I held the elevator door

What I saw: two guys, Broseph and Chad. Broseph filled the opening of the elevator door like a tank-top-wearing storm cloud, blocking the light from the sun. Chad blew in behind him, dressed in an American flag-striped polo, almost as big but pinker, because of the acne he was too old for.

What I did beforehand: flew to Florida, had dinner alone, wandered the forlorn aisles of the next-door liquor store, ducked a clerk watching a telenovela set in ancient plastic Egypt who called out to me repeatedly asking if I needed help finding anything. It wasn’t until I was driving home that it occurred to me I might have asked her about finding an amateur-friendly horse, under ten years old, nice enough to show in the dressage ring. Or better, why are we here, any of us? I should have asked her that.

IMG_2162What I wore: black suede Pumas, capri-length jeans, black tee shirt, scowl

Where I sat: the exit row

Who went with me: pocket friends

How I got tickets: a couple of weeks ago I saw an ad for a horse and contacted the sales agent about it. Within hours of my booking a trip to try it, I got two messages from friends saying, “Ooh! Look at this one!” and suggesting I go try it. It seemed fortuitous.

What it is: dressage horse shopping these days has become like an obscure subculture of internet dating, and is facilitated by an open Facebook group. You read ads, look at videos, show them to your trainer and friends, saying, “Ooh! Look at this one!” You talk to people on the phone, and sometimes even fly to other cities on the chance that they’ve got the horse you’re looking for. You wonder if you’re crazy. You hope you’re going to be safe. I tried horses on one previous trip that I couldn’t really steer and on another trip, a horse that wouldn’t stop. The people I’ve met doing this have been extremely pleasant and nice and as open to the weirdness of some random, unknown person showing up to ride their horse as I have had to be to the weirdness of riding some random, unknown horse.


Things that were not funny: a group of construction workers crossed my path as they passed from the pool deck to the interior of the hotel. I was dressed in riding clothes, and more than one of them felt it would be ok to make “appreciative” hissing noises about me.

Things that were sad: dinner alone next to the mating turtle salt-and-pepper shakers at a strip mall Thai restaurant.


Things that were funny: trying to convince the owner of the Thai restaurant to make my food spicy enough.

Something I ate: massaman curry that was actually spicy enough


What about the horse: that story is to come.


What happened on the elevator: when Broseph and Chad stepped onto the elevator with me, they thought I was holding the door open for them. Really I was pressing the button for my floor. So they thanked me, and I said, “Sure.”

Then the door closed, revealing a big ad for the hotel chain we were in, with the word “selfie” and a dog wearing sunglasses. I said, “You know, a dog can’t really take a selfie. No thumbs.”

Chad agreed. “I know, right?” said he, adding, “It’s like anything can be anything these days.”

As I stepped off the elevator, I threw in, “I mean….Look who’s president.”

I went to the barn holiday party

What I saw: barn friends and Hado at the holiday party.

What I did beforehand: overslept, ate cereal and walked the dogs.

What I wore: very dirty jeans and some other clothes I found wadded up on the floor of my closet, Keen pull-on snow boots, enormous purple scarf.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider.

Why I saw this show: the ascendence of fascism in America has crushed my already limited desire to cheerfully attend social functions. Nevertheless, a party like this is an opportunity to give year-end tips to the hard-working people who take care of my horses. And to see my barn friends.

Where I stood: in the barn aisle.

Things that were sad: last year when I attended this party I didn’t realize it was all about, so I didn’t have cards and tips with me. It was awkward.  I did bring bread I made, which everyone made a big deal about. That kind of added to my feeling awkward. The other thing that happened last year is I had to have the same awkward conversation a bunch of times about who I was, and how long I’d been at the barn, and which horses I owned, and where I had my horses before that. The third time through these questions I fully flowered, via awkwardness, into an overgrown, surly hothouse  middle-schooler, providing one-word, conversation-stopping answers: two months, two horses, Dutchess County. “Oh,” they asked. “Where in Duchess County?”
And I’d say, “Pine Box,” which they hadn’t heard of.

Also, last year I met the barn owner at this party, and had a conversation with him about cakes or something but whatever I said it was said without knowing he was the owner. I thought he was just some guy. When I found about a few days later that I had been talking to the owner, and not just some guy, I marveled at myself for being so supremely awkward.

