The Stockbridge Pie

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Nothing much seems to have changed in Stockbridge, MA since back when I lived there almost two decades ago. The Red Lion Inn still stands strong with the comfortably worn Lion’s Den, the downstairs bar that I swear has not changed the carpet or décor since 1972.
There is the Stockbridge Pie. Deep inside the ancient cemetery is perhaps the only example of New Englanders being buried layered out not in rows but in a slowing filling in circle of concentric rings. The historical society yet maintains the Dutch house on the corner, the candle store yet sells candles that stink like Yankees and inherited money, and the botanical garden remains by the four corners outside of town and has occasional events leading up to the huge harvest plant sale.

One thing that is gone is the reform school I escaped from.

This was years ago, then the internet was still new and information not as plentiful. I had just graduated from [redacted] and was back home cooling my heals. Some friends had gone to graduate school, others law school, and several more had gone to Gotham in search of fame and cafe shop work. I had returned home and needed to make money, having exhausted my supply over the years preceding on various vices including books and food. I had exhausted so many avenues, sent out many a resume, and rarely made it past the phone screener. I had gone from the thrifty student who believed in academic thought, the arts, and deep conversations with people unlike me, to tossed back into the horrible world where no one gives a shit about you, your conversation, or the nuances of applying post modern identity lenses to explode the Grand Narrative of history in order to allow for the stories of under represented groups, sub-groups, and marginalized societies.

And then I got an interview with a school as a social studies teacher. Again, I could continue what I had started in college, to return to learning and ideas and keep pushing my abilities in order to perhaps one day fold myself back into academe, this time as a professor. The only car on the road our family had at the time was a rotting 1969 Cadillac my grandmother had left us when she died and I drove that car to my interview, in exactly the wrong direction I wanted to go.
New York was in the other direction. All my friends were already having internships turn in to jobs or were already past their “try out New York for six months” and had moved on to new adventures now out of my reach. Whatever fellowship I enjoyed in college was gone and I was again, alone.

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The consolation was the autumn colours on the drive. The countryside was resplendent that year as I have not since seen it with yellows and deep reds exploding across the thick forests, copses, and closes. The school was outside of Stockbridge, but seemed close enough that I would be, at least in my mind, spending a lot of time at the Red Lion Inn, perhaps volunteering at the historical society, perhaps meeting some new friends and perhaps a lover or two. The school was housed in part in a huge mansion. As a student of history, I was not unfamiliar with the palaces and edifices of the new Rheinland of the Hudson Valley, the resorts of the Catskills, or the grand structures of Montauk and the north shore of Long Island back when that was a gentile escape from the hot streets of Gothem.

However, I did feel that this house was sick. Not the flaking paint, not the rough unkempt edges of a house on the cusp of ruin, I had seen many of those too and within them yet burned some interesting and creative rotting decadent descendants like of a Rokeby or Villa Valley or Wilderstein. This was the sickness of a house pressed into service as a school, but as I was fast to learn, not any ordinary school.

It was a reform school.

I was very disappointed by this revelation given to me in full detail only at the interview but very excited to be thrust into teaching at a private school that would allow for some semblance of collegiate colleagues and a modicum of college life albeit in a more responsible way as I would now be the one to grade the term papers and set deadlines.

A very high level overview was given about the complex systems intended to reform the school’s charges. I was assured that I need not learn it all at once. I was not up to such a challenge but I was desperate to work and start paying off the impending student loan payments that were ever looming closer. I had some scant experience. I had taught at summer programs at college, but that was because they paid better than being reunion minders or kitchen keepers, but these programs would not prepare me for working with troubled youth, some of whom were but a few years my junior. I was promised by my interviewers, a woman who I will call Ms. Peacock and a man named Professor Plum.  Professor Plum was an older man (back when 35 was older) with a beard and some girth and a warm spirit that lit up the room and who would become my mentor and guide in this troubled and confusing place. He was my only real person I met there.  The position was to be filled immediately, Ms Peacock said.  The previous Social Studies teacher had vanished in the night or had joined a Jansenist sect or jumped in the river shouting “Lenore” before sinking under the dark waters or some such calamity. There was no one to provide the three or four classes they needed to fulfill the coming academic year, and that it was already coming to September, and would I be interested, and could I start next week. Process of elimination. I was the only one to actually follow through with the in-person interview… If I remember correctly, which after all these years, I may not.

I took the job. While it was not in the area it was a job, and I needed to start paying off my school debt.  Not that, as it turned out, after they deducted room and board and taxes, that I had enough to live on… but that’s another blog post.

The following week, I arrived with a car full of my few belongings not in storage. I was shown to my quarters, a room in an apartment in a building that had been originally built for horses but now housed teachers. I was to share my lodging with Professor Plum who turned out to be a jovial man who was cracked jokes, drank hard, played guitar and knew everything there was to know about serial killers. A lot about serial killers. Almost too much, or is that it was just enough that when night fell, I pushed a very heavy object against the unlocked door, since as a rule, we were not allowed to lock anything, not even the door to our blessed sanctuary, our little room.
This fear of intruders was very much real since as one may imagine in an institution with no locks and many inmates wanting out, there was always the potential for a prowling teen to be lurking in the darkness or the early morning fog.

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The colours quickly vanished and the trees were stripped in some autumnal deluge and winter set in at once. It became gray.
Mornings started early. We were to rouse the students from their slumber and assemble for a morning meeting where various issues were discussed, primarily to do with someone’s progress in their realization that they were a selfish shithead. These realizations could take some time, even the better part of the morning and ate into the time for my classes since the academic schedule was, not surprisingly, shortened in order to make room for the large group confessionals and various breakthroughs.
On some days my classes, such as they were, lasted for a scant 15-20 minutes. What a load of shit, the then me thought on an increasingly regular basis.

At least we teachers had a breakroom. This was a room filled to the brim with books all mustering away, old school books unfit for the worst library book sale or random bitty’s jumble sale. It had one easy chair and I took to this after our morning meeting when I could for a much needed few minute nap. Time to process the morning struggle to stay awake since I had been up at 5AM and was just sitting there and had perhaps gotten to bed well past midnight since the dorm I was in had to do all their “turn ins” – a system of punishment so Faustian and at the same time Kafkaesque as to perhaps requires a future and more in-depth expose just on this one method of group therapy or whateverthefuckinghellitwassupposedtobe.

