Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Joy Road

Yesterday I took another walk with Robert Frost.
It was a beautiful, bright, breezy New England afternoon. The kind of weather that explains why anyone with an ounce of sense would put up with a month like last January with its weekly major snow storms--or this past July with its 12.4" of rain. The clouds were scudding across the sky--serious gray-bottomed clouds, not those fluffy cotton-balls. The leaves were popping; the birds were singing.
Frost and I decided to walk up Joy Road toward Sabe Spalding's farm so I could pick up my 1951 Ford tractor which the maestro had put in shape for another season of moving wood and plowing snow.  Joy Road is a scenic back road in Woodstock lined with ancient stone walls and ceilinged over with maple, oak and birch branches. Whenever I walk in these northern Connecticut woods Robert comes with me. I love his poetry. I recite his verse as I walk--seasonally appropriate verse: : "The Road Not Taken" in Fall and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in Winter. Sophie and Bowen have heard me say "And miles to go before I sleep" or "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood" so often I imagine them rolling their eyes...Oh, no! Not again...

When I walk these woods, Robert comes with me, and so do Sophie, Bowen, Nickie and Mack, our 4 dogs who replaced our 2 children when they flew off to Oregon and Spain. I recommend dogs. Maybe not 4, but certainly 2. Dogs are essential on a woods walk. They are guides into the natural world. Shamans. I watch the joy that flows from them as we hit the trail and cross the stream into the deep woods. Nickie kicks his back legs off to the right as he runs. The other 3 display their own joyous eccentricities as we move around the trails.

   So, Robert Frost and 4 dogs. Perfect. Frost wrote a short poem, "Dust of Snow", about a person having a bad day who goes into the woods looking for solace and is healed by Nature through the actions of a bird. I go into the woods for solace most days. And most days I find it. Not from a crow necessarily, but certainly from Robert, Sophie, Bowen, Nickie and Mack.
   There's a lot to be thankful for.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Face Of Evil

At the time we met and shook hands, nervously standing around him like celebrity watchers, William Calley was about 25 years old. He was medium height--5'7" maybe--with close-cropped dirty blond hair. There was nothing about the man to cause you to notice him. Except the guards sitting with him at the downtown disco in Columbus, Georgia. They were noticeable. They were packing heat. As Infantry Officer Candidates we were trained to notice things like that--Colt .45's. Great stopping power. Low muzzle velocity, but knock-down power for sure. Calley had guards because he was under house-arrest at the time for a little action in some no-name ville in Vietnam. My Lai. If you're my age those 2 words--My Lai--conjure up worlds of sadness, grief and horror. They encapsulate the late 60's feel. The dirty underbelly of our foreign policy in Southeast Asia.
My Lai, a small village suspected of harboring VC fighters. Of providing aid and comfort to the enemy. Bill Calley's company had been taking daily losses in and around My Lai. Sniper fire. Booby-traps. Ambushes. Every day Calley's troops came under enemy fire and at a certain point they put their humanity down and strapped on the bloody mask of Terror. Hard to imagine from 8,000 miles away watching the war on TV. Hard to understand the heat and exhaustion from constant humping the bush, no sleep, night ambushes, bad food, terrible water, wet feet, wet everything, jungle rot, carrying 40 lbs of gear, digging defensive positions every night, 2 hours on/2 hours off. Blood on your fatigues from your buddy who was med-evac'd out yesterday with a serious chest wound from a sniper located somewhere over toward that village. Every day.
There were several layers of command that day flying in circles above Lt. Calley as he approached the village. Immediately above Calley was his CO, a captain. Above him was a major. I don't know where the chain of command stopped, but the order came down to 'kill everything that moves'. Try this on: you're 23, in command of maybe 30 ragged, armed boys who have just about had it with the war, the gooks, the filth and they're ready to collect the death-price for their fallen comrades. You're also exhausted and frustrated and scared. Kill Everything That Moves? Are you sure, sir? Try to imagine that moment. I know to a certainty that I would have followed those orders. I would have violated my moral code and walked around my conscience without a second thought. Lt William Calley did.
I think it was a chopper pilot--a Warrant Officer--or maybe a photo-journalist who came upon the aftermath while the smoke still hung in the air over the bodies of the 200+ women, children, and old folks--grandmas and grandpas. The young men, of course, not at home. They were in the jungle preparing the next ambush or booby trap. This witness took photos because he knew no one would believe the extent of the evil that had been done that day. Imagine an infant's body torn in half by automatic-weapons fire. Laying alongside its mother and grandmother, mixed in with the village livestock. Pigs and chickens. Dogs. Babies. Women. 218. 234. I don't remember the exact number. Kill Everything That Moves. Roger That. Wilco.
   So, one Saturday night in 1971 in Columbus, Georgia in a disco, we stood around Lt William Calley and shook his hand. We were with him. We knew he had been offered up as the fall guy. We knew we would have done the same thing and I think we were thanking him for doing it so we wouldn't have to. I think back to that night--that moment--when we came face-to-face with Evil. With a mass-murderer. A baby killer. And he looked just like me.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Deep-Fried Oreos

