Monthly Archives: October 2013

Yukking It Up In The Ha-Ha Room

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Every hotel has one.  It’s the room that they don’t let out, at least not to anyone they want to see again.  Maybe it’s next to the elevator.  Maybe it’s next to the 10-story building’s main furnace.  Or it has a view of a brick wall six feet away.  Or it’s impossible to find at the end of a corridor.  It’s the room that gets given to people who the desk staff think won’t complain.  Or, as I said, people they don’t expect to see again, ever.

While every hotel has one of these dreadful spaces, you don’t typically find them in inns.  Especially not inns that are competing in a market characterized by words like “pampering” or “luxury” or “five-star” or “boutique”.  Usually those kind of inns are patronized only by people who can absolutely be expected to complain if something isn’t right – because the clientele are usually paying very handsomely for the privilege of racking up under that particular roof.  And the Gold Standard for such inns is the Repeat Guest…preferably, the sort of guest that leaves reviews on TripAdvisor saying things like “We come here every year” and “I wouldn’t stay anywhere else.”

Roy and I – both of us having plenty of personal experience with the concept of “roughing it” – him, in terms of sleeping in Greek caves or being awakened by getting sprayed with a fire hose in the Athens city parks back in his Salad Days, me, in terms of occupying an endless series of difficult-to-erect tents in places where the flora is hostile and prone to attack, and the fauna is as well, occasionally with life-threatening consequences, and doing it inclement weather – scorching hot, pouring rain, oppressive humidity, and high winds at nearly arctic temperatures, and sometimes all of these within a given eight-hour period, because such is the lot of anyone who goes camping in Texas.    Now I have the income of a Professional, and so does Roy, and the kids are out of college, and we have some disposable income…and no taste at all for “roughing it” or anything like.

We like to go away, and when we go away, we like to be treated very well.  Comfortable beds, overstuffed armchairs, gas fireplaces, large bathtubs with bottomless hot water, fine dining, and hot chocolate, cider, or tea laid on with fresh baked goods at 3:30pm.  We have extremely discriminating tastes, and we like to Stimulate the Local Economy through payments to innkeepers, waitstaff, and housekeeping tips.  It’s a win-win.

Within this love of Going Away, we have our little habits.  One of which is the Great Anniversary Getaway.  We were married shortly before Halloween, and celebrate that occasion every year by Getting Away From It All, typically to some place best characterized as “high-end rustic Vermont Country Inn”. “Rustic” in this sense indicates to the availability of a wood-burning fireplace somewhere on the premises, and easy access to vast tracts of scenic hiking terrain.  The last several years, our Great Anniversary Getaway has been fraught with…excitement.   Who can forget the Thrills and Chills of paying Over-the-river-and-through-the-woods in the post-Hurricane Irene landscape of southern Vermont during the Great Halloween Blizzard of ’11?  Or the Electrifying Adventures of the Hurricane Sandy blackout?  The tumult of recent history has given us two great take-aways: 1. Always park the car behind the house when we leave, not on the street; and 2. Avoid scheduling trips that involve air travel around Halloween.

This year, as a direct consequence of the pandemonium of prior years, we elected to change up our game plan, to forego the Rustic Vermont Country Inn, to forego the charms of foreign parts, and to stick close-ish to home and do a City Vacation instead. Every year on our way  up to the Great Annual Maine Summer Vacation Week we pass through Portland, a town with every evidence of charm, culture, and significant amenities.  Every year we say “we should come visit here sometime!”  And this, children, is the year we chose to do this.

Now Roy, I may have said before, is very much a Creature of Habit.  He even puts the cat to shame in terms of his firm commitment to Tradition.  So it bears mentioning at the outset that he was not, shall we say, completely on board with the decision to abandon the overstuffed armchair dozing in front of the fire, and particularly, he was not on board with bailing out on the jacuzzi tubs one often finds in the High End Rustic Vermont Country Inn.  However, he agreed that our recent luck with these destinations was sufficiently poor that we could try something else, which is how I wound up looking to book a room in the city center of Portland, Maine.

To my utter surprise, this task proved far more challenging than expected.  The first four places on my list were booked to the eaves for the weekend in question.  The fifth place – having earned that position by the…somewhat…varied…reviews provided by the TripAdvisor Faithful, was not quite full.  And that, friends, is how we settled on Room Six.

This is Room Five.  Not the room we booked, but I feel that it’s useful to provide it as a reference point.

other room

It looks nice enough.  Lovely large bed, apparently soft, plenty of pillows, good lighting, large bathroom, carpeted floor.  All-in-all, a solid contender.  But, alas, not available for the entire weekend.

This is Room Six.

as advertised

Now, as a Seasoned Consumer of Internet Marketing Practices on the part of a massive array of inns coast-to-coast, this picture left me with some questions.  The first among which was “How big is that bed?”  Without more in the way of floor space it wasn’t possible to know.  “Roy,” I said.  “Before you book that room, call the inn and find out if that’s a queen bed, or a double. If it’s a double, we don’t want the room.”

Togetherness with Roy is one of the great joys of my life, but as we’ve learned in our decade of relationship, a double bed is just a little too much togetherness.

He duly called, discovered it’s a queen, and we booked in.

Things started to get a little sketchy early in the week before the trip, when I had to check the website to get the directions, etc.  That’s when I realized that the room description indicated that the private bath had a shower.  In Inn-Speak, this means it only has a shower, no tub.  Uh-oh.  “Roy,” I said. “I have some bad news.”

One of Roy’s favorite things about Getting Away From It All is the availability of large tubs with plenty of hot water.  We only have one tub in our house, and it’s more of an apartment-sized tub, spacious only to someone the size of a six-year-old child.  And our water heater is oversized, but doesn’t quite satisfy Roy’s desire to immerse himself completely in water hot enough to cook a lobster, even if the tub was large enough to immerse more than the upper or lower half of an adult body, which it’s not.  I knew he was going to be devastated by the lack of a tub.

