Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In which Vaska visits one of my favorite places

So here's my boy Vaska on the path through what used to be an Adirondack Great Camp. Or a pretty good camp. It never quite reached the status of Marjorie Merriweather Post's camp, but it was okay as far as plutocratic retreats go.

This used to be a wide-open area, and has, in the past quarter century, been taken over by small trees and brush. But let's explain, first:

We are about 10 miles back from anywhere, in a part of the Adirondacks where even being in the middle of "anywhere' isn't a whole lot.

Here's where we were:
Or, to put it in more global terms:
The point being that we started nowhere and then got a little more out of the middle of things.

But, when I talked about going out there later, everyone was familiar with the place and had a story to tell. Streeter Lake is a place that everyone goes, but in a protective kind of way. We live a quiet life to start with, and Streeter Lake is one of those place we go when we want life to settle down even more.

Check it out: I'm aware that city folks get a little freaked out by how quiet it is in the country. But here's a video that I shot out at Streeter Lake around noon. Earlier in the morning, the birds were challenging each other -- that is, at about 5 a.m., you hear the "Oh, I love you, baby" birdsong, but by around 10 a.m., the lovemaking is over and it's mostly "Hey! Whachoo doin' on my territory?" singing. 

Still, it's singing. As the sun gets high and the temperatures rise, everybody chills out and here is the result: It's like having noise-cancelling headphones on. The only sound is an occasional breeze and whatever the dog is up to. Crank your speakers to the max and dig it:

If you know a more peaceful place, feel free to share it, but I felt like I was in heaven. 

And so did the pupster, who was happy to find new things to smell and new place to explore, This is what hounds are bred for, and he was in his element:

The farther we got into the trails, the happier he became.

We got down to the lake itself, and he took a drink and then shrugged it off. But this is where I camped with my boys, back when they were tiny and we'd hike the six miles from the house to the lake.

Making that long hike to Streeter, without whining or asking to be carried or otherwise exhibiting evidence of being a baby, was a rite of manhood. And a very entertaining one.

The nine-year-old in that picture will turn 40 in just a few weeks. Meanwhile, despite his desperate clinging to hot chocolate in this picture, he did have the presence of mind to swim out into the lake and beckon his father with "it's warm once you get in," only to laugh and swim to shore, towels and fire once he had lured the Old Man into the chilly water.

Anyway, three decades plus a little later, here's the same spot, and much the same indeed,except that the dog is not as much into humorous deceit:
 One oddity of the place is that, although it is 10 miles back from any real roads, and far in the midst of the "Forever Wild" Adirondacks, this is a 4,000 acre tract that was once owned by a man who had made a fortune with potato chips.

The place had been a kind of minor example of the Adirondack Great Camp, and there was a time when there were buildings on the grounds, though they have all disappeared since. The only thing left is a codicil in the will that gave the grounds over to the state, and that is a small area that contains the family mausoleum:
Strangely, in the middle of nowhere, you come across this fenced area and these groomed grounds. There is apparently some kind of endowment that keeps it going, because it is absolutely spotless, amid absolute wilderness.

Tres bizarre, but in a kind of cool way. There was a time when Andy's groundskeepers would run you off the property, but he donated the acreage before his death and it's a great place to go back and just kind of hang out. Even with Andy and his family entombed on the property.

If nothing else, it makes Streeter Lake an outstanding place, when the sun goes down and there is no light but from the stars and the campfire, to tell Mark Twain's classic ghost story of the Golden Arm.

The boys asked for a ghost story and I said I knew one, but then I thought about how incredibly un-right it was to tell the Golden Arm when we were camped on a lake just across from a mausoleum, so I stopped, but they begged and begged, and like a fool, I gave in. Scared the living bejayzus out of them, as well it might.

Thirty-some years later, I still don't know if that was a really cool moment or a stunning lapse in parental judgment. Oh well, what the hell.

And nothing scares the dog, so we went over to Crystal Lake, which is next door. Now, Streeter is remote, but, somehow, you always run into one or two people out there. But the deal is, they stay on Streeter and you go over to Crystal and that way, everyone has some peace and quiet.

So Vaska and I walked over to Crystal Lake, where the water is, as the name suggests, incredibly clean and clear, and also warm.

We had a lovely swim and I think that next year, when we go back for the next reunion, we'll bring a tent and schedule a night at Crystal Lake.

 I don't think I'll get much opposition to the plan.

