Landscapes in Stories

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Some of the best place descriptions and cultural landscape histories happen in novels and short stories. Here are a few examples of my own short stories  and “place sketches” of landscapes and people and dogs that have mattered to me over time…for whatever reason.

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June 2016. I wrote this story in honor of Samson, my yellow labrador who passed on at age 14 at the end of last year. He was a beautiful dog and rich in heart. He loved to greet people in public places. This is a sort of a comedy-crime-caper about how he came to national fame. Like Samson himself, many of the settings in Poughkeepsie, New York are real. Stuckwell stands in for many private schools. All references to Vassar College are entirely fictional.

America’s Favorite Dog

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Prologue

Every morning, I work out with a pair of 6-pound weights. They are black iron and somewhat Victorian in appearance. I make quick punching and kicking motions emulating a famous television tae bo master while twisting my hips to optimize benefits for abs and triceps. I gaze from my bedroom window over the downtown rooftops of my historic Hudson Valley town—into the towers of the Mid-Hudson Bridge and the bluffs beyond.

Perhaps, as I poke and jab, weave and uppercut, another tune and another rhyming epithet might come to me—separately or, ideally, as a unified work. They seem to just happen. I have little control over these songs, this Annunciation that I experience when a really saleable jingle swirls through me. You may know what I mean from religious paintings seen in museums and books: the Renaissance-crisp lightening-beam that sears down from above when God announces himself and leaves a little immaculate gift for the Virgin Mary. And then I hum the tune; and I sing it out with filler words from some make-up Latin jumble text. If it somehow scans and stays in memory for a bit, it just might be good.

These are the songs that I write and whose recording sessions I attend in Brooklyn Studios. I create these jingles in the morning while twisting with my weights, gazing over the urban renewal efforts of Poughkeepsie from my walk-up apartment in the former Perlmutter’s Furniture store on the former Main Street Mall. My greatest professional accomplishments include: station identification IDs for the Iowa Christian Evangelical radio station, WHOA-Dubuque, a rouser song for my high school’s girls field hockey team (never used), and didactic “sponsorship” jingles for the numbers 27 and 34 on Sesame Street (aired once before “retirement” from rotation).

I was 32 when this story began.

Adventures in New Music

The story to follow is one of courageous citizens and their pets, though I am not among them. This story also has little to do with jingles and should be taken as no moral commentary on American advertising nor its creative directors.

My own valued professional mentors are well past retirement age or dead. These masters are, as am I, among the least threatening artists you will ever meet simply because we jingle composers do not create. We derive. We are interested in memorability and hummability. Originality is optional. Thus, lacking an author with imagination, you can be assured that the story to follow is actual and true. If I could put it into rhyme, I would. Even if I wanted to lie, I would not know how.

As a writer limited to literal reporting and derivative tunes, there are two topics that I am qualified by experience to discuss in text:

#1. The composition, wording and orchestration of verbal-commercial-songs or “jingles.”

#2. The care for and entertainment of Samson [my yellow Labrador, adopted, handsome, cunning, yet gullible.]

The story to follow is laced by coincidental events, occasional car mishaps, snobbery, and the ongoing struggle of right and wrong. It is a story of redemption and ultimate justice. The story of how my two-year-old yellow Labrador, Samson, performed great deeds and saved my life to become America’s Favorite Dog.

Our nation has produced many heroes both on horseback and off. Some of our greatest heroes have been horses themselves such as Secretariat, Dan Patch and Trigger. Of course we associate Trigger with radio and later, black and white TV. He was a fictional horse no more grounded in fact than the product benefits touted in the sponsors’ ad jingles that opened the show. Truth has little to do with social influence and that’s why jingles and broadcasts worked so well together back then.

Trigger and the early age of television had a great effect on me. Indeed, the entire black and white TV era deserves a special hurrah for its musical ads and program theme tunes. Often sung by choruses of robust young men and women, these vocal commercial songs of a more innocent time marked the pinnacle of my craft before it became ironic.

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How could one ever top the brilliant Patty Duke Show open with Patty and Cathy in polar opposite, split-screen roles:

“Cathy has lived most everywhere…”

“From Zanzibar to Berkeley Square!”

I can hear them now as I snap my fingers and ponder the New York of the Kennedy era.

“But Patty’s only seen the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights….”

“What a crazy pair!”

How I envy Cathy for her globalism before it was a word, Patty for her American wholesomeness and sense of fun…. Oh to be one of them for just a day. 

“But they’re cousins…identical cousins

Two of a kind!”

But, I am digressing from our project here: the story of how my two-year-old yellow Labrador, Samson, performed great deeds and saved my life to become America’s Favorite Dog.

As background, I begin with the somewhat surprising news that many of many of my high school classmates consider me to be a Failure. But then, they are biased because they once collectively predicted it. Whereas, most high schools—whether public, prep or parochial—might be content to vote a senior class member, “Most likely to succeed,” or “Most Popular,” I went to the sort of sullen country day school where the official awards program included (as a kind of ending entertainment), “Most likely not to be Famous” and “Most likely not to succeed.” Children can be so cruel.

I was awarded both prizes. It is true that I have never been promoted, but that is largely because I have never had a professional job except for the brief seven-week stint as a promotions writer at Xerox from which I was fired because I could not think of a word that rhymed with “Xerox”. As for failing, I do take some offense at that. Yes, I live in Poughkeepsie, a vastly underrated town. No, I don’t own a car (but I am a car buff). I am not working on Madison Avenue, Wall Street or the White House like so many. And yes, I have never had a date.

But really, what is “success” and who can define it?

One possible answer is those who attend the Stuckwell School of Darien, Connecticut…alma mater, social springboard (for most), and unjust award-giver. I graduated sixteen years ago and continue to receive from them with some regularity: sports bulletins, endowment updates, Lacrosse team rundowns, descriptions of student community service projects, alumni profiles, annual campaign requests from someone named Binky Crenshaw ’98, and hate mail.

Of course, the concept of “hate mail” can be just as difficult to pin down as “success” itself. Specifically, I refer to the annual class fund letter from the annual chair, usually a schoolmate who never spoke to me then but writes to me now in the added note scribbled in ballpoint blue:

“Hi Roger! Hope the jingle writing is treating you well. We missed you at last year’s reunion. Don’t worry if you can’t make a donation. We all understand….”

While not directly hateful, this sort of comment drips with bold condescension…. and can be harmful to the creative spirit. I wish only that my former classmates, rising and justly-rewarded scions of advertising, public relations, corporate law, commercial real estate, wealth management and other useful social roles might show a bit more respect for my own craft. We jingle writers are neither inherently poor nor forgotten.

The Transformational Dog

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Two summers ago, it was very hot here in Poughkeepsie—with lawns burned brown from scorching sun and a murky haze that settled over the one-way pair of downtown arterials. They skirt both sides of the urban renewal district that replaced the locations where the city began, the Federal-style row houses and steeples of the thriving 19th century river town that once gently sloped down to the Hudson. That’s all gone now; and it is generally hotter in the areas that were “renewed.”

I first heard of Samson last spring after reading a notice offering him for quick adoption at Barbarini’s Steakhouse, one of the cultural centers of our town whose exact slogan is: Home of the Giant Jumbo Manhattan in Poughkeepsie!

Posted over cigarette machine, the poster read:

WANTED!

OWNER FOR FAMILY DOG, MOST LIKELY YELLOW LAB.

Owner to remain anonymous. Recent RICO sentencing guidelines force untimely adoption. Possibly part Chesapeake. Will come for Snuffle Bits. Not gun shy.

Contact Gino

Gino is Barbarini’s bartender. So why was I drawn to this poster? Well, I’ve been a loner for most of my life. My mother’s friends were always fond of telling me that I needed to “find a girl friend.” My father’s friends and relatives continue to note my lack of career ambitions, and now my gay friends were telling me that I “need to find a boy friend.” The general consensus was that I remained incomplete, somewhat lacking in a life skill item or two. But here arrived the chance to find a friend who might not care about all that, a lovely dog who could love me back, a cast-off mutt from a questionable home who might just help to make me whole. And that is how I visited Staten Island for the first, and perhaps only time in my life.

*****

Some things in life are very sad; and some combinations of things are even sadder…. I mean here such dangerous pairings as stripes and plaids in a child’s outfit or people who use tasteless vinyl windows in old buildings. In my own life, one of the saddest pairings I’ve ever seen is the borough of Staten Island as a home for a captive Labrador like Samson.

I first saw him through chain link fence, sitting calmly and observantly as the neighboring caged dogs along Azzari Boulevard barked and whelped. Despite the canine cacophony, it was an ordered landscape of identical stucco box-houses with shallow pitched roofs, flat driveways and lava rock fountains in postage stamp yards. In equally regular rhythm on that summer Saturday morning, each driveway held a largish man of vaguely Mediterranean origins hand waxing a powerful American car. Beside him, or in the open garage, a young woman, whom one presumed to be his wife or girlfriend, perched on a stool painting her nails a bright color. Despite the barking, it was all rather calming, in a way.

As far as I know, this decorative setting marked the full eco-system of Samson’s “family of origin.” The lurid colors and landscaping rock of Azzari were the only landscape he had ever known. That such a great dog could emerge from such distasteful origins is testimony to this country, proof of its gifts of aesthetic and social mobility for dogs and men alike.

As I arrived at 1223 Azzari Boulevard and glimpsed Samson sitting quietly in the chain-link, that home’s particular car polisher looked up at me from his work. Stopping my rented car on the curb, I cautiously stepped out amid the lawn ornaments. I knew that I was now longer in Darien, or even Poughkeepsie, any more. Summoning all courage, I took a step into the driveway and Vinnie “Boom-Boom” Boombozo looked up from his work.