And I was right.  I just didn’t know how right.

Friday afternoon of the weekend in question found us pulling up to an small historic building in a charming and slightly funky section of the Portland city center.  Oddly enough, however, there was no designated street parking zone for people checking in.  This really is odd – most of these places are very careful to ensure that their clientele have some place to stow the car where it won’t draw the attention of the Meter Maid or of Wandering Thieves.  Usually, it’s marked “15 minute parking for guests of…” or “reserved for check-in” or some such.  This one, however, featured no such amenity – not even after we circled the block searching for one.  Eventually, we left the car in a COMMERCIAL LOADING ZONE, STRICTLY ENFORCED spot.  Roy, as a native of New York City, is far more comfortable with every variety of illegal parking activity, including some I had never even heard of before driving in the City with him.  Double-parking is probably my favorite version of this, especially the one were the driver whips in next to someone parked curb-side, sets the Hazard lights going, and say “Stay here in case the police come by.” before getting out of the vehicle.

So we left the car illegally parked and went to meet our innkeeper and check in to the room.  The second question we were asked – after “Your name?” was “Is there anything you don’t eat, so we know for breakfast?”

I should say here that this inn advertises itself as offering a “five-star” dining experience for breakfast.  I’m not much of a breakfast person, but Roy certainly is, and it’s always interesting to see what these innkeepers come up with.  “Oh, yes,” I said. “He doesn’t eat anything made of pigs, and I don’t eat anything made with sodium nitrite, so we usually solve the issue by going vegetarian for breakfast.”

Now, this isn’t exactly a controversial stance.  I’d say that the vegetarian breakfast has a fine, healthy, active multitude of adherents, nationwide.

And yet, the innkeepers face fell. “Oh, I was going to make a bacon quiche.” “Nope,” I said, “We definitely can’t eat that.”

There was one of those awkward little conversational pauses, where someone should have spoken but didn’t, and the other party to the conversation is waiting politely for the response that doesn’t come.

“Ah.” the innkeeper finally said. “Well, is it OK if you have a yogurt, or some oatmeal?”  Now, there was no serious question about this being something cooked like Steel-Cut Oats.  I knew instantly that we were talking about a paper packet of instant oats.   And a plastic cup of yogurt.

Hardly what I’d regard as “five-star” dining. Because I don’t go for breakfast much, it’s pretty easy to impress me.  A fresh omelet with a good handful of melted cheese and sliced button mushrooms is Serious Breakfast to my thinking.  Top it off with a spoonful of Hollandaise sauce or a remoulade, and a side of crispy home fries, and I’m in my own personal “five-star” land.  I’m much more selective about dinner.  But breakfast?  Easy peasy.

But a cup of yogurt and a packet of instant oatmeal?

I don’t think so.

There was another one of those awkward silences, this one made more…interesting…than the last by the Rising Tide of steam coming from Our Roy.  I doubt the innkeeper was aware of it, but this is my mate, and we have a Spiritual Bond, and I am extraordinarily attuned to his emotional state.  I could feel something Switch On.

Something I should say about Roy before we go any further is that he is extremely, one might even say, excessively, even-tempered.  He’s the single most optimistic person I know.  He’s regarded as a Precious Ray of Sunshine, Lighting Up The Darkest Moments with Happiness, even when that happiness has had to be prized out of the deepest, darkest recess of his nasal passages.  One of his favorite things to tell me, when we discuss our relationship, is that he’d be happy to be hanging out with me even in the Bus Station of Secaucus, New Jersey.   I’ve never been to Secaucus, New Jersey, but I have spent time in plenty of Bus Stations, as has he.  And I assume that – as a native New Yorker – his choice of the Secaucus, New Jersey Bus Terminal is not a random one, and that this Bus Station stands as a metaphor for the Very Pits of Hell.

But he was already cranky at having to give up the fireplace in the room, and his prized Tradition, and the jacuzzi tub, and being offered a yogurt and a packet of instant oatmeal – even though this is what he would eat at home – was starting to slather icing on the cake of his discontent.

I peeled my lips away from my teeth in something that could have been mistaken for a smile.  “Or,” the innkeeper suddenly said, “I could make another quiche.  One without bacon.  How would that be?” “That would be fine,” I said quickly before Roy could Weigh In.  He can be a little bit of a Loose Cannon when he gets going.

She reminded us our room had a “private entrance” (that was in the description, yes) and suggested we walk out the front door and around the corner, where she’d meet us to show us where to go.  While she walked through the house.  I thought that was…odd.  Usually, the innkeeper just takes you directly to the room.  But who were we to say no?  We went out, walked around the corner, and met her on the sidewalk.  She let us in through a wooden fence to a door, and pulled it open.  We then got our first glimpse of Room Six.

It reminded me of the staging portion of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World, the one were everyone goes into a little room with portraits, and the lights drop, and then so does the floor – exposing previously unseen and very creepy portions of those portraits.  The charming young woman with the parasol turns out to be dancing on a tightrope over snapping alligators.  That part of the ride.

So in that vein, we were greeted by Room Six:

as advertised

Whereupon the eye slid inexorably upward to see the undisclosed features of the room:

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There’s nothing I like to see more, in an room in an upscale inn, than lots of exposed plumbing.  And artistic and no doubt Highly Historic cracks in the ceiling plaster.

I should take a moment and comment that this inn is in a building that is about 160 years old.  I, myself, live in a house that is 120 years old.  I understand old buildings, and I understand historical plaster.  Possibly better than most.  But what I understand about Historic Plaster is this: you repair it when it cracks.  You don’t just leave the cracks and say, “Oh, it’s old!”  You fix it.

I can’t really comment on the exposed plumbing.  I just don’t have words for it.

I turned around, in awe, regarding the absolutely minisculity of the room – no wonder they didn’t capture the corner of the bed, they couldn’t get far enough away.  The innkeeper (or rather, Deputy Innkeeper) was explaining about how it’s an old building, and so sometimes you have to wiggle the door a bit to get it to lock.

