Sunday, May 2 2004
setting: Portland, Maine
It was a beautiful sunny morning and the fog had yet to blow in off the Atlantic. I was out in front of Anna H.'s tiny house this with my laptop, trying to track down an elusive WiFi hotspot called "Wireless" when Johnny C. and his wife Carol brought their baby came out to commence a neighborhood stroll. At about this time a big thick-necked gentleman came down the street pulling his young son in a plastic wagon. The son was wearing a baseball cap, a baseball-themed shirt, and was surrounded in his wagon by a pile of the balls of various team sports. If it is possible to rub an impressionable young mind in his sexual identity, this was probably it. What followed was an unexpectedly long conversation between Johnny and the thick-necked gentleman. They had little in common except for young children and the fact that they just happened to be in the same neighborhood at the same time on a marvelous day in early spring. Anna H. and her husband John had moved into their house back in December, but the Maine winter had kept them from meeting their neighbors until recently. The thick-necked gentleman spoke mostly in lists, pointing around the neighborhood at various houses with the people who had recently had little babies, most of whom were girls. "You're surrounded!" he told his son. Somehow the question came around to what Johnny did, and he explained that he had an art show going in a nearby gallery operated by Anna H., the woman whose house he'd stayed in last night. I had to chuckle a little at the idea of this thick-necked gentleman standing in a gallery viewing Johnny's currency cut-ups, some of which feature images of Saddam Hussein lifted from Iraqi dinars. He looked like the conservative sort who might call 1-800-ASHCROFT at the sight of anything truly artistic. Finally the thick-necked gentleman got to talking about his line of work, which was the installation and maintenance of supermarket refrigeration systems. Again he reverted to his favorite rhetorical device, the list, and listed the many supermarket chains where he has worked and the brands of refrigeration units that they use. One of the brands he mentioned he immediately disparaged by calling it "crap." I had to chuckle at somebody so eager to lecture random strangers on the subject of industrial-grade refrigeration.
A group of us walked around the neighborhood, stopping for a time to look at a yardsale. We'd come just a little too late to buy a $5 two-person inflatable rubber raft that would have been fun to take out on the Esopus. But I did get a $1 ceramic pig-shaped coin bank having an enormous cork for a nose.
While we all lounged around in the backyard enjoying the sun, Anna told us about various things in the backyard. Her husband John has set up a tiny Ted Kaczynski-style shack, though he's equipped it with electricity and ethernet. He's also decorated it to his liking, subscribing to a neat-but-cluttered æsthetic evidently verbotten in the main house. Its well-tuned use of space and tiny loft (too small for sleeping) reminded Gretchen of my Shaque, the outbuilding on my parents' land where I spent the first half of the 1990s.
One of the main features in Anna's backyard was a stump. It had belonged to a Norway Maple, a species of tree Anna claimed to hate. She hates their deep dark shade and she also hates the fact that when you cut them down, their seedlings keep trying to carry on the ghastly Norway Maple tradition. Anna also showed me her garden, where horseradish grows as a weed. She dug up a couple horseradish tubers and gave them to me. I nibbled on a small piece of one for the rest of the day.
Eventually everybody went back to their respective home states except for Gretchen and me, and we would be staying for another day with Anna H. She took us on a walk on a trail around the perimeter of Mackworth Island, one of the few islands in Casco Bay connected to the mainland by a bridge. Mackworth Island is home to the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf; it occupies the site of Governor Baxter's former estate. The weather was pleasant on the downwind (mainland) side of the island, but in places where we faced the ocean, a cold wind blew right through our clothing.
In the evening, after Anna got back from a teaching commitment, Gretchen and I drove into downtown Portland to pick up Indian take away. When available, we always try Indian food in every town we visit, since there is no good Indian food in the mid Hudson Valley. We parked some blocks away from the restaurant and set off on foot, which probably wasn't a great idea, since on a Sunday night Portland is comatose. And a fog had rolled in and now it was raining.
The restaurant was called Hi Bombay and its prices were a little expensive. And it wasn't very good either. It had that same problem that Red Hook Curry House had - the food didn't have any salt in it.
From left: Johnny C, Ember, and Anna H. Note that the siding has been torn off on the house in the background, revealing the clapboards underneath. The goal is to eventually remove all those shingles and restore the house to its original appearance.
Gretchen sits on the Norway Maple stump while Anna H.'s cat Tough Guy rolls around on the ground.
The signs at the pedestrian entrance to Mackworth Island.
Anna (left) and Gretchen walking and talking on Mackworth Island.
Faces carved in an ancient stump on Mackworth Island. This stump has a fence around it to protect it. A structure on it resembles an ear and this carries special significance to the deaf students attending the island's school.
Distant tiny islands off the north coast of Mackworth.
A Tamarack (larch) unfurling its fresh new spring leaves. Tamaracks are deciduous conifers related to spruce and pine.
The mainland, viewed across the remains of an old dock on the causeway to Mackworth Island.
Gretchen tidying Anna's spartan kitchen tonight.
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