Dark Roads And Distant Lights

NoirFloridaRoad

So much of Florida is simply and without question, beautiful.  The beaches come to mind.  The wetlands of the Everglades are near the top of the list.  The seemingly endless forests of the Ocala National Forest are a reminder of what Florida once looked like before Disney, Developers and Big Sugar got their hands on so much of the natural and unique beauty.

But, there’s a dark side as well.  This witching hour come at dusk, when the shadows lengthen and the details of the roadside becomes dim and indistinct.

I drove north, through The Villages, where we visited a friend, Nancy, who grew up a few blocks from where I did in Owego, NY.  I drove north, on roads that paralleled I-75.  We grazed Ocala.  We drove toward an RV park in Fort McCoy, near the middle of the state.

This was not Sanibel or Captiva Island.  This was a strange and unfamiliar country that got slightly more menacing as we sought our campground.

The roadsides lost a familiar clarity.  The houses looked a bit more run-down, some had sad Christmas lights still blinking in their yards.  Every mile or two, a gate at the head of a driveway, or a house, flew the Confederate flag.

I wanted to get settled in our site.  I wanted to collapse on the bed and play a few Scrabble games.  I wanted to nibble on a few vegetables and a cracker or two with a slice or two of Irish Cheddar.

Instead we drove along what seemed to be an endless road.  Our GPS was giving us contradictory commands.  My own confidence at map-reading began to falter.  Were we lost?  Did we miss a turn?

What about gas?  I hadn’t seen a station in what seemed like hours.  When you’re in an unfamiliar landscape, time can stretch and become distorted.

We finally located our RV park.  I don’t like to hear Interstate traffic when we camp…that would most definitely NOT be the case here.  There was no traffic noise at all.

A security guard was supposed to meet us at the gate-house and check us in.  There was no one there.  We followed the directions to check ourselves in.

We were listed for Site #50.  I was distracted by another RV in the exit lane.  The guy seemed upset:

“They knew we had to leave early.  I’m locked in!”

Indeed, there was a cable across the exit drive.  I went out to help him.  His RV was larger than mine.  He was traveling with a blonde that I could barely see through the smoked glass of the passenger side.  I helped him unhook the cable and I pulled the orange traffic cone to one side.  He drove off.

Now, when I hear someone express interest in leaving “early” I think that they mean 6:30 am.  But, it was 7:45 pm!

Why was this guy leaving at this hour?  Where was he going?  Where was he going to spend the night, which had already started?

“Is there something going on here?” I asked myself.

The security guard drove up.  I told him we were heading to Site #50, but I couldn’t make out anything more than a small dirt road.

“I need some direction to #50,” I said.

“Oh, you won’t like #50,” he said.  “There a ditch in the middle of it.  Take #22.  You’ll like it better.”

We took Site #22 and we did like it.

A few campers had fires.  People laughed in the darkness.  I settled in and felt hungry only for a few veggies and a piece of cheese.  I made a few plays on Scrabble but found the WiFi signal weak and uneven.  I gave up.  Mariam wanted a bottle of cold water, so I slipped on my shoes and went to the ice cooler in the car.  The moon, full only a few days ago (on Christmas Night), was Waning Gibbous.  Orion was bright and directly over my head.  It was a cool and pleasant night

I stood in the large mown yard and looked at the moon.  In a few hours it would be December 31.  I thought of my days in Florida, my sailing, my new friends and my new experiences.

I thought about my family.  Brian in New York City, Erin, in Washington State.  My grandson on Erin’s knee reaching for his dad, Bob.  I thought of my faithful readers of this blog.

And, as lonely as I feel at this moment, here in the middle of somewhere in Central Florida, that I wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year.

So, Happy New Year.  I love y’all.

SpanishMossTree

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Waiting For All Hallow’s Eve XV: “The Ghost Who Called My Name-A True Story”

DoorKnocker2

What I am about to tell you actually happened to me.

But, do I have the absolute right to say that a “ghost” called my name?  No, I cannot.  Declaring it an actual spirit from beyond the grave, requires scientific proof…and I cannot offer you any.  But, I have no other word to describe the voice of the woman that night, the woman who called my name.