This is what I saw.  The door, at this point, was as closed as it could get…without throwing the full weight of a grown adult against it and flipping the lock at the same time.  This required the reflexes of Jack Burton.

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I said, weakly, “Super.”

In the meantime, Roy’s attention had been riveted by the vision of the side window:

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From a distance of eight feet away – even with my own head whirling in astonishment – I felt his blood pressure start to hit the Red Zone.

The innkeeper, I think, must have noticed something, because she said “Let me give you the tour of the house!”  And, continuing in a chirpy tone, informed up about how next spring, the owner of the inn was closing this room permanently and going to gut it and join it up with the room overhead, and pointed out the angled roof line where a walled-in stair case disrupted the tiny back of our room.  More on that in a minute, though.  At this point, she showed up the other door into the room, and said “You can get to the rest of the inn this way!”  And led us up a short flight of stairs that terminated…in the kitchen.

“Ah,” I thought.  “That explains the ‘private entrance’.  We’re racking up in a converted coal cellar.  How…charming.”

We finally parted ways with the innkeeper, who was exhibiting increasing anxiety – and for good reason.  This room should never have been rented at all.  She was embarrassed of it, and rightly so.  They ought to be embarrassed.  Roy and I reconnoitered back in the room.  His face was nearly purple with Suppressed Emotion.

We sat.

“OK.” I said. “Speak.  I know you want to.”

“This room is a disgrace,” he hissed. “Look at that.  That window is broken. BROKEN!  A BROKEN WINDOW!  I can’t believe this place.”

“And,” he continued hissing, caught in the throes of powerful feeling, “Can you believe she was going to give us YOGURT? FOR BREAKFAST?  She wasn’t even going to offer to make another quiche.  What kind of place is this?”

It felt just like Brad and Janet, coming to grips with the old Frankenstein Place.

I encouraged Roy to process his feelings, since I knew quite well there was no other room in this inn, and no room available at the nearby inns either.  I discovered later that there was some kind of whiz-bang food-and-wine festival going on in town which answered, I think, for the paucity of available rooms.  Finally I suggested that Roy take a spin through the ‘hood while I unpacked the bags and settled us in.  He set off in a huff.

I took a closer look at the room, which appeared to have been furnished out of someone’s grandmother’s garage.  The chest of drawers would have done good service in an attic, somewhere, or maybe on the curb of a residential street with a placard reading “FREE” in magic marker taped to the front.  The nightstand…well, a picture is worth a thousand words:

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The image quality from my cell phone cam is lousy, so I’ll explain.  That is a perfectly hideous oblong end-table with drop leaves.  It’s a good 2 1/2 feet deep, which puts the near corner in perfect position to ram into the knee of anyone getting out of bed in the middle of the night.  Also, it’s hideous.  The other nightstand isn’t any better, but  – more importantly – doesn’t match this one.  The room looks like it was furnished out of a yard sale.  Probably was.

The process of unpacking facilitated further exploration.  Roy’s laptop surfaced, as did his power cord, so I began the inevitable search for an outlet.  And the outlets were, surprisingly, easy to find…and not a single one of them was grounded.  Two prong, all the way.  I finally discovered a desk under the walled-up stairway, and the alcove featured a proper grounded outlet…halfway up the wall.  A drawer in the bureau had revealed a power strip, not a typical accessory for a room in this kind of inn.   Given the general atmosphere of…neglect…that characterized the room, I made the instant assumption that the only reason the innkeepers were providing a surge protector was because it was necessary and that some other poor guest had discovered this the hard way, and ensured that the experience had come home to roost on the innkeepers.  Here’s the very charming and quaint arrangement that is necessary to get power to the computer:

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Isn’t that nice?  Just what I’m used to from an expensive hotel.

And yet, the Stirring Discoveries had not yet attained their peak.  Or their nadir, as is more properly the case.

Because I realized in short order that the computer desk alcove, here:

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Is actually the bathroom vanity.  Yes.  One-stop-shopping for your personal electronics and your toothbrushes.

Because this is the bathroom.  I will keep the commentary to a minimum on this, because, largely, words fail me.

 

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So much for the promised “luxury toiletries”. That’s a wall, there, running down the right hand side off this picture. The sink “booth” is about as wide as the sink, which, yes, has exposed plumbing as its base.

 

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Artistic details of more of the exposed plumbing interior decor. Painted a cheerful yellow, as if to say “We meant those to be there!”

 

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This is the bathroom storage. All of it. Martha Stewart never had it so good.

 

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Ah. The toilet booth. Just what I expect from a high-end hostelry. Just think of how many naked thighs have buffed this wall while someone was doing their Business.

After this little tour, I had to pause to Collect Myself.  I could not rid my mind of the unbidden vision of Roy’s countenance when he should discover this development.  Doubtless as a function of his upbringing in cramped New York City domiciles – of which this room reminded more more and more with every passing minute, to the point where I wouldn’t have been surprised to see evidence of some kind of vermin – Roy has a passion for Sanitary Facilities.  The more they resemble a Greek Temple to the Goddess Hygenia, the better.  He wants the big sink.  He wants a throne worthy of the name.  He wants to spread out and consume space while he shaves his chin and laves his body.  He wants a shower large enough to perform Downward Dog comfortably – or, better yet – Triangle or Warrior II.  He wants capacious, spotless, thick and luxurious towels.  He wants perfumed unguents of every type.  He wants too light to shave by.  He also wants total, complete, cone-of-silence privacy while he uses all of the facilities.

Instead, he was going to get this:

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That thing that looks like a hanging string is a chain that you pull to turn on the light.  How charmingly primitive.  And that’s the door to the rest of the inn in the background.  And, no, these walls don’t actually go to the ceiling.  It’s not a bathroom.  It’s a stall.

Just about then, Roy returned from his wanderings.  I am sorry to say that he was Much Reconciled to the situation.  Sorry, primarily, because I was well aware that nothing but an uninterrupted stream of Highly Unpleasant Surprises awaited him.