Friday, June 22, 2012

88 Books You Haven't Read All Of

Here are the Library of Congress’s list of 88 “Books That Shaped America,” and I like the fact that they didn't feel compelled to add 12 more or to cut 13 in order to hit a round number.

So how many have you read? And I'd count "read" to include (as in the case of Dr. Spock or the cookbooks), using the book but perhaps not reading it cover to cover, but not (as in the case of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"), having seen the movie or (as in the case of "Atlas Shrugged" or "Uncle Tom's Cabin") having heard so much about them that you feel like you might as well have read them. But I'd count a play you've seen ("Streetcar" or "Our Town").

I'd have a higher score if I'd majored in American Lit or even English. And a much higher score if I counted the ones I fully intended to read, including some sitting on my shelf as I write this.

I had 28 (31.8%).

“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (Mark Twain, 1884)
“Alcoholics Anonymous” (anonymous, 1939)
“American Cookery” (Amelia Simmons, 1796)
“The American Woman’s Home” (Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1869)
“And the Band Played On” (Randy Shilts, 1987)
“Atlas Shrugged” (Ayn Rand, 1957)
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (Malcolm X and Alex Haley, 1965)
“Beloved” (Toni Morrison, 1987)
“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” (Dee Brown, 1970)
“The Call of the Wild” (Jack London, 1903)
“The Cat in the Hat” (Dr. Seuss, 1957)
“Catch-22” (Joseph Heller, 1961)
“The Catcher in the Rye” (J.D. Salinger, 1951)
“Charlotte’s Web” (E.B. White, 1952)
“Common Sense” (Thomas Paine, 1776)
“The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” (Benjamin Spock, 1946)
“Cosmos” (Carl Sagan, 1980)
“A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible” (anonymous, 1788)
“The Double Helix” (James D. Watson, 1968)
“The Education of Henry Adams” (Henry Adams, 1907)
“Experiments and Observations on Electricity” (Benjamin Franklin, 1751)
“Fahrenheit 451” (Ray Bradbury, 1953)
“Family Limitation” (Margaret Sanger, 1914)
“The Federalist” (anonymous, 1787)
“The Feminine Mystique” (Betty Friedan, 1963)
“The Fire Next Time” (James Baldwin, 1963)
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” (Ernest Hemingway, 1940)
“Gone With the Wind” (Margaret Mitchell, 1936)
“Goodnight Moon” (Margaret Wise Brown, 1947)
“A Grammatical Institute of the English Language” (Noah Webster, 1783)
“The Grapes of Wrath” (John Steinbeck, 1939)
“The Great Gatsby” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925)
“Harriet, the Moses of Her People” (Sarah H. Bradford, 1901)
“The History of Standard Oil” (Ida Tarbell, 1904)
“History of the Expedition Under the Command of the Captains Lewis and Clark” (Meriwether Lewis, 1814)
“How the Other Half Lives” (Jacob Riis, 1890)
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” (Dale Carnegie, 1936)
“Howl” (Allen Ginsberg, 1956)
“The Iceman Cometh” (Eugene O’Neill, 1946)
“Idaho: A Guide in Word and Pictures” (Federal Writers’ Project, 1937)
“In Cold Blood” (Truman Capote, 1966)
“Invisible Man” (Ralph Ellison, 1952)
“Joy of Cooking” (Irma Rombauer, 1931)
“The Jungle” (Upton Sinclair, 1906)
“Leaves of Grass” (Walt Whitman, 1855)
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (Washington Irving, 1820)
“Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy” (Louisa May Alcott, 1868)
“Mark, the Match Boy” (Horatio Alger Jr., 1869)
“McGuffey’s Newly Revised Eclectic Primer” (William Holmes McGuffey, 1836)
“Moby-Dick; or the Whale” (Herman Melville, 1851)
“The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” (Frederick Douglass, 1845)
“Native Son” (Richard Wright, 1940)
“New England Primer” (anonymous, 1803)
“New Hampshire” (Robert Frost, 1923)
“On the Road” (Jack Kerouac,1957)
“Our Bodies, Ourselves” (Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, 1971)
“Our Town: A Play” (Thornton Wilder, 1938)
“Peter Parley’s Universal History” (Samuel Goodrich, 1837)
“Poems” (Emily Dickinson, 1890)
“Poor Richard Improved and the Way to Wealth” (Benjamin Franklin, 1758)
“Pragmatism” (William James, 1907)
“The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D.” (Benjamin Franklin, 1793)
“The Red Badge of Courage” (Stephen Crane, 1895)
“Red Harvest” (Dashiell Hammett, 1929)
“Riders of the Purple Sage” (Zane Grey, 1912)
“The Scarlet Letter” (Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850)
“Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” (Alfred C. Kinsey, 1948)
“Silent Spring” (Rachel Carson, 1962)
“The Snowy Day” (Ezra Jack Keats, 1962)
“The Souls of Black Folk” (W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903)
“The Sound and the Fury” (William Faulkner, 1929)
“Spring and All” (William Carlos Williams, 1923)
“Stranger in a Strange Land” (Robert E. Heinlein, 1961)
“A Street in Bronzeville” (Gwendolyn Brooks, 1945)
“A Streetcar Named Desire” (Tennessee Williams, 1947)
“A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America” (Christopher Colles, 1789)
“Tarzan of the Apes” (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1914)
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” (Zora Neale Hurston, 1937)
“To Kill a Mockingbird” (Harper Lee, 1960)
“A Treasury of American Folklore” (Benjamin A. Botkin, 1944)
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (Betty Smith, 1943)
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852)
“Unsafe at Any Speed” (Ralph Nader, 1965)
“Walden, or Life in the Woods” (Henry David Thoreau, 1854)
“The Weary Blues” (Langston Hughes, 1925)
“Where the Wild Things Are” (Maurice Sendak, 1963)
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (L. Frank Baum, 1900)

