Alive and Kicking

…Streams of subconsciousness at the end of a sizzling week…

Don’t ever say you feel like you’re dying unless you mean it… Sunday morning I endured the hardest race of my life. But I was alive and kicking throughout. It was a lifestyle choice. And though I might occasionally look for sympathy, I have absolutely no complaints.

I get my copies of Keith Moon’s Two Sides Of The Moon solo album deluxe double CD re-issue, with my sleeve notes upfront. They observe that Keith’s move to LA in 1974, upon which he recorded the album, was largely down to “his wife having left him.” That wife, the lovely Kim, died this week, in a car crash. The front sleeve shows Keith with Annette Walter-Lax (the teenage girlfriend with whom he tried to replace the then 27-year old Kim), in a chauffeur-driven car. Keith killed his driver with a car. Thousands of people die because of cars. We couldn’t live without them. The album is awful. No one in their right mind will buy a double CD of it, with alternate versions, unless they’re a masochist. I ran the Escarpment Trail. I must be a masochist. I look for humor. I find it in the credits. The roster of featured musicians starts with Blair Aaronson and end with Lorna Willard. Inbetween are listed more than fifty other names. FIFTY! As I note in my notes, “The result was the musical equivalent of the Titanic: even Keith’s disasters were epic.” Should we laugh? Or cry?

Two Sides of the Moon

My mother is over to see her grandchildren, especially baby Noel who is currently funnier than Monty Python fronted by Ricky Gervais. “I don’t care about you,” my mother always says pointedly about such visits, looking right at me, her younger son. But I think that secretly she does. She insists on time to discuss her will and estate tax and the like. I, of course, try and put off such discussions. I’m convinced she’ll outlive me and my older brother, anyway. “Hey look mum, there’s a winery in Windham; why don’t we go there instead? I’m bound to ski into a tree or run off a cliff anyway. Or get in a car…” But my kids would never forgive me for that. And as her kid, duty calls. Saturday morning we discuss life’s only certainties. Death and taxes.

I spend the day after my mountain race almost completely sedentary. Not out of choice or necessity. No, I drive to Kingston, take the bus down to NYC, get in a car, go to a high school without air conditioning, and sit in an uncomfortable chair where I am interviewed by the BBC about R.E.M. It’s for an upcoming TV series, The Seven Stages of Rock. The moment the interview is over, the process is reversed: back in the car, back on the bus, back in my car to the house. I get home at 9pm, 12 hours after leaving. It’s a lot of travel for an hour’s discussion. But it’s worth it for the chance to hark back to R.E.M.’s golden days – and to listen again to the records that made them so. R.E.M., like The Who, reinvented their sound so continually you can afford to have a different favorite album depending on your mood. For me, this week, it’s Lifes Rich Pageant.

Lifes Rich Pageant

Americans love to do things bigger and better than the Europeans. And so, just as the Continental heat wave finally retreats from record temperatures, the USA has to go and outdo it. 99F in London? No sweat. We can top 100F in New York. No air conditioning in the UK? No worries: we’ll just make a record demand on our power companies and pray to the Gods of Global Warming that we don’t cause another national black-out. Chop me a slice off that iceberg floating down the Hudson would you? It seems to be awfully hot these days.

Temperatures in the Catskills hit the high nineties for the first time in a very very long time. We have no air conditioning either at the Hunter house or the Phoenicia office. I pick up a $40 standing fan for the office, and while the thermometer at my desk does not budge below 90F for a few days, the air circulates and it’s manageable. We buy a $30 mobile window fan for the Hunter house, which is well shaded by trees anyway, and it cools down the individual rooms in a matter of minutes. Why was it never this easy back in NYC? Probably because the outside air was that much hotter, something not helped by the air conditioners spewing out exhausted air all day. What goes around comes around, and all that.

The kids are definitely alright: Campbell and Noel spend the hottest day of the year cooling off.

