Category Archives: Maine

Communing With The Crustaceans

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Our is largely a Jewish household.  Judaism, thankfully, is a somewhat flexible proposition, unless you’re a Fundamentalist (or, as we call them, Orthodox).  The rules laid down in the Torah, the base text for the Christian Bible’s “old testament” have been interpreted and reinterpreted over the last three thousand years or so, to the point where many of them are nearly unrecognizable, and others are simply ignored.  Kashrut, the rules for What May Be Eaten, have morphed over the millenia to the point where we now have Kosher For Passover Face Cream.

Roy, having been raised in an Orthodox household (although we are both officially Reconstructionist), is a bit more a stickler on these matters than I am.  As a result, I do not cook dishes that combine the muscle protein of mammals with the dairy products of those mammals (originally: thou shalt not cook a kid in its mothers’ milk).  It is kind of barbaric, if you think about it, to deck out the animal protein from a species with the fluid of life from that same species.  I can get behind this.  Mostly, and certainly with respect to what I cook in the house.  Also, I respect Roy’s choices by refusing to cook treif (Forbidden Foods) in the house, when he’s around and in the position of potentially consuming them.  I don’t cook pigs or shellfish of any kind in the house, when Roy is about.  What I do on my Private Time is my Private Business, but I’m certainly not going to violate his Spiritual Beliefs by confronting him with objectionable items.

That said, my firm and private feeling is that this world is full of tzuris (great grief, and grief-inducing events such as the recent explosions in China, and certain…elements…of the US political scene).  I do not, actually, believe in a Score-Keeping God, and I sure as hell don’t believe that – if we were brought here by some Creator – that Creator started off with a list of Things Off-Limits.  I respect the journeys of those who choose to grow spiritually through restriction.  I, however, am not one of them.

My feelings on the subject are that all of these exotic rules are intended, primarily, to foster spiritual awareness of even the mundane act of dining. And I thoroughly respect that.  The meat brought into our house comes from animals that were raised with kindness and respect, and slaughtered with compassionate focus on minimizing terror and discomfort.  I don’t actually care whether a rabbi was around to wave hands and deliver some kind of benediction.  If a critter met its end, wild with fear and having spent a miserable few weeks or months, it ain’t Kosher in this house.  Chickens eaten in this house dined on bugs, settled conflicts with other chickens using its god-given beak, and got to squabble like chickens do, when they’re left to their own devices.  And so forth.  Be Kind, is the first of the law in my personal books. Be Respectful Of Life, that’s right up there too.

So, given that I clearly play Fast And Loose with the incredible scaffolding of rules, regulations, and other complicated psychological issues erected around the Act of Eating by Jewish Law, we come to one of my many possibly heretical convictions:  Oysters are Kosher in Wellfleet.  Lobsters are Kosher in Maine.  Some oysters are also Kosher in Maine, and some Lobsters are Kosher in Wellfleet.  I am Eve eating the apple, and doing it several times a summer.

But.

But.

But.  This does not imply that I scoff at what I believe to be the central philosophical point of this fantastically byzantine set of Eating Rules.  No.  I respect that even more highly, and insist on maintaining a Spiritual Awareness of the most mundane act of dining.  Especially as it regards animal life.  After all, some other creature died so that I might eat it.  That other creature’s life ended and mine goes on, in part, because the creature is no more.

I’m the sort that doesn’t even like to trample ants on the sidewalk, and feels bad about killing yellow jackets, and feels uneasy that these hornets die because they’re a threat to my existence, given my major allergies.  It’s not their fault that I’m allergic to them, after all.  They simply behave according to their nature, just as a horse does when things get a little too exciting in their blind spot and they kick.  It’s not a reason to die, but death still happens.  I don’t take life lightly.  Unless it’s a cockroach, especially a Giant F***ing Flying Roach like we have in Houston, or Fire Ants, all of which I feel completely comfortable, for some reason, wanting to eliminate from the Great Laboratory of Physical Existence.  I don’t fully understand this, but will no doubt spend the next decade contemplating.  Anyway, with the exception of the roaches and the fire ants, I don’t take life lightly. So I feel, strongly, that if something has given its life for me, even if it didn’t agree to this deal, even if it wasn’t asked – especially if it wasn’t asked – I have a powerful Moral Obligation to confront my role in that arrangement.

