Wednesday, August 29, 2007

post 371. a new story.

could it be that i've actually written two stories in one year? hard to imagine; it's not like i'm a creative writing graduate. wait.

this is the first part of my new story, which was inspired by a conversation i had with tim ryan at hogan's hideaway in rochester a few months back; the subject being mr. ryan's idea that we never explore our back yards. i'm currently typing this up for professor dillon here in lake have a heart. this is only the second draft.

i looked up and saw my neighbor.

he was looking into my backyard over my fence; my beautiful, six-foot high white fence. he must have been standing on something, i thought. his face beaming, stretching his old lines to the extremes, a golf hat propped jauntily on his head, his hands holding onto the fence.

i didn’t even know what his name was. my neighbor had been my neighbor for…well, i don’t know how long. neighbors aren’t something i regularly engage in. not that i’m unfriendly, it’s just that those are relationships i don’t really want to get into; you can’t control who lives next to you. make friends with the wrong one, and you’ve got an annoyance that continually asks for things out of your garage, your kitchen, your music collection. and all that stuff is lost to a void of years where you’re wondering whatever happened to your, like, garden hoe, and you can’t remember which of your garden-tilling, yard-obsessed suburbanites have it. then there’s the inconvenience of forced conversation at inappropriate times.

then there are those neighbors that you have long, drawn-out battles with; battles that are fought with suspicious glances and campaigns of dissent amongst all the other neighbors, vying for their support in helping to give your neighbor enemy – your neighnemy – suspicious glances. when i was a kid, my parents lived next to mr. judge. he and my dad did exactly that: hated each other, and did small things to annoy each other through the entirety of my childhood. mr. judge was militant about his yard, and took umbrage to the fact that my family couldn’t mow our lawn in patterns you’d find in yankee stadium. he also hated it when branches or bushes started encroaching his property lines. there were some hedges – our hedges – that separated the properties. one time we went for a week’s vacation and mr. judge – truly his name – clipped the hedges back so that, on one side, they were bare to the stumps.

“that damn judge!” my father said as we pulled into the driveway, having finished the last leg of a very long trip in a station wagon with two ten year olds who had been physically separated at least five times in the past hour alone and a wife who had never really thought a trip to disney land would be a good idea in the first place, since our family contained two ten year olds who had to be physically separated in the past hour alone.

my uncle had a neighbor that was nuts too; my uncle built a pretty little picket fence as decoration in his new orleans front yard. after sweating it out and doing it all by himself in the summer sun, cutting each piece of the fence in his wood shop behind the house, always pulling out that blue bandana and wiping his face, he stood proudly one evening, the fat new orleans humidity receding a bit, and then noticed his neighbor. eyeing him suspiciously.

the next morning the sun was out and uncle larry was walking along the fence, inspecting it after a night’s rest. his neighbor came up to the fence.

i think your fence is on my property, he said.

huh? asked uncle larry, who had made sure to check and double-check his figures before setting out on the project. larry wasn’t some weekend warrior when it came to projects; he knew his proverbial shit.

i think your fence is on my property, the neighbor repeated. then he said, don’t worry though, because i have a surveyor coming out tomorrow. i had to pay him a hundred bucks up front.

how far do you think it is? my uncle asked.

maybe a few inches.

i swear to you, reader, that this is a true story.

a few inches? my uncle asked. then he asked, are you serious?


my uncle was flabbergasted.

the neighbor turned and left. so, just to spite the guy, my uncle – under much sweat in the humidity of new orleans, a thick, oppressive humidity that feels like a fat woman has sat upon the city – waited until he saw the neighbor leave and then ripped out that part of the fence in a single-minded frenzy to move the fence back five inches. even if uncle larry was right about his calculations of the property line – and no doubt he was – he just wanted the neighbor to have spent a hundred bucks for nothing.

all of this flashed through my head as i stood there, assembling my new bronze finish fire pit, the one contribution i’ve made to my wife’s singular vision of our patio, screwdriver in hand, instructions underfoot, the brooklyn sun just coming over the roof lines beyond my yard.

i’m sorry? i asked.

good morning, he said.

oh, i said, and i clucked out an aw-shucks chuckle. good morning yourself, i said.

then i put my head down and returned to my screwing, the obvious sign that i was now done with the conversation. it was a tried-and-true method, perfected over many a college roommate, housemate, and now, having moved into adulthood with a house and wife – still a strange thing to say – i could try it out on a genuine neighbor of my own. leave me out of your life, i was saying. i want no part of whatever craziness you’re trying to drop on me.

