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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Evidence Of Autumn

I think I need to break up with summer.

For years I would say that summer was my favorite season.  A part of me has never gotten over that giddy “school’s out” feeling every June, when a whole three months of fun and frolic beckoned.  The outside world was beautiful and warm, people were more prone to kicking up their heels, and I was eager to join them.  As I got older, the prospect of summer romance – or, at least, adventurous trysts en plain air – also beckoned.

However, I’ve been looking at it honestly as of late, and those are all promises that, for me, summer hasn’t always delivered.

Not that summer wasn’t great when I was a kid.  But I grew up at a time when it was customary to kick your kids outside to go play, and I also grew upon a street where it was especially safe for my mother do to so.  So for most summers I was near-feral, wearing only the barest minimum of clothing and letting myself get dirty or wet as the spirit moved me.  We also were on good enough terms with our neighbors – and their pool – that we had leave to use it even when they weren’t home; so I spent most of the hottest summer days half-submerged, a bathing suit welded to me, either cannonballing into the water or playing Marco Polo when it got too hot or just laying in the sun to warm up when I was a bit chilly.  When I warmed up again, the water was right there.

The week or two I was at summer camp each year, they also scheduled the swimming and boating lessons for the hottest part of the day; or, if it was still hot when we had our “Outdoor Education” hour, the counselors would lead us on a hike along – and through – the nearby streams.  Some summers it was so hot that streamwalks were all we did, to the point that the “Outdoor Education” team was called “The Get-Wet Club”.  But it kept me cool and comfortable, it kept me refreshed, and kept me active.  And there were also the weekends we’d visit my grandparents on Cape Cod, where we had the brisk ocean breezes on top of the chill Atlantic to cool us down.  And if it still got too hot, there were always ice pops from the beach club, sold buy a guy who used a machete to whack the ends off and open them up for us.  (My brother loved that part.)

And then I moved to New York.  And realized for the first time – summer’s humid, y’all.

My first year living here I read Carrie Fisher’s Postcards From The Edge, and was struck by a throwaway line one character used to describe New York’s summer weather – “it’s like a cough.  It’s like the whole country came here and coughed.”  For every summer since, I’ve thought of that line and found myself agreeing.  It’s hot and sticky and oppressive and overpowering and weighs me down to the point that even summoning the energy to go out to one of the public pools or even just leave the house is an extreme act of will.

It was just as humid back where I grew up – barely a latitude point north, in Eastern Connecticut.  But then I had leave to do nothing if I so chose, or I was in and out of water so much that I just plain didn’t notice.  But oh, I do now – instead of that leisure time, I have to drag myself to and from a job every weekday, huddling close to the air conditioner at the office and trying to make do with fans at home.  My current roommate leaves town for a month every summer, so for a month I can get away with a bit of undress at home, which helps – sort of.  But after having been out in the steam room of the city all day, I just plain don’t want to do anything once I get home.  Not write, not rally myself for a walk, not go to a movie, nothing.  It’s too damn hot.  Every year I ambitiously make a list of the free concerts I want to go see in New York’s parks, and every year as each concert date rolls around I get home, whimper at the thought of going back outside again now that I’m finally out of my oppressive work clothes and finally comfortable, and end up doing nothing.  Cooking for myself – another thing that I didn’t have to do as a child – is bad enough.

Which also puts the kibosh on summer romance.  I’ve actually been single for most of the summers in my adult life, so I haven’t had anyone handy to snog with.  I get optimistic about finding someone each year, but then I run up against my reluctance to leave the house, and that somewhat limits my chances.

Recently, fall has been grabbing my attention more and more.  The days are getting cooler, but in early fall it’s still warm enough to be outside – finally, after a solid three months of cowering indoors away from the heat.  You can go outside without feeling like you need to pull your skin off.  The weather is still fairly clear, but the haze of summer is cleared away, making things seem even clearer and brighter – almost crisp.