Read more here:

Friday, June 01, 2012

No looking in the corner for this one

(This column originally appeared August 4, 1989, in the Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, NY)

    When I was in college, one of the interesting things about our old campus was the strange little bits of sculpture and artwork tucked away in odd corners.
    In the Administration Building, there was a set of murals of the life and times of Christopher Columbus.
    One painting showed Columbus and these weeping Indians in a cell and was entitled "Bobadilla betrays Columbus."
    We didn't know who Bobadilla was, but he must have been a cad.
    Near the art building, there was a six-foot sculpture of a man, made of reinforcing rods.
    The rods approximated musculature, and the man's head was thrown back in a scream of inarticulate angst, while his hands tore open his stomach. Inside were gears and suchlike, with a little, tiny man in the very center .
    Oddest of all, though, was the mural in the Huddle. Wrapped around the end of the booths in the snack bar was a really ugly painting of grotesque football players hitting each other, while referees blew whistles and threw flags. As undergraduate artwork goes, this was really a wonder.
    I thought of all this awe-striking artwork the other day when I was over on the Plattsburgh State campus and saw the new giant head that is rising up between the library and the science building. I don't know much about sculpture, mind you. but I know what is big, and this is big.
    It isn't a record for macrocephalic sculpture, of course. Mount Rushmore is larger, but that is, strictly speaking, a statue of four giant heads, not four giant sculptures of heads.
    The heads of Easter Island are more separate, but still can hardly be classed as individual opera.  
    But the giant head of Ferdinand Marcos, overlooking a golf course in the Phillipines, is clearly the world-class giant head of all time.
    Still, for Plattsburgh, this is one big head, and that is important. Campus art these days has few restrictions, but it is supposed to be really, really big.
    Look at those two gingerbread men shaking hands: now. that's big! That's really big, really good campus art.
    Giant art is important in the high-pressure world of the modern undergraduate facility.
    When we were students, we didn't care about our futures and we weren't under the same pressures to get high grades.
    If we wanted to go wandering around campus, hunting up unusual things to look at and ponder, we could take an hour or two and go do it. If the dinky little lifesize heads and bodies we were offered were tucked away in a quiet grotto or down amid the crab apple trees somewhere, we had nothing better to do than go down and have a look anyway.
    Today, students need to be able to get at that art quickly. They are busy people and they need to just look across campus and there it is: A giant head. Two men shaking hands. Whatever.
    You look, and you see it. No time wasted, no one late to class.
    This is very American, you know, this efficient artwork. It started with the Statue of Liberty.
    We'd bring in all the wretched refuse yearning to be free, and, as their boats steamed into the harbor, we'd say, "Hey, there's Lady Liberty over there. We made her real big, so you wouldn't have to get off the boat and go have a close-up look. You can see her just fine from here. Now, go get your shots and find a job."
    I don't know what this really big head is going to actually look like when it is done. Right now, it looks like a giant-but-kind-of-flimsy jungle gym, but they wouldn't dare leave it like that unless they are going to really, really crack down on campus drinking.
    I haven't talked to the artist about all this.
    But my senior year, they decided to renovate the Huddle, and they covered over the grotesque mural of ugly football players that had been there for 15 years, and some enterprising campus reporter thought to call up the guy who painted it and ask him what he thought about having his artistic tribute to Notre Dame football destroyed.
    "I hated football,'' he replied. "I thought it was incredibly grotesque."
    Which doesn't have much to do with giant heads, except that it was nice to run into a campus artist who didn't have one.