“Roy,” I said. “I have some bad news.”

Fortunately, his discovery that the bathroom afforded zero privacy were delayed until the following morning, which at least spread out the dreadfulness over an extended time period.   In the meantime, though, I discovered that the showerhead was leaking continuously.  Plink, plink the water went on the plastic floor of the shower booth.  Plink. I attempted a fix.  Plink, plink, plink it relentlessly continued.  “Roy,” I said. “Be sure to keep the bathroom door closed.”  Otherwise, I knew, we’d both rise in the morning, ready for the straight jackets.  Nothing makes a person go certifiably insane faster than having to listen to a dripping faucet all night long.

We headed off for dinner, only to return to additional unpleasant surprises.  But wait! There’s more?  Yes.  The overhead light was on.  The room was boiling hot.  I discovered that the heat was served by a steam radiator, and there was no thermostat anywhere to be seen in the suite.  I feel that I must call it a “suite” in light of the separate computer/bathroom vanity alcove.  And the rest of the…amenities.  No thermostat.  I began to open windows. finding that the main window had storm windows installed, and was not currently possible to open.  My attention turned to the window with the broken pane. “For god’s sake, don’t touch that window,” Roy said. “You might sever an artery.”  I ignored him, my desire not to sleep in a sweltering room overcoming my concerns about broken class.  This window, thankfully, was not insulated by a storm window, and I got it open without breaking the glass all the way out of the frame.

I feel the need to raise the question.  Why put storm windows up over only half of the windows in the room?  In ordinary circumstances, the mind would boggle.  However, I found, my mind has a finite capacity to boggle, and had passed that threshold some time around the moment I discovered the thigh-polishing qualities of the toilet booth.  I was just grateful to get some fresh air.

Next, I turned my attention to the overhead light.  I looked for the switch.

I did not find one.

I mounted a Full Red Alert Search for the switch, even considering the possibility that it might be located outside the room.

No switch.

I considered the possibility of having to sleep in this room with an overhead light glaring all night, and began to lose my temper.  “This place is a f*****g pit” I said.  Then I took a closer look at the light fixture.

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It registered on me that there was another chain dangling down.  “Ah ha!” I thought.  More of the same primitive action as with the bathroom light.  I pulled the chain.

It started the fan.

I cursed and looked more carefully.  There was another chain, one approximately 4 inches long, dangling against the light fixture on the other side.  “Roy,” I said. “I have some bad news.”  When Roy discovered that he was going to have to climb up on the bed to access the “off” switch for the light he started using language that I did not know he had in his vocabulary.

At least the mattress was reasonably comfortable.

First thing in the morning, Roy always rolls out of bed and right into the shower. Plink. Plink. Plink.  He emerged from the bathroom. “I can’t get hot water.” he said. “Just wait.  Hopefully, it just takes a while for the water to get here.” There was a pause, and then I joined him in the bathroom. “I have a problem,” he said, from the shower booth.  I looked.  We did, in fact, have a problem.  There was a minor Plumbing Issue with the showerhead that was causing it to shoot a small but high pressure stream directly out of the side of the shower booth, with enough velocity that it was going directly into the closet where our clothes were hung.

I have never had a problem, before, with my clothing getting wet from the shower while it was hanging in the closet.  I did not know such things were possible.

I hung a towel over the metal framework at the top of the shower and started laughing.  I told Roy we’d passed the Threshold of Absurdity, and that all we could do was laugh.   Later, I heard him request that the innkeeper turn down the heat in our room and do something about the dripping showerhead.  She promised to turn it down and see to the shower.  Then he began to renegotiate our room rate with the innkeeper’s assistant, something I have certainly never seen him do before.  He was partially successful – I feel that a reasonable rate for this room, all things considered, would be about $25 per night.  He got them to drop it to $120 per night.  It’s still Highway Robbery, but I did promise him that I would not reveal the name of this Prize Gem in any writings I had to offer on the subject, accordingly.  I am pretty sure he wants to reserve that pleasure for himself when he gets home and logs on to TripAdvisor.  My aunt and uncle were once innkeepers, so I know how hard these people work, but this one?  They’ve brought it on themselves.  This room should not ever have been rented out.

At present, I must just ask myself:  What other Delightful Surprises are lying just around the corner for us?

And Roy answers me: the heat in the room is now completely off.  Evidently there are two settings for the radiator:  Burn in Hell, or Freeze.  “For God’s sake, Roy,” I said, “Don’t get them to do anything else.  I can’t stand the suspense.”

 

I Am A Handsome Horse!!!!!!!!!!!!

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This is being one confusing day!  Most of my days are all the same.  I eat in the barn, and then I go out to the paddock.  I like to be the first one out, because I am important.  Then I get some hay in my paddock.  Then my rider comes by and brings me into the barn and I get the Magic Wand on my leg.  This is because I am being angry one day because some other horse is going into the barn first. And that horse is not being me.  And so I am kicking my gate over and over to let everyone know that I, Huey, The Wonder Horse am an unhappy horse because of not going into the barn.  Only then, my leg is being sore and now I am not getting to go riding much at all and I am getting my leg Magic Wanded all the time.  My rider says I am being a very good horse for standing still for the Magic Wand now.  I did not do that when I got the leg owie last year.  And then after the Magic Wand, I am getting to eat grass, but before that, I am usually getting an apple and sometimes more than one apple because it is Apple Season, when the Wild Horse Wind starts to blow.  Then I am back in the paddock and back in the barn and then it is being time to sleep.  I pee on my bedding and then it gets nice and warm and I lie down on it.

Today is being different though.  That is because it is not a Magic Wand Day, and my rider is bringing me into the barn and telling me like always that I am a messy horse.  But then she is scrubbing my hair.  I am getting clean.  Only not with a bath.  I am getting scrubbed and scrubbed and brushed, and then I am getting wiped all over with a wet thing, but I am not getting wet.  Just my outside is.

