Car Trip With Infinite Stops

Car Trip

 

can you

leave where you are

can you just

get in a car

without all your necessary

paraphernalia with

one book one pen

without technology

without the possibilities

of daily diversion

can you leave behind

what you should leave behind

can you just go?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter decided, some years ago, in one of those random moments of inspiration, that for my birthday, an occasion of both exhilaration and dread, we would get into the Honda (he is a Honda fan) and drive. His yearly gift, a car trip with infinite stops, is not everyone’s idea of paradise. But its mine.

 

What I have always loved about this trip is the random unexpected smallness of it, the way that inventiveness is just part of small town American life (The Tired Tractor Museum being one of my favorites. The owner, handsome older farmer on County Route 20 in New York State, just liked Tired Tractors, so he decided he would honor them. Another favorite, from some years ago, the home of Pie A La Mode, a hotel in Cambridge, New York. They serve a lot of it now.

 

Some people like order and reason. They prefer important sites, where history was made, where society changed. I have always gravitated toward chaos, to the unexpected. I like to drive down roads we don’t know, collecting names of beauty shops while I go. There is no place in this country that does not have amazing beauty shop names. Curl Up and Dye being one of my all time favorites.

 

We stop, we see, and of course we eat. We eat a lot. This year, because we went to Maine, one of the most beautiful places we have ever been, to see friends and to revisit The Lookout on Flye Point in Brooklin (Go There if you have the opportunity Go There if there’s any way you can) we ate incomparable amounts of blueberry pie, and homemade ice cream. Twenty years ago we went to The Lookout because Helen and Scott Nearing, inspirational icons, lived nearby. It was so much like a very good dream that we said we’d come back every year. It took twenty years for that to happen. Twenty years!!!)

 

Because I have thought, all these twenty years, that I would write a Don’t Miss This column, somewhere, (how’s right here) this year this week this trip, I will try.

 

 

When We’re Passing Through

one of those inconceivably beautiful

states, let’s say Maine, absolutely oh my god villages

maybe Brooklin, where EB White wrote

Charlotte’s Web and he gave the town

the best library that every existed

a state with small sweet wild

blueberries finally enough homemade ice cream

every single day blueberry pie with homemade ice cream

imagine that you are lucky enough to pass through because

you vacation because you are lucky and privileged you

have a job went to college you have a husband

he works too you have more than enough of everything

even more than that and you can’t help but wonder

as you drive through Maine a very poor state

a small container of absolutely perfect tomatoes in a farmers

market costs seven dollars  the word organic

synonymous with holy nearly half the children in the state

don’t have enough to eat you wonder as you drive through

it is vacation you are in the light pink blur of vacation

you are happy because of all the ice cream you always wonder

how to connect the parts of life you wonder if there’s a way

there has to be a way for everyone to eat for everyone

to have wonderful tomatoes and

blueberry pie and all that ice cream

 

 

We Would Build Our Life

BEFORE

 

 

 

When I was small

I’d walk outside

like going to the moon.

we didn’t have a picnic table

we did not garden or grow

any vegetables. Outside was

grass, and one old apple tree.

Previous owners of our house

female grammar school principal

with her brother, rumor was

they may have been incestuous

he was high school history teacher

specializing in Reconstruction

also a religious Catholic

he built a barbecue pit from stones he’d found

by the time we moved in weeds filled the pit.

We never removed them.

 

 

 

When we moved to Middlefield

so many years ago,

when we were all of us much younger than we are now when I didn’t realize that it was possible, didn’t know really what it meant to love a place so deeply – I’d never been in love with a place before I suppose I was a place virgin. Although I was already 31.

 

 

I’d grown up in a small factory town, one of those towns that looks as though you’ve passed through it before on your way somewhere else. Nothing important had ever happened there: history, celebrity, devastation, infamy. We had no famous floods or fires, no museums or public institutions. Just a small old post office, a movie theater, an unkempt cemetery along a country road. Hard bitten and appealing, the town is not Mayberry. Andy Griffith would never have lived there.He wouldn’t have belonged. Romantic and sad both, it was a town like so many, where lives are gently lived, and people who dream are quiet about those

 

The downtown itself, passageway for the residents an eternal time warp: restaurant that’s been there forever called HUBIES, selling food that’s mostly fried. Fried chicken fried shrimp fried steak. All come with French fries. Then there’s macaroni and cheese for the one in a million vegetarians. Comfort food before those words were coined. Knick knack emblazoned coffee shop with coffee tasting more brown than coffee. Spin Laundromat, two banks, a few hair salons with names like Shear Magic. Junk store always containing something irresistible: ketchup bottle dancing to The Bee Jees, great old Princess telephones in colors like Kitchen Turquoise and Gotcha Pink. People aren’t smiling exactly but they’re all going about their business. Everybody even enemies, for the pettiest of reasons out slights or relatives of friendship rebuffs, for reasons of politics or religion they stop to say hello. Small towns are like that. Even when you’re a child and you’re looking the first time. I loved it then because it was what I knew. A place with small hills along a river that was pretty well hidden from the town itself. I would bike to the river sometimes just to see it, but it was rare that I encountered other bikers, and I don’t remember even once seeing a picnicker sitting there. No hampers no sandwiches and no red checkered cloths.

