while down below, in the low flat zone between the Pavilions housing the springs, there is the excellent Twisted Metal Sculpture by Noah Savett and a partner of his that forms a tribute to 9/11...
Heavy-at-first, the snow began abruptly in slanting, driven fashion, just after 11 a.m., as my phone had predicted. Amazing how closely they can predict these things now. At that point, I spoke to my buddy Al to wish him and his wife a Happy Thanksgiving and catch up on a few things. Asked him if his plow was ready on this truck.. He said, Nah I'll do it after lunch, I'm not so sure it's really gonna snow....
Since I was about 5 miles west of where he was, and a couple of hundred feet higher, my weather vantage was a bit more accurate...I told him, Dude, it is already comin' down up here, and headed your way... so he took my advice and put the plow on before lunch.
As kids, we were always the family that drove to visit relatives back in Connecticut, a two and a half hour drive with six of us crammed in the car. The comaraderie and love of grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins was worth the trip, and Nana's cooking of the turkey and stuffing, plus her use of the formal dining room China made it an annual epic event, and much more ceremonial than anything we could pull off in Ravena, on our own. It was never the same after my grandfather died, however, though we still made the voyage.
Now my wife has taken on the role of masterminding this sacramental holiday in November, and we have had anywhere from 15 to 26 people at our home for the occasion, over the past decade that we've been in our home. Her mom and two sisters and brother contribute dishes and pies and there always seem to be enough younger members of the family to enliven things-- a 1.3 year old nephew named Hunter, and his 2.4 year old cousin named Mallory are the newest and most animated members of the family at this point. TV shows and music are on in the background but the kids provide most of the entertainment, aside from the feast itself.
More snow fell that afternoon while everyone was here, and like overweening school marms we had to caution all relatives to drive home prudently. But between the stewardship of the youngsters and the weather conditions, beer & wine consumption was kept to a minimum and I was happy to see that none of the adults got even close to tipsy much less drunk, this time around. This was a welcome change from some of the holidays of my youth, let's leave it at that. For me the best part of the holiday was NOT having to drive anywhere, whether drinking or not, as I said. As a Taurus I've grown to love home and hearth, essentially a commercial cliche for the real estate profession, yup.
Random Jots...About Our Cars
I'm gonna fast forward a few topics now-- random jots from my notebooks of late.
All-Wheel Drive is a great invention, what took me so long to discover it?
A Pioneer Sound System is apparently still cool, at least in a car, 40+ years after I first heard of speakers by that name. Especially impressive after having to listen to blown speakers in my HHR since roughly last spring. The sound was so bad for a while there that I'd have gotten kicked out of a trailer park if my windows were rolled down.
Why was I so sentimental about that my old HHR, I forget. So last decade.
The Equinox sits up higher, a more commanding seat, better vision. It's not as big as the Suburban I wheeled around for a while, but a nice halfway point. Three Chevies in a row now, a pattern. Miles wants a Buick if he can't yet get a Mercedes-- more material aspirations between he and his sister than I ever had. Meanwhile he's driving my Unkle's old 1996 Quest, a van dubbed TINDOG, as the late Paul Perras never did anything in ordinary fashion. Miles will graduate from the artist's tradmark vehicle at some point when his cash flow allows, and perhaps we'll retain Unk's Nissan for Daryn, the next generation of artist in the family.
Random Jots on Music...
I am listening to BECK's 2014 release on CD for the umpteenth time, umpteenth meaning you stopped counting.
"MORNING PHASE" is the most atypical album I've been addicted to since maybe "In A Silent Way," or the first Weather Report album, though both of those were instrumentals. There is nothing remotely uptempo about it, nothing with a big beat, nothing danceable, nothing adrenaline inducing. It's a largely acoustic sound, with synth-like cellos and harps and dulcimers almost indistinguishably mixed in. It casts a spell when heard as a whole.
For awhile I was starting my early pre-dawns by listening to it as the coffee water
boiled and the brew was percolated...
"When the morning comes to meet you,
Lay me down in waking light..."
The radio friendly cuts were most familiar at first-- "Heart is A Drum" and "Blue Moon" -- both tremendous songs. But the rest of it washes over you with a sound palette both unique and soothing. Until I started writing this appreciation, I hadn't even looked at the lyric sheets. The words almost didn't matter, like foreign chanting or harmonic sounds that were pleasant and meaningful without being understood.
Beck Hansen is a transformative genius; his live concert back in June at MassMoCa was much the opposite of this most recent CD, and yet both were phenomenal. There, in an open-air factory parking lot/grassy knoll-- his full band was 100+ decibels of dynamic and manic sound-- from "Devil's Haircut" to begin with, and "Where It's At" at the end, avec Beck's harmonica histrionics of "One Foot In The Grave" mixed in with a pounding version of "Think I'm In Love" and "LOSER" in between. The gems I didn't know about in advance were songs like "Soldier Jane" and "Que Onda Guero", My wife and I had the good fortune to be seated on the lawn behind a married couple who were Beck fanatics-- Hilary and Ren of Norfolk, CT. They were enraptured by the entire performance, despite the scratchiness of the sound system and occasional blasts of feedback. As a relative neophyte to Beck's deeper cuts I had to keep asking, "What was the name of that one?" and Hilary indulged me every time, and then in between tunes waxed rhapsodic about the new album, which she rightfully urged me to acquire.
I am only now giving thanks to Hilary and Ren, and Beck himself!-- in looking back five months at that concert, which was indeed the highlight of any shows I saw in 2014-- though the list of those I missed is epic and lengthy.
For example-- back in early September, when we were away for a few days, I regret missing fusion drummer Billy Cobham's revival of his Spectrum album of 40 years ago, a great concert at The Egg in Albany, which received a rave review from Greg Haynes of the Times Union. Since Cobham, whom I saw in his heyday with The Mahavishnu Orchestra featuring Jan Hammer and John McGlaughlin, is now 70 years old, that is not a show likely to be repeated. Similarly, I missed Jack deJohnette's new band when they played Albany's Riverfront Park outdoors this summer-- as a young buck he'd been part of Miles Davis's iconic Bitches Brew sessions, and also played on the meditative In A Silent Way, which I mentioned earlier. I had seen him play at the legendary J.B. Scott's on Central Avenue in Albany at some point in the mid-80's, with his Special Edition band (Eddie Gomez, Arthur Blythe on alto, David Murray on tenor, omg...), one of the best live jazz shows I've ever seen.
I also missed the Empire State Plaza performance of Bootsy Collins with members of Parliament-- the guitarist with George Clinton's monster space-funk bands of the 70's and 80's, who still get sampled today... also got a great review from Mr. Haynes, whose job I envy.
Closer to home, in Clifton Park at Upstate Concert Hall, I missed two more current acts in October I fully intended to see: OK Go, and Courtney Barnette, just because they happened to be on weeknights during a hectic stretch of work. I can't always be as bohemian and au courant as I would like.
I failed to see the rarely touring Steely Dan at SPAC, the same Labor Day weekend we visited the Cape Cod coast. Missed the last go-around of The Allman Brothers and also guitarist Warren Haynes' own band Government Mule, which were at The Palace in Albany or Proctor's Theater in Schenectady, both great places to see a concert. Planned to see a Pink Floyd tribute band at the Proctors last month as well- but found it hard to justify paying $55. for a band that had no original members of Floyd itself. I heard that Ray LaMontaigne's show at Proctor's was amazing, according to Katie G. at Exit 97.7 FM, and wish I'd given him a second chance, with his new upbeat sound, having been produced by Dan Auerback of The Black Keys.
