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RichEisbrouch

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About RichEisbrouch

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    writing, research, staying in touch with friends, work and volunteer work, walking our dogs...

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  1. Chapter 31

    Saturday, June 12, 1999 "Just another minute," my mother said as I walked in the house. She quickly kissed me, and I introduced Tom. "I've got to see if they win." She was sitting in half-darkness in the living room where she usually watched television, watching the Knicks try to get into the playoffs. During commercials, which were frequent in the final "seconds," she asked if we were hungry, if we wanted anything to drink, how the drive was, if we were tired, and "Where is the dog?" The dog was in the truck because I wasn't sure she'd be welcome. Mom also mentioned that my youngest brother was at the game, with a friend he'd known since first grade who had season tickets. I hadn't known the friend was still in New York, was even interested in sports, and was still in touch with my brother. I did know my brother loved the Knicks, though was reminded by my mother that she only gets interested in sports other than baseball, if something exciting happens as games near the playoffs. During further commercials---the final sixty-five seconds stretched for almost fifteen minutes---Mom also told me that the next morning my middle brother and his wife would stop by---on their way to somewhere else---that my youngest brother and his wife would be through in late afternoon---coming from a different gathering---and that one of my aunts and uncles might also make an appearance. But Mom's other brother was on his way to Virginia, to celebrate the birthday of his doctor-son. Everyone was kind of fitting me in, which was great, because I wanted to see them. But it seemed no three people could be there at the same time, to see everyone else. Still, they'd all been together recently, to celebrate the first uncle's birthday. Eventually, the game ended. "They did it! They did it!" my mother shouted, leaping from her chair as the last seconds finally left the clock. Then she said, "Now what do you want for dessert?" We'd already had a full dinner, stopping to see friends of Tom's near Westport. But there was always room for my mother's cake. It wasn't homemade. She preferred cooking to baking, so desserts mainly came from one of the great local bakeries. But even Tom didn't know how good they were. "What do you want to drink?" Mom went on. "Coffee? Tea? Milk? Iced-coffee?" Perhaps only my mother, who for years had trouble sleeping next to my snoring dad, drinks iced-coffee at midnight. In fact, Mom's one of the few people I know who drinks iced-coffee at all. "Milk," I told her, betting the cake would somehow be chocolate. Tom seconded me. My mother got a new half-gallon from the refrigerator and began shaking the container. "What are you doing?" I asked. "It's whole milk," she replied. "I usually get two-percent. I'm mixing in the fat." "It's homogenized," I pointed out. "You shake orange juice," she pointed right back. "That has pulp. Which settles." This could have gone on, but I decided to quit. Tom just watched. As my mother got glasses and unboxed the cake---which had one slice missing ("I tasted it, earlier," she admitted)---I went to check the dog. To make sure she wasn't frantically trying to "find" us. She was sitting calmly in the driver's seat, steadily watching Mom's front door. I put on her leash and took her inside. "Aw, whad a preddy puppy," my mother cooed in baby talk I'd never heard her use before. Then, clearly: "Where's she going to sleep?" That could have been a challenge. "I was kind of hoping upstairs," I hedged. "With Tom. Though not on the bed," I quickly added. "She has her own mattress." Mom hesitated. She'd already banished my youngest brother's King Spaniel---and he had lineage and papers. "She housebroken," I assured her. "Besides, the rug in that room's thirty years old. It survived me, and Marilyn, and Michael, and David (each of us inheriting this most desirable room as the next oldest went off to college). "And it was always ugly." Mom considered. "As long as it doesn't soak through and hurt the floor." The floor's plywood, I could have reminded her. Instead, I promised, "She'll be fine." To help, the dog lay at my mother's feet. "What a preddy puppy." I grinned. "How's she doing in the truck?" Mom asked abruptly. "Mostly sleeps," Tom laughed. "Soon as I start the engine." And the dog fell asleep, maybe mistaking my mother's dining room rug for her only slightly-more-padded back seat. Tom, my mother, and I had cake. "The reason I mostly don't order desserts in restaurants," I explained to Tom, "is they never taste as good as these cakes." "It is good," Tom confirmed. I had another piece. And soon it was two AM. I found sheets, and made up the fold-out couch Tom would be sleeping on. Then I went to check my own room. It was the smallest in the house, barely six by ten with a low, hipped ceiling. But it had an extra-long mattress my sister had given me for graduation. The room was dusty, the walls needed paint, but because it was at the top of the house, it was rarely used. Overall, the whole place seemed in better shape than it deserved to be. One of our running jokes, growing up, followed a bang echoing off somewhere. "Jesus Christ!" my father would holler, "What was that?" Because all the other houses in the area were built at the same time, I'd expected the community to have fallen in by now. Instead, it was thriving, reclad in vinyl. After Tom, and my mother, went to sleep, I sat, listening to the house creak. My room had a secret panel---at least it once did. The room had been added to the house along with the one Tom was sleeping in, when my middle brother was born. It was meant to be a tiny guest room, but my sister grabbed it as soon as possible, for privacy, and to expand it my dad added a roll-away bed that disappeared into the attic. We'd immediately pried off the end of the roll-away compartment. That meant, if I slipped into the attic through the trap door in my closet, I could sneak into my sister's room to play cards. Of course, that also meant inching on my belly above the dining room, where my parents were probably late-night eating---you can't call it a snack when it has six-courses. And since the house always creaked, that made more noise than simply sneaking up the stairs when my parents were momentarily in the kitchen. After I permanently won the tiny room in the game of First-Off-To-College, I boarded up the makeshift roll-away bed. What would be done with the house? My mother readily admitted it was time to move, that she certainly didn't need eight rooms and a full basement (though she easily filled the closets). "If I could just go out some afternoon, then go home to an entirely different place, with everything I really wanted, I'd move in a minute." Meaning the rest of us would finally have to clear out our junk. The dog was suddenly staring at me. "Want to go out?" I asked, then didn't want to risk not taking her. "I bet she's turned you into a real dog-lover," a woman on the Vancouver ferry had told me as I'd held the mutt's leash. More like dog tolerator. 45 miles
  2. Chapter 29

    Yep, I learned to love that dog. But I was still learning on the trip.
  3. Chapter 30