Which brings me to the topic of how lobsters are kosher in Maine.

A cow, it dies to provide sustenance to…a hundred people, maybe, after taking into consideration all the bits and pieces.  Maybe even more.  A chicken, it dies to provide sustenance to four, maybe six people, removed at some distance from the act of giving up its life.

A lobster, it dies to provide sustenance to one.  One person, not at all removed from the sacrifice, but sitting feet away from the process.  One.  One lobster, one person.

This creates some difficulty for me.  It is much easier to ask, or expect, that a creature will give up its life in exchange for the sustenance of a hundred than for the sustenance of one. I experience a moment of intense discomfort when inspecting a tank full of crustaceans, and having to select one of them to die for me.  Not for nameless others.  I am, even though I hand off the actual chore to a cook, that lobster’s executioner.  It is difficult.  I understand the Cycle of Life, I take my place in that knowingly, and thoughtfully, but the fact remains: I am at the top of the food chain, and other creatures lose their lives for my dinner.  It’s just not as…direct…with anything else as it is with a lobster.

My approach to dealing with this discomfort is to recognize the sacrifice that another creature made, involuntarily, at my behest, and to honor that creature’s spirit as completely as possible.  I am told that – as a result – the experience of watching me eat a lobster strikes awe into the hearts of all who witness it. Other diners, my companions, the wait staff at the restaurant, you name it.

I honor that lobster’s spirit by refusing to let even a tiny fragment of it go to waste.  I honor that lobster’s spirit by refusing to engage in any distracting activity while I am communing with it in the act of dining.  For me, this is a Spiritual Act.

For everyone else, it is a breathtaking exhibition in focus, ferocity, and determination, apparently.  I scorn those individuals who eat only the easy-to-access meat in the tail and the big claws.  I scientifically dismantle my lobsters, consuming every scrap of meat in the walking claws, the carapace, the fins on the tail, the small segments of the claws, and yes – the tail and the claws too.  When I have finished with a lobster, there is nothing left but the shell.  And the tomalley, because I’m concerned about the concentration of toxins from the crap that people will insist on dumping into the ocean.  Other than that, there is nothing.

And woe betide any who expect conversation, attention, or any other distraction from my experience of communing with the spirit of the recently-departed lobster.  The chit-chat, the request for another beer or a refill on the water, the ordering of dessert, the demand for the check, all of this can wait for another time.  I reckon any critter that gave its life for me deserves my full, complete, and wholly-undivided attention while I’m assimilating its physical existence.   I don’t care how many people are struck dumb in wonder at this spectacle.  The lobster, honestly, is the only other being in my universe at these moments.

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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.

???????????????????

 

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.”

 

Jet Lag, Belongingness, and the Bad Idea Bears

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Last night, Roy and I were forced to dine out.  The fridge had been emptied of anything truly perishable in preparation for a week or so away, which meant that the only things in the house to eat were 1) an ancient frozen pizza, aka, the Iron Rations; 2) fifty different kinds of condiments; and 3) a six pack of beer.  The Iron Rations require a higher degree of desperation than we could summon.  Also, we have an amazing corner Italian joint, and Thursday is Lasagna Night.  By the time we started for dinner, we’d had a combined seven hours of sleep between the two of us in the last 36 hours, not between the two of us.  Most of that accrued to Roy, who can sleep on planes, and not to me, because I can’t.  Taking a red-eye flight is a terrible thing for someone who can’t sleep on a plane.  So, in the last thirty-six (36) hours, Roy had 5 hours of sleep, all on planes, and I’d had 2, in a nap that I forced myself to get up from mid-afternoon. In the words of Charles Dickins, “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”

Between unpacking from the trip and going to dinner, I slid in a brief visit to The Wonder Horse.  I hadn’t seen him for nine days, I cheated on him by taking a trail ride in California, and I was missing him lots.