I was assigned a duty. The boys dorm. The school had had a few legal issues over the years and the rank and file of supporters were dwindling as the 1960s and 1970s theories of Man died out or were proven by the more rational elements of Science and Common Fucking Sense to be untrue and even detrimental (watch Adam Curtis Century of the Self for an excellent summation of all this). There were several old rotting 1970s buildings left on the property. I amn’t sure what it is about the 1970s where so many of these cement boxes were built to “juxtapose” some grander edifice. There was some building that was greatly dilapidated used for classrooms. It was right out of the SOVIET Union. I believe it smelled like my time in Russia too minus the hookers and vodka of course. Two rotting hulks sat in the backyard of the mansion like some crashed spaceships out of Omni Magazine or that spookie art from Playboy 1968-1978 those ones where politicians were crawling out of large mouths or foisting large red and black erections on small beige women all war and madness and body hair. One of these SOVIET spaceships was used to house the boy childs and the other one kept the girl childs so their pee pees wouldn’t touch in the night. Those children who had improved their behavior, they had spaces reserved for them in the Big House, the grand palace where the founder and erstwhile Dear Leader stayed, in a suite of rooms of course, without any locks. I always wondered what exactly went on there….

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My coworker was a man from Morocco named Reverend Green. He made great coffee and we needed it, we swilled it like porky piglets to keep us going to keep us for passed in this madhouse for sane… I don’t remember that he was a teacher, but what did it matter, I was also a building minder. Thankfully as the Nube I was not given night duty, having to sleep with a dirty mattress blocking the front door least one of our perverted little cherubs tried to spring wings in the night and run off madly through the woods to the safe houses of the cult of yoga-worshipers down the road (who hated our little institution and offered vegan food and safe passage, or was rumored by some other more devoted staff). I was in training I guess, but a very on-the-job sort. Ms. Peacock did explain a lot to me, but it was Professor Plum who took me under his wing as he was a strange character, both there and fully committed to this strange school and yet very matter-of-fact with me about how strange it all was and as we drank together in our little dorm like apartment in the house build for horses that I swear was still permeated with their froth and urine and not the sort that spills from racehorses but that from war horses, tinged with fear and anger. The professor would and I would wind down many a night guzzling as much of a 30 rack of some cheep smutz as we could handle all the while talking about education, recovery, the school gossip, and the old academic subjects of Leben and Kunst. While a professional drinker who had practiced for years and well in shape from my college years, I always had to tap out and leave him alone to finish the rest. This made the mornings worse and the foggy trudge to my station at the dorm to rouse the half-naked boys from their slumber and ready them for breakfast and our endless series of meetings was murderous with that slight tinge of a hangover. I was yet too young to know to save a beer or some glass or spirits in reserve, for the morning, when it is most needed.

Hour after hour, day after day went by in a confusing fog and my body no longer felt as if it belonged to me. I was entering a dreamtime and was worn down and daydreamed of sleep as a drowning man imagines land and that in a desert thinks and sees only water. As my shift allowed only every other weekend off, and my responsibilities often started before the sun was up and ended well past when the waning gibbous moon had set under the shroud of the Berkshires, I rarely if ever could make it to Stockbridge, to my safe house, the Red Lion Inn and the Lion’s Den where I could hear some music, drink something other than PBR, and hope to meet some young thing, not as young as my charges, but not in any way connected to the school I worked for.

Uncovering rules and more rules I was peeling the onion. The days pressed into weeks and as some strange fairy tale, I learned more of the Dear Leader, more secrets of the school, more horrors of what had been, whispers and dying traces of lost lives in the abandoned dorms and outbuildings I took to secretly exploring. I found notes and letters never sent, begging for forgiveness, asking to be returned to the world at large. Some were angry, others contrite, others written by desperate souls pleading with judges or parents or both to remand them to another facility, even jail. I found stashes of medicine, really hard drugs in bags all in envelopes with names on them, some of the names I recognized as current inmates or those who had taken flight in the past few weeks, but other names were lost to me. Some students were so memorable, the teachers still talked about them, I knew them, and now I was holding their prescribed but unopened pills…. I also found cash. Lot of cash. Hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of dollars back when that was a great deal of money for me. The school had the habit of confiscating cash from the inmates when there was some egregious breaking of the rules, and here was such pile of it in these rotting and leaking abandoned dorms…. Piles of drugs… Piles of cash… what could I do?

I was trapped in their cycle of frantic meetings, group sessions and never a moment to myself and yet isolated as if I were one of the inmates too. I was present for all their strange rituals and activities and in time, these started to make sense to me. I had wanted to leave at once, but I found out that my classes could allow for my students certain credits that would count towards a degree in the state, at any institution. I thought that I had to at least make a semester, and I did. In the dark. All alone, I could hear the barn door creaking above me and perhaps it was the wind, perhaps another student who had tossed his or herself out a window as they had the habit of doing of late. In so few weeks I was exposed to stories from students of abuse and maltreatment as I witnessed the creepy movements and activities of Dear Leader, a small man with a large charisma and I imagined even larger and stranger sexual appetite. So many things happened that were hard for me to process or react to, and to this day I cannot think or talk of that time, that now short time in my life, without becoming emotional, angry, and that person I was back then – frightened, alone, and tossed out of the only safety I had knows, that experience I had had in college.

I was monitoring the tag football game. It was late November. One of the students, a handsome boy with an exact but depressed twin, said to me, isn’t this like a movie? I mean, us at a boarding school in New England, we’re dressed in suits and playing football and it is just starting to snow.” It was indeed snowing, but those large flakes that never stick but fill the air as a frozen pillow fight. He was bright-faced and his Irish cheeks were reddened in the cold air and I half wanted to trade places with him since he was still young and optimistic, so full of hope, even here. However, I was me, and I was older than I wanted to be, and even if I had to return after college to washing dishes, that would be better than this life I was leading and the more the place made sense to me the less I knew I existed. I scribbled something in a notebook, as I did back then when I still believed these little thoughts may be brilliant.

I confessed at the last minute to Professor Plum that I was leaving.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be all right.” We hugged. Or didn’t. It was a long time ago, so details are changing and shifting as they do for all as we grow older and less wise. I would like to believe we hugged since I had grown to love this man, even if I placed a heavy dresser against the door every night…. just in case.

