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Tromping around that house was quite fun. It’s an old farmhouse, built in the 1840s. The original farmsteader was someone called Nathaniel Husted. (This person is probably his son.) Maybe three miles outside the extremely charming hamlet of Pleasant Valley, which was a big Quaker settlement back in the day, famous for its Underground Railroad activity.

The house had good bones. And the price was right! But I advised Valerie against taking it be-cawse….

(1) It sits on the edge of a rather precipitous drop of 30 feet or more that I imagine leads down to a small stream, one of Wappinger Creek’s tributaries. The drop is maybe eight feet in back of the house. So, though the house is being sold as a two and a half acre parcel, since most of the land is on the other side of the drop, it’s unusable. Plus Valerie has two young teenage sons and a limited budget for ER visits. Plus premise liability.

(2) The west-facing property line, again very close to the house, has a couple of abandoned buildings on it just on the other side of the fence. I would be very worried about vagrants and meth labs.

I’m gonna go look at another property for Valerie later this afternoon. This house was built in 1805 and is just three miles away from where I live, literally right down the street from Eleanor Roosevelt’s old digs at Val-Kill.

###

In the afternoon (Stephen King completist that I am), I went to see It. Not a bad movie! I liked what they did with Pennywise. The actor who played the clown is deeply creepy, and the special effects were good.

But what keeps me interested in Stephen King’s stories – and why I was a fan even before he learned how to write well (and he does write well now, haters!) – is how deeply textured his characterizations are.

All of that was lost in this movie.

King writes about a world in which children are actively unkind to one another. This correlates pretty well with the reality I remember from being a child. Children are cruel little beasts, if you think about it. I know I was a cruel little beast! Empathy is a learned trait for most of us. (Yeah, yeah. There are exceptions! Max, for example, was highly empathetic from Day One. Robin, on the other hand, is just learning what “empathy” means now in his early 20s.)

But in today’s renditions of childhood, children are not allowed to be casually cruel. It’s politically incorrect. Bullies are bullies not because they enjoy pushing around kids who are weaker than they are but because they have psychotic parents or because they are psychotic themselves.

There’s a whole level of subtext that’s just lost in contemporary cinematic renditions of childhood, and this It remake suffers from that.

Else?

I dillydallied. Did not do enough revenue-generating. Kept finding myself being sucked into the minds of people who’d elected not to evacuate Florida and are now waiting for certain doom to strike. Saw the sunny and completely empty streets through their eyes, the white-washed houses, most of which – in my mind at least if not in the photographs screaming at us from every media outlet – did not have storm boards.

What a strange and eerie feeling it is to be preparing for a doom that you cannot yet see.

I remember it so, so it vividly from the two or so days before Sandy hit.
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The fabulous [profile] lifeinroseland is visiting this weekend. Whirlwind of activities!

Exciting tour of the Poughkeepsie ‘hood!

Strange dinner cobbled together from ingredients found at Ocean State Job Lot.

Sl-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-eep!

Dragonboat fest!

Local Downton Abbey sighting!

Rhinebeck retail! (I bought a $3 pair of scissors at Sharpy’s!)

More sl-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-eep!

Barbecue with L’s drunken boyfriend!

Sl-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-eep!

###

Today’s itinerary:

An intimate meetup with the Biggest Buddha in the Western Hemisphere.

Antiquing in Cold Springs.

Teary farewell!

###

I am dying to see if that pink Dior jacket in perfect shape that I didn’t buy for $50 three years because it was a tad too small is still in that antique store in Cold Springs.

It was still there two years ago although bizarrely, the store had doubled the price – I mean, if something doesn’t sell, aren’t you supposed to discount it?

The jacket was beautiful, and for an entire year, I tortured myself: I will write away to Hong Kong for fabric swatches to find one that will match its precise color – something between Hello Kitty and that frothy color you get when you beat Cool Whip into raspberry jello – and then I’ll find some struggling seamstress who is struggling to make commissary money to send to her sons – all three of whom have been locked away in the Fishkill Correctional Facility on cocaine trafficking charges – and I will pay her $25 bucks to lengthen the sleeves and do something about the shoulders –

But damn! A hundred bucks for something I can’t possibly ever wear? I don’t know.

If it’s still there, it should be up to $200 by now.

