We’ve lived here for ten years now, which makes this our eleventh Christmas in this house. It’s seven a.m. Ten years ago I’d have been awake for two hours already. Well, I’ve been awake for nearly that this morning. The difference is ten years ago I’d have been awake since 5 after having gone to bed at 2 or 3 after seeing Santa on his way. The lights are on in the living room of a house down the street where there are still small boys on the premises. Our large boys are still asleep. As is their mother. And our house guest. And his dog. So it’s just me and you. Whispering--->Merry Christmas!
Ten a.m. Everybody awake. Don’t have to whisper anymore. MERRY CHRISTMAS! From Lance, the blonde, Ken, Oliver, Uncle Merlin, and Art the Wonder Dog!
Far worse than the sound of leaf blowers in the morning is the combined noise of chain saws, wood chippers, and stump grinders.
Our next door neighbor has four beautiful catalpa trees in his front and side yards and he’s in the process right now of having all four taken down.
I don’t know why he’s suddenly decided to clear cut his property. He’s been living there for seven years. Maybe he’s suddenly got good reasons. The roots are ripping apart his sewer line. All four have rotted out from within at once. Like us, he doesn’t have a real back yard and he wants his kids, who are little, to have what our boys had growing up, an open side yard with a swing set and room to run around in and play games with their friends. Maybe someone in his family has developed allergies. Maybe he just doesn’t like catalpas and plans to replace them with maples or honey locusts. Maybe he’s going to plant an apple orchard.
I could ask him, but it’s really none of my business. Besides we don’t exactly get along. We’ve only spoken a couple of times since he moved in, mainly because I’ve never forgiven him for cutting down a maple tree that was on our property and ripping out the lilacs that lined our back fence on his side but were likely also on our property after we’d discussed it and I showed him the tree was on our property and the bushes were right on the line and we needed to have a surveyor in before he went to work.
So, like I said, he might have good reasons for taking down the catalpas and he really doesn’t need any reason besides that’s what he wants to do, but I’ve always suspected him of being a tree hater and I believe he’s been eyeing those trees with anger and evil designs since he moved in, he’s just finally decided he can afford to have them whacked.
There are tree huggers and then there are tree haters, and I’ve never understood the latter. A friend of mine’s wife shocked him by revealing herself as tree hater when they bought their house and she demanded that the first thing they needed to do before moving in was cut down all the trees in the front and back yards that my friend thought were not only beautiful and property-value enhancing but shaded the yards and the house in a way they would be grateful for every summer. These weren’t junk trees like black locusts or . They weren’t nut droppers. They weren’t silver maples which have a tendency to rot out from the inside and stand there looking perfectly healthy until a strong wind pushes them over on top of your car or house. They were sugar maples. Sturdy, handsome, long-lived, and gorgeously aflame with color in the fall. And my friend’s wife couldn’t explain why she wanted them down except to say she just didn’t like the way they made the place look.
“How’s that?” my friend asked. “Attractive?”
“Woodsy,” she said and shuddered.
What followed from this is that my friend learned that he would never be taking another vacation at a lake in the woods like the ones his family took when he was growing up.
Seashores were also out.
Cruises and casinos and theme parks were fine.
Some people just don’t like trees. Some people don’t like nature at all.
I swear, there’s now a critical mass of cars on the road driven by people who people who learned how to drive from playing video games. They drive aggressively and for advantage as if a Thanksgiving trip to grandma’s is a race. One of them cut me off on the highway yesterday afternoon. He was coming down the entrance ramp. I was in what he clearly thought of as his lane. There were cars on my left, so I couldn’t pull over to let him in, and another car coming up fast behind me so I couldn’t drop back. If he was looking he’d have seen he needed to slow down. Rules of the road require him to yield anyway.
He wasn’t looking at anything but the space ahead of him and me.
Rules of the road don’t apply to guys like him, anyway.
He raced me and got into the lane way too close to my front end for comfort.
Then he got off at the very next exit, which was about a quarter of a mile away. He didn’t slow down to do that of course.
I really wanted to hate this guy.