I am saying Rider, this is more clean than I need to be.  But she is not listening to me at all.

Then I am having to go into my stall, which is very strange, because it is not time to be going in my stall.  My rider is saying Huey. GET IN HERE. and then I am having to go in, but I am not knowing what is going on!!!

Then my rider is coming back with Things.  My brushes and stuff are coming into the stall.  And something that I thought was fly spray because of it smelling and being in a squirty thing, but my rider is not taking my halter off, she is making it go through a ring on the wall.  And I am saying Rider, what is going on here?  But she is not listening to me at all.

Then she is squirting my tail with that stuff.  It is smelly.  And then she is combing it just like I have been getting a bath, only NO BATH.  I am not wanting to stand around for ages while my tail is getting combed, and there are Interesting Things happening in the barn aisle but I cannot see them, being in my stall and on that ring.  I said Rider, I do not want to get my tail combed.  And she heard me, but she said Tough, Huey. It is happening.

I said It is not happening if I am not wanting it to happen!!! And I am moving my butt all the way over by the wall.  If she cannot find my tail, she cannot comb it!!!

But then she is on the other side poking my butt with a hard finger and saying OVER Huey.  OVER.  And I am having to move over.  And she is combing some more.  And I am trying to hide my tail again, but she is making me move my butt back.

And after a while I am bored with trying to hide my tail because it is not working, and she is saying The more time you waste messing with me, Huey, the more time you spend on that ring bored in this stall.  Well, she is right.  It is already taking longer than it usually does for my tail getting combed.

Then she is done with that and I am thinking now will be the time to go out and eat grass.  But no.  I am having to stand there in my stall on that ring and she is going out and leaving me there. And I am saying Rider!! Do not be leaving me here!!

But then she is coming back.  And she is carrying something.  And I am telling you, all this is being very weird, but then it is being very VERY weird when I see what she is carrying!!! It is the mounting block.  And I am saying Rider.  But I am not knowing what else to say.  How can we be riding in my stall?  How can she be riding when I am not wearing my saddle?  I am not understanding this at all.  But she sets the block down near my head, where it is not useful for getting up on my back.  And she puts a little bag down on it, but it is not the good kind of bag, the kind of bag that is having treats. It is not smelling like treats at all.

Then she is squirting the stuff on my mane and combing it.  I like getting my mane combed because it is like getting a big scratch on my crest, and my crest is always itchy.  So combing is being a good thing on my neck even if I am not liking it on my butt.   And I am thinking it will be comb, comb, comb and then eating grass, but it is not.  It is combing, but then she is messing with my mane and tugging on it.  And messing with the little bag and messing some more with my mane.

I said Rider. What is this?  And I twisted my head around good like I was doing a carrot stretch, and I am looking at her.  But she is not looking at me, she is looking at my mane, and saying Hold still, Huey.

Well.  I am seeing what she is doing there!!!!!  And you will not be believing what I am seeing!!!!!!!

I am seeing braids.

That is right.  My rider is back there braiding my mane.

I am thinking before that I am one confused horse but I was not being right!  NOW I am being one confused horse.  I am saying Rider!  You are making BRAIDS?!!??!  What for are you making those braids?!?!?!?

I am not being a happy horse, either.  I am being a worried horse.  That is because I am knowing what braids in my mane mean.  They mean GOING TO A SHOW.  But we cannot be going to a show!!!!!!  My rider is not knowing how to jump!!!!!!!  How can I be going into a show with a rider who is not knowing how to jump!!!!  This is going to be one very bad thing.  But also, how can we be going to a show when we are not even riding since I kicked that fence?!?!?!

I am worried that my rider is going to be taking me to a show when we can’t ride and we can’t jump.  This is not a good thing.

But my rider is saying Huey.  We are going to a show, right here, but we are not riding.  All you are having to do is stand around and look handsome.  And you are very good at that!!  The braids are to make you look more handsome.  Tomorrow we are getting pictures made.  You are getting dressed up and I am getting dressed up and then everyone will be able to see us and say Look at that handsome horse with his rider.  Just let me braid your mane.

I am not knowing what is being these pictures.  But I am knowing all about looking good for people and making people say Look at that handsome horse with his rider.  I am knowing that  a lot.  This is because I am a very handsome horse.  And my rider is saying Really Huey.  All you have to do is look nice.  Nothing else.  No jumping and no riding, just looking nice.

I can be doing that.  And I can be being a helpful horse, because I am knowing that because I, Huey, am very tall it is making riders tired when they are braiding my mane.  And because I am not a bad horse not like some horses I can be thinking of, I am not putting my head in the air.  I am putting it down.  My rider is saying Huey! Thank you, you helpful horse!!  And she is getting on with it.

It has been being a very long time since my mane has been getting braided.  It has not been getting braided since before this rider became my rider.  That is a very very long time.  But it used to be getting braided all the time!! For me to be going in shows, and having everyone say Look at that amazing jumping horse!! Look at that handsome horse!!  Because I am very handsome.  And I am a very good jumping horse.

Then I got all braided and went to be eating some grass, and going out in my paddock.  My rider is saying Huey, please try to keep clean and do not be taking out your braids tonight.  But I am not saying anything.  If my rider can be putting some braids in, she can be putting more braids in if they are falling out.  And I am being one very handsome horse.

dirty_huey03

This is me being a dirty not braided horse. My rider is saying that we will be having good pictures soon.

The Wrath of the Golf Gods

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So here we are in Bright and Beautiful New England, and it’s Fall.  The season, we are assured, that God Intended For Golfing.

I get that, too.  The bugs are (mostly) gone.  The weather (this year) is spectacular, with low humidity, and fine day after fine day.  The trees are bursting into flaming color, and the turf – for the first time since last October – is dry enough that you can play a round without soaking your golf shoes through.  Granted, the putting greens are…not at their best.  The ones at our usual course had major maintenance a few weeks ago, which seems to involve being driven over with a spike-covered steam-roller and having sand poured on top.