    Friday, June 11, 1999 On the short drive between Nina's mother on the Cape, and my own in New York, we saw three of my friends, two of Tom's, had conversations with several others on the phone, and visited a pair of my cousins in Rhode Island. In contrast, in the first four weeks of the trip, we'd seen almost no one we knew: just Nina, Jeff, Lisa, and Tom's friend in Toronto---his name was sometimes Terry and sometimes Richard. That's one pal every hundred-and-sixty-eight hours, unless you count Terry/Richard twice. We'd just done seven in twelve. And it was gonna get worse, New York being full of my relatives and friends. Tom knew only a few of them, and some even I couldn't keep sorted. And as we sat, almost permanently trapped in evening traffic outside New Haven, I thought about dodging them all. Then Tom veered my thinking towards Vermont, by comparing it to the Connecticut Turnpike. He was surprised how different parts of New England were. "More built up than I thought." I laughed. "Were you expecting Bob Newhart?" "No," he possibly lied. "Most of the farms are gone." "That's too bad." "I don't know. They were really hard farms." As if I knew from experience---mainly, from reading Desire Under The Elms. Though I used to bike the back roads, summers, through fields now plowed into malls. Another friend of mine also fantasized about living in New England. This was during college. Then he got a job interview in one of those oft-photographed burgs, and couldn't wait to get out. "There's nothing there," he'd slumped in disappointment. "Crummy buildings, all falling down." And it wasn't even winter. In Vermont, Tom and I talked to someone else with that dream: a woman who ran a small inn. She, too, found it less than romantic. "There are always people around, which is great. And the changing seasons are wonderful. But I'm constantly busy, so just when I want to sit down and talk with someone, something comes up." As if to confirm this, the phone rang. "And she's having trouble booking the place," our waitress told us at dinner. "It's a tough area." "Why?" "Everyone's broke." Despite that, it was a pretty good restaurant, maybe our best between San Francisco and the Cape. "How do you keep it going?" She laughed. "For one thing, we've only been here a few years. In local terms that still makes us new, so there's curiosity. Mostly though, we're only open four nights---Thursday through Sunday." "Is the summer busier?" "Not like you'd think. Mainly, we get regulars." Which turned out to be doctors and lawyers. Who traveled a lot, so expected sophisticated food. "Retired?" I asked. "Not most of them." "Why would such an isolated area have so many doctors and lawyers?" She couldn't say, but I bet on the PR---in Vermont that works overtime. Trumpeting city escapes in summer, and fall trees. And winter skiing; adulterous spring getaways. With slick photo layouts on ever-present brochures. Because of these, Tom and I spent one morning searching for The Quintessential Country Store. That's how they're billed in the pamphlets. After chasing through a half-dozen shops, widely scattered in the narrow state, I wanted to pack their owners off to The Mercantile in Oregon. To see what A Store That Sells Everything really looks like. These dives were stuffed with junk that wouldn't even grace church bazaars. Or were knockoff 7-11s you'd only run to in desperation. The towns were also very much working places, nothing picturesque. Some of the architecture was admirable, though always battered by weather and time. And nothing seemed to work. In one town, it took us a half-hour to find an easy address on Main Street. "Oh, yeah," the sales clerk told us when we finally arrived---we'd had to call her for directions. "They're changing all the addresses to meet the 911 Code." "What's that?" "A way to get firemen and police around." "Is that hard?" "Well, some of the streets have never been named. And other names are used all over the place, with no connection. So trying to tell someone where to go in an emergency is a disaster." "Aren't there maps?" "Yeah, but who uses them? Most of us have lived here all our lives. We just know where everything is." New construction sure wasn't the problem---I didn't see a whole lot. There was a huge hole behind a maybe two-hundred-year-old Town Hall. But that looked more like they were trying to keep the hill from sliding down. One interesting building was a public library. Typically red brick outside, the interior was a 19th century museum, all dark carved panels. Hundreds of Grand Tour paintings covered the walls, given to the town---along with this so-called athenaeum---by its once-wealthiest family. Though unlike so much else, the building had been restored maybe sixty years earlier, then kept in good shape. Another town had a pretty, pentagonal center I never got to explore. Tom had gone to the Post Office while I went searching for a phone. Following instructions, I'd turned, and from a block away saw the dog wriggling out the half-open truck window---heading down the driver's-side door onto a busy street. "STOP IT!" I bellowed diagonally across the intersection. The dog must've heard me, and hesitated, 'cause by the time I'd broken-field run through cars, bikes, and people once calmly shopping, she'd just hit the ground. I quickly grabbed her collar. "Bad Dog!" I intoned. "B - a - d Dog!" She whimpered, knowing she'd done me wrong. "Bad Dog," I repeated, forbidden even to swat the mutt gently. Though I nimbly sealed her in the truck. "God! I thought you were being robbed!" a woman standing on the sidewalk soon commented. "And here it's only a dog!" Only a dog? Only a dog? Try that on Tom. 228 miles
  4. Chapter 3

    I just noticed this note. Didn't mean to be ignoring it. And, yeah, under certain conditions, it would be great to slowly, freely travel in the way I've sometimes done and had long-ago intended to do far more of. But I have other responsibilities now and am happy to have them.
  5. Chapter 29

