Unloved

Earlier today I tried to publish this poem. And it vanished. Or, if it’s here, I can’t find it. So if it’s here, then Unloved twice.

 

 

When my best friend Abby’s grandmother

difficult clean obsessed Breina

lost her husband Morris 60 years they were married

in Yiddish she said

We Never Had a Happy Day. And she immediately found

Shmuel her childhood boyfriend from Bupst. Breina

married Shmuel. And they too

were impossibly unhappy.

Middlefield 4 and a half

Beginnings are easier than endings. Always. They are light yellow, they are young, they always offer promise. Or hope. Or even beauty. Today I wrote my 200th beginning, the 200th time that I have tried to tell you,  my favorite stranger, anonymous comforting familiar you, the you who is always there and never there, the you who I know and will never know, the you who will listen to what happened, over and over and over again.

Middlefield 3 an imperfect section but still I want you to see this

Starting Now

 

 

 

 

There is something sentimental at the heart of any museum, whose reason for being is to celebrate the affection we feel for objects that were once part of everyday life.

Paul Goldberger

 

 

 

 

 

 

What We Wanted Here, Redux

 

When We

Are Looking For Somewhere

When We

Are In A Lucky Position

To Be Able

To Look For Somewhere

To Leave Where We Are

To Change Where We Belong

 

 

When We Consciously

Not So Consciously

Un isn’t Right

Begin to Search For Some Place

Not To Belong Exactly

But To Feel A Certain Way

What Way Is That

Asked Martha a Policewoman

When I Told Her My Theory About Why

She and I

Both Chose This Place to Live

And I was Guessing It Was

To Feel A Certain Way

I Wanted Something Different She Said

Easy To Clean Ranch

Where I Wouldn’t Have

To Walk Up and Down When I Got Old

I’m Old Now And I’mv Walking Up And Down

I Didn’t Know I Had Knees

Until I Turned Sixty Five Said Martha

Why Did You Come Here

I Asked  Martha

I Fell In Love She Said

You Wouldn’t Think I

Was The Love Type Would You?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Catskills is a hoary place, wirey and old, eternally

 

vacationed, a draw for so many of us, year after year

 

after year: Communists, Hasidim, Macy’s workers, fire

 

fighters, Irish musicians, poets, historians, iron

 

workers, police, housecleaners, teachers, builders

 

and electricians have all been drawn to these very same

 

hills, for beauty, for respite, for summer hamburgers

 

made on a simple grill. For hamburgers that

 

absorb a lot of ketchup. Unlike the Berkshires, lyrical,

 

manicured, well-landscaped, well-scrubbed, where

 

Yo Yo Ma’s renditions become an unexpected part of the

 

daily landscape, these hills hold a different song.

 

The Berkshires, on both sides, New York and

 

Massachusetts, is liberal and forgiving, one of those

 

places full of used book stores and passable restaurants.

 

Not so our side, where opinions are vociferous and

 

flinty, and where neighbors don’t agree about too much.

 

In between the East and West sides of the well-painted

 

Hudson River, right on top of the river itself is the odd

 

town of Henry, a first name town where Henry Hudson

 

himself sailed, in his Half Moon boat, and settled, at

 

least for a while.

 

 

What makes one place more appealing than another?

 

Places could be are just like people that way. Maybe it’s

 

all just a question of taste, and class, and culture, and

 

the books you read, as well as the books you didn’t.

 

 

A woman came to dinner last night and because her

 

name was Sophie I assumed I would like her who

 

wouldn’t like someone anyone named Sophie but as she

 

entered when she walked in I knew I didn’t like her and

 

wasn’t going to either.

 

 

We liked Henry in the beginning. It could just be a

 

Question of mood, or season. One person’s paradise is

 

Of course another’s hell. We loved Henry even, loved

 

It from the start, years ago. It was too poor a city for

 

urban development, for beautiful old brick buildings to

 

be knocked down. Years ago, it was a small city in

 

disarray, shabby and chaotic, more poor than rich,

 

fried fish, cheap liquor stores with four dollar bottles

 

of wine. Nobody used the word varietal. There were

 

no hipsters or small straw hats on men.

 

A big Salvation Army sat next door to a Burger King.

 

There were one or two outsiders in town, but very few.

 

We visited an interior decorator once, in a spectacular

 

old house, 1790 is what he said.

 

He’d painted the outside a memorable pink. A difficult

 

man with a beautiful eye, I know not one of us even Zen

 

masters who espouse simplicity as a credo not one of us

 

is simple. His relationship to Henry was non-existent.

 

Although Henry was his address, where he was and wasn’t.

 

He lived inside his bright pink house, eating big meals

 

With city friends, who’d visit all the time.

 

 

Over the years, Henry changed, from Salvation Army to

 

high end furniture, to 50’s modern emporiums, to wine

 

shops with vintners. The old Main Street, still charming,

 

no longer shabby or disgruntled, has become a

 

destination: restored, preserved. There’s even a spa

 

and an expensive downtown hotel.

