Sunday, August 22 2004
This morning out on the deck I was telling LH (the wife of David the Rabbi) something I'd read about how the arrival of coffee in Europe might have been the trigger for the Renaissance (especially when one considers that before coffee, people used to drink beer all day while they worked). I then went on to say something about how musical styles probably reflected the drugs being used by the subcultures who listened to them. For jazz there was booze, for rock and roll there was marijuana. For psychedelic rock there was LSD. For disco there was cocaine, and "for Unchis-Unchis-Unchis, there is ecstasy." When I pronounced the first syllable of "Unchis" I did it with my mouth completely closed and let the bassy sound come out of the flesh of my neck. This reminded LH of the onomatopoetic term for electronica in Latin America: "Punchis."
Gretchen took David the Rabbi and LH to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and I met them at noon down in the Rondout for a picnic before Kingston's annual Soap Box Derby, to be held on the steep slope of Broadway where it descends from the Kingston plateau to nearly sea level. I brought both dogs with me because they seemed to know what they'd be missing if I'd left them behind.
Gretchen had baked a fabulous homemade pizza and made some sort of tart for the picnic. She'd given me the choice of her making something or us going to a restaurant, but when I'd learned she'd planned to make pizza, the choice had been easy.
I had no idea that the Kingston Soap Box Derby was such a big deal, but when we went to look for a clear spot along the route, we had difficulty. The crowd must have been at least 4000 people. We ended up in an uncomfortable place atop a hump in the bushy median strip, standing on pickery ornamental junipers. The dogs were particularly uncomfortable, their black fur absorbing the sun's heat (it was a cool day but the sun was bright) and their paws poked by the needly foliage. Eventually Eleanor found a shady spot beneath a hummock of ornamental sedges, but Sally encroached too close to a woman who told Gretchen "could you please take your dog away." She was one of the occasional people one encounter who mysteriously doesn't like dogs. I talked to her later about the derby and she was perfectly nice; she just didn't like dogs. There's no accounting for phobias and things of that sort. We'd be hypocrites to say we don't have our own; neither of us have much desire to be around human babies. Puppies and kittens, though, are always welcome.
David and LH had a last minute wedding to attend so they hit road, but not before LH made the observation that living in the area might be a good thing (David and LH bought a co-op in Park Slope recently). It turns out that it isn't difficult show Kingston in a favorable light: one meal at La Pupuseria and something artsy like the Soap Box Derby is usually all it takes.
We'd actually been expecting some sort of soap box derby race, but this was actually more of a slow parade, with the soap boxes being small gravity-powered floats that trickled by one by one. They all had brakes and none of the careened out of control, but the side of the street had been lined with old tires just in case. According to the woman who didn't like dogs, last year a derby vehicle crashed into the crowd and a bystander suffered a broken leg.
As the individual gravity-powered vehicles went past, a wave of cheering crowd would accompany them. If they went too fast or seemed to be in any sort of danger, it was the job of the derby's officials to give direction or offer intervention. These officials all wore bright red tee shirts bearing the words "GRAVITY CONTROL" on the back.
Towards the end of the "race" the derby took an unexpected turn toward the 18th Century, with a series of contestants dressed in powdered wigs and lavish Enlightenment outfits. What made this part of the show even more of an odd splice was that none of these people rode any sort of wheeled vehicles. They mostly walked or, in one case, was carried.
After the show we went to talk to some of the guys from one of the sponsors, WKZE (the Sharon Connecticut radio station that Gretchen listens to; I did some computer work for them last winter).
After returning briefly to the car, we explored the remnant husk of a massive crumbling factory with a commanding view of Rondout Creek just to the west of the Strand's commercial district. As long as buildings like this fail to be converted into gay-friendly loft housing, we'll have to consider Kingston's economy depressed. (I have to wonder who owns this building, what taxes they pay, and what plans they had and now have for this place.) As we (two black dogs and two white people) picked our way down a steep, bushy, heavily-littered slope on the factory grounds, a couple bicycle cops saw us and we waved. "Be careful up there!" they shouted without stopping.
At the bottom of the slope was a street and then Rondout Creek. Eleanor was so hot from a day spent in the sun and the subsequent running around on the factory grounds that she jumped into the Rondout at the very first chance she got. The place where she jumped was well over her head and she vanished momentarily from sight, spending an anxious fraction of a second below sea level. I reached in to help her but all I had to do was grab a paw and somehow she clambered up the side of a sheer concrete wall.
We gravitated back to the WKZE crowd at the bandstand in Gallo Park as some sort of breezy jazz band was setting up. Before long we'd invited all the WKZE folks back to our house for a beer, but only had one taker. We spent some time in the crowd listening to the band and watching the people dance. A surprising number of people were dancing for a Sunday afternoon. Young and old, married and single, straight but not gay. Nearby a 40-something heterosexual couple could be seen kissing in the way that one doesn't normally kiss in front of children. Our dogs escaped numerous times and made friends with other dogs. I rubbed a little pug's back and said sweet things to him in hopes that he would trust Eleanor enough to let her sniff him. A middle-aged guy manifesting obvious brain damage took an immediate shine to Eleanor and she obligingly lay down next to him for awhile while I joked about how she would be helping me build my soap box next year. Kingston pride - it was all around us, and we could feel it ourselves. We realized we didn't have much pride in being Americans per se, but we sure were proud of being Kingstonians. Humans simply aren't programmed to be proud of being a part of groups as large as modern superpowers. If a person tells you he is, he's lying like a Swift Boat Veteran for Truth.
When we got home, there was no sign of the one WKZE guy who said he'd be stopping by. So throughout the rest of the evening we kept referring to his imminente arrival (as well as that of one of my clients who was supposed to come by).
The new neighbor across the road came by at one point to apologize for not coming over to say hello when we saw him and his wife today at the derby. We ended up giving him a tour of our house and like everyone else he was heard to say, "It's so big!"
We hung out for a long time on the couch in the living room listening to the Beatles' Abbey Road. After the ugly first song "Come Together" concluded, Gretchen kept commenting about how the Beatles were doing everything she wanted them to do musically. But then came "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," a ponderous dreary tune that neither of us like. Amazingly and perfectly, though, it was followed by "Here Comes the Sun." And from there the album just blossomed into an amazing work of art, with snippets and samples of earlier melodies periodically resurrected to remind us of the places - good and bad - that the album's journey had taken us. Everything was put to good use, even Ringo's voice, which is always deployed to imply that quotes are around the lyrics. It's amazing how well this album stands the test of time, with none of it seeming the least bit cheesy or quaint some 35 years later.
A cold front had left cloudless blue skies for the 10th Annual Kingston Soap Box Derby.
Eleanor among the Black-eyed Susans in the median strip.
"Don't Steamroll the Environment" was popular. Note the guy with the GW Bush mask.
A clock of some sort. Nobody seemed to know what it meant.
Some sort of boat.
Some sort of house.
Inside a huge crumbling factory on the west end of the Strand.
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