So many years ago…

I believe this happened on New Years Eve, as 1991 rolled over and became, in the moment past midnight, 1992.  My wife and I decided to escape the noise of Manhattan and instead, spend a quiet holiday in a lovely little town in the center of New York State.  It was to Cooperstown that we drove that cold day.  We had booked a room for two nights in a quaint B&B on Chestnut Street.  I will not reveal the name of the establishment.  No, I cannot do that for two very good reasons:  some inn-keepers would prefer not to have that kind of ‘stigma’ attached to their establishment.  After all, there are travelers who would balk at the idea of spending a night in a house…with an unknown entity.  The other reason is even more concrete.  I simply do not remember the name of the place.  So, let’s leave it at that.  If you want to find this place, just drive along Chestnut Street and look for an old white Victorian-style home.  It may be the very place where ‘she’ stood outside my door in the dark hours past midnight.

After checking in and putting our suitcase in the room at the top of the stairs, we chatted with the inn keeper for a few minutes.  She was middle-aged and carried herself with grace and intelligence.  Her husband was away for a few days.  So was her daughter.  It was just the three of us in the old white house.

We made the short walk to the main street and had dinner in a small restaurant.

The wind blew cold from the far reaches of Otsego Lake.  (The outlet of the beautiful body of water, often called Glimmerglass, was a small creek that was to widen and become the great Susquehanna, the very river that flowed past my childhood home in Owego, NY.)  At the mouth of the lake, you could toss a pebble across the water with the slightest effort.

We bar-hopped for several hours and watched the patrons prepare to welcome the New Year by donning those little cone-shaped hats.  We decided that we would prefer to spend the midnight hour back in our room watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”, again.

Around 1:30 am, I tired of reading (my wife had already fallen asleep) and turned off the light.  The window was open a crack to let the fresh and chill air in to the room.

I pulled the covers to my chin, closed my eyes and in a few minutes I was lost in a dream.

I sat up suddenly an hour or so later.  Someone had knocked on our door which was an arms length away from my pillow.  A woman called out: “Patrick.  Patrick.”

“Yes?” I replied and I slid off the bed and approached the door. “Yes?”

“Patrick,” was all I heard.  She had called me three times.

I began to worry.  If the inn keeper was calling me at this hour, then clearly something was wrong.  Perhaps a small fire had been detected and she wanted us to get out of the house.

I stood at the door.

“What is it?” I asked. “Yes, what is it?”

Silence.

I unlatched the door and opened it a crack…

There was no one there.

I opened the door wider and stuck my head into the hallway.

“Hello?” I called out.

Silence. There was no one in the hall.  No one was near the stairs.

My wife was sitting up in bed.

“What did she want?” she asked.

“There’s nobody there,” I replied. “But you did hear her?”

“I heard a woman call your name several times.”

So, it wasn’t a dream. I was awake.

