Harbinger

Since I left Pittsburgh at seventeen and moved to New York City to live the life of a naive bohemian, almost every place I’ve settled has been a neighborhood in transition. The East Village late 70’s to late 80s, Williamsburg in the 90s, Nashville the early 2000’s. I’m like the opposite of a widowmaker when it comes to urban development – whoever I cast my lot with bursts into life. Except for a brief time in Cleveland which exists in its own atmosphere forever and five years in rural France (same thing), I’ve gotten in and out just in time to see those I leave behind either get displaced or rich, when all we really needed was a decent school or place to get a cup of coffee, and a wine store where you were allowed to touch the bottles, not gaze at them behind bulletproof plastic.

And now, our town of Catskill. For the five years we’ve lived here, talk has been of how it’s going to happen – this town is going to explode with artists, cafes, vibrant culture and adorable shops. It’s a slow progress and in some ways I eagerly await the day when we can stroll around from boutique to cool dining spot to venue, but a part of me wants this place to stay as rough and workaday and dysfunctional and wacky as it seems to have been forever because it’s real and it’s us.

That’s why I don’t know how I feel about the toilet chair.

For over three months, as I’ve forked left up the hill to our house, I’ve had to look at an unsightly toilet seat/metal frame contraption someone discarded at the foot of a work in progress renovation of a beautiful old brick bulding, only all work ceased four years ago and the place sits empty, unfinished and sulking at passersby. The toilet chair seemed to underscore the sad fact of this stalled project, rumored for almost a half decade to be set to house a “nice Italian restaurant”. Uh-huh.

Every time I drove by the toilet chair, I’d get bummed out.  I’d feel some sense of obligation to pull up alongside and, with newspapers covering my hands, put the thing in the back of the car and drive it to the dump. But there’s no just dropping a piece of trash at the dump, you have to bag it and pay, and besides, the thought of my car being a random toilet chair conveyance would haunt me forever and I really love that car. I didn’t want to put it in our garage, and I didn’t want to leave it by somebody else’s house, or park it out of the way in nature, so there it sat.

When Eric came back from his travels a few weeks ago, I mentioned that it was still there: “Remember the toilet chair? Look, look – now that the snow is melted, shouldn’t the town come and pick it up? I mean, it’s bad enough the half-finished renovation depressing everybody, but then there has to be this toilet seat on a chair…”

“We should screw a toilet roll holder into the wall next to it,” Eric said. It’s his default solution to many random problems.

“And put a magazine rack beside it? What about a lamp too! And a little rug.” The ideas started popping.

Eric was rubbing his hands together. “It needs a sign. I’m going home to paint one now. It’ll say “Welcome to Catskill – take a dump on us”.

“We’ve got to do it!” I said. “It’ll become a feature of the town. Until the old guard, who don’t like change, see that something sad and unsightly and depressing is being enjoyed as an art project – then they’ll come and take it away.”

So we went home to get started, at some point, when we finished doing the hundred other projects we always have going on. I even dreamt about the toilet chair, pictured somebody putting a vase of flowers on a side table and how people would come from far and wide to have their photo taken sitting there. Eric and I talked about doing a postcard. Catskill would finally come into its own, the way they’ve all promised it would.

The next day – the very next day – the toilet chair was gone.

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And our long-awaited groovy local coffee shop began serving over the weekend.

I feel conflicted. If I didn’t love this place so much, I’d think it might be about time to move on.

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18 thoughts on “Harbinger

  1. Jordan Chassan

    I think there are some intrinsic qualities that protect Catskill and places like it from ever becoming completely overrun. I hope so anyway.

    1. amyrigby

      We’re in Greene County, one of the poorer counties in NY state, so I think you’re right. And I’m not complaining about places improving – I like all the variety and dining options you find in Nashville these days (but the traffic and housing prices are another matter!)

  2. dinahmow

    Oh, Amy! You really had me going there…I have a wacky friend in Ohio who has been known to do crazy art installatiions and I could visualise a collaborative event…

    1. amyrigby

      Ha ha! In Cleveland? It was starting to remind me of the fake Expat magazine Eric and I actually did get together in France – after weeks of work the highlight was placing them in Limoges airport and seeing unsuspecting Brits picking up a copy to read on holiday “It says here Terence Trent D’arby lives in the area, a little hamlet called Cognac la Purge?”

  3. Carol wilkinson

    Hysterical! 5 belly laughs guaranteed in this great read! Thanks Amy AND Eric and should I add. The Chair.
    Bravo!

  4. Jordan Chassan

    You would appreciate this prank I pulled off in Nashville quite a few years ago: on 440 just before the Hillsboro Pike Green Hills exit heading towards Memphis there was a traffic sign that said “CENTER LANE DOES NOT EXIT” which seemed to me to be rather obvious. So I measured the Helvetica bold typeface on the sign and went to Kinkos and printed out a large piece of paper with matching “ST” on it and changed the sign under cover of night to read “CENTER LANE DOES NOT EXIST”. It was up that way for about a month – and then they took the sign down.

  5. Andrew Boller

    Whenever I see abandoned objects that look like junk, I start imagining stories to go with the detritus of the past. Imagine the folks who sat on that throne.
    I see the word Catskills & it always conjured up a favorite book from my childhood, “My Side of the Mountain”
    I love Eric’s idea- too bad it couldn’t materialize. Drivers passing with that burning need to release their inner turmoil could always use a friendly seat

    1. amyrigby

      I wondered too, Andy – maybe somebody died or went into a nursing home, or maybe it was a miracle recovery (jeez, I’m sorry – a toilet chair doesn’t exactly invite creative backstory ahem). Wasn’t that book about the skier, and was made into a film? Will have to look that up, maybe it is from Hunter Mountain which is not far from us…

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