One good thing about going to parties where I barely know anyone is I can get away with just shaking people’s hands. On the west coast, I don’t remember even having to shake hands all that often, but here in New York you shake hands with new people and are engaged in this grotesquely awkward air-kissing gesture with people you already know (and sometimes even with people you don’t already know). Some people actually press their cheeks into yours, which feels like a completely unnecessary violation. Others smack you, kiss-wise, on the cheek, which at least resembles something your Aunt Ruthie might have done. Then there’s the two cheek thing, and it’s too, too much.  

So this year, I had to hug my friends and try to dodge the kissing thing, except with the French people, who seem to know what they’re doing and will do all the work so all I have to do is stand there limply, feeling awkward and wait for it to end.

Hado goes for an awkward air-kiss

Things that were funny: I was standing with my friend C. and some other people talking about the bread and someone else walked up to tell me how much they like my bread. Also, I ran into the owner again, and this year I told him how much I love the barn and thanked him. If it was awkward, I didn’t even care.

Things that were not funny: two different people asked me if I make my bread using a bread machine. 

Something I ate: there were home-made linzer cookies, and my husband made me try an inch-long piece of the top of his. It was good, though we thought it should have been rolled just a little bit thinner before baking. I also drank a glass of quite decent red wine out of a red plastic cup. Nothing says “PARTY” in America like a red plastic cup.

What it is: keeping horses is an expensive, labor-intensive business, requiring attentive and careful management. It takes a lot of people, and many hours, and good communication. The work is never-ending. I now understand that regular tips are expected and also some kind of Christmas bonus. This summer I was brave enough to ask some of my barn friends what they tip and was enormously relieved to find I wasn’t doing it wrong.

Who should see it: holiday parties might be supremely awkward, being a weird salad event of tossed religious holidays, crumbled gift-giving, and chopped “being busy,” over a bed of shifting expectations for getting dressed up, but you should go. No one ever says, “Ugh! I wish that awkward so-and-so didn’t show up!”

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What I saw on the way home: Canada geese, headed south for the winter. 

A Letter to the County Executive of Dutchess County, New York

The event I described happened in mid-July, and on that day I told the people I was with that I would write the sheriff and the county executive. They laughed. On a different day on that same stretch of road, my young horse spooked at a speeding garbage truck, dumped one of the barn’s professionals on the ground, and took off galloping back to the barn. He stopped and we were able to catch him.
Recent events all across the United States involving police remind me to encourage you, dear readers, to write letters to your local law enforcement and their bosses if you have an opinion about what you see them do. 

Out Hacking
Marcus J. Molinaro
County Executive
County of Dutchess
22 Market Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Dear Mr. Molinaro:
Thank you for your kind letter welcoming me as a newly registered voter in Dutchess County. I look forward to participating in elections in my new rural community.
Recently, on a July weekday in the mid-afternoon on State Route XX in XXXXXX, I was out riding my horse on the road’s shoulder along with two other younger staff members of the barn where I ride. We were each wearing a helmet and riding a calm, older horse belonging to a private owner. An unmarked police vehicle approached and turned on its brightly colored lights and passed us, at an alarming speed. Because we are all experienced riders, we were able to calm our horses and continue; however, almost immediately the unmarked black police vehicle was joined by a marked Dutchess County Deputy Sheriff’s car, and passed us from the other direction at even greater speed.  Once again, we had to calm our horses and continue, which we did without further incident.
I have mulled over the encounter during the last couple of months and taken the time to confirm for myself that under Article 26 of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law, Section 1146 a., “Every driver of a vehicle shall approach a horse being ridden or led along a public highway at a reasonable and prudent speed so as to avoid frightening such horse and shall pass the horse at a reasonable distance.”
I believe that the drivers of both police vehicles, though they may have been responding to an emergency, failed to obey this law, endangering the lives of three people and three horses.
Should any staff members of the Dutchess County Sheriff’s office be interested in learning about basic horse safety, the barn where I ride is a British Horse Society Certified facility, with highly educated and experienced instructors who would be able to provide basic lessons in horsemanship. I would think these skills would be useful throughout much of Dutchess County.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.