I packed my things into the car at once. It took perhaps less than an hour. People had been alerted, the whole place was in a tizzy, I was at once an outcast, a betrayer, a stooge of whatever forces were outside those gates. I climbed into my grandmother’s 1969 Cadillac and it took its final ride, the final flight out of the war zone it was destined to take (since my parent parked it out in the backyard and it had since sunk into the mud). I drove home. Parked the car where it is still rotting now, and got dropped off at the train to Gothem. It was New Year’s Eve. I had on cowboy boots, an old leather coat with a fir collar, and two leather suitcases. One was full of designer clothes that fit me but had once belonged to some rich inmate at the school, the other…. why that was full of what I found in those dorms.

You can’t break into Gothem with the clothes on your back.

I just happened to be in the area and though I should stop by. I’ve since learned a lot more from the internet about Dear Leader and his confounding school and its demise. I have learned about the survivor networks and so much more than I had even uncovered. I had a drink at the Red Lion Inn and thought of my little drive by. Even from the road I am frightened of the place. It was my one brush with what I believe is True Evil. And that kind of experience, money just can’t buy.
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Wide Open Sky

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From Wikipedia: Aldine, built on the International–Great Northern Railroad, was named after a local farm family. A post office operated in Aldine from 1896 to 1935; after 1935, mail was delivered from Houston. In 1914 Aldine included two general stores, a fig preserver, and several poultry breeders and several dairymen. The population briefly reached 100 in 1925. In the 1930s and 1940s the population decreased to between thirty and forty residents.
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I was driving in a rather rough neighborhood. I had been here before just a few months ago. It was almost familiar except that new roads were under construction and the roads were changed again throwing off my GPS devise so time and again I was lost even with the power of digital information. The houses were small and basic. There were many businesses that seemed closed or abandoned or both. It is a confusing space on earth. Dogs wandered about some areas, in others, there were fences and gates around clusters of houses so that these neighborhoods were cut off from the highway. There seemed to be only highways.
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I wanted to go to the mall after my work, but I could not find it. Even with the GPS. I passed the same spot more than twice. I think. The box warehouses looked the same. The office parks. The weed lots that are for sale. The roadside businesses both employed and already abandoned.
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I was lost. I had indeed been at the same place more than once. I had given up going to the mall, I needed to just get back to the hotel. The underpass looked familiar. That is, at least the homeless person on the corner was indeed the same as before.
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The roads moved in front of my eyes. They twisted and turned and bent into strange shapes. The world was moving all about me in new ways that I could not understand. The traffic piled up, the trucks and cars sped by or changed lanes and without warning. I feared for the safe passage of my rented car. I wished for the additional insurance. As I was also frustrated. Angry by this time that I could not find my way back to my temporary home, the hotel. An obvious place. A place on the internet, clearly labeled yet, in these changing roads, a vanished space on an open land filled with identical landmarks. The rough patches where the few trees grew were surrounded by large machines taking up entire fields and forests and stacking them into piles.
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It was a new world growing up about me. Every day the city grew. The beltway grew, a highway under construction for a lifetime. Lanes merged in front of my eyes. Traffic was stopped up by various accidents and incidents. There seemed at all points some scraps of cars that didn’t make it along the way. The little crosses at the roadway were becoming my only landmarks, places on the road where those drivers who died provided the only unique marks – dark houses guiding me home.
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And finally I found my home away from home. The bland hotel, the one where the door didn’t work so well, the halls smelled dank, the highway noise was kept out by the din of the air conditioner. This must be the place, I thought.
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Apple Blossom Rock

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When we were children we were uprooted from the place we knew and moved far far far away from the friends who were family and up up into a new place, a village on the banks of a certain river that ebbs up and flows down so the waters move in two directions, a feature not lost on the Natives who called the river Muhheakantuck.

We lived not far from the River Muhheakantuk in a large yellow house. The house was different than the one we left behind in suburbia. It had no heat outside of a few rooms on the first floor. No running water most of the summer. And the backyard had been for generations been used as a private landfill so that there were parts of the ground that bounced from buried bed springs and places that went crunch crunch crunch as one walked atop rusting beer cans. Not to mention the broken glass. And the poison Ivy. And the weeds. And the house itself where the carpets and stink of the previous owners was not cleared out before we moved in. The wind and the ghosts and the mice all conspired to make very strange noises not just that first winter of discontent, but for years after.

While our green acre was a devastation of modern life and a home we lived in as squatters, it inspired my lifetime interest in environmentalism and perpetual misanthropic state since I could not imagine in my childish mind how people could just dump trash outside their door and live on top of it. So we kiddies took to rambling about, sneaking outside the confines of our crappy “yard” (much larger than that little lot we left behind in suburbia but less verdant and beloved than our inland empire) and we would sneak. Out past the first trash heap, the second one and across the glass-infested swamp. Through some woods and more woods until we came to a stream next to an apple orchard. The stream no more than a seasonal drainage, part natural, perhaps somewhat influenced by the generations of farmers dating all the way back to the Dutch and the estates.

The stream marked the boundary of the village property owners of Lefferts Corners where a collection of rotten houses and economically distressed families scratched the grounds and apparently dumped trash outside their doorsteps. The woods we sneaked upon were owned by a family that had their own children play in the woods from time to time – this was a long time ago when children could play on their own and not call their parents every few moments with an update or be part of some structured activity set intended to get Zoe and Xiamano into high school/early college so they can die fat, happy, on several trendy medications, and in an aroused state, as we all should so perish. We kiddos found a rope swing. Thinking back this was totally ridiculous. The stream was no more than a trickling smattering of manure and pesticides from the various fields and orchards, but it had a rope and we would swing and jump and play and frolic and….
Wait… Someone’s coming.
And hide.
Into the marsh. Into the woods. Melt into the rocks of the waters itself.
Since it was not our land and we did not belong there one bit.
We loved the stream and my brother and I drew maps to it. Made up little signs and places them about the woods naming various areas. We once built a bridge, a little structure we secreted into the forest and covered another trickle in the attempt to “freak out the other kids.” That was us then. Freaking out the village children by building faerie bridges and putting up strange signs.
We named the tricklet stream Apple Blossom Rock. Since, while we very inventive, sometimes you name the place after what it does, like a river that runs in both directions. There were apples, in the orchard, blossoms that filled the waters but once a year, and being in the country and nature… rocks. Lots of rocks. So much different than those sandy shores and grounds we had grown up so so long ago it makes my teeth hurt and ears grow longer.
And one day, we did not pay attention.