And if his fast and furious driving wasn’t enough he gave me other reasons.
He was driving an SUV.
A BMW SUV.
He had a big Yankees decal taking up half his rear window.
He had New Jersey plates. Probably voted for Chris Christie.
I was all set for a good long hate.
Then I saw it. On his rear gate. Another decal. A yellow rectangle. With three red bars grouped in the middle, two thicker green bars on each end.
Of course, if he was a Vietnam Vet, he was too old to have learned to drive playing video games. He’d have taken a real driver’s ed class in high school.
Sign over the entrance to a karate studio next door to the IHOP in Boonton, New Jersey.
Over the entrance of a karate studio that’s gone out of business.
This one’s bugged me for years. Every time we’ve stopped for breakfast at the IHOP on our way to visit Old Mother and Old Father Blonde and I’ve read it, I’ve pictured some Bluto-esque former Marine drill instructor type bending down to push his face into the face of a weeping eight year old who just couldn’t keep up to yell, “What are you, a quitter?” If there’d been a sign like that over the doors of young Ken’s dojo when we took him to sign up, I’d have turned right around and gone looking for another sensei, one less full of his own bluster and taken with his own tough-mindedness I hate inspirational sayings generally and bullying ones like this especially, so when I saw the place had closed since our last trip this way my first mean-spirited thought was “But I guess it’s ok to quit when you’re an adult.”
But in all likelihood the owners didn’t quit, didn’t want to quit, would have loved to have stayed in business, did everything they could to keep the place open, and despite their efforts, despite their determination, despite their never having quit, in the end the money just wasn’t there.
Or maybe it wasn’t the money. Maybe it was their health. Maybe in spirit they didn’t quit, but their bodies quit on them.
No matter how hard we try, no matter our best intentions, no matter how determined we are not to quit, life just refuses to play fair.
We live in a purple patch of this very blue state. Actually, it’s more of a red violet than grape and there are patches of or patch that are as crimson as the Confederate battle flag. Which is why this wasn’t exactly a surprise.
This evening, on our way to pick up Oliver from work, Ken and I found ourselves following a black Humvee flying the Stars and Bars. Not a small handkerchief-sized replica attached to its antenna. One the size of the flags that went up Cemetery Ridge waving from a pole attached to the driver’s side door panel. And on the rear window, professionally lettered in white paint, was the Second Amendment, the absolutist’s preferred abridgement, at any rate: “The right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged”.
Ken focused on the flag.
“He’d better be careful not to drive into certain ethnic neighborhoods,” he said.
I was going to say my bet was the driver’s a coward and knows better than to fly his colors anywhere but where he feels he is offending only granola-eating liberals like us. But then I remembered I once had a student who was a Skinhead and he wrote his first essay on how he and his friends had spent a Saturday night driving around the black sections of Muncie, Indiana looking for a fight. Some of these nuts are in fact nuts.
What I said instead was, “I’d like to see him drive into downtown Newburgh. He’d probably meet lots of people there who’d be happy to show him how much they agree with him on the Second Amendment."
Just a little while ago this morning. Sunday. September 8, 2013.
You’re pulling into the parking lot of a Dunkin Donuts early on a Sunday morning before the church goers arrive so the place isn’t hopping yet and the lot is fairly empty and there are no signs of a line inside, and you see hobbling up the walk towards the door an old man with a cane. What’s the etiquette here?
You zip into the open parking slot nearest the front door, hop out as quick as you can, and hurry yourself and your eleven year old daughter up to the door ahead of the old man so that you can…
Get in ahead of him and let the door close behind you in his face.
What? You don’t agree that’s the proper behavior?
Obviously you are not a mother of young children or you’d know that you always have right of way in any situation.
In my head I’m still thirty-eight and able to vault parking meters with ease. I don’t think of myself as an old man with a cane. I think of myself as a guy in his prime temporarily benched from parking meter vaulting and using a cane for now while my hip heals. And there are plenty of people in worse shape trying to get around not just with canes but with walkers and in wheelchairs and by comparison to them I feel like I’m a punk kid on a skateboard. So it didn’t dawn on me what had just happened until I was inside and waiting in line behind them, leaning on my cane and wondering if there was some ibuprofen in the car I could down with my coffee when I finally got it, while two placed their orders.
