Friday, October 31, 2008

When the parade passes by (but not really)

Our home is located about a block away from the local elementary and middle schools. And when I work from home, I generally see that foot parade of students that takes place each weekday - one direction in the morning, the reverse that afternoon. And with the possible exception of an altercation breaking out or the crossing safety guard reprimanding someone, I generally pay the students little attention.

The other morning, however, I was in the kitchen refilling my coffee cup and when I looked out our rather large street-facing windows, I became entranced.

First, they came bearing sticks - two of the most adorable little boys I have ever seen - possibly twins, definitely brothers. Probably in the kindergarten to 1st grade age range.

And they were on a mission. With their branch-swords in hand - they were conquering each and every pile of Autumn leaves in their path. As they approached a pile - they accelerated - leaping into action and defeating the pile of leaves with a few sound thrashings of their branch-swords. Not wanton violence, but intent and purposeful.

Then suddenly, reaching the front yard of my neighbor across the street - they suddenly darted into the yard and hid behind a huge oak tree. In addition to being intrigued by their sudden need to hide, I continued to observe because the old oak under which they were lurking has been known to drop branches the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex without provocation. I had the phone nearby in case I had to dial 911.

Suddenly, they darted out from behind the tree - and quickly took cover behind another oak in the yard. Another dash - and they were behind a car in the neighbor's driveway, hunched down and giggling.

You could clearly see - even across the street - the glee on their faces as they dashed from hiding spot to hiding spot.

Then one of them struggled for a few moments. They still had their sticks and suddenly found themselves near a pile of unvanquished leaves. I could see his brother attempt to refocus him - snatching him back as he began to wander towards the pile - forgetting the mission at hand.

Intent and sharply back in focus, they edged around the car - slowly. Cautiously.

It was then that I noticed the crossing guard - a nice enough elderly man, although possibly and harmlessly a few marble short of his game, having had a few conversations with him - was alternately tending his post and scanning the terrain behind him.

Suddenly, two bright and gleeful cherubic faces appeared - dashing towards him at lightning speed. The crossing guard reacted visibly - jumping up a bit and throwing his arms up in surprise.

One boy ran up to and around the guard with his arms held high in some kind of victory lap, his brother collapsed laughing in the leafy yard.

The three laughed and chatted for a few moments more, then the crossing guard continued them on their way.

I've seen this scenario played out twice more - most recently, this morning. However, today's sneak attack was complicated by the encumbrance of Halloween outfits and containers of cookies and treats to be shared with classmates.

Yet, mission accomplished. Both arms purposefully full - you could tell that they had been instructed "hold it like this or you'll drop it!" - and with gem-colored costume parts flashing in the morning sun, they still managed to surprise their quarry.

And this particular morning, our neighborhood had its own Halloween parade.

Brief, slightly disorganized, but delightful - ghosts and witches and princesses strolled past on a bright blue Autumn morning, their arms laden with goodies. You didn't need the music or the flash of other parades. You could hear the music in the giggles and squeals of delight and anticipation - the flash in the brightly colored costumes and the ruddy, glowing faces of the parade participants.

I stepped away from my computer and the work-related tasks at hand to watch this.

And I reveled with them. At a distance, clad in sweatpants and a t-shirt, a cup of tepid coffee in my hand.

I remembered the joy and the moments of gleeful abandon in my own childhood - and there were many. I silently praised the brothers' parents for nurturing such happy children. I hoped they would always be that happy. And that close.

And for a brief moment, I felt that I could be part of the parade. Feeling the crisp chill of an Autumn morning on my face and through my much-too-thin Halloween costume that I had INSISTED would be warm enough and did not require additional clothing layers. My arms would be laden with a Tupperware container of peanut butter cookies or orange-frosted chocolate cupcakes dotted with candy corn, their heady scent intoxicating me on my march.

As the last of the children disappeared from sight, I found myself noticing,more than usual, the play of the orange-red leaves against the turquoise sky - the morning sunlight dappling the lawns, the flutter of butter yellow leaves in a sudden zephyr.

I actually feel very much in the spirit today. The Halloween spirit, the Autumn spirit, the Human spirit. The joyful child spirit . It's a great way to start the day, end the week and just be.

Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Made me laugh

Bumper sticker spotted in the Target parking lot, Kingston:

"Be nice to America - or we'll bring democracy to your country"

Monday, October 20, 2008

American Hero?


I'll be brief here, because it would be too easy to get incensed all over again if I delve too deeply.

Gen. Colin Powell - regardless of past political affiliation with arguably the most disastrous American presidential administration ever - has gained my admiration for stepping beyond the ideology and rhetoric of party lines to endorse the candidate he feels is best suited to be the next president of the United States.

I've always liked this man. His rationale, clear-eyed stance always reassured me. The WMDs in Iraq debacle were, of course, a severe disappointment, but when I see his delivery of the "evidence" to the American people - I can't help but hear his delivery and see his demeanor as a man with no way out.

Perhaps, I just want him to be good and flawless. Just because he seems like a such a nice, honorable man.

And now he's back on his game.

I respect General Powell for his clear and reasonable rationale for choosing Obama.

It's not a black thing. It's not a Democrat thing - or a Republican thing (although, one could hardly blame him after the damage he took on board from being chewed up by the Bush/Cheney/Rummy/Rove machine.) He's back "on message" and making what he considers a decision that is in the best interest of our country.

But what I think is more important - especially at this historic American moment - is he has ripped off the lily-white sterile bandage concealing the rampant racism in this country.

Since General Powell's announcement, I have read some of the vilest comments I have ever seen in print. Americans - possibly people next door or even co-workers - venting the ugliest and most baseless views I've ever encountered.

I won't repeat the offensive material here but suffice to say, as much as Colin Powell instills a sense of pride and renewed optimism for rational thought and leadership in this country - the very citizens that make up this great country, well.....they scare the holy hell out of me.

Friday, October 17, 2008

All about George


One of the great and terrible results of the Internet and social networking programs like Facebook and MySpace is that people can find you. Much more easily than ever before.

In many cases, it's a very happy surprise. Especially when you are contacted by someone that once meant a very great deal to you but with whom you have lost touch for a great many years.

Other times, old mistakes and bad habits can pop up unexpectedly, causing a renewal of old stresses and anxieties,

And sometimes, it's just f*cking weird and inconvenient.

Back when e-mail was still kind of new and fun - like 1995 - I received an e-mail from an address I didn't know, with the subject line "From a man from your past." Well, that took me about an hour to work up the nerve to open the damned thing. I had no idea which unfortunate past encounter was about to rear its head.

The note was brief, but potentially devastating in its content. Did I remember what great times we used to have together(wink)? Those were great days and they are missed. Can't wait to catch up now that I have found you again. Signed, George.

George? George. Hmmmm. George.

My mind crept through dusty yearbooks, smoky bars, and candlelit restaurants. Through tearful departures, uncomfortable silences and hushed telephone conversations. No clue.

There had been Fred, Troy, Wayne, a handful of Steves, Michael, Bradley, Terry, Reggie - and that's just the "legit boyfriend" bunch.

Oh God. Was this a blackout date?

Although I was far from angelic or sober in my younger years, I never woke up someplace that I didn't remember going to on purpose the night before. I saved that for my thirties.

Kidding.

Anyway, I didn't reply right away. It seemed a little too much like Pandora's box. And I wanted to keep that lid on for now.

A few days later, after agonizing over this lapse of memory, I finally wrote back saying, basically, "who the hell are you?! And why are you torturing me this way?!?"

But way nicer.

The reply made me feel relief, nostalgia and anger - yes, anger - all at once.

George, it turned out, was a second string friend-by-association in JUNIOR HIGH. Let me emphasize - we're talking 7TH GRADE here.

The fun times he so vividly remembers is apparently the joy he felt being allowed to tag along behind the us, regardless of whether or not we were paying attention to him.

Or perhaps it was the memory of being included in one of our many multi-boy games, including:
  • Stupid boys playing Frisbee with the sharp metal #10 can lids thrown in the dumpster by the cafeteria ladies
  • Stupid boys throwing rocks at other stupid boys - and trying to avoid the rocks other stupid boys are throwing at you.
  • Stupid boys chasing each other around and the larger stupid boys slamming the smaller stupid boys' heads into the ground.
Oh, rapture!

