the only constant

A little over two weeks ago, I said goodbye to my job with the Times Union. In nine days, I start another one with the nonprofit webzine 

So I’m in limbo. And  limbo feels strange. Limbo always feels strange, hovering between the last leg of the journey and the next one, between the past I know and the future I can’t, between all the rich and crazy chapters that came before and the Lord-only-knows what and how many lie ahead. And by “limbo” I don’t mean either ye olde celestial abode for the unbaptized innocent or the bendy Caribbean dance I have never and will never attempt. Not with my knees. That’s a future I can see. I also don’t mean to imply that there’s anything negative in this limbo, that I’m hanging out in some nasty patch of oblivion and neglect.

I’m just not where I was or where I will be, and I can’t see around the bend. But can I ever? Isn’t something beautiful or odd or agonizing or potentially batshit always up ahead? Life dishes out the unexpected no matter what we do to guard against it, and no matter how many months in advance we make our dental appointments. I can say I’m about to start a new job next week, and right now that’s the plan, but what if a meteor slams into my roof? What if lobster-shaped aliens land in Albany and beam me onto a giant ship filled with corn and boiled potatoes? Don’t laugh. It could happen. Weirder things have.

Acting on faith, whether your creed is a question of religion or life itself, means making plans in the hope they might be realized and the understanding they might not. “Hope for the best, expect the worst,” as my surrogate dad Dan used to say, and let me tell you, he knew both. “The only constant in life is change,” said Heraclitus, whom I did not know personally. Or as my late husband Chris used to put it: “God can only help us in the present.” Not back there in the before-time. Not up ahead. Right here, as this second spills into the next one.

All we have is now. All I have, as I type this, is the chirp of sparrows in my tiny, leafy backyard and the sun that dapples the grass. I have my health. I have my hands. I have my nutball cats on the porch. I have my wonderful son working on a piece of furniture in the basement. I have my amazing daughters in Brooklyn and Detroit. I have the sweet man I’m blessed to call mine preparing to come over in an hour. I have my neighbors, my family, my pals, the bustling, friendly streets that I call home, and all the many gifts that fill this interesting corner of the world.

I look up at the sky and watch the clouds drifting east. I hear crickets. I hear a jet moving north, then a mourning dove sings its eulogy from the huge silver maple arching above me. Then a flutter of wings somewhere. A mewling sound from some agitated little scamp, probably a squirrel. Leaves rustle. A grackle lands on a bush, then flies away. The mourning dove sings again, the clouds cover the sun and drift on again, and the crickets just keep at it.

This is limbo. This is change. This is the moment that is no longer, and then this is the moment that is no longer, and then this and then this and then this. It’s all fleeting. It’s all cause for gratitude. So I look at the life behind me and say, Thank God. I look at the life ahead of me and say, Thank God. I look at the life before me now and say, Thank God.

And then, once I say it, it’s behind me.

trump, and our job as ants

worm pic 2
Today, heading out on one of my periodic hoofs around the neighborhood, I found this on the sidewalk: a mob of ants clotting around an earthworm. I leaned over for a moment, considering the industry and anonymity of the army at work, wondering why We Humans can’t join forces and shoulder away — for storage, safekeeping or disposal — whatever blessed gifts or toxic burdens come our way. Donald Trump and his hateful and divisive rhetoric sprang to mind. Surely, if we all came together, we could solve that nagging problem. How about everyone who’d rather not see him as our 45th President just assemble on a square of pavement at his feet and peacefully, diligently, carry him off the sidewalk?

I considered the logistics of this as I pressed on with my afternoon constitutional. In short order I passed a black man in a skull cap, swapping quick hellos. A few minutes later, inside a pharmacy, a young woman with a South-Asian accent chit-chatted agreeably as she rang up my chocolate and greeting cards. She smiled. I smiled. Nice gal.

Down the street, I encountered two men leaving an Orthodox shtiebel, deep in conversation in some language I didn’t immediately recognize (Yiddish? Russian?).  I said hi. They looked up, nodded quickly but politely, then returned to their discourse, walking lightly in heavy black suits on this far-too-muggy Sabbath.

Barely half a block down the street, I stopped and tried on a leather jacket (sleeves too long) at a yard sale, gassing a bit with the African-American family gathered out front.

