Kissing Manhattan Goodbye

So, it’s time to say farewell to the city I love.  A week from today, if you have a drone, you will find us driving north on the I-87…through Albany…onto Exit 30…and then fifty more miles, through Lake Placid, to our home at Rainbow Lake.

I’ve heard it said so many times: “New York City is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

Fine, I understand everyone has different tastes.  Besides, it’s all true what people say about New York.  It’s so big, crowded, diverse and varied, that whatever anyone says about the city… is true.  It’s safe, dangerous, cheap and way too expensive.  It’s all true…but I love the vibrant life, liberalism, culture and gravity.  Yes, there is an intense gravity to this place…someone once said that everyone should live in New York City at least once in their life…and I agree.

I lived on the Upper West Side for over twenty-five years.  With some exceptions, I loved every minute of my time.  Then, I retired and in 2011, Mariam and I decided to get bought out (our building was going condo) and we decided to head north to our place on Rainbow Lake.  We needed the quiet.  Mariam went part-time, working from home on the computer.

We got our quiet…sometimes, it seemed to me, a little too much.  I was lonely.  Only a few of our friends made the six-hour trip to visit us.

Then, we were offered the opportunity to come back for six months, on a full salary, to put things in order at Mariam’s place of business.  We got a sub-let on W. 74th Street and became New Yorkers once again.  I saw my son more often and reunited with old friends.

But, not all went as expected.  For reasons I won’t discuss here, I found myself falling into a mild depression.  I brought many of my “works-in-progress” for my writing  projects.  I lost the creative energy to plug-in my memory stick and write a few chapters.

The winter was wet and chilly.  The spring was little better.  Then it got really bloody hot.  But, we saw a number of Broadway and Off Broadway shows that were fantastic.  We made friends at our local pub, the Beacon Bar.  We had a good time.

And, now, we’re packing things up…unread novels, unread magazines and putting away unfulfilled trips.

This was kind of an experiment ….to see if we could ever move back here.

I’m conflicted.

The “Dream House in the Woods” can sometimes  be something you’re not expecting.  Where are your friends and local pubs “where everybody knows your name?”

It’s just another move in our lives.  Mariam will be retired and I need a hobby.  I was thinking about carving duck decoys….I’m serious.   Maybe I’ll write the Great American Novel. Maybe I won’t.

Maybe I won’t and just drift on my kayak.

Stay tuned.

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Kissing The Moon

[Source: Google search.]

So, there is a story.  It goes something like this:

A certain Chinese poet, Li Po, was said to have tried to kiss the reflection of the moon from his boat.  He leaned to plant the kiss…fell overboard  and drowned.  What is the moral of the story?

I am fascinated by the moon.  The werewolves, in legend, were dictated by the full moon.  The moon’s 28 day cycle has been linked with the monthly cycle  of a woman.

The moon.

I may have had my first kiss on a night of the Full Moon. I just don’t remember…I was moon struck. I walked home from a date one night when I was in high school.  My readers will know who the girl was.  I stepped into the playground of the elementary school where I attended for eight years.  It was a Catholic school.  There was a cross on the peak of the ‘tower’…I don’t know what else to call it.  I aligned the cross with the full moon that was rising over the Susquehanna River.  I looked across the street where, earlier, I had been sitting with my girlfriend on a stone bench…still there along Front Street…watching the moon rise over the ripples of the slow-moving river.

But, after my session with the moon and the cross, I walked home strangely altered…how? I can not say, but the experience stays with me.

Did we really walk on the moon?  I gaze at it often and wonder how, when a laptop crashes, we mustered the technology to go all the way there and come back…a dozen times.

As a science teacher,  I once had a plexiglass disk with a moon rock in my hands.  It was unreal.

I used to talk to my fading sweetheart, when I was in college, from a pay phone…I could see the moon through the glass…I asked her if she would look out of her window, 1,200 miles away to see the same moon.

The same moon that shed it’s light on all of history.

So, what is the real story I’m trying to tell?  I’m not sure, I guess it’s about dreaming, night and desiring something that may be the last fatal desire.

Don’t try to kiss the moon…kiss the one you love…or love the one you’re with.

The moon.

[A Full Moon in Paris. My photograph.]

Gathering Dust

IceAxe

I was dusting some items in our home the other day.  If you find that unusual, you should see the amount of dust that can accumulate in a house that was empty for almost six months.  We weren’t even here.  So, where did it come from?  And, it’s not that we keep an unclean home.  I can’t tell you how many boxes of Swiffer Sweeper we have been through. (I can’t tell you how much we recommend this state-of-the-art product!)

