naked without beer
Sunday, August 3 2003
After a lavish (though still Continental) breakfast for all six of us out on the south deck, we went off to find a swimming hole in the Catskills. Since none of us are familiar enough with the secret places in the area, we enlisted the aid of a knowledgeable local. The person who served in this capacity was Ray's old friend Rich, the guy who sells pottery in Woodstock. We met him near his shop in downtown Woodstock and then he guided us from there. He brought along his dog Lucy, yet another medium-sized black dog who appearance and behavior falls on the continuum defined by Sally, Eleanor, and Suzy (Ran and Nancy's dog). Suzy, by the way, had chosen not to come with us on this outing; unlike most dogs, she hates to ride in cars.
Rich rode in our car with Gretchen, me, Sally, and Eleanor, while everyone else followed behind in Ray and Nancy's car. As we were getting gas in Woodstock, Rich made the observation that it was too bad that it wasn't yet noon, because this meant we couldn't yet buy beer. I was delighted, telling Gretchen, "Hey, you think I'm an alcoholic, but I didn't even know about that law!"
A few minutes further down the road, Rich asked a question that is virtually unheard in the adult circles in which I now run. "Don't you think we should get some beer?" For me it was a refreshing question to hear asked; it made me nostalgic for the crazy days back in Charlottesville, when every adventure began with either the purchase of beer or tussin. I enthusiastically agreed that we should get beer. In this car, on this trip, for once it was Gretchen - not me - who was in the minority when it came to notions of perhaps buying beer. We stopped at what Rich thought was our last chance to get beer, an Exxon station a short distance inside Greene County. By now Gretchen was frazzled and irritated by all the delays, driving, and needless stops on the way to what is normally a quickly-satisfied need: swimming. It clearly annoyed her that we were stopping to attend to a need normally outgrown by people our age. Compounding her irritation was the fact that she hadn't eaten anything yet today. Gretchen has no appetite in the morning and never eats breakfast. Though she'd prepared a lavish spread for our guests this morning, she hadn't partaken.
Our destination was a narrow gorge and waterfall called Fawn's Leap, supposedly named after a fawn that fell to its death while being pursued by hunters. The Leap was directly alongside route 23A as it winds its way beside Kaaterskill Creek, which pours down from a plateau to the west. Parking our cars and getting our entourage to the leap proved to be a major hassle. The traffic on 23A was heavy, and the dogs had to be on leashes. There was no place to swim upstream from the falls, so we had to walk over rough terrain down to the bottom. Rich's dog Lucy seemed to love swimming in the water, but Sally and Eleanor were not so keen on getting wet. Sally managed to do a little swimming, but Eleanor stayed on shore and mostly looked miserable. The shoreline was so rough with large pebbles that there wasn't even any place for her to comfortably lie down. And then after awhile Lucy started freaking out, overwhelmed by the responsibility of having to save everyone who had ventured into the deep pool at the base of the falls. She retreated to the shore and began shivering - partly from the cold water and partly from anxiety.
Meanwhile a varied group of younger people gathered to socialize above the leap. Some of the more macho of the boys in this group took turns leaping into the pool below, a drop of some 25 to 30 feet. When they really wanted to prove how macho they were, they climbed up in a tree above the leap and jumped from that. Someone had taken one of those black-arrow-on-a-yellow-background road signs and installed it above the leap so it pointed straight down.
We didn't stay very long. Rain began to fall and Gretchen was concerned about the dogs, all of whom were now as miserable as anyone has ever seen an off-leash-dog-in-nature being. She considered this entire swimming expedition a disaster, noting that this was no place for dogs and not an especially fun place for non-adolescent humans either.
We drove to down route 214 to Phoenicia and had a late lunch at Sweet Sue's, everybody's favorite restaurant in the central Catskills. As we were getting out of the car, I jokingly suggested to Rich that we shotgun a couple beers before we went into the restaurant. I mostly said this for Gretchen's benefit, just to watch her face and see the look of a theory being confirmed as Rich said, "okay!"
A powerful thunderstorm drenched everything not under roof as we ate inside Sweet Sue's. We'd left the dogs in the car and they were probably terrified by the intense electrical activity and the water coming through the gaps we'd left in the windows.
