Advance copy from the newsletter of The Bryant Library for September 2019:

In 1919 local author Christopher Morley published The Haunted Bookshop.
In 2019, figments of imagination from Morley’s one-hundred year-old bookshop will be on display at The Bryant Library, starting Sept. 28 until October 31.
Don’t miss this once-in-a-century exhibit.
Warning: Judge these books by their covers. They are very creepy.

 

My current “fun” project is making bits of things for an installation that I will be putting up in our local library inspired by a 1923 copy of the dreadful book by Christopher Morley that we got in as donation at the used book store. Some of the bits that I am making are scary little bonsai that erupt from tatty books.

I know. I have to work more on making with the “erupt” part. I thought that having the tree’s roots creep out from inside the book would be, well, creepy, but it’s not. It’s barely noticeable. Back to the  drawing board mat knife.

P.S. The editor of the newsletter gave me two days’ notice about getting a blurb ready, so I wrote this in about ten minutes and I  took a photo of the only finished piece I have so far.

Officially, the used book store is closed for the month of August, but I still have to show up a few hours a week to meet with crack pot hoarders donors and to process their stinking shitty trash donations. On Thursday, I had scheduled to meet with three separate donors at the used book store, so there I was, at 1 o’clock in the afternoon until 2 o’clock in the afternoon, as per our arrangement, dutifully keeping myself busy while I waited and waited and waited. . .

. . . NONE of the pissant purveyors of filthy paperback crap donors showed up!

Jesus. My time is very valuable and I am not to be trifled with. From 2:00 until 4:30 I was in a murderous mood, resentful of all the good work I do for an ungrateful community yadda yadda yadda.

At 4:31 I remembered that it was only Wednesday.

So today (being the real Thursday) I was back at the used book store, taking in boxes of garbage. I should have known: the old couple who called saying that they “want to get rid of some books”, and with whom I very carefully went through the list of books that I will not take. . . still brought in four boxes of old, moldy, beat up religious and text books.

They also brought a few books of collected short stories from mercifully forgotten writers. Such as this, from 1955:

It seems to me that Anne was not all that sure that this book was Harry’s cup of tea. So, Jesus, girl — go get him a book that you know he would like!

A woman brought in about 25 children’s books, of which a good 16 were acceptable. Among them was this, my new favorite book in the whole world:

And something that has never happened before, happened today.

With the third donor, a young boy just graduated from college who was giving me all his old space books (he called them “space” books, so I had to ask, “Do you mean astronomy?” and he agreed that yes, they were about astronomy, and I had to wonder, good lord, what the hell kind of college did you go to??) included some general reading materials, along with the “space” books.

He gave me a copy of Wonder, without the dust jacket — exactly the same book, in the same sans-dust jacket condition, as I got from the woman who gave me the children’s books. I can’t remember which copy of Wonder was which, but one was the 40th printing, and the other was the 70th.

SEVENTY PRINTINGS!!  5 million copies sold in 29 languages and it was made into a film that starred Julia Roberts.

I have never heard of this book! Or the movie! (It’s a YA novel about a 10-year old kid with severe facial deformities.)

So here’s one example of how working at the used book store has brought me up to date with the culture around me. Which is a good thing, about 80% of the time.

In other zeitgeist news:

In August, the world flocks to Edinburgh (Scotland) for a theater and comedy festival that is the European Sundance of theater and comedy. It’s a very big deal, worth about 250 billion pounds to the Scottish economy and has been responsible for such break out stars as Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (a long time ago), Alan Rickman, Rowan Atkinson, Sasha Baron Cohen, Steve Coogan, and Billy Connolly (who is crazy famous and beloved in the UK and not so much in America ).

Every year, the festival awards a prize, called Dave (ha ha) for the funniest one-liner. This year, a Swedish comedian who goes by the name Olaf Falafel (I think he’s trying too hard, with that name) won the Dave.

He took the title with the gag: “I keep randomly shouting out ‘Broccoli’ and ‘Cauliflower’ – I think I might have florets”.

Well. There has been a broo-ha-ha about this joke. A lot of people don’t like it because it  makes a “joke” at the expense of sufferers of a much-misunderstood neurological malady. It’s also not funny.

