Monday, September 29 2003
I had a lucid dream this morning, which accounts for why I remember it so well. (I don't usually remember my dreams at all these days.) In this dream, Gretchen and I were refugees living somewhere on a beach in Isræl with a couple hundred square feet of desolate sand to our name. Upon this patch of land was an organized pile of all our earthly possessions, including a shopping cart containing stuffed animals. Off in the distance came the continual droning of pumps that held back the ocean, providing us (and presumably others) the small amount of desert we called home.
Then the droning stopped, replaced with an ominous silence. Gradually water poured toward us across the sand. For awhile it just filled the low areas and left us alone, but gradually it encroached upon our tiny homeland. Some time passed and we eventually found ourselves standing in several inches of water. Then we were standing in several feet of water. Waves crashed around us, and our possessions began floating away. The saddest loss of all was a certain plastic horse with a bushy mane. As I clutched it in hopes of preserving it, Gretchen advised me, "Just let it go, there is nothing you can do." Our world was being wrecked in stages. Our little animals were being swept away.
Since this was a lucid dream, the interpretation was provided almost as a series of multimedia footnotes. The plastic horse was Noah the Cat, and the dream was telling me it was time to realize that nature had taken him away and he would never be coming back. For some reason the dream had reversed the usual roles of Gretchen and me in the face of tragedy - I was the one wondering if we should get out of here, if there was any escape from the ruthlessness of our environment, and Gretchen was the pragmatic one telling me that the water was just going to keep rising but that this was our land, miserable and hostile though it was, and it was our place in life to stay here and take things as they came. The rising of the water symbolized aging and mortality in its most accelerated form. First it would sweep away the little ones, but eventually it would drown us too, leaving nothing but navigatiable water where we'd once lived our lives. It was bleak, but it also was the signal I needed. I woke up and choked through a few sobs about the loss of Noah. He would never be coming back, and I was free to mourn his loss.
I went on a bill paying jihad late this morning that concluded with a careful review of my most recent Chase Manhattan Credit Card statement, which came to over three thousand dollars. Surprisingly, there was only one suspicious item in the list of purchases, but not surprisingly it was for DirectTV, the folks who provide our satellite television service. They'd decided to charge us $184 for the past month of service, an astoundingly large bill when you consider that we don't get either local channels or Showtime (in Brooklyn, by contrast, Time Warner sold a deluxe package that cost a reliable $50/month). So I called up those assholes to see what the problem was. Believe it or not, somehow we were now signed up for the extremely expensive NFL Sunday Ticket, and the woman on the phone was only willing to refund me $20 of the oodles of money this was costing me. I escalated to her managed "immediately" and then proceeded to lay out my case in a sing-song I-can't-believe-you-idiots cadence. I told the manager that I knew when I signed up for their service and got a "free NFL Sunday Ticket" for a limited number of months that the DirectTV business model is founded on the notion that people forget to cancel these things when the limited time is over. "But no, not me! I circled that day on the calendar in bright red!" I explained. It wasn't my fault that they had failed to expire my NFL Sunday Ticket when I called them and told them to do so. I was so worked up that the manager had no choice but to refund the $179 the Sunday Ticket had cost me to date, patronizingly adding that it wasn't normally their policy to refund packages after the season had started. But it didn't matter, I'd gotten what I'd come for. Well, almost. What I'd really like to see is a nice class-action lawsuit against these fuckers. How much do they pull in from the millions who don't examine their credit card statements every month? And does DirectTV ever cancel an NFL Sunday Ticket without someone having to call back in a state of vein-popping fury?
I'd just like to take this opportunity to mention how much Gretchen and I loved Time Warner Cable back when we lived in Brooklyn. We never raved about it back in the day, because it just worked and didn't make a habit of making bum rushes on our wallets. We would have complained had it let us down, but it worked reliably, only crapping out on one or two occasions. And now that we've experienced the competition, we're eager for someone to start stringing cables up Dug Hill Road.
In the afternoon Gretchen and I went to visit Rich and Lily, the couple Gretchen originally met at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary shindig, the people we met for dinner the other day at the Rosendale Café. They live eight miles away from us by car, though if we were to travel overland past the Canary Falls, they'd only be two miles away. Today's featured event would be a playdate between our dogs and Rich and Lily's dog Scout. Scout, a huge white two year old male, lives a sheltered life in a fenced-in yard while our dogs almost never wear collars, let alone leashes.
When we first arrived, I saw four chickens foraging under a dirty old Dodge. It soon turned out that these chickens constituted a valiant (though insufficent) attempt by Rich and Lily to raise their own eggs. Being from the city, they had a lot to learn. Luckily for them, I am something of a chicken expert.
