R & R

“What’s your name again?” the old guy said, as he’s said every Friday for the three plus years I’ve worked at this place. “How’s Emily, that other girl who worked with you? She’s so nice, I kept telling her if only she was twenty years older, she could’ve married one of my sons.”

“Uh huh,” I say through gritted teeth, the bar towel clenched in my hand. “Oh, there’s another customer who needs my help down there!” I say, and head to the other end of the bar to keep myself from smashing a pint glass and grinding the jagged edge into the old guy’s neck.

The old guy is so boring, if he recovered from my attack, I’m 100% sure he’d be putting people on bar stools to sleep with the story in no time:

“And then she came at me, I can’t remember what her name was, but it reminded me of the time I used to live in Hawaii, did I tell you about that yet? Well you see, back when I was in the navy, before I worked for the post office…”

Yes, it’s time I took a break from this place. I’m headed to Nashville for a few days. I don’t even have a big plan, aside from seeing the Johnny Cash/Bob Dylan exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, and tagging along on my friend Bill DeMain’s Nashville walking tour. I’m sure I’ll hear some music, and eat something fried.

And Eric’s Nashville show, I’ll be there for that and to make the long drive back home with him.

This is the first time I’ve gone to Nashville without a guitar. It feels weird, but free. I almost feel like a normal person.  It reminds me of that time I stopped at a Cracker Barrel, and they were piping old country music into the rest rooms, and I went and bought some of those striped pieces of hard candy in a paper sack…

Hello, hey wait – where’s everyone going?

wtf

Remembrance Of Things Past

I was on the cross-trainer at the gym, flicking through the channels on the TV, and suddenly the screen was filled with cyclists: Le Tour de France was on. The same thing happened that always happens to me when I see the Tour on TV- I think “That’s right near where we lived!” There was the Carrefour sign, the war memorial at the little place right across from the cafe, just around the corner from the bad boulangerie. That field full of cows, the crumbling stone wall, some rows of trees in even succession. Then as the cyclists descended and climbed and rounded another bend, there was the Carrefour sign, the war memorial at the little place right across from the cafe, around the corner from the bad boulangerie. That field full of cows, the crumbling stone wall, some more rows of trees in even succession.

Then I decided they were at least in the same department, or maybe the next one over – the stone on the buildings looked familiar and there was a sign for St. Leonard, there’s a St. Leonard in the Creuse, that makes sense, all those climbs, and the roofs have that certain pitch to them.

As they cycled on and I rode the cross trainer along with them, I finally thought it didn’t matter where exactly they were, they were definitely in France and for those few moments I was right there with them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s four years ago this summer that Eric and I moved to the USA. I love living in the Hudson Valley, it’s got so much beauty, like France, but a lot more to do, and it’s only two hours from New York City. It was wonderful having the experience of living in France, and sometimes, like when I see it on TV, I get a pang. At the same time, when I find an official French document in my files, I get another kind of pang, and remember the pain of trying to navigate the system. There’s plenty wrong with America but it’s an easier place to live in many ways.

Living in Europe is what got me started blogging in earnest (I’m almost embarrassed to use the word anymore, that’s how mid-last-decade it feels now) Writing my own and reading and commenting on other ex-pat blogs was a way to make sense of life in a new and different land. Nowadays I only check in with other blogs very occasionally but there was one Paris blogger I stayed with. I guess you could say I lurked, because I never commented. I kept my distance, but I regularly got a kick out of this American woman’s posts about navigating life in Paris, through finding a French husband, trying to learn French and become a citizen, and her quest to publish a memoir based on her experiences moving to the Paris that really only exists in Americans’ minds.

I’ve come to believe that place of dreams is a valuable one. If you imagine your reality is elevated by taking the you who’s stuck in a rut in the states and paste that person on a boulevard with a baguette under one arm, even if the boulevard is now obstructed by traffic bollards and annoying metal fencing and you still have to do laundry and find meaningful employment or any job at all then more power to you.

This American in Paris blogger died the other day, so suddenly – didn’t update her blog for a month and then her husband posted that she had passed away. I knew she was ill but I realize now she’s gone how much I was rooting for her, because the real her came through the cliche of Paris. It’s left a space, because she was a little link to the dream of France and so here I am on the cross trainer pedaling with the cyclists and getting choked up at the sight, not of an eleventh century church or a quaint tiled roof, but a blasted Carrefour supermarket sign and banner reading “Le Tour C’est Notre Tour!”

For Lisa, this Alexander Payne segment from Paris Je T’Aime

The Mild One

“Hi there! This is RJ? I was in the bookstore/bar a while back, you’re Amy right?” said the chirpy voice on the other end of the phone. “I’m with Albany Jewish Federation of the (something or other) and I’ll be bringing a group in to have drinks and snacks in two weeks, how does that sound?”

It’s a bookstore, with some beer and a few tables and chairs, not a VIP lounge but hey, I’m not going to try and stop you.

I didn’t say this, and RJ continued: “Just want to make sure you can accommodate us? We’ll be spending probably $100 or more, so it’ll be good for you guys, okay?”