how are you? he asked.

he wanted something. i knew it. cup of sugar. lawn mower (no way; i spent two months in the winter reading everything i could on the subject, and had myself, for my little speck of land, a lawn mower with which to rival the gods). something.

i’m fine, i said, saluting him with my screwdriver, a move that just came to me. i took improv in college, and thought this was a wonderful new move i just created. i was being kindly, but with the instrument of my mind’s focus, showing him that i was in the middle of something. brilliant.

i’m sorry to bother you, he said, but i just wanted to tell you your house looks wonderful. me and the wife had always thought that old colour looked hideous. of course, he said, with an air of conspiracy, we never told the petersons.

oh, i said. oh, i said again. i looked at the house. oh, i said, as if i had just discovered the colour. thanks. i just…you know. painted it.

did you choose the colour? he asked.

no. my wife wanted it, i said.

ah. isn’t that always the way? i can’t seem to make any decisions without the misses. some guys hate it, but…well…that’s what you get married for, right?

yeah, i said.

well, he said, smiling and nodding towards my new bronze finish fire pit. don’t mean to keep you from your appointed rounds, so to speak.

and he began to shrink behind my fence.

and that’s when it happened. i don’t know where it came from, but something about the old man’s voice rang a little bell from somewhere in the back of my brain. after thirty-five years of conditioning, after thirty-five years of knowing better, of knowing i’d be fine – fine, i say – just getting into my car and driving to work (if i had a job, that is) without anything other than a non-committal wave to any person in the vicinity, after the aforementioned stories and more that i could fill volumes with, i said this:

i bought a bronze finish fire pit.

his face slowly rose above my fence again. the sun ducked behind a cloud.

i’m sorry? he asked.

at the home depot. i bought this. it’s a bronze finish fire pit. my voice, i realized, was a little too loud.

oh, he said. oh, he said again, looking at it. well, that’s a doozy. very nice. by the way, he said, i’m james. james spader.

oh, i said, and introduced myself. then i stood up. the sun came out and shone in my backyard, all fifteen by fifteen of it. i walked over to the fence. i held out my hand, then saw the screwdriver, put it in my other hand, then shook his old, withering but tough hided hand.

then i said, cementing this foray into undiscovered country, you have a nice house as well.

thank you, he said, and then he said, it’s about time we met.

yes. i was suddenly worried. now i was bound by tradition: where do i buy yule logs? do you give neighbors cards for things like new year’s and christmas?

there was a pause.

well, i said.

well, he said, at the exact same moment.

then i said, inspired, if you need anything, you know, just…you know. come on over.

why, thank you, he said, and looked at my bronze finish fire pit. then he said, perhaps i could come over and help you celebrate your new fire pit.

the old instincts came back, and i said, oh, it’s not finished. i…sheesh…i’ll probably never get it finished. but i will. yes. yes. we should. that. good.

he smiled and nodded with a simple wave of the hand, and then the hat sunk again behind my fence.

i looked at his house, and thought it wasn’t all that bad, having talked to an old man that lives behind me. i felt a little ashamed that he had simply looked to offer a compliment, and i took to the sub machine guns so quickly. i put down my screw driver and looked at the other houses to my right and left, above my fence. i put my hands on my hips, and suddenly heard the sounds of my neighborhood; a dog barking in the distance, the gravelly skid of skateboards, birds, a sprinkler ratcheting somewhere close by. and again, without thinking, i went to the fence on my left and, putting my hands above, raised myself to peek over in the yard.

there was a woman sunbathing.


she screamed.

so did i.

i went inside.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

post 370. crowded house.

the charming and delightful ms. westra braved an hour in the back alleys of toronto with fifty other crowded house nerds - myself being the biggest - waiting for the band to exit massey hall after an amazing show so we could get our fill of pictures, autographs, and hand shakes. after spending the past ten years figuring i'd never get the chance to see them live, you can imagine my happiness.

neil finn.

nick seymour.

mark hart.

matt sherrod.