The Landlords: Pruning

I thought I was done telling storiesabout the Landlords, but I ran into Her on the driveway this weekend and Her look of amazement made me realize I wasn’t done telling stories about them.  We have lived in the house 256 days as of this past weekend, but we persist in feeling we keep surprising them by being here.  Because of more tree planting (yes), His car was parked halfway up the driveway, with about 6 feet of room to get by.  One of their cats was in the driver’s side window, and at first I mistook it for Him. I crept slowly down the drive, trying to understand what I was looking at, and She asked if I could get by in my car (which I couldn’t).  I mistook her question for a joke since it was obvious that I couldn’t.
There is a large mature flowering dogwood tree between the Big Red Barn where we live and the garage where the Landlords live. It is no more than thirty or so feet tall, but broad and substantial. It was damaged pretty heavily by the snowfall in late October, and now shows that removing the broken limbs late last fall was not enough. A ladder was propped in the tree a number of weeks ago now, and it has not moved as He tries to correct with pruning a process which looks to me like an ordinary old tree death. Throughout the weekend I heard sneezing coming from the tree, either because He has allergies or because he has a cold. 

Pruning is a year-round hobby for the Landlords, along with splitting and stacking firewood by hand.  There is a large maple at the top of the driveway growing out from a crotch made by an old dead stump and the piled-rock wall. It is the sort of volunteer tree that grows in an over-looked spot until one day it drops a huge limb and traps your cars on the other side.  It has a lop-sided growing habit, extremely vertical branches, and a rotten-looking core. If it were a tree on my property I would have it removed.  One weekend, the Landlord took it upon Himself to prune it, highlighting its inherent unattractiveness. He then used twine to tie several of the lower, live branches so that they make a better angle with the tree. The result was extremely startling for me, since it suddenly became impossible to see to the left from my car as I emerged from the driveway. Before I had a chance to say anything, though, the deer came along and ate every single green leaf on that branch, so it is now easy to see through.

In between pruning and planting sessions this weekend, a repair was made to the garbage hutch, which is at the top of the driveway, across from the sad ugly volunteer maple, facing the road, for the second time. Within only a few days, the first repair had become a dangerous piece of trim with sharp protruding screws every ten inches along its length. Seeing no new support for the lid, I have reason to believe this repair may remain solid until mid-June.
The garbage hutch stands in front of a large stand of mature bamboo.  This bamboo collapsed under the weight of the wet snow in October, and lay across the driveway like a fully-loaded snow-flinging trebuchet, but stood up again when a willing nitwit (me) shook off the snow. (“Shook off the snow,” dear reader, is a euphemism; it really means, “got a lot of snow down her sleeves and coat.”)  Now, because of the massive root structure established under the bamboo, numerous spring shoots have emerged.  Young bamboo is pointed, and can pass through many layers of leaf litter or simple impale it and carry it up with itself like a hat on its head.  Because the bamboo is at the property line, I am not sure if its presence is the Landlords’ doing, and I doubt it.
I followed Him out this morning, as he sped up the driveway, demonstrating the revision He is making to the shape of the driveway, and I now understand the new path in the grass. He also veered off the driveway at the top, plowing through all the young bamboo sprouts with his car. From behind it looked like He was careening out of control, but in reality, he was doing some more pruning.