Old men, truly old men, in their seventies and eighties, and old women hold doors for me these days and offer their places in line. Small children too and high school and college students want to carry things for me. I don’t expect any of this, but I have grown somewhat used to it. Seems everybody is happy to do the old guy with a cane a good turn. Everybody except…
Mothers of young children.
Who rule the world, they’ll have you know.
It’s up to the rest of us to keep out of their way.
It’s how the species has survived, I guess. These days they make sure their kids are first in line for a Boston Kreme, but once upon a time it was first in line for a slice of mastodon steak.
To be fair, this mother didn’t actually let the door close in my face. After she made sure she and her precious were safely inside she gave the glass a little thumb-push so that by the time I got there it was still open a good two or three inches.
My back and hip are still giving me the yips, but I’ve been doing my exercises and trying to keep moving. Some days are better than others and Monday was one of those better days. So I decided to help Young Ken with some yard work. This was mostly a matter of me feeding Ken the cord as he moved along with the hedge trimmer and dragging the cuttings out to the curb for bagging later by Ken and Oliver. Tuesday morning I woke up with a strange bumpy rash on my forehead.
Poison ivy? I thought. Poison oak? Poison sumac? I assumed I must have touched something like that in the yard. I slathered on the calamine lotion and didn’t worry about it.
Wednesday afternoon my right eyelid puffed up.
By yesterday morning my eye was swollen shut.
“I’d like to see the other guy,” said the cashier at the supermarket.
“I don’t think this is poison ivy,” I said to the blonde.
Last night she drove me up to see the doctor.
Who sent me to the emergency room.
The good news is the doctors there found no ophthalmic dendrites.
That means that the herpes zoster hadn’t infected my eye. Yet. It could still happen. That’s why my doctor sent me to the emergency room where they confirmed his diagnosis.
“Shingles!” I yelped. “Good gravy, man,” I said to the physician’s assistant examining me, or words to that effect. “Am I that old?”
Well, yes I am. But not that that old.
Shingles aren’t just an old person’s affliction.
They can pop out on you at any age after you’ve had chicken pox when your immune system is weakened. Old age will do that to you. But so will other things, including stress.
“Have you been under a lot of stress lately?”
Pop Mannion refused to believe I had shingles when I called the old homestead later to tell the folks that, good news, no poison ivy.
Everyone Pop knows who’s had shingles hurts like hell. And the hurt continues for months. Not only didn’t I hurt, but the big purple pill they gave me in the ER was already at work. By they time we got out to the car the swelling had gone down and my eye was half-open.
Another thing I learned about shingles. The pain most people who get them suffer is usually from a secondary infection and not from the shingles themselves. And that infection---which, according the flyer the nurse gave us as we were checking out, is properly called post-herpetic neuralgia. Aren’t you glad you read this blog? You learn stuff!---occurs because most people don’t realize they have shingles and get treated right away. The shingles appear on their backs and don’t get noticed until they start to hurt, which means until an infection is already underway. If you get treated within the first 72 hours you can head off the infection. I was lucky. Having your eye swell shut is hard to ignore.
The takeaway: If you had chicken pox, watch your back!
And here’s something else. Another reason most people Pop knows who’ve had shingles develop post-herpetic neuralgia is they are that old.
I could still develop an infection. Those ophthalmic dendrites might yet appear. “An infection of the cornea…can be very serious and lead to blindness,” the flyer informs me. So I’m supposed to see the ophthalmologist today. An eye patch is a possibility. Probably won’t look as cool as I’m imagining it. Anyway, I’ll update.
My eye’s closed again this morning. I’d better get the prescription filled as soon as the drug store opens. The other good news, though, is that I can blog with one-eye, as I’m proving here.
Aren’t you impressed?
So…that’s the medical news from Mannionville as of Friday, August 23. I probably shouldn’t post this. Every time something happens to me to make me feel sorry for myself, something worse happens to somebody I know.