One of my favorites-I've-never-seen is Mike Doughty, of Soul Coughing fame-- he has appeared locally several times, including at The Linda in Albany, which I woulda loved. Also sorry to have missed the throwback show at The Egg this year by Dave Mason, former member of the superb 70's group Traffic.
In the Local 5-1-8, as they say around here, I also missed CD release parties for Troy's now-favorite-son Sean Rowe, who is getting national attention now, and yet still due to appear locally at Cafe Lena in a solo show in February. Stellar Young, a cool young rock aggregation from Albany (formerly called The City Never Sleeps), also appeared a couple of times locally without me being there. I could probably name another Top 10 "Acts I've Missed Lately" but the point I am making here to those outside our immediate area is that we get a ton of good music coming through the Capital Region/Saratoga zone, and it's there for the taking. In reading METROLAND, the exceptional local arts mag out of Albany, one realizes on a weekly basis how much talent appears hereabouts, if one only had time and leisure and money to totally indulge in it all. (This past week, for instance, I realized I missed Slick Rick at The Putnam Den, and hadn't even known about it till it was past...)
But seeing BECK's show at MassMoCa was one revelation I will remember, and don't have to regret missing that one. The diversity of styles and sounds he has produced over 20+ years was showcased as a huge kaleidoscope that night in North Adams, Mass. Even though the sound systems there were at times distorted and the crowd a bit unruly and constantly moving around, the overall impression was mesmerizing.
So, as the end-of-the-year lists are being compiled, I am simply voting for Beck's "Morning Phase" as hands-down Record of the Year for me. I know the cool DJs at WEXT are pushing for Sean Rowe's recent release "Madman" as the best this year, and their counterparts at WEQX of Manchester, Vermont are touting the beguiling singer/songwriter Josier ("Take Me To Church") as hands-down winner in that category. I also liked the recent Robert Plant CD ("Lullaby and The Ceaseless Roar") as the work of a still-vibrant master. "The New Basement Tapes" (with Jim James, Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello, et al.) as a tribute to Dylan and The Band's much-hyped original, is worthy of consideration. And the now-fully-released "Basement Tapes" from The Pink House circa 1967 in Saugerties, NY would also be a viable candidate, though it wouldn't be my favorite. The sophomore release from British group ALT-J would be more to my liking, in fact. In my 59th year, I am still more prone to wanting fresh input than simply indulging in nostalgia for the greatness of the past.
I will mull more on the subject of the year's music, next time.
It's time to wrap up this rambling blog, which has now spilled from late-November into early December, for which I apologize. These things are supposedly to br brief and punchy, but brief is not my forte...
Back at you soon, stay tuned...
Thanks for reading,
"Everything that is
-- from an inscription on stone in Joe Bruchac's yard
It was Groundhog's Day, 2006 when I last bought a car. At that point I'd been driving a large maroon Chevy Suburban which looked somewhat similar to Tony Soprano's, and both James Gandolfino and his character were still alive. I got a lot of deferential treatment with that vehicle as a result; people always let me pass through intersections first. The Suburban had followed a Dodge Maxi-Van that worked well for family trips but not so much for business purposes. The Suburban garnered respect, not only for its impressive heft, but for the implication that its owner could afford to drive around getting only about 12-14 miles per gallon, whether that was true or not. In 2002, when I got that set of wheels, I felt that confident. The real estate market in Saratoga Springs, NY (and virtually everywhere else) was rocketing and moving upward with the force of a torpedo. Exuberance was in the air, and as a former owner of small Subarus, Hondas, Nissans, and Toyotas, I was proud to be back to American-made, with something more substantial and less "thrifty" underneath me on the road.
Flash forward a few years: by the time gas prices had crept up over $3/gallon, I started regretting the Suburban purchase, particularly since there was no market for such used behemoths at that point. I owed a bit more than it was worth by trade-in time, but had gotten some great use out of it. The sound system was better than any I'd had in a car of mine before, and when we'd first driven it home from the dealer in Glens Falls, I recall hearing OutKast booming out "Bombs Over Baghdad!"-- a prescient song if there ever was one-- as Bella, Miles, and Dare sang along at top volume on the chorus.
During those Suburban years of driving, Miles was playing in 3 or 4 basketball leagues-- Rec, Jr. NBA, Travel, then CYO once he went to St. Gregory's in Loudonville for 7th and 8th grade-- while AAU ball filled up the spring and summer. That big ole SUV transported tons of friends and classmates and teammates, as well as our family of five, all over the place. We went through what a lot of "sports parents" do-- nonstop travel and constant restaurant and fast food expenses-- occasional hotel layovers, routes all over the state and through New England and in 2005 to Virginia Beach for AAU Nationals. The Suburban conveyed us through those days in fine fashion, but had become too much of a guzzling beast.
One day when it cost me 95 bucks to fill it up, it struck me that I had to get rid of it immediately. Six-figure fill-ups were looming. The friendly salesmen at the now-defunct All-Star Chevrolet south of SPAC let me test-drive a reputedly 30-mpg model on the lot called an "HHR"-- which I later found out meant "Heritage High Roof" or something like that, and which I fondly dubbed, "my little gangster car."
First it was a bright orange set of wheels, the only advantage to that being I'd never get lost in a snowstorm, but my daughter shrieked and laughed when she saw the color. "But it's the same shade as a basketball," I protested. "Well I'm not riding in it," my then-9 year old girl scout informed me, as headstrong then as she is now. I went back and found a black one that looked even more authentically gangsta-like, as if from a re-make of a 1930's movie, minus the machine guns hanging out the windows...
It never quite averaged 30 miles per gallon, but was twice as efficient as the Suburban, at least. It fit me like a glove and became my new trademark. Some people used to mistake it for a Chrysler PT Cruiser, which would only annoy me: "The hatch is not sloped like that one; mine is a much more noble and elegant creature!"
Long story short, eight years and nine months later, I have now travelled 243,003 miles in that great 4-cylinder car. It has gotten me from the end of Miles' time at St. Gregory's to his four years of Catholic Central HS in North Troy, when my wife and I would trade off to break up the 140 miles per day required back then, 35 miles each way, two roundtrips per day. The HHR made its share of trips to LeMoyne for the four years he was there, as well, until the newer Volvo my wife drives took over on the highway voyages. My trusty HHR got me through Daryn's high school years and most of Bella's trip from Greenfield Elementary to Saratoga Springs HS. It took me through my professional transitions from RE/MAX Park Place to SPA Realty, and then to RE/MAX Premiere, Coldwell Banker Prime, and then to Keller Williams Realty of Saratoga. I would travel close to 30,000 miles per year without fail, through the tail end of the boom market to the lean years when I had foolishly gone out on my own, and back to the recovery years, from 2010 to the present. Now with EQUITAS Realty, I guess I am finally, and somewhat reluctantly, ready for an upgrade in my vehicular choice, but am staying with CHEVY, opting for an EQUINOX now, close to my company's name.