That’s another story.

I ran my finger along the top of one the most precious items I own.  It’s an ice axe.  I bought it in the spring of 1964, when I was getting ready to join my brother on the Juneau Icefield for the summer.

I found a bit of white…a bit of dust on my finger.  How could I have not attended to this most coveted item…in my cleaning?

You must understand something.  You can’t get these ice axes anymore.  Oh, maybe in some tiny Swiss alpine shop in Zermatt, but not here…unless you’re willing to pay an outrageous price.  This ice axe is made of ash (maybe hickory), the kind that Edmund Hillary used on Everest in 1953…on the first ascent (maybe).  What you get today, if you find yourself ordering an ice axe, it will be made of anodized aluminum or carbon fiber or some sort of alloy devised by NASA for the International Space Station.

But, my ice axe (note to reader:  it is not called an  “ice pick”.  That is so gauche a term.  It’s an ice axe…so no further discussion here, ok.) An ice axe of an old classic style that you see now in Museums of Alpine History.

Yes, I ran my finger along the top and found dust.  Not so surprising, unless you’re like me…items from earlier years rarely collected dust.  Once I put away the toys of childhood, they stayed mostly out of sight…and therefore out of mind.  There is an exception or two: my Lionel locomotive and a Lone Ranger lunch box.  But, the ice axe was somehow different.  It represented a transition from youth to adulthood and I often would stare at it, up there on the wall reflecting back on the times that were brighter, better, more youthful, full of energy and promise.  I climbed nameless peaks with it in my right hand and even saved myself from falling into a crevasse on a July day in 1964.

This was a special item I owned. I even went into my fathers forbidden workshop and wood burned my initials into the shaft:  P.J.EGAN.  My childhood girlfriend stood by be as I did that.  She kissed it for good luck (al least in my memory she did).  Later, I rubbed boiled Linseed Oil into the wood until my forearm ached.

It was an object of utility, craftsmanship, art and beauty.

Then, when my wife and I moved to the Adirondacks in 2011, I took the ice axe and mounted it on the wall.  It was several weeks until I realized what it was that I had done.  I hung up my ice axe.  This is the ultimate “well, I’m done with that stage of my life” moment.  It’s like when you hand your car keys to your child because you can’t drive anymore…safely.  But, I wasn’t that old…was I?

I walked over to my “alpine bookshelf” and looked at the titles and saw the hardware: the pitons, carabiners and chocks…tools of a rock climber.  I was fairly good in the 1970’s.  They were coated in a thin layer of dust.

I picked up Direttissima, by Peter Gillman and Dougal Haston (someone you should google someday when it’s raining and you want to read about a tragic, enigmatic person), and, again, I blew enough dust off the top pages that I began to sneeze like it was a late summer day in a field of ragweed.

AlpineBooks

So, this was my past?  This is was what I have left of my glory days on the glaciers, in the bars of Juneau…and watching Eagles soar at 10:00 pm when I was fishing out of Auk Bay?

Dusty books and a very special dusty ice axe…mounted on a thinly paneled wall in our home?

This was me once:

In the Col Looking West (2)

Are the glory days really behind us…gathering dust?

 

 

 

Holiday Time In Fort Myers/Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?*

“I don’t know Doc, I just seem a little disoriented lately.  Maybe it’s the time of year?  Maybe I should stay away from the egg nog…”

–Notation in the files of Dr. Hugh Roebottom, Psychiatrist, on the recent session with Patrick Egan.

wreath

It’s a pretty Christmas wreath.  I’m looking a one of the prettiest plastic Christmas wreaths I’ve ever seen.  I snap a photo of it to include in my “How I Spent The Winter” slideshow on my website.  There is an iced coffee in my free hand.  The condensation from the plastic cup of iced coffee has covered my iPhone with drops of water.  It’s not easy taking pictures with an iPhone and a dripping plastic cup at the same time.

I turn around and snap another photo.

mall lot

The PA system at the Outlet Mall is playing “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”.  I’m supposed to be seeing snow on the ground and happy shoppers with bundled children walking through the falling flakes.  Where are bundled children, the red scarves, the woolen caps and the bright blue mittens?  Where do the children make “snow angels”?

kidatoutletmall

It’s not happening.