Last night Pam, Jim and I went to the Woodstock Fair ("Always Labor Day Weekend"). It was a beautiful evening/night for the opening of this year's fair. Tonight we'll return to see Herman's Hermits perform. Great fun.
The Woodstock Fair has something for everyone: For the youngest attendees just the sights, sounds, and smells are enough to jazz them up for a week.
As they get older there are the RIDES!!......
About 9 years ago Tom convinced me to get into a sardine can sized container made out of metal mesh with 2 seats--Tom and me...the sardine can went around and around, up, down, spinning, twirling, screaming, body pushed into shapes that caused black-out pain, bones cracking, everything in your pockets flying out--keys, change, wallet, special heart-shaped stone given me by Pam that I always carried--screaming threats at the operator and Tom ("If we get out of here, I'm going to kill you!!!").
As the attendees get older still there is the romance of the Midway!!......
The lights and shadows. The lovely young creatures in their best outfits and make-up. The handsome young males showing off their best t-shirts and Harley-Davidson chain wallets. Pursuing each other down the narrow, crowded alleys where you can shoot hoops, throw baseballs at bowling pins, sit in Giant Chairs, get Henna Tatoos, and meet the person of your dreams. Something for everyone, for sure.
At my age, there is the food. Nothing like it! Nothing. Anywhere.
Last night I started slow. Laid a conservative base of pork-chop sandwich with extra sour kraut. Perfect. We had just come from the Sheep Barn where we petted all sorts of lovely sheep and had no time to wash our hands. So Pork w/Sheep dressing, I guess. After the pork sandwich I moved aggressively to the DEEP-FRIED OREOS!! 6 Oreos in batter, deep-fried, placed lovingly in a white paper bag, dusted with about 1/4 lb of powdered sugar and shaken by the fry artist. $5.00. All done fresh while you wait, drooling. I kept checking my watch. Then you have to wait about 5 minutes for the glistening gems to cool. Otherwise you get a severe case of tongue and mouth burn. A lot like eating hot pizza at 2 am after 15 beers. Nothing quite like a deep-fried Oreo. The first taste is the powdered sugar coating, followed by the crunchy batter covering, leading you to the melted, gooey Oreo inside. 6 of them. I had to resist going back for another round.
Several years ago we found DEEP-FRIED TWINKIES...The Holy Grail of Fair Food. Disappeared after that year. But what a taste. You needed at least 2 twinkies to come to your senses and enjoy the taste. The whole experience was overwhelming. Sweet, too hot, crunchy, creamy, terribly unhealthy, absolutely wonderful.
I wonder what awaits us at The Fair as we grow older. Maybe the magnetic, pain-reliever jewelry vendors? The Chair Massage? It's a bittersweet event, The Woodstock Fair. But, the food! Nothing like it!! Anywhere!!!

Friday, September 4, 2009


I'm reading 'Dracula' again. Bram Stoker, 1897.
My first time was 1963. I'd lay in bed after finishing homework, dog walk, etc. and read about 10-15 pages every night. I remember the precious feeling of terror I'd get mixed with the sure knowledge that it was just a story and I was safe. All the same, I had crucifixes and rosaries placed around my can't be too careful.
I'd read 10-15 pages and follow the characters as they battled the Evil Count. My scalp would tingle. My heart would race. It was my first intimate experience with the joys of literature that would stay with me my whole life. Marvelous!
One night I jumped into bed and opened the book. I read 2 particularly wonderful chapters. Van Helsing and his intrepid comrades were in Transylvania closing in on the Count. Mina and Van Helsing were sitting by a fire, hungry vampires threatening them in the dark, protected only by a thin line of crushed Catholic communion wafer. The 3 evil women couldn't cross the line of broken wafer. It was nerve-wracking. I turned the light off completely satisfied with my level of terror.
Later that night I woke paralyzed by fear. There, at my window, stood the figure of the Count at least 6 feet tall, probably more. I couldn't move, couldn't scream, barely breathe. My very existence was in jeopardy: Would he turn me into a vampire, or just feed off me for days on end? Or would he make me his agent to take care of paying the rent and making bank withdrawals?
I didn't want to be a vampire. I certainly didn't want to be a food source. No. I wanted to be his man. Renfield.
It turned out that the Count was actually my blue school blazer hanging from the curtain rod to dry after getting wet in the rain earlier.
So, now, 2009, I'm reading 'Dracula' again. I lay in bed and read about 10-15 pages and experience again that wonderful feeling of terror tempered by the knowledge that I'm perfectly safe. 46 years later I'm replaying that fabulous drama, but instead of closing the book and turning of the lights, I fall asleep with Sophie nestled next to my hip...both of us snoring loud enough to wake the dead.