not what we used to be
Thursday, January 1 2004
setting: 3.6 miles east of Amherst, Massachusetts
As a rule, the redder the wine and the more obscure the beer, the worse my hangover. I couldn't even tell you the name of that beer I'd had last night, only that it was the only one I'd ever had that came in a corked bottle. And much of the wine I'd had that hadn't been red had been champagne. So I didn't feel especially chipper this morning. Gretchen was up early romping around like Eleanor back before Eleanor became gimpy. She spent considerable time upstairs talking to various people who had yet to get out of bed as I lay there alone, wondering how long I could extend my time in bed without being considered obnoxious. I was taking up the entire living room with my unrisen presence, and as the brunch crowd in the dining room continued to swell, it would eventually be needed as expansion space.
After awhile I mustered the necessary energy and packed up the mattress (taken from our teevee room's fold-out couch). Once it was loaded into the car, the living room looked a lot bigger. For a few minutes I had the whole place to myself. I thumbed through a collection of Gary Larson cartoons and nodded hellos to various people who passed through on their way to the bathroom. My two favorite cartoons were as follows:
- A man wakes screaming in his bed. His bed is in a long dormitory-style line of other such beds, each containing a single sleeping person. The person in the adjacent bed says, "Don't worry, it was just a dream. But you're still in hell!" I neglected to mention that the walls of the room behind the bed have a rocky irregularity, and big flames are leaping up between them. It's the classic Larson picture of hell, but with reasonably comfortable beds.
- A bipedal cat with a mail bag over his shoulder is walking back from a delivery at a suburban house. Two wrinkly dogs are sitting on the porch talking. One is saying to the other, "We're not what we used to be."
I mostly just sat there in the rocking chair as more and more people took up seats around me in the living room. I couldn't muster much in the way of small talk, and felt a mixture of stupidity, antisociality, and mild regret. I could hear a few conversations that sounded interesting, but every time I tried to muster the strength to contribute, my words never seemed to land in the quiet places between the words of others. So I mostly gave up. Gretchen, though, was having a great time. She didn't have a hangover at all and she was delighted to be among so many bright people talking about so many interesting things. Everybody there seemed to be wildly creative and original in one form or another.
Sometime in the afternoon we exchanged our many hug-filled goodbyes. (Have people always exchanged hugs when saying goodbye or is it just the past generation or two? One would think natural selection would have eliminated this ritual over the course of human history. It's a great way to ensure diseases are exchanged and carried off by the departing.)
The stuff we played on the stereo was the mirror image of what we played on the way to Amherst. We started out with Lea DeLaria. The funniest thing she said in the part we heard today was about how much she hated safe sex. When confronted by a dental dam, she feels like saying something like, "Hey, I have a better idea. How about you go in the next room, spread your legs, and I'll stay here and lick the wall."
Somewhere in or near the Berkshires we moved to Curtis Mayfield, back in his early and incompletely-realized phase. (Mayfield is one of the few pop musicians who violates the principle of "earlier and more obscure is superior to later and popular.")
Meanwhile, as we entered the Berkshires, I was curious how they were defined; on the Mass Turnpike they seem to begin only about fifteen miles east of New York State, and yet I've never heard of "the Berkshires of New York" - that would seem to make for a rather narrow band of mountains. I guess it's just whatever mountains lie within the western-most county of the state, Berkshire county.
On the way down the NY Thruway, we stopped at Barbara's (Katie's mother's) big vinyl house in Saugerties to attend a sort of musical open house. When we arrived the dozen or so people already there consisted mostly of classical musicians, including Barbara (a pianist). Refreshments were similar to those normally provided at an art opening, though they were a little classier than anything that's ever provided to the general public in a downtown business district. There were, for example, three different kinds of homemade pickled herring, something I haven't had in years. Since we were anxious to get home and check in on gimpy Eleanor and her sprained ankle, we stuck around just long enough for gossip, conversation, and the performance of a single piece (in that order).
Back at the house, Eleanor seemed to be as gimpy as ever, though the swelling in her bad leg had become concentrated in a bulbous mass at the tip of her heel, looking like something drawn by Doctor Seuss. She was acting like her usual self, not being mopey the way she'd been when we'd left her. As she greeted us, the main difference from her usual behavior was the fact that she wasn't jumping up on us, an act that would have required ballerina-like skill to balance upon a single hind paw.
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