Here is the conversation I wanted to have with him:

Me: Huey! I missed you!
Huey: I missed you too!
<various other Heartfelt Statements of Deep and Powerful emotional bonding>

Here is the conversation we actually had:

Me: Huey! I missed you!
Huey: Where’s my treat?
Me: Let me give you a horse kiss!
Huey: Where’s my treat?
Me: I want to rub your muzzle and have a fond exchange!
Huey: I want you to give me a treat.
<sigh>

So there we are, Roy and I, in the corner Italian joint getting ready for a Carb Fest, and who should show up but the Bad Idea Bears.

I know that it looks from that clip like the Bad Idea Bears are fictional entities, but I promise you, they are real.  They show up at my house all the time.  I used to think that the Bad Idea Bears only showed up for kids, and that as I gained Life Experience, they’d show up less frequently.  They might, but in general, all that has happened from all that Life Experience is that they show up with a different kind of Bad Ideas.  Used to be they’d show up with Bad Ideas like “Hey! You can ride your bike with no hands! Awesome!!  I bet you could ride your bike with your feet up on the handlebars to steer it!”  Later, they”d show up with Bad Ideas like “We’re having so much fun!  You should have another shot of tequila!”  Now they show up with Bad Ideas like “Everyone is so exhausted from the trip!  Let’s have a really deep meaningful conversation about important topics! Right now!”

That’s the one they showed up with last night.  Thank heavens, Roy and I are still crazy about each other even after more than ten years together, because if we were even a little bit marginal, the Bad Idea Bears would have said “Everyone is so exhausted from the trip!  Now would be a perfect time to talk about the relationship!” and then there would have been tears and a divorce. That’s not the case, though, and for that, I am deeply grateful.

So instead, we had a deep meaningful conversation that started like this.

Me: I have to talk to you about something important.
Roy (assembling a slightly wary look): What?
Me: The kids don’t love me.  Huey only wants to interact with me because I might give him a treat, and Buster Kitty is acting out with hostility because we’ve been gone.  He’s been attacking my feet with his claws out.
Roy: The kids do, too, love you.
Me: No, they don’t.  I love them, but they don’t love me back.

Roy had the same air that a person who has just dropped their car keys into a leech-invested murky pond at midnight gets when they start wading in to find the keys.  He wasn’t sure why I was telling him these things, because he’d only had five (5) hours of sleep in the last thirty-six (36). I told him it was because of all his Life Experience as a Parent. I felt certain that this suspicion that one’s children see one only as a vending machine of material goods is one that many parents must have encountered, and wanted some advice on navigating it.

This, fortunately, satisfied the Bad Idea Bears, who took their reign of error elsewhere.  But as long as we in deep, meaningful conversation mode, I couldn’t just leave the parenting issue there and move on to something more appropriate, like a discussion of Derek Jeter’s latest injury and the state of the Yankee’s shortstop position.  So I moved on to a topic that had actually been on my mind for a while.  The topic of “belonging” and belonging-ness.

This was all driven by the recent trip to Northern California, or as William Gibson called it, NoCal.  On paper, NoCal should fit me like a glove.  I love the climate, which offers cool summers and easy access to very skiable terrain in the winter.  It has lots of scenic, navigable riverways, perfect for kayaking.  It has beautiful hiking.  It has what I’d argue is the best dining in the nation, based on the intelligent use of superb ingredients given minimal processing.  It has loads of small, quaint, artsy villages that are perfect for exploring.  It has a progressive, educated populace.  It has all of those fabulous wineries and more than a few fantastic microbreweries.  It has scenic roads and while they aren’t safe for bicycling, being narrow, winding, and hilly, it has loads of cyclists anyway, so people drive carefully.  It has mountains and sea, both of which I love.  It has fantastic wildlife.   On paper, I should be completely and impossibly smitten with NoCal.