    Thursday, June 10, 1999 Nina, from Salinas, has a mother---a mother I knew. And a grandmother I'd also met. And sometime before Nina and I were born, her grandparents built a summer home on what's now the National Seashore of Cape Cod---meaning it's federally protected from the rest of us. Specifically, the house is in Truro, though built years before that quiet village became a punch line to New York psychiatrist jokes. Nina's grandparents first bought the land, then hauled a two-room fishing shack onto it, where they lived while the main house was constructed. That shanty is now their guest cottage. But even expanded with a small porch and a closet bedroom, I don't know how four people---two of them teenaged girls---ever lived there. Still, there were bigger family adventures before that: in the mid-1920's Nina's granddad fled Germany to save his life. First, he went to South America, where he worked as a government advisor. He was so successful there, that when asked what he most wanted, he got, "A visa to the U.S." Nina's grandmother joined him in New York, leaving Germany just in time to save her own life. They founded a nursery, which eventually sent their daughters to college, and them into comfortable retirement. When Nina's grandmother died---at ninety-four, after long-outliving her husband---the house went to Nina's mom and her aunt. But Anne quickly bought out her West coast sister. Nina visits every August, though she isn't even a psychologist. And I've often been told, "Just stop by, whenever you're in the area." A pretty safe invitation since I live three-thousand miles away. But I like the Cape---in off-season. Though I nearly had my car towed in Provincetown one December. Another time, I was almost ticketed for somehow forgetting to wear my bathing suit. We were on the sand dunes where Eugene O'Neill once romped. A motorized beach cop, tricycle-riding and clearly descended from Salem witch hunters, felt I was being immodest. To whom? Nina, topless, was doing a crossword puzzle, I was in water up to my chest, and we were easily a mile from any other topless, half-submerged, crossword-working couple. Anyhow. So when Tom and I reached Massachusetts, I called Nina's mom, told her I was nearby with a friend and a dog, and asked if I could take her and Nina's step-dad out to dinner. And, oh, yeah, could we stay the night? "Sure," Anne agreed, no more surprised than her daughter at one of my abrupt appearances---my friends' parents have always liked me. Well, except for my high school girlfriend's mother, always positive I was trying to drag us all onto a talk show. Of course, that girlfriend's now a psychologist, too. But---best I know---she's never summered on the Cape. As soon as we parked the truck, Tom and I were greeted with drinks and snacks. Then we got a tour of Nina's grandfather's reconstructed garden. Which I'd only seen in ruins, Nina's granddad having died around when I'd met her in college. And while Nina's grandmother was also a gardener, her husband had been the botanist, and she mainly the bookkeeper. Still, she made the investments, which yielded the cash, that put up the house in Truro. Nina's step-dad Howard was also a botanist, fairly well-known. Among other things, he'd been head of the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and published a textbook that's standard in its field. His restored gardens were amazing, especially compared to the overgrown bogs I'd been used to seeing. Hand-laid brick walks now led to vegetables and flowers. Homemade arbors supported circling vines. And the view, which previously ended at the deck, seemed to stretch a half-mile. Even the basement storage room I used to sleep in had been returned to its original use, as a potting shed. While we toured, the dog had been safely locked on the guest cottage porch. I wasn't sure that was necessary, but Tom, always cautious, wanted to protect the plants. Still, as Howard finished showing off his prunings, the pooch suddenly appeared. "Anne must've let her out," we guessed. But, no---Houdini-dog had done it again. She'd thrown herself though the screen door, desperately convinced the two goofballs had once again slipped into trouble, and she was needed to save the day. "I'll pay for it," was the first thing Tom said. "No, I will," I insisted. Tom didn't even know these people. "It's nothing," Howard assured us. "I'll fix it in a minute." He did, and after carefully locking the dog up again, this time behind secure windows, we all went to dinner. Which was the first really good food we'd had since San Francisco. Tom ordered lobster, which it turned out he'd been wanting even longer than Howard Johnson's clams. I picked steak, not just to be perverse in the land of seafood, but because it's something they don't seem to cook well in L.A. Anne and Howard had seasonal spawn. Of course, when we got back, the dog had clawed through another screen, and nearly battered out a jalousie window. But the hinges held. "I'll pay for that, too," Tom immediately reprised, and I didn't protest having just paid for dinner. "Don't worry," we were told again. And we all smiled, knowing I'd never be invited back. Afterward, privately, Tom playfully asked his mutt, "What are we going to do with you?" Naturally, he didn't expect an answer. Though I was thinking the ocean. 71 miles
  6. Chapter 24

    Thanks. It was great at the time, and rereading this journal, it's almost freshly fun again. The reason I kept the journal is I'd spent a year, partly on the road, in 1971-72 and I was too young and arrogant to think I might ever forget my trip. I didn't even take photos because my early ones seems so reductive, compared to what I'd seen. Now I can't really remember where I'd been.
  7. Chapter 28

    Wednesday, June 9, 1999 The difference between the East and West coasts is you can drive fifteen hundred miles from San Diego to Canada and almost always see the ocean. On the East coast, once you're much south of Bangor you gotta creep eight hundred miles to North Carolina before you can even glimpse the water. Yeah, there are boardwalk stretches on the Jersey shore, but---like Cape Cod---the beach houses barely hold back the suburbs. In L.A. Tom was used to crazy traffic, but somehow Boston scared him: "It keeps turning up on Worst Drivers' lists," he said. "And they joke that using turn signals is like giving information to the enemy." And he didn't even know about traffic circles. But I'd lived near Boston, and the sight of cars parked half-on-the-sidewalk facing the wrong direction on one-way streets only made me laugh. So I was gonna drive from Maine. Still, when it came my turn, Tom held out. For one thing, just navigating bored him: "There's nothing to do." "There's the whole country to look at," I kidded. But he didn't reply. And secretly---the other, bigger thing---I think he wanted to drive the entire trip himself, just to say he had. So I let him go on, figuring eventually he'd crack. Which nearly happened in Boston. I'm not even talking rush hour. Okay, we were on the central artery---which is constantly being rebuilt. But by luck, or a miracle, all the lanes happened to be open. And it was a clear, midweek afternoon. The history of Boston traffic is there's always been too much. This is separate from the street jams: those get blamed on early colonists, foolish enough to pave wherever cows had wandered. Back then, the city also looked like a fist, connected by a thin, stubby arm to the mainland. Gradually, the arm thickened with landfill, but it was always too scrawny for cars. After much of what passes for debate in Massachusetts---more like partisan howling---a highway was built. Which was outdated even as the blueprints unrolled. Plus, it cut off the city from its harbor. Forty years later, a new solution's underway, though wise folks claim it's equally inept: they're burying the central artery. Yep, putting it all underground, with parks planted on top. Streets will again be open to the bay---thoughtfully unpolluted for the occasion---but you can guess how much digging this is gonna take. Slow digging, for maybe ten years. While everyone struggles to get to work. I explained most of this to Tom as we left New Hampshire. I'd considered bypassing downtown, and it's not like we were stopping at Paul Revere's house or the Old North Church. Two wide highways circled the city, just waiting to be used. Though like the central artery, they'd been built decades before, with even the newest section twenty-years old. And, as quickly as Boston was looped, houses replaced farms, demanding further roads. It seemed quicker to cut straight through. Still, we were stopped on a dark, claustrophobic bridge when I noticed Tom was sweating. And it wasn't even hot. "You okay?" I asked. Not that I could do much if he wasn't. In fact, if he suddenly passed out, I could mainly climb over his body, lean hard on the horn, then be stuck in the driver's seat myself for the next half-hour. And all that would panic the dog. She was already tense. Usually, she woke only when we stopped, figuring it time to eat something or ruin someone's lawn. Now she was staring like this was my fault. "We could turn on the air conditioner," I suggested. We hadn't used it yet, but I thought it might help. "I'm fine," Tom denied. So we sat. For what felt like a very long time. When traffic finally picked up to a crawl, eight seemingly unmarked lanes suddenly converged, and Tom mumbled---I'm sure he thought to himself---"I don't know where I'm going." I steered him left, steadily, to the commuter lane---we had enough passengers. And though the lane was barely wider than Tom's skinny truck, the fact we were soon going ten miles an hour, while other drivers were stuck doing crossword puzzles, seemed to calm him. Of course, I knew the Cape tangle lay ahead. It used to take me two hours to get from western Massachusetts, then the rest of the weekend to cross the bridge. Driving at night made the trip faster, but you risked being clobbered by deer, ill met by moonlight. There were always plans to ease the maze, as there was endless construction. But nothing helped. Surprise! In the years I'd been away, the knot was finally broken, and Sagamore Bridge was no longer a three-day stay. Of course, I later heard that meant people could commute daily to Boston, so sold their inland homes. Which led to fierce overbuilding, a freaky drop in the water table, and a threat to empty the entire peninsula. Tentatively, they've halted building---and you can bet how smoothly that went down in this cradle of democratic squabbling. The hope is that fresh water'll beat back the salt. Of course, new folks claim the whole thing's a scam. But we were just travelers. It wasn't our problem. And, overall, it took us less than forty minutes to get through Boston, another hour to reach the Cape. Amazing time. "Want me to drive?" I asked again, when we stopped in Sandwich. The dog had to walk. I could tell Tom was considering, but we were back in the truck before he answered quietly. "Let me see." And I never did drive, not the whole trip. Well, a couple of miles to the cleaners at my mother's house. And I moved the truck once at a gas station when Tom was inside. Largely, I sat and watched. 157 miles
  8. Chapter 27