 

 

My friend Mitchell, a legal services lawyer who works

 

with poor country people calls us seconders, people who

 

have second homes. He said that last Saturday he was

 

in an Italian grocery store with beautiful bread and

 

home cured olives. Many people were waiting in line.

 

Mitchell walks between two worlds himself. A well-pressed Pilates looking mother who used the word abs

 

In conversation with her friend was annoyed, Mitchell

 

Said, because of the crowds so she announced, “why

 

don’t some of you come during the week.” The crowd

 

In line for olives looked unhappy, but no one answered.

 

No one moved over either.

 

 

 

 

When we started it we were four adults and two very

 

small children. Two adopted boys from Paraguay

 

and Guatemala. Adam and Eli. One year apart.

 

Nick and I live with

 

the boys in a very small apartment that could be

 

described as charming if charm means small and

 

picturesque. It’s a long thin line with rooms down

 

the middle and windows on the western wall.

 

The boys have

 

always shared a room, and their room has a window

 

facing a courtyard, a city courtyards with a

 

tree smack in the center. The tree looks a little like an

 

art object: some famous conceptual artist’s idea of what

 

a city tree might look like if it weren’t quite a tree. The

 

title easy to imagine: Maybe A Tree.

 

 

 

All four of us are anxious nervous city types.

 

We aren’t a hiking camping family. We have never

 

Canoed and my guess is we probably never will.

Kayaking either.

 

 

 

 

 

We are happiest walking around, just walking.

 

 

The house impulse was not in our DNA. I have an

 

aunt who told me years ago that you need a house

 

to have a life. I never wanted a house. Nick didn’t

 

either. A house represents so many things that neither

 

of us know. Plumbing for instance. Even the word

 

makes me nervous. To plumb sounds ominous, as

 

in plumbing the depths.

 

And yet. There is always an and yet.

 

 

We each have a very good friend, a friend we talk to

 

every single day.   Nick and I went to different

 

colleges, but our every day friends are from that time

 

when we were young, when we had time and when life

 

was more or less unpredictable.

 

 

Nick plays guitar but he earns his living working on

 

music in movies. He’s a sound editor, and sounds are

 

his life. His life has always been well-scored, which may

 

be one of the reasons why I loved him in the beginning.

 

Can you love someone’s soundtrack? Maybe yes.

 

His college friend Aaron is a labor historian,

 

one of those thin mustachioed men with earth colored

 

clothes who is infatuated with the past. With workers

 

struggles and especially workers victories, with

 

Wobblies and all the speeches of Emma Goldman and

 

Clara Lemlich.

 

My oldest friend is Manuel Clemente. Oddly enough

 

that’s exactly how he looks. We met in Milton class in

 

college. Neither of us liked Milton all that much.

 

Not liking Milton bound us together. For life.

 

 

When we four decided that we wanted a house, it

 

Was a half-hearted decision. One of those decisions

 

you don’t realize until many years later could change

 

your life.

 

 

 

 

Village vanguard

Old wonderful talented speakeasy New York, the village vanguard on 7th avenue south in the village is one of the best jazz spots anywhere. Always has been. The Gordon family own it and now Deborah a daughter of Max and Lorraine, jazz institutions, stands at the door. We went tonight to hear Bill Mchenry and I’d go back every night if I could.

Don’t Miss This Going to the Socrates Sculpture Park

My new friend Julie isn’t it funny how sometimes you like people and sometimes you don’t based on almost nothing at all I liked Julie right away for no particular reason she said her parents were coming into town and she wondered where she should take them. Where should they go.  Curious midwesterners she said. I know very few things. Certainly no Genuine Information. But I have always always known Where To Go. Especially in New York City, a place I have loved for so long.

Take them to Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City I said. It’s incredibly beautiful. I could tell you more but incredibly beautiful is the most appropriate description. Right on the water. There’s a newish piece there, an inside out piece you can walk into and around, beautiful strong harlem woman who is now almost a solid boat. It’s right across the street from the Noguchi studio and museum and if you like your sculpture in a more formal setting Noguchi is more or less perfect. There’s an interior Japanese garden at Noguchi where you can sit with someone you like or love or you can sit alone, all day.  Then you can take a bus an easy bus to Astoria, and have one of those Greek meals you’d like to eat every day.

Middlefield 3 How We Began

 

 

 

 

 

Middlefield

 

 

Soft green summers, wet and full. The kind of summers where you hear corn grow, and early morning smells like sugary peach cobbler. Friends slowly walk in and out of one another’s houses with all the languid promise of teenagers listening to one long piece of music. People laughed easily, more easily than they’d laughed in years, and the crickets, instead of their buggy twittering, actually seemed to chirp. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought we were all in a Disney movie, one of those summer films with big floppy dogs named Ben and old men on swings telling each other jokes, and falling in love with Shirley MacLaine.