My loyalty is based on my affection for what the HHR did for me-- I rarely had to do more than change the oil and fill the gas tank, and replace tires now and then. It held up well until one fateful day when I scraped out the oil pan in dead-winter when an ice-flow had cratered the ruts in our road pretty badly. All the oil drained out when I parked and when it was towed to our then-favorite mechanic, he told me the engine was blown and it would be roughly $1500. to replace it. I was crushed. On a friend's recommendation I had it towed a second time to an amazing dude named Ryan near where I live in Middle Grove, who proceeded to bring the HHR back to life for something like $300 bucks: a reincarnation of a dead car. That must have been three or four winters ago, and nearly another 100,000 miles later, that VORTEK engine is still going strong.
Over time, however, the HHR showed signs of its age. The right side interior would get wet on the carpet when it rained, even with the windows up. The blower on the heater and A/C stopped working long ago, the radio was full of static, and some bushings in the steering needed replacement. The transmission was getting a bit clunky and a new set of tires were in order. In fact, the most recent flat in the driveway is what drove me to the new car lot. Expensive repairs were not worth it anymore, sad to say.
Miles and Bella-- both superb Internet shoppers-- had been showing me options online for quite a while, hint hint. They knew that shopping is my least favorite thing to do.
But more pertinent to this blog-- I have to confess my sentimentality for inanimate objects in my life. This car has been as good to me as almost any friend I've had, and I feel affection towards it like I would a horse that I'd been riding for years on the open plains out west. I spent countless hours inside it. I sang along to my favorite songs inside it, went on several thousand appointments in all kind of weather, and drove my kids and wife to all kinds of events with its help. My butt fit the seat perfectly, though the fabric was now worn, torn and pulling apart. As with the recent commercial showing a guy turning in his iPhone-- with Suri inside it, pleading to him to remember "all the good times!"-- for a newer model-- I feel I am betraying a long-time pet in the family by "putting it down" before it is ready for the graveyard.
But I have to turn it in. I wanted to do a funeral service of some kind, a memorial as it were, but my family thought (and still thinks) I was nuts. I have trouble parting with the important parts of my life... still have my old laptops and cell phones and even a typewriter or two from the really olden days. Am I crazier than most? Probably. Is there a name for an automotive hoarder? Well, yes-- guys like me with larger lots are way too common in parts of Saratoga County, and their yards are littered with their old "best friends." Thinking of it that way will allow me to let go... and usher in a whole new era of comfort and driving adventures.... I'll take some pictures of her one last time for the archives, and clean out all my random belongings that have been in her dash, her compartments, under her seats, and in the back hatch area. I have to be strong...
But I might sob just a bit as I take one last trip with it-- with her!-- down to Mangino's, where the trade-in value was almost nil, but better than letting her rust in the driveway while I cruised around with the newer, younger, model.
I'll think fondly of the last time I washed her and really waxed her up good-- parked on High Rock Ave. near my office, and someone asked me-- "Did you get a new car?" because, frankly, she still looked good from a distance.
No, not yet I said-- this one only has about 242,000 miles on it, why should I?
Gulp, it's time, I gotta go... my Equinox is prepped and waiting for me at Mangino Buick in Ballston Spa, 12 miles away, one last ride-- time to start a new mechanical affair of the heart... See you in the afterlife, my dear HHR...
One last time, I will insist: Everything that is, is Alive...
Wayne Perras, for WaynesWord2
A Slice of Life, or Two, out on the Middle Grove plateau...
When certain people ask you-- Got any plans for the weekend?-- sometimes you gotta admit you're just not that exciting at the moment: Just doing some yard work, walking the dog, clearing out the basement a bit, gotta drive to the transfer station, that kind of thing... In short-- "I need to F'eng shui my place..."
Happy to have a Home to come Home to, and time to spend there. I would like to have said I had concerts to go to, or a trip to Vermont planned, or maybe a local mountain to climb before hunting season begins in earnest. But no, I'm just chillin' on the home front, and trying to get it winter-ready, for now.
If it weren't for Bentley, our 7+ month old golden retriever, I likely would NOT have seen today's cold mid-fall morning being born. After 5 days of grey rain, it was a glorious sight to see the stunning sun rise above the horizon again, shortly after 7:20 a.m., the last week before the clock's change.
The upper windows of our house, facing due east, ricocheted the solar glow at me from behind, as the rays cleared the trees. It was startling to feel the (reflected) sun strike me in the back from the west as I walked east that early in the morning.
What really comes in handy is that extra acre out back of our home-- for which we paid a $5K. lot Premium, way back in 2003-- when it's time to let this volatile and lanky pup run. Bentley now does laps like a greyhound through the wood trails, cornering like it counts, as if a race is at stake. Another athlete in training in the family, and it's almost as gratifying to see him in action as it was when Miles played hoop, or Daryn sprinted or long-jumped, or Bella danced, or ran track.
Yet, in speaking of sports, my only spectator passion these days centers on professional basketball, not college or high school sports, not baseball playoffs or NFL games. In late October, I am just marking time till the real NBA season begins, which is usually just before Halloween, and the clocks change to create early evening darkness.
The Knicks last pre-season playoff game was last night, a close loss to Toronto in a packed Montreal stadium. Even Canadians-- once merely hockey fans-- have become fanatics about my favorite sport. Soon I will be watcing in earnest: NBA TV on TWC channel 308, the Knicks on MSG, the Nets on YES, then ESPN or TNT whenever featured games are on in prime time. I will be multi-tasking well into the evenings once these games are on-- writing at my desk, researching real estate data, reading and doing the books, with HOOP on in the background--the only way to justify my recurring addiction to b'ball on the tube.
On weekends I take it as my task to become the breakfast chef for the family as they rise, one-by-one: custom egg, cheese, & veggie omelettes of some improvised sort, sometimes with white beans or kidneys on the side, in the low-carb mode. Or it might be flaxseed and buckwheat pancakes, with raspberry syrup. Other times I just cook scrambled eggs with spinach, or plain fried eggs with Ezekial toast. My kids -- and occasionally their friends who sleep over-- will remember me more for that perhaps than anything else, years from now.
Once well-fed myself, I load up the HHR on Saturday with recyclables & the weekly refuse. Instead of paying Big Waste monthly fees, for the time being, I'm trucking it myself, as I see lots of thrifty elders do. Had a flashback on old landfill visits on certain mornings with my dad, prior to my being 10 years old, I'd guess. Transfer stations much more sanitary now, and you don't have to drive over the cratered two-tracks of packed-down garbage.
Before the last 4-5 days of persistent rain, the front lawn had been dry as powder, so we certainly needed this long dose of wetness. But today redemption from the dark wet chill of the week came in the form of an idyllic mid-autumn sky, blue as could be.
Now for some long-overdue observations on the geographic & physical changes of the in-town landscape, in real estate terms...
PERIMETER EXPANSION OF SARATOGA SPRINGS...
Coming into town from the west... on 9N from Greenfield Center toward Saratoga Springs, you can't help but see how much construction is going on between Buff Road and West Avenue. Despite all the talk of "in-fill" projects within the City proper, there is apparently plenty of demand on the outskirts northwest of town.