I couldn't believe that I had agonized over this - doubting my sanity and my moral fiber (that little bit of worn, tired thread that's actually left, yes.)

We exchanged a few more notes, basking in the warm glow of a rekindled friendship, until I was reminded with each passing note - why I had left this guy behind in 7th grade.

He was a loser. And a victim. Someone who was content with the scraps they were given by life and its players. He would drift from one lopsided life experience to another, he always being on the losing side.

Then I felt sad.

I've had such a great life full of wonderful experiences and unbelievable people.

I can't imagine anyone growing up without that - without wanting that. Maybe that's why I am never jealous of anyone else's life - because mine has turned out to be more than I ever wanted or expected and with a few minor exceptions, it has been a life without regret.

Our correspondence eventually waned. Actually, my responses did. I've been down this road before and I know where it leads. I needed to shorthand this one.

As I said up front, I've had a lot of happy surprises lately - being reconnected with old friends, past flames, and good chums. I am amazed by their stories and so satisfied and pleased by their triumphs over adversity. I am awed by their children and empowered by their successes.

I'm not sure how to end this post. It certainly isn't the one I set out to write.

I'll simply congratulate all of you in making it this far along life's path and making it your own. I love and respect you and, old friends or new - I look forward to journeying ahead with you in my life/our lives.

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's getting mighty pretty around here...

Autumn in New York State - there's nothing like it.

There's beauty everywhere you look.



In the 'hood



Over our house




Along the road to work



Just outside the office window


And all the way home.

Holding court

This past weekend was just SO much fun.

Okay. Sunday was fun. I spent Saturday cleaning carpets on the patio. Not so much fun.

But Sunday was a blast. It was time for the annual Italian Festival in the historic Rondout district on the Kingston waterfront.

The Rondout faces onto the Rondout Creek which runs down from the Catskill Mountains and empties into the Hudson River, just a few hundred yards from the waterfront. The district used to be a major shipping and industrial port, with pleasure cruises coming up the Hudson River from New York City or down from Albany to enjoy day trips to Kingston Point Park or to catch rail connections to resorts in the Catskill region.

Bear in mind that this was considered by some (and sadly, still is) as "the other side of the river" - meaning that while the Vanderbilts, Roosevelts and other titans of the Golden Age would summer at their palatial mansions on the east side of the Hudson, the west side was the gateway to the largely Jewish and Catholic institutions and resorts.

It was a largely blue collar, working man's district full of row houses and shotgun flats, with the wealthy shipping magnates occupying mansions on the ridge overhead.

In the latter 1900s, it fell into disrepair and over the last few years has achieved a very bohemian, funky atmosphere as artists studios, galleries, shops and cafes have sprung up in these beautiful and affordable buildings.

Modern day: B was fortunate enough to land a post at the recently opened Madden's Fine Wines & Spirits - a gorgeous shop just two blocks up from the waterfront. And his boss, C, is amazing. She's warm and funny and a hugger. As a result, we've been pulled into this wild Irish/Italian family and have been become de facto members of the clan.

So, for the festival - A Taste of Italy - we all dressed up for an Italian wine tasting at the shop. C dressed as a gypsy, B as a gondolier (and a gayer gondolier you have NEVER seen), while I donned a bushy handlebar mustache, tuxedo shirt and black tie and old-fashioned black armbands - a perfect Italian waiter.

Our super-fantastic friends L&D joined us for the festivities. I had made fifteen heads of roasted garlic to be served with Gorgonzola cheese and Melba toast - the smell was insane!!! So good!

It was a huge success and at one point, L&D and I ventured down the street to C's brothers' restaurant, Savona's Trattoria, for some luscious cocktails, fried calamari and mozzarella sticks.

My BFF, AerialPJ joined us back up at the shop a little while later and we all hung out while the mobs devoured the refreshments and cleared the shelves of some of the featured wines.

After L&D headed home, AerialPJ and headed back down to Savona's for cocktails (and to ogle her handsome actor/restaurateur brother and some smoking hot waiters).