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We were surprised not by the village home owner and their brood, but by a lady on horseback… The daughter of the Estate. On one side of Apple Blossom Rock was the village. On the other. The orchard and the estate of the Lady Martense.
Lady Martense had been (allegedly according to the dark mutters of the people of Lefferts Corners) a cigarette girl born in Queens New York from a family of swarthy troglodytes who one cocaine sodden night in a club, met Mr. Lord Sir Martense, a stock broker (we kids had no idea what stock brokers did, but we did know what a troglodyte was). We were once told by a neighbor that Lord Sir Mr. Martense had married the (then) girl and moved upstate with his money and connections and bought the palatial estate of which the border was, not that he knew the name, Apple Blossom Rocks. We were told he had a “direct line to the city” and could see his stocks on a ticker all day where he still made trade. This blew our mind. Not the cocaine part. The “direct line to the city.” We were but simple children and we knew the city was far away and back then, cell phones were still part of science fiction.
The young lady on the fine horse looked at us. I felt about one foot tall. A ragamuffin and all wet and all muddy and all pathetic in front of this fine young lady, the daughter of the Lady of the estate.

She shooed us away. Or maybe we melted away after telling some bullshit story about knowing the people of The Village.
Do you parents know you’re are here? She may have asked.
In terror and lurking fear, we vanished.
And for some time, we remained away from the rope swing before again playing there. And then one day, the rope swing was cut down. And then another day, the orchard was cut down. And before we knew it, our childhood was over.

It was years later, perhaps a decade when we got reports that in the old orchard a house was being constructed. The Lady Martense’s husband, a man of seven feet tall who wore only kilts – it is strange how children form memories that replace any truth – died and as he lay on the pyre she swore she would no longer live in the 18th century manor overlooking the river Muhheakantuck but build a new place, a house to rival even the finest Glambox or McMansion ever seen.
And with her warm hands, she started to dig. Actually, she paid several people to dig using huge machines. These machines dug and dug. We kiddos had all grown up and old by this time. We heard reports from the parent that still lived in the yellow house. We heard the machines worked all the time and at odd hours. It dug and shaped the land. It moved the blessed Apple Blossom Rock and cut down the last of the remaining apple trees.
As I was gone away I had reports that a house grew up over years.
A large house.
Spanish in style, yet Miami it would have been all in place however, in the old Dutch Mountains this house stood out on the grounds out of place and outside of the local world. Which it was. The owner of the land had worked hard to build this house. To put in an infinity pool. To put in expensive windows. To put on a tin roof of fake Spanish tile. On paper, at least as a list of items and materials, this was a fantastic house. Work went on it for years. And from the village, we could see this fantastic house sitting as if positioned for all to see. And many wished it gone, to the point that some planted trees that over time would shade or occlude the view of this monster house from view.
Then, one day, the Lady Martense, died.
And the house, having been complete a mere year or two, lay fallow for a little over a year, before something quite fantastic happened.
Large machines, driven by unknown hands, came to knock down this structure. The huge dinosaur machines went crunch, crunch, crunch and in a matter of five days, one day for each year the mansion was under construction, was torn down, sorted into boxes, and the remainders buried under the land. The machines scooped up all the plantings and took them away.
And dug at the earth. Hard. They dug and dug and restored the drainage ditch, the little stream to where it used to run, not in front of the grand manner but behind where it once stood, restoring Apple Blossom Rock to a pathway we as children would have recognized.
We do not know why this house was vanished. It was effaced as if a pharaoh had come to chip away at the previous God-King to anathematize all memory.
While the rope swing is gone, our youth over, the bridges and little signs long since rotted away, the little stream is returned to those old days of long ago.
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Deliveranceland

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I stumbled upon a familiar town deep in the woods. Actually not that deep. Just a tank of gas and a somewhat useful foot on the peddle got me there. The place looked familiar since it was used in a film long ago. I did not see that film when it was in theaters since I came out when the film did. The film was Deliverance and the town is Sylva, North Carolina and I was driving down the same street as used in that film and as I drove I was more interested in finding a parking spot than I had time to The Googles “where the fuck am I and was this street used in a film?”
This blogger for one reason or another has been to a hundred, perhaps several hundred dying little villages across this Great and Sainted land.

The little shops were run down and the buildings were very sun burned and for the most part vacant. However, here and there is a few businesses still thriving or at least thriving enough to pay the rent and somewhat clean the windows when they remembered. This was not the time of Deliverance, the long gone days were done and grandma’s golden general store and the local butcher were gone and but dust on a few brick walls as remembrances. These basic shopes have long been replaced by a number of cute establishments that could find a home in any number of little towns that make the trade papers and tourism board brochures. The little village of Sylvia is a mountain town and within the sphere of Asheville so that while there is a paper mill and rail road tracks, a number of modern road side establishments both ma and pa and corporate, there is the little bookstore, the provisioners for mountain hipsters, and a number of other businesses including the same as one finds in any small village that is on the cusp of collapse (see this blogger’s rant on Main Street USA where businesses were enumerated and itemized in a most sardonic manner).

I had been told first about Deliverance by my mother when I was very young. I guess that year made an impression on her, seeing how Mr. Reynolds was on the screen and I was in the nursery – they did that back then. Put babies in nurseries and kept mothers for a few days. I was brought home, I imagine, in a bassinet from the hospital and I believe my grandmother was there, still in her 1960s garb with the sun glasses and head scarf or perhaps she just put those on for the pictures. I was driven home in a Rambler – a now vintage and perhaps rare car – to a tract home in the suburbs. And my mother sometime in that same year watched Deliverance, the horror film of epic woodland folk and sweaty small towns, and perhaps I was still in the womb when that happened. Perhaps all the fingers in all the world have been pointing to here for some time. Or perhaps not.