A lot that sold two years ago is finally being cleared in a hurry and infrastructure is going in tl provide road drains and whatnot. The bulldozers transformed an overgrown wooded lot adjacent to the former Good Shephard home, which sold for $652,000. in 2012, into a parallel expansion of the adult home business, just to the right of the current residential facility. At one time I thought this would become another 7-home McMansion subdivision, but no-- it is going purely commercial now under the guidance of Bellamy Construction, whose trucks and front-end loaders and Cats are all over that site. Longtime residents (among them, me) may remember when there were some shabby barn buildings on the property that housed a company called "T-N-T Plumbing & Heating"-- those gents fixed my well pumps on more than one occasion. After they moved or shut down the business, those old barns fell down and the second-growth woods took over for a decade or two. Now the woods are scraped clean and the site is smoothed sand with not a tree left on it. Concrete and brick are soon to ensue.
Across the street and diagonally closer to town is another construction site this fall-- a medical building that briefly identified "Fresenius & Associates" as the occupants of the building-in-progress. This would be the third medial/dental/office building built in that stretch between the old "Ash Grove Inn"-- once a resplendent restaurant with gorgeous views out the back-- and the Jeffersonian mansion (purchased in the 90's by the late-but-rescient Peter Paquet) alongside those classic horse fields which abut Sunnyside Acres off to the left, just before the RR overpass. 25 years ago, said fields underneath the new medical buildings were the growing grounds of an organic farm--way ahead of its time-- run by an industrious & eccentric man named Palazzini (who happened to be a hunchback) who'd developed the stretch of farmland on Locust Grove Road to the west of all this, where my family and I lived for 14 years at one point. This section of Church Street Extension has filled in nicely from an economic perspective-- but the scenic swath of that formerly bucolic northern view across the McNeary family's open pastures on Denton Road is now blocked. Such is the cost of progress to those whizzing by...
Over the bridge and past Care Lane you see more new construction-- a massive project by local standards-- proceeding apace at the corner of West Ave. and Church. This long-delayed project- simply called "2 West Ave."-- at a prominent entry-corner of the Town, dates back to a once- proposed condo project prior to the recession of '08-09 to the current apartment complex being built by the ubiquitous Sonny Bonacio and a small army of subcontractors. I always think to myself, after hearing doomsayers on the weird inflammatory radio stations that abound on the dial-- if the End of the World is indeed approaching, Bonacio's boys-- along with The Galesi Group, Bast-Hatfield, and a multitude of others around here-- are going to be building right through it.
You go past that to another 100-foot crane lifting steel beams into place just past the Saratoga Golf and Polo Club... this is the site of Saratoga Hospital's $36-million annex being built on the west side on their complex, abutting Myrtle Street on the Emergency Room side. Thus, in the stretch of less than half-a-mile of Church Street alone, I would guesstimate there were at least 300-400 construction workers of all kinds, truck drivers coming and going, and heavy equipment operators staying quite busy just on the westside of Saratoga Springs proper. I doubt very much any other upstate city of under 100,000 residents has this much going on right now.
If you cut over to Washington Street (aka, Route 29, heading into town from the west, parallel to Church Street) you will see two other projects "in-filling" what used to be scruffy empty lots for years, awaiting this current, cumulative building boom. Closest to the Mobil Station that has anchored the West Ave. corner for generations now is the Eastside Group's final touches on their 2-story mixed-use project, soon to be the new home of Saratoga Vision, with apartments on the upper level. A short block or two south there is a new Kodiak Construction project on the left across from the Sherwin Williams paint store... a nice looking office building awaiting tenants.
Turn right onto Birch Street at Roma's Italian Deli, and before you go left on Grand at the four-way stop-- you will see the former Scavuzzo's Bakery (known to old-timers as such) under re-hab into an expanded single-family residence, and further down Grand Ave., notice 2 or 3 other notoriously-messy homes under full renovation on each side of the street, on the way down toward The Local Pub. One rundown Victorian that fell into use as a drug den, as well as nondescript older working class homes with aluminum siding, are being restored or completely re-built into upgraded housing, contributing to the overall rising of the tide in this town. Check out 152 Grand, for instance, and try to remember how shabby that little home on the site used to be.
Even a scrappy half-lot across an alley on South Franklin Street from the former Figelman's Junkyard (which recently evolved from a "Scrap Dealers" business, to a more cleanly dubbed "Spa Recycling")-- is the site of a new home being built on (by another Bonacio crew) on the backside of a 4-unit fronting on Oak Street.
Then, the truly massive 6-story Embassy Suites Hotel rises into sight, on the site of the long-vacated, one-floor retail space of Broadway Joe's, as part of the rebirth of Congress Plaza. Bast-Hatfield has been working here for the better part of 2014, and the results are now evident. Here, 100-foot cranes have been a common landmark, and just recently the top-floor windows on the north (street) side were being installed, in an effort to get the 149-room upscale brand building water-tight before snow falls. New restaurants have already gone in there, while Purdy's iconic liquor store-- having been through a couple of changes-of-plaza before-- awaits the lack of construction-site chaos with impatient glee, I would think. The new Hotel-- a DCG Development Company project-- will be bringing in hundreds more visitors on a weekly basis to a part of town that has mostly retail, offices, and apartments in that area up till now.
On Broadway, there are no cranes in sight, and haven't been since the Northshire Bookstore Building (dubbed "The Washington") was built last year. Most of the storefronts are full and vibrant, with the exception of a new For Lease sign on the corner of Congress and Broadway, as apparently Talbot's is moving out from its highly visible but no-so-profitable location. Across the street, in Congress Park itself, the major change is that a few of the majestic white pines to the left of the park entrance have been taken down this year, presumably because they threatened the Spirit of Life statue and its pool, which were in its shadow. More openness and light are the result, but it's still a bit sad when primordial trees must come down.
Most of the news on Broadway these days has been "behind the scenes." The Adelphi Hotel, which has remained shuttered for two summer seasons now, since its sale in 2012, has shown no visible signs of progress toward its massive new makeover. In the meantime, however, the new owners have purchased two separate parcels behind and to the left of The Adelphi proper, around the corner on Washington Street, including a smaller building, a former rectory, part of which is ancient stone. This is all just behind behind the Rip Van Dam building's parking lot.
Number 23 Washington is the address of the rectory that sold, for $850,000., to the right of the magnificent architecture of the Universal Preservation Hall, which is number 25. The property to the left of the UPH apparently also was a separate part of the puurchase-- a rectory that served the Bethesda Grace Episcopal Church, at 41 Washington St.
The word on the street (and later in the local papers) is that the stone portion of 23 Washington will be transformed into an entry point for an expanded banquet hall off the back, for weddings and large social events, as an adjunct to the complementary expansion of The Adelphi's rearside courtyard/pool/and outdoor bar complex, slated for completion in 2016, if all goes as planned.
This project, along with Bruce Levinsky's approved plans for a 176-room expansion of the Van Dam Hotel building just south of The Adelphi, will complete a huge transformation of that atavistic block, where Route 29 starts west of Broadway.
As of the date I submitted this, the rectory seems vacated, and the two car garage to its right looks like it may be destined for quick demolition. A truly large and majestic tree (a remaining elm?) has been sliced down and removed (but for the stump). A bulldozer has chewed up some of the turf out back, and the lot looks empty and forlorn; no sign yet of what's to come.