###

C is a pretty bright guy, but when he drinks, he turns into a total redneck. And not just any redneck: a redneck with liberal kneejerk biases. Thus, instead of the usual All Muslims are scum! from C, you get, All Republicans are scum!

“And the bastards are trying to shut down Poughkeepsie’s bus system!” C growled.

He had started slurring his words.

One of the big local issues hereabouts is that Dutchess County is finally wresting control of the city of Poughkeepsie’s flailing bus system. Really, the City of Poughkeepsie should not be running anything. The City of Poughkeepsie can barely keep its streets plowed in the winter: I still remember Adventures in Grocery Shopping between the months of December and March when I was living in Poughkeepsie and I did not have a car. They involved hopping from ice floe to ice floe kind of like Eliza fleeing the hounds.

Lois Lane does not have a car and is completely dependent on the public transportation system, so I get weekly updates on just how awful the City of Poughkeepsie’s administration of its bus system is.

Public transportation, in fact, is one of those few areas where economies of scale make perfect sense.

So, it was kind of a ridiculous argument to be having, plus I have a deep sense of C’s underlying tragedy – I can hardly look at him without flashing on the beautiful young artist wife who went mad and the beautiful young artist daughter who went mad: How do you survive tragedies like that without hating yourself, without thinking, It was something I did, I drove them mad?

Nonetheless, I continued having it – fueled, no doubt, by my deep contempt for Joel Tyner whom C kept citing as some kind of an authority. Joel Tyner is the flamingly left-wing county legislator from Rhinebeck, a weasely attention ‘ho of a type that’s very common in Berkeley – I used to date his clones regularly, which no doubt accounts for my deep, irremedial hatred for him. Talking about Joel Tyner in front of me is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Anyway, at some point, I realized I had an incredibly well-behaved guest sitting to my left who had not made a peep but who no doubt was bored to tears by this conversation, so I made C shake hands with me – See? We’re still buds! We can still discuss the finer points of cinematography in “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”! – and toddled off to the Patrizia-torium where I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca.

What a ridiculous movie, and how Hitchcock must have suffered when Selznick and the Hayes Code board forced him to tack on that awful ending.
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Spent yesterday morning churning out another 1,000 words on ze Work in Progress and the afternoon tromping around the local forests.

While I hammered out ze Work in Progress, I thought about Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald could hammer out an 3,000-word short story in a single sitting, but he was seldom able to produce more than 100 words a day when he was working on anything he deemed serious literature.

Scott Fitzgerald drank a lot when he was writing.

I can understand the impulse.

When you’re writing, you always have this sense that what you’re writing has already been written, that this manuscript is sitting in some locked portion of your brain and that if you could only unlock that portion of your brain, you’d have the whole damn thing – Voila! – without doing a lick of work!

Hence the urge to get shitfaced when you write.

###

I left Alice and Auntie Bye walking in on the two Nells as the latter conduct a kind of ghoulish tea party in the Sagamore Hills nursery.

I’m not exactly sure how one makes a child’s tea party ghoulish, so I am not looking forward to returning to the manuscript.

###

This has been one of the wettest summers on record since the Weather Service started keeping records way back in the 19th century. Nature has run riot. Looking out the window, some Congolese Airbnb guests of L’s cried out ecstatically, “It looks like home!” Meaning that it looks like a rain forest, I guess.

I think White Oaks Road at one time was part of James Roosevelt’s landholdings. It would have been farmland: rocky, unfertile farmland. There’s one stand of ancient apple trees abutting the 9G highway. Could this entire spot have been orchards at one time? Possible. Once upon a time, the Hudson Valley was known for its apples.

Anyway, it’s all forest now and thick twining underbrush laden with poisonous berries. I don’t know enough about trees to look at these and think, Aha! Second growth. I do know that when FDR inherited the holdings, he commissioned the folk at RTT’s alma mater to plant trees.

When FDR’s children inherited the holdings, they promptly sold them off to developers. The houses that line White Oaks Road are boxy, undistinguished. I did taxes for a guy who remembered White Oaks Road when it was a dirt trail shortcut between Highway 9 and Highway 9G, so it wasn’t all that long ago – 50 years?

###

I suppose one of the reasons that I like to exercise is that in contrast to most of my other goals – Write 350 page novel before lunch. Find billionaire who will die soon and is willing to marry you without a prenup. Achieve world domination – exercise is pretty easy to pull off.
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After dreaming about it, I was moved to Google-streetview the old apartment on Telegraph Avenue. It’s still there! And it’s still got the adult bookstore on its ground floor. So funny!