New York has a lot of big cultural shindigs in early fall as well – book fairs, special events at museums, food festivals – so there’s plenty to do.  And even better, lots of kids are still getting their footing back in school, so there aren’t as many people in the museums as there would be in summer.  And if you get a bit chilly, a lot of the outdoor events have warming drinks of some sort on hand – especially in Brooklyn, where it seems every farmer’s market has some variant on hot apple cider on sale.

And upstate New York comes into its glory over the fall, tempting you to explore the outdoors. Writing about the Hudson Valley recently, and joining my friend Colin on a few hikes by way of research, has got me interested in some long woodland walks of my own – right when the woods and mountains of the Hudson are erupting in brilliant washes of crimson and gold and ochre.  Even close to home, I make a point of visiting The Cloisters every fall – right when the foliage display has finally spread down to the Pallisades, so the view through the museum windows is just as stunning as the medieval art inside.

And there’s even a romance to fall as well – but it’s not the same as the carnal fling of summer.  There’s a place for that, of course, but fall is more cuddly and cozy, all long walks and sharing hot cocoa and baking pies and cuddling under blankets.  There’s a sweetness and a tenderness to it which, to be honest, a bit more where my own heart lies.

So – sorry, summer, we’ve just grown apart.  There are things about you I’ll always love, but I have autumn roads to explore and travel now.

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Processing Epilogue:

Presenting: My kitchen, midway through the tomato canning this year.

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I wasn’t kidding about the mess.

But It went a bit faster than usual this year, as I’ve gotten a rhythm down; this year’s tomatoes were quite juicy, so I only got nine jars of crushed tomatoes out of it. But I also got three pints of juice, plus enough for a small bottle to stick in the fridge right away.  Plus enough tomatoes that had slight dings and bumps and cracks that even after cutting the bad patches away, I still had enough to make three pints of homemade fire-roasted tomato salsa, which also is getting canned and tucked into the pantry.

And thus endeth the 2014 Tomato Ordeal Weekend.  Selah.

September’s Process

Ask the farmer to transfer the tomatoes from their box to a bunch of bags. Wince as he packs the bags too full; they’ll crush easier. Carefully tuck them into the cart, and start home, wincing again as you hit each tiny rut and bump in the sidewalk.   Grab a bag of ice as you pass the deli on your street.  Wince again, and add a groan, when you get home and realize that what with the cart, the bags of tomatoes, and the ice, you’re going to have to make more than one trip up and down the four flights of stairs to your place.  Sigh and get to it.

My local farmers’ market has a “canners’ special” each year – a bushel of tomatoes, sold cheap to those wanting to put things up. I’ve been picking up a box every year for about five years now – it seems to be just enough to last yearlong, with about a dozen cans of tomatoes and a couple jars of fresh tomato juice eacn time, and the process is messy and annoying enough that I only do want to do it once.

Three years ago I got into the habit of scheduling this ordeal for the anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks.

Clean out the sink first.  You’ll need an empty sink for the dishes after, and you’ll also need it for the ice water bath when you’re peeling the tomatoes.

Weigh out your tomatoes, laying them into little clusters on the dining room table – six pounds each. Save aside the ones that crushed on the way, to make tomato sauce and salsa to keep in the fridge right away.  Throw out the couple of fungus-y tomatoes that managed to sneak into the bushel.  Fetch enough empty jars from that top shelf in the kitchen, and dig through the pile of canning supplies trying to find enough lids.  Steal a couple from the teeny jars you have in the closet.

Dig out the big stock pot you got from your cousins 20 Christmases ago. Tuck in the first of your canning jars, and fill the whole thing, jars and all, with water.  Set that to boil while you dig out the other two big soup pots – fill one with water, and start that boiling while you fill up the sink and dump in part of the bag of ice.

Different cabinet now – dig out the big mixing bowl and balance a colander on top.  Shuffle the bowl and pans around on your counter while you’re waiting for all the water to boil.   It’s already getting hot.  Look at how many dishes this is already using.  Sigh.