On the rest of my stroll home, I passed a new Mormon church and my old Catholic church, lately transformed into a hip media company. I exchanged smiles, greetings and pleasantries with an Italian friend at an import store, a black woman who accidentally knocked into me with her Stewart’s bag — she apologized profusely, and I assured her I survived — and an old white fellow that I scared the bejesus out of when I walked up beside him and bleated out hello.

“Ahhh!,” he yelped, laughing. “You startled me!”

My turn to apologize profusely. He grinned and regained his bearing, and as he did, I thought: We are a horde of ants going about our business together, aren’t we? This rainbow bunch of people milling around my neighborhood, my country and my cosmos are living, bustling proof that no one is in it alone, that all of us share the burden and shoulder the weight of everyday life. Much of the time, from our microscopic solipsistic egotistical perspectives, we’re focused on our own tiny errands, our own tiny selves — and we only see the differences between us, the variations in skin, religion, party, perspective and language that build fear and walls. We like to think we’re all that different, but we’re not.

What would the ants think, if they could? If you could pluck one from the crowd and stick a microphone in its face, what would it say? Would it see only differences? Would it go on a bigoted rant against its neighbors? Would it claim superiority based on the length of its antennae and the sharpness of its mandibles? Would it express stubborn individualism? Small-minded parochialism? Lockstep partisanism? Would it gripe, “Dude, the other ants don’t pull their weight. They complain too much. Takers.” Would it go on social media to bully, insult, demonize (hashtag #LoserAnts)?

Okay, so I’m reading way too much into a worm. But still. If all of us are ants already, then the Trump thing is straightforward business, isn’t it? We should give it a shot. We’re all in it together. We can carry him off the sidewalk, I’m sure.




what’s wrong with upstate

image What’s wrong with upstate? Nothing’s wrong with upstate. I’ve lived in upstate New York for 29 of my 51 years. Four (minus summers) were spent in Clinton, Oneida County. One was spent in Canton, way, wayyy, WAYYYYY up in St. Lawrence County at the Canadian border. A solid 24 years running have been spent here in the the City of Albany, County of Albany, 150 miles north of New York City.

Which leads me to my second question: What’s wrong with “upstate”? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with “upstate.” It’s inexact. Certain downstate media monoliths too frequently use “upstate” to describe any town anywhere north of Westchester. They often do so without using any other clarifying geographical marker — a county, a land form, general compass point — that would A) provide the reader with detailed info, thus assisting comprehension, and B) help define the place in question as, you know, A PLACE. Because, let’s be honest, the word “upstate” does not designate place. It designates non-place, a cartographic negative understood and defined only by what it isn’t, as in: “Not the New York Metropolitan Area.”

I’m realizing, as I write this, that this screed of mine falls into a general category of upstate-downstate kvetching in which I periodically indulge, most recently when I crabbed about the habitual media usage of “Albany” as a synonym for “heinously corrupt state government.” 

But having lived in the Empire State for more than half my life, I am constantly awed by the diversity of its landscape, backstory, people. There are so many mountains to hike, history to unearth, pockets to be discovered, fun to be had. To reduce it to That One Admittedly Awesome Place and then Everything Else diminishes the scope and wonder of all of it. Yes, downstate is down. Upstate is up. But to flip Gertrude Stein on her head, and who knew she was so gymnastic, there’s a lot of here here.  May as well identify it.

i am albany

Attention, All Ye Annoyed Albanians! It is time for us to stand up and be heard! Now, at this moment of widespread political spazzing, with Mr. All-Powerful Lugubrious Speaker Man arrested on federal corruption charges and EVERY JOURNALIST EVERYWHERE BUT HERE using “Albany” as an all-purpose synonym for “corruption” as though anyone with a foot in this fine city must somehow, simply by association, be double-dealing dirtballs with all 10 fingers and all 10 toes in at least 20 pies!

NOW, dear people, is the propitious point in time when we must rebel and say: “WAIIIIIT A MINUTE. I live in Albany, too, and I’m not venal! I’m not making alleged shitloads of money hand-over-fist in alleged convoluted business deals that no one can allegedly understand!”

For me, Albany is a place not of money-grubbing politicos but a haven for honest, generous, agreeably quirky and unpretentious folk whose worst crime is they might be a little scruffy at weekend social events. The most egregious scofflaws I encounter regularly are the drivers, AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE, who blow red lights as though A) no one actually sees them, B) it isn’t actually illegal, stupid and dangerous and C) children don’t actually live here. But maybe some or all of these same scofflaws are also being investigated by U.S. Attorneys for making alleged shitloads of money in alleged schemes. It’s possible.