Eh! Can I be of help to you?” he said, or rather, verbally poked with an intense Queens accent. I explained that I was the one who called about adopting the Labrador and presented Gino’s note on the back of a card from Barbarini’s. He looked at it while clicking his tongue.

“I guess you check out,” he said. “You got a leash for this mutt?” he asked before disappearing inside to get Samson and related papers.

Still trembling a bit and waiting by the steps, I noticed some kids drawing sidewalk art with big fat sticks of colored chalk. How charming I thought, such creative moments in city life….even in the most modest neighborhoods. And then I noticed that Vinnie must have kids too because there, on the floor of his garage, were two chalk figures. But, then I noticed they were drawn in white chalk and rather bigger than most sidewalk figures. He came back in a moment with the papers. I handed over a check to cover Samson’s vet check-up and wondered if a man-to-man handshake was now in order. Vinnie threw me a chew toy and I untied the dog. “Eh, Sammy, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” Vinnie said as he resumed polishing his red Mustang. And then that was that. No need for good byes. Adoption complete.

We went back to the car where Samson promptly jumped in the back seat and placed his head on the armrest between the two front seats. Shaken but recovering, I shifted into drive and we slowly drove away. I petted his soft head we approached the Verrazano Bridge for our return to Poughkeepsie. I was happy and thought about happy things like children and sidewalk art. And then just as we reached the bridge’s center point, I remembered the kids’ art on Vinnie’s garage floor, the faded, white chalk outlines…that had been there for some time…chalk outlines not of animals, but….human bodies. And then it hit me.

Samson remained calm as I vomited quietly into the rental’s plastic trash bag while trying not to veer into the side rail. He suddenly stood up on all fours and looked at me in concern. Then he licked my ear. I was so touched by this kind little act that I regained composure; and we made it over the bridge and out of Queens without incident, which is no small trick in itself.

An Artistically-Enriched Childhood

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As a child, my earliest memories of music are the sounds of my father’s record collection of the complete works of Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) vibrating though my bedroom floor as he played them at night. Hip for his time and puzzling for many, Stockhausen composed everything from operas to Space Music. He evidently impressed the Beatles who included his image on the cover of Rubber Soul. I could not possibly explain Stockhausen’s theories of tone and timbre to you, but I know someone who can.

Since the late 1960s and recently winding down, my father has labored and parented in the roles of composer, itinerant college professor, disgruntled college professor, and unrecognized genius. Most significant for my eventual oeuvre and the story to follow, he was and is a modernist. Stockhausen became for me an early and lasting indicator of his taste.

Yet in rebellion, I did not become a post-modernist, someone invested in ironic puns, but rather, as my father puts it so well, “a commercial hack who might as well be writing New Age Christian hymns for mega-churches.” He no doubt refers here to my station ID jinglets, musical “bumpers”, and news lead-ins for WHOA-Dubuque, likable for normal people and easily hummed.

Father is in semi-retirement now, attending Stockhausen open-air mountain festivals, playing the Indonesian gamelan in his home studio, generally avoiding my mother, and visiting my sister Anna in Manhattan. Mother generally spends her time avoiding him, a job made easier by her occupancy of a separate wing of their large house with a separate entry, kitchen, and lockable connecting door. She is deeply involved with Florida manatees.

Thus situated in separate but equal lives, my parents continue to co-habit in Darien, not talking but reasonably happy in the familial home of three generations. One trait that they do share is an ample supply of creative and not so creative excuses for not visiting me:

“Oh it’s just too humid this weekend so we’ll have to reschedule,” Mother announces.

“I think I’m going to that Webern conference after all,” the Father-Professor lies.

“Oh I’m going to this great art opening in Gowanus and Mom and Dad want to come along,” younger sister Anna asserts.

“You know Roger, I’m 71 years old and life is just too short to revisit Poughkeepsie,” Father finally declares, for once telling the truth.

And although I also knew that life is short, I began to realize that with this kind of family, the days ahead seemed very long indeed. I sensed, in my family’s absence, that life was passing me by. And that’s kind of bad at age 32 and a major reason that I needed something like a dog.

*****

Back in Poughkeepsie, my first stop was at a pet store on Route 9 to buy dog food and some treats. I had read several dog-training books and learned that positive rather than negative reinforcement is the way to go in canine and human pedagogy (nota bene family members/Stuckwell faculty and staff). I found an array of treat options including Barky Bites, Woof-Woof-Wow!, and an on-sale item: Snuffle Bits.

I bought the Snuffle Bits.

After returning the car, I took Samson out for our first “real walk” besides that day’s visits to roadside “pet exercise areas” along the Thruway. And for those who may still question Poughkeepsie, I took him to one of our truly world-class places, something no other town or city has. I took him for a walk across the Poughkeepsie High Bridge—a former freight train bridge over the Hudson that is now the Longest Pedestrian Bridge in THE WORLD.

Soaring views up and down the valley, strollers walking calmly and stopping by the rails…it was a heavenly civic sight and I thought with pride how Poughkeepsie had been known for a century as the “Queen City of the Hudson Valley.” And it will be again. At first, Samson felt a need to sniff and greet every pedestrian we met on the bridge, an urge that I was largely able to control through a gentle tug on the leash that connects to his “gentle leader.”

From my reading, I had learned that dogs (like certain institutions) have pecking orders and that mother dogs can control their pups by pushing down either on the back of their heads or the tops of their snouts. A “gentle leader” (not to be confused with one’s “Dear Leader”) is a clever harness of simple straps that applies pressure to these areas…with just a little leash tug. Much more humane and effective than those terrible choke collars.

The gentle leader was working quite well until we met our first dog, another Labrador (chocolate) coming towards us on the long bridge. Oh, it was so embarrassing. While the brown dog remained calm and polite, Samson reared up like a stallion virtually hanging from the leash, waving his front paws and squealing because the gentle leader clamped down his jaw from barking. You would think that he had never seen another dog before and that there was some deep deprivation and unmet yearning here. It was if, for the first time in his 14 month-old life, he had discovered who he was and found a kindred soul.

He was a dog and not a Staten Islander, a Labrador from coastal heaths and not some “unmade” Mafiosi from Queens. I began to really love him then, almost more so because of his awful origins.

You might be surprised to learn that I was actually somewhat famous in my college years, briefly and under an assumed name. An appropriated name, to be more specific. That would be the most philosophically-correct term for re-purposing the identity of socal theorist Max Horkheimer in my role as lyric writer and singer in the college art band, “Horkheimer & the Adornos” named after two members of the Frankfurt School of “neo-Marxist” thinkers who were the focus of my career-building Vassar major, Posteriority, Modernity, and Society (PMS).

Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno coined the term “Culture Industry” back in the 1940s after they had immigrated to California to escape from rising Nazism in Germany. As a sophomore, I was smitten with them, with their analysis of how culture mass-produces standardized cultural goods such as movies and magazines that keep us happy and unthinking about how wretched and unequal our lives really are. Oh, the rich can have their “high art” and their Stockhausens, but what about the rest of us who really need to think?

So I got the idea for H. & the Adorno’s—a band that could pose those questions for the Common Man….or at least for students at Vassar parties and college radio stations at Bard Collge and New Paltz in the Hudson Valley.

Our band was, shall we say, an “eclectic” group. Because of my generous nature, I generally befriended social misfits, shy foreign students, obsessive-compulsives, and other “challenged” individuals who might not otherwise have a social life. Of course, I fit into none of these categories, although, surprisingly—and with echoes of Stuckwell—I was not popular in the mainstream. Thus, I had the time to devote my attention to my outcast friends. Their particular hidden personalities and unsung gifts came forth late at night and in many languages when we smoked hash.

One night in the spring of my junior year, I remember bemoaning to them the fact that Max Horkheimer’s writings were so enriching and yet so undiscovered by bourgeois American youth. How, I asked the assembled salon, how can one learn and share such complex and subtle information with others?

There was a pause and then Joshua, an introvert from Cleveland answered me by switching off the power strip connected to the stereo and lights and launching into a seven minute musical rendition of all the scheduled passenger train arrivals and departures in Cleveland—for each day of August 1936.

When he was finished, we all sat there in the darkness, stoned and a bit stunned, with no one saying much of anything. Danette, an energetic redhead from Maine got up to wash her face and hands—as she tended to on the half hour. By the time she came back, toweling off with extra sani-wipes, I knew that my life had changed.

When Joshua sang his brilliant train times song that evening so many years ago, I felt the flash of promise, the glint of opportunity to do something for the world and for the legacies of Horkheimer and Adorno. And from that night, our celebrated art band—known on several indy streaming music sites in Upstate New York as H. & the Adornos—was born.

Putting neo-Marxism into verse lay the groundwork for my professional-level commercial-verbal-song writing today. But almost a decade later, I began to sense that my glory days in performance art were probably over. In those years before meeting Samson, I used to worry about the life-passing-me-by-issue quite a lot. Still, there had to be something more. Ten years after graduating from Vassar with a B.A in Posteriority, Modernity and Society (PMS), I’d grown uninterested in the passions of Marxism, Neo-Marxism, Late Capitalism, and the drugs that had once enflamed my youth. And surprisingly, despite my relevant degree and brief fame in H. & the Adornos… I found little luck in landing that ideal corporate job. I thus grew very bored and was probably boring for those around me. 

And yet, I was no Nihilist!

So I waited in Poughkeepsie for something Big, or just anything to happen—spending evenings drinking martinis in a butterfly chair on the roof of the former Perlmutter’s Furniture store on Main Street Mall, watching the flow of arterial traffic at dusk, our lovely Hudson Valley sunsets, and working at Staples.

