Thursday Schooling

 

I arrive at the horse show in Vermont just before the horses do. It is raining vigorously. There are just two client horses coming with the commercial shipper, and I watch from inside the barn as they are unloaded. I lend a hand stretching a tarp over our hay. I step in to help carry a big box of tack.  I unwrap my horse’s legs.  The show groom tells me where I can find scissors to cut the twine that holds a bale of hay and asks me to give a couple of horses a flake each. She also confides that this is her last show with our barn because she is giving notice on Monday and moving to a new job. I don’t want it to be true, so I quickly decide I must have misunderstood her. I want to wait for my trainer to show up with his horses before I get on, but I can lunge. Gidget stands quietly for a quick grooming and I walk her to the lungeing ring.  

She reacts to the new place, giving the rain-gorged creek her most crooked parrot-eye, answering the whinny of another horse, letting a passing tractor blow the wind up her skirt. The show facility has a new lungeing area, shaped like a rectangle on three sides and curved like a bean on the fourth. I’m clumsy with the gate latch. I walk Gidget into the center of the lungeing ring, into the bend in the bean, and stop her to adjust the side reins, which are new, so I’m guessing at what hole they should be on. I remember to walk with her in a large circle, showing her the situation counterclockwise and then clockwise. Gidget settles into working on a circle, trotting and then cantering, with me in the center. A big truck blasts by on Route 106, and my mare celebrates with a buck and a fart and a surge of galloping with her tail straight up. I hold on. I get her back to trotting, and then ask her to walk. I stop her and adjust the side reins again and take Gidget over to the other side of the ring shaped like a rectangle on three sides and a bean on the fourth,  making room for our trainer who has arrived with his horse.

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Didn’t it rain?

A friendly staff member of the facility comes and asks how the new footing is. We tell him it’s good. He explains how the lungeing area ended up shaped like a rectangle on three sides and curved like a bean on the fourth. We both finish and go back to our barn to take off the side reins. 

We get on and ride into one of the show rings, because this is what everyone does on arrival day at a show. The same friendly staff member comes, shouting and shaking his fist at us, saying that the ring isn’t open, and we’re gonna ruin the footing, what with the rain. I go tour the property instead, letting my horse see everything I can. She snorts like a crocodile at the dairy cows at the farm across the street. When it’s time to put the horses away, I think about when the friendly staff member had almost finished the new lungeing ring and had three straight sides of fencing up and someone came along and told him that people want a curved shape for lungeing. I wish I could picture him farting and running or snorting like a crocodile, but I can only see him raising his eyebrows or shaking his fist.

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I think Vermont is still one of those places that we’re supposed to write poems about. You’ve got time to, if you live there, because mobile phone coverage is spotty at best, and high speed internet is a rare and prized luxury.  I lived there in the eighties, before I cared about the internet and I still wrote poems regularly. My poems were about the biting black flies in the mountains and the crabby yankees who were my neighbors in the city and no one ever read them. Then I got a paying job, and threw myself at adulthood, and (mostly) stopped writing (but especially poems).

Gidget marched around the show ring six times over the next few days, and by the last trip had mostly gotten over the creek, and the tractors, and the too-fast trucks. The cows will still be there next year. I did not misunderstand the show groom, and I will miss her.