Tuesday we shield from the heat indoors. Wednesday we embrace it. Get in the car, three generations of Fletcher and a trunk full of treats, and head out to North-South Lake (where the Escarpment Trail Run ended last Sunday). Entry is free for the day: “a present from the Governor.” (Pataki for President! Just joking!) A breeze washes over the lake waters, which themselves are warm and toasty. It doesn’t feel like the hottest day of the year. We picnic, and then all of us, granny Fletch included, go for a swim or three. Campbell plays his favorite game with his daddy. I dive to the lakebed, he stands on me as I crawl, underwater, along the sand. Then I get to stand up and throw him off. When I finally beg for relief, he goes to the shallow shore and lets Noel push him over, time and again. Noel thinks it’s the funniest thing in the world.

Back at the house, we barbeque. We also drink a bottle of Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine Tavel. There are probably smarter ways to stay cool in a heatwave than drink southern French rosé, but what’s summer (and the Escarpment Trail Run) for if not the chance to dehydrate at your peril? Thank god for Succeed electrolyte pills. If I’d had them on those two hot NYC Marathons I might not have hit the wall the way I did.

Tavel: Perfect for the barbeque. Maybe not so good for staying hydrated in a heatwave.

I note that all complaints about wet rocks aside, had the Escarpment Trail Run been two-three days later, we’d have been running it in temperatures that could have killed us. Am I joking? I don’t know.

I figure my friend McCutcheon is using his free cinema passes to stay cool in the NYC heatwave. I visit his site. I’m right. He’s seen more movies this week than I’ve seen in the last year. He’s also taken to sleeping in the bathtub to stay cool. Why does he not have an AC?
“Because I’m fucking stupid,”
He writes,
“but also, try to think of one good writer who would write in air conditioning? You think Hemmingway was typing away in artificial breeze down in the Keys? Fuck no- he sweated it out like the best of them, aided maybe, by only a fan and some cold beverages.”

Good point. We still have a bottle of Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rosé 2005 in the fridge. Wine is good for hydration, right? And Hemingway was not Hemmingway. You think he could smell?

My two closest-but-furthest-away girl-friends send me e-mails almost back-to-back. Jeni sends one from London with an animated picture of a house cat on headphones; it’s followed by the hip-hop cat, the metal cats, the techno cat, the stoner rock cat and the iCat. I can’t stop laughing. Denise sends one from Sydney agreeing with my review of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. They call rosé wine lolly-water down there, she says. They wouldn’t do if they tasted a Tavel, I say in treturn.

Daryl the Hip-Hop Cat: See him and his music-loving friends here.

Posie and I bite the bullet. We’ve given up looking for the perfect house. We’re building one instead. She was right when she said to me, earlier this year: “I don’t think we’re capable of a simple life.” I may or may not keep you informed. It depends how the process goes.

Campbell and I play FIFA 2006 some more. We’ve stopped the endless Palace-Brighton games and have started alternating as Arsenal and Chelsea through a league season. IsHernan Crespo the best player in the Premiership? This week he scored a hat-trick against Blackburn, including the fastest goal in the history of Fletcher FIFA 2006, and an 85th minute game-winner after Blackburn brought the score back to 2-2. Shall I sign him to Palace?

Why are Chelsea better than Crystal Palace on the Playstation? Don’t they remember the Valentine’s Day Massacre?

Is it the new football season already? What happened to the ‘off’ season? Answer: it’s off.

Why did Australian World Cup star Tony Popovic leave Crystal Palace? To go play in Dubai. If you’re looking for the laugh line, it’s probably in his bank.

My mother brings me a novel gift. By which I mean, she brings me a novel for a gift. It’s called Pearl, and it’s a murder mystery by Frank Delaney. The narrator is a wealthy, elite architect hired to design a house for a black Dutch footballer called Johan Pearl, who plays for a club that could only be Chelski. The narrator knows nothing about football. Nor, I suspect, does the author. Early on, our hapless anti-hero is mugged on the Northern line (though he has boarded at Sloane Street!) by skinheads wearing blue and white scarves. Later on, he attends his first match, where he observes “Children, with scarves and rosettes…” Skinheads wearing scarves? Children wearing rosettes? What year does he think this is? 1969?

Have you ever noticed how much old people drink in British novels? It was like this in Ian McEwan’s Saturday, too. If I went through a bottle and a half of Meursault and five Armagnacs at dinner (that’s not counting the aperitifs), I wouldn’t be able to get out of my chair, let alone take my newest employee home and shag her. (Note to wife: I don’t have any new employees to shag. Or old ones, come to that.)