Eleanor, on the other hand, didn't need to learn a thing and relied completely on instinct when she tried to turn one of these chickens (a member of a breed called the Transylvanian Naked Neck) into an unfried chicken dinner. We shouted for her to stop, but as usual, she completely ignored us. Were it not for this particular bare-necked chicken's skill at hiding in the grass, Rich and Lily would have been down to three chickens.
Mostly, though, Eleanor just wanted to play with her new bestest friend in the whole world, Scout. Their friendship was entirely mutual, in a puppy-love sort of way, and all the more endearing for the enormous contrast between them. Scout had long thick white hair and stood about twice as tall as Eleanor, who has short thin black hair. When they were snarfling each others' faces, Scout found it easiest just to lie down on the ground.
Gretchen had done the neighborly thing and brought over some sundried tomatoes and a bottle of white wine. But then it turned out that Rich and Lily don't actually drink alcohol, so we never even uncorked it. (Every time we befriend another person who doesn't drink, I feel my youth slipping away. Another step towards sobriety, and beyond that, the grave. I think it would be best if my corpse stunk of cheap vodka.)
Rich and Lily's home was an average-sized house with structures from several pre-modern architectural periods (unfortunately sheathed in vinyl siding). They'd painted most of the rooms using unusually bold colors, using other colors on details such as trim and door panels. There was also some clever use of tiles. Not only were we impressed, but we were also inspired.
There were, however, some things that were kind of odd. For one thing, no room in the house had been dedicated to entertaining guests or just, well, "living." Perhaps Rich and Lily, as a couple, didn't have much experience with visitors. They'd neglected to follow the usual protocol of having some snack prepared for us, the visitors, to eat, but Lily did know enough about protocol to apologize repeated for this suddenly-glaring infraction.
What should have been the living room had been commandeered by Lily as an art studio. Her big thing these days is paintings made with smoke that has subsequently been dabbed with fingertips, creating a thoroughly abstract art that looks photographic. It's a great technique, as is the one demonstrated in her acrylic pointillist finger paintings, but I will never be a fan of completely abstract art, especially when its inoffensiveness makes it desirable for hanging in hotels.
We decided to go on a little outing, so we drove in separate cars to the nearby Ashokan Reservoir. Like us, Rich and Lily live four miles from the reservoir, but the part nearest them is at the reservoir's outflow: the mouth of the tunnels that take drinking water to New York City, the turbines that generate a modest amount of hydroelectric power, and the massive concrete and earth dam across the Esopus. There is a road along the top of this dam, but it's been closed to vehicular traffic since September 11th, 2001. Recently the restrictions have been expanded to forbid dogs, but damn if that was going to stop us from bringing Eleanor and Sally. As usual, we turned them lose to walk with us across the dam. (Rich and Lily, meanwhile, had left Scout at home because he is too much trouble to take out into nature.)
The view from the dam was amazing, particularly on this clear autumn day. Above the dam was the reservoir and the cool purple peaks of the Catskills. Below us and the dam, a mirror-like arm of the Esopus ran placidly up through forsest to somewhere below our feet. Lily and Rich told us that occasionally eagles nest on the dam, but they'd never actually seen one. Eleanor and Sally kept trying to get a look off the dam for themselves, causing all of us anxiety. Sally probably would have been fine, but Eleanor is the sort of dog who bumbles merrily off a cliff, breaks a few ribs, and runs around to do it again.
We suffered particular anxiety when a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) cop rolled up just as we were nearing our cars. If he'd come five minutes later, he would have missed us entirely. Gretchen was sure we were going to get a ticket for our off-leash dogs illegally walking on the dam, but the cop had something else on his mind. "Did any of you hear an explosion?" he asked. He was apparently here responding to a loud boom someone had reported to have heard on the dam. But we hadn't heard any boom at all, and, furthermore, the dam was still standing. The cop thanked us for our information, didn't get too upset when Eleanor gave him a hug, and peeled off to check another part of the reservoir. He'd just confirmed my theory that a cop with something on his mind cannot see evidence of other crimes even when they're right in front of him. We could have been carrying a dead body in a garbage bag and he wouldn't have noticed.
We split up with Rich and Lily at the reservoir and headed to the Hurley Mountain Inn for one of our high-carbo dinners of pizza and curly fries. On the way home from there on Hurley Mountain Road, just as we neared the intersection with Dug Hill Road, a medium-sized dog ran out in front of us, narrowly avoiding fate as a roadkill. At first I thought it was a stray German Shepherd, but then I realized it was a wild coyote - and a healthy one at that. His fur was thick and he looked like he had some meat on his bones. I'd heard that eastern coyotes have carry a lot of wolf genes and have been selected by their environment to be more wolf-like, and this guy was the confirmation. While his diet this summer might have been rich in corn, now that that has all been harvested, he's probably taken to snacking on housecats.
I've heard about coyotes being in this area, and I've even heard their crazy howling at night, but this was the first time I'd ever seen a live coyote in the wild.
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