But there is no question, this is the finest time of (this) year for playing golf.

Now, just as a refresher, because I haven’t written about golf since the beginning of the season, Roy and I suck.  We started out Totally Sucking.  Now, thanks to an extended series of private lessons with a Golf Pro (this is way less sexy than it sounds), we Mostly Suck.  The difference is heartening.

One thing I learned from playing golf in the Fall in New England is this:  usually, one loses a ball for good in a water feature or in the woods.  This sucks.  But in the Fall, it is perfectly common to lose a ball on the FAIRWAY.  Now, the mind rebels against this.  It’s the fairway.  The grass is nice and short, there aren’t any weird holes or bushes to hide the ball.  One should be able to see a bright white ball sitting atop a pillowy layer of bright green grass from quite a long distance.  One should NOT be able to lose a ball on a fairway.  And yet.  When the fairway is littered with fallen leaves, it turns out to be very easy to lose a ball, and to lose it permanently.  Oh, certainly, given enough time one would be able to turn over every leaf and find that wretched ball, but since Fall is Golf Season, there are hordes on every course at every time of day, and the one thing a player does not have is time to turn over every leaf in a 50-foot diameter circle, looking for a ball.  At least, anyone that wishes to have the privilege of playing that course again in the future does not have this amount of time.

I have taken a short poll of other golfers, and yes, it reinforces my belief in the Fundamental Wrongness of losing a ball on the fairway.  And it had happened to every single one of the golfers I talked to, too, and in their turn, each of them ground their teeth audibly while contemplating the Total Ignominy of losing that ball on the fairway.

So, there is a fly in the ointment.  Fortunately, Roy and I are accustomed to losing balls – although we do not lose them at the spectacular rate with which we lost them in earlier times – and so, while I still grind my teeth at the memory of losing the ball in the fairway, it’s not as though I play with the sort of balls that are sold in packages of four (4).  I play with balls that are sold by the sack.  I buy my golf balls 20 at a time, and I have to buy more than one of these sacks per season.  Just bought my second one of the season last week, as a matter of fact, having gone through one and one half of these so far.

So Roy and I have spent load of time sweating it out under the supervision of a Golf Pro down at the driving range all summer.   This was an investment with a HUGE return, even though we still suck.   I am assured (by the Pro) that “golf is a four-letter word”.  I am also assured (by popular media, including the heartening words of P.G. Wodehouse) that I will suck at golf until the day I turn up my toes and die.  I am resigned.  I would just like to suck less.  And the golf lessons did that.  I’m still a short hitting, but more of my balls go where I want them to, and – Roy swears it – I look better when I’m golfing.

Shallow? Possibly.  Important? Absolutely.  After all, if I’m going to suck at golf until I die, I should at least Look Good while I’m at it.  And I will say this, my swing has improved dramatically with the golf lessons.  Perhaps, next year, after a load more golf lessons, I’ll even be able to hit the ball more than 150 yards.

Today, we ventured out onto a new course.  New to us, that is.  It’s an 18 hole course, unlike our usual stomping grounds, Beaver Brook, which features nine holes of Watery Wonder.  We loaded up the cart, took the attendant’s advice to stick to the front 9 instead of the back 9, and off we went.

We promptly got lost, because this golf course doesn’t believe in Signage.  No, really.  Every other course I’ve played on, including the Uber-Rustic Olde-Schoole one out on the Cape, had signs next to the tee box with the number of the tee, yardage from each set of tees, and usually, a little drawing of the hole so you can see that there are water hazards or bunkers or dog-legs or other exciting features.

This course?  Had a big trash barrel next to each tee with the number of the tee painted on it.  That was it.  And the map on the score card involved a high degree of…abstraction.   The consequence of all this is that we immediately got lost.

I was driving the cart, and trying to figure out the map, and couldn’t see any signs for the tees, because I was looking for signs, not for decorated trash cans.

Roy was all for going back to the clubhouse to ask directions.  “No,” I said.  “If they could give good directions, we’d be able to use this blasted map.”

I will go ask for directions!” he said.

Right.  Roy is…Directionally Challenged.  This situation is compounded by the fact that he understands “get directions” from a socio-political perspective, rather than a goal-directed perspective.  Roy believes that people want to be needed and so he lets this belief guide his choice of person from whom to ask directions.  When Roy goes into a gas station to ask for directions, he finds the people Most Likely To Be Recent Immigrants, and asks them.  If he’s asking for directions on the street, he zeroes in on winos, junkies, and the kind of people who live on the street because the mental health and social services are so poor.  If I’d encouraged him to ask directions on the golf course, he’d have searched around until he found someone with a major hearing impairment, or a toddler who had escaped its parents’ custody.

I have had no luck impressing upon him that this assortment of individuals will not Take It Personally if he directs his question to someone who speaks English, appears to know the area, and is not on Planet Nine from intoxicants.  Not only will they not Take It Personally, but they will never know that he chose not to ask them.

Roy says he would know, and that’s why he can’t.

This issue is further complicated by the fact that Roy either can’t, or won’t, actually remember anything these people tell him.  Say he zeroes in, inadvertently, on a Foreign-Looking Person who actually turns out to be a local.  The FLP gives him a series of directions, like “turn left out of the parking lot, go one block, take a right on Washington Street, look for the Stop and Shop, and take the first right after that.”

Roy only ever remembers the first step in any sequence of directions.  So all he takes away from this interaction is “turn left out of the parking lot”. After that, it’s a blank for him.  He might possibly remember “a grocery store, or maybe a drugstore, or maybe a convenience store” but not “Stop and Shop”.  If you ask him, “what do you do after turning left out of the parking lot?” he’s likely to come back with something enraging like “oh, we’ll figure it out” or “I don’t know”.  And if you accost him, he pours gasoline on the roaring fire of irritation by saying something like “it’s all good!”