Otherwise, the Albany I know is synonymous with decent and unostentatious. It’s synonymous with chill, both in weather and in attitude. It’s synonymous with diverse, open, nonjudgmental; maybe The Paper of Record should start using “Albany” as shorthand for “two-mom families at school concerts” or “who cares what anyone does in the bedroom, so long as they shovel their sidewalk.” It’s synonymous with “Stewart’s ice cream and cawfee” and “warm cider donuts” and “shockingly fine eating establishments in neighborhoods where people from the suburbs would rather not park.” It’s synonymous with “skiing at the golf course” and “skating at the Plaza” and “tight, friendly, walkable neighborhoods with sunsets over peaked roofs in winter.” It’s synonymous with “lots of Dutch names you’re probably mispronouncing” and “William Kennedy is OURS, ALL OURS, BACK OFF” and “we’re not nearly as dorky as downstaters assume, and by the way, WE’RE MUCH CLOSER TO NEW YORK CITY THAN BUFFALO, CHECK THE MAP.”

It’s synonymous with colleges, hospitals, cultural institutions, more history than anyone truly comprehends, more arts and music than anyone knows how to consume. It’s synonymous with people who say exactly what they think, especially when you need it most but would rather not hear it, and these same people will give you their right arm in the process if you need that, too. It’s synonymous with affordable, liveable, do-able, close to nature, close to other, bigger cities — and close to the modest thumping heart of everyone who lives here. It’s synonymous with everyday. It’s synonymous with home.

I am Albany. You are, too. So say it with me, people: I am Albany! I am Albany!

More than that other guy, for sure.

no shelly in sight

no shelly in sight

please hello good morning thank you

He was 30, maybe – a young man but not that young, with clipped brown hair and neat khaki shorts and an air of stony purpose about him. He was walking east on New Scotland Avenue. I was hoofing west, happy to run a few errands on foot despite the spit of rain on a gray Saturday morning.

As we passed, I eyeballed him just as I eyeball every stranger when I’m walking around the neighborhood: with curiosity. Was he a law student? A young professional freshly arrived? A neighbor who’s lived here forever but keeps to himself?

Hello!, I said, locking eyes with him briefly before he glanced away.

He said nothing.

I studied his blank, cleanly shaven mug, wondering if he’d even heard me. I think he did; I was plenty loud. It’s possible he was preoccupied. It’s possible he’s as prone to spacing out as I am. It’s also possible he’s stone deaf. Or –- I hate to say it, but this has the highest probability — he simply chose to ignore me. Maybe he’s shy. Maybe he’s distraught over something. Maybe his turtle just died. Or his hastas. Or maybe, and again I hate to say it, he’s just not one for friendly bits of badinage with random unknown sidewalk denizens out running errands.

I shrugged it off, because who cares, right? His problem. Plenty of other folks to greet on a stroll down New Scotland. With some I swapped Hellos, with some Good mornings, with others How are you?’s –though I still have my cranky little issues with that last one. (WHY do we ask that question IF WE DON’T EXPECT AN ANSWER?). Most of us, I think, enjoy swapping pleasantries with folks we’ve never seen before and might never ever ever see again, because even these tiniest, most inconsequential and superficial-slash-insincere of social interactions bind us to one another and help us feel connected.

Opposite St. Peter’s Hospital, I passed an older woman at a bus stop in a long black dress. She gave the warmest smile I’d seen all day, her lovely face radiant and caring. I said hello. She said hello back. And for that mighty micro-moment of miraculous human synergy, we mattered to each other, related to each other, made the world a warmer place.

About 10 minutes later, with most of my errands finished, I started hoofing back east along New Scotland. I passed that same woman at the same bus stop. She gave me the same warm smile. We felt the same fleeting jazz of connectedness. And on my right, I saw him: a big guy standing on the curb, his stance wide, his round face fleshy and welcoming.

He grinned at me.

“PLEASE have a good day,” he implored, flinging out his big arms to embrace the drizzle or the moment or (if I’d been any closer) me.

And you too, I said.

