part in Port Ewen
Saturday, May 21 2005
Now there really is nothing much left to do to in my grand landscaping project. But like I am for all my projects, I'm obsessed and don't know how to bring my relationship with the task to a conclusion. So I putter around doing things like dusting grass seed on bald spots or filling the little triangular holes between the sod clumps with sand. All those holes add up to many square feet of surface area; I know this because of all the sod I had leftover after tiling it back over all the contour-altering fill.
The biggest landscaping thing I did today was mix up a big batch of tinted Portland cement and then use it to make some fake bluestone to tie-in the sand-based bluestone path with the bluestone-veneered concrete slab in front of the front door. I did that bluestone veneering two years ago and didn't really know what I was doing and to my eye now it all looks pretty primitive. I find myself being nagged by some of the really big gaps between the bluestone pieces in its veneer. So among the things I did today was chisel down into a really wide concrete swath between the veneer rocks and then, using tinted Portland cement as mortar, seat a suitably-shaped piece of stone. This actually went much faster than I expected it to, helped enormously by the tools I bought and the cold chisel skills I developed back when I was trenching through the bedrock. Concrete breaks a lot more easily and a lot less catastrophically than stone.
All the listening I've been doing to the Hold Steady has made me nostalgic for the good old days when I'd wake up after a crazy night with a pounding headache, mysterious injuries, and maybe a pissed-off teenage girl in my bed. It's also hard to be as sober as I've been for the past two months under the Hold Steady's boozy influence. So I've taken to drinking again, taking advantage of one of the clauses of my unwritten sobriety rules that states that I may drink alone if Gretchen is spending the night out of town.
Tonight, in keeping with the ongoing Hold Steady vibe, I even had the opportunity to go to a party. Parties don't mean what they used to and I've forgotten everything I once knew about how to attend one all by myself. Further complicating the matter was the fact that the only people I would know at this particular party were its two hosts. If I don't know anybody at a party I tend to get in people's way and drink a lot. I'm not much into striking up conversations with strangers, but once I'm at a party I don't know how to leave.
The party was the grand opening of an art studio in Port Ewen showcasing the organic metal sculptures made by our friend Steve (who lives in a beautifully remodeled formerly-ranch-style house out on Lapla Road in the Marbletown hinterland).
In an effort to be more outgoing and friendly, I popped a 120 mg dose of pseudoephedrine before I set out. I guess I took it on an empty stomach, because I had an uncomfortable case of the jitters by the time I rolled into Port Ewen. This state wasn't entirely unpleasant though; it also had an ecstasy-like quality that became apparent when I went to hug the party's hosts (one being the artist Steve and the other being his wife). What an unexpectedly delicious feeling! Somebody bumped into me from behind and that also felt really good. Happily, all the jitteriness vanished the moment I started snacking and drinking wine.
As already indicated, I didn't know anybody but the hosts at the party and, despite the spectacular sculpture, there really wasn't all that much art to look at. So I found myself looking at the shop machinery in an effort to busy myself and stay out of people's way as they socialized. The drill press and the metal chop saw looked like artifacts from the 19th Century. If they could've talked I'm sure they could have told me some stories.
Then this girl walked up to me and told me that my facial structure was the most perfect she'd ever seen. As compliments go it was a pretty good one. I suspected that this was her way of coming on to me, but if it was I proved a disappointment, changing the subject immediately to drill presses. I certainly didn't want to linger on the subject of what I look like, since what one person looks like is one of the shoddiest possible foundations for an interaction between two people. As for her, she was reasonably attractive, but she looked about seventeen and acted about fourteen and even if I'm susceptible to temptation I'm still a married man of 37. When you're happily married, the antics and interests of single people often come across as those of people having a distinctly different sexual preference. Mind you, the flesh is weak and there's never any way to say for sure how one will react to any given proposition, but the fates didn't smile on this one tonight. I later saw that girl with her friends, tittering and palling around like they were still in middle school. "Hey you!" she'd say when she'd see me.
Later I hung out around the back garage doors where people were smoking and tempting the rain that occasionally fell from the clouds. It seemed like a good place to randomly strike up a conversation with a stranger. When I did so, it was with the one guy at the party who was drinking a 32 oz. can of Labatt Blue. "They have a refrigerator full Labatts?" asked, somewhat surprised. No, it turns out they didn't. This guy was a garage door contractor who also served as a volunteer firefighter for the Port Ewen fire department. He'd installed some garage doors for Steve and had pulled some strings with the fire department to allow the people coming to the party to park in the fire station's parking lot. But now people had started parking like idiots in front of the firehouse doors. So he'd bought a beer at the Mobil station and come over to see if the cars could maybe be moved sometime soon, preferably before the next fire. We talked for awhile and I soon grasped the huge sociological chasm that stood between this guy (and Port Ewen generally) and all the hip artistic people at the party. This volunteer firefighter couldn't get his mind around why anyone would ever want to buy one of Steve's sculptures. It just made no sense to him whatsoever. "But they're beautiful!" I exclaimed. He didn't agree and he couldn't explain why. Perhaps he was the sort whose image of a properly-decorated house included a few pink flamingos, a lawn jockey, a black stamped-metal bald eagle over each garage door, and perhaps a concrete mushroom-shaped bird watering thing. Brass spiders, dragonfly lamps, and three-foot-tall sparrows lay completely outside his world of understanding. He wondered aloud about how well Steve's business would do in the conservative village of Port Ewen.
Still later I saw this guy at the party walking around with an artificial leg and I was reminded of something my New Paltz friend Kristen had told me, that Mark D., one of our friends from Oberlin, is living in the area. Mark lost his leg in an auto accident due to the inattention of some redneck Texas cops back when he looked like someone a Texas cop would be likely to pistol whip just on principle. I couldn't really remember what Mark looked like; he'd been one of many guys at Oberlin with long kinky blond hair. But his voice, I'd remembered it having a certain wry squeakiness to it. So I held out and waited for this guy with the artificial leg to speak. When he did, I recognized his voice immediately. I said his name and he said "Yeah!" I hadn't seen him in 16 years. We got to talking and he told me about his life these days down in Esopus. He and Kristen had always talked trash about the folly of reproduction, but then his circumstances changed when his wife got pregnant with twins two and a half years ago. He felt sheepish and hypocritical for a time and didn't know what he'd say to Kristen when he saw her again. But then she got pregnant too. That's how it is with reproduction. Even the strongest minds in our country can't resist the siren songs of their selfish genes.
Mark didn't know anyone at the party and had come with a friend. At some point in the conversation he told his friend the one story he remembered about me. We'd taken an environmental studies class together and Mark remembered the day I came to class with a grapefruit and a meat cleaver and proceeded to use the later to butcher the former right there on my desk in the middle of a lecture. It sounds like a crazy story, but from my perspective all that happened was that as I left for class one day I grabbed something to eat and since it was a grapefruit I'd also grabbed something to cut it with. But since I was coming from the wacky co-op known as Harkness and because there weren't always clean dishes to work with, I'd been forced to grab the one cutting device that was clean - a meat cleaver (which never saw much use in a vegetarian co-op dining facility).
After Mark and his friend left I went to the bar to get a third glass of red wine and the bartender told me that actually there was a two drink limit. I'd had no idea they were keeping count, and maybe they weren't and just didn't like me. But no matter; it was a good thing. It was the excuse I needed to convince myself to leave while I was still reasonably sober.
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