The reality is, though, that I enjoy the area and its amenities, it doesn’t quite fit me for some reason.  I don’t belong there.  I’m not sure why not.  I belong in Texas, although with the current state of affairs there, that belongingness feels like wearing a pair of old, battered, comfortable hiking boots but having sand in the socks.  It makes sense that I belong in Texas, because that’s pretty much where I’m from.  I also kind of belong in the South, but not as much as I belong in Texas.

Oddly, I also seem to belong in Maine.  The way Maine fits me is like the way a pair of favorite loafers fits a person…the kind of loafer that slides on and off your foot like it’s been greased, the kind of loafer where the leather is blown out a little to accommodate a bunion, the kind of loafer where the sole is worn enough to roll right along with a pronating foot but the tread is still in great condition.  I belong in Maine the way my foot belongs in my ten-year-old Sperry Top-Siders.  I don’t understand this at all. Maine is – literally – as far from Texas as you can get and still be in the continental US.  The landscape couldn’t be more different.  The people are not what I’m used to from home.  On paper, it should be an uncomfortable and unfamiliar milieu, yet nothing could be further from the truth.  I recognized it the first time I set foot in the region:  Maine, particularly the ocean-y bits, is some sort of Spiritual Home to me.

And yet, California was not.  The people were absolutely lovely, everything was fantastic, I had a blast…but it felt like sliding my feet into someone else’s ten-year-old Sperry Topsiders.  Right size, but blown out and worn in all the wrong spots for my foot.

So Roy and I had an utterly sleep-deprived, exhausted, jet-lagged deep and meaningful conversation about all of this, which (predictably) came to absolutely nothing.  I don’t know any more about belongingness, what drives it, why I feel that I belong some places and not others, what it is that makes me feel immediately at home in an environment versus making me feel welcome, but not at home.  I still don’t understand, and wonder if I ever will.

And Huey?  Probably he loves me for something other than just the possibility of a treat.  Probably this will all be clear once the haze from the jet lag blows away.  Probably.

You Live In A Zoo, You Look Like A Monkey…

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As much as I love Maine, there is one thing it doesn’t have in it.

Huey and Buster.  Buster, I know, is lounging around in his penthouse at the Cat Spa, drugged out of his mind on catnip, and getting more than his fair share of playing from the staff.  Huey, I’m sure, is at this moment digging into a pile of hay and wondering if I’m going to come in today and bring treats, or whether it’s going to be the better-but-more-challenging Emergency Backup Rider he usually gets when I’m away.  He’s thinking that he’s not sure if it’s better to have a baby rider like myself screwing things up while riding him, but he gets a soft and easy workout, or to have the better rider who doesn’t screw things up but makes him do more difficult stuff.  And he is not being sure.

I am, however, missing him like the dickens.  It’s easier to not miss Buster, because 1) he sleeps squarely on my feet or knees, and is functionally a 14 pound jelly-filled furry bowling ball when he does, which is less than comfortable for me, and 2) I know quite well that he’s going to blame me soundly for his wild week of wining and dining, and be a right proper little brat when I get home.  Huey doesn’t usually make messes for me, he just spends my money like it’s water.  I’d rather have my money spent like water than wake up every morning with a backache because I’ve been sleeping with a bowling ball.

Anyway, I started down this road because I woke up this morning, and could hear Huey’s voice in my mind saying This is being a very good birthday!! And it is!

We had a few difficulties yesterday, me and Roy.  They arose during a fabulous two-hour cruise that we took along the coast, wherein we saw more seals on Seal Rocks than I’ve ever seen there before, and a huge osprey nest right up close and the ospreys were at home.  And the morning cloud cover pulled off right at the very time I wanted it to the most, so I could take pictures of a nearby lighthouse.  And the weather was spanking perfect, just the right temperature, and no humidity.  And a good coffeeshop has opened up this year right on the waterfront.  And the bar on the cruise boat started dishing up Bloody Marys, two for eight bucks, and they were loaded with horseradish, just like I like them.