 

We weren’t an outside kind of town. People mostly kept to themselves.They stayed in. They watched tv, read the local paper, cleaned up some and cooked.A few listened to the radio, or music, or read a book or two.

 

My parents, to the best of my knowledge- and you don’t always know much about your own parents that’s the way they wanted it my parents went outside when they had to. Not more and not less. My father went to work every morning at 7:45. He was an accountant in a big grey office and he sat in his chair very quietly all day, adding columns by hand. That’s how I pictured him. My mother called herself a housewife. She’d stretch out on the long green coach green the color of a fake Christmas tree. It was a floor model 7 feet long instead of 6 which gave her all the space she wanted – and she’d read library books all day. When she got up to do an errand, she’d walk to the car. They each had one. In my childhood lifetime I never heard either one of them say separately or together I am going for a walk.There were plenty of sentences they didn’t say but that was one of the biggies.

They drove. It didn’t matter if they weren’t going very far. Just around the corner to buy some milk at AYOUBS the little Syrian grocery store. They drove. A block away to drop off an occasional something at Seccombe’s, the dry cleaning store. They drove together to the supermarket on Saturday morning and my father drove two blocks away for fresh rolls every Sunday. The walking thing (I’m not talking about exercise, which didn’t exist, even as a vocabulary word.Neither did tennis, or skiing, or water skiing or football or any of the other balls. There was gym for the kids, but that’s all)was a kind of exoticism reserved for unknown others.

 

Both my parents were first generation Americans, from Eastern European stock. I don’t know and still don’t, not really, if Jews walked around in Bacau Roumania or Budapest or Bupst, the small Ukranian village where one of my grandmothers was born.

 

They didn’t go outside much so I didn’t either. Not that all of their life was the same as theirs. But some was.

 

I sat in my room and read. And I did walk to the public library, down the hill three blocks. This path generated apprehension in them both (they preferred to drive me) but for the sake of America maybe, or for me, they held this anxiety in check. I talked to the librarian very often. Mary C. Steele was her name. In all those years she’d never reveal the C to me, but I had hundreds of guesses. Only Cynthia made her slightly smile.

 

My life, as a child, was mysterious and happy. The town, although it was too small for what I envisioned as the life I wanted, had people enough for me to listen. I have always been a listener, happiest in the role of overhearer.

 

The next 25 years were the usual boom and thunder of life. I fell in love as many times as possible. I lived in a few big cities. One was Athens, where I learned Greek dances and drank Ouzo and ate fish for many months on end, while working at the front desk of a two star hotel. Then I moved back to New York, where the idea was I was going to start a real life. I sort of did.The way we do. Nothing is actually more or less real. I can still see those goats on the hill in Greece, and smell the wild thyme on the path to the sea.

 

I married Nick, a Greek man (he was from Rhodes, and he knew very well how to cook, how to paint, and how to make music). Nick is a man with a remarkable nose.

 

After a while, and I can’t pinpoint how long it took, what the day or month was or even the year, after two sons and a realish job as a graphic designer in a big room that called itself, for reasons of odd professionalism, The Studio, after many many attempts at painting a painting that I kept referring to as GREY, I talked Nick and my best friend into buying a house in the country. The idea was we would go there for summers, for holidays, and on some weekends, say Columbus Day or President’s week. Maybe I wanted my small town childhood back.The town would have a library, and a small post office. Maybe a cemetery.

 

There at last, we would build our life.

 

 

 

And then, I’ll tell you

 

 

 

Tell me a story

Any story

Doesn’t matter

Who the hero is

Ageless woman

Bright red hair

Adorable dwarf

A dog named dog

If it takes place

In cairo new york

Augusta maine

an unnamed country

If there is a ménage a trois

Bald protagonist

Five children

Bird fish dog or man

All named otto

An older woman who calls herself marie real name quimetta

All sex ok In a story

 

Some people eat shrimp

Climb mountains love yoga

Some heroines are

Sedentary Vegetarians

 

My friend isola really her name

or is it she says she has a secret

she’ll tell me tonight at dinner

and then I’ll tell you.

Bridey and Jim

 

 

While she was cleaning

Anastasia said Bridey

won’t go out with Jim again

mainly because she doesn’t like

his shirts although there are

other reasons and he’s not

open to changing them.

They can be frayed

they can be less

than they should be

a man she dates

should have nice shirts,

Bridey told Anastasia.

Reason two, she said,

was that when they last

went out to dinner

they are both seventy nine

they like prime rib

Jim made good money

Selling insurance Bridey works

she still works

in a school as an administrator

she likes the word

administrator she says it often

Jim has much more money

than Bridey no family none

even though he’s Irish

he’s been divorced forever

he asked her to split

the prime ribs bill

as if shirts

weren’t reason enough.

Lucy’s Aunt Alice

Lucy said

her Aunt Alice had been

in a coma for a while.

She woke up

and only remembered

the names of cleaning products.

That’s all she could

remember, all she could

discuss: how to remove

candle wax from tablecloths,

how to cope with wine stains.

Her doctors were stunned.

What could it mean

that her brain was gone

except for cleaning?

She came to the country

to stay with Lucy. Lucy took out

a library book: How to

Clean Everything.

Aunt Alice Did.

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