 

We were New Yorkers in a small upstate town, Middlefield, part earthly paradise and part hell, depending on who you were. The people in the paradise half tended to be New Yorkers, or ex, =country types, the sort of people who ordered cotton weekend clothes in primary colors out of catalogues, slick mail order books where all the models were thin and tanned and looked like they came from Western Massachusetts. The New Yorkers had good jobs – lawyers, teachers, editors, real estate brokers. We bought old farmhouses for less than the price of a studio apartment in New York City. We liked places with views of orchards, with winding creeks and old sycamore trees. Then we filled up those houses with Viking stoves and expensive pots, with auction house rocking chairs, copper tea kettles and McCoy vases, giving themselves a history they could buy. We planted gardens full of heritage vegetables that all seemed to glow. What we wanted from the country was a little hard to say: a simpler life, maybe, a little bit more time, or maybe just the chance to nest.

The people whose lives were a little more real were the locals, a hardbitten group who had their own appeal. They were practical and tough. They could do things, a lot of things, like plough fields and build barns and bake apple pies with their eyes closed. They were wiser than the New Yorkers, less naive about what the earth could do, and what they saw. They didn’t confuse a raspberry’s sweetness with its price. But their lives weren’t easy. They didn’t have much money, and their children didn’t have too many choices. They went to hopeless fifties schools, green rooms with desks in rows and teachers who’d been patient long enough. They married too young, found themselves with little children and a lot of debt, with tired jobs where they worked long hours and never had time to do what they’d planned.

The two worlds had some occasion to intersect. Usually there wasn’t all that much hostility between them. Locals thought city types were more or less useless. They hired people to do things they should have done themselves, like washing windows and tilling gardens. City people could be condescending. They knew the locals didn’t read The New York Times. But the kids played together every summer, biking the very same roads, swimming in noisy profusion along the Catskill Creek.

Once a day each summer, most of the Middlefield residents, locals and weekenders alike, would stop at the Daily Harvest farm stand on the intersection of Route 28 and 9G. It was on the way no matter where you were going. For auto parts, for milk, for a swim in the creek, to pick up the mail. The farmstand was the local meeting ground, our house of worship and conversation.

No matter who you were or what you thought or how you voted, you’d buy your vegetables there. Fresh each day. Even if you grew them, you went to look at theirs. It had been an inn a century before, a stop for strangers on the way from their villages to Albany, to do their business.

During the bright yellow corn-filled months of summer right through the fragrant green and red buckets of apples into Crayola colored orange pumpkins, people flocked to Daily Harvest, sometimes just to talk. There would always be someone there, holding a paper cup of lemonade, or Kool Aid, or iced tea. They kept an old refrigerator out by the stand, for herbs and some of the greens that would wilt too easily in the sun, beet greens and kale,sweet basil and chard. Every morning the children would make big jugs full of drinks, and we’d all just help ourselves. There’d be cookies too. Whatever was on sale at the supermarket that week, they’d lay out on paper napkins on round straw trays.

Middlefield is beautiful, not in the even-handed careful way of paintings, of wealthy summer towns where every blade of grass stands at attention before it’s mowed down. It was beautiful in a wild and fragrant way, like horses and lillies and young children allowed their freedom, like dogs who can run all they want. It was beautiful like the moon, and like those memories all of us have of when we were young, and someone kissed us outside in the dark, by the cemetery, on a seawall, or in an open field. Middlefield was not a muted place. It was not careful or correct. The light, no matter what time of day, what time of year, fell out across the valley of old black locust trees, gnarled and knotted, stretching up into the heavens like limber Sufi dancers. The village was one of those places where one god or another was hovering around, helping the flowers and vegetables grow.

Here’s how we bought our house. By driving around. In a funny way buying

 

a house is a little like all those big and entirely ordinary parts of life

 

that you can’t conceive when someone else describes them to you, no

 

matter how articulate they might be. Like sex or children, two words as common as any,

 

two nouns that are as much a part of being human as arms and legs. But if I were

 

to try to tell you about sex for instance (and god knows many thousands even millions

 

of people have tried) I don’t know that I could let you know what it feels like (not

 

wonderful and frightening, not disappointing and cataclysmic, not unexpected and

 

addictive, but small pieces of all of those). Not really. I could give you an instance

 

or two, the way people often do: I saw him, and then. Or I saw him but I didn’t know.

 

 

Houses, especially for those of us who don’t have them in the usual way, those of us

 

in this peculiar Boomerish generation that ran away from the ordinary, and one of

 

the most ordinary words on the planet is House, we ran away from curtains say, or

 

dishes that matched, we ran away from convention, from words like normal. But

 

there’s always an even so. Even so, we who wanted to believe that who we were

 

was original, that we were living, somehow, in unchartered territory, that we would

 

create a New Life, whatever New might mean.

 

 

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