So, you say, where are these difficulties?

The boat picked up a few handfuls of people on the usual quay, and then motored across the harbor to make an unusual stop, where it picked up what seemed to be a couple hundred septuagenarians and octogenarians on a tour.  I could tell at once that many of these individuals were members of our Tribe, and doubly-lucky for Roy, they were Homies of a sort.  Every last one of them from Long Island.  Or, as they say there, “Longiiiiiiland.”  There are few things Roy loves more than a big mess of Old Folks From The Home Country.  He likes to bond with them.  And, regrettably, during the course of bonding with a pair of ancient women with improbably red hair and flashy clothes, he rounded up my age to the next year.  And when I pointed out that he had done so, he shrugged and said “It’s less than a day.”

A day is a day.  15 years and 364 days is not the same thing as 16 years.  That would be 15 years and 365 days, or even 366 if it’s a Leap Year.  Not that I am playing around with those numbers, but I don’t see the point in broadcasting that here.  Especially not after I said “WHAT?  I AM NOT [rounded up age].  My birthday is not until TOMORROW.”  It was good for a laugh from the old ladies, who either have long outgrown that perspective but remember it, or perhaps it is a perspective you never outgrow.  No way to tell, and I wasn’t going to ask.

It did net me a Consolation Prize of an early birthday present:  a golf shirt with a golfing Mickey Mouse, made from a truly royal purple, and out of technical fabric.  And in perfect timing, too, because we had a 5:00PM tee-time at the Links on the adjacent peninsula.

One thing I love about New England roads in the summer is their…nomadic…character.  While you do see ordinary smallish cars carrying ordinary people about their ordinary business, you see almost quite as many Motorized Camels humping along with the entire household goods, or at least, a selection of them.   It’s one thing if you’re going to Boston, but if you’re in a position to drive to Boston, you certainly aren’t going to be doing so for pleasure, not at this time of the year, you aren’t.  No. There are much better places to be than Boston, in late summer.  Cape Cod.  Martha’s Vineyard.  Nantucket.  The North Coast. The Adirondacks. The Catskills. The Berkshires. The entire coast of Maine. The lakes of Maine. The Green Mountains. The White Mountains. The Pioneer Valley, where I live.

The thing to know about all of those destinations is that they involve, or can and do involve, truly vast quantities of specialized gear.

And people take it with them when they go.

This leads to, at the very simplest and most commonplace point, the family sedan with two bikes hanging on the trunk-mount bike rack, or an ancient four-door with bikes that cost three times what the car did mounted on the roof-rack (minus the front tires, which are stored in the backseat).

And, at the most ornate and complicated end of the spectrum, you have the family I saw on the way up here, driving an RV with three bikes mounted on the front of the hood, towing a sport ute that had more bikes on the back, and a canoe and a kayak on the roof rack.

And you do have every configuration in between, bikes, canoes, kayaks, three-wheelers, four-wheelers, campers, roof pods, canvas wrapped bundles tied anywhere that provides an attachment point.  And, of course, dogs.  I think there may be some kind of requirement to have dogs in New England.  The more, the bigger, the hairier, the better.  I think the only thing that has let me out of having dogs is having a horse.  The pressure is incredible.  And New Englanders take their dogs absolutely everywhere.  Kind of like the French do, only bigger and hairier.  For the love of pete, yesterday, our cruise boat passed a large yacht moored in the harbor, and even the yacht had dogs, and a couple of dirt bikes mounted on the back.

Anyway, this year, Roy and I decided to dispense with the bikes, because – with the very narrow, very windy, very hilly coastal roads that have no, read it: NO, shoulders whatsoever, it’s just too much like playing Russian Roulette when you go out on a bicycle.