“Thank you!” he replied. And I knew he meant it, just as I knew he meant the please -– beseeching me politely to have a good day as though it mattered to him. As though, if I didn’t have a good day, it might somehow ruin his.

I had one. I hope he did to, too. And the woman who smiled. And the man who didn’t? Maybe, if I see him tomorrow, he’ll say hi back.

in praise of wooden clogs

exploit this

exploit this

Yesterday on my lunch hour, I tootled downtown to observe the Ancient and All-Hallowed Photo-Op of the Dutch Street Scrubbing that’s acted out, year after year, to kick off Albany’s Tulip Festival. No, that is not the official name of this event. And I hadn’t attended one in ages, not since I dragged my own wee girls to watch the young ladies from Albany High don their billowy cotton dresses and their clonking, cuspate wooden clogs and mop, if that’s the word, a few feet of lower State Street in a chipper approximation of bygone Netherlandish practices.

My girls are no longer wee. Not to imply that they’re excessively large, either. But one of them, this year, was tapped to participate as a Dutch Scrubber, thus prompting my mid-day parental tootling.

Watching her, I felt proud. That’s my daughter wearing the clogs! Yay! How grown-up she is! How adorable, clutching her broom! Smiling with her classmates with the Capitol looming behind them, under rain clouds that spit and threaten a downpour! How happy she looks, scrubbing away! How competent! How at ease! How can I get her to do that at home!

I also wondered, as I often have over my 23 years here, why the city of Albany doesn’t better capitalize on its history. Or not “better.” Try “at all.” Depending on how and when you define and peg its genesis (at its 1686 charter? at its settlement in 1614? at Henry Hudson’s arrival in 1609?), it’s either the oldest damned city in the country, the second-oldest damned city in the country, or one of the oldest damned cities in the country.

In any case, it is REALLY FREAKING OLD. Did you know that? I bet you didn’t know that. Even if you live here. And so I ask: Why do tourists have to drive elsewhere for historic reenactments of quaintly hoary quasi-educational rituals performed by young people in uncomfortable clothing? Why must we confine ourselves to the Ancient and All-Hallowed Photo-Op of the Dutch Street Scrubbing? Why not build a model Fort Orange? Why not hire a full-time phalanx of smiling gals in pointy wooden footwear to entertain busloads of downstate school children and their exhausted chaperones?

This is not my idea. Smart people have floated it off and on for some time now, but watching the Dutch Scrubbers yesterday reminded me that this fine, quirky city should be doing a much better job at owning and exploiting its fine, quirky history. I don’t know why it hesitates. Must have something to do with its congenital geographic inferiority complex: in short, Albany’s too close to New York City to think too highly of itself.

When the ceremonial scouring had come to a close, and the girls had stopped smiling, and all attendant media had gathered up their cameras and left, I went over and said goodbye to my own Dutch Scrubber.

You look beautiful, I said.

“Thanks,” she said.

Your face must hurt from all that smiling, I said.

“It does,” she said, but somehow she managed a grin.

Will you be scrubbing the kitchen floor like that? I asked.

“No,” she said. And her grin grew even wider.

twenty-one signs of spring

no appendages were harmed in the making of this photo

no appendages were harmed in the making of this photo

We all have our signs of spring. For some, it’s the rhythmic tattoo of woodpeckers. For others, the first peeking violet of crocuses. For many, it’s allergies. Still others: the heady whiff of driveway sealant.

Me, I have pale skin and leftovers as my go-to vernal signifiers. Also, how’s this for springtime observances? I just put away my snow shovel.

Yes! And no, I’m not afraid! Some may fear that I’ve just jinxed this recent spell of perfect weather, just as I ruined the last spell of perfect weather by (gasp) wearing shorts. Northerners are nothing if not superstitious about our seasonal pagan rituals, which stop just shy of human sacrifice. Which, I realize, I may well be inviting upon myself. I’m not sure what violence my neighbors will wreak upon me if it snows again: Drape me by my pinkies from the bell tower of Albany City Hall while the carillon plays “Michelle”? If so, that would be tragic. It would, however, prevent me from wearing shorts again in the future.

But hope springs. . . and springs. . . and springs. I’m not worried about the snow shovel. I’m feeling pretty confident that this is it, O People of the Rock Salt. Today, at last, spring is upon us. Here’s how I know:

1. Leftover ham. I hadn’t realized this, but the chunk of pink, salty flesh I purchased for Easter was enough to feed everyone I know, and, as previously discussed, I know every last person in Albany short of Governor Andy. But only 15 people sat down to dinner in my house. So there is enough left over in my fridge for the remaining 96,985 residents.

