Friday, August 26, 2005

File Under "TMI"

Just in the last 24 hours, I've been subjected to personal revelations from two different neighbors that were neither solicited nor welcome.

Dave lets me use his lawnmower--I don't have a garage, and I only mow when the grass is high enough to hide my truck anyway. I just pop over and pull it out of their garage and run with it. Yesterday I walked into his garage as he was fully unzipped and pissing into the drain in the middle of the garage. Perhaps walking into the house was too much trouble.

Then, this morning, I arose at about 4:45 and stumbled into the kitchen, thirsty and looking to get rid of the foul flavor the antibiotic I'm taking leaves on my tongue. A movement outside the window caught my eye, and I glanced up just in time to see the neighbor on the other side, the woman who removes her teeth to shout obscenities at her husband from the porch, upwards of sixty years old, fully framed in her kitchen window and completely naked save for the towel on her head. I'd hate to have mammaries that large at that age. They have a teenaged son living at home...hell, I don't walk around downstairs like that, and I live alone!

Our houses are entirely too close together. I also get center stage for every shouting match, every teenaged temper tantrum, the drunken parties. Consequently, I have far more insight into that marriage than is proper or desired.

Switching gears here: this morning, I rode to work behind a pickup truck with a dryer strapped to the bed. I tend to keep a pretty good distance behind any truck with open cargo. We were clipping along at about 70MPH when a pipe, looked to be the dryer exhaust pipe--about three inches in diameter and eighteen inches long--flipped out the back of the truck, clanged to the pavement, and bounced end over end directly in front of me. I had enough time to swerve (sharply) but had to make that split-second prediction of which way the pipe would bounce. I went left. It also went left, but I went about an inch farther left, into the oncoming lane. I missed it by a hair and shudder to think of what would have happened if I'd hit it, if I'd been three feet closer to the truck, if I'd tried slamming on the brakes.

Skills Test #1 successfully completed, I suppose. But it scared the shit out of me--my hands were shaking as I pulled my ID out at the Ft. Drum gate and the guy behind me, who'd seen the whole thing, pulled up into the lane to my right at the gate.

"I thought you were going down," he said, eyes wide, eyebrows raised.

"Yeah," I said, "You and me both."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Biker Barbeque

Last Friday, a Warrant Officer who works in my building asked me to go riding on Saturday. His name is Jay, I don't know him very well. But I figure, what the hell, might be fun.

We rode all day...down to Syracuse to a BBQ joint (wait, they have those up here???) called Dinosaur BBQ. We pulled up and there were about a hundred bikes lined up at the curb, mostly Harleys, two crotch-rockets, and a spare Yamaha or two. I smelled that lovely barbeque fragrance from four blocks away--this place was like a visit home. The bikes were all huge and tricked out. We sat down with a table of Harley ladies--I don't really fit in, but they are outgoing and friendly by nature. They have great stories.

Harley ladies tend to be ten to twenty years older than I am. They wear tight Levi's, the kind that go all the way up to your natural waist, tight black t-shirts and they don't care to hide the spare tire, high-heeled boots, lots of makeup, and they've done entirely too much chemical damage to their hair. Their faces are heavily lined and they smoke.

They've lived.

And here's where Harley folks and soldiers have a great deal in common, besides the bikes: they are all deep and abiding patriots. Soldiers develop more love of the Land by traveling outside it--you see how small the living is throughout the rest of the world, and greet each day with grateful appreciation for the astonishing good fortune to have been born American. And bikers, they get it on the road here in the States--they ride all the backroads from sea to shining sea and they experience it all atop an icon embedded in Americanism more than apple pie itself. The Harley. Freedom and the spirit of adventure embodied.

And here I am, chin-length hair (no chemicals), low-waisted boot cut jeans, also high-heeled boots but mine are Nine West casual and brown, and a purple long-sleeved t-shirt. Little to no makeup. But I ride, and that's all they care about.

