RTT has been doing carpentry jobs on and off all summer for Clinton. Clinton has been spending the last few weeks in Cooperstown.
Shortly after I got to Trumansburg on Monday, Clinton texted RTT, asked him to check on a roofing quote – which was somewhere in a notebook Clinton had left in T-burg.
RTT trotted off to do the errand. Returned 15 minutes later with a bemused look on his face.
“So, I had to look through the notebook,” RTT said. “Because I didn’t know where the quote was, right? I wasn’t spying on him! But the notebook was the weirdest thing! He kept writing all these weird things in it! Again and again and again.”
“Weird things like what?” I asked.
“Simple. Sexy. Rock-hard cock.”
Ben and I looked at each other and began to laugh.
“Over and over again!” said RTT.
“It’s an affirmation,” I said. “Like Angela Moss on Mr. Robot. ‘I am confident. I am powerful. My penis assumes the properties of granite whenever it is my wish!’”
“But why?” said RTT.
“Uh. Well… How old is this Clinton?”
“I dunno. Old. Like in his 50s.”
“Hmmm. As your mother, I’m not sure it’s appropriate for me to have that conversation with you. Simple! Sexy! Rock-hard cock!”
The three of us explode in laughter.
I like T-burg. In Mississippi, the geezers congregate of a morning in front of the grocery store or a diner. In T-burg, they sit in front of Gimme Coffee, the ubiquitous Ithaca coffeehouse chain. Many of them are musicians or web designers. Often they have bicycles.
T-burg has two Masonic lodges – one of them active – and something called a “philomathic” library. It also has numerous churches, a small fairground, and many 19th century houses built of brick, stone, and wood, in the Victorian Italianate style. Many of the residential streets are still lined with old horse hitching posts.
T-burg is the place where digital music was invented. In the 1960s, an old brick building, just a few doors down from Gimme, was the Moog Factory where the original modular synthesizers were produced. Bob Moog and his family lived just a couple of miles away in an old house off Taughannock Falls (the highest single-drop waterfall in the United States outside Yosemite.) Bob Moog’s invention revolutionized popular music, but he went bankrupt in 1970. Today, the building is occupied by the Venice Cafe – one of five bars within a six-block walking tour of T-burg’s downtown.
Ben lives right on Main Street, right down the street from Gimme and the old Moog Factory. In an old mill that’s been converted into apartments. Frontenac Creek, which used to power the mill, is just a few yards from his porch. In the late fall and the early winter when the steelhead and salmon spawn, the river otters swim down the creek looking for them.
On Tuesday night, Ben and I went to the Trumansburg Fair.
It’s a very tiny event as rural fairs go. RTT thinks it’s dinky.
I like it.
The Tompkins County Fairgrounds once stood in what is now the Big Box Store Ghetto along Meadow Street in Ithaca. It hosted a typical late August country fair with farm animals and produce, a carousel, a racetrack and sideshows. Meadow Street is the flood plain, though, for Fall Creek, Cascadilla Creek and its canal, Six Mile Creek and all the other tributaries that flow into Lake Cayuga. Maybe that factored into the decision to tear the old Fairground down. Or maybe Ithaca got too counter-culture-y. I don’t know.
In the 1990s, 24 acres of Cayuga wetlands were sold to Walmart. It increased the city’s tax revenues but there was a Butterfly Effect from the roadwork and various zoning variances necessary to support a massive superstore. A lot of small local businesses shuttered and closed. You can no longer ride a bicycle from downtown Ithaca up Route 13 to Cayuga Heights.
The Trumansburg Fair, in its 160th plus year, is still going strong, though.
The Trumansburg Fair features harness races – one of the very last country fairs in New York State that does – as well as a demolition derby, a monster truck rally, egg tosses, three-legged races, pie-eating contests, 4-H exhibits of animals and vegetables, and, of course, the midway with its incredibly tacky rides, cotton candy, and fried dough. What’s not to love?
Ten bucks seemed like a lot of money to pay for grandstand tickets when I knew it would all turn into a reflection in a hollow mirror after half an hour or so, so we spied on the demolition derby through a chink in a makeshift wall of tarps.
“You know, I’ve never seen a demolition derby before,” I said.
“Well, your life is about to become complete then,” Ben said.
If you’ve ever wondered who actually buys those old Camrys with 300,000 plus miles that are listed on Craig’s List every now and then, now you know. It was awesome watching them crash into each other, total bloodlust. I couldn’t stop laughing.
“What do you think they’re thinking about when they're behind the wheels of those things whaling on each other?” I asked Ben.
Ben laughed. “Simple. Sexy. Rock hard cock,” he said.
I spent as much one-on-one time with RTT as he would allow. A couple of months of therapy have mellowed him considerably. He no longer seems to be looking for reasons to take umbrage. He’s sophisticated intellectually, but emotionally he’s kinda young for his age. He still expresses affection by roughhousing, which is hard on my knees and elbows, and hard on my physical possessions.
He accidentally broke my phone charger one night, which was certainly No Big Deal – except that it was one of those phone chargers that lights up with different pulsating colors, and I had liked it.