Friday, August 10, 2007

post 369. the stories so far.

with the halfway point of my tenure in lake george here (!) i thought i'd take a look at where i was for my summer reading. in all honesty, i've never read so much in my entire life. and today i just picked up the boy detective fails by joe meno, so the second half is starting well...

casino royale, ian fleming
live and let die, ian fleming
notes from a small island
, bill bryson
, ian fleming
on the shortness of life
, seneca
harry potter and the deathly hallows
, j.k. rowling
diamonds are forever
, ian fleming
33 1/3's
...entroducing, by eliot wilder
brave new world
, aldous huxley
from russia with love, ian fleming

Thursday, August 09, 2007

post 368. boston.

dear boston: you're a lovely american city. splendid. all your boston tea partying, your "athens of america," your newbury comics, whatever. lots of good stuff. i even think i saw a sign that advertised dunkin' donuts pizza.

your system of roadways sucks a big fat piece of richard simmons. streets going every which way but loose, intersections devoid of signs, and your damnable, stupid, irritating tunnels. the delightful and charming ms. westra accompanied me on a trip to beantown this past sunday for a beastie boys show, and its frustratingly chump-headed street design left much to be desired. no wonder people love the red sox so much; they can't find their way out of the city to get to yankee stadium.

here is the route that we ended up taking to get to the boston opera house:

monday, while making our way from concord to jamaica plain, we ended up crossing a very nice looking bridge and finding ourselves in chelsea. lost and losing our patience, we stopped to ask a chelsea police officer for directions. he gave us a route to take, with the destination being the tobin bridge (we would stop in the city and call our friends to meet us rather than try and make it to j.p.); once back on the road we found our way to the tobin bridge, but along the way found none of the streets the officer mentioned.

what an idiotic place.

now that all that's out of my system, on to the deets: the charming and delightful ms. westra - a beastie boys fan since day 1 - scored tickets to the aforementioned beasties show, which happened to coincide with mca's 43rd birthday. a gala event, no doubt. an adventure, to say the least.

the tickets said "dress to impress," and there were many people at the opera house who acquiesced; the place ran the gamut of interpretations of said directive. there were those looking shive in tuxedos and dresses (like the two impressive people above), those who were rather amusing (we saw cochise from the sabotage video, complete with lamb chops), those who hip-hopped their well-dressings (in other words, wore sneakers and their fanciest red sox cap askew), and there were complete chumps (look, buddy. a sport coat and a leopard-print hat isn't chic, it's downright stupid).

the opera house had just gone under a renovation, somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty-eight million dollars. worth every penny; the place was amazing. all this, and beastie boys as well? it was shaping up to be a most triumphant evening.

the greatest thing about the beastie's show - for me - was that it encompassed every single aspect of their career; hip hop stuff, punk stuff, instrumental stuff...they even had money mark strap on a guitar and sing "mark on the bus." a great, great show. and by the way: don't the beasties look boss in their skinny ties? and isn't "off the grid" exactly the reason the word "awesomeness" was invented?

now, i hate to take away from such a great show, but here's a question: why shall nyc always triumph over boston? because, as we left the opera house, we wanted to get something to eat. but there wasn't anything we could find open. what? a major american city, devoid of nightlife? i don't care if it's sunday. even rochester has jay's diner. open up a pizza shop, or something. for fuck's sake.

we ended up finding some irish pub where the bartender was surly, irish, taller than patrick ewing, and bald. drinks, recaps of our favorite parts of the show, and then out of boston...for the time being.

recharged after a fine sleep in braintree (and seriously, greater boston area: what's up with the rotaries?), we went out to concord to meet up with bffs eric and brandi - both of the franklin park zoo - who just moved to the home of transcendentalism. walden pond, ralph waldo emerson's house...totally sweet.

at walden pond they have a replica of the shack that thoreau stayed in and wrote all that great stuff about simplifying, keeping your accounts on a thumbnail, and, if i remember correctly, achtung baby.

mr. thoreau takes me for a walk and drops knowledge and explains some shit to me.

back at eric and brandi's we shared a bottle of wine and met benson and otis; benson being the great dane and otis being a saint bernard. and, as you can see, they're frickin' huge. they're like, dinosaur-size. it ain't right. the charming and delightful ms. westra decided to play with the dogs, and we had to get tongs to pull her out of otis' mouth.

then we took the aforementioned bumblefunk drive to jamaica plain to see teri and jon. a great time; it was teri's 27th birthday on tuesday so we saw 26 out with some dinner, alcohol, and then the greatest ice cream in the world at j.p. licks (i recommend the cake batter flavor with chocolate sprinkles). we walked around jamaica plain, a cozy little borough that has that "we're the hip section" feel.

so long, boston.
maybe i'll be back. if not for my friends, then perhaps for the dunkin' donuts pizza. good luck with all know. stupid roads and baseball teams.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

post 365. a day at the races.