Suzanne Dobson, the chief executive of Tourette’s Action in the UK, told the BBC: ”Humour is a great way of educating people – but not only is it not funny to poke fun at people with Tourette’s, it’s not even that funny a joke, is it?”

Tourette’s Action has now urged Olaf Falafel and Dave to apologise and try to see things from the perspective of someone with Tourette Syndrome, according to the BBC.

If you make a pun in my presence I will go all wild wolf on your ass.

I didn’t know why this dumb broccoli joke won the award until I read up in the competition. Some of the other contenders are just as bad, but a few are actually funny. Here is a sample (from The Edinburgh International Festival 2019):

“I can give you the cause of anaphylactic shock in a nutshell.” Gary Delaney 

“I saw a documentary on how ships are kept together. Riveting!” Stewart Francis 

“I waited an hour for my starter so I complained: ‘It’s not rocket salad.” Lou Sanders 

“Crime in multi-storey car parks. That is wrong on so many different levels.” Tim Vine

“I picked up a hitch hiker. You’ve got to when you hit them.” Emo Philips 

“As a kid I was made to walk the plank. We couldn’t afford a dog.” Gary Delaney 

“I was watching the London Marathon and saw one runner dressed as a chicken and another runner dressed as an egg. I thought: ‘This could be interesting.’” Paddy Lennox 

“I’m sure wherever my dad is; he’s looking down on us. He’s not dead, just very condescending.” Jack Whitehall

“I’ve given up asking rhetorical questions. What’s the point?” Alexei Sayle 

“I have two boys, 5 and 6. We’re no good at naming things in our house” Ed Byrne 

“I wasn’t particularly close to my dad before he died… which was lucky, because he trod on a land mine” Olaf Falafel

“Whenever someone says, ‘I don’t believe in coincidences.’ I say, ‘Oh my God, me neither!”‘ Alasdair Beckett-King 

“A friend tricked me into going to Wimbledon by telling me it was a men’s singles event” Angela Barnes

“As a vegan, I think people who sell meat are disgusting; but apparently people who sell fruit and veg are grocer” Adele Cliff

“For me dying is a lot like going camping. I don’t want to do it” Phil Wang

“Why is it old people say ‘there’s no place like home’, yet when you put them in one …” Stuart Mitchell​ 

I often confuse Americans and Canadians. By using long words.” Gary Delaney

“Why is Henry’s wife covered in tooth marks? Because he’s Tudor.” Adele Cliff

“Don’t you hate it when people assume you’re rich because you sound posh and went to private school and have loads of money?” Annie McGrath

“If you’re being chased by a pack of taxidermists, do not play dead.” Olaf Falafel

“I’ve written a joke about a fat badger, but I couldn’t fit it into my set.” Masai Graham ****( see end of post)

And my favorite:

“Trump’s nothing like Hitler. There’s no way he could write a book” Frankie Boyle

And that’s the blog for this week. But before I go, I want to alert you to a situation that Top Cat and I have been tracking for most of this Summer.

Lickety in 2018

Our dear sweet Lickety was diagnosed with a mass on his liver about 8 weeks ago.

Lickety in Summer of 2019

He is still a very loving and personable kitty, hanging out with his buds on the patio and glomming onto us any time we sit on the Adirondack chairs, but his days are dwindling as surely as the Summer light.

I have a feeling that we will be making that final visit to the vet’s soon, maybe as soon as this coming week.

So have a wonderful weekend, Dear Readers, and do something extra special while it’s still August, while the sunshine is still like powdered gold and the Summer still trembles like a butterfly.

***** Dear Reader and Stromness Rock Tour Guide Angel: I’m so sorry! I know you’re not a badger — you’re a wolverine!! I got Michigan and Wisconsin mixed up like I’m from the UP or something, and I send you my deepest apologies. Statehood for Superior!

 

 

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Some time ago, this small (palm-sized) little book came in as part of a donation to theused-book store that I manage for charity here on the north shore of Long Island:

Harper’s Family Library No, 29: The Court and Camp of Bonaparte, printed in 1833.