The gaunt and boarded up backside of the Adelphi looms, dark at night, off to the right, while the south and eastern face of 18 Division Street mixed-use and condo building is semi-lit-up, to the rear and left. The Universal Preservation Hall is still very much in use, having been nicely renovated, at least in the outer shell, due to the efforts of local supporters, former parishioners, and lots of fundraising efforts over the last two decades. At first I thought the iconic Hall itself was part of the Richbell Capital purchase, but that was not the case.
Between the purchase price of the Adelphi ($4.5 mill), the projected renovations (approximately $6 mill, BEFORE structural problems were discovered), and the $2.1 million reportedly paid for the two church properties, this zone will become perhaps the most expensive real estate investment zone in the downtown section of our City at present, rivalled by the aforementioned Hospital additions, or the $30 million dollar high-rise hotel proposed at the Saratoga Racino (or Equine Sports Center, if you prefer), between Jefferson Street and Nelson Ave.
A few years ago (or was it a decade now?), when the quintessential horse property adjoining the Flat Track on Nelson Avenue (formerly the Whitney estate) sold for roughly $27 million to a prominent prince from a Middle eastern Emirate, it was assumed that numbers like that would not be achieved by any other properties in this town for awhile. But the Big Money continues to pour into Saratoga Springs, boding a continuous upward curve in the City's fortunes, even without the advent of Vegas-styled gambling, which was chased out of town by an unofficial referendum earlier this year.
The beat goes on. In November I will detail some developments, good or bad, you will have to decide-- on the East side of Broadway... stay tuned!
Postscript, on my conversion to Dawg ownership:
Ok, to my sisters, who have been dog-lovers for decades, and to many of my friends and co-workers who are devoted dog-people, I confess that I have joined your ranks, somewhat reluctantly at first, but lately with more love and enthusiasm.
I wrote about Bentley when we first travelled north to purchase the "puppy-version" of said Golden Retriever... and of course after 5 months of nonstop feeding (part-goat, part-voracious black hole...), he is now about 60 lbs. of sinewy energy and taut muscle. His paws are almost as large as my hands. When he jumps up on me, his head is chest- or shoulder-high. When he tugs at the leash, it seems like he conveys more momentum force than a small horse. When he stares in my eyes, looking for love in return, he melts me almost as much as one of my own offspring.
The problem is, he demands more attention of me than anyone else in the household, and follows me around nonstop from the moment I wake up till the "night-night" call at 11 p.m. or so. When I come home from work he goes nuts on me like I've been around the world, away for a month. If I should get up for a drink of water in the middle of the night, I have to tip-toe down the stairs, hoping not to have him wake up as well.
My morning routine has changed inexorably. Getting up early used to mean having an hour or two to myself, for reading or contemplative music, maybe a light lifting session in the basement before breakfast. Now it means hoing to get some coffee made before he tugs me out the door for the pre-breakfast poop walk and backwoods run. I get more cardio and fresh air now, whether I like it or not. I get to see what the outdoor sky looks like every a.m., before 7 o'clock; sometimes before 6.
I have learned to tolerate the fact that every time out the door is a different "smell-a-thon"-- in that he samples the smorgasbord of the world through his nose, his snout, and often his tastebuds and tongue as well. I've learned that if he gets away from me on the leash, I will earn the stern gazes of my neighbors, and appear ineffectual when I yell at him to return. Folks ask me if I've had him trained yet, and I say, No, it's more like the other way around.
The real pleasure, as I noted in the beginning of this blog, is taking him out into the woods, and down the hill out back, down to the Kaydeross Creek and doing the 3/4 mile loop along various paths on the HOA lands behind us. He runs manically in figure-8 loops all around me, trailing the leash behind him as I give him some freedom and latitude to really RUN, as he is not allowed to do so anywhere in the neighborhood, of course. Now that my three kids are older and not so inclined to join me on these "Creek Walks," Bentley is my hiking buddy and that has been a huge boon to my health and our mutual well-being.
Is it worth the cost of dogfood, vet bills, treats, leashes, dog toys, and chewed up clothing and shoes and slippers and sneakers??? Yup, I admit it is. Sometimes I wish he had an OFF button, but in general, we love that Dog Dude, and here in print, I grudgingly admit it.
To those of you who still love cats, so do I, but that is a more passive form of pet ownership, that's for sure. A dog like this is not purely for petting and sharing naps, and hearing the motor-boat of contentment after a good meal. This kind of Dog is inter-active, highly kinetic, and a source of nonstop affection, attention, and alertness. It has cut into my contemplation time, my writing time, and yet when he sprawls out in front of the desk in my study, I have to acknowledge, he is a cool creature and, I guess, a blessing.
Stay tuned, and see you soon.
Wayne Perras, for WaynesWord2
Having this dog gives me more to blog about and less time to blog it. He provides constant exercise at times when I would normally flop on the couch, or sit at my desk, and takes up considerably more time and attention than anyone in my life since my youngest was a year or two old.
With a cat or two, you can be a recluse first thing in the morning on your rare day off-- feed 'em quick and they leave you alone. The dog tugs you out in the world, every darn day of the week.
This is gonna be a quick one...(but it's been on my mind for a while).
Who says that the Year has to be divided into Quarters? -- I vote for Thirds. That way,
we lump January thru April together, then May thru August becomes "the middle chunk." In roughly that time period, these have been some of my favorite individual songs, stuck in my head in one way or another:
Courtney Barnette "Avant Gardener"
Benjamin Booker "Violent Shiver"
Vance Joy "Riptide"
Beck "Blue Moon" & "Heart Is A Drum"
Milky Chance "Stolen Dance"
Young The Giant "Mind Over Matter"
The Kooks "Around Town"
Big Data "Dangerous"
Spoon "Do You"
Man Man "Head On (Hold Onto Your Heart)"
Alt-J "Left Hand Free"
Josier "Take Me To Church"
Robert Plant "Rainbow"
(A word here about the Australian influence on the above list...if I had to pick my two favorite new songs of the year, one male, one female, I would choose an Aussie singer/songwriter in each category: Courtney Barnette, who I hope to see this fall at Upstate Concert Hall, and Vance Joy, a dude whose real name is James Keefe. Both have quirky and distinctive voices, a surrealistic flair to their lyrics that reminds me of French poets of the early 1900's. Word play is my thing, and these two are amazing. As for musicianship, if Courtney is actually playing lead guitar on her breakout, dry-witted song "Avant Gardener" then she is the best distortion-shredder since Annie Clark, and if not, I have to find out who is, and see that band. Vance Joy, on the other hand, melodically "swings the crap" outa his little ukelele in a YouTube video "On the Tram" with a version of Riptide that just totally hooked me, and a train car full of commuters back in Melbourne, or Perth, or somewhere back home, as well. These two combine with early-year favorite "Boy & Bear" so far to qualify for a musical gold, silver, and bronze in the singles category this year.)
I can't help it, my tastes are still changing. Other than the obvious vintage guy of the group (the miraculously still relevant if not even revelatory Mr. Plant), and of course BECK, and perhaps SPOON, these performers on the list are not much older than my kids, if at all. The talent just keeps on coming... and there is more and more of it all the time that gives me faith in human expression, still evolving. Indie music is by its very nature non-formulaic.
In analyzing this, or just writing it down, I realize I am tilting to WEQX land more than WEXT lately. Frankly, I can't take it all the time, but the former seems fresher than the latter, though not always with the deep sense of history WEXT brings.