“RTT,” Ben said reproachfully.
“Yeah, right. It’s always my fault, isn’t it? I’m always the bad guy, aren’t I?” said RTT.
He’s kind of a master of deflection. He’ll fuck up and somehow, it’s always you that feels bad -- for calling him on it.
I didn’t call him on it, though. I merely excused myself and went off to bed.
Yes, yes: Very stupid to feel miffed over a phone charger that I can easily replace for fifteen bucks at Best Buy – except that I had liked that phone charger, and I didn’t see why I should be made to feel apologetic for liking my things.
Next morning when we awoke, though, it was all forgotten, and that alone was a major breakthrough since Before Therapy, little misunderstandings and miscommunications like this would have been magnified into a feud of epic proportions. He would have taken grave offense at my withdrawal from the social scene; I would have felt self-righteous and indignant because, goddam it, it was my property that had gotten trashed, and it’s natural to feel miffed over things like that. We would have stopped talking. Maybe for months.
I also spent one afternoon brainstorming with RTT on a novel. Well. Mostly, he brainstormed, and I played amanuensis, jotting his ideas down into 20 pages of notes. He has an excellent sense of plotting and story momentum, and he’s one of the most imaginative people I know. A natural writer; very, very talented. So we were able to talk shop about something we’re both passionate about, and that felt like a bonding experience, at least to me.
RTT and I had to drive through Freeville on the way to Syracuse when I dropped him off to start his last semester. A difficult place for me to be, Freeville. I was so very, very miserable the three years I lived there. The present tense was such a trap.
I’m always very interested in why places are where they are. Less interested in how they originally got to be where they are. That almost always has to do with how easily they were to protect from foreign invaders (pre-Industrial Revolution) or how practical they were for the distribution of resources (post-Industrial Revolution.)
But why do some places survive while others die? What’s up with that?
Take Trumansburg and Freeville, for example. Both approximately the same distance from Ithaca, the driving economic engine thereabouts. And Trumansburg is thriving.
Freeville did okay right up till the beginning of the Second World War. Population in the single digit thousands, mills, factories, several newspapers, five grocery stores, hotels, restaurants, even a library along its Main Street, but then whoosh! It didn’t even fall into ruin. It all just seemed to… vanish. There are hardly any buildings left. If a fire or a flood that destroyed them all, there are no records of that event.
One of the old mill dams is still in place, but there’s no sign of the mill. There’s a Factory Street, which I assume is the site of the old cinder block factory that produced 1,500 cinder blocks a day, but the street runs through an empty landscape. The Southern Central Railroad ran through town, but there are no signs of a depot or a roundhouse or a turntable anymore. There’s an old railroad bridge behind a No Trespassing sign just off Johnson Street. I used to ignore the sign and take Milo for long walks along what was once a rail route between Freeville and Dryden, the tracks now long since silted over and overgrown with grass.
If anything, the town is even more decayed and creepy-looking than it was the last time I saw it. The little farm-to-table restaurant that some enterprising soul started the last year I lived there is now shuttered and closed. Though I understand economic development of a sort has returned to Freeville: It’s become Tompkins County’s number one location for meth labs.
I suppose since real estate prices in Ithaca are now so high and growing higher every day, inevitably developers will build houses here and within 10 years, it will become a tract development.
On the drive to Syracuse, RTT and I talked about the latest rape case making headlines – another white college athlete who molested two sleeping girls at a frat party and was let off with a slap on the wrist.
“That’s disgusting,” RTT said. “He should have been punished. He should be put on the sex offenders registry.”
“He should definitely have been fined and jailed,” I said. “I dunno about the sex offenders registry.”
“That’s unfeminist of you, Mom,” RTT said.
“The way I see it is that the sex offenders registry was originally set up because certain types of sex crimes have a recidivism rate that’s practically 100%. Those are mostly sex crimes that involve young children. People who do those things are mentally ill. They’re never going to change. They’re predators, and it makes sense to warn parents about them.
“Someone who rapes two girls at a party, though. That’s not a psychological crime; that’s a social crime. It’s symptomatic of a toxic male culture. Toxic masculinity and male privilege.”
“Well, the thing is this kid can change. He can learn to stop acting from a position of male privilege. He can redeem himself. I certainly think he should be punished for his actions and punished severely. But I also think he can learn to be a better person. And if you put him on some kind of permanent list, you’re essentially taking that opportunity for redemption away from him.”
RTT snorted. “Well, you’re just wrong, Mom.”
I shrugged. “Maybe. How do you deal with drunk sex?”
“What do you mean?”
“Would you have sex with someone if you were drunk, and she was drunk?”
“That depends,” said RTT. “If it was the first time I met her, and we were both drunk, then no. But if I already knew her, and we were both drunk…”
“Well, then, you could be setting yourself up for a rape charge,” I told him. “Because she can’t give consent if she’s drunk. And for that matter, neither can you. Do you explicitly ask for consent before you have sex?”
“No! When you know, you know!”
I shook my head. “Not good enough. No one ever knows what they think they know. Simple. Sexy. Rock-hard cock!”
“Can we please change the subject please?” RTT said.
So we did.