    Tuesday, June 8, 1999 I noticed my credit card was gone when I went to pay for dinner. "Whoops," I said---what I always hope isn't one of my last words. It wasn't a disaster. I had another one. And Tom had several more. But it took a long moment's thinking, then a couple of phone calls, to track my mistake. "Oh, we have it," the friendly lodge owner laughed when she realized who I was. "My husband went racing after you, but you must really have been making time. He couldn't catch up." If only the Good Samaritan knew. The woman arranged to send the card to my mother's house, where we'd be in about a week. And she made a special point of saying, "I'll post it Registered Mail, so it won't possibly get lost." Only when we arrived, it hadn't gotten there yet, and I had to call again. "I'm so sorry," she apologized. "Town's just such a terrible distance, and the roads are so bad. We don't get in very often." The card finally reached me in L.A., over a month later. Meanwhile, after brief explorations, we realized both Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia were places we wanted to spend a lot more time, certainly more than a day each. "I'd like to see Cape Breton, too," Tom mentioned. "I was even thinking about Newfoundland." And we'd both planned on Peggy's Cove. But when? We were almost four weeks into the trip and only halfway around the States. I'd estimated seven weeks, but we'd have to rush, something we didn't want to do, not to make me seriously wrong. Plus, we'd already gone seven thousand miles. Clearly, my ten thousand mile guess would strand us in Houston. So we pushed through Nova Scotia, seeing mainly trees. Big trees. Little trees. Green trees. Pine trees. Young trees. Ancient trees. Finally, unrelenting trees. "This is like the bridge to Prince Edward Island," Tom told me---we'd been on it the day before. "It just doesn't end." And we had a ferry to catch. We could've made reservations, but I wasn't sure we wouldn't get happily sidetracked, so figured we'd take a chance. Besides, the booking guy on the phone said, "This time of the year, there shouldn't be a problem." It turned out we could've brought the whole city of Halifax, and most of its cars, and there still would've been room. "There are two-hundred-and fifty passengers and fifty vehicles," the captain announced as we sailed. But the ferry held nine-hundred people and had a huge parking garage. The captain also announced we'd be in Bar Harbor, Maine, "In two hours and ten minutes." "What did he say?" I asked Tom. Who repeated the same thing, adding, "I thought it was a six-hour trip." "That's what the books said." At that moment the Duty-free shop just across from us opened, and I went in to find the attendant. "I must've heard wrong," I began innocently. "How long is the crossing?" "Two-hours-and-ten minutes," she enunciated. "Wow," I exclaimed, then noticed a postcard rack right behind her. Holding dozens of pictures of the ferry, all labeled The Cat. "Is this a catamaran?" I asked. "Yes," she smiled, clearly occupied with work. So instead of bugging her, I read the postcards. Then paged a souvenir booklet heralding The Cat's debut. It was built in Tasmania. After a six-month Australian break in, the boat had gone into service the summer before---replacing the old Bluenose ferry that took six hours to make the trip. My guides weren't wrong, just outdated. The book also pointed out, Now a family can have breakfast in Boston, make the leisurely drive to Bar Harbor, take the ferry, and have dinner in Nova Scotia. It didn't explain why a family might want to. Though it breezed on, While at sea---and presuming they're of proper age---travelers may also gamble in the Floating Casino. Which might win back the cost of the trip: twenty-nine bucks each, American, plus fifty bucks a car. Still, the expense of driving the seven hundred twisting miles was put at Well past three-hundred dollars---for gas, food, and an overnight stay at a motel. When I came out of the gift shop, Tom was lounging on his comfortable recliner, writing postcards. The dog was confined to the truck, but was at least riding free. Other passengers gazed at daytime TV, beamed from the States, or toyed with video games, maybe the kid version of gambling. The casino itself was largely functional: blackjack, cafeteria-style. Put your money down. Grin. Lose it. I passed. Upstairs, the rear deck was wet, the wind blowing up a wide, white wake. The wind also slowed us down, and the captain soon announced we were doing thirty-one knots rather than fifty-five. The trip would now take three-hours-and-ten-minutes. The front deck was even more interesting, with great views of the glass-enclosed bridge. Sitting at one side, the captain looked mostly bored, though that was possibly a good thing. He and his crew perched silently on hi-tech high stools, watching graphs and figures trail across video screens. As if hoping something more interesting would come on. Maybe a half hour later Tom found me, also hypnotized by the screens. He was less impressed, even slightly disappointed by The Cat. "It's too clean," he insisted. "There's no history to it. Not like the covered bridges. This is the second new thing we've seen this week." "What was the first?" I had to ask. He just stared. "Fundy National Park." Oh, yeah. 333 miles
  9. Chapter 26