Those bay windows on the second floor are the ones Danny jumps out of. The tree, though, was the merest sapling when I lived there.

###

Dreamed that Max (my oldest son) and I were running around on the subway. And I was in an odd, petulant, resentful mood – Max was not paying enough attention to me! So at some point when he was running to catch a train, I deliberately dawdled behind so that I missed the train. And then it occurred to me that I didn’t have the slightest idea where I was. That the subway system had changed dramatically since the last time I’d been on it. I was now quite lost.

In the dream, Max was very excited because he’d just adopted Justin. (Robin’s high school best friend who committed suicide his first year in college.) “It’s a weird thing to do, I know,” he told me. “But I’m absolutely convinced I can save him.”

###

Weather has turned spectacular, so I’ve been spending as much time as I can outside, soaking up that Vitamin D.

The Goddess of Smartphones has got her fountain back:

unnamed


She really is the Goddess of Smartphones, as you can see from this highly pixilated close-up:

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Smartphones would not be invented for another 100 years when this statue was created, so credit those Vanderbilts with prescience as well as with obscene amounts of money.

###

RTT is a bit disturbed by the fact that his father hasn’t contacted him since his father has been in Europe.

What if that woman murdered dad? he texted.

This was the first I’d heard that Ben was flying off to Europe to meet a woman.

I found it pretty amusing that he would keep that info from me. Honestly, B – after all this time, do you think I really care?

B’s always had the capacity to get completely caught up in the adventure of the moment to the exclusion of everything else – particularly when the moment has a female costar.

I’ve seen this numerous times, but this is the first time RTT has experienced it.

I debated explaining it to him: This is the way your father reinvents himself when he finds his present reality too constraining. Likely he’s telling the woman – whoever she is – a complicated series of lies. He’s a bestselling novelist in the States! Or maybe a ghostwriter for a bestselling novelist. Or maybe a lion tamer with a traveling circus.

Avowals of grand passion will be exchanged: I never thought I would feel this way again! I don’t see how I can live without you.

At my present remove, I find this behavior almost endearing.

It wasn’t always.

But then I realized it benefits Robin in no way whatsoever to learn these truths about his father. So I texted him back, Trips are really ABSORBING as you know. I’m sure he’s fine. He’s living a life that’s outside his daily routine and reveling in it, you know?

Robin and Ben have a curiously codependent relationship in which Ben nags Robin relentlessly and continuously.

I’m sure it does feel strange to Robin to have that nagging disappear so suddenly.

But Robin is 22 years old now.

He shouldn’t need to be nagged.
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My pal Ren, the Buddhist priest, came to visit, so I took her on a tour of Hudson Valley hotspots – the Culinary Institute; the fabulously perched Olana. We had a good time.

Sometime during the course of the afternoon, though, my Fitbit fell off my wrist and was lost forever. And when I got home, that was all I could think about! Hello! It’s a Fitbit! We are not talking the Koh-in-noor diamond here! We are not talking a tail feather from the one true phoenix that can cure heartbreak, grant eternal happiness, and restore the carelessness of youth! You can go to Target and buy a Fitbit! You can go to Walmart and Best Buy too! You don’t even have to leave the house because you can order a fucking Fitbit on Amazon!

Nevertheless, I fell into a deep… Well. I wouldn’t call it a depression. More a kind of OCD-tinged anxiety attack. How could you fail to notice something dropping off your wrist? Don’t you know how important it is to track at all times? ET-cetera.

Of course, Ren and I were chattering away like characters in an Ella Ferrante novel, hardly pausing to take a breath. One of those time-out-of-time times. We both came of age during the late 60s/early 70s. We both took a lot of acid. Kind of like growing up in the same family. So, yes – I’d turned the tracking off.

olana


Olana is a very weird place, beautiful chiefly because of its location, high on a hill, overlooking the Hudson with the distant shapes of the Catskills giving what might otherwise be a sentimentally bucolic scene a certain heft and gravitas.

The Rip Van Winkle bridge was not there 150 years ago when Frederic Church stood out on his porch, barking orders at the maid.

Frederic Church was a painter in the Hudson Valley School, an art movement that would have fallen into obscurity except that art, of course, is a commodity, especially if you can get art historians to talk it up. So it’s had a revival in the last 30 years or so.