Then I remember.  I’m not in my hometown of Owego, NY, or shopping in Binghamton in a snow storm.  I even remember that I’m not a child anymore.  I’m a senior citizen.  Here, I’m surrounded by senior citizens, and golf carts and adult tricycles.  No, I’m in Fort Myers, FL trying to escape the cold and snow.  Thanksgiving is next week.  Soon it will be December.  Soon, it will be Christmastime.

I go up the steps to the boardwalk at the Outlet Mall to think things over.  This is a little surreal to me–being here this time of year.  Even just being in Florida, for me, is a bit out-of-character.  I have Celtic blood in my veins.  It’s thick and doesn’t do well in sub-tropical climates.

Sipping on my iced coffee gives me a chance to digest the last seventeen days since we parked and unhooked our r-Pod. In the shopping centers I’ve seen Salvation Army Santas in teal colored shorts and Hawaiian shirts ringing the little hand-bell.  At least they have a red fleece Santa cap on their heads.  (They must be sweating under that cap.)

This place called Florida, this place where the Bush/Gore drama played out years ago, this place where Disney and Spanish culture collide like a bad I-95 accident, is a study in contrasts.  There is profound beauty in the Mangrove swamps and mind-bending varieties of shells on Sanibel Island.  The mosquitoes bite and the sunsets amaze.  The ants crawl on the cement and the storks take wing alongside the herons and egrets.

shorebirds

At the same time, the RV resorts and hotels and private marinas have taken the rawness out of the landscape.  I did a Google search on local beaches–I found a list under the link of au natural.  Thinking this was a place where I could walk naked, without shame, along the shore, communing with nature like Adam.  I checked one particular beach on Sanibel.

“Are you joking?” said the guy who was tying up the trash from a can in the parking lot.

I found that au natural basically meant that attendants didn’t pick up the litter and the driftwood stayed where the falling tide left it.

Yes, it’s a different world here for a small town Yank like me.  I’m going to miss the bleak grey skies of Thanksgiving and the snow of Christmas.  Most of my friends from high school are retired now and many have moved to the Carolina’s or here, to Florida.  I can’t speak for them, but I suspect that leaving behind the snows of yesterday with all the attendant activities, was a little hard.  Maybe not.

I remember being in New York City years ago.  They had just finished filming a scene from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York on 5th Ave. and 59th street.  The set was made to look like Christmas in New York, and the Hollywood magic worked.  When I saw the film later, I was totally convinced Macaulay Culkin was indeed in the city in the heart of winter.  In truth, the scene was filmed in July or August.  An entire corner of Central Park and the plaza in front of the Plaza Hotel was covered in fake snow.

On my drive back from the Outlet Mall to our RV resort, I turn on the clearest FM station I can find.  I expect something, some song, that speaks to me in mid-November.  Instead, I hear the song: “Have You Left The One You Left Me For?”, it was quickly followed by “I’m Old Enough To Know Better But Young Enough Not To Care.”

They were kind of catchy.

There will be no family gathering for dinner next Thursday.  There will be no Christmas parties for us.  We are going to exchange presents, but there will be no tree to decorate.  It’s hard to hang lights on a palm tree.

New Year’s Eve?  No noise makers or funny hats or those things you blow into and they unravel.  (I never knew what they were called).  We’ll be going to bed early with everything packed and road-ready for our departure from Siesta Bay Resort on New Year’s Day.

On Christmas Eve, when I wrap the gift I already bought for Mariam, I will be singing a song inside my head–to myself–to the memories of my childhood.  I’ll probably have a CD in our player of Bing Crosby holiday music, but it’s the music in my head that I’ll be listening to.

I don’t know about the PA system at the Outlet Mall, but I’ll be quietly singing: I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

palm sunset

Happy Thanksgiving!

[* “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying To Stay Forever Young

AngieMaryMe

I’m sitting on the deck of our home at Rainbow Lake.  A lone chickadee hops from branch to branch and then vanishes into the thicket of trees.  I can see the shimmer of the setting sun reflecting from the water below us.  Only patches of the lake can be seen, we need to trim a few trees so I can watch the kayakers splash by on warm afternoons.

I hear the distinct honking of the Canadian Geese as they fly overhead and set their internal compass on south.  Their skein is visible for a brief moment above my head through the only patch of open sky on our property.

Just a week ago, I too, headed south.  Back to my hometown.  Back to a monumental reunion of my classmates, fifty long years after we graduated from Owego Free Academy.  At this very hour, one week ago, I was mingling with men and women that were once the boys and girls of my class.  Grey hair was dominant.  A cane here.  A limp there.  But, considering the changes that took place in the past half-century, my classmates fared well.  Extraordinarily well.  Last Friday night was the mixer.  I had to read names tags carefully, since I hadn’t seen these people in decades.  I did not watch them age because I did not stay in my hometown.  I saw them on a day in June 1965, and now I was seeing many of them for the first time since.