On Giving back to the World

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Over the next few weeks, now freed from his past, Samson’s innate goodness continued to unfold in ways large and small. I found new meaning in Poughkeepsie and in life itself. I sang to him in rhyming couplets. I knew that fall was coming soon and with it the Golden Light when we could sit on the roof at sunset, he with his chew toy and I with my Tanqueray.

Even the passive-aggressive hate mail from Binky ’98 at Stuckwell didn’t bother me so much anymore. A good dog can have such healing powers. I was largely immune now to general meanness such as this note from Binky that arrived two months after Samson came home with me. As we sat together happily on the roof on a late August evening, I read the invitation to my 15th Stuckwell class reunion to be held in New York City’s Upper East Side:

Greetings Roger! Hope you can make it to the Lotus Club. I hear you don’t drive and I’m sure it’s a long train ride from Poughkeepsie. But try to come. Do you have trains there? Never been myself. Hope to meet you at the big event… and remember to wear a tie!

Binky ‘98

Memo to Binky: As the Queen City of the Hudson Valley, Poughkeepsie, New York is well-served by regional and national trains.

I shook out another drink of the martini nectar as I reread the note while sitting with Samson surrounded by the heat-emitting tar on the roof. Stuckwell School reunions have always posed many hazards for me including: excessive blushing, awkward silences, realizations of my essential social and professional incompetence, and fainting. The prospect of attending the fifteenth at the swankest of clubs looked bleak. I freshened my drink and weighed the costs and benefits.

And then, something extraordinary happened. Mid-stream into my third martini, the roof ventilator shut off, leaving in its void a gentle silence of valley winds and the hum of the arterials. In that moment of blue light at the end of dusk, I felt at peace and sensed, perhaps for the first time, the promise of my artistic abilities and my obligation to edify others.

Stuckwell had never appreciated me, but I appreciated my old friends’ unspoken yearnings to grow; and I could help them now. My teachers, classmates and their parents questioned my talents, adopted city, profession, intelligence and musical calling. I knew in that serene moment that I could share my hidden gifts with them.

Samson was kind, calm, non-judgmental, and never boastful. Everything Stuckwellians are not. He accepted me as a friend, our simple lives in Poughkeepsie, and even occasional gunplay in the streets here, for what they were. As I bit through the gin soaked lemon rind, I saw that I could offer up my artistic skills to give something back to Stuckwell. At the mid-point of martini #4, I realized that True Kindness means showing people who have hurt you a better path, a higher light, a new way of being.

I was rising now, rising into selflessness….

Knowing that my classmates could benefit from the Samson’s exemplary warmth, I made the fateful decision to attend their little reunion party with a special gift. I would compose and sing for them a new jingle about a golden love and kindness that they had never known.

I would write a jingle about how Samson exemplifies the best of our nation, why he can and might well become—America’s Favorite Dog.

*****

I wasn’t due at Staples until the 5-10 PM shift, so my hangover the next day was pretty much done by the time I got to work. Still, I had some trouble with logging into the cash registers. After that, the night was slow. But I did have the time and clarity to remember my roof top musings from the night before. Was it just martini talk?— as Mother frequently proclaimed when Father-Maestro outlined plans for ever larger Stockhausen chorales (in the thousands) to be set in mountain passes (in Austria) at the peak of meadow bloom.

Or was this Samson song idea for real? A service for one and all.

It was hard to know for sure. I’d been, well let’s just say a little out of touch the last few years living in Poughkeepsie and spending a lot of time “on the roof” and all. So, whether I had a healthy sense of potential pitfalls or just low self-esteem, I wasn’t sure that a song about a Labrador, even a great Labrador, would go over all that well with a big city crowd, and one from Stuckwell at that. Had I only known.

The Mysteries of Samson

When I got home from work about 10:30 that night, cocktails were out of the question because I was still feeling their effects from last night. But, the following day, I came home from work at 6 all hot and sweaty. Biking back and forth from downtown to the Route 9 Big Box stores can be a little taxing in the summer. But, as Samson ran to greet me at the door, desperate for a walk and pee, I knew that things were getting better.

We walked the former Main Street Mall that was once a great hope for retail renewal. Completed in 1967 and removed last year, the Mall once promised a downtown redo in a Jetson’s future with artful planters, trees, public art and no room for cars. The monorail never got built and somehow, things continued downhill with the closing of Perlmutter’s Furniture and the elegant Luckey, Platt Department Store—both fine institutions that once sponsored floats in Fourth of July parades when the parades were very long and thousands of Poughkeepsians came to see them.

Today, the future has arrived in the form of a few coffee shops and a bar or two that animate at least one intersection in a downtown that once had dozens of store blocks. But, these places are signs of life and Samson and I visit them frequently, sitting outside Edna’s Coffee Cup Café as I sip my coffee and Samson laps from a helpfully provided doggie bowl.

That evening, I found the humidity particularly rich with some evocative scent, a little sulfurous, but oddly appealing. The August light, perhaps infused with a drifting pollutant from Newburgh, turned more and more golden on the empty storefronts across the street. For a moment, I felt at peace.

“Definitely a cause for cocktails!” I announced to Samson, who, as always, seemed quite interested in everything I said. We walked back to the apartment as I reflected on the simple joys of mixing cocktails, especially martinis—and shaking them. I learned how to make dry martinis twelve years ago, when I was back from college and visiting my partitioned parents in their partitioned home. On my second night back, they invited me as a full participant in that sacred hour when locks are undone and doors swing open in the brief moment when we actually become a family again.

And for this particular Cocktail Hour, they had to include me. I was of legal age and a Man now (or at least as much as any Vassar senior majoring in neo-Marxist social theory could be) and they had friends coming over for drinks. My parents have friends actually, but as with each other, they only socialize with them while drinking. Thus Cocktails at the Connaught’s is a well-known tradition on Friday nights when various Manatee enthusiasts, former students of Father-Composer, Stockhausen fans, and neighbors-still-on-speaking-terms-with-my-parents, show up. They all drink, but they do not mix outside their specific interest groups.

The Connaught cocktail parties are actually three parties with the Manatee advocates lounged around the center island in the kitchen as Mother, perched on a high stool, pours sangria from a Spanish pitcher. Moving through the butler’s pantry into the dining room, we begin to hear the proclamations, vocal tone renditions and drumming of the composer/former student/Stockhausen cluster in the living room. Behind a closed door in the den across the center hall, the neighbors exchange gossip about: proposed zoning changes, the troubled children of other people, imminent local divorces, and sometimes in whispers, the state of my parents’ marriage.

My father migrates between living room and den as Mother navigates the larger ship from her roost in the kitchen. Everyone has fun.

That particular evening twelve years ago when I was home from Vassar and doing my Dustin Hoffman “Graduate” thing, I was taught the true art of martini-making by one of the Stockhausians. He was a big man, as any lover of Stockhausen really should be. I remember him looming over me by the liquor cabinet in the living room (it was never a “bar”) and explaining a few important facts of life. Except, in my case, they were not summed up by “Plastics” as in the movie but rather the properties of gin, its origins, and ideal drinking temperature.

It was kind of like the first time someone gives you a cigarette and you realize that there might be some potential here. The key is to think of making martinis as similar to making ice cream. You have to get it below freezing. Now, with the wooden ice cream tubs of old, you’d crank away until the creamy liquid froze inside the ice-filled rim of the device. With martinis, you put the gin in with the ice and shake in the silver jigger until nearly frozen and your hands hurt from the cold.

Vermouth is irrelevant; although a drop or two put into the silver shaker before adding ample ice can bring out a subtle bouquet. Any more than two drops though, and you need to start over. A slice of lemon or lime should be peeled to resemble a double-helix DNA strand as it floats in the clear nectar. All drinks are served straight-up in chilled glasses, poured to the brim with a slight meniscus curve rising from the edge. Ice water is the chaser.

That’s the gist of it other than the fact that the brand gin used is a personal taste…and all suitable ones are expensive. I completed the mixing task and took the shaker, an ice water pitcher, and treats for Samson up to the roof. We sat in the shade of a small umbrella from one of the big box stores by Staples as dusk unfolded. Around 9:10, just as it was almost dark, I heard some gunshots that were a little different from the ordinary ones at that hour. They weren’t usual “Bang, Bang!” but more like, “Pop, Pop,” and then some shouting, and then a loud sputter that sound a bit like a machine gun.

Samson ran to the parapet, peered down, and looked more concerned than I’d ever seen him. He tilted his head, sniffed the air, and then, much to my terror, jumped over the parapet to the fire escape, trotted quickly down the narrow grated steps, and then swung down the last 15 feet to the sidewalk on the retractable stair. He did all this with the most grace I’d ever seen in a dog, especially in him.

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As I watched from three floors above, I saw Samson run out into the street, sniff a trail along the ground, disappear into an alley and then re-emerge carrying in his mouth the handle of one of those stiff brief cases from the 1960s. As I turned on the video feature of my phone, he ran out of sight again and then I heard his paws tapping on the steps of the fire escape as he came back to our rooftop deck. Samson came over to me, no longer with brief case, licked my hand, and drank some water from his bowl as if nothing had happened. Then, he went over and picked up the cell phone sitting on the table and dropped it with some clear purpose in my lap.

After that, drunk from both the thrills of the night and several martinis, I fell asleep in my butterfly chair to awake in the morning having forgotten pretty much everything that had just happened.

 

Binky Goes Down

I never got around to watching the rooftop video. But, through several walks on the Mall and across the very great Poughkeepsie High Bridge, I wrote a pretty good jingle about Samson, his worthiness of fame, and his overall excellence as a dog. Taking a cue from the Patty Duke theme (and how could you not?) I wrote the Samson song as an opening to a TV show in which he might star.