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I first watched Deliverance when I was nine or ten. It is a longer story than fits in this blog, but I was a child alone in a den in Long Island late at night with a colour TeeVee and cable, three things we as a family of that time could not afford. At that age one has no concept of time. Something from not too long ago seems like ancient history and in 1982 or 1984 or whenever the fuck I was that kid in that room with that TeeVee, Deliverance seemed so long ago so far away, it is strange now to reflect that this film was but as old as I. No Citizen Kane, no Alice in Wonderland, no Casablanca or Lawrence of Arabia (all favorite films at that age), this was of my own lifetime, give or take a few months, days, and hours.
I was up late, one of those unsupervised children of the 1980s we all now fear. I had watched classic Star Trek until about midnight and then on HBO (Home Box Office… the internet of our age and a amazing thing to have in the home since we still had an old black and white and struggled to get channel 13 WPBS) came this film my parent has spoken about and to which the adults alluded to just by going “de a ling ding ding” whenever they didn’t like to be outdoors. I had also seen it in a copy of Kenny’s Mad Magazine collection, since Kenny had no children of his own and didn’t mind our reading his comics. And this was the 1970s, let me remind you…. we drank out of a hose and went on adventures outside of our property without a plan or cell phone…. I’m not saying that a few of us didn’t get kidnapped and die…. But I had some idea of Deliverance. And now the chance to see it. My caregiver, the alleged babysitter, had passed out upstairs long ago after a pack or five or Chesterfields and several bottles of wine. And there was Deliverance. Just right there, on the Boobtube. And I watched the shit out of that film and enjoyed every moment. I did not, however, so much appreciate the abuse I received at the hands of the alleged babysitter… but that is another matter altogether. But having been armed with Deliverance, it was not so amazing that adults acted in strange and mentally ill ways.

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Outside of the Kudzu that covered most of the hills and crept over the lamps, spare cars, and sheds, I did not consider the film nor think other than this looked like a quaint enough village if not like a thousand other rotting places I have seen. I parked the car by the burned down building on what may be a main street (the filmed Mill Street was the other direction) and took it all in. I was about to get to the bookstore, but remembered I had little time and just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, needed some victuals to which I assumed a Mexicanhispanicy spot seemed the best bet.

It was. The food was wonderful and the space indeed the type of spot I recognize. Old tin ceiling, worn counters, storied building kicked into shape but needing so much more work than I knew the businesses income could support. Being chained to a small Main Street myself (for reasons far outside the space of this blog), I understood and sympathized and yet there was tinge of envy. The men were young and had mustaches and suspenders. The woman ample arms with amazing ink. The other patrons were laughing and talking with little care in the world and I was rushing my day to get to [omitted] so I could [redacted] the next day. I checked my phone for the map to ensure I had enough time to have dinner, drink a single yummy local pint of brew and legally get on the road to arrive in G— by sundown.

I finished my bill and exited. The early autumn sun yet shone on the Kudzu and the store fronts, both burned down and yet occupied. I took a few snaps and returned to my car. To the highway, and left the safety and comfort of the mountains and the hills that I can been taught to see only as a backdrop to that 1970s Gothic film, the iconic epic of the age, the long lost now lonely time that I was born.
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Editor’s Note: This blog is written with a Vizio laptop on often constantly moving trains, airplanes, and cars. Anyone who knows this machine knows that the trackpad is very sensitive and changes text, removes and deletes text and otherwise hon one’s writing. We apologize for such occurrences where sentences just seem to end and with

Another Green Woodstock

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I often joke that there exists a network of Woodstocks in these United States. These Woodstocks serve as havens and safe houses for those among us who do not march on the same step, were tuned out, turned out, and dropped away from society. These are not subcultures, but actual wounded birds hit by the windscreen of life that nest together for succor and sustenance. All Woodstocks have a few elements that come standard and one or more of the following:

1. Rich people who just had enough and took their money and retired early
2. Creative people who believe an art gallery can be deep in the woods the same as it could be in Chelsea
3. Musicians who play the accordion, kazoo, ukulele or all three and/or all at once
4. Drum circle or at least one White Person With Dreads (WPWD) who “discovered” the African drum
5. Rich people who sip white wine and wear black but still work at least two days a week (usually somewhere else) and support 90% of the economy by eating out all the time, buying coffee from the local roaster, and supporting the local arts
6. Townies who hate Hippies/Are Hippies
d. All of the Above

For those of you who don’t know, there is only one Woodstock. The original Woodstock, that is. Actually, the original actually did not have the concert of the same name. That occurred close to a hundred miles from the actual town of Woodstock, New York. Nevertheless, Three Days or Three More Days of concert matters not, the town was already famous, already had a name for itself and plenty of wealthy artists and those rubbing two sticks together too. The Village itself had for a century been an artist enclave and served generations of New Yorkers for their mid-life crisis and nervous breakdowns where the stock broker became an herbalist or the society dame left Park Avenue and moved to a cabin in the woods and now talks to crystals bloviates about wise women to anyone who will listen. There is always a supply of artists. And herbalism. There is always herbalism and alternative medicine in these places. Any counter culture worth its salt will talk about the magnetic energy in minerals. By minerals, this is of course Dead Sea salts infused with organic hemp oil or zinc or radio active tungsten. The Village of Woodstock has a school of art a playhouse and a few camps of theatrical societies, some of these artistic enclaves dating back to the days of Slabsides and the self sufficient idealists and transcendentalists who turned away from the cities and went deep into the wilds of the then-wild Catskills trying to form farms that imported nothing and exported Positivism and whose descendants are people who buy beans and rice in bulk and hide it in buried shipping containers… or something like that

Ahem.

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The Village of Woodstock today is pleasant enough. A largely homogeneous population go about their business of selling crystals, posters, tea, and fresh bread to the many, many, many tourists and interested parties who fill the sidewalks each and every weekend. It is a great spot to brunch (there are three options, one really), shop for…. something…. and spend an enjoyable afternoon if one leaves before the weekly drum circle or does not mind the “Homeless Land Rights” dude protesting or the grandmothers who have been trying to stop The War since it started… which is a rather quaint sight since Father Time and the inescapable approach of the cold scythe has been heartlessly reducing the number of clever protest banners as the war rages on and on in some form or another. There are many things to do in this Woodstock. One can bathe in the mill stream on a hot day if one is not sensitive to any of the residual chemicals since those waters were used by the tanneries nor grossed out by the townies and their questionable habits of hygiene. Coffee from Bread Alone (or Sweet Sue), a drink at Landau (or Joshua’s), and pizza from the Village Pizza. A quiet hamlet where things remain caught in a pleasant time warp, perhaps the village itself has played hard with the elves of the mountains and fell asleep for the past thirty years leaving Mr. Van Winkle to age and move on.