Both stations could be accused of playing certain songs and groups repetitively, but for anything on the above list, I was happy to hear them multiple times. Though about half the above tunes were played on both stations, I believe the others would be the sole domain of the Vermont station, from Mount Equinox. Conversely, only WEXT would be playing "Rainbow."
Perhaps I am finally getting a bit burned out on the "Beatles" emphasis by the NPR affiliate out of Troy. It seems they feel they have to cater to baby boomers of that era to support their public programming, though I'm not sure that's true. (Full disclosure, I'm still sending in my monthly stipend.)
I can handle the old blues masters WEXT plays-- John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, Robert Johnson-- but I get tired of the same Johnny Cash tune over and over, and got especially sick of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's monotonous single ("Pretty Little One") before their appearance at Proctor's recently. So I turn to 102.7 FM more often than I used to. I happen to dig the snark humor of Jeff Morad in the mornings, and his slightly twisted view of the news, even if I have to hear some Toyota commercials and McDonald jingles now and then. At least at 'EQX they allow the folks at 42 Degrees to balance things out a bit in the world of commercials...
WEXT still has the best syndicated radio shows in the land, WORLD CAFE with David Dye out of Philadelphia 10a.m. to Noon six days a week, and ECHOES with John Dellaberto, after midnight each night, an amazing kaleidoscope of soothing, sensual, cerebral sounds.
Some of my close friends don't listen to the radio at all anymore, and prefer the mono-thematic drudgery of certain Internet stations, or Pandora mixes. I prefer the human element and the spark of the new. I have no idea how I might've found the ten or twelve tunes I started with here, without the intro from radio. I will be listenin' till I kick!
(And I'm glad we have a couple of great radio choices around here, regardless of my minor criticisms.)
Take care & carry on,
Wayne, for WaynesWord2, at saratoga.com
It is dubbed the 4th Leg of the Triple Crown, I learned for the thirty-eight year in a row, as I had watched the Horse Race Spectacle from the comfort of my family-less family room, given superb coverage by NBC on National TV. Like a vicarious tourist at home, I enjoyed all the recognizable shots of spots downtown & around town. Certainly itz fun and unusual to see that--LIVE!-- on a Saturday 4:30- 6pm slot, with heavyweight announcers like Tom Hammond, Randy Moss, and former master jockey Jerry Bailey extolling the virtues of our fair city. I had the wide-screen SAMSUNG to myself, what with my family lake-bound to the far north while I work at least a half day every day, and make up for lost time... having spent too much of it in nostalgia-land following a high school reunion last weekend. But that's a separate blog...
The race that caught my interest more than the main event was the first of the two to be televised on the Day's card-- The Ballerina-- and it was really the first full fledged race I've watched from start to finish all season so far. I was drawn to the #1 horse right away, due to its exotic name: ARTEMIS AGROTERA. Not only was his name cool, so was his trainer (a laconic dude named Mike Hushion), his incredible jockey du jour (Rajiv Maragh), and especially his owner... Chester Broman of Chestertown Farms, whom the TV announcers noted as owning a breeding farm just "50 Miles north of Saratoga." Since he originally hails from one of the wealthier parts of Connecticut, the connection to "Chestertown, NY" seems an apt coincidence rather than part of his birthright.
In any case his 3 year old bay filly blew away the much-touted competition with a
stretch run that was pure beauty, winning by six and a half lengths. Even to a non-fanatic like me this horse looked impressive, and she becomes my reason to tune into the Breeders Cup in the fall, (also to be broadcast by NBC). I have a new rooting interest, it seems.
The Travers itself, the 12th of a 14 race-card that day, was a much more compelling race, and also made for some good television. I got a kick out of the fact that "The Big Three" in this race: horses named BAYERN, TONALIST, and WICKED STRONG were touted heavily and had their back-stories told during the pre-race buildup. But the eventual winner, V.E. DAY, was not mentioned once as a possible winner by any on the on-air prognosticators, much to my delight. He came out of nowhere and you didn't hear his name once it seemed until Tom Dirkin (in his Final Travers Call!) was singing it out: "and HERE COMES V.E. DAY!! Running down WICKED STRONG..." who had had the lead the whole second half of the race, until the last two seconds. Amazing finish, with momentum on the side of jockey Javier Castellano, the hottest rider in America apparently, who knew his horse had won before any of the officials or pundits confirmed it. He piloted a perfectly timed surge by that horse, owned by a woman named Magalen O. Bryant, who seemed quite overcome with joy and disbelief in the aftermath.
The other cool thing I didn't realize till the race was over was that the two top horses involved were both trained by Jimmy Jerkens, the only trainer with two in the race, albeit for different owners. The owners of Centennial Farm in the Boston area had gotten a lot of good PR after some rough times, it seems, based on the horse named after the trademark spirit of that city. I was truthfully rooting for WICKED STRONG to win on that basis, and NBC seemed to be steering their story that way. But V.E. Day
stole the show in a way that told me NBC had not prepared for that eventuality. The fanfare was unscripted, and then after much hype and hoopla, the Travers was over.
I bet, in retrospect, that it was the owner of last place finisher BAYERN who was flying out so quickly after the race. There was no reason for him to stick around. But there would be other races, elsewhere, I'm sure.
Till next time,
Wayne, for WaynesWord2, on saratoga.com
Our cordial hostess-- who had raised 6 or 7 children on the pristine farm where these fields met the sky-- led us up to a well-kept board-&-batten barn and opened the half-door. Spilling out in unison was a roiling horde of eleven perfect puppies, identical except for subtle shadings of color, from blonde to light brown. The proud
Once we got him home and the four of us (as Daryn didn't seem to care) tossed out our favorite potential names, each dubbing him something different for a while... my daughter's choice of "Bentley" won out, mostly because "she liked the sound of it..." without reference to any particular college or unaffordable car.
Whereas I used to be the guy raging against other fools who catered to their canines in this manner, now it is me. I never wanted to be "that guy" yet that guy is me. At least I don't live in the city where other people can see me.
I spend a half an hour or more I cannot spare each morn setting him free from the crate, watching him ritually pee in the "squat-with-curled-tail" routine, feeding him a bowl or three of food, changing his water, and then awaiting the sharp single bark that tells me it is time for the the constitutional walk. He sniffs till he finds a good place and I am the fool-in-waiting. What fun, I always think, as my wife and two younger kids are still sleeping. Although it does get me out in the brisk morning air, I long for the e-z days of just opening a can of food for the cats and then letting them out the back door for the day. The dog requires so much more. He wants to play, he wants to track, he wants to sniff, he wants to sample grotesque things in his mouth like a road-squished toad, or worse yet, a live one, along with objects like sticks, roots, dirt, cans, insects, weeds, cardboard, pine cones, squished plastic bottles alongside the road, and god forbid the occasional dead mammal. Then, once inside, to stay in practice, he will chew any available shoes, sneakers, slippers, couch covers, anything with tassels, pillows, hassocks, furniture legs, folded laundry piles, and anything he can pull from the recycling bin.
When she came home and told me that, I said, What do you think he would offer?
and my daughter and wife were mortified. On other occasions, when it was THEIR turn to be exasperated by his antics or rough play, they asked the same question. This became our running joke-- how much would a country-lovin' dude with a pickup truck pay for a sleek retriever like this?