The Landlords: Tree-Planting Mania

You never really see them together, and in fact, the Landlords often arrive in separate cars. There are two ways you know they have arrived: either because you hear the barking, barking or because you see the silver car careening down the hill, driving on the grass across the lawn. It’s a circuit, you see, and it is how He arrives at the property.  We are surrounded by trees on all sides, but there is a track He drives, in a predictable and bumpy loop, mostly just inside the trees, and in all weather, and at any time of day or night. She drives a white one and He drives a silver one. Hers is newer and in good repair. His is battered on both ends, and has bits held onto the body by wire and that special handyman stickum.
Where all our water went
They are of a retired age, but maybe they have professional responsibilities that keep them in the city during the week. They are professionals, and both have advanced degrees. The Landlords usually show up Thursday nights, and stay through Monday. I send the rent check to a nice address in The City, on the Upper West Side.  (You should know by now that “The City” is New York City, which is where we should be living now,  but are not. It is where we will be living in the fall.) The Landlords have a teeny-tiny apartment above the garage, next door to this, the large red barn house.  Everything I know about their building is from the weekend in October when we stole their firewood.  We have no garage privileges, no matter how much we are paying for this house.
Buckets and new trees
Since we moved in last September they have been around on the weekend every weekend, and they have gone from one barking, barking dog to two barking, barking dogs.  Having a Country Place is something people do to survive city living. Our town is an easy enough commute to The City, so is not a bad place to have a Country Place as long as you don’t need to actually be in The Country (because this is actually The Suburbs).  I think it must be a relief for the Landlords’ dogs to come to The Country so they can bark with impunity.  I wonder, though, if they produce the same barking, barking in The City. I also wonder if the second dog was obtained in an effort to improve the first one.
When they are not driving around the property, walking their barking, barking dogs or burning wood in their woodstove, the Landlords have a passion for planting trees. I cannot report on how many trees they have planted this spring, but they were very busy at it for a few weeks there, with new trees going in every day.  We did not pay very much attention to it until the Saturday when we were getting dressed to go to a dinner party and we did not have enough water pressure to take a shower. All of our water was going to a new tree, just south of our house. 
It felt like there was some urgency to the tree-planting mania, what with the hoses needing to be dragged around, buckets requiring stacking, moving, refilling and lining up, holes wanting digging and refilling, mulch having to be purchased and delivered and applied.  The silver car was hard at work all over the property. He was very busy.
Some of the new trees are snugged in next to the driveway at the top.  You cannot see our house from the road at all, owing to the shape of the hill more than the trees.  Now that these new little trees have been planted, it seems clear that there is a plan to put evergreens along the driveway from the top to the bottom. The driveway is a quarter mile long and the trees flank the topmost fifth of that quarter mile. The new pines are perhaps twelve feet from the more mature pines on the other side of the drive, and in just a few years will create a perfect, all-around scrub-brush system for scratching the sides and tops of all entering and exiting vehicles.
There is now a hose stretched from the building where they spend weekends in the teeny-tiny  apartment above the garage all the way up the quarter mile long driveway to reach the new trees. I drive over this hose twice in the morning when I take the 8th grader to school, twice if I go to the grocery store, twice if I go to the post office, and twice if I drop anyone at the train station, and twice if I pick anyone up at the train station. The hose has remained stretched along the driveway for weeks, and soon I will have squashed it flat from driving over it.
I never see or hear the Landlords leave. Sometimes a car remains behind, so it seems like they are still here. The absence of barking is a state of quiet akin to having no headache.

A Story from the Weekend Before Last

We had turkey chili for dinner. We finished dinner. We were sitting around the table talking. The youngest kid got bored with us and went to his room. He heard a “pop.” We didn’t hear a “pop,” because we were still talking. The lights went out.
We have had three power outages since we moved here. The first power outage was a result of Tropical Storm Irene, and began before we even moved in.  We were delayed in our being able to move in, so that we had to stay in a hotel the first few days of school. It was a terrible way to start the school year. The school year has been rough, too, with nasty Spanish teachers and confrontational attendance ladies who sometimes require a note just because they are clueless.  It’s all part of the long bad vacation.
Last time the power went out, it was because of a freakish snow storm in late October. This time, it was predicted to get down to about 7F overnight, as if in solidarity with the earlier, unusually cold weekend in October. Because we had heard the “pop,” the Relentless Troubleshooter called NYSEG  to report the outage. They were confused. As it was, we turned out to be only one of two houses affected, the other being our landlords, in the garage apartment next door.
A crew was dispatched, and it was determined that someone in a car had smashed into the utility pole that serves our two houses. Man Landlord (who is eccentric) insisted that we contact the police. The Relentless Troubleshooter called the local police to inform them that someone had hit our utility pole and driven away.  He was asked several tired and irritated questions like “Did the pole hit the house?” and “Did you see it?” before the crowning achievement of questions: “What do you want us to do about it?”
We were told that a North Salem policeofficer would come and have a look, but we never saw him.
Overnight, it was very, very cold, and the Relentless Troubleshooter kept the fires going in all three woodstoves. We put the food that needed to stay frozen outside. By morning the power was restored and a new pole had been installed at the top of the driveway. As of this writing, a little over two weeks later, the old pole had not been removed yet.  The Relentless Troubleshooter and other interested parties went up to make an inspection, and concluded that a small, red car with bald tires had done it (based on tracks in the mud, paint on the pole, and broken bits on the ground). That a small car could drive away after breaking a utility pole surprises me. The Man Landlord (who is eccentric) believes that the addition of a new house nearby has changed how the road looks on the curve, and while he hates the look of a big yellow arrow sign, he believes a big yellow arrow sign might be in order. 
When I was in elementary school, my father, who hated speeders who drove too fast through Davis Place, got elected to the board of neighborhood trustees.  He pushed the effort for speed bumps to be installed, in addition to having the gates to the minor streets of the subdivision closed on alternate weeks. One speed bump was added right in front of our house.
I think the reason he wanted people to slow down on Davis Drive was that he liked to play catch with my brother.  Dad would stand on the island in front of our house and my brother would stand in our yard.  People came barreling down the street between them. What he did not realize until the speed bump was added was that now there was the sound of braking, followed by the ker-thump, ker-thump of the car going over the speed bump, and then the acceleration away. Now it was much noisier, cars lingered longer, and it was not an improvement.
Today, there do not seem to be speed bumps in Davis Place anymore. At least, there were none the last time I was there.