Canning is just complicated and frustrating enough to lure me from the thoughts I’d otherwise have this day; it’s busywork, keeping me at a low level of distraction and giving me something else to be cranky at.  It also gives me an excuse to shut myself away from people.  But it’s not so intricate that I can’t recover if I do, despite myself, slip into memory.

I was in New York City that day; I was on “standby” with my temp agency, dressed and waiting just in case they got a last-minute call so they could send me right out.   So I was at home that morning, and I lived close enough to the Towers that I heard the impact of both planes as they hit.

The reason I was on standby, though, was because the day before I’d missed a call from my agency asking if I was available for something starting on the 11th.  By the time I called them back, they’d already given it to someone else.  It wasn’t until the evening of the 11th that I remembered that my agency had a lot of clients in the Twin Towers – so it was very possible that if I’d taken that job, I’d have been one of the people in the Towers that day.

Drop the first few tomatoes into the smaller pot of boiling water.  Realize you forgot to set a timer, curse and do so.  Wait.  Start madly scooping tomatoes into the sink ice bath when 30 seconds is (sort of) up.  Wait thirty more seconds – more or less – and grab a tomato from the sink, juggling it in your hands a little.  Still hot.  But the skin is fortunately slipping off.  Peel it over the colander and dig out the tough core with your fingers, dropping skin and seeds and tomato goodge into it as you do. Crush the meat in your hands and dump it into the second pot.

Notice, as you reach for a second tomato, that you’ve squirted juice onto the side of the fridge.  Swear.  Try to dig the peel off the second tomato.  This one’s more stubborn.  Swear again.  And then again when you squirt tomato down your shirt front.

Look at the remaining tomatoes in the sink, and then over at the 14 pounds you haven’t even gotten to yet.  Swear again.

Sometimes my not having been in the Towers feels like a copout.  We hear a lot from the First Responders and their families; the next of kin of the victims; the military.  We don’t hear as much about the experiences of the ordinary schlubs like me – people whose experience with 9/11 was only in coping with the city’s aftermath.  I didn’t know anyone in the Towers, I wasn’t there myself, no one I know died.  What’s my problem?

But even if no person I know died, the place was badly wounded.  For three months I tried to ignore the smell of smoke hanging over everything – the fire at Ground Zero was still going, and that meant that something was still fueling that fire, and I didn’t want to think too hard about just what that fuel may be.  I also tried to ignore the “Missing Person” posters that blanketed every single wall and bulletin board and lamppost with their futility.  And the shrines in front of each police precinct and firehouse, a small pile of dead flowers and burnt-out bodega candles clustered against the side of the building near a taped-up few pictures of smiling cops or firemen.  You saw these things ever once in a while before, of course, when one guy or another was killed in action.  But this time it was every precinct that had one, every fire house that had one.

The president and the mayor were trying to tell us all to go about our business and get back to normal.  But there were some long and lingering signs pointing to the fact that things were not normal.  Not at all.

The pot full of jars is boiling, so start simmering the crushed tomato on the stove and start fishing jars out of the pot, carefully dumping the water back in.  Dole a spoonful of citric acid and a spoon of salt into each jar.  Get the idea to tuck sprigs of oregano into a couple jars and clip some off your oregano plant in the window.

Ladle the tomato carefully into each jar.  Swear again when you overfill one and have to scoop some out.  Wipe all the jar rims.  Start to wipe the counter while you’re at it but then realize you’re just getting started so why bother.  Screw the lids on each jar, holding each one gingerly from the heat.  Grab each jar with the funky tong thingies you got just for canning jars, praying you don’t drop anything as you carefully lower them back into the still-boiling stock pot.

Set the timer for a half hour when the stock pot’s full.  Consider sitting down for a bit, but sigh and start peeling the next pile of tomatoes.