It was really touch and go whether we should keep him or not during that first month or two... only a tag-team match of constantly taking turns dealing-with-the-dog kept us from losing it, and posting his cute face of Craigslist-- Free for the Taking! Comes with collar and leash...
Flash forward, late August. He is growing so fast now that when Miles goes away and comes back in three days, he swears he's bigger than he remembers. Also turning redder, losing the blondish fur...
My wife and the kids went up to Loon Lake for a few days so it was just me and Bentley last night, and then again this morning. He let me get some writing done
without being too needy, and willing went to bed at eleven. This morning I rewarded him with a long walk down to the Creek, a steep hike down and up and along the banks of the North Fork of the Kaydeross. Off the leash he galloped ahead and then ran past me 20 yards turned around and did it some more. Repeat, repeat, repeat, now pant. He never ventured too far out of sight, and came when I spoke his name. He ventured out on some rocks with me and lapped at the clear water. He followed commands and the paths, sometimes overgrown, instinctively and swiftly. He is proving to be a dog-of-a-hiker, which I need to be. This is the redeeming side of dawgdom-- I realized as I rubbed his panting chest on a break sitting in the sun, amid the thick ferns of the valley.
You can't take a cat on a hike like this, at least not since my cross-country skiing cats vanished on me 30+ years ago. I was stuck with, and hooked on, this critter called Bentley, for better or worse, for older or younger, for wild or tame. And my both contemplative and chaotic life would never be quite the same.
And that's the ballad of Bentley, so far.
Copyright Wayne Perras 2014
In mid-August, absent any t-storms that could rock your world, one of the best places in America to see a concert is right here in 'Toga town, as I've written about many times before (and hundreds of others probably have too). This was s'posed to be a killer triple bill that I figured to be the highlight of my local summer concert scene... and the KINGS OF LEON have done this to us here in Saratoga before, two years ago, when the lead singer went into booze rehab just before they would've come to town. This time his brother the drummer was the casualty, as it was Nate Followil's ribs that were busted up in a quick stop that injured him instead of the freakin' nutbag that tried to either drunkenly hi-jack the bus, or get killed by it. Maybe the bus driver should've just plowed into the wacko attention-seeker, and there would still be music happening on this night.
Think of the nasty and negatively expensive karma that spins out from this one guy's impulsive & asinine act-- thousands of people...maybe 15-20 thousand tonite alone... who would've been enjoying Kongos and Young The Giant as much or more than the Kings of Leon (according to my younger consultants), are now missing out on perhaps the most au courant concert of the SPAC summer. I'm not likely to get the same vibe from either Li'l Wayne vs. Drake next Tuesday, or Steely Dan at the end of August... one too young a crowd, the other almost too old and nostalgic for my taste. Since SPAC is a seasonal venue, it's not easy to re-schedule gigs here-- it costs the bands money, the promoters money, the SPAC vendors and employees lots of money, and a lot of work was done issuing tickets that won't be used, including mine-- Section 8, right in the middle of the arena, straight on view. Bummer, bummer, bummer, thricefold. The band Kongos were even supposed to be playing out of their trailer before going onstage, somewhere on the Park property, so make that fourfold. You can't re-invent a concert like that. I wish now I'd gone to see Young The Giant separately down at Upstate Concert Hall a month or so ago.
Not only the SPAC crowd in Saratoga will miss this tour from this point on, but maybe another month or more of cities that will have to cancel their shows as well... what is the extrapolated impact of one fool's action?! The only good thing here is I'm going to be a lot fresher for work tomorrow than I would have been after getting out of that chaotic back parking lot off Route 50 at midnight otherwise. O well: hell's bells to the Followils and their followers, there's nothing to be done but to go with it, or in this case, not go.
On the bright side, instead of experiencing new sonic revelations and feeling visceral exhilirations, I am also NOT getting bit by mosquitoes and standing in long lines to the john after paying for $9 beers in plastic cups. I am here in my study with a cool breeze in my face from the west-facing screens getting one more blog done, and getting ready for more music to come this month.
Next week, after a High School Reunion whose numerical value I do not even want to contemplate, I hope to hit the Rest Fest in Troy on the way home and see some true indie bands again instead of pinning my hopes on over-hyped luxury tour-bus types. I just heard a tune called "Faxes on a Yacht" by "Rival Galaxies," one of the 4 groups that will be there, and that song sounds like dynamite...
Till next time, this one was just a brief one...
Copyright 2014 by Wayne for WaynesWord2 at saratoga.com
I have pretty much always had cats in my apartment or house, since college. Diring Junior High and High School, I grew up with Spooky and Fuzz-- one a grey tiger cat we found one Hallowe'en who lasted with us, and later kept my dad company, for 19 years... and the other a beautifully ruffed female tuxedo cat who turned into the prototype Russian princess, plump and vain, wanting her belly to be rubbed whenever you passed by. Fuzz had the softest fur I've ever felt on any kind of cat, and she loved to let you stroke it.
Once on my own I had twin male cats dubbed Lucius and Rufus, the latter of whom was the only feline I ever found willing to go not only on nature walks with me, but whom actually would follow when I cross-country skied, hopping in the wake of my trail. I was crushed when each of them respectively disappeared during my early twenties, when I rented a rustic shack in Greenfield Center. If you don't "fix" your male cats, I learned, they are prone to taking off on their own once the dark urges strike.
In my extended bachelor years I co-habitated with two fine and intelligent creatures named Smudge-- pure white with a touch of ash on her forehead-- and Ruckus, another female who was the perfect "writer's cat"-- perched Buddha-like on the edge of my desk, loving the clack of my typewriter keys, how quaint that seems now, in the age of largely quiet keyboards. They lasted from my funky bohemian pad on the backside of a Nelson Ave. house where I rented, and made it well into my early family years on Locust Grove Road, when we sprouted a couple more children to join in with my stepson and wife, Melinda. The cats had grudgingly relinquished, or rather shared, my devoted attentions to other people, babies and toddlers to follow, but never really forgave me for giving up our idyllic (for them, anyway) bachelor-with-cats lifestyle we enjoyed in town. They enjoyed the 1/2 lot bordering on a farm, with its monster willow tree, great for climbing and perching... and they caught more mice and shrews and other small rodents than they ever would've found on the manicured eastside of Saratoga.
As with most cats, they required very little in the way of full-time maintenance-- other than feeding them twice a day, giving them water and then a bit of milk now and then, and some regular petting and low-key affection on the couch while I was reading or watching hoop,
there was precious little to worry about. I could go about my work and play, come and go all day, without "worrying what they were up to..." It seems so easy in retrospect.
In my apartment I had a litter box to deal with, of course, but once on the fringe of town with the bigger yard in the first home we bought, these civilized pets would just let us know when it was time to go out, and discretely conducted their business, no muss no fuss, and we never seemed to see it. When Smudge was about a dozen years old, however, our proximity to a very busy country road caught up with her, and the squeal of brakes and a thud one day, with a subsequent knock on the door from a distraught but conscientious driver, led me to see her prone body and blue eyes glazing over in front of me, and I sobbed for most of the rest of that day as I buried her next to the blue spruce in the front yard. Ruckus never seemed the same after that, always skittish around me and the kids, like she didn't belong there anymore, and sadly she met the same fate, in almost the same spot, a few months later. After that, we stopped with having cats for a spell. We had enough to deal with on the home front with 3 boys to raise, and then a baby daughter. Pets were a luxury we did not need at that time.