Had I ever talked to this RJ before? It felt vaguely familiar…And the Federation, they did good work, I was sure…something involving the blind? I remembered a really good thrift store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

RJ called again the next week. “Hi there, just checking in! So – we’ll be coming in next week, we like to call our little get-togethers Gin & Juice.”

“RJ, we don’t serve that kind of alcohol here,” I said, wishing I could make her disappear forever. At the same time, I couldn’t stop myself from trying to be helpful – it’s a disease I have. They should have a federation for people like me, The Meek & Mild.

“Next Wednesday, 5:30 PM? See you then!” And she hung up.

Wednesday, 5:15. The beer has been mostly foam for days until the cooler repair guy can come. Pouring one decent pint takes ten minutes. The customers are all prefacing their orders with “I’m really sorry to make you do this, but – could I have a beer?” I’m in a bleak mood – stupid foamy beer, stupid pocket-sized copies of The Art Of War all stacked up by the cash register – what, do you pull this book out when you’re waiting in line at the farmer’s market or at the bank, preparing to do battle with the manager about your overdraft fee?

Please don’t let the blind Jewish contingent show up, I think – the place is crowded and the beer is foam. I send vibes out the door, up the Hudson River to Albany – go to Pump Station, go to the Low Beat, go to Applebee’s, just don’t come here cause I can’t help you.

Still – I promised RJ. Or, I didn’t promise exactly, but I didn’t tell her NO. So I sort of save a table for the contingent and keep an eye on the door. If they’re one minute over fifteen minutes late – that’s it. Sorry.

“Hi, Amy! It’s me – RJ! We’re here!” There are 4 or 5 people and a baby carriage or two. This is manageable, the Federation people mostly had the good sense to stay home. But the ones who are here are thirsty, and hungry. They order drinks, they order snacks. Dirty dishes and glasses pile up across the bar while I fill glasses with foam. The regular happy hour crowd take pity on me and start helping by picking up snacks and drinks and carrying them to RJ and her group.

And then more of the Federation gang arrive. Not a blind person in the bunch – instead they’re all toting one year olds. Asking for water for the kids, in tiny cups. Gin & Juice…Gin and…Jews? Gin and juice –

The phone rings. “Have you got anything by Bemelmans?”

“Oh yes, we have plenty of the Madeline books -”

“No, not Madeline.” The woman’s icy voice cuts me to the quick. Sor-ry! I tell her I’ll check but RJ’s grinning at me, asking for more chips and salsa.

A member of the group comes over in a little while asking if I can look up a book for him.

“It’s by Bemelmans,” he says.

“We have plenty of the Madeli-”

“No, uh-uh,” he shakes his head. “Not those.”

“God that’s so crazy,” I say. “A woman just called for a non-Madeline Bemelmans book. Was there something on NPR?”

“She called me and told me to ask,” the man says. My head is spinning. I pour a beer for the yoga master, who’s on the phone and motioning for a refill by pointing his glass towards his preferred tap. “Yes, master, I live to serve you, you no-tipping motherfu-“…I don’t even know what music I’m playing tonight, it’s a pathetic playlist called Everybody Indie! on some discarded iPod. So that’s what Animal Collective sound like…

Gin and juice- I finally figure it out after RJ has paid the tab. It’s a playgroup for parents and toddlers. RJ has been doing this for a while – calling bars, dangling the Jewish Federation name and conveniently leaving out the part about bringing a load of tiny tykes in for happy hour – you’re kidding, right? I should’ve said no. But I wanted to do good.

For the Federation.

a little help

It’s Summer

It’s summer at last – the birds are singing; the sun is shining.

It’s five in the morning – why are those goddamn birds singing, and could the sun please stop shining?

It’s summer and I’m remembering a few years back, when everyone was reading that stupid Fifty Shades Of Grey book. Isn’t it great, I think, that civilization has progressed to where we can all say “remember when everyone was reading that book?” and it’s all in the past.

“Hey, have you got that new Grey book?” a guy in painting overalls says breathlessly the second the bookstore door opens in the morning. “This one’s told from the guy’s perspective – I got to get it for my wife!’

It’s summer and I can sleep if I have the curtain cracked to let some air in but not so much that the blinds clack against the other window frame. I have moments where I think “at least in winter sleeping is easy”.

There’s a magical point where the lawn mower is working, the strimmer string isn’t tangled or completely gone and if I could just finish mowing the backyard, there might be a day or two where the front yard doesn’t look like a jungle and the whole cycle starts again.

It’s summer and the local drive-in is showing Harold and Maude and serving popcorn with real butter. We’re living in paradise.

It’s summer and if we drive an hour and a half we can see The Turtles, The Cowsills and The Association. I want to.

It’s summer and if we drive an hour and a half in the other direction we can see Van Gogh landscapes never before seen in America. I want to do that too.

Yoga man is back. I knew he was coming (saw the poster), thought of all kinds of things I could say to him about his no tipping ways but when he finally showed up in the bar and ordered a beer, I greeted him warmly. I almost felt happy to see him. It felt like a time-honored tradition, me serving him, him stiffing me on the tip. It’s summer, so he’s cut off his ponytail.