As the great day of the Reunion approached and with the jingle in place, I began planning my outfit and how to look my best. Standing shirtless in the full-length mirror at the end of the hallway, I concluded that the five-pound morning weight-lifting program had been of little use. Somewhat alarmed, I also noted my growing bald spot and the emergent thinning in the front. New hair tactics were clearly needed. With so much to do and so much to fix, physical attractiveness would prove a daunting goal.

But, I also knew I had a solid jingle and a pretty good speech to go with it. So, I bought some thickening hair conditioner, some lovely black wingtips from our local Goodwill, and even ironed their shoelaces.

*****

Of course I was nervous as I rode the Metro North down to the City on the afternoon of the big dinner. I had some equipment in tow: a boom box for the instrumental that would back up my song…and a thumb drive with the clever lyrics that could be projected on a screen behind me along changing photos of Samson.

I finally got to meet Binky, who greeted me in the back of the Lotus Club ballroom as planned at 4:30. She was wearing a suitable floral sleeveless dress, bobbed blond bangs, and healthy tennis tan. She hugged me as if we were long-lost friends. It was all a very unified aesthetic. We went over the program and then I ran to the bar and away from public spaces as the alumni began to arrive.

Ninety minutes (and three straight-up Tanquerays in the cloak room later) the dinner part of the evening commenced. For better or worse, I had to emerge from the coats. Yet, Binky’s cool ascension of the podium and the colorful projected photos of our school behind her injected me with a sense of calm.

“I want to thank all of you,” she began, “for coming tonight, and for your continuing support for Stuckwell and the future of Independent Schools.

“And, I think we should all thank our parents for sending us to a great place like Stuckwell and for the heaps of money they spent on college SAT tutors so we could all getin to the colleges of our choice! [knowing laughter]

“But seriously now, before we begin our formal program, I want to recognize someone who has always given us a bit of mirth and reminded us of who we are….or aren’t. [Murmurs]

“Many of you may remember him from school days. He is a jingle writer now. And we all want to encourage him in his work as a Stuckwell graduate who keeps on going.

“Rodger, if you will please come up…. For his efforts in sticking with a dream and living the life of the artiste, we now present the ‘Still Rodger’ Award to Roger Connaught ’99 for his work in music and the arts that makes us all feel good about what we are doing ourselves. He just has never changed. [general laughter and applause]

Not realizing at the time that all of this was kind of an elaborate joke and this award would begin and end with me, I began my very gracious acceptance speech:

“I want to thank Binky (microphone feedback) for inviting me tonight and to all of you for this excellent honor of the First Annual “Still Roger” Award. I hope that I won’t let you down….”

At this point, Binky placed her gloved hand on my shoulder, and whispered breezily, “thirty seconds Rodge….Wrap it up!”

…which in my particular state I heard as, “just excellent Rodge, keep it up!”

And so, I did, launching into my prepared speech with renewed gusto, thanking the planning committee and all those other committees out there working for the Stuckwell cause.

I moved then into my core message: How good companion animals keep us whole….and how I owed so much to Samson for my own stability and this award.

As I looked out into the tables, I noticed that some people were already smiling, shaking their heads, and apparently, looking me up in their yearbooks. And Binky was laughing too…and poking me while demanding that I stop. So I knew that I was getting through to them.

“Even though he is from Staten Island, I began, Samson is a role model for all of us….”

“And he is clearly the Ideal Dog: somewhat gullible, blonde, pragmatic yet forgiving. So if you want to know why I’m still the Rodger I always was, I owe so much to Samson. So in honor of this great day, I dedicate this award to my humble friend with the following song, that I custom-wrote in my jingle studio in New York’s Hudson Valley….”

I could tell how excited my classmates were now by the awed expressions on their faces as they sat throughout the ballroom, several of them with completely open mouths.

So I began, microphone in hand….flicking on the digital projection of the lyrics and my synthesizer baseline track. Poor Binky was just beside herself now, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks and her pearls bunching up as she tried to pull me off the stage.

[Key of C and a thump, thump thump, a slideshow of Samson photos begins in the background]

He’s…. America’s Fav-or-ite Dog!

And the Hollywood limelight he hogs!

He’s the topic of thousands of blogs!

As the Nation’s most Pop-u-lar Dog!

He’s America’s Favorite Dog!

(Come on, everyone, sing along….)

America’s Fav-or-ite Dog!

 [the crowd brightens up; they clap along and start to sing the refrains]

 

Oh— Who could ever ask for more?

Cham—pion of Labradors

Americas Favorite Dog!

He’s—America’s Favorite Dog!

America’s Favorite Dog!

Sam—son….

At least in terms of sheer audience delight, my jingle seemed a great success. And then stepping over Binky (who had passed out after the “thousands of blogs” line), I walked directly with microphone into the audience and concluded somberly:

“Animal friends like Samson make us kinder and gentler, my fellow Stuckwellians. And admit it now, all of you out there in that 1%, couldn’t you really could use a kindness upgrade today?

[more knowing laughter]

“So let a thousand companion animals chirp or bark, or meow. Let their play and frolic bind us together in newfound trust and humor. Let us take our pets to the schools, to the hospitals, to our workplaces and to the highest halls of government and world diplomacy. They can make us kinder. They can make us better. Let us, my fellow Stuckwellians, show the world how our loyal pets can lead us on to lasting Peace!”

I threw my arms out and soaked in the silence that followed—for about ten seconds until I saw the security guards coming for me. It hadn’t occurred to me that such a nice high-end place like the Lotus Club would even need them.

Who knew?” I muttered as I dashed across the stage, puzzled and hurt by this response. I jumped off its edge and ran towards an open service door where I’d noticed admiring kitchen staff watching as I performed “America’s Favorite Dog.” They looked like nice people and I’d briefly considered adding an on-the-fly extra Spanish verse for them while singing. And, I certainly would have done so had I known any Spanish.

Gracias!” I shouted flying past them and towards a maze of prep stations. And, remarkably, these servers and cooks and busboys started to applaud. Some of them even shut the ballroom door and sat down to block it as the guards began to kick and pound on the other side.

I awoke on the floor after my somersault through the air having crashed through a pastry cart. Some might find this climax to my great and long-planned speech very comical. But it was not hilarious for me; and this cruel reaction from my hosts was not deserved at all. And here, I had tried to give so much.

*****

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I’ll tell you now what happened as I slowly recovered from my fall…but you have to grant me a little literary license here because I’m reconstructing a conversation in a language I did not understand and that happened while I was in a semi-conscious state. Let’s just assume that I heard everything that the kitchen staff was saying because I was…somewhat “omniscient” and that this is a movie where we viewers know a lot more than we might normally in regular life…and there are subtitles.

Okay. That said, here’s what they talked about:

[Stunned silence in the kitchen and glances exchanged all around—4 seconds]

Head Server Jorge R: “Holy Shit. This Senor Stuckwell doesn’t look so good.”

Sous-Chef Jolanda P: “And such a lovely singing voice….”

Assistant Server Roberto S: “Here, I’m elevating his head, he seems to be breathing okay…I’ll just clear this crème brule off his face.”

Sous-Chef Jolanda P: “Oh! He’s waking up a little…”

The door banging grew louder and we could hear my vengeful classmates chanting, Binky! Binky! Binky! They had discovered by then that her on-stage fainting wasn’t part of the act. It was truly terrifying. And then everyone in the kitchen started talking all at once.

“What about all the Policia out there? Do we let them in?”

“But what will they do to this poor Senor Stuckwell here? He broke some law….”

“I’m more worried about the evil things those nasty Senorita Stuckwells will do to him.”

“Those rich bitches! One stabbed me with a fork me when I took away her salad!”

“Oh they are highly cruel.”

“She called me ‘Chi-Chi’”

“We’ve got to save him!”

Escape from New York

It’s rarely easy to get out of New York. But, when we use the phrase “escape from New York”, we conjure images of some more serious kind of entrapment. Whether it be summer traffic to the Hamptons or some kind of eco-global disaster as seen in movies, it’s easy to get stuck there against one’s will. My own exit plan went awry after the pie cart tumble.

Like the best of plans, mine was a relatively simple one. I’d take the 11:05 P.M. Metro North train from Grand Central (the last of the day) to the end of the line at Poughkeepsie with a scheduled arrival of 12:50. I had made arrangements with my friends from Edna’s Coffee Cup (made through petting Samson) to feed and walk him. He’d be asleep when I got home.

Instead, I took a detour through Brooklyn and an MRI machine guided by my rescuers who, I slowly learned, were graduate students in some kind of political theory at NYU. They were clearly a little concerned about me and brought me to a hospital where some of their fellow countrymen were apparently working as night Residents. And it was their idea that I get the CAT Scan just in case something was wrong. And, still being drunk, it was rather fun being wheeled around.

After I got the medical okay, Jorge R., Yolanda P. and Roberto S. borrowed one of their Resident-friends’ cars and drove me home to Poughkeepsie, having cleverly determined where I lived by rifling through my wallet.

As we drove away from the hospital through the late night streets of Brooklyn Heights, I caught a glimpse of the classic views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Battery, great American landmarks that glow all night regardless of the hour. Suddenly recognizing where we were and filled with delight, I bolted upright and sang from the Patty Duke Show open:

But Patty only sees the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights!

What a crazy pair!

 You can lose your mind

When cousins….are two of a kind!

And then, feeling queasy again, I collapsed back into the pillow in Yolanda’s lap. Yet, I wasn’t really asleep even though I seemed so. My omniscience returned and I listed carefully to their discussion about me in the mini-van as we drove out of the City. I seemed to hover over Yolanda, Aurelio and Yolanda from a spectral vantage up by the dome light.

“I fear that he has indeed lost his mind,” Aurelio said in a worried tone while driving and turning onto the BQE.

“Or maybe, maybe he is just now finding his mind, gaining consciousness as he acts as a traitor to his class,” Roberta pondered from the passenger seat to his right.