What I am reading now #1

How do we see, in a jumbled scene of thousands of books stretching from one edge to the other of our peripheral vision, the name of a college professor on the binding? Do we store a cache of known names in our minds, just in case we might see them again? Are we each a bit like Sherlock Holmes, in our ability to grab tiny clues? Why, then, do we lose our keys when we put them on the kitchen table? How come I can’t find the new jar of mustard in the fridge? Was I actually looking for this professor’s name because I am always looking for his name on the bindings of books?
The human mind is better at searching for things that it recognizes than software is. I was prowling around the Strand Bookstore the other day, and a book was there in front of me on a shelf and the author was one of my college professors.  I have run into his books in bookstores before, and I do not kid you to say it has been the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble on two occasions, and I always sneer at them.  My specific memories of him were of drinking tea at his house because he had invited a famous (and terrifying) author to come talk to us lowly undergrads and of getting a B+ on every paper I ever wrote in his classes.  I guess I could tell you about his head and his hair and his nose and his glasses (oblong; thick, brown tonsure; prominent; round tortoiseshell), and I can hear his quiet tenor voice intoning about Yeats in a way that made me never want to hear about Yeats again.  I stopped working and started playing in his classes, taking scary risks on papers (writing an essay at my typewriter in the hour or so before it was due). I never “got” him, if you know what I mean by that. I don’t think he “got” me, either.
Turning around I was facing a table of influential non-fiction books and found a stack of paperback copies of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It was colorful and inexpensive, and I picked it up and turned it over. I only buy a fraction of the books I pick up in bookstores; I couldn’t say what fraction. What needs to be on the back to get me to take it home? In this case, a Picador edition, rave reviews from Studs Terkel and the New York Times were enough. There’s a day-glo school bus on the cover, with “Further” as its destination.
I was a little kid in the 1960s, and my only memory of the world outside of my little life before about 1976 is of my brother recording with his cassette tape recorder President Nixon resigning on TV. I do remember some of the big 6th grade kids being very scary when I was in kindergarten, but I was afraid of everything then.  The hippies had long, long hair and crazy, crazy clothes and they were almost as menacing as crows or old people.  I love addressing things that scared me as a child.
I have plowed through reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test like I’ve got a quiz on it tomorrow. I have re-read passages, read passages aloud, sought people out to share it with.  Tom Wolfe tried to capture not just the people and the actions, but the sound of it, the rap of it, and the aesthetic (if you could call it that) of the Merry Pranksters. I think Wolfe delivered more than a sketch, but the full experience of what it was to be “on the bus.”
And you must know, dear Reader, that the bus was called “Furthur.” Beyond societal norms, beyond good spelling, beyond normal perception, that’s where they were going. The cover illustration is wrong. The spelling was corrected by an artist or editor who didn’t get it.