Over the course of the evening and while waiting for B and C to close up shop and join us - pretty much every person AerialPJ and I know in Kingston, most of the other members of C's family,- ended up at our table in the bar chatting with us.

It was delightful. AerialPJ and felt as though we were holding court. The wine was flowing, the conversation sparkling and the delight of seeing so many friends in one place in one evening was so gratifying.

AerialPJ's adoring fans and cast mates from a number of local theatrical productions stopped by to bask in his glittering presence. His local celebrity - which we have dubbed "Celebrelique" (think Diamonique - not the real thing but still pretty and sparkly) grows by leaps and bounds with each production. His most recent and dashing appearance as the male lead in Singing in the Rain, Don Lockwood, left children rapt, elderly women straining to get a better eyeful of beefcake, and one developmentally-stunted former male escort with a bizarre speech impediment in the audience hooting nonsense as though he had suddenly been struck with Turrets.

A new acquaintance, whom I had met earlier at the wine shop and shall be called Norbert, joined us at the table, quite sh*tfaced and reeking of cigarettes and bought us another bottle of fabulous wine. We figured at least if he were here drinking with us, he wouldn't end up face down in the river.

After a glittering evening of bestowing our wry insights and rapier jests, B joined us and we dined on a variety of toothsome Italian delicacies, bringing the now totally incomprehensible Norbert to the table with us to get some food into his system and keep him out of harm's way (and the river).

AerialPJ also became the new best girlfriend of C's youngest daughter, and took over her phone to text, confuse and befuddle one of her little male schoolmates who had the audacity to text her for information about her older sister. Having dated most of the men in the tri-state area, AerialPJ has now become her spiritual advisor in how to handle boys. He may have also mentally scarred the oldest daughter's boyfriend, who was unlucky enough to have been introduced to us.

It was a glorious evening full of friends, laughter and fun.

Love you all - especially AerialPJ, and L&D. We're so lucky to be here and to have such wonderful people in our lives.

Ciao, bellas!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Gushing

I feel like gushing a bit about things. I know they say you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth or put energy out into the universe by saying out loud how well things are going - but I've never bought into that.

First - this is my favorite time of year. When the simple act of driving home puts you in mind of a Thomas Cole or Frederick Church painting, you know it's pretty incredible and you had better take the time to appreciate it.

The Mid Hudson Valley is perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever seen - and having lived in California, Arizona and Vermont - I've seen some pretty spectacular places.

But consistently, the Mid Hudson Valley - with the river, the mountains, the trees, and the historic villages and towns - always has the ability to catch you by surprise and make your jaw drop in awe, even if just for a moment.

It's also my favorite time of year for cooking. Soups, stews, you name it - I get to use my stove again!! Barbecuing is great, but since we do it year round - we can go through more grills in three years than most families do in a lifetime.

I really love cooking. And when I can recreate the wonderful foods we've tasted in our travels - whether it's a clean and fresh vegetable soup from a pub outside of Killarney to a Guinness and beef stew enjoyed on a rainy night in a fire-lit pub across the road from the ruined abbey where we had been crawling around ancient graves and headstones - that's the best kind of eating.

We're also solidly back into red wine weather - one of my favorite times of year. While I love the crisp and snappy whites and French/Spanish roses in the summer, there is nothing like a solid, dark glass of red wine to warm your spirits. Bourbon is good for that too, of course! Red wine weather also equals Manhattan cocktail weather. Everybody wins.

Knocking furiously on wood - I have to say things are great. Thanks to B's new job down in the Rondout, we're widely expanding our circle of friends for the first time in many years - while treasuring and getting closer to the really good friends we already have. We're so lucky to have such great friends - especially AerialPJ and L&D - and to see that circle grow is even more amazing.

Gush, gush, gush. I'm just freaking happy right now.

Oh. And work is great too - LOL!

Friday, October 03, 2008

With apologies

I don't know that I have EVER seen anything that so defies my ability to count just how many things are wrong with it.

I mean, where the hell do you start???? The Oompa Loompas? The traumatized pantomime Rabbit?


AAAAAAGH!