Even in the weeks immediately after the attacks, I found myself more angry at other Americans than I was at the attackers.  I knew Colin then, and we had a discussion shortly after, about “what would you do if Osama Bin Laden was in this room right now?”  And honestly, the most I would have done is smacked him like Cher did to Nic Cage in Moonstruck and asked, “what the hell was that?”  Even today, I can’t entirely escape the thought that Bin Laden and the attackers were not sane.  I would no more blame them for acting while under the influence of extreme religious fundamentalism than I would blame a rabid dog – neither knew any better.

However, our country did know better when we started a war under false pretenses with the wrong damn country, one which we are still fighting today.

Even worse are the politicians who preach platitudes about supporting the brave first responders who risked their lives during the attacks – but then turn around and cancel bills meant to give those first responders support for their health care.  Or the regular people online who blanket Facebook and Twitter and such every September 11th with Photoshopped pictures of the Twin Towers and eagles and flags and the “Never Forget” slogan in sparklefont – but then go back to slagging New Yorkers as “libtards” the very next day.  Both those camps are people who are exploiting the worst day of my life to make themselves look good to others, and I have very little patience for that.

The person I got the angriest at, though, was a man who came up to me on the street two days after the attacks.  I was standing near my neighborhood’s local mosque, and he was walking past and saw me there, came over to me, and nodding at the mosque, said, “so this is where the snake pit is, huh?”

Never before in my life have I been as angry as another person as I got at that man.  “This is a HOUSE of WORSHIP!” I roared at him.  “HOW DARE YOU!”

“It’s a SNAKE PIT!” he shouted back; but he was backing away from me.  We shouted back and forth at each other a few seconds more, him calling the mosque a snake pit and me scolding him for his prejudice; but he was backing away down the street and finally just ran off, driven off by my rage.

And it was pure rage. Rage which still comes faintly back to me when I write about that moment thirteen years later.

Carefully lift the processed jars out of the stock pot.  Worry at one that hisses a bit.  Check the lid; it’s a good seal.  Resolve to keep an eye on it anyway.  Top up the water and drop in the next round of jars.

Carry the jars over to the window by your oregano.  Linger there a few seconds each time you do, to catch the breeze for just a minute before returning to the hot kitchen.  Fiddle again with that jar you heard hissing.  Hear one of the jars clink in the stock pot and run back to make sure it didn’t break.

Food was one thing that helped me cope during those first few weeks.  Cat food, mostly.

I got into a bad headspace after a week; I didn’t have work right away, and so I was stuck with nothing to do, which left way too much time for me to let myself get caught up in endless mental rabbit-track loops replaying what had happened.  I’d either sit in my apartment in a weird fugue state, or do things like lock myself in my room and stay awake for 48 hours reading Lord Of The Rings cover to cover.

But while I was in a bad mental place, my cat Zach was not.  War or peace, political strife or good days – it was all the same to him.  All he cared about was food – Zach was an enormous glutton.  And two hours before his dinner, he would start asking after it, with his loud and strangely nasal “Miaou!”s.  In the weeks after the attack, his “Miaou!” was the only thing loud enough to finally pierce the voices in my own head, and rouse me to get up and off the couch and give him a scoop of kibble – and oh, wait, while I’m up I maybe should get a sandwich or something, shouldn’t I?….

And so while Zach ate and I numbly nibbled, I thought about how Zach didn’t care what had happened; all he cared about was that he was alive and he wanted to stay that way – and that I was alive, and it was my job to feed him.  I had a responsibility to keep him fed – and while I was at it, I had to keep me fed too.

I was alive, and I had to keep living for the people who couldn’t.

Chop the tomatoes that crushed on the way home.  Dump them into a Tupperware container with the not-enough-to-fill-a-jar tomato meat and stick it in the fridge to deal with later.   Mix up the skins and seeds in the colander with your hand to finish straining the juice.  Empty the colander into the trash.  Drop the colander in the trash as you do. Swear again.