    Monday, June 7, 1999 In Penobsquis, which comes from an old tribal name, the motel clerk just couldn't stop being friendly. After telling us every local thing there was to see, she brought out pictures. "I took these myself," she confided, though we could've guessed. "Now you've got to see the Bay of Fundy." I'd read about it in our guides, 'cause it was a natural wonder. And it seems the thing to do is go and watch the tide go out. Then hang around for a mess of hours and watch the tide come back in. In between, you buy postcards. And, yes, indeed, it's world famous---there's even a duo-directional falls. Though as Oscar Wilde once quipped, "I would have been more impressed if they'd flowed up." But we'd already skipped the tides in both St. Andrews and Saint John (never spelled St. John our book explained, without saying why). 'Cause Tom was more interested in something bigger: Sussex was the Covered Bridge Capital of Atlantic Canada. Some of these were pretty potent. One could predict the future: If you raise your feet off the floorboards, and hold your breath as you cross, you'll get your most fervent wish. Hopefully, you didn't do this while driving. "The purpose of the covered bridges," I read to Tom as we headed their way after breakfast, "was not just to give unwed couples a places to neck." "What does it really say?" "Well, there is one called The Kissing Bridge." "What does it say?" "You want me to drive?" "Read," he said. I sighed. "Their dull purpose was protecting the roadway from snow. An uncovered bridge lasts ten years. A covered one, eighty." "Why?" "The wood rots." Which probably explained why the first one we stopped at---The Bell Bridge---wasn't there. It had been built in 1903. "It's not on my map anyway," Tom pointed out. We were working from three separate maps, pamphlets really, available free in restaurants, gas stations, motels, and local bars. Each was slightly different. Which is to say wrong. The next bridge was there, though it was built in 1905. At just over sixty-feet long, it looked like unpainted hell. No wonder the first one collapsed. "If this were America," I ventured, "it would cost twenty bucks to see these things. But at least they'd look good." "Let's try another," Tom said. The third was as unpainted, and scarred inside by spray-painted graffiti---notably a huge Bite Me! This explained why the only photo on the pamphlets featured a 1940's car. The bridges also sported bright warning signs, limiting vehicle height, width, and noting the amount of weight their beams could support. "Enough?" I asked. "There are three more." The man's a collector. And if you squinted at the fourth and fifth bridges, and stood so overhanging branches blocked the reflective signs, and the unpainted boards began to blend a little, they were... all right. But only just. Either could have used a little stain and a day's worth of carpentry. We never did find the sixth bridge, though we moved progressively to the outer limits of our maps. Still, from where we finally gave up, back to the road we wanted, should have been a pleasant country stroll. I should have suspected something was wrong when the pavement vanished. "Which way?" Tom asked, as the right fork turned to gravel. "Stick with asphalt." Which ended as quickly. "Okay," I surrendered, "Turn around." And we went back to the fork. There, instead of logically tracing our way to the last bridge, then civilization, we decided to follow a car, churning dust. "He seems to know where he's going," I lied. "And the gravel isn't that big." If we'd been in my car, we wouldn't have followed. But we were in Tom's truck. Mongo go anywhere. Besides, signs soon began promising: Wilderness Lodge and Food. Just Ahead. Just becomes real relative when you're running out of gas. "I was gonna stop when we hit the main road," Tom explained. Which should've been right... there! Instead, my atlas indicated the vast, unmapped Fundy National Park. Which we might soon be exploring on foot. "Should we go back?" Tom asked. "The sign said nine kilometers to the lodge. We've probably done most of that." Just then, a newly built car, full of very old people, blazed by us. We hadn't seen it coming 'cause we were both focused on the gas gauge. But before I could stop them to ask questions, they were gone. "This is Wonderland," I grumped. "It can't be that bad if there are old people." And soon we reached the lodge, as seemingly shiny as the car. After the old folks unfolded themselves, I followed them inside, where they were warmly greeted by the owner. "And what can I do for you?" she asked after settling her friends in the surprisingly-full dining room. "Tell me where we are," I grinned. "Then get us out of here." If we hadn't already had breakfast, we might also have eaten. The food looked great. "Let me get my husband," the hostess smiled. "He knows the woods as well as anyone." Woods? While waiting, I studied a map on the counter, armored under glass. And marked: Xerox Copy. Do Not Remove. Clearly, other people had wandered astray. "So you're lost?" the lodge owner's husband suddenly laughed. "No problem. The road you want's just around the bend. Maybe seventeen clicks." A click being a kilometer. "It's pretty rough going though. Won't be paved for a couple years." "The park's that new?" I asked. "Still being built. And it's gonna be beautiful. Though I hope we get more snow than we did last year. Almost nothing. Nearly wiped us out." I explained the gas problem. He said he could sell us some, though apologized for the price. "I have trouble getting it trucked in here." Still, ten bucks Canadian for a quarter tank was fairly cheap when the alternative was becoming Hiawatha. And I'd like to say the directions he gave us were easy to follow. But he knew all the reference points. "You think this is it?" Tom asked at yet another fork. "Depends. If that wasn't the house with the bent antenna, after the shed with the tin roof, past the mailbox with the dented flag, then we're in trouble. And rather than risk running out of gas, we simply turned around, slunk by the lodge, and followed bread crumbs back to the last bridge. Which was a mistake. We shouldn't have been so guy-stubborn and not stopped at the lodge for new instructions. 'Cause when I'd paid for the gas, I'd also left my credit card there. 422 miles
  10. Chapter 25

