I need to learn to lie, a little.
“And do you have any fruits or vegetables from overseas in your bag?” the immigration officer at JFK asked. I could feel Eric at my elbow silently urging me to be cool.
“Just this apple that I cut up and put in a Tupperware. I meant to throw it away back in London,” I said. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this – I should just lie, it’s not anything.”
“No, no – you’re doing the right thing,” he said.
Next thing I knew the officer was leading the way to the Agriculture Officer, holding my passport aloft. He looked like he was enjoying himself, not because he was being a jerk about anything but just because he’d needed a nice walk and thanks to me being an idiot was getting one.
When I finally collect my bags and am able to go retrieve my passport from the Agriculture Office, they toss my Tupperware from agent to agent and then make a ceremony out of having me dump the contents in a plain old trash can.
Eric and I spent the month of May in Norfolk England, on the coast of the North Sea. We did some work, I played a gig in London. Every evening we went exploring as the sky stayed light longer and longer. We looked in windows just lighting up, people watching big TVs, one or two front room offices filled with books and big ancient computer terminals, like an author from the nineties resided there. We tiptoed around the grounds of a stately home and watched high tide lapping into the sand; ate fish and chips with malt vinegar. Met up with friends and Eric saw his daughter and grandkids. I tried to write. One day I took a long coastal walk and just as I came back into the town my phone rang. “I just want to know who I am and why I’m here,” my dad said. I tried to explain it to him in the simplest terms, at the same time thinking his question made perfectly good sense.
Riding in a car to Heathrow – this trip the first time we ever treated ourselves to such an indulgence. Instead of renting a car, driving the three hours, filling it up with fuel at the hell that is the roundabout just outside Heathrow (which roundabout? which part of Heathrow?), we got picked up by a guy in a nice car, who told us our safety and comfort were his only concerns. Is this how some people live all the time?
Steve the Mercedes driver was quiet and discreet, until we got him talking about his hobby – drones.
“Eric, you need to get yourself a drone mate,” said Steve. “Boys must have their toys!”
I wanted to tell Steve to come around to our house if he wanted to see toys. Instead I encouraged him to share more info about the drones because I found it fascinating and he really lit up when he talked about them. People need a project. He said they’d improved his life: he got up earlier to catch the best light for drone filming in the morning and drank less at night so he could get up earlier.
I’ve missed travel and just shooting the breeze with people like Steve. I now know of a whole facet of life and humanity and technology I’d never engaged with before.
I’d tried to get someone to help cut the grass while we were gone, knowing it would be a shaggy, unmowable mess if it went too long. The guy who used to help us out is ghosting me now, I don’t know why. I tried random numbers of lawn care services around town – either didn’t hear back or when I did they wanted us to commit to a weekly mow…for the whole summer! 55 x 4 x 3 or 4 = no.
I thought back fondly to the hard guy from some years back who’d told me “little Johnny isn’t gonna cut your lawn for twenty bucks anymore lady” and charged a shocking two hundred to do a one-time cut. Now I was searching for him again. Six or seven years ago he was a jerk – today he is a unicorn.
A friend who lives just out of town said she’d gotten the same from lawn guys, only not only did they demand she commit to every week – she had to rope at least two neighbors into getting theirs cut cause, otherwise it wasn’t worth it for the lawn guy to travel all the way out there…ten minutes from Main Street.
Ah, Main Street.
Our town has been discovered. From England, I saw the New York Times Real Estate section article about moving to Catskill, all the art and artists here. As usual with this type of article, it’s the comments that are most compelling – either sour grapes from city folk (“trust me, no world class artist would live in that dump”) or locals (“go away interlopers” – the definition of interloping extends from those arriving within the last year to anyone who showed up after Henry Hudson tied his boat up in 1690…) It was odd to see our friends and neighbors at this kind of remove and reminded me of the decades of touring, being away from home when anything important happens, you’re always somewhere else. When you’re home it all moves so slow you find yourself wanting change and excitement. From England I wanted Catskill frozen in a snow globe, just as we left it.
Another friend told me about his neighbor who might be able to help us out with the grass. Davey came over with his riding mower on a trailer. He went to work cutting, I got out the rake and started raking and bagging. In no time at all we were finished. Davey doesn’t cut professionally, he was just a nice guy helping some people out and picking up a little cash in return. He charged so little I tried to give him more money. There are good people.
I wish I could give up bread – again. I really want to lose some weight. In England I walked miles a day without even trying but here in the US it’s always a project. If I could cut bread out of the equation, I feel like I could control my calories better. Instead of an essential part of life maybe I could look at it as a once in a while treat, or a long-ago friend like cigarettes?
My daughter is visiting from Los Angeles and we met up in Brooklyn to take a walk around the old neighborhood. We started at our address on Grand Street, the bones of the building looking not that different from how it had when we left over twenty years ago. Around it, everything had changed – now there are skyscrapers, luxury hotels, J.Crew and loads of other corporate chains – and so many good-looking, well-dressed young people. I remembered our car being stolen a few times, the endless racket from the ice cream truck depot across the street, coffee in a styrofoam cup from the Dominican bakery on the street corner. Several layers ago. We walked to where Grand ends at the East River and that one little area felt oddly, comfortingly familiar, a land that time forgot with the waves lapping against large rocks, benches missing their seats and a Chinese bride and family all dressed up and taking photos against the backdrop of Manhattan.
I was pleased that something about our old street seemed to repel progress, like a little forcefield. We all need those around some tiny chamber in our hearts or memories, a spot where nothing and no one can pierce this perfectly imperfect world of our past especially the dreams we have for our futures which aren’t any better than the reality we end up in, just different.
How could my dreams of the future have encompassed girls in floaty dresses splayed on oversized wooden lawn chairs in the shadow of the big old Domino Sugar factory now under construction for a future as luxury apartments, or being the oldest person in the whole of Williamsburg on a beautiful Sunday afternoon? Maybe not the absolute oldest – I passed a cool-looking older couple or two. How weird to exchange nods of acknowledgement just like back in the long-ago last century where spotting another musician or artist-type on the streets of this neighborhood led to nods or even greetings that blossomed into friendships because there were so few of us around. Imagine being excited to see a hipster type with a kid in a stroller nowadays, rather than annoyed or territorial.
In a coffee shop on Bedford, we were served by a grey-haired guy who almost looked young – I wondered it his hair was that color on purpose. Sylvia’s Mother was playing and I thought…hmm Spotify, but then Marie Laveau and then another Dr. Hook track and another. This was an actual old guy playing music at his job for his own enjoyment. “I like the Dr. Hook mix,” I said on our way out. It was like touching a match to a prayer flag: “Hey – thanks! I think Shel Silverstein wrote just about every song on there…” He retreated a little, not sure whether it was worth it to go full nerd. “Right!” I waved over the flame, giving it air. Burn baby burn! “So good,” I said.
“So good,” he smiled.
The hose caddy broke already, probably because I left it outside through a long, hard winter. My dad declines a little more every week, then rallies. He asks if I’m coming tomorrow and I tell him no, Sunday. He sounds disappointed. Would he notice the difference if I said yes I am coming tomorrow? Then at least I’d get to hear him be happy for a second.
I need to learn to lie, a little bit.