Monday, February 21, 2005

four days in the mountains, part two

the chance to go to the mountains surfaced abrubtly. i grabbed it.

on early friday afternoon, i found myself on a train that would take me into the catskills. i had never been there before. i didn't know how cold it would get or how rural the situation would be. i had a rabbit fur hat and i had frightfully warm and sturdy woolen socks and a great pair of boots but i had no pants. big mistake.

my host was an intellectual freak -- smart, unaffected and cool -- who'd done the downtown nyc hipster thing for real, as an artist/gallery owner, writer and musician. he was doing that apartment-in-the-city, house-in-the-country thing that happens when yankees start to settle down and shift gears, whether they get married and want a different life or they're single and sick of the city. what made him such a wierdo to me is that he was such a backwoods hick. he hunted and fished seasonally. he knew about livestock and farming. he was a master carpenter. he could butcher animals. the only people that i knew that could do those things were from the south or the midwest. they definitely weren't yankees.

i grew up around men like that. they raised me. why wouldn't i want to hang out with one?

on first glance, no one would put us together because we both looked like hicks that lived along a strict racial divide. at least that's the way hollywood and the music industry tells it. but interestingly enough, that's exactly where we connected. even historically, this has been proven to be true. my theory is, if they would stop trying to divide us up so they can sell us stuff, or convince us to buy stuff that we don't need, we'd probably be a lot better off than we are now.

we knew a lot of the same people -- more connections were made with every conversation, which was creepy but understandable. nyc is a very small world. what was really cool is that he was playing a lot of guitar and writing songs and lyrics, and he was starting to want to do something with them.

once i reached my destination by train, we had to drive for something like 30 minutes until we got to his little corner of the world. lots of pastoral scenes began to appear until everything was completely rural. his place is very "man-like" -- a veranda filled with tools and things that are getting taken apart and then a house with lots of stuffed animals that he's killed, lunging at you from this corner or that wall hanging, with a wood-burning stove, a too-comfy couch and lots of original art. not one feminine thing anywhere. the place was loaded with so much testosterone and guy stuff, you could slice it with a machete. there were blinds at the windows but he never used them. and no curtains. who would be stupid enough to stand around and look in? it was freezing outside. after a lot of talk and story-telling and a dinner of the most delicious venison steak imaginable, i stayed up way late, conked out and slept like a small child, immovable until well past 1pm the following day.

he has a nice big kitchen, with a long table and lots of room to move around. when i woke up, he wasn't there, so i cleaned all the dishes, made myself a huge cup of tea, looked at his stuffed dead animals up close (the coyote in attack mode was my favorite) and played guitar for awhile. he returned and looked at me sideways, genuinely surprised that i'd cleaned his kitchen. after he gave me some waterproof padded german army pants (which are the warmest and most comfortable pair i've ever owned) we walked down a hilly road to visit some folks he knew. his friend had a huge seven bedroom house that sat on 200 acres with a pond that was iced over and ripe for ice skating. i spent the better part of my time out there falling on my butt while his friend skated circles around me, declaring himself to be the gay dorothy hammill. he had to drag me by one of my ice skates to the pond's edge so i could get my boots back on. afterwards, we ate squash soup and homemade bread in a living room filled with sunlight.

the house was an unofficial artist's haven, and buzzing with visitors and residents, one of whom was my host's ex-wife. she was quite the bitter pill. probably at him. if you're that angry, a lousy breakup is always a handy target. we wandered through his property on the way back. that night, it was my turn to make dinner: ham steak with red eye gravy. there isn't much that makes me happier than cooking in someone else's kitchen. thankfully, there was strong black coffee left over from breakfast. i pulled a dan-ackroyd-as-julia-child manuver and cut my finger while dicing onions. it was totally worth it.

after that meal, i stayed up and watched "raging bull" (everyone's seen it but me -- and yes yes yes, di niro is riveting) and woody allen's "everyone says i love you" which was suprisingly sweet and endearing (i love listening to people sing who really can't sing). i finally discovered the heater in the corner of my room and drifted off to sleep like someone slipped me a mickey, lined in pork. for the life of me, i couldn't get out of bed until around 2pm.

when i did wake up, he had been up for hours, since around 7am or something, chopping wood and whatnot, like always. by this time, we'd fallen into a routine when i woke up in the middle of the day: i'd say good morning and he'd say good afternoon, like julie andrews.

on the third day, the friend from the big house came over and had dinner with us. i made red rice, he made another amazing venizon steak and there was string beans. oh, and pie. i made an apple raspberry pie on ham steak night and there was still half of it left. and ice cream. it was so good, it was ridiculous. i don't know why, but i could not make bisquits in that kitchen. it was the strangest thing. and i've been making bisquits since for ever. it felt profoundly wrong to have red eye gravy and no bisquits.

of course, while we were having this incredible meal, we fell into a bizarre conversation about race and politics and black churches and God knows what all. afterwards, i could hear a few of my black friends in my head going, why did you say anything to them? why did you bother? but i don't necessarily edit myself around white people the way a lot of my friends do. don't get me wrong. there's a time to edit yourself before you speak -- and for me, that time is most (if not all) of the time. the older i get, the less i have to say about anything. i know a lot of black people that leave the room when racial things are discussed and i'm just not one of those people.

then again, on the other hand, talk means nothing. it doesn't change anyone's mind and it definitely doesn't change the way that they think. all too often, discussing things is an excercise in futility and egocentrism and people walk away with their bent opinions reinforced. either way, i'm screwed.

when we went back to the big house, everyone had already gotten the new york times and seen my picture in the arts and leisure section. they were all suitabley impressed. i wanted to crawl under a rock. i began to pray that none of them would ask me to sing. actually, the host couldn't stop asking, and i couldn't stop saying no. truth be told, i said i would sing one of his songs to him if he'd lay off the eye medicine for the rest of the weekend. that's right about when he changed the subject. ha.

the times thing was just a blurb, but there was a picture of me and some complimentary remarks. publicity is always nice but it was exactly what i wanted to get away from and somehow it had found me, out in the middle of what i thought was nowhere. eskimos stuck in the frozen tundra probably saw that blurb, for crying out loud. the times really does wallpaper the world.

we watched a marathon of larry david's curb your enthusiasm that his friend got from netflix. (everyone was laughing but me.) i think i know too many people like that for any of it to be truly funny. when we left, a nor'easter had already hit and it was snowing with a purpose. we wobbled back up the hill and i tottered off to bed, strangely exhausted.

the next day, i overslept with my host's usual salutations to greet me when i woke up. i could never tell if he was being sarcastic, mildly accusatory or just drop dead funny. (probably all three.) funny thing is, i was being the same way. it was like that with us the whole time i was there: strangely, we were alike enough to rub each other wrong in the right way, if that makes any sense. (i guess you had to be there...)

it was a wildly uneventful night. we did the usual: argued (constructively), laughed, tried very hard to keep warm, ate well (yet again) and watched napoleon dynamite, which was a wonderfully strange little movie. (mental note: get a t-shirt that says "vote for pedro" and wear it all summer with some green hot pants and a pair of high heeled sneakers.) when it came time to go to bed, i couldn't really sleep because i had to be up at 7am to catch the train back to the city. i knew that if i let myself drift off to dreamland, nothing would wake me up. i washed the dishes, packed all of my things, gave myself a mini-facial, did at least two idiot checks and drifted in and out of a fitful rest.

the next thing i knew, i was nodding off on the train like a junkie. somehow, this was the most appropriate way to return to the city...

and oh yeah. i forgot my earrings.

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