When my dad died in May of 2001, however, my sisters came up from Atlanta and Bolinas, CA respectively for the services and reception, and on a nostalgia trip down to Ravena where we had grown up, and then out in the country of Alcove and Coeymans Hollow where we'd had many friends, we came upon an old abandoned farmhouse that Kara wanted some pictures of... it was classic old clapboard, covered with vines but had the best collection of fragrant lilac bushes that late May in upstate could bring. While cutting off a few clusters, a soul-full meow emerged from the undergrowth, and a loveable little kitten came our way-- I scooped her up and named her Lilac, and she rode home with us back to Saratoga, on my shoulder, purring the whole way. My daughter at 3 and a half was then old enough to appreciate such a pet and Lilac became a beloved part of the household for two and a half years hence. When we moved to our new, much bigger, more distant home in Middle Grove, however, Lilac also took off into the adjacent woods and never came back, like my male cats in Greenfield Center had done, albeit this one had been neutered. Bella's grief was sad to behold. A few months later, our first spring in the new home, Bella and Miles talked to me into visiting the Adirondack Save-A-Stray shelter in Corinth, "just to look." My wife and Daryn were off on a school trip to Boston. Well, just looking led to the inevitable. In a raised ranch full of about 200 fee-roaming cats vying for or ignoring our attention, there was one, in a cage, who seemed smarter and more intent on getting a new owner than all the other jaded foster pets combined.
She looked a lot like my original FUZZ cat-- sleek black everywhere except for the white neck and belly, and her face had eyes that bore right into mine as we passed by, and she reached out as if to say "You gotta get me outa here, man!" Behind her in the cage was apparently her brother, a more laid-back version, just laying there, yawning and unconcerned. It turned out they had been unceremoniously dropped off in the driveway the night before, and had not been acclimated to the rest of the cat population yet, in this mewling cluster of unclaimed felines. Having viewing the entire harem of furry creatures, some affectionate, some prickly, we went back and claimed the 2 we saw first as we entered, and released them from their temporary cage. Kelsey was the female who got our attention, and Mello was the cool and casual male, and in 2004 they came home to join us, as the "two cats in the yard" that Crosby, Stills, and Nash had sung about back in the '70's.
Flash forward 10 years.... Kelsey is still with us, now just as plump as Fuzz ever was, well-fed and handsomely rewarded for her audacious sales pitch back at the shelter. Up until recently, she ruled the interior roost-- adorning whatever bed or piece of furniture she wanted, lounging like a Kardshian, as if her supposed beauty entitled her to eat and sleep with impunity.
Mello was always more of an outdoor guy. The woman who ran the shelter of course cautioned us not to let either of them roam freely outdoors when we signed the "agreement" to adopt them. "We do not save these cats just so they can become coyote food!" she sternly warned us. I had lived in the city and on the edge of town and in the deep country, and my cats had always been allowed to go outside, I told her, and I wasn't about to de-claw them and let them become effete. That was not their nature, in my mind, and I was not an old lady. She scolded me some more and we made our donation and left.
Mello came and went as he pleased for a good four years or so. In a neighborhood of a few leashed dogs, he walked down the median with his tail held high, and galloped away safely if the dogs ever got loose and chased him. He laughed at their dog nature. He stayed out all night, and caught many vermin-- mice, moles, shrews, voles, and even, much to my chagrin, chipmunks and small rabbits. He was the top f the food chain for a while, until the day when I'd heard quite a commotion overnight and found him the next morning, in shock and not moving, under the deck, his tail dis-engaged. Took him to the vet to find out that he'd been attacked by a fox, most likely, or a wild dog, who had yanked his tail out of his socket and caused internal injuries. Life in the wild had caught up with him. "National Geographic" in our own backyard, I called it. He was never the same, and his tail never rose striaght up behind him again. A year or two later, at a time when we'd adopted another barn cat named Mika and watched her have a quick litter, he felt a bitter jealousy that he wasn't the alpha cat anymore, and also disappeared one night-- we think in a meeting with that same fox who almost did him in the first time. Another sad passing of one very cool cat, and perhaps the male cat I'd bonded with most closely in my life.
The barn cat Mika was a reluctantly accepted gift from a neighbor, and she was at least half-feral, so wasn't allowed in the house much, mostly living under the back deck. She, I swear, bred with a strange lynx I had seen briefly on the edge of the deck at twilight one evening... and when she bore a litter of four kittens, we named one female Minx, one male Binx (a gorgeous blondish-red cat), and gave the other two away before attaching names. At one time, during the cruel recession, we were feeding five cats or more on a daily basis.
Long story short, Minx is still with us. Mika ran off into the wild-- perhaps looking for that Lynx again?-- after we spayed her, and that money was not well spent. Binx was beloved by both my sons, but was just like Mello in that he always wanted to be outside, and never cared much for domestic affection and the life of hearth-&-home. He only lasted a year with us before succombing to the predators of the wild out back, we think. His passing made both my sons cry, and Daryn still perpetuates his image and memory on his laptop's screen-saver.
He could've been the coolest of them all, and was the most distinctive looking of any we've owned. I still deeply regret not getting him neutered early on, and making a domesticated male house cat out of him-- but would HE have wanted that?
So now, or at least up until May 31st of 2014, we had just the two surviving cats-- Kelsey a vintage 2004 model, and Minx, born in April 2009 as the runt of the 1st litter Mika gave us.
Minx has become the closest approximation to Smudge and Ruckus I've had, as a cat who will camp lightly on my chest as I nap on the couch, riding the slow waves of my ribcage breathing. Like the venerated Mello and her sorely-missed brother Binx, however, she prefers the outdoor world to the comforts of indoors, aside from thunderstorm weather, or winter blizzards. Her fur is also just about as soft as Fuzz's was.
Kelsey remains intelligent yet aloof. She considers herself as entitled as any Millennial teen. Her eyes are the most compelling of any non-human creature I've met, but only Daryn feels the deep bond with her as a pet-- the rest of us not so much.
Which leads us to the dilemma of this past May...
I had always employed the HIGH-MAINTENANCE argument--- when we were shuttling kids to 2 or 3 different schools non-stop and following Miles's basketball exploits year-round, or I was working 60 hour weeks and Mom was doing retail work up in Queensbury, it was never even an option to consider a dog.
I also used the glib rejoinder--
When they invent a poop-less dog, I will allow you to get one...
Sometimes I would substitute the word "bark-less."
For a while Bella had pictures on her phone of those little toy-dog things that Paris Hilton would fit into a purse-- no barking and apparently nothing much to poop either, except maybe little antiseptic pellets. I thought that would be all right, until I found out they cost a grand or two just for acquisition fees. No, not going to happen.
Then we talked about labs and collies, and I flashed back on a boxer my parents had when I was about 2 years old, and a floppy-eared beagle I loved who died of distemper when I was about 7. Since then, I had never had one in the house, it was too sad of a memory, and we just were not cut out to be dog people, I thought. Even though my favorite writer Jim Harrison lauded the virtues of dog ownership, I could not picture it myself. Even though my sisters and most of my best friends had also tried to tell me how much I would love the mutual affection a dog would provide, I was never one to be swayed...
But on one fateful, weak-hearted day in late May of this year, all that changed....
Copyright Wayne Perras 2014