The next night was the Big Event.  It was the dinner and dance.  I found out that I was one of the few speakers on the program to make remarks.  I was to follow shortly after the poem that remembered those of us who had passed away.  Tough act to follow.

I was very nervous.  Many in the ballroom had read my blogs, many had followed my Facebook posts.  Many had little idea of who I had become.

My talk seemed a blur to me as I tried to bring humor and nostalgia together.  Was I funny?  Was I confusing?  Was I making a fool of myself?  I’ll never know.

I watched, with a wet eye, as Judy walked across the dance floor and became our “Senior Prom Queen”.  I learned that she had to move half-way through our senior year to join her mother–she missed the prom.  Now, this was her moment.  Her gown was that of a princess.  Her husband wore a tux.  I looked at my wool blazer and felt underdressed.

Across the dinner table were dear old friends, including my childhood sweetheart.  She and I and her BFF from elementary school went to the photo booth.

I’ve been dreading this reunion in a way.  I knew it was going to be a splash of cold water–something to force me to face the fearful fact of how fast time goes by and how we succumb to the years and how we face mortality.  I had to face the fact that, unpleasant as it is, I may never see some of these people again.

But, that dinner-dance was a moment in the present.  Some danced at the oldies like any of the sock hops back in the day.

One can try to “stay forever young”, but everyone in that room was aware of the force that was beyond our control.  The ticking of the clock–the pages of the calendar–the rising and setting of the sun.

But, for the moment, everyone was in the present.  The only place to be, really.

Someday, a group of people will look back on the weekend of September 11 & 12, 2015 and say: “Those were the days.”

Me at OFA

[Photo of a man with a microphone trying to make some sense]

The Empty Bedroom

MyChildhoodBedroom

This was once my bedroom.

There was a time when this room was packed full of the stuff of life…

From a crib made in the mid-1940’s, I would look out at the flowered wallpaper.  Maybe a mobile hung just out of my reach, and moved about when a breeze caught it from a partly opened window.  Maybe I held onto a teddy bear, tightly…oh, so tightly…to keep my young boy dreams from turning into night terrors.

In the early 1950’s, my crib found a new home in the attic where it stayed until my mother sold it to a neighbor.  I had a small single bed…a “Hollywood” bed, my mother would call it.  It remained in that room until someone bought it and dismantled it and walked away with it when my wife, my brother and I had the tag sale a year after my father died.  I could never fall asleep on that bed.  My mother tried everything.  She put in a little white AM radio and I would listen to Doris Day singing “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” so often, I thought it was the only song that existed.  I would crawl from that bed and creep to the top of the stairs.  Below me, in a dark living room, the black and white TV flickered.  I would call quietly to my mother and tell her I couldn’t sleep.  She’d have me come down to the sofa and together we’d eat chives and cheese on saltines.

Eventually she’d send me to bed again.  There was a landing halfway up the stairs.  I would almost always linger and ask her whether the war was ever going to come to Owego.

“No,” she would say.  “Korea is a long way off.”

I would linger still.  I was fearful of something.  I knew there were no monsters under my bed…but I was afraid.

“Promise me you won’t die before me,” I would ask her every night.

“I promise,” she would replied.  She never kept her word on that.

In high school, I would lay on the bed, see it?  Below the sconce.  I read Macbeth during the summer (I wasn’t even required to do so).  It put me into a dark mood of evil and murder.  I should have been reading Romeo and Juliet instead.

I spent my final night in that bed the day before I went away to college.  A few months later, I sat on the same bed with my father during the Christmas holiday and cried.  I cried because my childhood girlfriend had broken up with me.  He sat and watched.  He didn’t know what to say to me.

He was like that.

Years later, the bed was against the left wall. The empty left wall. I was living at home because my marriage had fallen apart.  I was not a teacher in Connecticut anymore…I was working as a temp in IBM and living at my parent’s house.  It was the worst humiliation you can imagine.  But it was the same old bed in the same old room that had seen me grow up and become a man.

Just around the corner, there by the radiator, a doorway led into the hallway.  On the molding of the door sill, there were many pencil marks and dates.  I had kept track of my son’s growth.  How fast it all happens.  How fast they grow.  It’s all painted over now.