2. My wet basement, which floods and smells like joy.

3. No more footless pantyhose. Bet you haven’t heard this one before. In the winter I snip the feet and wear them as long underwear. Great idea, huh? You’ll be relieved to know I’ve now stopped doing that. You read it here first.

4. The ice cream truck. I’ve always welcomed this as a harbinger of happiness and warmth, even when my kids were small and its clanging music-box iteration of “Für Elise” ROUSED THEM FROM THEIR AFTERNOON NAPS and THEY WOKE DEMANDING SPONGEBOB POPSICLES. The thing came down my street on Sunday. Yup. Just what kids need on Easter: YET. MORE. SUGAR.

5. Circulation. It returns to my limbs! How amazing! Thanks to an uptick in the temperature, I no longer lose bloodflow in my smallest, most vulnerable appendages, a not-uncommon phenomenon that often requires me to run them under hot water or, if no sink is available, bite them. (Do I do this with my toes as well as my fingers? You may ask, but I refrain to answer, preferring to maintain an air of mystery.)

6. Leftover ham.

7. Hatless sleeping. No, wait. That’s a lie. The hat comes off in June. And yes, I sleep with a hat. What can I say. I’m weird.

8. Shorts. I mentioned these above, but only in the context of Ways in Which I’ve Screwed Up Spring For Every Single Person in Upstate New York. Still, I do it. I wear them. I wore them again before Easter. I wriggled my lower body into this truncated cotton legwear despite the possibility of causing a wintry meteorological event of pseudo-biblical proportions. And despite. . .

9. . . . my blinding white legs. A related sign: the mobs of passersby, cruelly and totally blinded, their hands before their faces, their corneas seared to crispy wafers, their mouths howling in pain and horror at my approach.

10. In yet more appendage-related news: stubbed toes from lurching around barefoot. As a kid, I broke them with such frequency that a friend diagnosed my condition as “ame-foot-hurt-itis.” Now I just stub the shit out of them. Passersby howl in pain and horror at the sight of those, too.

11. Leftover double-liters of crap-generic soda that no one drinks, at Easter dinner or any other time.

12. Leftover desserts that I consume for breakfast.

13. Did I mention leftover ham?

14. The scent of dead leaves.

15. Scratched, stinging forearms from pruning the bushes that gnarl the perimeter of my teensy but shrubbery-packed front and back yards.

16. The scent of defrosted dog doo-doo.

17. The whine of buzz saws. Not mine. Other people’s. Considering the wounds I incur just by pruning and walking barefoot, I wouldn’t trust myself with one of those things.

18. Rowers on the Hudson.

19. In yet more shorts- and appendage-related news: cyclists in clinging bolts of shiny black spandex.

20. Children.

  • The infants born over the winter who appear, bundled in strollers, their moist, open faces shifting from thrilled curiosity (what a big world!) to shuddering worry (what a big world!) and back again;
  • The toddlers who bolt outside naked to pee. This doesn’t happen every year, and I don’t always witness it when it does (I did this year), but it is as sure a sign of spring as the cadence of the phoebe;
  • The older kids, notably taller after long months of hibernation, who emerge to play basketball at the hoop in front of my house. They say “hi” with lower voices, their faces more defined, their bearings more mature.

Kids growing up: what better and lovelier evidence of spring can we ever hope for? And finally. . .

21. Leftover ham.

do i know you?

bumper sticker
I never was someone who knew everyone. For the longest time, I was an outsider: the child of Queens who settled in Connecticut, then the Connecticut kid who went to college in central New York, then the noisy American in Edinburgh, then the New York City J-school grad in St. Lawrence County, then the North Country reporter who moved to Boston, then the Beantown resident who married a fella in Albany.

But that was 1991. After all these years in the City of Insiders, I find that I’ve become one. I didn’t plan on it. It just happened. My late husband and I bought a house. We had kids. We put them through city schools. We stayed put. And, simply by virtue of not going anywhere, I find that I’m on a first-name basis with pretty much all 97,000 residents except for Andrew Cuomo, but he doesn’t count, because he doesn’t seem to spend any of his free time at any of my hang-outs. (Hey, Andy! You getting two scoops of Adirondack Bear Paw? Me, too!)