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The Button

Was it Friday or the following Tuesday? I don’t remember. September was a bit of a blur. A friend quit her job around the middle of the month, and after that, all hell broke loose. I cancelled my trip to Berlin and Prague (and I was looking forward to my trip to Berlin and Prague). But it had become obvious that I needed to figure out some serious shit, and, like, immediately. I called P., who took me out house hunting a couple of times, but she kept showing me ugly houses and then even uglier houses, and would occasionally ooh and ahh and I could never tell if it was for my benefit, because I was so unexcited, or if it was to reassure the other real estate agent.
I saw myself reflected in the seriously shiny gray Formica of the curvy cupboards in the dining room, floating on an acre of white shag wall-to-wall carpeting, hovering above the sunken living room, and escaped, stumbling, to take one more look at the view of the tennis court from the oversized master bedroom. I decided two things: first, that we needed to go outside; second, that I needed to stop working with P. as soon as I could manage.
When did I indicate that this was the kind of house I was looking for?
I started over with another agent, M. M. understood that I needed to see three or four houses a day until I found something, and we weren’t screwing around. Our lease had a month left.
The first day, M. and I met at the first house on our list, but we got there before the listing agent and couldn’t open the gate across the driveway without the code. It was a narrow, wooded lane, and for lack of something more important to say, I asked, “When did it become fall?”
“Just today,” M. answered. Leaves blew around her navy chinos. Soon, she’d have to start wearing socks with her loafers again.
The second house we saw looked like a French chalet from the front, but around back it was a great, brown, plywood box. At least it had a nice pool.
I picked up my first acorns in front of another brown house, overpriced for what it was, with a decent patio and pool, cheery, light-filled bedrooms, though the kitchen was uninspiring. A black lab lay in a wire crate in the living room, not making eye-contact or noise. I wondered if he was on drugs. He seemed so sad and withdrawn. My dogs sleep in crates, and eat their meals there, but when someone comes home they look at people, make noise, and ask to come out.
The acorns I found were perfect little giants, with the caps on, some green and others brown. They were so lovely and intact. I used to want to be able to eat them as a kid, until I got one open, and did. I shared one with M. She accepted my gift without condescension.
The last house M. showed me that day was a humble, tan and brick house, low slung, with a steep, wood-shingled roof. It was on a very quiet, dead end road, surrounded by woods. The front doorknob was tricky to open. We walked into the front hall and there, beyond the entry, was a large living room, fully furnished in chairs with needlepointed seat covers that might have been made by the ghost of my grandmother N. The kitchen was large, with cherry cabinets and 80s vintage appliances. It wasn’t anything special, but it was clean (really, really clean), with spacious rooms, hardwood floors, and, you know, potential. We headed upstairs. There was a small white button on the wall by the front door. I ignored it, and looked at the rooms upstairs. There was an upstairs room with a sloping ceiling that seemed like it wanted to be my sewing room. It had a lot of ugly wallpaper, but also a lot of closets.
the button
The next day I finally got in to see a house I’d been waiting to get into for over a week (some bullshit about renters not leaving until Labor Day). It was special, with a rambling floor plan and a lot of interesting things like a pretty view, a big porch, and a workable kitchen. There was a fireplace in the master bedroom and an obvious room for my sewing stuff. Bonuses like a workshop and an apartment over the garage. But it was more money, and the neighborhood wasn’t walkable. To be honest, its woods were creepy.
I arranged another visit to the bland house that reminded me of my grandmother. I brought the Bacon Provider to see what he thought. My husband was unimpressed. He saw six kinds of ugly wallpaper, thirty-year old AC units that needed replacing, and clunky old storm windows. The owner had already moved to a condo, leaving furniture in only a few rooms. So, while my husband wondered if we could agree to a price, he voiced his suspicion that we might be able to make a deal with a quick closing.
We headed upstairs. There it was again: that small white button on the wall by the front door. I’m not sure why I might have thought it was a doorbell. Or if I thought it was a doorbell. It obviously wasn’t a doorbell. It was some sort of other button. I pressed it without thinking as I went up the stairs. The house was practically empty. What harm?
The real estate agent M. caught up with me on the landing. I asked her what she thought the button on the stairs was. “That’s a panic button,” she said. “You didn’t press it did you?”
“Oh no,” I laughed, meaning, “Oh, shit,” but sounding like, “Oh, of course not.”
Then I said,  “Well maybe,” and then I added, “Well, if I did we’ll find out if it worked.”
It did work. A local Bedhead Hills policeman was at the door, within minutes, his hand on his gun and a look of concern on his face. The front door was sticky and hard to open. I explained that it was my mistake. M. gave him her card. She pointed to me, “She’s a child.”