    Sunday, June 6, 1999 Our first stop in New Brunswick was St. Andrews though our guidebooks warned it was poky. And it was poky, especially since their main street was currently blowing dirt. It was being repiped and repaved. "We sweep it down, and hose it down, and try and wash away the dust," a hotelkeeper told us, thoughtfully pointing a stream of water past our feet. "But nothing helps." "When'll it be finished?" I asked. "Hell, they just started. Could take all summer." It seems they had to wait for the ground to thaw first. Since St. Andrews was largely a long block facing a small harbor, I figured we'd walk the dog and be out of there in twenty minutes. Almost three hours later, we finally tugged ourselves free. In between, Tom bought a strange pair of misty photos, and I got yet another pair of gift earrings---my friends were really doing well on this trip. Looking at a tiny sculpture, I told the artist/gallery owner, "If that were a pin, I'd buy it." "It is a pin," she smiled, picking the small silver relief off its stand. "I love seeing how long it takes people to figure that out." Clearly, I'd flunked. I hung my head. "And I hate jewelry that's stored away all the time," she continued. "Besides, it doesn't encourage people to buy more." I asked the pin's price, since this was the place Tom had gotten a good deal on the photos. Though when the woman told me, I knew none of my friends would ever see it as a present. "It's hard guessing someone else's taste," I begged off. The woman grinned, then leaned down to rub the dog. She'd happily welcomed it in the shop. "What if it breaks something?" I'd hesitated. "She won't. I love border collies. Even before Babe." Babe, I recalled, was a pig. Though I guess there was a dog in there too. The woman's name was Colleen Lynch. Originally an American, she'd owned the gallery for almost four years. But she'd been in Canada far longer. "I have dual citizenship. I was born in Saratoga Springs, but lived in Newfoundland for twenty-seven years." "That must've been neat." "It was. But, finally, it was too far away." "Is that why you moved?" "No. The cod fishing bottomed out." She frowned for a moment, then shrugged. "The usual mismanagement." Was that another jab at the Canadian government? For supposedly non-judgmental people, they sure had a lot of gripes. "The economy's rebuilding now," she added, brightly. "I just don't have ten years to wait---I'm already fifty-seven." She didn't look it. I would have guessed forty at most and told her so. She invited me to stay. "You miss Newfoundland?" I asked instead. "Some---though the weather was terrible. Summer, winter. It always rained." "I didn't know that." "My feet were constantly wet. It's a wonder to be here in shorts and a T-shirt today---and it's only June!" I laughed. "Then may you have twenty good years here." "Oh, no! Eight at the most. Then I'm going to retire---permanently. Travel, full-time. That's what life's for." She envied our trip, and quickly started swapping us stories from her own journeys. Then she showed us her latest sculpture: a small metal nest, hummingbird size, sitting on a two-toned plexi box---black and clear. The nest rested in a slight hollow. Inside, on a bed of feathers, were three marble-sized eggs. A pair of silver bones was mounted nearby. "Auk's," she explained. "Of course, it's extinct so I had to cast them. And the 'eggs' are really geodes, which may have hidden fossils inside. But you won't know unless you break them. I love conundrums." Even the feathers meant something. They were from a friend's cockatoo. "It was called Huey for five years, then began laying eggs. Naturally, they're unfertilized. Huey being an only child." Colleen didn't want to sell the piece, and I doubted I could afford it, so didn't ask what it cost. "I have to price it anyway," she told me, sadly. "I'm mailing it off tomorrow, to an art show in Idaho." It turned out even the simple earrings I'd bought had significance. "They're beach-scavenged materials," she told me. "Discarded clay pipe stems. When they begin to wear out, the fishermen break off an inch-or-so, then go right on smoking. The ocean washes the stems clean, and I wind them in copper wire." It was hard to leave her, though she laughed when we finally did. "I'll catch up with you soon enough," she promised. I certainly hoped so. Oddly, another woman had told me something similar, three days earlier. In Ogdensberg, making conversation as I paid our motel bill, I'd asked the owner, "How long have you lived here?" "Fifteen years---this time," she'd also laughed. "But my husband and I were raised here, then left for college." They'd come back in their mid-forties after corporate careers in Chicago. "My husband took an easier job, with the county. And we bought the house next door." She pointed through a side window of the lobby, at a home I hadn't noticed. "It was in terrible shape then. We spent a year gutting and rebuilding it." It looked great now. "After we'd finally settled in, the woman who owned this motel came to us with an offer." "Were you looking to buy?" "Are you kidding? I just wanted to relax. When my husband told me about the offer, I thought he was joking. I mean, the place was really run down. It only had twelve units then---we have forty-two now---and we've redone everything. But the woman and her ex-husband had owned the place for years. And though she'd kept it after their divorce, as small as it was, it was too much for her." "What made her think you'd want it?" "Well, she saw what we'd done with the house. And she knew how much work the motel really needed. I mean, the sign didn't even light half the time. And it was an old-fashioned Mexican, taking a siesta." "Not exactly correct..." "It was the first thing to go. Then we simply scrubbed the place, and rented rooms to anyone who'd take them. That lasted five years, but business kept growing, and we were able to stay open winters, buy more land. First, the piece down to the river---for tennis courts and the pool. The latest section's zoned residential. So eventually, we'll build ourselves a new house there, turn our present one into an inn." "Some retirement." "We work twenty-four hours a day, and couldn't be happier. Though we do have to take our vacations in shifts. I just got back from Illinois, from visiting our new granddaughter. As I got home, my husband got on the train. No one could believe he was going, with all the spring repair work. But if we don't take time now, we never will." "Traveling's fun," I had to admit. "It's one of my fantasies. Just running off with my husband." Maybe---in a few more years---we'll all bump into Colleen. 308 miles
  11. Chapter 24

    Saturday, June 5, 1999 Looking for breakfast, we were heading to downtown Bangor, to a place one of our guidebooks claimed was the best deli in Maine---a presumably hollow honor---when traffic stopped. Absolutely. At the intersection ahead, nothing but semis rolled by. "What gives?" Tom asked. "Beats me." Then I got out to look. "Where you going?" he grouched, still coffee-deficient---he'd been stalling till breakfast. "To the corner. Pick me up if you get there." That wasn't gonna happen. Other people were already leaving their cars. On the sidewalk, folks were cheering the trucks. A local holiday? City tradition? I got no useful answers. "Damned if I know," grinned one of the waving Bangorees. "I heard trucks and came out to see what was happening." The man's young sons were waving too. As I went back to Tom, the semis began to honk. Long mournful tones like ferries, that freaked the dog. "We've got to get out of here," Tom insisted. "Pull in there," I said---a drug store parking lot. As we circled behind the building, we nearly creamed an angelic pre-teen, leaping from nowhere on his skateboard. He continued, oblivious, toward the trucks. Which seemed lined up for miles. We turned opposite them, took the first right, then another, and ended up close to where we'd begun. I hopped out, to part the traffic on the two-lane street, and Tom inched through, again turning away from the jam. Two blocks later we pulled in to buy gas, another morning concern, along with coffee. As I stood at the pump, working one of those rare nozzles without automatic, I asked a woman across from me what was going on. She frowned. "I think it's the annual parade." Next, she add that her son had forgotten his glove for Little League, and rushing home to get it, she'd also been trapped. "What's it for?" I went on. "I'm not sure. It just happens every year around this time." I mentioned a sign I'd seen on one of the passing flatbeds: People. Pride. Progress. It meant nothing to her. When I went to pay the cashier, the slogan meant nothing to her either. "Are there trucks downtown?" she squealed. "Oooh, I'd like to see them. Nothing ever happens here." Meanwhile, Tom was desperately settling for gas station coffee, rarely a wise move. In the truck, the dog was still antsy about the horns. "We should forget the deli," I told him. "Eat along the way." "Should we buy something here?" Cheese doodles were not breakfast. "Nah." "Can we really get out of this?" Tom soon asked. I pulled out our map, which wasn't especially detailed for this part of Maine, 'cause we weren't planning to explore. "I think I can steer around it," I said. "If the trucks are actually headed downtown." Bangor wasn't the state capital, but if this were some kind of political rally, I figured it needed a courthouse. Still, as we started working free, semis were already looping back to the interstate, fortunately heading away from us---maybe to converge on Augusta. It took a half-hour, but we did break loose. "What was that all about?" Tom asked, now that he was caffeinated and the dog again calm. I tried finding out on the radio, but only got music and God. "Best I can figure, it's some kind of celebration. But who knows if they're happy, or pissed-off? They don't have very good PR." It also shouldn't have been hard for us to get something to eat. But by the time we'd lost the traffic, we'd also ditched everything else. "There are three small towns coming up," I finally told Tom, after placing ourselves on the map. "Clifton, Amherst, and Aurora. Stop at the first restaurant." Clifton offered only a car dealership, huge and out of place amid low farms and fields. Five blank miles later Amherst produced a combination gas station/general store. "Should we stop?" Tom asked. I vaguely remembered Aurora being a Disney witch, which didn't sound hopeful. And this place, at least, advertised a snack bar. "Sure." The gas station was three pumps and a cashier. The general store, a dozen low shelves stocked with everything from Fruit Loops to files. "Why files?" Tom wondered. "For fishing?" There were also hooks and live worms. The snack bar had six stools and two booths. A young woman and two older guys were reading local papers at the counter. "Says here," one of the old guys recited, "that if you're convicted for spousal abuse, you can no longer be licensed to carry a gun." Clearly, he didn't approve. The young woman finally noticed me. "Oh, are you waiting?" she smiled. "Can we still get breakfast?" She glanced at the clock, which said nearly eleven. "Well, I just cleaned the grill..." "Only oatmeal and orange juice. And coffee," I added, for Tom. "Let me see---I might have some oatmeal." After a minute rooting, she came up with a small battered packet. "Instant," she grinned. Bad, I thought. "Why don't we just have lunch?" I took a booth. Tom, still fascinated by the variety store, lingered there. But once I lured him to the table, he ordered fried clams. "I've been wanting some since we passed Howard Johnson's." That was at least two days back, though passing Howard Johnson's was probably still a good idea. And this place, no doubt, would be worse. I ordered a turkey sub, which seemed rational. Actually, it was fine, especially since I'd asked to leave off the mustard, relish, olives, onions, and pickles. Tom's clams came cremated, just the way---he claimed---he liked 'em. For orange juice, the waitress pulled a new half-gallon from the store's refrigerated case, then filled two milk shake glasses. But she didn't charge us more than if we'd bought the whole carton. Paying the gas station guy, I asked what was ahead. "Towards Canada?" he replied. I nodded. "Canada." An hour later we were ferrying back there. On a tiny boat, with an eerily calm dog. At the border, the Customs agent waved us through without even checking Tom's drivers' license. "Treat him well," he grinned at the mutt. Why do guys always figure dogs are male? 268 miles
  12. Chapter 23