It’s Friday lunchtime. The heatwave has broken. My mother has offered to childsit. Posie and I decide to play tourists in our hometown. We go tubing down the Esopus. We are told to steer to the right of the rapids. I go down the middle, capsize and, clinging to my tube, am dragged by the fast current over low-lying rocks that scrape up my legs. Oh well: makes up for not falling on the Escarpment last week. Posie glides on by, and tells me to hold on to the ropes at the side of the tubes. Oh, that’s what they’re for. The rest of the hour-long ride goes smoothly – with occasional rapid bumps. It’s funny, though. We set out on the adventure this together (like a smitten young couple) but keep getting separated (like a bickering old couple). And even when we try to let each other catch up, we find the current pulling one of us against our will. Tubing: Just Like Life.

We close out the week by all going for dinner at The Bear Café. My mother keeps suggesting Posie and I go it alone, but we want her to see the finest the Catskills has to offer. The sun is shining and Noel is beaming as we take our outdoor table among the quietly wealthy Woodstock elite. Unfortunately, Campbell chooses tonight to get a chill for the first time in years (yes, a chill – the kind of thing you can only get in a heatwave!) and moans and groans his way through the whole two hours like we’re torturing him. The restaurant’s last bottle of Henri Clerc Puligny-Montrachet 2002 goes a long way to drown his misery. (For us, of course. Not for him.) The quality of food goes even further. (Ditto.) Were those really crispy polenta toast points in my salad? How were your lobster spring rolls? And those crab coquettes? Could that ravioli have been any more delicate? My mother, as I suspect, is riveted by the clientele. Everyone looks famous – but no one is recognizable. Conversation is impossible. Noel toddles between outdoor tables smiling up at people, some of whom in turn pat him on the head like a puppy. Campbell, not to be outdone, alternately rests his head on the table cloth and gets up to announce he feels sick. Some ice cream soothes his misery. (For him, not us.) But weather, wine, food, service and people-watching potential all justify the bill – significantly reduced when the waitress charges for a cheaper wine bottle. This is only the second time we’ve been to the Bear since moving up here. I’m sure trust it won’t be the last.

Noel at 18 months: It’s a great age.

We put Campbell to bed early. On Monday, he heads off to England with his granny for two weeks. We don’t know how Noel will cope without him. Maybe we’ll take him on a short holiday. But maybe we’ll stay where we are, for this is where everyone wants to be in the summer, in the heatwave. The butterflies and hummingbirds are out, the caterpillars have gone and the moths are less a pest than we expected. The defoliated trees have even produced new leaves. The hills are green again, the sky is blue, the water is warm, the air is pleasant, and there’s probably another bottle of white wine in the fridge. It’s good to be alive.

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2 Comment(s)

  1. Si

    6 August, 2006 at 2:45 am

    Lovely read,Tone.

  2. drewo

    7 August, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    Very enjoyable post, as is always the case when I visit your site.

    Maybe we can’t live without cars, but we could live with less of them. There are over 40,000 auto-related fatalities in the U.S. each year. I think if 40,000 Americans were killed every year on passenger trains, the trains would have long ago been shut down followed by a lengthy investigation and analysis of the inherent danger of trains. But Americans have seemed to accept automobile carnage as part and parcel of doing business in the USA.

    My wife and I have been New York City dwellers for over 25 years and we are currently investigating new home-city possibilities. A leading candidate is Austin, Texas, so it was extra sad to learn that Kim McLagan’s death occurred on a road near Austin. Aside from Austin being a bicycle-friendly town, my wife and I were very pleased to learn that construction is beginning on a 32-mile commuter rail line that will serve passengers in the Austin metro area. They are not just renovating or fixing an old line, they are building a brand-new rail line.

    So I like to think there is some hope that Americans can ween themselves (at least somewhat) from auto-addiction. It may take the price of gas to reach $10 gallon, or it may take another 40,000 deaths-a-year on the roads (or several thousand in the Middle East), or it may take the physical deterioration of the whole of the American populace to bring home the message: the automobile is just one way to go.


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