I love him, but honestly, sometimes…

So the upshot is that I never send him anywhere to get directions.  It wastes everyone’s time, and usually leads to Homicidal Thoughts.  What he takes away from this is that I’m unwilling to ask for directions.  This is not true.  It also leads him to believe, erroneously, that everyone else on the planet is drifting along in a non-directional Hippie Fog like he is.  This is also not true.

We had this whole discussion, for approximately the thirteen thousandth time, as we were trolling around the golf course looking for the first tee.  Finally, I saw some golfers with the appropriate Minority Gender element and instructed him to call over to them to get directions.  “Follow that path! Back that way!” they said.  “Path? What path?” I thought.  But at least they’d pointed, and I didn’t have to count on Roy to remember which direction they’d pointed in.  Fortunately, I saw it all for myself.

That’s when we discovered the Trash Barrel Tee Markings.

Fortunately, with most golf courses, once you find the tee you need, and you’ve accurately identified the hole belonging to that tee (and this is actually much more challenging than it sounds), you can get around pretty easily.  The tee for the next hole is usually pretty close to the last hole.  And so on.

I will say this for the golf lessons, they paid off.  They paid off even more for Roy than they paid off for me.  He’s always had a powerful stroke and been able to really send the ball…but thanks to the golf lessons, he’s sending it towards the hole instead of sending it onto an adjacent fairway or towards someone else’s hole.  Since we scramble all our games (that is, we both hit, and play the next ball from the spot of the better shot – this is vitally important in keeping the game moving along when you suck as much as we do), it is incredibly helpful to have someone on board who can move the ball, and move it in the right direction.  I can consistently move the ball in the right direction, but I suffer the Curse of the Short-Hitter, so my moving the ball in the right direction isn’t always terribly helpful.

After we’d gotten ourselves settled on the course and headed in the correct direction of increasing tee numbers, things were going really well for both of us.

Until, that is, Roy called down the Wrath of the Golf Gods on my head, by praising my shots unmercifully.

There are cultures where it’s considered the very height of insult to compliment someone’s baby, because to do so brings the Evil Eye, or the Anger of the Gods.

This is also the Culture of Golf.  The thing to remember about Golf is that it is 20% Personal Skill, 80% Golf Gods.  This is true even for Tiger Woods, as evidenced by fact that even though his Personal Skill is impeccable and highly refined, he still misses easy putts.  That’s where the Golf Gods come in to it.  If the Golf Gods smile upon you, your drives are 30 yards longer and 10 degrees straighter.  Your fairway strokes take lightly to the air, and drop neatly and quietly onto the green.  Your putts fly straight and at the optimum speed to fall into the cup.  If the Golf Gods are angry, your drives shoot off of your club at sharp angles, or burn off velocity by skipping along the ground, hitting every hummock and pebble on the way.  Your fairway strokes get topped, and skim 1/2 inch above the ground for a distance of 12 feet and then stop.  Your putts rocket across the green and fall off into the rough on the opposite side, or approach the cup and describe the smallest possible circuit around it before shooting off in another direction.  Balls are lost when the Golf Gods are angered.  Water hazards grow by 40%.  Sand bunkers develop strange magnetic forces.  “Par” becomes a hopelessly unattainable target, when the Golf Gods are angered.

On the fourth hole, Roy lost his mind, forgot all of this, and praised my hitting to the skies, boundlessly, and with great pride.

And, in doing so, he angered the Golf Gods.  Because they are spiteful fiends when angered, they wreaked their vengeance not upon Roy and his Sin of Misplaced Pride, but upon me.  I could not drive, I could not chip, I could not putt. I lost a ball in the fairway among the leaves.

I grew wroth with Roy for putting the Curse on my head.  He scoffed at my Pagan Beliefs, and scorned the existence of the Golf Gods.  And, in doing so, he was the architect of his own Fall from Grace.

“No Golf Gods?” I said.  Thank heavens there wasn’t any electrical storm activity handy in the region. “No Golf Gods?” I said.  “I’ll show you.”

And while he took his practice swings at the fifth tee box, I spoke of his dramatic improvements in his swing, in his back swing, and in his follow through.  I assured him that his speed, distance, and straightness were without compare, and all of this, I said, due to his own personal efforts. How glorious he was, I said, to have mastered the techniques so consistently, as witness his strokes on the last four holes.  How magnificent the payoff to his investment in personal skill.  I blew a ton of sunshine in his direction.

And then I waited.

Because, you see, I know that it doesn’t matter if you believe in the Golf Gods, they exist.  And nothing makes them angrier than being denied.

Roy took his practice swing, which was gloriously smooth and relaxed.  He stepped up to address the ball.  He took a swing, gloriously smooth and relaxed.  And he knocked the ball off the tee by about 3 feet.

“I get to do that again,” he said.

I agreed.  We don’t keep score, we suck too much for that.  We get three mulligans per nine holes, just to make sure the game isn’t comprehensively frustrating.  I said “It was just a chance accident.  No Golf Gods there.”  He snarled “I don’t believe in the Golf Gods.”

The next ball went directly into the underbrush and disappeared forever.  The ball after that skittered 20 feet down and barely came to rest in the fairway.  The fairway shot rocketed off nearly at a ninety-degree angle and went directly into the water hazard.  The shot after that traveled drunkenly for thirty feet and came to rest in a ravine.

“No Golf Gods, eh?” I said.  He reluctantly agreed to the existence of the Golf Gods.  “Now you should apologize to me for cursing me in their eyes,” I said.  Because, I knew, he knew better.  He knew that the Golf Gods giveth, and the Golf Gods taketh away.  Mostly they taketh away.  He alienated the Golf Gods so badly at one point that he was in a three week slump, even in his golf lessons.

You’ve gotta respect the Golf Gods.