    Friday, June 4, 1999 When we asked the motel manager for a good place to eat in Bangor, Maine---we'd long given up on the best food anywhere---she cheerfully said, "Miller's Buffet. They have over two-hundred items on their steam tables." Run! Run Away! Now! Leave everything you own! No wonder Stephen King lives in Bangor. But no, we had to explore. Actually, the restaurant's full name is Miller's World Famous "All You Can Eat" Buffet. It's right there on the sign. "Would you like the buffet or the Lion's Room," the merry hostess asked as I stood nervously by her desk. Tom was already snooping, wondering if we really wanted to do this to ourselves. "What's the difference?" I replied. "Well, you can have either the buffet or the sit-down menu in the buffet room. But you can only have the sit-down menu in the Lion's Room." The Lion's Room sounded too much like the lion's den, and besides, we'd come to experience the worst. At that point, Tom returned. "It looks... okay," he faltered. "You're sure?" I reasoned. Not that we had a lot of choice. There were absolutely no dinner recommendations in any of our guidebooks. We'd hit a Bermuda Triangle. "Y-yeah," he stuttered. Since food means more to him than me, I took his word, and we followed the waitress toward steamed death. And it would be great to say, "We were wrong. The food was terrific. Grab your girl and go." But we had it nailed. So I ate carefully, having fun. Tom didn't, coming back from each trek to the endless steam tables plate-laden and hopeful. And they were endless: stretched, they would have made an airport runway. Looped, they were a blocked intestine. Hot foods. Cold foods. Ethnic foods---like meatballs and spaghetti, this being Maine. Salads. Soups. Desserts. Bread. There was even self-service ice cream. I began with the caution you greet one of those high school tests starting Read Everything Before Doing Anything. Rushing carelessly forward only leaves you standing on your desk, pants around your knees, T-shirt over you head, shouting, "I Am! I Am!" Slowly walking the entire line before making a decision, I finally assembled a small sampler salad: guarded scoops of Greek pasta salad, Italian pasta salad, orange-Jell-O-and-shredded-pineapple salad, diced black olives, sliced cucumbers served in-their-skins, and maraschino cherries. The cherries weren't really part of the salad bar, but I filched them from a dessert table, having always been a sucker for those red, shiny things. "How is it?" Tom soon asked. He had a platter-sized plate loaded with all things green and leafy. Which he soon abandoned because he didn't like the smell, taste, or possible age of the presumed-blue cheese dressing. "Newer than yours," I answered. We both also had a small plastic bowl of tomato soup, bisque it's been called in actual restaurants. Before ladling anything, I'd stirred several vats of stuff, trying to induce their original colors. Each was labeled---Tomato, Minestrone, Fish---but only the orange stuff looked safe. Stirring the chowder, in fact, invoked ancient dietary taboos. At least the soup was hot, and if you ate it quickly, the colors didn't re-separate. My salad was... all right. The cherries were especially sweet. I went back for a second course. This time I chose round foods, carefully picked both by inspection and from reading the computer-printed labels---and sometimes you needed the label to identify the treat. I took Swedish meatballs, mini-corn fritters, black pitted olives, braised mushrooms sans stems, marinated Brussels sprouts, fresh garden green peas, and, of course, more cherries. I also slipped a little sour cream from a tamale display onto my plate, hoping it would help the dry fritters. "I eat my peas with sour cream," I recited to an unamused Tom. He was facing a plate of brown things: Roast beef. Barbecued spare ribs. Steak. There were also black mussel shells, which, when opened, were empty. "Just as well, " he admitted. "I hated the way they smelled." "Then why did you take them?" He glared at me, sharply. After all, I was the guy eating round foods. Which were surprisingly... not terrible. The fritters were a mite chewy, but the closest I'd come to hush puppies before was wearing them, so what did I know. The Brussels sprouts were dense, but Brussels sprouts are dense. The olives were indestructible. The meatballs could have been fishing weights, but, like the mushrooms and peas, slid down easily, and the sour cream even tasted good on the cherries. I set aside my empty plate. A smiling waitress quickly removed your dishes after every course. "You're not going back," Tom asked plaintively as I stood. "There's dessert!" He looked ill. Actually, I would've liked something more substantial than dessert, but I just couldn't face it. All those selections. All those labels. As inedible. "What do you do with the leftovers?" I asked the manager as I walked the line. It was nearly closing, and he was beginning to pack. "It all gets refrigerated," he grinned. "Except for the fried foods. They can't be reused." "Do you donate to homeless shelters?" I asked, wondering if there were such things in Maine. "Sometimes. Though there's really not much waste." Formaldehyde being forever. As he worked on, I continued to prowl. For dessert, I mainly took soft ice cream, which I doubted had ever been milk. The machine advertised three flavors, chocolate, twist, and vanilla, though they all tasted the same. I decked my white stuff with more cherries. "Maraschino Jubilee," I quipped to green Tom. "Which is worse," he muttered. "The food or your jokes." "Oh, come on," I laughed. "You knew this would be awful. Why not have fun?" "I suppose," he replied grimly. "I just made the mistake of eating." The best news was the bill: ten bucks each, plus two-and-a-quarter for Tom's wine---on the check it was labeled Hse Rd. And despite the No Doggie Bags sign, we lifted a napkin-wrapped biscuit for the mutt. Though back at the motel, when I set it before her, she edged suspiciously away. 319 miles
  13. Chapter 21