“But what is his social class?” Yolanda asked from the back seat with my head on her lap. “It makes very little material-cultural sense. He seems to have gone to that fancy school but he doesn’t seem like one of them. And he showed true political consciousness when he talked about their oppressive stance….”

“They’re being part of the 1% and needing a ‘Kindness Upgrade’”—Aurelio laughed. “What great dialectical irony….”

“And he was obviously very drunk…probably needed the courage to get out there and sing his song, the poor little bourgeois,” Yolanda said while adjusting my head on the pillow. “And look at his shoes. These are not the shoes of a rich man, all scuffed and with $8.95 written in ink marker on the left sole. He shops at thrift stores…like us.”

 

Stuckwell Strikes Back

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Binky was not happy with me. She was not happy that I wrecked the reunion; and she was deeply pissed that I had humiliated her in front of the people whom she cared about most: the Stuckwell family. The fact that I had exited by crashing through the kitchen only maddened her more. I may have escaped from New York, but I would not escape Binky’s wrath. Being connected with the Alumni office and the Lacrosse team rundowns, descriptions of student community service projects, alumni profiles, and annual campaign requests that Stuckwell sent to me, she also had access to my home address.

And thus it happened that, about ten days after my performance and escape, I was walking Samson towards the High Bridge for our regular sunset walk. As we ascended through the woods to the southern approach, I suddenly smelled a waft of cologne before feeling a rather strong blow to the right side of my head. I fell into Samson and then unconsciousness.

The next thing I knew, Samson and I were tied up in the back of a convertible with its top up and windows sealed. Through a momentary chink in my blindfold, I soon saw that we were racing southwest on the arterial towards Arlington and Vassar. We were moving in a caravan what appeared to be a pair of matched Audi S5 Cabriolet convertibles—one metallic silver and the other, in which we sat, a light metallic blue.

We showed up in pine grove that I recognized from college days as one of our retreats for recreational drug-taking. As we were hauled out of the car, I caught another glimpse of our captors who were fully-concealed in ski masks, long pants, and gloves. Yet, they made one minor oversight. After punching me out, the two larger thugs lifted me into the open trunk of one of the A5s. It was then, just before they tossed me in, that their sleeves pulled a little back to reveal striped watchbands.

I noticed that one of them was wearing an orange and black band (Princeton?) and that the other brute’s was striped with yellow and aqua (Stuckwell). But the climax happened when the smallest of the three attackers, who stood in the background during my pummeling, reached into the trunk to give me a final farewell slap. Just as she hit me, her own sleeve pulled back to reveal a pair of woven Guatemalan Peace Bracelets in bright green, yellow, and cobalt blue. These were the biggest giveaway of all. Such humanitarian craft accessories could only mean one thing: Binky.

I overheard their whispers as they planned to go to the Culinary Institute of America for a prix fixe dinner and then return at dark to dump Samson and me in the woods, leaving us to find our own way home. And their plan might well have worked had not Samson, whom they had muzzled and tied up with a leash to the back bumper, not had such a good nose.

A few minutes after the muggers were gone, Samson began to smell the Snuffle Bits that were still in my pockets in the trunk of the car. He can be very vocal and hates to be left out of the group or anything that involves treats. So he began his staccato high-pitch whining followed by the rearing up in his stallion pose, flailing his muscular front legs and shaking the car as he toppled (unathletically) into the rear bumper. After several minutes of sniffing and whining, jumping and falling, he managed to set off the A5’s car alarm. This being Poughkeepsie, the police response was not entirely fast as there were several more serious violent crimes lighting up dispatchers’ callboards. But they did pull up about an hour later with Samson sleeping quietly by the trunk and the car battery run dead by the alarm.

The cops’ initial thought was that a body lay inside attended by its ever-loyal doggie standing a death-watch vigil. And indeed, after two hours of entrapment and a few panic attacks, I was nearly dead. When I heard the police car drive up, I grew so hopeful that I immediately sat up and knocked myself out. As the officers opened the trunk to find me lying unconscious and quite rumpled, they assumed the worst.

But I lived to tell the story and Arun Patel, owner of the nearby Arlington Qwikie-Mart who called the cops, emerged from behind the counter to confirm for reporters that he had been alerted by the car alarm. “Vhat a smart doggie,” he was quoted the next day in the Poughkeepsie Journal. “He knew just the vey to bring rapid response.”

Samson’s Lassie-like lifesaving did not escape the New York City media who could sniff out a winning human interest story with the accuracy of Samson’s nose for Snuffle Bits. The fact that Samson’s drive for dog treats—and not my own survival—motivated “the rescue” made little difference to the press. They photographed Samson in seated poses and action leaping shots (motivated, of course, by the treats). They photographed him sitting by my care center bedside and asked if I might wear an oxygen mask, though I did not need one. In print, they speculated whether Samson was capable of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation—this, for a dog who could not safely cross the street alone. Further proof that, in television and the Daily News, truth has little to do placement above the fold.

Three days after the accident, I was transferred to a convalescent home and almost immediately, two reporters showed up from the New York Post, a gruff reporter type in a running suit, and an Asian-American woman who looked to be in her late twenties. They seemed very concerned about my recovery but it soon became obvious that they wanted to know about Samson. So I responded by telling them all about myself, about Stuckwell, Horkheimer, and my jingles. The gruff guy, whom I will refer to as “Reporter A” quickly grew impatient and in his gruffness said, “Yeah kid, we know all about you….college grad….not a slacker but a real artiste. Your Mom and Dad are very proud of you….but what about the pooch?”

I wanted correct him about the Mom-and-Dad item, but thought it better to set that aside for now. Charming by comparison, the young Asian lady, whom I shall call “Reporter B”, moved into her Good Cop role by saying, “Well Sir…”

“Oh, please call me Rodger….” [When was the last time anyone called me Sir?]

“Well Roger, we saw Samson’s leaping photos in the Daily News and I just had to say out loud, ‘What a handsome dog, he is! And so talented no doubt…’”

I was falling for her already. And then she added, “Oh you must love him so very much!”

And I was hooked.

“See, the thing is, Rodge,” Reporter A continued intimately, “readers love animal stories…and they really love animal-hero-rescuer stories. Helps to get them through the day. You know, gives ‘em hope for a better world.”

And then the charming reporter B, whose name it turns out is Eriko, said, “Samson seems very gifted in the way he saved your life. To think he knew how to set off the car alarm. Has he had special training? Perhaps as a therapy dog?”

“Any military/DEA history?” Reporter A chimed in.

“Maybe he is a service animal, yes for the deaf or blind. So compassionate and helpful…” Eriko pondered.

“Well, no,” I said, clearly disappointing them. “Samson really has no special skills at all.”

And then thinking a bit more and going too far as I always do, I squinted my eyes slightly and added, “He does have one skill…it’s just possible that he might have once been a drug-runner…. but that’s not exactly heroic.”

With frightening speed, Reporter A’s well-tanned Italian face went almost completely white. Eriko, who remained Japanese in appearance, looked up at him and smiled slightly as if to confirm that this might just be a scoop.

*****

As it turns out, Samson actually was once a drug runner, or had been in training to be so when I adopted him. After I blabbed about his bag skills to Reporters A and B and the story came out in the Post, I had the pleasure of a visit by two Poughkeepsie criminals who saw the piece— a fat one (we’ll call him Fat Man) and a wimpy one (Little Boy). Fat Man and Little Boy had put two and two together and concluded that this was the dog that had licked them that night last summer while they were waiting for the bag drop. And this was the dog that had absconded with the booty. He had been trained to do so after all.

And of course, they naturally assumed that this was the dog who almost surely brought the stuff to me. I am his owner. It was right there in print in both the Post and the News and so it had to be true. And, this was not good. With a sense of grand historical irony, the criminals drove Samson and me out to the pine grove near Vassar and worked me over in the same spot where Binky et. al. had just a two weeks earlier. Then, they locked me in the trunk of a somewhat dated black Lincoln Town Car while they went back downtown in its matching twin to ransack my apartment. They took Samson along hoping that his nose would lead them to the goods.

Back at my apartment, they fed Samson a fast food cheeseburger—thinking this might somehow endear themselves to him. He liked the burger but he likes to be a tease even more. So he barked in a playful way twice, wagging his tail and moving his front paws up and down excitedly.

“Whoa baby, you want go outside!” Fat Man exclaimed.

“Woof!” and “Woof!” said Samson, now jumping up and down even more and spinning around in this little dance he has.

“Well, let’s just go then. You take us right to the bag,” Fat Man said as he held up a bag that was virtually identical to the lost one and presumably filled with drugs that smelled the same.

“Woof!” Samson barked again and the game was on. What the criminals did not know was that Samson, while he loves to fetch balls (and attaché cases) also enjoys playing “keep-away” and teasing you by giving nothing back. He does this with other dogs too, dive bombing into their backyards and taunting them with barks and then racing out beyond the invisible barrier of their buried electric fence. Facing electric collar shock, they can do nothing but run to the buried line and then look on in dismay as Samson trots jauntily on the other side.

So Samson saw some promise with these two. And, running down my building’s stairs, he leapt out onto Main Street with the evil duo following right behind. He led them to an alley and a trash can. They searched it and found nothing. He led them to a grate that they removed and then dropped on one another’s toes. And finally, he led them, now limping, to an air vent and voila, there, after nearly a year of absence, was the highly valuable bag right there before them in Samson’s mouth.

“Oh sweet little doggie, come to daddy and you can have all the cheese burgers you want….” Little Boy implored.

“Here pup, hello little pup,” pleaded Fat Man.

And Samson did what he often does with me when he accidentally gets off the leash. He looks at me, he looks away towards freedom, he looks at me again, gets a little glint in his eye and is off in a straight-line flash, running towards the fun of dive-bombing distant captive dogs.

