Summer in the Catskills without an automobile
How is summer in the Catskills if you don’t drive? Still festive.
My reasons for not driving are numerous: I grew up in Manhattan, I have carpal tunnel syndrome, I’ve never been rich enough to afford a large machine. For four years in the 1970s I lived in Florida, which is mostly flat, sunny, and perfect for bicycling. In 1978 I returned to Manhattan, to resume my career as a straphanger. In June 1998 I decamped to Ulster County.
Most summer pleasures, such as hiking in the woods, don’t require automotive help. Down the street from me, the New York New Jersey Trail Conference opened a new walkway last year, part of the Long Path (right at the end of Lane Street in Phoenicia). It’s easy, not so steep, and passionately quiet.
Personally, I’m not a sun worshiper. I don’t lie in my bikini working on my tan. I’m more of a shade worshiper.
One of my personal joys is leaning against a tree and reading. What books will I read? I believe in the theory of alternating complexity: a deathless classic followed by a low-rent mystery novel. Rural life offers enormous storage space, so I have an extensive book collection, almost none of which I bought. Most were grabbed from the free shelf of thrift shops.
Here’s a list of books I’ll attempt this summer:
The House of Atreus by Aeschylus
Death of a Hussy by M. C. Beaton
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Sein Language by Jerry Seinfeld
The Cosmological Origins of Myth and Symbol by Laird Scranton
Colonel Blessington by Pamela Frankau
Paris in the Twentieth Century by Jules Verne
I enjoy conspiracy theories, but if I read such books in the winter I start to imagine a tall stranger in a trenchcoat holding a revolver just behind me. So summer is a better time to pursue such theses. The book I’ve been planning to begin for years is The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit, and Death by Stephen Naifeh & Gregory White Smith.
Once in a while, I’ll look up from my reading, observe a stirring pastoral event, and write a poem like this:
I read more comic books in the summer. Their air of frivolity fits the season. On May 2, I was in New York City. After arriving at Port Authority Bus Terminal, I felt an inner voice prompting me: “Walk down 40th Street!” I followed this impulse, to find a long line of nerds standing on the sidewalk. “What’s going on?” I asked an overweight 23-year-old. “It’s Comic Book Day,” he replied.
Soon I was on line as well, preparing to receive my free packet of illustrated adventures, courtesy of Midtown Comics. I carried the books back to old Phoenicia: Divergence, Teen Titans Go!, Secret Wars, The Avengers, plus Sonic the Hedgehog, lettered by my friend Jack Morelli in Chichester. One of my goals for the summer is to read them all!
Though I have no musical ability, I try each day to play a musical instrument, just for a few minutes: a toy harmonica, a recorder, a bamboo flute. In summer I perform duets with birdcalls – including the song sparrow’s “myk-myk-LISST-tee-hu.”
Phoenicia itself gets frenzied in the summer. Taco Tuesday at The Sportsman’s happens all year, but most of my friends only come when the weather’s balmy and one may sit outside, Parisian-style. The way Jean-Paul Sartre had his table at Les Deux Magots, Chip Gallagher has his spot next to Brio’s. Last summer I saw my friend Julie, sat down with her, and soon realized that I was surrounded by astrologers. “How does astrology work, exactly?” I asked, and none of them had a compelling explanation. But one is a day trader, who makes his living astrologically foretelling the stock market!
I like tourists. There, I’ve said it! It’s exciting to have newcomers exploring Main Street in Phoenicia – especially African-Americans. The Catskills are appealing, but it’s too damn white here. Soon after I moved here, my hair and beard turned the color of salt, from being surrounded by whiteness: snow and Caucasians.
Of course, I don’t utterly lack of mobility. Phoenicia is right on the UCAT (Ulster County Area Transit) bus route, as well as the Trailways line. The bus to Manhattan becomes more engaging in summer, stocked with actors and editors, photographers, ballet dancers. Sometimes one of them will even speak to you!
Nowadays a gorgeous young man and a dazzling young woman – two strangers – will sit beside each other on a bus, both plug in their iPods, and never speak a word. “How will the human race continue?” you may ask. My answer is simple: OkCupid. (According to the The New York Times, a tenth of all Americans are enrolled in an online dating site.) Young people are afraid to speak to each other unless they’ve been pre-selected by a computer.)
Plus there’s a third option: hitchhiking. This low-cost method of transport works well in the kindly Catskills. If I were driver, I doubt I’d pick up someone like me – a grizzly, bearded dude in a bedraggled Jets cap – but other people do, and they’re always sweet. Each time I stick out my thumb, I calculate how long I’ve been hitching. I started at age 15, so it’s been 46 years.
Actually, there’s a fourth option. Friends from New York City – and other places – arrive in summer, and I function as their local guide, bartering geographic knowledge for free rides. I love to lead visitors to Colgate Lake (officially known as “Colgate Lake Wild Forest”), a state facility, free of charge, with no lifeguards, bathrooms, snack bars or even rangers. The story I heard is that one of the Colgate heirs would meet his mistress there, and when he died, donated the land to New York State on the condition that it remain perpetually free of coercive authority. The tranquil lakeside, often populated by Russians and artists, was a gift from an anarchistic toothpaste millionaire.
We make New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of the year. Why not Memorial Day resolutions for summer? My Memorial Day resolution is to spend more time in the back yard gazing at fireflies. For my money, they’re lovelier than fireworks.