Get that really big measuring cup and measure the juice from the bowl.  Just over two pints; dump the water out of the tomato bath pot and dump in the juice.  Bring that to a boil while you get two more jars.  This time it’s easier to fill the jars – it’s all juice.  Much more pourable.  Save the extra aside.  Seal those up too and set the juice jars inside the stock pot.   These get fifteen minutes; take a very deep breath, summon your courage and grab a paper towel to start finally wiping down the countertops and get going on the dishes. Pause halfway through to get a rocks glass from your “bar” in the living room.

Food was a place to start living again.

I’ve always been an active cook, but I picked it up after the attacks.  Especially the canning – it started as a whim, making jam and then liqueur, and then when I moved to Brooklyn I tried canning a couple pounds of tomatoes just to see if I could.

I now routinely make jam and applesauce and pickles every year, mainly just to cope with the bounty I get from a CSA; when I know I can’t eat something fast enough, it either gets canned or frozen.  I hate to waste things, so this kind of canning is more salvage; I’m stopping it from going bad so I can have it on hand to use in something.  Someday.  At some point.

Tomatoes are a little different – it’s the only thing I can as a planning-ahead thing.  I cook a lot of Cajun and Italian food, and tomato soup is one of my comfort foods, so tomatoes are a staple, and this is my big annual stocking-up.  I boasted to my mother once that I haven’t had to buy a can of Del Monte or Contadina from the supermarket in four years.

There’s also something comforting about that big stockpile; about opening the hall closet where I keep all my canned stuff, and seeing those jars stacked up.  It’s a bounty – the means to make a years’ worth of some of my favorite foods whenever I choose, and knowing that because these are really good tomatoes, it’s also going to be really good food.

But it’s also a promise and a commitment and a celebration.  It’s my own declaration that I’m still here, thirteen years on, to eat those tomatoes.  And share them with others who are also here.  Canning on September 11th each year is my way of celebrating that I’m here, and signing on to stay here.

Bring the juice jars over to the windowsill, and finally turn off the stove.  Leave the last pot to soak, measure out a bit of vodka and dump that into the glass with the balance of the juice.  Forgive yourself for having to look up how to make a Bloody Mary.  Finish mixing it and bring it to the chair by the window with a heavy sigh.

Look at the jars of tomatoes.  Twelve of them this year, a neat row of jars with swirls of orangey-red. Twelve meals’ worth of future soups and chilis and jambalaya.

Think about jambalaya a moment, the play of the smoky Andouille and sweet pepper on your tongue.

Take a sip of your drink.  You overdid it with the vodka a tiny bit, but the blinding freshness of the tomato comes through.

Feel the breeze through the window, a relief after the hot kitchen.  Look out the window.  You’re looking east, so you can’t see the sun, but the sky is colored for sunset anyway, the blue tinging to pink and lavender.  Sip your drink again and look at the sky.

Then back inside to your home, one which you’ve filled with friends whom you’ve fed with tomatoes in years past.  Remember one meal, all of you sitting around the kitchen table and laughing.

Look back out at the sky again, thinking of them.  Thinking of life.

You are alive.

 Breathe.

Learning Moments

Life is a wondrous and varied thing, and the Earth and all it holds can provide a rich and varied range of experiences. Everything around you is going about its existence in its own way, living out the course of its destiny and fate, and the most staggeringly fantastical things could be happening all around you, and make up part of someone or something else’s perfectly ordinary existence.

The benefit to us all in this, then, is that it is possible to learn something wholly new about The Way The World Works every day of one’s life, if one is paying attention. Simply by keeping in a state of awareness to what you do in your day you could end up learning a stunning new Fact about the world and its workings, one which shakes you out of your routine for a moment.

For example: today I learned that a cantaloupe, if left on a kitchen table for four days in 90-degree weather, will revert to an almost wholly liquid state.

If it’s all the same, I’d rather not divulge the details about how I came by this knowledge.

