw him being born. Later on, I saw peach fuzz on his adolescent chin.

A few years later, when he moved in with us, in New York City, I think he borrowed my razor.

Yesterday, I stood next to him at The Beacon Bar. I sipped a beer, he had something I never heard of.

I was close to him, as I always like to be. He’s a big guy and he’s 31 years old ( Oh, God, how time flies !)

I studied his face, thinking how much I love him. Then I saw them!

I  Counted three. My boy had three gray whiskers on his cheek !

I don’t know what his thoughts were, but I felt ten years older.  Some would say “that’s life”. That’s not what my words would be.