It’s summer, and I keep thinking that one of these years I will buy that perfect straw hat/pair of sandals/effortless dress but for now I’ll just wear what I’ve got.

I’m thankful there are less and less instances where I have to explain to someone behind a counter what iced coffee is. I’m thankful the whole world has learned how to make cold brew iced coffee like I used to find at only one place PJ’s in Louisiana.

Both Commander Cody and Artemis Pyle (of Lynyrd Skynyrd) are playing for free in the tiny town just up the Hudson from us, I think this is an improvement over the Beatles tribute bands they usually have – I will let you know.

For Eric’s birthday, I got him tickets to see David Crosby next week. Since we’re married, I think it’s a legal and moral requirement that I get to go with him. In preparation for going to see David Crosby, I was playing CSN in the bar. “I was there at Woodstock,” a customer says. “Me and a few of my buddies went. Couldn’t see or hear a thing!” I smile and nod. He continues: “I know you’re probably thinking ‘this guy’s too young to have been there!'” I’m actually thinking how I was just thinking ‘what’s this old guy’s story?’ I smile and nod.

It’s summer and there’s a real estate broker in a loud gingham shirt and shorts next to me at the Catskill Mill food truck picnic table. He’s telling a couple from the city how they should really consider buying a bigger place than they need ‘for the Airbnb possibilities’. When they ask him what days the food truck is open, he confidently tells them “Thursday through Sunday!” The days are listed right there on the side of the truck Wed through Sat. ‘And yet you trust this guy with your future,’ I think.

It’s summer and I want to make an album, write a different book from the one I’ve been working on, paint a masterpiece or at least fill a sketchbook with watercolors. But there’s a hammock over there.

boating on the hudson

Midway

The escaped murderers have me on edge.

A few hours north, two convicts broke out of the prison almost two weeks ago. The closest town is Plattsburgh, so I don’t imagine they hung around the area.

Not that I think they’ll show up around here. But it makes me a little nervous sometimes, working in a bar. Anyone can walk in.

On Sunday, Hudson was eerily deserted. The weekend crowd had gone. A few customers were sitting quietly with their books and drinks when an older, sunbaked couple hobbled in. He had on a plaid shirt (but not ironic dad-plaid shirt, more like a farmer’s going to town on Sunday shirt), wispy white hair and spectacles. She had a face like one of those apple dolls I used to make in Girl Scouts, where you stick a knife in to make slits for the eyes and mouth and then dry in the sun, only when she’d pop open her eyes they were the vivid blue of a colored glass patio candle from TJ Maxx. Dyed brown hair and a navy blue shorts ensemble like she was still dressed for Flag Day the day before.

“I guess I’ll have a…Budweiser?” she said in a smoker’s croak. Pop go the blue eyes, looking somewhere behind me. I offered her a lager that was the closest thing to a Bud. Farmer grandpa accepted a stout and left to browse the books.

“How much are them dogs up there?” She pointed to the row of stuffed dalmations on a shelf.

“Um, they’re pretty expensive,” I said, not wanting to get out the ladder and climb up to heave down a huge stuffed animal.

“I WANT ONE.” Blue eyes start blinking like crazy. “How much?”

“I think they’re around sixty dollars,” I said, aiming high.

“That’s too much! Make it thirty and you’ve got a deal.”

“I can’t really haggle over the price,” I said.

“Oh I don’t care how much they cost, I WANT ONE.”

I stood on a ladder and wobbled a massive dog off the shelf. She grabbed the white and black plush animal out of my hands and clutched it to her chest. I hoped the brown on her arms wouldn’t rub off on the white fur.

Farmer husband or customer (I started thinking maybe she was one of the old prostitutes Hudson was famous for up until the fifties and sixties…trying to do the math, if she was twenty in 1965 she’d be…70 now? It made sense) shuffled over and she held the dog’s face up next to her own and gave him a pleading look. “I want this dog!” In her mind she was Shirley Temple, or Goldie Hawn. He shook his head no. “I WANT HIM!”

This is where feelings of dread and panic start creeping in. I regretted taking the dog down. Why hadn’t I just told her they weren’t for sale, were all in fact for use on a float in the Pride parade next weekend? I wished I was working next weekend instead, for Pride parade. That I could handle. This was Midway At A County Fair. The lady could go off like a powder keg. The upstate effect. The two prisoners popping out of a manhole cover – it isn’t all antique dealers and big city day trippers. Rich people are so easy to placate. With these two, I didn’t know what I was dealing with.

A few more “I WANT HIM”s vs a couple steely head shakes from the man and I was hiking the dog back to the rear of the store and sticking him in a dark corner. I was afraid to get up on the ladder, imagining Blue Eyes’ brown claw closing around my ankle, the ladder toppling; a fight over a stuffed animal. I was pretty sure who the winner would be.

When I made it back to the bar, the couple was gone. They hadn’t finished their beer.

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