 

My Woodland Mentor

So I’m still a bit stunned that I was able to actually find out whose shack that was in the woods this weekend.  I’ve been trying to track down more about Peter Mayer, and not found much.

But there is this, an interview (of sorts) with the man, discussing the history of art colonies in the Catskills town where I was staying –

The video also visits his second shop, something on the main road in Arkville.  I passed that on a walk in town Monday as well, but wasn’t able to get inside; it seemed a similar riot of color and design, crammed full of random junk and oddments.  I didn’t see anything inside clearly, so I can’t speak to whether the “Meat Kittens” sign is still in there.

I’ve also learned, too, that Mayer lived in New York City in the late 1980s – and started painting stick-figure dogs as graffiti around the city streets.  They would cheer people up, he thought.  The dogs have become a sort of trademark for him now, and now that I think about it I did see a few dogs cavorting on the shack I’d seen.

In a way this is even better.  He’s not just making art for himself; his shack is probably one of his studios, some place to tinker. But it’s still wildly decorated, because it’s his place to play. And the public face is not all that different. His art is also just gloriously mad, and he doesn’t give a good god-damn whether it makes sense to anyone, he’s gonna just do it.

I like this guy.

The Artist Revealed

Holy hell.

I found out who owns the shack I saw in the woods.  Better still – I found a video that shows the shack and even takes you inside.

All hail Peter Mayer!

This Weekend’s Medicine

It was a bit of a scramble finding somewhere to go this weekend, but I did manage to get away. I’d contacted my friends Colin and Niki in desperation – they have a house upstate they rent out, and I was hoping they’d kept it for themselves this weekend so I could visit. No such luck; but they’d found a cheap motel nearby in the Catskills, and gave me the number and I got the last room. (There aren’t many rooms in the place, really.)  We ended up with next-door rooms, so we’ve been having a bit of a college dorm-ish weekend, traipsing back and forth into each other’s rooms and sharing food.

And it was a weekend we all needed to get away. I’ve had a week full of deadlines and last-minute fire drills both at my day job and with writing work, and also at one point was trying to support another long-distance friend cope after some very bad news, a task which at one point had me considering contacting a doctor in a completely different country. Colin’s also had some rough news recently and has had to go on a couple of solo contemplative walks.  We were each hoping to get some hiking in anyway – but about an hour after we checked in a huge cloudbank brought rain which lasted 36 straight hours.

We did tough it out, though, for a trip to a horse rescue an old theater friend runs upstate. They were having an open house, at which they said a “Navajo Healing Ceremony” would take place, and people were welcome to watch. About 20 or 30 of us had turned up, and were milling about for an hour, trying to wave at the horses in a distant field and picking our way cautiously over the muddy ground (“although I’m not sure how much of this mud really is mud,” I muttered to Colin at one point) and curiously stealing peeks at the two brothers who were conducting the ceremony, too shy to ask about their tools and eavesdrop as they spoke to each other in soft Dine.

They huddled us all into a side barn when the rain got too heavy, and the brothers each spoke to us a bit; one told us the creation story of the horse, how different nature spirits were used to create each part of its body. They both spoke a lot, though, about the kind of healing they were doing – the energy the horses would draw from the eagle feather they stroked it with, from the smudge smoke they used, even the good will of all of us there today. And the horses would be healing us too – taking any of our negativity and discharging that into the land, and taking healing energy to the land as well.

The energy-transfer stuff was the kind of talk that is a little easy for Western-canon college educated folk to be skeptical about; Niki joked afterward that “I’m pretty sure if someone stroked me with feathers and blew smoke in my face to get me high, I’d be feeling pretty good after that too.”  But it was probably lurking in all of our subconscious; we were a bit more reserved and mellow that evening, and turned in early.