I have been to a number of Woodstocks in the years. I myself, am somewhat a member of the Greater Woodstock Community, whether I wish to be or not it is something as a curse and gift visited upon those few and in a certain amount of time, we will find one another in these communities. The people of Woodstock relocate often, and frequently to the other Woodstocks. Burlington, Vermont with it’s socialist mayor. Battleboro, Vermont, a Green Mountain college town. Portland, where all things Woodstock come from and hence, in the great circle of life, return. New Orleans is a contender, however it has very rough murdery stabby pointy sides that keeps it, for this author, just outside the ven diagram attempting to be drawn, but otherwise there are very strong Woodstock elements and areas of the city. Ithaca, New York to Austin, Texas there appears to be at least one of these Woodstocks in each state in order to allow refuge to those in need of tarot readings, the healing power of crystal, and creative and intelligent conversation and thoughtful music of all generas punctuated by bad relationship choices, sexual peccadillos, and some awkward mornings. Except that I am hard pressed to know where North or South Dakota keep their Woodstock, so perhaps there remain states from which the creative or damaged, or broken-creative must flee for greener pastures.

No enumerations of Woodstocks would be complete nor any pilgrimage to the network of Keep [village or city] Weird a success without a stop at Asheville North Carolina.

Asheville is not just the city but an entire area that seems to vibe so that the West Village and some hilltop towns are just as much Asheville as the area of Greater Boston is from a distance just “Boston” to the many of us. Asheville appears a safe zone for those travelers who do not find those safe houses in the flatlands, coasts, or deeper parts of the Deep South as well as the Southern Mecca for buskers and musical-quality folk as well as a few gutter punk posers with their pit bull puppies and worn instruments they strum un-melodically. The city is much smaller than Portland but larger then Brattleboro. It is more pleasant in clime than Burlington and New Orleans. I did not pull any crime statistics but in just a casual visit it seems to be less stabby than the Big Easy and fewer homeless junkies than Portland.

The city itself takes about half a day to cover. There are indeed more stores and browsing that can be done, but to get a sense of the landscape of the downtown this is manageable by foot and even more rapid by private car. There is all manner of establishments and certainly enough venues to employ almost every musician since they seem to spill out of everywhere, be awake at all hours, and infest the streets like pleasant locust making everything from a funky din to a down home cookin’ soul sound. The Grove is a mall like none other, actually an old Arcade (see my previous work on Newark, OH) but ten times as wonderful. There are elements of modernity, the parking lots and parking lots, but these are full to capacity most of the day since it seems the city is a thriving destination to many. There are a few tall buildings of mid-century and one at least thrown up – and by that I mean vomited – in the sick-o 1970s, a brown monster dirty walls and sad glass that perhaps once was Ma Bell or the American branch of whomever made Cyclon B. This blogger had little time, but had heard tales of the city from a great many ex-and-then-returned-ex-and-then-returned Woodstockites. From these traveler stories I had heard only good things and I wished for a little more time to stay and that my simple lodgings were not a dorm bed in the West Village.

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The West Village, I was told, has grown in the past years and seems to be experiencing a sort of Williamsburg Brooklyn syndrome in that it was the place people lived who could not afford to live downtown gathered but in time they all agreed that it was too much bother to truck their music and Friday night lives into the city and realized they’d save a bundle on taxi fare were they to just plunk down, turn out their music, and uncap a home-made bottle of beer or micro-brew pour right outside their door. It took me but a few minutes of conversation and several recommendations of local venues I could walk to in order for me to cancel my planned 45 minute bus trip and potential $30 cab ride home for a more leisurely night where travel but was five minutes by foot. The music was OK, the bar a bar, but it was as fun as it was disorientating since I could not tell were I in Portland, Burlington, Ithaca, Brattleboro, or another Woodstock but not in an unpleasant oh-shit-I-am-in-a-fucking-Dunkn-Doughnuts-and-this-could-be-anywhere kind of way.

However, it was unmistakably not New Orleans. For reasons of Raceclassgender your professor covered long, long, long ago in your poli-sci 101 class.

I am glad for these outposts. These oasis in the ocean of the geography of nowhere. For all the guff and rant I give on the political and financial contradictions, silly crystal worship energy talk, wealthy art poseurs passing themselves off as down-to-earth Volk, mediocre musicians, townies, lost souls, experimental community people, granola elderly hippies, I understand why people leave Woodstock, for other Woodstocks – and why they continue to return time and again.
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Drive

IMG_3769[1] I have traveled many a road in my short life. From those invented trails we kids would make in our back yard to some of the storied highways and byways of this green land and foreign glens and vast expanses. When young we had a number of roads named and mapped in the event we got lost. There was Long Trail, a winding cut deep in the woods, Bumpy Road (so named since in a storm we kids took the the road and our heals in the mud led to many bumps), Short Trail that cut past the back of the swing set and in front of the manure pile, Via Road a bramble trail unfit for our junky bikes but on certain adventures we would take this road less traveled. It was amazing then, this network of roads and now as I am older, far older, it is more amazing since the property of my youth but was a postage stamp of 1/4th of an American acre, and the backyard even smaller, and the network of roads but a part of that backyard of suburban America.
I have traveled by Citron across the Atlas Mountains in an electric storm. I have driven all night from Chicago to run out of gas at the Canadian border and push the car back into my Motherland. I have flipped my car on an icy road to crash and turn through the forest and snow, the only thought on my mind, “Did I pay my insurance?”

The Blue Ridge Parkway is accessed only by a few points on the map. It is not a thruway. I have grown up with Parkways, it is part of my early memories of traveling from my suburban home to the far away place of my grandmother, Upstate back when Upstate meant farmlands and wilderness. We would travel along the Palisades Parkway, a still extant road that runs from New York to New Jersey and then returns us to the womb of Bear Mountain and the Mountains of Madness of which Bannerman’s Castle guards but a lonely watch over those various ghost that may or may not infest the Highlands. The Palisades is but today a cut through for the millions of billions of commuters, but here and there the old grand park manifests and all are reminded that this is a strip of wild in an otherwise built upon world.
IMG_3787[1] There is the Taconic Parkway. A slender ribbon of lands that takes one from the Bronx River up to the Berkshires and the rolling flowing lands of Albany. This is a fun road to drive if by fun you mean thrill-seeking. Many of the twist and gentle pastoral turns have been irons out by the workings of huge machines, but this is because the travelers who take this road do so at high speeds are not there to enjoy the few remaining lookouts and rest stops that have yet to be cut off by guardrails and huge blocking stone but to get home to their flat screen TeeVees, 2.5 children, and medication stashes out in the garage. It is one of the most dangerous roads in New York. From the boundry of the Bronx River up until Red Hook, the road is a road rage road race dotted only by small smashed parts of cars and the sundry police that take to the road in order to gain some modicum of income for towns from Cold Spring to Red Hook after which the traffic subsides, the road takes on a more gentile nature, and the police go haunt the small town movie theater in order to frighten up a few fines from the local teenagers in order to pay the bills of their dying and Walmart-infested town’s bills.