When I first arrived here, I used to laugh about it – this back-slapping, name-dropping, weirdly tribal interconnectedness that makes Albany feel less like a small city than a really big Elks Lodge. And the more I noticed it, the more the old Democratic political machine made sense to me; how else would politics play out in a place where everyone knows everyone and his brother, his mother, his mechanic and his cat, not to mention his mechanic’s brother, mother and cat, and did he tell you his mechanic’s uncle was married by a priest who grew up on your street? Also, he knows the mayor. But then, everyone knows the mayor.

I am now one of these people. I am an Elk. (No, not literally.) I know every last resident of this city, and if I don’t, it’s a safe bet that I know their mother’s cousin’s uncle’s dentist’s baby sitter. Or the priest that married her. Or the priest’s elementary school alto sax teacher, who, by the way, goes to church with the sister of my daughter’s high school buddy’s ex-boyfriend, whose pediatrician owns a bichon frise she bought from the mayor’s sister-in-law’s masseuse, and here I confess that I’ve completely lost track of possessives and pronouns.

In fact, I am now so much an Elk that, whenever some colleague of mine at the Times Union mentions an interview with people named Whoozits and Whingnutz, my response is: Oh, sure! I’ve known Whoozits and Whingnutz forever! Their priest’s cat baptized my goldfish!

I love Albany; I love its smallness, its Smalbany-ness, its tightness and sense of community. (Read Cailin Brown’s mighty fine piece on this very subject.) And yet living here means seeing the humor in it.

Many many moons ago, I made up bumper stickers for Chris’s birthday emblazoned with the legend “Albany. . . I Like It!” He’d always joked that no one would ever start an “I Love Albany” campaign, because no one would ever cop to it; that would go against the region’s woefully understated sense of its own worth. It’s too close to New York City to feel good about itself: imagine a 5’9″ guy living next door 7’6″ Yao Ming. No matter what you say to him (DUDE, YOU’RE SMART AND CUTE AND COOL, AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO DUNK TO BE A MAN!!), he’s always going to feel small.

I like small. I celebrate it. I’m part of it. Does this make me an Albanian? Probably not. Probably only if I’d been born here, and even then I’d have to trace some strand of my family back 14 generations to some pasty little circa-1614 Dutch fur trader with ruff around his neck. Or, short of that, I’d have to trace my lineage back to the Dutch fur trader’s rebel nephew Spike, who ran off with a hot French chick from Schenectady.

You know those two, right? I’m sure you do. They were married by a priest who grew up on your street.

no thinking allowed

Fed up with the cold and holed up inside, I was blathering on the horn with my dad. I blathered about This and That and The Other Thing, and whether This and That and The Other Thing would turn into More Complicated Things, which would then turn into Worse Things and then Worser and Worstest Things, and whether I should stop these Worstest Things from happening before they’d even started.

My dad listened quietly. He’s good at that. When he talks, he talks like nobody’s business — full-on streams of no-shit truthiness — but when he’s not talking, he just clams up and waits while I Blah Blah Blah. He’s done this the whole time I’ve known him, which is pushing 37 years now. (I met him not as a newborn, when I wasn’t yet monologuing, but as a banged and squinty 13-year-old.)

At one point, I paused mid-blather for an inhalation of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide. My dad used this life-maintaining instinct to save me from myself.

“Stop thinking so much, Ames,” he said. “You’re over-thinking everything.”

He was right. I’d been over-analyzing everything, training my high-powered telescoping lens onto every little dust bunny in every little corner of my mind; if only I trained this same critical hyper-zoom on actual dust bunnies, my home might land on the cover of House Beautiful. But the problem: After he said this, I started over-thinking my tendency to over-think everything, leading me into a vast, churning sinkhole of useless solipsism. I became like some sad and deathly pallid Dostoevsky protagonist, except I hadn’t murdered a pawn broker and wasn’t exiled to Siberia, although this ass-freezing Albany winter just might count as such.