In 1992, I came to the bed at 8:00 am to try to sleep.  I had been up all night watching The Robe on TV.  It was Easter Sunday morning…what else would they be showing?  Behind me, on a hospice bed, my mother was dying.

I came to that bed and closed my eyes.  Not thirty minutes passed when my sister-in-law came and knocked.

“Pat, I think you should come downstairs.  Your mother is gone.”

Now, the bedroom is empty.  The family that bought the house, sold it not too many years later.

The photograph above was taken by a real estate agent.

It shows a bare room, a radiator, a sconce and two windows.  You can hardly see the trees that are bending over the front porch.

And, you can not see the stuff that used to be in that room.

Not unless you close your eyes and try to imagine a baby sleeping there and then, quick as blowing out a candle, you may be able to see the stuff that belongs to the ages of a man’s life.

 

 

The Silent Songs of the Burrens and the Rebel Songs of Galway

Moher1I stood at the edge of the famous Cliffs of Moher.  Just a short drive from Shannon Airport, this site is one of the first stops for tourists.  The last time I stood at this edge of Ireland where the Atlantic Ocean pounds silently far below us, at the base of rock faces that can cause you to miss a breath, I couldn’t see anything.  It was misty  and a wet wind nearly blew me over.

Not today.  We had just picked up my son, Brian, and the weather was clear enough so when you looked out to the ocean, you could see the curvature of the earth.  A harpist played New Age Celtic melodies for the crowds that were trudging up the steps for the best view.  A fiddler played.  A man on a penny whistle played.  The music blended nicely with the quiet view.  We were too far above the waves to hear any crashing surf.  The music was the soft lilts and airs of this land of music and dance.

I watched my son.  He leaned against the great stone slabs that protected oblivious tourists from getting too close to the edge.  I saw him close his eyes briefly.  He heard the music of the sea without hearing the sound of the water, so far below.

Our destination for the night was Galway.  Another few hours of driving would put us at a B & B in Salthill, just a short walk to the famous Latin Quarter.  We were going in search of pubs that played traditional Irish music.

But first, we had to drive through the Burren.  This is a strange place indeed.  Lunar-like in its landscape, it is where many people get their first real look at the wild and isolated regions of Ireland.  Unless you’re mentally prepared, there came be something unsettling and odd in this land of flat limestone.  In the full sunlight, the stone can be nearly blinding with its white-gray surface…a surface that give you the sense that you can just turn your car to one side and just drive over the pavement.

But that would be a bad idea.  It was rolling and full of boulders and fissures in the rock that are a foot wide.  I parked the car to stretch and I walked away from the road.  It was silent, save for the wind in my hair and blowing through the heather patches and wildflowers that found a home in the cracks.

I heard something.  I heard music.  I looked around and I was too far from any car for a radio to be heard.  My wife and son had found a nice place to sit and wait for me.

There it was again.  I heard music…it was an ancient air…a mournful tune…a lament that came from the very rocks I was standing on.  I heard familiar melodies like Molly Malone and .  I heard the music of an older time when life was simpler and more gentle.  A time when God may have been present among the lives of men.  A time when nature herself ruled the earth as the Mother Goddess in the times of the Mist. I heard the songs of the fossils that were older than time itself.  The shells and the oolites of the limestone was alive with something I couldn’t understand or touch.

Just listen.

I walked slowly back to the car, afraid to confront reality.  That’s when I saw my son standing and looking out over Galway Bay.  I wondered if he heard the music as I did.  I walked up and stood beside him.

“This is insane,” he said.

I knew what he meant.  I think it was his Gen X way of saying: “I get this place right now.  I really do.”

We drove on.  Cottages, bonded to the solitary sheep, began to appear as if to announce that humans still used this land.

BurrensCottage

Then, the flatness returned.  The rocks stretched toward the Bay and then, with a ninety degree drop, met the water.

BurrensSlabs1

We stopped a few more times before we left the Burren.  Brian got out of the car once more and walked to the edge once again.  He looked out at the water.

I tried to read his mind, but couldn’t.  And, that’s the way it should be.

BrainAtGalwayBay

That night we went to the Latin Quarter in Galway, not very far from the Spanish Arch.  We heard music again.  Finnegan’s Wake, Raglan Road, The Wild Rover.  Songs of the people.  Songs of the struggles.  Songs of unrequited love.  Songs exile and songs of executions.

Songs that define this ancient and complex island.

Songs that were sung for a hundred years…perhaps by people who had my blood in their veins.

GalwayAtNight