Back at our house, all our guests departed and Gretchen and I headed off to a small birthday party in Woodstock. The birthday girl was Barbara, Katie's mother. The party started out as a dinner at the überfancy Bear Café in Woodstock. In attendance were Katie, Louis, Gretchen, me, Katie's sister Becka, and Barbara. Barbara sat at the head of the table and since I was nearest to her, I was the one talking to her the most. An early conversational topic was things that someone needs to invent. Barbara, who is a piano virtuoso, wanted to know why no one had yet invented an automatic page turner for musicians. She still relied on human beings to turn her pages, and she found that it was hard to find a good page turner. I thought that with today's flat-panel displays, sheet music could all be digitized and a microphone on the music display device could simply count the notes as they're played and advance the music appropriately. Replacing unreliable human page turners with unobtrusive, reliable robots was, in my opinion, simply a programming assignment.
A later topic was how parents react to their child's choice of mate. Barbara told me about the negative reaction her Greek parents had when they learned she was marrying a Jewish man, and how his Jewish parents had been non-plused about his marrying outside the tribe. They managed to track down a rabbi to perform the wedding, but only on the condition that they raise the children (Katie and Becka) as Jews, something they neglected to do. I told Barbara about Gretchen's troubles with her parents regarding her five year lesbian relationship, and how their relief about her eventually marrying a man had kept them from being too concerned about the fact that I wasn't a Jew. Barbara was amazed to learn that people are still concerned about such things; evidently she had been operating under the delusion that the times had changed and that we now live in a more enlightened, ethnically-unconcerned age. I assured her that ethnic divisions and notions of tribal purity continue, and that even the most liberal, free-thinking people suddenly turn into harrumphing William Bennetts when contemplating the free choices of their own children.
Barbara had duck as her birthday entree, and I kept tying it in with the familiarity some of us at the table had with the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, repeatedly referring to her dish as "Mr. Peepers."
After dinner we relocated to Barbara's house up in Saugerties. It's an enormous modern-style house built around a living room featuring an incredibly high ceiling and a Romeo and Juliet style balcony for a second floor master bedroom suite. The only thing wrong with the place was the vinyl siding. "I live in a plastic house," Barbara conceded. The soul, the homunculus, of the house was an enormous six-legged grand piano Barbara had bought cheap at a J.P. Morgan estate auction. She played us a few Chopin tunes, one involving incredibly intricate harp-like arpeggios. Just listening to Barbara play, I realized for the first time that Chopin must have been the genius who first worked out how to compose specifically for the piano. I wasn't even stoned and I could actually hear that discovery in the arrangements. The realization struck me like a bolt from the blue, and after Barbara quit playing, I mentioned this as if it was some fact I'd learned somewhere. Barbara, something of an expert on these things, agreed whole-heartedly.
In other piano-related news, Barbara told me at some point that she'd loved my wedding (back in May) but had been disturbed by the piano performance given by my Aunt Dottie. Barbara understandably felt that Chopin's funeral march was "inappropriate" for such an occasion. I chuckled and said, "Well, you have to understand, it's a thing about my family, it's in our blood. We tend to do inappropriate things, all of us, and it manifests in different ways, in some of us more than in others. Lord knows I fight it, but it's in me too!"
In addition to the people who had been at the Bear Cafe, Becka's on-again-off-again boyfriend Joey joined us for the cutting of the cake Gretchen had baked. These days Joey works as a chef at the Reservoir Inn and lives rent free in the restaurant's vast upstairs. It sounded like a sweet deal. As usual, Joey seemed to be in good spirits, nursing his Amstel Light, smiling broadly, and continually making upbeat observations. He kept telling me, "You're really funny! You're a comedian, you know that?"
As I was going to fetch my last beer of the evening, Gretchen tried to tell me that I'd had enough, but I politely disagreed. In situations like this I always feel naked if there's no beer in my hand. I had to get myself an Amstel Light because there didn't appear to be any more Becks left in the refrigerator.
In Woodstock, preparing to leave for Fawn's Leap.
From left: Linda, Eleanor, Lucy, Rich, Ray, Sally, Nancy
A shed insect skin on a rock in Kaaterskill Creek.
Some nymph-stage insect had crawled out of the water, its skin had split,
and it flew away on fresh new wings, leaving this behind for me to photograph.
From left: a dog (Sally?), Gretchen, Rich, Ray.
Above: younger, more macho guys with their bitches and hos.
Ray and Kaaterskill Creek.
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