(Note: This provoked an angry letter from the curator that may have provoked more laughter than the original column.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

 Being Stupid Can Be Taxing

(originally published in the Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, NY, December 6, 1988)

 So here's how it all started: A bunch of the guys in the Caucus were sitting around, trying to figure out how to get up some money.
   "Raise the tax on cigarettes, "says O'Malley, and Dutch hits him upside the head with a wadded-up empty pack of Camels.
   Dutch smokes two packs a day and figures the only way he'll ever turn a profit on his own taxes is to check into the VA with lung cancer.
   "What about a new statewide sales tax?" says Milstein. "Kick it up a penny. Nobody'll notice.'
   "The municipalities'll notice," says Callaghan. "Same thing with real estate. The locals'll raise holy Ned if we do any more hunting on their preserves. Nah, we need to tax something new. We need to tax something everybody has, but that they ain't paying any taxes on now."
   "The guys in my district are always telling me the next tax will be on the air they breathe," says Dutch. "It's worth a thought."
   "Manhattan'd refuse to pay it," says Milstein. "What they got to breathe ain't worth paying for."
   "I got something else in mind," says Callaghan. "Something almost as common as air. Something we're surrounded by every day. Something this state already has away too much of."
   "What's that?" says Dutch.
   Callaghan gets this big smile on his kisser. "Stupidity. Any shortage of that in your district, Dutch?"
   "In my district?" he asks. "There ain't no shortage of that in my immediate family! But how you gonna tax stupidity?"
   "Yeah," says Milstein. "You think the people downstate would get upset about paying for air which they ain't got, wait'll you try to tax'em for brains which ditto."
   "What're you gonna do, Callaghan?" says O'Malley. "Make 'em take a test or something? Who's gonna write the test?"
   Dutch whistles. "You think you got trouble with the Regents and the SAT's and all that? How you gonna write up a stupidity test that ain't culturally biased?"
   "Don't need a test," Callaghan says, still with the smile. "This is a tax people will pay without a test. They'll volunteer."
   "Right," says Milstein. "They'll just send in their money. They'll say, 'Here you go, I'm pretty stupid. Here's fifty bucks.' In a pig's eye. Callaghan! Who's gonna admit to that?"
   "They won't have to," Callaghan laughs."That's the beauty. We don't call it a stupidity tax. We call it a 'state lottery.' We tell'em, if they give us their money, we might give them a whole, bunch of money back. The more they give us, the more chance we might give them a couple or 20 million bucks. They'll be lined up out into the streets, fighting to pay their stupidity tax. We won't even be able to collect it ourselves, it'll be coming in so fast. We'll have to farm out the job to convenience stores, groceries, gas stations, every place you can think of. You start taxing stupidity, boys, you're talking about a major windfall, you know."
   Dutch shakes his head. "I don't know, Callaghan. You're talking about giving the money back?"
   "Bird feed!" Callaghan snorts. "We lay 20, 30, even 50 million bucks on one dumb schmoo in Queens, every other dumb schmoo across the state is gonna think he's next in line. That's the beautiful thing about this: The more stupidity they got, the more they pay! One pathetic jerk wins the money, there'll be 100 million other pathetic jerks lined up to pay us back and then some, the next morning."
   "So what are the odds on this thing, this big money?" O'Malley asks.
   "14 million-to-one," Callaghan says. "That's what weeds out all the smart people who shouldn't have to pay. I mean, a person with half a brain is automatically exempt from paying the stupidity tax, just by virtue of knowing what a sucker deal it is. You gotta figure, you got more chance of being hit by lightning. Twice. You got more chance of signing with the Knicks. You got more chance of meeting the Pope in an elevator."
   "Most of my constituents think they got a chance of being swept up in a UFO," Milstein admits. "14 million-to-one odds don't mean nothing to them. Meet the Pope, nothing. They think they still got a chance to meet Elvis."
   "I got to hand it to you, Callaghan," says Dutch. "A stupidity tax. That's really beautiful. It's the one kind of tax nobody's gonna wise up to."