There is nothing, then, in Parkways, to compare or prepare oneself for the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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From Asheville, NC the road has already been meandering for some three hundred miles or so. Unlike the other parkways mentioned, and a few more not enumerated, this parkway does not service villages or settlements but exists only to bring the traveler through the wilderness. It is a pure road of vantage points, vistas, and travel for travel’s sake. It is a forced march, a summer abroad, a walk save that we do so aboard motorcycles, of which there were plenty, classic cars, of which there were several, or whatever manner of transportation we have accessed. For me it was Plain Jane rental car. Nothing memorable about it other than the windows rolled up and down better than anything I currently own for my private use.

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I drove on with little expectation since I have acquired the habit of not using The Googles to delve into every detail of my travels, allowing some manner of discovery in this age of X and Y concordance and Yelp Reviews. This did mean I went the wrong way for some miles. North when I had meant to go south since I had to get to [redacted] for [omitted] and this was but a small diversion along the way. My being in the region also meant that I was not dressed in the attire of the Modern American Hiker. I wore a suit jacket, button down, and dress shoes. Of course I wore pants too. However, this I believe is not optional outside of certain locations, and Key West so is not remarkable nor a matter of illumination when painting a picture with words. When I did get out for a short walk, the others on the path, no matter how paved or level, looked at me with some fear or disdain, I was hard pressed to discern other than I knew I did not match their own sport sneakers, North Face jackets in case the temperature dropped below 70 (F), water packs to ensure proper hydration on the .8 mile hike, or the acres of spandex(tm) that the female hikers wore since they had not gotten the memo that tights aren’t pants and matched in colour the Ray Ban glasses of the men since it seems men’s eyes are apparently quite delicate, even on an overcast day. The Ray Bans also made them look like douchebag. Which, may be intentional.
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The green pressed in on both sides of the road as I drove on this thin tarmac through the still-wild areas and as I drove on the twists and turns and passed through the high peaks with just a touch of the gas peddle. Built over the span of fifty years, and launched as part of the New Deal in order to put Mankind to work, the Blue Ridge Parkway was only completed in 1987. The parkway is our American Cathedral. So rare it is that our society can bear some project that take generations, perhaps this is the last one of our Nation. The Trans Blue Ridge Highway is a feat of roadscaping. Were all our highways so built, perhaps this writer would not be so inclined to not rant and rave against the highways of 17 lanes cutting across the geography of nowhere but praise their grandeur. Above all that, above the strip malls, the interchanges that consume acres and acres of land, above the humdrum life of commuters, the highway takes but the rare few with leisure or the inclination to stop and rest not at one, but every rest stop in order to take in yet another vista and catch one’s breath at the majesty of the world either placed in front of us by accident or built for us to marvel at, depending on our own often individual eschatological inclination.

While unable to traverse the entire length, the little I did reminded me, what has become of us that we do not continue to build roads to inspire and take those Sunday drives with the family as we were meant to. Someday perhaps we will rebuild the geography of nowhere and rebuild our network of highways into something special.
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All the Presidents Drunk’s

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When children are young they are told they could become the next president of the United States. When children become teenagers, the same people warn them that they’ll become cast aside drunks languishing in some no name dive bar rolling about on the floor pissing and puking but not in a romantic way.

It is then, not every day when the universe positions the president of the United States, argued as the Most Powerful Man/Person in the world in tossing distance to a group of merry lads and lasses all of whom are plowed before 9PM as a regular routine.

Indeed, the motorcade came out of nowhere. At once, the door to the establishment was blocked by several men in suits. Were one to have hesitated, to have waited just a moment to use up the entire Happy Hour as the Naive Americans once did, the way indeed blocked and no one could pass. In Gothem the police are about everywhere. They are our internal army in order to keep the population docile and their comings and goings lights flashing and sirens crying has become but the sound of the wind in the trees, something that unless those flashing lights are pulling over your taxi or you are stopped and detained for a simple Quality of Life infraction, the sound and fury is ignored. It was very hard to dismiss this motorcade of police. It was harder to dismiss the serious men in suits who did not appear as our own Men in Blue, these were the Men in Black, the elite among thugs.

In no time at all the positions were taken. This was rehearsed in every detail. The way the cars boxed in the limos, the double lines of police, the barriers set up, the spotters and perhaps snipers on the roof (we did not see the later but imagined them since everyone had seen The West Wing), the way the population at large was pushed out of the way for the night with ease. “I cannot tell you who this is,” said the man in a pressed suit, “but this individual is very important.” “That’s fucking the president of the United fucking States,” said Larry. “Larry! Shush you before you get us all arrested,” the bartender shouted as she pressed to the window. The rest of us, that is, all the bar patrons trapped at the end of Happy Hour were crushed together in on knot in the doorway of perhaps the smallest of the still extant dive bars of the city.

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A last refuge of the scoundrels. Strangers for the most part, except for the regulars. They were known elements. The list was right out of central casting, or central booking. The war veteran sipping his wine brushed his comb-over and complained he wasn’t allowed outside to smoke, “I’m a war veteran!” he demanded or confessed. The self-identified film maker with an Irish accent and straw hat bounced about having the time of his life. Clearly the creative type fallen now upon hard times and living out the last of his puff in a bar or doing research into his next project. The two bartenders, both women of a certain age, perhaps about the same vintage, both had seen too many long shifts and were bored by the stories of hookers with hearts of gold and broken business men with small petty dreams they keep alive in paper sacks. The manager exclaimed to the police blocking the door that he himself had working in bars before he was old enough to legally drink. Twenty years! Twenty years a manager! He was both amused by the situation and rather annoyed by the lack of business calling out, “Will the president reimburse me for the lost business, I have no customers!”