By the way, the folks at the Vassar Brothers Medical Center ER are very nice. But emergency rooms are full of strange and disconcerting electronic sounds, which I probably only noticed because there weren’t any sounds of human suffering drowning them out.
“Quiet here tonight,” I said to one of the nurses, a young woman in a purple print smock and matching purple pants who for some odd reason wouldn’t enter the examination room. She stood in the doorway eaning on the jamb with her hands folded at her waist and questioned me from there.
“Very,” she said, sounding relieved.
“Is that because it’s a weeknight?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “It’s because we’re past the full moon.”
Our human calendars, analog, digital, and virtual, on our walls and on our screens, say it’s August 1st today. But according to the floral clocks along the roadside it’s been August here for over a week. The daylilies have faded and the goldenrod, wave after feathery yellow wave, has taken over.
I haven’t seen it yet myself but the damp low spots in the fields and meadows must be full of purple loosestrife by now.
The Queen Anne’s Lace and chicory are sill in bloom. The New York Asters too. Primrose. Buttercups. Black-eyed Susans. No shortage of color. But I miss the soft oranges of those daylilies, more peach than pumpkin. They glow, most brightly in the early mornings, like watercolor or crayons, comical and cheerful. They are the best things about summer florified. The yellow of the goldenrod is a pastel, even a pencil, sketched in lightly, as if color’s intrusive and also beside the point. The emphasis isn’t on floweriness but on grassy-ness, which is to say not on its blooming but on its inviting a mowing or, to get to the point, a harvesting. Goldenrod tells us it’s August, technically still summer, but its purpose is to warn us summer’s ending, prepare for fall.
Take the road straight north from here and you might think you’re driving miles and miles through woods. But this is farm country. The trees reach back only so deep and behind them are orchards and cornfields, mainly, interspersed with the front and backyards of houses dating from last week to three hundred years ago, raised ranches and split levels, Cape Cods, saltboxes, half Colonials, real Dutch Colonials built of stone by people who spoke Dutch, a few McMansions. There are no large developments, just clusters of houses where over time the farmers have sold off lots at the edges of their fields or in hollows or on hillsides that were too troublesome to work or where the hamlets and small market towns have pushed out in pockets and ribbons from their centers, little archipelagos of development. In summer when the trees are in leaf, the road is deeply shaded during the day, blackly shadowed at night.
And all day and all night long the roadsides are busy with animal life…and gory with animal death. Skunks, possums, woodchucks, foxes. They're all plentiful and on the move. Deer, too, of course. Deer are a serious hazard along here.
But you know what I’ve never seen many of in all our years here and our thousands of trips up and down that road?
They’re out there. I know that. But they keep very late hours and are smarter than those other mammals and know enough to stay out of the road.
At least, I thought they knew.
Last night, or technically this morning, around one-thirty, I discovered the house was without necessary supplies. So, under a waxing, orange-tinged gibbous moon, still high and large in the west, I set out for the only store relatively close by I knew would be open, the convenient mart six miles to the north, and about three miles up the road I saw the two raccoons.
Just in time.
They were in the middle of the road, talking over something nose to nose across the dividing lines.
I stopped about ten yards short of flattening them.
They were smallish, so females or young ones or both, and more all over a lighter, more powdery gray than I think of raccoons as being. Their bandit masks weren’t as black or distinct as I would have expected either, but that might have been due to a general washing out of color from their being caught full on by my headlights, which didn’t seem to faze them at all, by the way. They looked straight at me, blandly, as if they were seeing through the windshield and taking my measure.
Oh, they appeared to be saying, do you want to get by?
“Yes,” I said out loud, as if they could hear me. “If you don’t mind.”
They didn’t mind, although they thought it over for a bit. Then they turned and scurried off together and I went on my way.