Sometimes I wish I could stop thinking altogether. Wouldn’t that be handy! If only I had the cognitive ability of, say, a gallon of milk, I could idle away my time in silent refrigeration without spending one single millisecond worrying about it. I wouldn’t be in a hurry to go anywhere, or do anything, or solve any problems, and when my dad called me on the phone, I’d be like, “Yeah, dude, so I’m in here chillin’ with the Chobanis,” and then he’d be like, “Sounds good, Ames,” and then I’d be like, “And the kosher dills just moved in, and they’re excellent company,” and he’d be like, “Can I come and visit?”

Except there wouldn’t be room for visitors in my fridge. And, lacking sentience, I wouldn’t be having conversations with anyone, my splendiferous non-blood dad included.

So this morning, I aired out my head and went for a walk. That helped, and here’s why: it forced me to a) deposit a shitload of checks that had been piling up; and b) chat with neighbors. One of the mundane, not-so-minor joys about living in the same house for 20 years is the accumulation of time and people — and the widening sense of connection that goes along with them. It always pulls me out of myself and into the world at large.

On my short walk I swapped hellos with the mailman, the young dad, the smiling guy who offered me leaf bags last fall. The bank tellers, the old friend from church, the sweet neighbors’ kid working a shift at Stewart’s. The mom of two who, driving buy, rolled down her window to talk. The woman looking in on her elderly parents. The neighbor scraping slush off the sidewalk.

Seeing him, I grabbed a shovel and began to scrape my own. Spring is coming. The Worstest of winter is over — and with it, my over-thinking. I think.

my pal winter

winter pic


Earlier this week, as I was trekking through the windswept Times Union parking lot like Omar Sharif trekking through Siberia, my tragic inner wasteland reflected in my frosty beard and stricken cow eyes and eccentric, late-life obsession with bridge, I commented to the woman trekking alongside me that it was, ummm, cold.

What I said was: AHHHHH, IT’S COLD.

And what she was: AHHHHH, IT SURE IS.

And then I spouted the same crapo-philosophical pablum I almost always spout in such circumstances, which is: WELL, WE CHOOSE TO LIVE HERE.

And she said: HA HA HA, YES WE DO.


And she said: HA. YES WE COULD. BRRRR. HA.

At the time of this exchange, the temperature in the TU parking lot was a million degrees below zero. I told you my beard was frosty. But it had not yet begun to snow; that started later, a few hours before I was supposed to fly out of town to visit my oldest daughter but several damn hours after every damn flight was summarily canceled between here and there, and how else might I insert the word “damn” into this damn sentence?

I would like to blame winter for this turn of events, but that would be akin to blaming a cat for gracefully sticking its butt in my face when I’m trying to scratch it behind the ears. This is what winter does. Right now, it’s doing it really well. There is a million feet of snow in front of my house. I spent a million hours shoveling out this morning, even with the help of neighborly snow angels.

Another splat of philosophizing pablum I’ve been known to spew on occasion is this one: IF YOU LIVE HERE, YOU HAVE TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH WINTER. And this is true. I believe it. Winter is way easier to manage if you put your arm around its waist and give it a squeeze: go skiing, go skating, go sledding, and while you’re at it, wear lots of wool. Long underwear helps, too. And good boots.

But even my closest friends can be a pain in the arse on occasion, and this year, winter is getting on my nerves.

For instance: this is a transcript of our conversation this morning.

ME (shoveling): Well. My back hurts. You think you’re so cute, don’t you.

WINTER: What did you expect, grrrlfriend?

ME: I expected you to maybe take it easy on me. It’s not like I have ANYTHING ELSE GOING ON IN MY LIFE RIGHT NOW.

WINTER: What? Oh. I get it, Ms. Oh So Important Writer-Person. Like I’m supposed to, what, not dump 18 to 20 inches of snow on you because you’re revising your stupid book?

ME: I’m just saying.

WINTER: Oh, give me a break. I do this every year.

ME: Not like this!

WINTER (rolling its eyes): What a. . .

ME: Did you just call me a wuss?

WINTER (still rolling its eyes): You do choose to live here, you know.

ME: Screw you!

But a little while later, I took my son skiing at Catamount, and the heady whiff of fresh powder, cheap lift tickets and mild temperatures eased my grumbling a bit. Glancing from the slope over the snow-caked Berkshires, I had a second conversation with my friend winter.

ME: Gosh, you’re beautiful.

WINTER (batting its eyelashes): I was hoping you’d notice.

ME: You’re a lot of fun, too.

WINTER (giggling coquettishly): I know.

And I swear, my beard was melting.