Frederic Church was also an heir to the Aetna Insurance dynasty – yep! that same corporation that’s overcharging you for healthcare insurance even today! You didn’t think he could build a rich man’s folly off the proceeds of a few unimaginative paintings of the Holy Land, did you?

And Olana is a rich man’s folly. A very rich man’s folly. A house built to resemble a Persian potentate’s palace – extruded masonry, colored brick, strangely stenciled windows, bizarre asymmetrical towers. Calvin Vaux is the architect on record, but Vaux had taste, so I imagine he ran screaming out of the room after his many of sessions with the prim-lipped, autocratic Church. The house is kind of hideous. Interesting, but hideous. And disjointed. Almost uncomfortably so.

olana3


Church was another one of those enfants terribles who took the world by storm. In his early 30s, he did a monumental painting he called Heart of the Andes, which he then put on display, charging 25¢ a head. He made $10,000 off it in a very short period of time, which was a lot of money in the 1850s. He sold the painting for $10,000, too – the highest amount a painting by an American had ever sold for, and that record stood for a very long time.

Photography was not then common, and of course, most people didn’t travel. So this ten-foot wide canvas was about as close as most people were ever gonna come to visiting South America.

The painting is at the Met, and I’ve seen it. It is very, very detailed. There is something romanticized about it that I didn’t like. The one thing I did like about it is something that I imagine viewers and art critics at the time couldn’t have picked up – the fact that it appears to have been painted using a point of view that was physically impossible at the time, hovering somewhere maybe 40 feet above the canvas but with no loss of detail. As though Church was using a drone and binoculars.

The Hudson Valley School lost cred in the years following the Civil War, and by the time Church died in 1900, he was completely forgotten.

One of his sons inherited Olana, and that son and his wife continued to live there. The son died in the 1940s; the wife in the 1960s. Olana by that time was decrepit and dilapidated, filled with moth-eaten stuffed peacocks and porcelain paintings of Mt. Fuji. I think it may even have been slated to be torn down. I would have loved to have seen it then in all its glorious ruin!

The house was rescued by a consortium of concerned citizens who persuaded the Church heirs to bequeath it to the State of New York. It has since been restored. I’m glad about that. Olana definitely deserves to be seen.
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aa6491d7f9f0a8c29baaf2541692d1eb Went off to Rhinebeck Sunday, ostensibly to hunt down a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing to send to RTT but really because – well – Rhinebeck. It’s a cool little town. The Carmel of the Hudson Valley. Independent bookstore. Art house movie theater. So far as I can tell, it survives on tourism – I have no idea what the locals do when winter comes.

Anyway, at Oblong Books, I found a copy of the kinda, sorta graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl, which I’ve been looking for practically forever (or at least since I saw the movie) along with deeply discounted copies of The Best American Short Stories 2014 and The Best American Essays 2014, two volumes I used to read religiously every year when they first came out.

And then came home and fell into a kind of paroxysm of self-loathing: Are you fuckin’ crazy? You can’t afford to buy books! You have bills to pay! Plus you’re about to go off on a five-day road trip and that’s gonna cost money

Etcetera.

Plus I have serious hoarder tendencies when it comes to books. I tried to count all the books I owned when I packed the Monterey house up, but I lost count around 2,500.

###

I’m trying to compose a missive to put into the RTT care package along with the Stephen King book and the chocolate guitar I found at Koch’s, the World’s Best Chocolatier (I mean, really.) Something chatty and affectionate.

But I am failing miserably.

I don’t know what to say to him.

I’m not mad at him.

But it dawned on me some time this week that if he failed a class way back when that he never bothered to make up that he must have known for ages that he couldn’t graduate. That, in fact, his very attrition viz classes this last semester may have been based in good part on the fact that he knew he wasn’t graduating anyway, so why bother?

I’m not really sure what to do with that fact.

And I find myself a wee bit resentful that somehow, throughout this all,the burden of communication must always initiate through me.

Ghost

May. 5th, 2016 08:02 am
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The real problem with holing up for two weeks is that one turns into a ghost.

Human beings are defined by their social connections.

Ghosts are defined by their – what? Obsessive attachments? The richness of their fantasy lives? Their familiarity with the Lives of the Real Housewives?

I start thinking morbid things like, If I disappeared tomorrow, nobody would notice.

Which is both true and untrue.