No, this year, our Specialized Sporting Goods of choice to haul along on vacation were our golf clubs. This was Roy’s idea, by the way.  I’d be happy renting various watercraft and hiking.  But he’s been in New England longer than I have, and he’s clearly caught the regional need to take along the bulkiest special-use sporting goods possible.  And two full sets of golf clubs, plus bags, plus shoes, certainly count.  I, myself, am starting small.  I mostly feel the need to fill up the car with skis.  I’m having to work my way up to other stuff, like multiple kayaks, or a canoe that is twice as long as the car.

So here we are, with our clubs, looking for some links, and found them on the nearby peninsula.  I must say, it was the nicest golf outing I’ve ever had.  The weather, as I said, was perfect, and the course itself was much easier than our usual one.  There were water hazards on only two of the nine holes, not seven of nine like there are at home.  The fairways were wide, and not – for the most part – lined with impenetrable forested thickets and swamps. They were longer than usual, to make up for it.  But we got there at five, only had to let one other party play through, and scrambled our way to finishing nine holes in just under two hours, and lost only five balls.  A record, for us.  And we were treated, on the drive home, to a brilliantly colorful sunset of nuclear proportions.  I mean, I did not know that colors like that existed in Nature.  It looked like there was a terrifyingly toxic chemical reaction taking place inside the clouds.  Pink was the least of it. Thank heavens I did not have my camera, or there would have been a wreck.

I finished off the day with a grilled lobster served with drawn butter that had fennel seeds in it.  Grill + lobster +  fennel + butter = heaven.

Now I’m facing the question of what to do with today.  Roy had made it clear that I am Queen Of All I Survey…and one of the collateral benefits of making the trip out to the links yesterday is that we passed the equestrian bookstore.  I said to myself, “Self,” I said, “there is no way that there is an entire store full of Horse Books stowed away in the coastal Maine woods.  It must be that “equestrian” is someone’s name.  Or a word they thought was cool.”

But no.  Thirty seconds on the internet reveals that there is in fact an entire store full of Horse Books stowed away in the coastal Maine woods.  And it’s on the way to lunch.  Bwahahahah…Things like this make my decisions so much easier.  Fabulous hike. Letting Huey spend some more of my money like water, on books, from a distance.  Fresh fried fish for lunch.  Ice cream for dessert. Reading my new Horse Book(s) as I gaze out over the ocean.  Watching the sunset with a microbrew.  Five-star food at an Inn in town for dessert.

I could die happy at the end of this.  Or, probably, at any point while it’s going on.

Kayak

This Is Maine Today.

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This is what Maine looked like last night:  sun setting over the water (yes, from this spot it does), staining the rippled surface of the ocean a red that is redder the blood and pinker than carnations.  The clouds, rippled like the water, stained with the same paints, and where they broke, a fiery green.  The echoes of the sun itself, a bold vertical stripe of brilliant orange.  The boats, black shadows on the water.  The distant lighthouses winking white and red, as they go.

This is what Maine smelled like in the evening: salty and spicy and sweet, from the ocean breeze and the shoreline balsams and pines and the last of the season’s blooming beach roses.  fruity from the dark red rosehips that are bursting from every bush.  pungent with the organic exhalations of exposed seaweed from the retreating tide. dusty from the sun-heated rocks.  sharp spikes of lighter fluid, drifting wisps of barbeque smoke, and stomach-rumbling blasts of grilling lobster and steaks.

This is what Maine sounds like this morning: screeches from the gulls, quacking from the ducks, punctuated with the deep bass guitar thrum of bullfrogs in the wetland near the pool. an endless phut-phut-phut from the lobster boats harvesting tonight’s dinner.  the tread of dedicated exercise walkers on the one-lane road, working up an appetite for breakfast. masses of children forming up with bikes and bathing suits. the occasional slap of a wave on the rocks in the wake of the lobster boats.  the whistle of a solitary osprey.

Morning

Linekin Bay