Trip Up East 2016

September 3, 2016.

He and I are laid up, stuck, at Lambert.  Our flight was scheduled for 11:05, pushed back to 2:25p.  The plane is detained in Oklahoma City for maintenance.  There was an earthquake north of there this morning, about seven o’clock.  Some in St. Louis—my mom—said they felt the tremor.  B and I were running, felt nothing.

I went and got us coffees, long line at Starbucks.  There is TV noise, there are children, there are many aboard the blunderbuss of airport confusion.  The board is clean except for our flight.  Bad luck, bald luck, bad eagle.  It’s been awhile since I’ve had an unpleasant flight experience, not since a layover in Miami coming back from The Mexico in 2010.  I can’t recall what amount of time that required.  There’s a lady from my eventual flight on her phone, talking away.  One call after the next, as if her talking keeps the phone charged.  She’s telling people the flight was canceled, and rescheduled.  Not true.  Alarmist.  Unruly kids, agitated mother.  I’m not long for this seat.

“I just turned 59-and-a-half, that was a milestone for me,” she says.

She can now take a distribution from her IRA penalty-free.

“I gotta pay taxes on it?”

And they pump the CNN into this terminal like it’s laughing gas.  “This was not in the plan, I can tell you that.”  Like Dad said—what I lobbied for—we take the direct flight and it backfires.  Egg on my face.  We asked at the desk about going through Hartford but that option wouldn’t get us there any faster.  “Manchester, NH?”  Nope.  A guy is restocking the soda machine.  I should have packed more than just one little bourbon.  The wait is on.  It was, all along.  The earthquake announced it, the vouchers, denounced it, all I can do is sing this song.

I’m slinging my “old” iPod, the one with the cracked-windshield screen.  What was my current iPod just stopped working.  I didn’t drop it—it dropped me.  Cold, dark screen.  We had a good run, many of them in fact.  How many tubes of caulk did I crush listening to ‘casts on that pod?  Several, many several.  How many baseball games did it succor me with?  Many, very many.  Lots of John and Suzyn.  Plenty of Tom Hamilton.  It’s uncanny too that the earphones I’m now using are new.  The old ones were going, getting slip-shoddy just before the pod checked out.  Maybe the pod knew it, stepped away just in time—Wow.  I was getting to this but the old Pod has forced my hand.  On random it breaks out Daft Punk, DJ Koze, then Modest Mouse.  You give me chills, old Pod!

There’s a little, tan lady lying down on a row of seats, watching something on an iPad at a weird angle.  Neck vertebrae of steel.  Maybe she is Wolverine’s mama.  Talk of lunch.  Audible audibles.  Dad suggests Chico’s, just down the tarmac from here.  I realize he means Chili’s.  Loud noise from the vending machines, just short of a soda explosion.  There is a lull all through the terminal, like the morning window for arrivals and departures has closed.  The shopkeepers and clerks have all gone out for their noon-time break.  Smell of apple cider vinegar on my fingers.  I sent B an SOS re: my sweaty pits.  She did some research.  Next thing I know I’m wiping ACV on my armpits.  I’ll try anything.  In college I wrote a story about a guy—Jackson Middler—who had a terrible sweating problem.  Much of the story took place, as it happens, at the airport.   But that was pre-2001 and I used the airport as a peripatetic landscape where people could come and go, regardless of whether they held a boarding pass.  This imagined airport had a strip club, where Jackson had an encounter with a woman named Samantha Spumoani.  It’s all coming back to me now.  I spent a lot of space in the story talking about the speed ramps in the airport—the motoriZed walkways, the horiZontal escalators—and how they allowed people to move at different speeds.  A person could use the speed ramp and walk; could get on the speed ramp and stand; or, a person could choose not to use the walkway at all.  Jackson Middler didn’t use the walkway at all.  That’s who he was.  I am pretty certain I have no remaining copies of that story.  11:27 a.


I’m reminded of that line from the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B”, a line I first really heard in a laundromat in Munich in 2008, there on a trip with B and Roy.  This isn’t the worst trip I’ve even been on but this is top five worst flights—most miserable flights—of all time.  Considering first the delay.  Second, sitting in this window seat with BFR in the middle seat to my left: his elbow is encroaching my space in an inconceivably great way.  I have a couple of poses to choose from, as I am a statue in torture en route Boston.  Third, there are a disproportionate number of young kids on this craft and they are all taking turns screaming their heads off.  Are they being operated upon with blowtorches?  One is in the seat right behind us and if he is in a quiet stretch it is because he finds that kicking the back of one of our seats is a basis for placation.  Now one of the stewardesses warns we are going to hit some turbulence.

I just downed the pitiful sole bourbon bullet I loaded in my carry-on bar gun.  What was I thinking?  Why did I not plan harder?  Music, turned up as loud as it can go, will have to keep me aloft the rest of the way.  I’ve heard some of my classics.  Black Keys, “The Only One”; Future Islands, “Back in the Tall Grass”; a Pearl Jam song I never hear any more; Led Zeppelin, “Ten Years Gone.”  How good was that Future Islands album?  Anything I’m hearing from it now has held up well or gotten better.  Now Neil Young, “Out on the Weekend.”  Not loud enough but good.  What state we’re over I can’t begin to say.  Pennsylvania perhaps.  I didn’t pack my cigarettes either and damn I wouldn’t mind one right now or when I step off this p(l)ane.  It’ll be like a victory.  A race run, not won, but survived.  And that’s the name of the game for this adventure, this jaunt.  Survive this trip.  Get on the other side of it.  September, LouFest, birthday, beer, some time off, Scratch, work on the wall.