the ever-gracious bruce jordan took joe and i out to the races this past monday for a day of fanciness and losing money. i learned a lot about horse racing; i'll fill you in on a few details so that your inaugural trip to the track doesn't end up making you look like a chump.

first thing's first: at the races, they run thoroughbreds. not appaloosas, not chincoteague ponies, not even the missouri fox trotter. thoroughbreds. and get this: all the thoroughbreds racing today come from three horses back in england. if you wanna run a horse here, you have to prove to the racing whoozits your horse is related to the "foundation stallions:" the byerley turk, the darley arabian, or the godolphin barb. ain't horse names great?

joe and i met bruce up in the turf terrace of the clubhouse. since mr. jordan is an owner, we asked questions and took in his knowledge with the eagerness of two guys looking to make squillions of dollars. when you get to the clubhouse, first pick up your program to get the info on all the horses running, their respective owners and jockeys, and all that stuff. then, on the first floor of the clubhouse, find the board with the scratches (the horses that, for some reason or another, have dropped out of the races they were assigned to), and go through each race in you program and cross them out.

then you go to a teller (on the fourth floor of the clubhouse) and get a voucher; joe and i each started with twenty bucks. the voucher is used in the machines like the one mr. jordan in pictured with above. get your program, look at the info on the horses, get the latest odds, and pick - i went with a system of odds and funny horse names. the machines are quite easy to use.

now to bet. on a quick side note, james bond, in diamonds are forever, follows the advice of 'Chicago' O'Brien: "He backed every firm favorite for a place, or 'to show' as his first ticket-hatch told him to call it, and he had somehow made fifteen dollars and some cents by the end of the eighth race and the day's meeting."

this is kinda how joe and i ran, i think; of course, visions of picking the creaky-legged horse out of sympathy and having him win us thousands upon thousands of gold doubloons and bikini-clad women danced in front of us at the start, but as the day progressed and we kept getting our money nickel and dimed and dollared away from us, i know i just tried to bet on sure winners and come out even.

like i said earlier: horse names are great. here are some of the horses i bet on:

chernobyl's hero
stud muffin (trained by the same guy mr. jordan uses)
wally world
lady joanne
funny annie
refined royalty
triple bogey blues
big city sports (more on him later)
typhoon tycoon
extreme supreme
jesse's justice
starbase (i mean, mr. d. wayne lukas was helping saddle could you not?)

then, with your bets in, sit and enjoy the race. maybe some saratoga chips; did you know the potato chip was invented here in saratoga? the waitrons come around and give you a basket of kettle-chips and ranch dressing. tasty as the day is long. and have some saratoga springs water to keep you fresh, why don't you? lunch? dessert? coffee?

now, if you're someone unfancy but know someone fancy like mr. jordan, you might have the opportunity to go down to the paddock. and i'm not talking about the area where wife-beater-ed epsilons sitting on those ugly-looking fold-up picnic chairs while grabbing beer cans from the cooler they got from bank of america for opening a checking account get to look into a fenced-in area where the horses are saddled; i'm talking about the paddock, where someone might say, "ooop - chauncey...look out. that horse almost kicked you." make sure you wear a jacket - note captain kook behind mr. ditmyer and myself above looking like a hayseed.

here in the paddock you get the chance to hobnob with the stars, and take a look at the horses. what? you say sara's surveying sister is looking a little skittish? hmph. won't be placing a bet there.

before the fifth, we were approached by none other than channing hill, the jockey charged with big city sports. mr. hill was, joe and i figured, roughly 12 years old. maybe 8. actually, closer to being 3 months old. he greeted us and shook our hands while waiting for big city sports to be saddled; and big city sports was having none of this silly little saddling business. to say he was skittish is to say w. is having some problems in iraq.

so i bet on big city sports since channing was so charming, and then big city went out and took charge of the track. and faded in the end to come in dead last. poor channing. but, seeing as how he's only a few days old, he's got a full life of racing ahead of him.

my losses? $22.10. not too bad, and in the last few races i was getting some confidence. mr. jordan took us to siro's for a post-race drink; if you're racing at saratoga, you go to siro's afterwards. and boy howdy was the crowd fancy; bronzed women, bronzed fellas in polos and blazers, bronzed waitresses...and a band that schlocked out beatles and ccr covers like barth schlocked out spewy-looking foods on you can't do that on television.

all was well.