I mean people would notice. Not huge numbers of people, true. I’ve deliberately calculated the force of the ripples I made in this pond. They’re engineered to have a time-lapse effect.

And the truth is human life goes on. No matter who dies And will continue to go on until it doesn’t. One day, there will be a Last Human Being. Surrounded by sentient cockroaches. Possibly maintained in a kind of zoo.

###


Here is a picture of the delicious dessert I enjoyed last night:

dessert


Here is a picture of a 10-foot silver fish, entirely composed of flatware and presided over by the beneficent spectres of Julia Child and James Beard.

fish


Here is a detail of the flatware composing the 10-foot silver fish:

spoon
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Hyde Park is one of those towns that's defined by what it isn’t, and what it never could be.

You find a lot of those sorts of towns across the United States.

They tend to be points on a grid that once marked Western expansion.

They’re places people went to before they went to somewhere else.

###

Weather was gorgeous yesterday, so as planned, I tromped down to the library and then, still feeling the need for physical activity, tromped over to Vanderbilt Lane on the far side of town.

It’s contiguous with the far gates of the ghastly mansion itself and one assumes it was once part of the estate.

house-lu


I assumed this was a cottage to which some faithful Vanderbilt retainer had been pensioned off, but no – the Vanderbilts were greedy bastards and probably preferred their retainers to die in squalor.

Research confirms this was the creamery. The Vanderbilts produced 5,000 pounds of butter a year. And used every pat!

To the north are what look like the remains of a vast horse pasture. This is where the Vanderbilts kept their Belgian work horses, their dairy herd (100 cows) and their chickens (50,000 of them.) The hay barn was designed by Stanford White and featured cupolas and an Italianate campanili.

This is what it looked like in the 1920s:

B9318793244Z.1_20150915132155_000_GM0BT4PSC.1-0


This is what it looks like today:

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Nature is forgetful. And give her enough time, she always wins out.

I must say, that process makes me very happy when it happens to the spawn of loathsome robber barons like the Vanderbilts. But sad when it happens to virtuous, deserving folk like me.

Spring was late this year, due to back-to-back snowstorms in early April but has finally kicked into gear:

two


This place has become my new favorite shottle bop, surpassing even my memories of the Haunted Antique Store in Moss Landing:

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I’d die for that Charlie Chaplin. And think of how much fun I could have entertaining people I don’t like and offering them this chair:

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Today’s mission will be to score a copy of The Camomile Lawn at the Hyde Park Library, an ancient and decrepit coach house built of local fieldstone and erected at the behest of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, back in the days when he was Viscount Trimingham in the Big House hereabouts, and lord of all he could see.

Like all benevolent aristocrats, FDR had a deep interest in preserving local handicrafts. This area, for example, is particularly well-known for its 18th century stone houses:

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Not to worry! I will spare you the 20 page diatribe on how bizarre it is that FDR went on to become America’s first democratic socialist President.

###

I stumbled on the TV mini-series version of The Camomile Lawn last night after a hard day at the Scut Factory. I watched it into the wee hours of the morning. War-time Britain! Check. Large house perched on the Cornish coast! Check.

But the most interesting thing about The Camomile Lawn to me is that it was published to great critical acclaim and blockbuster sales when its author, Mary Wesley, was 72 years old.

"The young always think that they invented sex and somehow hold full literary rights on the subject", she remarked.

Take note, creepy Millennial prudes with your irritating and bor-r-r-r-ing “trigger warnings.”

Mary Wesley had quite the wild life, but it’s her singular old age that interests me. Her second husband, the love of her life, died when she was 58, leaving her destitute. As she had no job skills whatsoever, she took up writing. Think Jane Austen writing in the contemporary vernacular if Jane Austen had been interested in writing honestly about the brutality, incest, homosexuality, murder, suicide, cruelty and illegitimacy transpiring just outside those drawing rooms where snobbery and conservatism were the accepted norms.

Several years before her death, Wesley ordered a red lacquer casket from a local coffin maker. When the Hearst Corporation magazine Country Living proposed doing a story on her after she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, she suggested they use a photograph of her sitting up in the casket. They passed.

###

On the walls of my writing annex, I’ve taped photographs of Louisa May Alcott and E. Nesbit – both authors who toiled in their own versions of the Scut Factory while carving out precious moments for their own writing.

I think I may add Mary Wesley’s portrait to my gallery:

Wes1USE_3188021b

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