We made it to Boston and off that plane.  Walking the walk to baggage claim (cabbage blame?)  I ate a Chick-fil-A that I’d been caching in my fanny pack since STL.  It tasted alright.  I was hungry enough and I didn’t want it to go to waste.  I also ate a chocolate granola cranberry cookie that was surprisingly good.  A chunk fell on the floor near the baggage carousel and I really wanted to eat it but thought better and tossed it away.  
Tammy was waiting on us in passenger pickup.  She had been there for a little while and had, she said, almost given up on us.  Our walking was at a slow pace, and our baggage was toward the tail end of what was spit out onto the carousel from our flight.  We must have been the last Southwest arrival.  The terminal was quite vacant as we coursed through it toward cabbage blame. 
It is about 90 minutes’ drive from Boston to Ludlow, assuming copacetic conditions on the Mass Pike, which we had.  BFR asked his cousin Tammy question after question the whole way, like it was a de-briefing of her role as herself since the last time he had seen her.  I didn’t say much.  I spoke up to talk about dogs, running, and my wife.  Apart from investing, drinking, baseball, and caretaking work on my house that’s all I’m really interested in, at this time.

Elsie’s house—she’s my dad’s aunt, though they are separated by only seven years—is as I remembered it.  It has been five years since I’ve been here and walking in, sitting down at dinner, getting cold water out of the Poland Spring container in the fridge, it’s like I never left.  

Talk at the dinner table was of import, and had some tone of drama.  But there has been death in this family and drama follows death.  Death and business and generations and money.  We all had some drinks but upon me the effects of the alcohol were felt perhaps the least.  Michael—who was at my wedding, who had left the picture, but who has now re-entered it—made me a manhattan which he called perfect.  And at first I’m thinking, “OK, yeah, you’ve just made THE perfect manhattan.  Thanks, but whatever.”  Then I realized he had made the drink called the perfect manhattan.  You use some dry vermouth in addition to the sweet.  It was a good cocktail and I wanted it.

I had a little wine and then a winter ale that might have been from last winter but tasted quite good actually, a scotch ale, not unduly spicy like some so-called winter beers.  We ate lamp chops and corn on the cob and sweet potato spears and green beans and salad.  I passed on dessert.

It is remarkable to listen to Elsie and her three daughters talk about serious subjects at the table.  Not as much the business here, Randall’s Farm, but late Billy’s business north.  I am not going to elaborate.  It is not my place.  But I am honored and pleased to consider that they wanted me to hear what they had to say.  23:16.

September 4.

I’m sitting on a rocking outdoor sofa on the screened-in porch at Elsie’s.  The stand—Randall’s Farm, now a much larger operation than when it was just a produce stand—is to my right.  There is Karen walking out of the greenhouse and through the nursery area, where there are flowers and shrubs for sale.  Mums.  Sunflowers.  Roses of Sharon.  Vines—wisteria?  Karen is the CEO and has become a local celebrity, due in part to spots on local news where she gives planting tips.  Tammy was giving her shit about it.

Most of the Randalls in this area have worked at Randall’s Farm at one time or another.  My dad likes to say something about being their first youth employee.  Sometimes I think about having B get a job at Hampshire, or Amherst, or UMass.  And I could get a part-time job at the stand, see where it leads me, work my way up.  The winters would be a drag but I have a lot of family here, around here.  Summer, spring, and fall would be pleasant.  A day like today, sixties and seventies, not a cloud in the sky, looking out past the maple, to a field of sunflower, corn, empty greenhouses.

They sell beer and wine.  There is a deli serving formidable sandwiches.  It is a small business, of which there seem to be more of, pro rata, pro capita, here than in St. Louis.  After Tammy, Karen, Anna—who is the next generation of Randall that is going to work the stand?  Johnny, Judy, Will, Taryn?  It could be me, involved to some degree, around at least.  I’d live here more readily than metro St. Louis.  Or Chicago.  There are plenty of options to be by the sea.  Two hours down to Naragansett, RI.  Three hours to Portland, ME.  Hampton Beach, NH, is two hours.  I’ve been there.  It’s tempting to go now, it’s been a while since I’ve seen the sea.  And I imagine there is all kinds of camping in New Hampshire, Vermont, upstate New York.  Tammy said she’s doing interviews for a vacant dishwashing position.  Someday.  No reason B and I couldn’t rent a place somewhere nearby for a month, have a kitty of camping gear stashed in some storage locker.  Take a month, or two, and camp New England.  Fish, read Thoreau, stock up on provisions at the stand.

It’s 10:40 am.  My dad’s cousin, a client, will be here in twenty minutes.  Enough future rumination for now.  There’s a gentle breeze.  What a beautiful day.

Much later: “I’m too tired to write and there is more to tell about than I can do.  I want to get up early and go take photos of the farms and fields up toward Amherst.”

September 5.

I didn’t get up early and I didn’t go up toward Amherst.  But I did the loop around the grounds of Randall’s Farm and I took a handful of photos.  I didn’t go anywhere today.  There are a lot of little moments and details and nuances I’d love to recall and relay but all I want to do right now is listed to Vin Scully call this Dodgers game and keep on reading my Cheever book of short stories.

Today felt like a poem day, the gusts thrown off by a hurricane remnant, distant cousins talking about ancient history, walking to the stand for sandwiches, the honeybee boxes, the pond where my dad wants 1/3 of his ashes scattered, an attempted nap, what sounded like a gunshot turning out to be a car accident bringing down a utility pole, exploding a transformer, Keurig coffee, work on my fantasy team, listening to Vin, reading Cheever.

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