Oliver Mannion's away for the weekend at a training workshop for his staff job at the day camp he'll be working at this summer. I sent him a text this morning asking him how things went last night. He sent back a full report:
Mom and Pop Mannion's for a visit. Left the house this morning, heading out to get
bagels and suddenly I felt myself hopefully expecting my friend and next
door neighbor Sandy to come rushing out to catch up with me and tag
along down to Union Street just as it used to go back when we were kids.
I was disappointed when I realized he wouldn't be joining me. Sandy
hasn't lived in that house for over 30 years.
Oliver Mannion has developed Pop Mannion’s disconcerting talent for appearing completely oblivious to the fact you’re talking to him and then when you complain he’s not listening to a word you’re saying being able to repeat back to you what you said word for word.
Flicker swooped out from a tree by the roadside as I was driving along. Thought he was aiming at my windshield, but he turned in plenty of time, flying straight on ahead of me as though we’d planned to meet up and now he was going to guide me on home.
swooped out from a tree by the roadside as I was driving along. Thought
he was aiming at my windshield, but he turned in plenty of time, flying
straight on ahead of me as though we’d planned to meet up and now he
was going to guide me on home.
So I'm down to the gas station just now, filling up the tank, and a cab pulls up to the pumps on the other side of the island, driver's side inward. Cabbie rolls down his window and calls to me.
"Sir? Is my gas flap on this side?"
"Yep!" I say, thinking he's new to the job or this cab is new to him or he's just like me, always forgetting which car he’s driving at the moment and which has the flap on which side, but I'm also thinking, "Sir?"
I'm being sir-ed by a cabbie?
A cabbie looks to be at least my age?
Isn't this against the Cabbie's Code? Shouldn't I be Buddy? Or Bub? Or Pal or Chum or Ace? Sport's kind of old fashioned but it still works. Guv, too, if you're in London where I think it was actually once mandated by Parliament. I hate bro and dude and especially dooood and Man would make me think twice about a contact high before I got into that guy's cab. But speaking of guy, Guy is fine, if proceeded by Hi. Otherwise, it's not an opening but a closing, as in Thanks, guy.
If you feel you really have to be polite and formal---or mean to be sarcastic in a way you can't be called on---how about Mister?
My favorite, though, is Mac, as in Where to, Mac?
Of course, all this applies only to male passengers. Ma'am and Miss are the only acceptable forms of address for female fares.
Once upon a time it was ok to say Girlie, especially in tough towns with hearts of gold like New York or Chicago where your fares would regularly include plucky, sweet-faced kids from the country come to the city to make it in the big time.
Sweetie and Honey are out nowdays as well.
It takes a special talent to get away with Lady.
I'm pretty sure this is covered in the manual. Back in college in Boston, I looked into becoming a cabbie and I think I remember reading this, how you only use Sir with fares who are obviously Kennedys or are being picked up or dropped off on the right side of Beacon Hill.
But I’m not a Kennedy, this isn’t Boston. There’s no reason to Sir me.
This isn’t like being sir-ed by a teenage store clerk or a pretty waitress.
It’s not vanity but principle at stake.
Being sir-ed by the cabbie didn’t make me feel old. Even if he’d been a kid, it wouldn’t have done that. I’m long over that. Or I’m at least used to it.
It made me mad. Not at him but at the very notion that a cabbie of all people would feel the need to address a fellow American as Sir. It’s against the democratic spirit. Cabbies are the representatives of all our fellow Americans, aren’t they? They’re the democratic spirit personified. That’s why they’re so useful to lazy journalists who make up conversations with invented cabbies in order to present the journalists’ elitist views as the Voice of the People!
Don’t sir me, bub! And don’t expect me to sir you either, Ace. We don’t sir or milady anybody around here!
Had a burger at the diner. But not an Alex Burger. Much as I would have liked winning a t-shirt, I could tell at a glance I was overmatched. Two pounds! Deep-fried bacon! I give! I give! Menu item. Broadway Lights Diner. Kingston, New York. Friday night. April 19, 2013.
Raining when I finish my burger and get up to leave. Out in the parking lot there’s another customer heading home. Tall old man on a bicycle, tails of his faded blue flannel shirt flapping behind him, one hand on the handlebars steering, the other holding an umbrella.