We got to talking to Ed, whose ruined right arm concerned me a bit (did he wreck??). He rides a gargantuan, custom-built Dyna Wide, and told me a story about the two soldiers to whom he rents his back apartment. He speaks of them with reverence. Bikers love soldiers, no doubt about that.

Then he got to looking at my bike. Jay pointed out that I'd only been riding a month and had put over 1000 miles on it. Ed looked at me with raised eyebrows.

"That's your first bike?"

I nodded. "Have you laid it down?" he asked.

"No, thank God."

Now he's nodding. "If you've logged a thousand miles on that baby without laying it down, you're all set." He waves to the other ninety bikes out there. "If you can ride a Sportster, you can handle anything out here."

He goes on to say that Sportsters are extremely difficult to ride--they are very narrow, where the larger bikes gain stability through width. He was very impressed that I started out on a Sportster.

Jay rode it around the block to try it out. "That sucker is fast," he said. "Yeah, you can ride anything if you can ride that."

I gathered names, phone numbers, and times/locations for group rides. I finally feel like I can keep up, having barrelled down to Syracuse behind Jay at about 80 MPH. It's infinitely more fun with people--I've only ridden alone, and this is a great way to meet people with great stories. I don't listen out of shallow politeness--I want to hear about the road, the wackos they've encountered, the years of unconventional living.

Maybe I'll start writing about them.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Lazy Last Day

I've been blissfully hiding out here for three weeks, against my better judgement...after all, I'm about to be unemployed, and three weeks of leave would have paid a couple grand when I get the payoff from all my unused leave. But I've been running so hard for the last several years, I haven't taken much vacation...and therefore, even after these 20 days off, I still have fifty to sell back at the end of it all.

And this last week, I rediscovered my love of reading. I'm working on the fourth of the stack of books I bought, currently ass-deep in Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, set in New Orleans in the late fifties. The protagonist's aunt lives in the Garden District, not too terribly far from where I lived, and it's wonderful to read about it in Percy's capable hands.

The last several days have gone like this: up at around eight, breakfast and coffee, gym, and back to the house by about 11:00. Then the rest of the day is mine to spend sprawled out in my now-gorgeous den (the floors really do look amazing), the breeze flowing through the bank of open windows in the den to the screen door to the deck, and I spend hours intermittently reading and just listening.

After a year in the desert, I still richly enjoy the sounds of my home, yard, and neighborhood. The steady drone of some north-faring locust, a sound forever entwined with lazy summer afternoons. Crickets, the wind in the huge maple in my back yard, the neighbors getting to know their new puppy, faroff lawnmowers, and an ice-cream truck that blares a tinky-sounding rendition of The Entertainer for blocks before it crosses my field of vision. The dishwasher or washing machine completing a cycle. More wind. One amazing afternoon, I killed all the lights in the house (which aren't needed in the daytime at any rate--I get great light from the tall windows) in favor of a crashing thunderstorm, complete with hail and visible strikes of lightning to the ground.

I could be out of the Army on September the fifth. I'm hoping for October 31st, as two more months of pay and accumulated leave wouldn't hurt. But in my heart, three weeks from now would be lovely--never have I been in such a good position to leave the Army, with all the deployment savings.

Six months of reading, working to get my sculpture mojo back, and enjoying the seasons, followed by about four months of waiting tables. It sounds perfectly lovely. The thing I enjoy about waiting tables is this: at the end of the shift, your feet ache, your pocket bulges with straight cash, there's a cold beer and good company/gossip, and not a care in the world. After the many stresses of Army Officership and the attendant 24/7 weight of it all, a year spent this way sounds heavenly.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Springer Spaniel

My three weeks of blissful vacation are almost finished; I return to work on Tuesday. I managed to get some things accomplished--I've faithfully gone to the gym at least four times a week, and running is already much less painful, and I made some progress on the house. The horrid pink room is still pink and junky, but I'm about to have a great deal of time to kill while gainfully unemployed. The next State Police Academy I can get into is next August...I'll be eligible for 26 weeks of unemployment, which is not much but will get me through the winter with my savings. Then I plan to wait tables out in Sackets Harbor once the weather warms and the wealthy tourists reconverge on the town. So a year of pretending to be 25 again. No problem.

