Sunday, August 25, 2013

On Being Invisible

This is the end of move in week at SUNY New Paltz.  Freshman Orientation is probably going to take place starting Monday, if it hasn't already happened.  I see young folks walking around town with single page street maps printed up by the college to help the newbies orient themselves to their new town.  Traffic has increased on Main Street.  Students are beginning to populate the streets in the daytime and the bars in the evening.

 I am aware that, as a senior citizen in a college town,  I am invisible.  The late teens and early twenty somethings who populate our beautiful campus and funky berg every year do not see me.  I'm confident I could stand still in the middle of any sidewalk in downtown New Paltz and the students would walk around me as they would a lamppost, never acknowledging me as a person, merely stepping around me as as they would any impediment to their progress.

Since I am still young in my mind, and a guy, I tend to stare at beautiful women, admiring the perfection that nature and their own efforts have bestowed on them.  Were I young in fact, not a septuagenarian, that look could anger, amuse, or scare the woman; now it has no effect at all.  If her eye catches mine, it is in passing, looking over, around, or through, never at, me.

However, there are some advantages to being invisible.  As a writer, I watch people: how they walk, their gestures, facial expressions, dress.  And I also listen: to accents, idioms, patois - where my invisibility is essential.  Being unseen, I am able to sit at a table in a coffee shop next to a group of young folks without alarming them or changing the tenor of their conversation.  I suspect I could even take notes and none of them would notice.

I think I'll go for a walk.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Meteors and Memories

We're just past the peak period for my favorite meteor shower, the Perseid.  In addition to being a dependable and sometimes spectacular mid-August show, it is the first one I ever saw.

In early summer 1951 we moved out of Queens where I and my three siblings were born, to Otsego County in the beautiful Catskills.  While my parents were searching for a house to rent or buy we lived with my grandmother and grandfather on their five acre eden on Dutch Hill, the highest point in the county.  With no electricity or indoor plumbing I'm sure it was a hardship for both parents and grandparents, but we kids loved it.  Aside from having every imaginable berry growing wild on the land, there was a small abandoned orchard across the road that yielded plums, pears and apples.  That property belonged to the person who sold the house and five acres to my grandparents.  He didn't live on the land and did nothing with it so it was like it belonged to us.

I mention the orchard because it fronted a meadow that occupied the actual peak of Dutch Hill.  It was a temperate savannah of timothy and oat grasses, alfalfa, and wildflowers; a place we three older kids explored as if it were a foreign land; a place where our small mongrel, Tippy, chased rabbits, leaping in the air every few feet so she could see above the grasses.

One evening in mid-August, my father gathered us three kids up and led us to the top of the meadow where we stretched out on the cool ground - hands behind our heads, as instructed - and stared at the moonless, star-filled sky.  He pointed out various constellations then told us to try not to focus on one part of the sky but to let our eyes kind of wander.

"I saw a shooting star!" called my younger sister.
"Where?" her twin brother asked.
"It's gone," my father said.  "Keep looking and you'll see one of your own."  While we looked, he told us about meteor showers, about the Perseid and others, about how the shooting stars were small pieces that were thrown from the tail of a passing comet, and what we called a 'shooting star' was that piece burning up as it hit the atmosphere.  Despite being frequently interrupted by cries of "I saw one!" or "There's one!" I remember so much of his explanation, and so much of the night Perseid and I met.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Weddings and Lakes

Two weeks ago we fired up our RoadTrek RV (don't let Carol see that I called it that) and pointed it north toward Quebec City to attend the wedding of our amazing niece.  We stopped at Cumberland Bay State Park on the northern end of Lake Champlain for the night, and while stretching our legs in a walk around the campground, we spied one of the most outrageous motor homes I've ever seen.  It was 40+feet long and had a patio on the roof - with a fire pit!  I'd love to show you a picture of it, but I can't.

 Our arrival in Quebec City was a bit of an adventure.  I don't remember whether I've ever mention my love's navigation techniques, but they are precious.  First note that my low-end GPS did not contain Canada maps so once we crossed the border, the only information I got was the compass direction and speed; the screen showed a vehicle in gray space.  The speed was in mph while the signs were in kph so I was kept alert with mental conversions.  Road signs, even though in French, were pretty clear so I was able to get us to the city.  When we crossed the bridge, I needed to depend on Carol's map reading to give me directions while I negotiated the traffic.

Once she has oriented the map to her satisfaction, upside down if we're heading south for example, Carol is adept at reading it.  The problem obtains when she begins giving directions.  While I'm negotiating a busy unfamiliar street in a twenty-four foot vehicle, it doesn't help me to hear "You probably should have turned back there" or  "You might want to turn here" with no indication as to the actual direction of the turn.  Anyway, after one excursion into the parking lot of a museum, and traversing some narrow streets in the old city, we arrived at our 'condo', a lovely walkup complete with a kitchen, two baths and a sleeping loft.

Quebec is old.  The walled city-within-a-city is on a hill overlooking the St Lawrence, it's narrow cobblestone streets beg to be walked.  From our rented digs, everything was uphill - actually including the digs themselves, on the fourth floor above a pharmacy.  The wedding weekend was great fun.  The ceremony and reception took place in a hall overlooking the St. Lawrence, and across the street from our condo.  The day after we spent touring the old city, which was right behind our building.  We didn't have to move the RoadTrek the entire stay, a perfect situation.

We left Quebec Monday morning for a short trip to Maine and the small farm of two wonderful friends.  Once we crossed the border our GPS woke up with actual road directions.  I followed Jezebel (so called because she led me astray the first time I let her guide me) blithely through a series of ever narrowing roads - having been to northern Maine before I was not alarmed.  Carol sat in the shotgun seat with the road atlas open to the state.  As the narrow road we were on turned from paved to dirt, Carol said, "I don't know what she's doing but I would never have gone this way."  Nor would I have, I thought.   In a very few minutes we were at the farm, which was on a paved road.  Curious, I checked Jezebel's settings and found that she was giving us 'shortest distance' instead of 'shortest time'.  I now know the shortest way from Quebec, Canada to Whitefield, Maine.  

In addition to our friends, the Whitefield household consisted of  their lovely twenty year old daughter who was packing for a semester in Japan, and two cats.  One would generally expect a young person to get a little bored in this isolated location, but not her.  She made a friend of a large green pond frog by feeding it deer flies caught by her dad in a most interesting way.  He would walk the property in the morning wearing a blue hardhat coated with flypaper-like sticky stuff and return with the hat covered with deer flies.  Seeing her crouched at the edge of the pond feeding her frog, I couldn't help thinking of Grimm's fairytales.

Since Maine has probably as much acreage in water as in land, it makes sense to own a boat.  Our friends had purchased one used and, after having it refitted, were ready to launch it in a huge lake a ways from their house.  And launch we did.  There were some delays getting it started, but ultimately we were off on a tour of the lake in a successful shakedown cruise.  The first try loading the boat on its trailer when we were done left the craft askew.  I hopped out, removed my shoes so I was barefoot and waded into the water beside the trailer to slide the boat sideways.  Due to the slope of the ramp I was waist deep before I knew it.  I wasn't concerned about the shorts I wore because I had another pair at the house.  However, my passport, wallet, and cell phone were in the pockets.  The passport and wallet were fine after drying out, the cell phone not.  That's why no picture of the outrageous motorhome.

Acquiring a replacement cell phone is a whole other story - maybe for another post.