Having lived on fast food for years, Fat Man and Little Boy did a poor job of keeping up with Samson as he ran, bag handle in mouth, east toward Barbarini’s. Out of shape but with a Town Car at hand, the criminals did the logical thing and jumped into it, squealing the tires and catching up towards Samson as he ran through Little Italy, the wooded entry to the High Bridge, and finally the High Bridge itself where, incidentally, cars are not allowed. And here you can imagine the cinematic potential of the scene: the beautiful golden Labrador bounding past the walkers, brief case in snout, their startled expressions as he passes them and then their screams as a large black sedan races up to them honking and scattering other walkers to the rails. And then, on the other side of the bridge, there is, of course, a car chase with New York State Troopers and their blue and yellow SUVs entrapping the criminals just a half-mile north of the visitor parking.

Samson soon caught up to them and dropped the bag at the Troopers’ feet as they frisked the two suspects flat out against their car. And then, Samson was off again, running back across the High Bridge, through Little Italy and past Barbarini’s, down Main Street and through the shops of Arlington to Vassar. And back he ran into the places of our past, back beyond Casperkill Creek and Vassar’s golf course, back beyond the college farm to the pine grove where there remained parked a single black Town Car among the towering trees. With the greatest confidence and focused gaze, Samson vaulted towards the locked car trunk that held me inside it and the Snuffle Bits inside my pocket. He hurled himself into the side of the car, rocking it, and in just one try, managing to set off the car alarm.

Fortunately, Arun Patel was on duty that night, as he was every night at his increasingly successful Qwikie Mart. Upon hearing the car alarm, he sighed and reached for the phone and made the familiar call to 911.

“Vhat an amazing dog,” was all he could say when the reporters started coming to his store in the days that followed.

*****

For better or worse, Samson and I were news again.

“Kid, how do you do it? Two car trunk incidents in two weeks! How’s the head?”

I glared at Reporter A who, with Eriko at his side, had shown up again almost immediately, once again uninvited, at my convalescent center bedside.

“Hey you know, they should just give you a regular bed here so you can check in whenever you get locked in a car!” Reporter A adds with great hilarity.

And then all serious now and frowning with concern, he asks, “I don’t suppose there’s anything else you’d like to tell us about Samson?”

I stared at him for a long time.

“Well, you know, after what just happened, I really don’t want to talk to you at all, especially about Samson…who is actually way too intelligent to read newspapers like the Post. But I will tell you one thing, he does have a song….”

“A song,” Reporter A repeats deadpan.

“Yes. Every dog should have a song—at least all good dogs. I wrote it for him.”

“You did?” Eriko says, now seeming genuinely interested.

“Yes, that’s what I do. I’m a composer of verbal-commercial songs, jingles. Remember, we talked about that but you weren’t listening because you just wanted to know about Samson.”

“So you wrote a song for him.”

“Yes!”

And then, meekly, Reporter A asks, “Any chance you might sing it for us Rodge?”

*****

This time Samson made the cover of the Post and his song, our song—America’s Favorite Dog—was orchestrated, recorded and spread all over YouTube within a week. Samson became nationally-famous for a couple of news cycles, we were invited to appear on The View, and I gained commissions to write songs for other dogs, beneficial causes, and useful products (including Snuffle Bits) for years to come. It almost seemed worth it to get beaten up again.

Less surprising is that, with our temporary fame, my family started to pay attention to me. My parents came to visit (together!) and inquired how I was recovering from both attacks. Sister Anna actually invited Samson and me to some of her gallery parties in Brooklyn so that she could introduce us to her friends. And, happily, I also gained some genuine reasons to go to New York. Thanks to Aurelio, Yolanda, Jorge, Roberto, and Joanna, I’ve become quite interested in political theory again and am taking the pre-requisite courses for their South American Revolutionary Theory program at NYU.

pbsa01

At the moment as I write this, Samson and I are resting from a long walk in the middle of the High Bridge—watching the early morning sun grow higher over the Hudson Valley. On this bright Sunday morning, Samson poses elegantly and Sphinx-like on the bridge deck where once thousands of trains rushed by. He rests as he often does with his left paw crossed over his right, observing carefully each and every stroller. Sometimes, he gets that running-away glint in his eye and almost seems to smile at them.

Although much has changed in our lives, many things remain the same. I still work out with my six-pound dumbbells every morning in Poughkeepsie regardless of whether they do much for the buffness of my body. I’m becoming somewhat fluent in Spanish although I’m still a long way from grad school proficiency in any foreign tongue. But, I am learning from my new friends how to talk about life and politics in philosophical ways.

I’ve been very lucky to grow up in the nicest of neighborhoods and to attend the best of schools. But somehow, as you know, I graduated into the “real world” only to become a little stuck and removed from life’s promises and possibilities. Why does this happen to us? I have no answer. But then, strange things can come up all at once and you are thrown into a whole new phase of things. Now, I’m even learning how to cook—both Bolivian cuisine from my new classmates and Indian samosas via Arun Patel.

It’s hard not to like someone like Arun who saves your life by being a good crime watcher, twice. And, I enjoy working for him now at the Qwikie-Mart part-time on many evenings. There are several other people, and Samson, of course, whom I should thank for the opportunities that have come to me in the last year. Thanks to them, I’ve made some real progress in building my career and the many survival skill sets that life requires—some of which are part of the “sound formal education” that I’ve been fortunate to have—but most of which, are generally not.

Copyright, Frank Edgerton Martin, 2015

 

******

This is a story that I  wrote for a friend’s birthday. Surprisingly, many of the tales here are true . They are stories that my friend and her Mom told me about the river town where they grew up. The town of Morgan, Illinois and its characters are, of course, entirely fictional. The landscapes of the Upper Mississippi River are quite real.

  Queen's Bluff, 2007 006   cropped-img_1851.jpg

The Cultural Geographies of Ms. Wilkus

A Short Story

Someday, we may credit the reckless police doings in small towns like Morgan, Illinois with keeping the American car industry alive through its darkest hours. Indeed, future scholars might, in a time when all cars are solar or electric, understand how the natural history of the Heartland built and, ultimately, saved Detroit in the carbon era. Here’s the business case in a nutshell:

Mid-America has given much to Motown: it proffered the coal to power her mighty furnaces, the Texas oil to fuel dream engines, rich iron from the ranges of northern Minnesota for expressive tailfins, and Great Lakes sea links to ship such raw materials to Michigan car plants.

Millions of years of inland seas and creeping glaciers, prairie growth and re-growth created this resource base for future car-making. These eons made for today’s economies of farms and railroad towns, lakes and rivers. Logically and academically, it makes sense that Americans who grew rich from this legacy should buy the cars that Americans make today.

In Morgan, Illinois, patriotic loyalty to American brands is especially true when it comes to police cars and muscle cars—which are surprisingly similar in powertrain and design. The fact that American-made V-8 police “cruisers” are so heavy and fast helps to explain why, as we shall see, Morgan’s police department continues to wreck and replace so many of them.

*****

Darlene Wilkus—or “Ms. Wilkus” as she is called by the socially-unevolved male students of the Morgan Area High School—remains one of the few Morgan residents to ever realize that ecology shapes human destiny. From her maternal grandmother, she gained a love of local lore largely lost on the Twittering twits of her own generation. She intuited from early on the connections between the natural and cultural landscape histories of her region. She knew that Morgan and Pence County (of which Morgan is the third largest town, pop. 4,682), lay at the southern-most reach of the “Driftless Area”—the hilly ecosystem of southern Wisconsin that reaches west into Iowa and Minnesota, and down into Morgan’s northwestern corner of the Illinois.

Darlene’s hometown and county became what they are today because they were neglected by the glaciers—the onslaughts of ice drifts that scraped so much of northern Wisconsin clean of dramatic topography. The glaciers flowed around Pence and adjacent counties leaving a Vermont-like island of valleys and ravines, maple-basswood forests, and pocket dairy farms. As Darlene seems to realize, ecology shaped the human journey to make some things possible….and others not. For example, although rural, Morgan was not a corn and soybeans type of place. It had steep hills and curvy roads.

*****

To her male classmates’ great amusement, Darlene shares her distinctive theories of geography, local history and human fate in a column for the Morgan Wagon Wheel, their high school’s weekly paper. And when they tease her in the halls about each new column, such as her recent discussion of the regional glacial legacy of moraines and drumlins, she takes no guff from them. “Glacial Expose!” was one of her best columns yet, both in general theme and in vocabulary tips that could, if anyone bothered to care, help out her classmates in their college test scores.

In some columns, Darlene unearthed awkward truths and “long-term social impacts.” Her articles showed how geography determined Morgan’s remoteness from other regions and nurtured citizens who knew one another’s business going back several generations. The pocket swamps and flowing ridgelines, once the course for pioneer trails (hence the Wagon Wheel set beside a woodchuck in the town’s seal), made for great Boy Scout hiking paths today. The old cart trails used by lead miners traveling west to Dubuque and Galena became the county roads of our own time—no longer named for their destination but with a number.

County Road 25—boasting over eight miles of thrilling curves, nearly 900 feet in up and down grade change, and a happy removal from parents and towns—was especially prized for drag racing. Such had been the case since the 1940s. Readers of Darlene’s columns soon learned that, at least in Morgan, natural and human history worked together like this. On a more basic level, so did the local police who, while charged with catching drag racers, sometimes preferred to drag race themselves. They did this on “slow” nights when calls, sometimes genuine, required a rapid response from the night-duty deputies on patrol—one cruiser apiece. When called, their cruisers often happened to converge on County Road 25 somewhere just east of Boehenen’s Implement and John Deere Dealership. Temptation gave way to acceleration; and generally, people were surprised by how fast they showed up at crime scenes both imagined and real.