I fell back asleep.  I would talk with the inn keeper in the morning.

~~~

At the breakfast table, someone else served us.

As we went through the parlor to get our coats for our walk to the main street, I noticed the inn keeper sitting at her desk.

“What did you want me for last night?” I asked.

“Pardon?” she said. “What do you mean?”

“You came to my door and called me…it must have been sometime after 1:30.”

“No, I’m sorry, I didn’t call you.  I was fast asleep at that time.”

“Well,” I joked, “must have been the ghost.”

Her mood quickly changed.  She looked away for a moment.  Then she looked me in the eye.

“Well maybe and maybe I should tell you the story.”

“Story?”

“Yes, you see, shortly after we bought the house my daughter and I were raking the leaves and cleaning the lawn.  My daughter asked me who the “lady with the grey hair tied in a bun” was.

“My daughter said she had just seen an elderly woman in a dark dress standing at the second floor window watching us.  I told her that there was no one in the house except her father, and the two of us.  We wouldn’t open the B&B until a month or two later.  But my daughter insists she saw this woman.  She described her just as I’ve told you…grey hair tied in a bun…the old-fashioned way.  Later, my little girl and I went to the library to check out a few books.  I took the opportunity to introduce myself as the new owner of the white house on Chestnut Street.  I asked about who the previous owners were.  She said she knew the house well.  And then she said that one of the owners, many years ago, was a widow…elderly woman who always wore a black dress.  I asked her if she could tell me anything else about her.  She thought for a moment and said that she never met the woman because she died before she had become the librarian.  But from things she picked up over the years, she could say one thing…she always, always wore her grey hair in a bun.”

I stared at the inn keeper.

“Guess, that was who called me last night, right?”

She smiled and said: “Certainly seems like it.”

Me? I can say only one thing for sure.  I did not dream of the knock on the door and the voice calling my name.

So, I can tell you what it was not…it was not a dream.  But I cannot tell you what it was or who it was.

Or, why a voice in a dark hall called my name.

 

 

Throw The Lady a Sweater

Normally I’m not averse to looking onto a rooftop of a building and seeing an unclothed female.

Normally.

However, here it is on New Years Eve and the temperature in New York City is about 20 F, with a wind chill of -36 F.  The wind from the Hudson River a few blocks away can cut right through any fabric known to man or woman (except for stuff that NASA has hidden in airplane hangers in Nevada) or garments made from directions from some survival manual and manufactured by a guy whose screen name is “Skeeter” who lives in a trailer somewhere about three hundred miles from Las Vegas.

I’m staying in a friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side.  She’s in London visiting her daughter.  I’m recovering from back surgery and I’m getting pretty bored.  How many pages of Underworld by Don DeLillo, can you read in a day?  I was told NOT to do any BLT’s.  For those of you fortunate to still have the back you were born with, that would be NO Bending, Lifting or Twisting.  This is not any easy regimen when you’re laying on a pull-out bed and your torso wants to face north and your legs want to go south.  That’s the hard part.  The bending and lifting is something I’m glad to leave to someone else…like my wife.  Hey, she’s a nurse.

I shuffle over to the window and look down on the above mentioned rooftop.  So there’s an unclothed female.  Let’s not shy away from the obscene…she’s naked!  This is not a really huge surprise to me because, well, one can do pretty much anything in this Great City…and standing naked on a roof is actually no big deal.  I’ve seen it dozens of times (too bad I wasn’t awake during those dozens of times).

I tried to raise the window.  It was stuck…only open about three inches.  I braced my self against the sill and window frame.  I had to be careful, I was alone.  My wife had gone shopping at Fairway for some much-needed ice cream.  I asked for the Salted Caramel flavor.  Salt and caramel?  Salt goes on peanuts and roads and mashed potatoes…but with a sweet like caramel?  I dunno.  I didn’t care.  I loved it, and by the living God that made me, I deserved it.

The window.  I watched her with curious intent bordering on voyeurism.  I’m a man, am I not?  It’s in our genes.  Then I noticed that she held a horn to her lips. (I failed to mention that her back was to me, shyly, but without apology.)  She stood very still.  I couldn’t blame her, I was cold in the apartment.  She was demurely and partially hidden by a potted evergreen.  From where I stood, I think they were cedars…but I could be wrong.  In New York City, you never know.

I leaned over with some effort.  I was not bending!  I was hold firm to the window frame.  I put my mouth down to the three inches of openness and called out: “Happy New Year”.  She never acknowledged a thing.  But I’m used to that.  Clearly she was saving her breath to blow away on her horn, like a female Gabriel at the gates of heaven.  I stood up straight and stared.  She didn’t move.

Okay, ignore me, I thought, before going back to the TV to watch the ball drop in Times Square.  It was Ryan Seacrest in place of Dick Clark.  I studied Seacrest.  Yes, I now believe he will inherit the Rockin’ Eve Party for years…decades to come.  He has a mirror in his attic, just like Dick Clark did.  In about seventy-seven years, he will pass the mike to someone who’s not even born yet.

I went back to the window and yelled “Happy New Year” again.  Still she didn’t even glance over her beautiful left shoulder.

I’m being ignored by yet another naked female in New York City.  So what’s new?  I looked again at her shoulder.  The hue was that of weathered copper.

I studied her back, her hair and the hand holding the horn.  She never moved a micron, I’m sure.

She never will.

I was yelling “Happy New Year” to no one and to everyone.

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