Indeed in a city where anything can happen and does, even the most anointed of our citizens is but an inconvenience to the more pressing routines of rushing about on errands and tasks.
The bartenders had changed shifts, but both of them remained since perhaps in their long lives they had yet to have seen it all and this was an event neither wanted to miss out on even though one belonged elsewhere for the night and the other was loosing out on nightly tips in order to cover, it can be assumed, high rent. The remainder of the patrons were an assortment of passers-by and a younger set unimpressed by meeting the president of the United States of America.

If by “meet” it is but separated by a wall of bricks, a building that had been replaced by a yard of rubble, another brick wall of the restaurant that the president was dinning in, several police barriers and the combined forces of the Secret Service – an ocean of brooks brothers suits and Burberry ties and cheaper Sears suits of the NYPD detective squad and perhaps a few drones just tossed in for good measure.
It was just another autumn afternoon in Gothem and the usual rogue nations, G8ers, and Global Leaders were presenting and otherwise worrying about writing nonbinding treaties and statements at the UN. As Gothemites, we are used to the motorcades and having our trendiest bars closed on short notice so various wealthy political blowhards from the world over can do blow and so it hard. It was still an unusual location, the cusp of SOHO or border of Little Italy or Chinatowncityworld as the case may be. Houston Street is no Savelle Row.

Larry, get out from behind the bar you fool! The bartender yelled at the little man pouring himself a beer having taken full advantage of the distraction by POTUS outside. He laughed and made a cartoonish gesture of being caught and trying to hurry. It was clear these few knew each other very well, it was a working relationship but one nevertheless.
Outside the commotion calmed down. The rushing about, the set up, the securing the area, the what not and so forth of all these important players had turned at once, dull. The Secret Service was replaced by NYPD sergeants and the like. There was the chance to leave. The War Vet had been snoozing in the toilet. Since there was an opportunity to get outside and smoke, he at once left. So did a very worried man was to meet his girlfriend, a little man who kept pacing back and forth and calling on his phone as if perhaps his girlfriend could just up and leave him over this incident, “Henry, you should never be in a bar next to the president, it’s over! But… But… Loretta…” I imagined him saying. Another small group, younger people, seemed even less interested and certainly not wanting to be in the doorway with the regulars, since everyone was crushed together hoping to get some view of someone important. “I kissed the mayor last night,” one of them exclaimed, then started to make sure every sergeant on duty knew. “Was it consensual?” a voice quipped.
As the night drew on, the crowd across the street dissipated and the police started what one said was 90% of the job… just standing around.
Years ago I had been hired for a private-eye type of stakeout. I had to keep eyes on a building and record who entered or exited. It was an all day affair. Boring as hell. Not the type of boredom as tending to an art gallery, where once in a while you look up from War and Peace and ask, “let me know if you have any questions” and make a wincing smile. This is the boredom of not being able to take your eyes off of your target. The boredom where at any moment, anything could happen. A tense state of affairs, I assume as cats feel all the time on their mouse house stakeouts. Waiting, tense and ready to strike, yet knowing one has to conserve energy because one could be here all day and catch nothing. No wonder why cats are assholes.
The bar phone rang several times. It seemed that some patrons wanted to come in. After a discussion with the sergeant in charge, it was negotiated that if names could be provided, these individuals would be searched at the checkpoint and allowed entry to the bar under heavy police escort. I was to meet my companion and entreated her to come to the bar, to have the chance to perhaps see the president if not at least have the honor to be walked down the street arm and arm with the police, in a manner of speaking.
It was perhaps the first, maybe the only time available, to have police escort one to a dive bar as it was the first and only time in the lives of those gathered that they had been prevented from leaving, actually encouraged to drink, by the Secret Service.
New patrons came in small groups to replace those who left, except except for my friend and I, they too were regulars to the establishment. I had never been although I passed by it just about every day and had walked by it my entire life, considering was one of the few bars to pass the hundred year mark or be well on its way.
It was no Sweetwater Tavern. That place on St. Mark’s Place was a large spacious establishment old enough to be well worn and still maintain a telephone booth. Rumor has it that William Boroughs had picked up boys there back in his Junky days. The narrow hall that made the bar reminded me somewhat of McSorley’s however, that spot had long ago become more a tourist attraction than watering hole for locals. Indeed, the space was so narrow that one had to flatten out just to pass those at the bar and the wall across was plexiglass covering all manner of photodocuments and good thing too since I and others were pressed to the wall in passing. I am not sure I have ever, outside of a rush hour subway, pressed up against such a great many people I did not know nor want to touch. But, that was one way to become fast friends, I guess, and as the night went on we did make merry and drank in those stale waters served in tall glasses.
Next door the royal family dinned away in what later would be reported by the press in ever great detail so there was no mistake as to what was on the menu, what was selected, what bites were taken, and in what direction he and the Royal Missus masticated. Even on this was an otherwise nondescript Wednesday night, not even the New Friday everyone talks about, there was a need for these sordid gastronomic details.
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And in time. His nibs and his lovely lady with the arms were finished, I can only assume they paid the bill as again a flurry of activity hit the streets and again the men in suits of various qualities rushed about on a a very choreographed almost dance number and lights again flashed, and doors opened, and people waved, and the drunks squished into the doorway or against the small dirty window and phones went up and snapped away in camera mode and in a moment, just a second, someone said, “Jebsus, I think I see him! Oh no… I don’t.” In the end none of us saw more than a momentary blur, could have been the First Family could have been deer unexpectedly jumping. All this wait, and no wave, no MisterPresidentIvotedforyoutwice, no kisses on top of mayor kisses tonight for anyone. We had camped out all night and this was it.
And the cars pulled out.
And the barriers were tossed onto a waiting truck.
And the police melted into the night.
And the city did what it does best, appear as if nothing had ever happened that today was just like yesterday and will be like tomorrow.
The regulars took their positions.
Everyone on the street left.
Except for the sergeants. They all said after this, they need a good drink. And the men we had been joking and chatting with and who kept a nervous eye on us all night ponied up to the bar and put away their badges, lifted a pint and listened to Larry’s stories, stories I am sure he had been waiting all night, perhaps even longer, to tell.
“It was Dublin, but a time of The Troubles…” I heard him say as I paid my own tab, and took the arm of my companion and asked her, “So…. when are you telling your parents I got you escorted into a dive bar?”
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