Frankenwind Sandypants


I had a warm check-in email from the Super yesterday, full of details about alarms going off in this and the other buildings he cares for, a picture of some almost-NYC-marathoners he met, best wishes to JP for his 30thbirthday, and love and hugs. Of course, I don’t know a JP, 30 years old or otherwise, and don’t believe that my super has even one warm feeling for me at all. Nor is he, as he signs his note, my dad.
But this apartment is now my home, and I have been living in it for two long months. In my dreams I still live in Seattle, or in that funny house up a dirt road in the country that rambles on and on and has wallpapered rooms beyond rooms beyond rooms. Two nights ago I spoke to one of our old Seattle neighbors in my dream, and when I woke up I was in a hotel by Lincoln Center, having fled the cold and dark apartment with the kids for a few nights of electricity and room service.
The storm warnings began the week before. The media was calling it a ”Frankenstorm,” a triple whammy of a late hurricane, merged with a Nor’easter, coinciding with a full moon and high tide. We were supposed to get ready. We felt ready; we had candles.
Water supply, 10/27/12
Saturday the 27th we had a nice Italian dinner out and stopped at a supermarket afterwards to buy some water. Already the shelves were emptied of certain items.  On the way home, we saw a guy parking his BMW motorcycle on the street, testing its stability and analyzing its chances of staying upright.
By 5 pm on Sunday the 28th the city had published a map showing that Zone A was a mandatory evacuation area. I spent some time convincing myself with maps provided by several sources that we were a few blocks from Zone A (and were, in fact Zone C). While the wind started to blow, we went out for sushi, thinking that we should eat the fish that would most certainly spoil if not consumed before the storm. The red Japanese paper lanterns swung erratically while we ate.
School was cancelled Monday the 29th, in anticipation of the storm, so we slept in.  Walking the dogs around noon, we could hear a loud whistling sound that seemed to be coming from the construction site of the Freedom Tower, a few blocks south.  The Hudson River was much higher than normal, and green, and angry-looking. Plenty of other New Yorkers were out walking, too, and no one hesitated to duck under the strips of caution tape tied across the paths leading into the park by the river. It was obvious to everyone that if there was something interesting to see yet, it would be behind the yellow plastic caution tape.
Lots of wind, a little rain
As the storm arrived, it was mostly wind. One of the dogs dug herself a den in the couch, pushing all the cushions aside and settling in, surrounded on all sides. The cat watched with all that creepy cat excitement as the water droplets ran down the windows. Out on our street, a large piece of sheet metal landed on our street and thrashed around out there for hours, finally coming to rest under the bumper of a minivan. Our power went out around 8:30 pm, and we went to bed pretty early. The dog had a nightmare and woofed and growled in her sleep.
Broadway near Worth,
facing north, 10/30/12
Tuesday the 30th we still had no power, little mobile phone reception, and I invested a bunch of time and phone battery into trying to see if Con Edison had an estimate for restoring power. The answer was that they didn’t know. Our unreliably delivered daily New York Times arrived (along with Monday’s paper), and though we would see no mail all week (until Saturday), that newspaper came every morning.  We recharged our phones off of my weird Japanese model Panasonic Toughbook, which has a long battery life, is supposed to be able to survive a bad fall, and even has a tiny drain hole under the keyboard so liquids spilled on it won’t ruin it. Everyone complains about my machine because it has a wacky Japanese keyboard, but it still had juice Thursday when we gave up and headed for a hotel uptown. 
Tuesday we enjoyed the novelty of life in an apartment with no power. We played board games, burned candles, and ate things we could cook on the stove. We walked the dogs, getting in and out of the building via the emergency exit stairs, which are dark, steep and spooky.  Everything was a big deal. The BMW motorcycle lay on its side, leaking oil. The traffic lights were dark, and the buildings were dark, and mostly there was the sound of generators and sometimes sirens. Businesses were beginning to clean up their broken windows, pump out the water, throw out the spoiled food. Every few minutes the police came silently up the middle of Church Street with their disco party lights bubbling.
On Wednesday we woke up and it was colder and not as much fun. The Bacon Provider started scrambling for a hotel room, but in the end he and I took a cab uptown and went grocery shopping instead. The cab ride made me very car-sick, and had I not been on the verge of barfing, I might have gasped at the hustle and bustle of perfectly normal-looking midtown Manhattan. People were on their way to the gym, sight-seeing, and shopping for fancy shoes. Though I did not care very much about it when I saw it, we got to see the brokenconstruction crane at 57th street which we had heard caused many buildings to be evacuated, and we got some new food to carry back downtown.
Dangling crane at 57th
10/31/12
Schlepping several blocks to escape the gridlock, we snagged a cab around 44th Street. The taxi driver took us back to TriBeCa, passing the threshold of civilization at 34th street (where the stoplights stopped); at this point he simply drove down the West Side Highway as fast as he possibly could, through multiple intersections.  That night we made grilled sausages and artichokes and the Bacon Provider stood, stirring his risotto by candlelight, and it was perfect as always. After dinner we played Loaded Questions again, and laughed our heads off.
By Thursday the iPads were dead, everyone badly needed a shower, and we packed overnight bags and took a cab uptown again. Once in a hotel room, we took turns in the shower, charged our stack of devices, and had a decent dinner across the street. The Bacon Provider went back to the apartment to feed the cat and walk and feed the dogs. It had dropped into the 50s (F) in the apartment so he slept in a big pile with all the pets on the bed.
Frog skeletons at AMNH
Friday the boys and I went for a walk, thinking we could go to Central Park, but the combination of New York City Marathon preparations and the damage from the storm meant the Parks Department had erected barricades to keep everyone out. As we made our way up Central Park West, a long line of media trucks was assembling, firing up their generators for a weekend’s coverage of the marathon (which was not yet cancelled at this point).  Knowing that pretty much everyone below 34thstreet was still without power (not to mention the flooding and homes destroyed in New Jersey, Staten Island and Long Island), it seemed to us that the resources being poured into the marathon set-up alone could be much better utilized lighting a dark hospital or pumping out a flooded subway. In search of a distraction, we ended up at the American Museum of Natural History, where we looked at an Ivory Ornamental tarantula and some hominid skulls and a giant crystal and a turtle skeleton and some taxidermied tigers and marveled at how most of this museum is like a time machine that takes you on a science filed trip to the 1950s. On our way back up the elevator to our room, some enormous and fit Dutch people lectured us about American politics and the decision to cancel the marathon.
Saturday we packed up, checked out of the hotel, bought groceries, and got picked up by the Bacon Provider in our own car, because the power was on at home and at our garage.  Now we are back in the apartment, which was 4 1/2 days without power and yet the milk never spoiled. Halloween never happened. As glad as I was to get here and see the lights on, it still feels like part of a long, bad, weird vacation.