Fortunately, we have come to the Understanding that there shall be no Praising Of The Personal Skill while on the course.  There shall be no Complimenting Of The Shot, mine, his, or otherwise.  Nothing shall occur that raises the attention of the Golf Gods.  Since we don’t know how to invoke them so that they will smile upon us, we will not be invoking them at all.  That is the Understanding that exists now.  It remains to be seen whether it continues to exist the next time we hit the links.  Until then, may we find favor in their eyes by truly and profoundly condemning the value of our Personal Skill.  

Say it now, and say it loud: We suck at golf.

Leaves

Vun! Vun Old Movie! Mwahahahahaha

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It’s October, which means it’s time for Hollywood Monster Marathons.

I don’t like newfangled Monsters, which are really just psychotic serial killers wearing cheap, flimsy disguises (or none at all), and who may or may not have psychotherapists aiding them in their journey towards or away from Monsterhood.  I do like cartoon Monsters, Mike Wyzowski in particular.

But what I really like are the old-fashioned deep-down supernatural Monsters, especially the ones that come in black and white.  Wolfmen.  Mummies.  Vampires.  I prefer Monsters that stay safely up on the silver screen, not ones that take aim through a sniper rifle at pedestrians, or who cruise the schools looking for girls to kidnap and hold hostage for decades.

Which means I was thrilled when I discovered, last night, that I could request on-demand delivery of the 1931 “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi.  Everyone’s heard of this film, of course, but how many have actually seen it?  I hadn’t, and so I settled down on the sofa for some Cultural Education.  And Monsters.

A number of things struck me about this film, the first being the amazing resemblance between Count Dracula and John Travolta.

Dracula

John Travolta

 

And I will confess, the similarity occurred to me every time I watched Bela deliver his Brooding and Hypnotic Stare.

It’s also remarkable the way that this film and its imagery have percolated through the American cultural awareness.  Flash a big crucifix at another person, and they’re as likely to melodramatically recoil as they are to drop to their knees in prayer.  Everyone knows – Twilight notwithstanding – that the Proper Attire for a vampire is a tux.  Terry Pratchett thoroughly lampoons this image in his Discworld books…all the while hewing to it as something that is acknowledged as right and proper.  Then we get to this guy.

The Count

It turns out I knew Bela Lugosi and Dracula before I had ever heard the words.  Vun!  Vun bat in my belfry!  Two! Two bats in my belfry!  Thrrree!  Thrreee bats in my belfry!  Mwahahahahahahahaha!!!

What I never realized was how much John Travolta thus looks like Count von Count.  That’s one degree of separation, there.

Then I considered the subject of Special Effects.  People gripe about the crummy special effects on SyFy tv series, and in some of our newer movies, but less than a hundred years ago, what we had was this:

Special Effects, 1931 Style

That’s a big flapping rubber bat.  It’s presumably Dracula (see below).  I am pretty sure it has been attached to a piece of elastic and that this is what is delivering the rather bouncy flapping effect.  I know this because one time I pulled a big prank on my youngest brother with one of these rubber bats. I attached it to a piece of elastic string, and tacked it inside his doorframe where it would slap him in the face if he ran out of the room.  Then, because older sisters are basically Evil, I got the idea to coat the bat with vaseline to make it slimy and cause it to stick to him when it hit him in the face if he ran out of the room.  Then I waited until everything was dark, and caused him to run out of the room.  I still fall over laughing when I think about it.   Mwahahahahahahaha.  Anyway, I obtained a very similar Special Effect to the one I saw in this film last night, with that rubber bat.

But the one thing that emerged as the strongest response to this film is the Understanding of just how difficult it must be to create a complete narrative, using nothing but audio-video clips, in a very limited time frame.  I haven’t attempted to do this, having no pretensions to the stature of “auteur”.  But I also never really thought about it either.  You make a movie, you’re pretty much telling a story through short clips all strung together, and your writers are having to construct what is effectively an extended series of short-short-stories, strung together, and you’re hoping that the quality of the acting, and maybe some work on the camera operator’s part, is going to convert the whole mess into something that viewers perceive as a complete and uninterrupted narrative.

Upon reflection, I am thinking, this must be incredibly difficult.  And it must have taken a great deal of creative work on the part of the filmmakers to sort out how to approach it, and to provide a good toolkit for doing it. This line of thought also makes me wonder if the proliferation of multi-part films (LOTR, The Hobbit, etc.) and excessively long films (2.5 hours, more) isn’t a sign of degeneration.  All writers know it’s harder to write a short-story than it is to write a long novel.  It occurs to me it might be harder to make a film that persuasively conveys a complete narrative within 90 minutes than it is to do the same in 3 hours.

What drove this all home was how exceedingly bad the 1931 Dracula is at all of this.  It gives the impression of being a series of lightly animated tableaux, rather than a flowing narrative.  The editing is supremely choppy and ineffective.  The wealth of details to which I am accustomed were absent.  Who was this Renfield?  How did Dracula contact him?  Who were those three women in white gowns, and what did they want with Renfield, and what do they have to do with Dracular? Why is the castle all trashed, with massive spiderwebs, but one single clean room.  Did Dracula start that fire and provide the dinner himself?  Because I don’t see any sign of human servants. What did Dracula do to him to make Renfield insane?  Why did he do that, whatever it was?  Why does Dracula decide to kill all the sailors while they’re battling a storm?  Is he planning to sail the boat himself? What was his purpose in removing from Transylvania to England?  Why rent an Abbey?  Did he bring the women in white with him?  Why did that one woman turn into a vampire, if she did, and none of the sailors on the boat?  How does Renfield keep escaping from a barred room?  Why does he want to eat bugs instead of people?  Is that a mental hospital, or a country house? What’s up with the wolves howling?  Is that Dracula too?

and the questions go on and on and on.  The kind of questions I realize i don’t usually have when I finish watching a contemporary film.

None of this is a criticism of the 1931 Dracula.  It was – obviously – a brilliant film effort for its time, or it wouldn’t have affected the culture like that, and I wouldn’t be able to get it streaming in to my TV in 2013.  It’s more an awareness of just how far that particular art form has come in the last 80 years.  Brilliant.