Yet, drag racing on county roads, no matter how geographically thrilling, is illegal in Pence County for the rather prosaic reason that it’s dangerous, both for racers and bystanders. The most recent wave of wreckage and replacement of Morgan’s squad cars began just a year ago when Deputies Haynes and Polchek were “on response to a call” when their two Ford Police Interceptors happened to collide, inexplicably hook bumpers, and spin off into a ravine off Highway 25—totaling out two of the town’s three cruisers, but, fortunately, leaving its deputies unharmed.

Darlene raised a few eyebrows in a column last fall entitled “Drag-Racing in the Driftless Zone” that not so subtly implied the link between glacial history and the car accidents of both private citizens and public servants. In Morgan, Illinois, one just basically doesn’t talk about these things, even though everyone knows them to be true. Darlene was called into the principal, Mr. Schortenfelder’s, glass-block windowed office to talk about the “tone” of her article and where she got off thinking she knew things that, of course, she could not. Darlene decided after this conversation to focus her columns on the stories of past Pence County generations who were now dead and thus in no position to complain about Morgan Wagon Wheel articles today.

*****

Of all Darlene’s boy tormenters, Bart Bartigan was by far the worst. The entire Bartigan family had always been good-looking, especially the Bartigan boys—Brandon, Brewster, and Bart. They were star high-school wrestlers spread over five years and several weight classes. Last year, all three of them “went to State” and won in the finals of their respective categories—a fraternal first not only for Morgan, but for all of Illinois.

When Bart called Darlene names like the “drumlond lady!” at lunch in front of all of his nasty cohort, she would shout back at him: “It’s called a ‘drumlin,’…Dumbshit”…and then, of course, everyone would laugh at her even more. As a rationalist and a journalist, Darlene’ loss of verbal dexterity really pissed her off.

But it was really her loss of self-control when she saw Bart in the hall, in class, or downtown that so annoyed her. It was in those critical moments when she most needed her wits—that Darlene’s awareness of Bart’s taut body and waist-to-shoulder ratio left her completely tongue-tied. She could only call him something like a “jerk” when she needed to be rebutting his sexist, bourgeois taunts. Not that he knew how to “get her,” he was just very, very annoying.

The Bartigans, who owned Morgan’s Dodge-Chrysler dealership, were annoying in general because everyone liked them—and they always helped out with things like lending loaner cars for church outreach projects, for parades, and other good works. Bart was especially annoying when she had to go to their house to get the church key that she needed every Thursday night for organ practice. Because they lived across from the Morgan First Methodist Church, the helpful Bartigans kept an “emergency key” for fellow choir members, luncheon volunteers, and the six “organists-in-training” who were all local high school girls. That Darlene was one of these “chosen few”, she blamed fully and precisely on her mother.

“But it’s your chance to help out…and what an honor to be chosen….” Darlene’s Mom quite patronizingly said whenever the organist-in-training issue came up at home, which was often.

“Hell Mom, just how deluded are you?” Darlene sometimes shot back, usually at family dinners, knowing the truth about why she, and the five other girls (and it’s because they were girls), were Shanghaied into organ practice. Mrs. Wilkus tried to win her daughter over with the claim that “it takes a village to take care of a village…” to which Darlene had responded, “it takes a senile town to cover up for a senile organist!”

In this, she referred specifically (and her mother thought, cruelly) to the advancing dementia of the First Methodist’s Music Director of forty years, Margaret Bromeister. It wasn’t so much Margaret’s loss of technical skills in her work, but rather her sense of what day, or decade and service it was, that caused concern for church deacons. A rousing rendition of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary might be just fine at the climax of one of Dr. Winter’s Armistice Day sermons, but Dr. Winter had retired from preaching in the 1950s when Margaret was but a young girl and an organist-in-training herself. 

And thus, when she accidentally played, and also sang in her rather Julia Child-like voice, the once popular anthem at a couple of recent funeral services, people got a little worried. It was, in particular, Margaret’s enthusiastic inclusion of a somewhat bawdy wartime extra verse that got the girls conscripted into emergency organ training:

It’s a long way to Tipperary,

It’s a long way to go.

It’s a long way to Tipperary

To the sweetest girl I know!

Goodbye Piccadilly,

Farewell Leicester Square,

It’s a long, long way to Tipperary,

But my heart’s right there.

[the more recent WWI added verse]

That’s the wrong way to tickle Mary,

That’s the wrong way to kiss!

Don’t you know that over here, lad,

They like it best like this!

Hooray pour le Francais!

Farewell, Angleterre!

We didn’t know the way to tickle Mary,

But we learned how, over there!

Of course, Mrs. Bromeister was still on the church’s payroll. Like police drag racing, one didn’t inquire about such topics, but everyone knew. Basically, because no one wanted to tell her, they “re-assigned” her to the new role as “Director of Organ Music Education” because “she was working too hard”. The new job came complete with a cadre of girl students who could fill in for her on Sundays and for other special services.

Thus Darlene, who never really liked the organ, was fairly pissed off by this cover-up along with the deep humiliation of standing there every Thursday night, ringing the Bartigan’s lighted doorbell for the church key, knowing that Bart would deliberately be waiting for her so that he could open the door in a tight T-shirt to say something like: “Greetings, Ms. Wilkus. Find any historic fossils today?”

And, being tongue-tied, as she was in such situations, Darlene could only say, “just give me the key, Bart.” He would proceed to do this by performing a one-arm, fully-bicep-extending pull-up on the doorframe to grab the key off the transom ledge. For some reason, probably just to annoy her, they kept it there.

*****

Last winter was unusually hard in Morgan…and it was a good thing that the two replacement Ford Police Interceptors from the recent Highway 25 incident came with extra sets of snow tires. Darlene wrote several columns about the difficulty of winter travel for the pioneers, even well into the 20th century. She interviewed several senior citizens about the “storm homes” that they had in town in case they got trapped at school and couldn’t make it back to the farm.

Just after New Year’s, a major blizzard came that dumped 17 inches of snow and, for a brief and peaceful moment, isolated the town of Morgan even more than usual. Police activity and travel were fairly limited in those first post-blizzard days. But within a week, things were fairly back to normal. On a Thursday night, around 8 PM, two of Morgan’s new police officers, Lt. Robert Felstendregger and Deputy Silas Driggs, were on routine patrol in one of the new cruisers when an unusual call came over the radio that someone had sighted a new John Deere tractor-combine with front-end loader driving east on Hwy. 25. Of course, such a sight would hardly seem strange much any time between early spring and late fall. But it just made no sense that someone should be out cruising in a Deere in the middle of a winter night. Could it be stolen goods from Boehner’s Implement just down the road?

The Lieutenant and Deputy swung into action, full lights rolling but no siren so as not to alert the perpetrator. As they raced up the hill out of town to the highway, they felt the thrill of the V-8 and the sure grip of the snow tires. Ahead of them on the road, caught in their high beams, they saw the distinct outline and reflectors of a farm implement moving down the road, slowly, at its maximum speed of 12 mph, as they would later learn.

Felstendregger called into HQ, using the professional tone and terminology that he maintained at all times:

 “Ah Morgan HQ, this is Squad 207 on a 10-78. We have suspect and tractor in-sight at mile 14 on Highway 25….”

They raced in front of the tractor and came to a braking halt right in the middle of the highway so that no forward escape was possible.

“Roger, that Morgan HQ,” Felstendregger said in to the radio. “We have the suspect contained at aforementioned location east of Boehenen’s and will advise. Deputy Driggs and I will seek to apprehend.

For a moment then, the officers paused, looked over their shoulders, fingered their guns, and took a deep breath. Then suddenly, Felstendregger and Driggs heard and felt a very odd noise. It sounded like…. “Shrrrrrucnkk.”

It was a profound and reverberant sound—as only the rear-end puncturing of a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor by a forklift can be. Designed for easy glide-through into wooden palettes and hay bales, the stolen Deere’s forklift hardly bruised the cruiser as its pointy tines went in. “Shrr…unck” was the sound they made. It was the sound of a solid release of air, a kind of sucking sound that momentarily reminded Felstendregger of the days when he opened cans of peas and beans on family camping trips.

What the Hell was that?” Deputy Driggs shouted over to Felstendregger as the front-end loader slid in. The Lieutenant, who is known as a patient man, took a moment to consider what might be happening. He also took time to consider his managerial obligations before responding. After a moment, he had it just right.

“Now Silas, we’ve talked about this before. Don’t be goin’ and using language like that when we’re on duty. And, you know, the squawker is on….”

Trying to appear calm and in charge as the prongs drove further into the trunk and punctured the spare tire with a pop, the Lieutenant noted some definite acoustic similarities with can opening. But the scale of things was completely wrong. After all, a possibly stolen, fully-equipped John Deere farm tractor with a five-prong hydraulic powered front-end loader was a much larger can-opener. And he had to admit that its noise-making was much deeper and somehow more cathartic than any utility knife ever could be. Then the noise suddenly stopped as the lift prongs reached their final destination, popping well though the cruiser’s back seat.

Per protocol, the cops radioed for back up as they prepared to exit the Ford Interceptor to confront the driver of the stolen tractor. But before Lt. Felstendregger could open his driver’s side door and Deputy Driggs position himself behind his own to offer cover, their Interceptor began to rise off the ground in a steady grind like the rumbling of an old pneumatic car lift. There was a slight groaning noise in the background too.

What the F***!” Driggs shouted even more loudly this time as they ascended. “Christ, he’s liftin’ us!”

“Silas, for God’s sake, put a lid on it!” Lt. Felstendregger said sighing as they reached an elevation of two feet.