And it was on my mind when i got up this morning. Early, despite my trying to lull myself back to sleep. But I was wide awake by 7:30, with no hope of falling back asleep; and no chance of Colin or Niki being awake. I puttered in my room a bit, then suddenly found myself pulling on a jacket and jeans. Maybe there was something to this healing-from-the-land stuff, I thought. I’d take a walk, find some corner of the woods surrounding the hotel and just sit for a while.  The road to the hotel ended in a dead end, but a dirt path continued further into the woods; I started down the path, seeing a few houses scattered along its length, and turned back when I saw a “no trespassing”.  Then I realized that there was something I hadn’t  seen – cars in front of any of the houses.  I turned back.

The night before, part of the conversation turned to grumbling about our work. All three of us are artists of one form or another, and all three of us are at that frustrating stage where a handful of people know about you, and there’s even a tiny bit of money coming in, but nowhere near enough to live on, so you have to either have a day job like me or scramble for money or take on side work that exhausts you.  No one really following you is what frustrates me the most; sometimes it feels like I’m Emily Dickinson, tapping out some words that no one is really going to know about until I’m dead. What’s the point?

The thing is, though, that isn’t even what I was thinking of as I followed the dirt road into the woods.  I was thinking more of having to get ready for work the next day, deciding when to get the bus home. I passed a couple of houses in different stages of repair; one that looked in good shape, one festooned with blue construction tarps.  I gave them only the quickest of glances as I walked, before looking back to the road in front of me, seeing but not seeing as I thought.

Then at the next house I stopped. It was also under repair – the whole side wall was stripped of siding and had drywall exposed. A couple of other blue tarps fluttered from a couple of the windows. But what stopped me was the arch over the path to the door – made of old scrap wood, broken glass, and tinfoil.

I stepped closer. The whole front had been painted like a gypsy caravan, with flowers and vines and leaves twining around each window and along the door frame.  Tiny yellow stick figures chased each other through the flowers, and here and there a skull leered as well. A huge sign stretched the breadth of the house – “Super Art Company”. The letters had been painstakingly molded out of sheets of tinfoil rolled into snakes. The window panes were either stained glass, or clear glass with “leading” tracery made of the same kind of tinfoil snakes, while more tinfoil lacework graced the windows on the second floor and the porch.  A dollar sign of tinfoil hung in one second-story window, and a huge devil mask was hung beside one front window.  

There was a “fence” around the property – I was now standing inside it – made of more scrap wood, stuck haphazardly into the ground like wildflowers. A couple of the taller posts had crosspieces at the top, from which things dangled in a sort of mobile – glass Christmas balls, a toy truck, a doll.  Many of the posts also were painted with the same flowers and stick figures, or flattened tin cans.  Some had the same phrase “Super Art” on them.  There were another couple of “Super Art” signs littering the yard, some of scrap plywood, some of cardboard, one of a big sheet of drywall. A couple tables were set up in the yard; one had a box with a new-looking seashell collection on it, the other had a big box of empty cat food cans.

There was no clue who lived there – or whether anyone did live there – and there was absolutely no way that anyone could even find the place, tucked in the middle of a small Catskill town down a dirt road with no-trespassing signs running its length.  It was exactly the kind of shack you would expect a somewhat mad hermit would be living in. And yet, the whole thing was a riot of color and decoration and art, even if the person who owned it was the only one who would ever see it.  He wanted to make “Super Art” signs and grinning devil masks, so he made them.  He wanted an iron scrollwork screen for his top floor, but he didn’t have iron, so he used tinfoil.  Simple as that.

I had no idea until I saw this house that it was exactly the medicine I needed to see. Even if you are the only one who knows about the art you make, it’s still out there in the world. It’s made you happy, and that’s sometimes enough.  But just make it anyway. It does you and the world no good if it just stays in your head – it has to be out in the world, because you never know when someone else may stumble along it.  And even if they don’t, well, you’ll still get to see it every day, and that’s good too.

That was only about an hour ago. I immediately came back to the hotel, took a quick shower (during which I actually even sang), and turned on the computer because I had to write this down. And now here it is, outside my head and in the land.