So today I'm spending the day on the porch with a book, The Devil Wears Prada, which is pure fluff and a great summer read. Like reality TV--bitchy and entertaining, devoid of any meaning or real quality. In the same book-buying frenzy, I bought Walker Percey's The Moviegoer, two titles by David Sedaris (you must read this man if you haven't already), Cormac McCarthy's latest (also a must-read: William Faulkner meets Charles Bukowski out west--not literally, of course), and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's autobiography. Plenty of meat in those dishes, I'm just having dessert first. I'll bring the other books to work and not feel embarassed to be caught reading them.

On the porch, reading about spoiled New York princesses I'd probably fight the urge to drop-kick if I actually met one, 98 pounds of flying fluff squealing EEEeewww all the way, I witnessed a real life princess in action. I'm sure, gentle readers, you recall my observations of my nextdoor neighbors, known to me and my friends and the other neighbors as the Springers. Drama from Day One. That fateful morning I moved in, when all my friends' cellphones rang because the notice of the Iraq deployment had just made its way from Rumsfeld to the 10th Mountain Division HQ, I got my first taste of the Northcountry's answer to trailer park trash. The matriarch, clearly sauced, stood on the front porch before us all, removed her teeth, and spat pure obscenity-laced vitriol at the patriarch...who, by the way, seems like an upstanding, agreeable man. Also recall my own latenight bouts of screaming obscenities from my window in response to their incessantly-barking dog, chained outside all night just beneath my window.

Fortunately, something clicked in the mind of the dog while I was away--it is now an angel. I have no decibel-related complaints about the NNY Springers. I have one aesthetic complaint--all the trash piled up on the side of the house, and the exposed Tyvec on one side. The combination means I cannot truly enjoy my deck--it's like sipping a Stoli martini in a junkyard. My plan is to build a trellis along the offending side of the deck, and coax morning glories up the side come spring, just block it all out entirely.

I digress. Today, the teenage son and his quintessentially Northern New York girlfriend appeared on the porch. Here we go, I thought, and focused intensely on my book while listening to their conversation. If you could call it that.

I've never heard this young lady speak in a volume under Pure Shriek, just as foul as her potential mother-in-law. Twenty years from now, she'll be standing on some poor bastard's porch in Daisy Dukes gumming obscenities at said poor bastard.

You don't make any sense! She screamed in that flat, almost-Canadian, nasal twang they have up here. Ten times more grating than any Southern accent I've ever heard. You been screwing around with a buncha skanky bitches! At least TELL me before you wanna go run around with those whores!

And just like with his dad, I can never hear his responses. Low muttering. When she noticed me on the porch, she really started railing, as if to impress me--looka here! I don't take NO SHIT offa NO ONE!

And all I can think is, you poor girl. He'll be gone any minute now. Women like her feel that men are lucky to be with them because they're reasonably cute in an area of the country with a sky-high obesity rate. But I've never quite understood what any woman felt she would gain with shrill, self-righteous, nagging tantrums. Who would want to hang around? A man without other options, that's who. And as young as these two are, he still has other options. And I'm thinking, someone should tell her, maybe she'll learn. No one ever kept a lover by screeching at them night and, it would take ONE interaction like that, I'd leave and never look back. If you can't handle life's day-to-day challenges without becoming histrionic, how would you handle the real problems in your life, the ones that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday? Just fall apart??

But the fact is, they don't learn, ever. This town is full of them--miserable married couples, both of whom just look exhausted, hounded to the nub. It's the men, too--they talk to these women like they'd just as soon spit on them. Not the neighbors, mind you, these are the couples I see in the grocery store, or resignedly pushing baskets through Wal-Mart, dull and glazed-over, quarrelling visciously over some real or perceived slight.

This princess, she ended this row by spinning around on her flip-flopped heel and prancing to her car, her middle finger extended over her retreating shoulder. The boy just watched, at once puzzled and resigned. I went back to my book.