    Good point. But the book is about two gay guys in love on a road trip, and you can watch how their relationship works.
  14. Chapter 22

    Thursday, June 3, 1999 Otherwise desolate Ogdensburg, New York had two small surprises, both tucked in the same old house. One was the Remington Museum. Yeah, that Remington, father of a million bad bronzes. The other was the house itself, once the infamous Red Villa, home of a kind of classy French whore. But first the sculptures, since their mangled offspring will probably haunt us forever. To start with, I had Remington all wrong, not hard since I'd mainly seen his cut-rate reproductions. Though if you threaten most people with Tell me everything you know about Frederic Remington you won't get much that's useful. I figured he was some slick old cowboy, tired of roping and getting his butt whomped, who started messing with clay. Nope, born in 1861, he was an illustrator before a sculptor, and a writer in between---when the stories he was paid to illustrate weren't nearly as interesting as anything he knew. Finally, he was an American Impressionist, one who'd be far better known if he hadn't died so young. But he did leave those sculptures. In the museum they're entirely different from anything you snub in gift shops. Larger. More detailed. And black. That's the biggest surprise. Lose the baby shoe bronze, or the burnished deep brown of art galleries, turn these things the color of used bullets, and they start looking very serious. And when you can pick out each feather on the skewers ritually piercing some teen warrior's chest, they get damned scary. Remington was a perfectionist, often destroying his molds after a single casting---six-or-seven was the norm. One early museum sculpture sits beside an unauthorized late version, maybe seventy in its series. What had been a swirling lariat is now a looping rein. A feathered lance becomes a pole. "Amazing, isn't it?" said a docent who'd been protectively tailing me. "They're just simple changes, but they change the whole effect." More like ruin. And the terrible copies in the gift shop could have been thumped out of Play-Dough. "We've been trying to get better ones," she soon admitted. "But they're so hard to find." Why so many butchered replicas? Not because Remington was greedy. He just died, unexpectedly, of a burst appendix at forty-eight. And though his wife protected his work throughout her life, immediately afterwards, and against the strict terms of her will, illegal casts were made---the so-called Midnight Copies. Not to mention the whole knock-off collectibles industry: Give Dad something masculine for Father's Day! "You really should look at Icons Of The West," the docent went on, thinking she'd hooked a connoisseur---hell, I can't even spell the word without help. Solemnly, she handed me the worn book she'd been clutching (also on sale in the gift shop). "There are three more collections," she confided, then seemed almost distraught to find that, though Tom and I were traveling west, we wouldn't pilgrimage to Shreveport, Tulsa, and Fort Worth. "We're mostly following the coast," I tried nicely to explain---clearly this was someone who loved her work. But I'd already blown it, and she went off to stalk someone else. Actually, Remington never lived in the red brick house now whitewashed into the museum, though he and his wife grew up in the area. And while he frequently traveled, and owned several homes at the same time, his favorite was in the Adirondacks. "I never should have left," he once wrote, and after he died, his wife stayed close by. Even then, the house was something of a legend. It was built in 1809 by David Parish, a somewhat loose-operating Belgian banker. He wasn't unethical, but was finally undone by his improbable belief that everything always worked out in his favor. Faced with irreversible ruin in 1826, he killed himself. But not before selling the house to his brother. George Parish died a more traditional death a dozen years later, leaving the estate to his namesake nephew. Then, in the most sexist of poker games, the nephew won a mistress---from no less than John Van Buren, son of the then U.S. president. Not that the mistress wasn't stacking her own deck. She'd been christened Elena, but lifted her younger sister's name thinking it more directly connected to their famous ancestor---she was the Countess Ameriga Vespucci. She further stretched her chips by petitioning Congress to give her land and citizenship, based solely on her heritage.. But Congress was as skittish then as today, and though the Countess had couches of powerful admirers, including Daniel Webster and Martin Van Buren, she always remained an Italian refugee. Still, the nephew was modestly honorable, and though he never married Elena---choosing another, wealthier woman, more powerfully titled---he let her live in the house till 1864. As the Civil War was ending, either because of his own finances or politics, he retreated to Europe, warning her do the same. She may have tried, but couldn't. For one thing, she wasn't exactly the belle of Ogdensburgh---it had an h then---charming all who met her and always in demand. Most of her time there, she'd lived in virtual seclusion, shunned by the conservative townsfolk, and surrounded mainly by unsympathetic servants. With the nephew, she was trapped, but without him, she was helpless. Finally, the real Ameriga saved her, sending money, and Elena fled to Paris, living, perhaps, a bit less unhappily. The house has one more twist: the downstairs rooms are generously carved and paneled though they weren't when the Countess was at home. A later owner, jealous of an even wealthier neighbor, bought up that rival's mansion when misfortune struck, then stripped it of everything valuable. A bed of vultures, Ogdensburg. 217 miles
  15. Chapter 21

    That part, as I mentioned in the introduction, is indirect. The feelings are there all the time, and you can watch the comfortable give-and-take in the relationship, which can mainly lead in one direction. You can also sense the narrator's stubbornly growing affection for the dog. But this book's about a trip, not a courtship. I've written other books about that. And thanks, everyone, for reading. I'm always afraid when I go back to a piece after a long time that it won't hold up. But this one, like Quabbin, seems to have found a happy audience.
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