“Now we’ve got a potentially serious law enforcement situation here,” he continued as he looked back over his shoulder again, …and we’re in need of assessing our options…and it doesn’t help anyone to have you cursin’ all over the place…”

When they had reached a height of about four feet, the tractor, prongs, and the attached cruiser backed up slightly and rotated sharply to the right. Together, they churned towards the road shoulder where a parallel drainage ditch lay just over the edge. They came to a halt with the cruiser suspended over the drop-off. Then, quietly and efficiently, the Deere’s front-end loader lowered the car down to the snowdrifts covering the ditch. The officers were set down softly like laughing babies falling into white toilet paper mountains in television ads for bathroom tissues. At least, that’s what Lt. Felstendregger imagined in the pause before they heard the loader sliding back out of the trunk and the car began to sink toward ground level. They sank down into the drifts for about ten seconds until the snow came up to about two feet over the cruiser’s hood and trunk. Then all was dark and silent.

*****

That night, just as Darlene was returning the church key to the civic-minded Bartigans, their phone rang with news of the snow-buried squad car on out on the highway. Bart seemed a little more distracted than usual as his father was calling out to him and his brothers to “grab the first aid kit.” They had the biggest tow truck in town at the dealership and, as a prominent and helpful family, were naturally the first call for help from the dispatcher. As she saw the boys and their Dad throw on their winter clothes in the hallway, Bart regained his focus and whispered to Darlene, “Hey, you better come with us Wilkus, we might just need an organist.”

She was so surprised at all this commotion and generally annoyed by him, that her response just came out straight and plain. “Well, I’d be glad to help out, Bart. But there’s no way I’m going to play your organ.”

*****

The next afternoon, as he watched the beginnings of a second blizzard coming in from inside the council chambers, Thomas O’Reilly, Mayor of the town of Morgan, was also considering new ways of responding to old annoyances. He sat alone at his official dais center seat just below the town’s seal of the woodchuck and the wagon wheel. It was two hours before start of the council meeting and, at least an hour before citizens and council members would start coming in. He had left the overhead lights off deliberately so that he could sit there surrounded by the advent of the blue light of winter dusk. For this busy civic leader, it was one of those rare and quiet moments that leads to self-reflection. Why had he been so upset about this latest cruiser loss? Why, after everything that had happened in the last ten years of governance in the State of Illinois, should he feel so ashamed about this small mistake? Why, had he somehow taken this current screw-up as a personal failing?

The officers were just trying to do their duty. It’s too bad that the perp got away. Yet, you had to admit that it was kind of funny (almost) that he could only go 12 mph on that tractor. Apparently, he’d driven across the lake into Wisconsin. But hell, it’s the middle of winter, and it was dark, and you just have to allow for mishaps like this.

Basically, if you looked it in the right light, losing another Interceptor could actually be considered an opportunity Because Mayor O’Reilly was a believer in positive thinking, he realized that one automotive loss could open a new automotive purchase option. Solid as they are, the Ford Crown-Vics were just so ordinary. They have power, but no flair. “I mean, really,” he thought to himself in the fading light, “it’s a good thing that Buick doesn’t make squad cars.” Now, that newest Dodge Charger cruiser that he’d just seen decked out at the Branson Police Expo, now that was sporty. And, having a couple of those units could be a great recruiting tool.

So he went back into his office and started calling around. He knew that the Bartigan dealership would match whatever price he got on a fully-loaded Charger. Or two, or three. That family always helped out in Morgan. Of course, they’d have to wait for the insurance money to come through….and there would have to be council approval for the purchase order…and, as whenever they wrecked a police cruiser, there would be some kind of investigation from Springfield. But these things were just formalities. Mayor O’Reilly knew that, in towns like Morgan, some things never change….and when it comes to getting replacement squad cars, it’s only a question of time.

copyright Frank Edgerton Martin 2010

The Extraordinary Libraries of Port Henry and Westport, New York

A Place Sketch

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Above. The shingled clocktower of the Westport Library. Right. The wooded interior of the Sherman Free Library.

When I first came to Port Henry seven years ago, the Sherman Free Library was the first place that I went. As a Midwesterner looking for a beautiful area to spend the summers, I was immediately struck by how old, solid and quiet the Sherman library was. There were long oak tables that must have been made for the building when it opened in the late 19th century. The building was so solid, that even on hot days, it would stay cool, at least well into July.  Where I come from in Minnesota, libraries are relatively new, or they are the standard neo-classical structures donated by Andrew Carnegie. In the Midwest, libraries tend to be run by public library boards with their own taxing authority. Not so around here.

The Sherman Free Library in Port Henry and the Westport Library in Westport are both private, non-profit organizations that are entirely open to the public. The fact that our library in Port Henry is called a “Free” library reflects the fact that libraries have not always been free and open to everyone. Before the Civil War, libraries were often private membership clubs with dues or limited to those who could afford to attend institutions of higher education which had libraries of their own. In 1887, seeking to provide a place of learning for his employees and their families, George Riley Sherman, one of the partners of the Witherbee & Sherman Mining Company, donated funds for the construction and an endowment for the library.

Designed by an architect from Saratoga Springs, the red brick building with its tall windows and slate roof is one of the most elegant libraries you will find in any small town. The quality of the craftsmanship is remarkable, especially the coved beaded board ceilings that resemble the floor of an old wooden boat. In 1907, the library was expanded with an addition on the back where the beautiful stacks and encircling balcony provide access to many new and historic books. The library’s website lists its numerous historical resources including scrap books, mine maps, and books on Adirondack history.

Over the years, most of the friendships that I have made in Port Henry began with meetings at the library or through occasionally helping out there setting up and taking down the monthly book sales. Because many Moriah residents don’t have high-speed Internet access where they live, the library’s excellent computers and connections are a draw. Over the years, I have not only come to know Jackie Viestenz, the library’s extraordinarily dedicated director, but also some of the board members, volunteers, and regulars like me.

Despite these hard economic times, I am amazed by how much the Sherman Free Library is able to accomplish with a limited budget. There are children’s book readings, summer youth reading programs (with prizes!), quality books and videos and of course, librarians who will help you with any research project. I make a point to give what I can afford every summer when they have their fund drive.

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Westport’s Fireplace in late fall.

I’m also a regular at the Westport Library. Near their front door is a plaque that reads: “Those who plant kindness shall gather love…in memory of Charlotte Weaver Jones.” Ms. Jones was one of many Westport citizens over the last 120 years whose generosity built the library that stands today. Like the Sherman Free Library in Port Henry, the Westport library is not directly funded by public monies and is a non-profit organization. Today, both libraries are part of the Clinton Essex Franklin Library System. Books, music and videos are shared by all libraries; and you can order any item from the librarians or online. There is a rich array of programs such as gardening forums, and computer help is currently available.

Whereas the Sherman Library stands in solid brick as a kind of small, yet elegant college building, Westport’s library resembles more a comfortable house with couches, rocking chairs, and a fireplace that offers warmth all winter. Library Director Stephen J. Smith recently redesigned their website. He and other volunteers included a historical timeline going back to the library’s founding in 1884 that you can read online. The following italic passages come from this written history:

The idea for a town library originated with Miss D. May Howard, a teacher in a school south of Westport. In the winter of 1884-1885 she presented her plan to the high school faculty who enthusiastically endorsed it. There were three teachers in the high school at that time, Mr Charles F. Chisholm, Miss Kate Rogers, and Miss Linda Bathen.

Townspeople soon joined in the drive to raise funds, selling membership tickets and holding entertainments and socials at the homes of people interested in having a library. Many young people also contributed by putting on plays and organizing concerts in the armory that had recently been fitted with a stage and seats. In a few months $50.00 had been raised which was invested in books. Additional books were also donated.

Women have always played an active role in building the Westport Library. In 1887, the library found a permanent home:

Miss Alice Lee, who owned the prestigious Westport Inn, began taking an active part in the growing library. By personal effort she raised $1,100 in subscriptions, gifts of cash, and donated labor from the village, and another $1,400 from friends outside the village.

On November 30th, the Westport Library Association was incorporated under general law.

The land now occupied by the library was deeded by Freeborn and Anne Page to the Westport Library Association for the sum of $900.00. The land included the site of Person’s Hotel which had burned. The deed stated that a building was to be erected for the use of a library and that the remainder of the land was to be maintained by the Westport Library Association as a park for the use of the people of Westport. If these provisions were not carried out, the land was to revert to the Page family.

For this reason, Westport has a town park today. Opened in July 1888, the library building was designed by the architectural firm of Andrews and Jacques of Boston. It’s unlike any library that I have ever seen. It was designed in the “Shingle Style” then popular for high-end estates in Long Island, Cape Cod, and for summer cottages. True to form, the Westport Library is clad in shingles, has a hipped roof, porches, and a bell tower with a mechanical clock and chime that still works.

I’ve also made friends at the Westport Library, including some dogs. All of the librarians like dogs, so patrons are allowed to brings theirs in when dropping off a book or using the Internet. One of my best friends is Teddy, a goofy but kind chocolate lab who lives in Westport in the summer and in Philadelphia and New York for the rest of the year. I’m also fond of a mini-Poodle named, Fletcher.

As a relative newcomer, I know that our libraries here are very special—and we need to support them in any way we can. Where else can you sit by reading a fire on one of those annoying cold rainy spring days, read old and rare books about Lake Champlain, and make friends with dogs and humans alike?

Sherman Free Library

20 Church St.

Port Henry, NY. 12974

Phone: 518-546-7461

E-mail: flibrar1@nycap.rr.com

Web site:

http://www.shermanfreelibrary.org/

Westport Library Association

6 Harris Lane P.O. Box 436

Westport, NY 12993

Phone: (518) 962-8219

E-mail: library12993@gmail.com

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