I didn’t think much this boo. I saw that it was very old and very shabby, so I put it with my secret stash of “Creepy Books”, the collection old books, in fair to poor condition, that I am storing up for use in a “Haunted Bookshop” installation I want to do for Halloween this year, using my neighbor’s book, The Haunted Bookshop as inspiration (Christopher Morley, 1890 – 1957,  used to be a very famous American writer whose old h ouse was a little up the road from where I now live, and there’s a huge public park named for him about half a mile away and one of his books was The Haunted Bookshop, a dreadful book in spite of its awesome title).

So I was going  those Creepy Books again this past week and I picked up Harper’s Family Library No, 29: The Court and Camp of Bonaparte, printed in 1833, and I just happened to open it to check out the free end papers and I found this:

What the hell, I thought, I might as well google this name.

It turns out that James B. Fry is this guy:

Photo credit: Matthew Brady, c. 1864. Public domaine, the Library of Congress.

Here’s who this guy is:

James Barnet Fry

Feb. 22, 1827 – July 11, 1894  (67 years)

James Barnet Fry was a West Point graduate and artillery specialist who served briefly in the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848).

Fry came into repeated contact with President Abraham Lincoln from the beginning of the Civil War, when he came to Washington DC in the winter of 1861 to protect the government during President Lincoln’s inauguration.

Fry’s conduct impressed the White House staff. Presidential aid John Hay wrote in his diary: “Fry is the firmest and soundest man I meet…He seems to combine great honesty of purpose with accurate and industrious business habits and a lively and patriotic soldier spirit that is better than any thing else, today.”

Fry served as General Irvin McDowell’s Chief of Staff during the First Battle of Bull Run (July 1861) and was the Chief of Staff of the Army of the Cumberland in its operations in the Western Theatre (which included the Battle of Shiloh in 1862). He was then appointed Provost Marshal General of the entire Union Army, in which capacity he served until the end of the Civil War.

Effective on March 15, 1865, Fry was brevetted to the ranks of colonel, brigadier general, and major general in the Regular Army in recognition of his service at the First Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Shiloh, and for “faithful, meritorious and distinguished service as Provost Marshal General during the war.”

After the Civil War, Fry continued his military career until 1881, when he turned his talents to writing books about the army, including New York and the Conscription of 1863.

So what I have is a book that James B. Fry obviously bought second-hand some time after March of 1865 for his own private library and held  in his own hands. I wish he had signed the damn book because his signature is going for $296.00 on eBay. (Above: It looks to me as though this was torn out of one of General Fry’s other books, right?)

So I’ve got that short bio of General Fry (above) and I got a beautiful, sharp print of the Matthew Brady photo from the Library of Congress, and along with the book I’ll sell the whole package as a ready-made holiday gift for the Civil War buff in your life, here in our little used-book store here on the north shore of Long Island. I think $30.00 is the right price.

My co-manager of the used book store that I manage for the benefit of our local library here on the north shore of Long Island thought I was a genius for discovering this little treasure. But she’s got me all wrong.

The only reason I found this provenance in this old, battered book was because I was considering cutting it up for my “art”. Oh, yes; I would gladly have cut up this 186-year old tome with nary a dust mote of guilt because, to be honest, I am getting to be a person who sincerely loathes books.

It would be different, maybe, if I were selling antiquarian books for personal fun and profit, but I’m working as a volunteer for a charity used-book store and dealing with random people’s filthy and cheap cast-offs FOR FREE. I want to kick myself.

It’s another story when callers say, “I have some nice books to donate because we are moving/downsizing/de-cluttering.” In this case, there’s a 50% chance that only 80% of their books will be trash.

But more and more I’m getting callers who say, “I have books I want to donate because it’s so hard to throw out books.”

When I hear those last seven words I already know that they are going to be handing me trash, pure junk, and are using me as their garbage valet.  And I resent it, and their books.

I was working in the book store for two hours this week, and I took in two donations. This is what I threw out:

This is about 80% of what was bequested to us. It’s TRASH. I load these boxes and bags into the trunk of my car, and then I drive home and let the trash sit in the trunk of my car overnight. Then I drive Top Cat to the train station the next morning so he can catch the 6:49 to Manhattan and then I drive to the library when the library is closed and the parking lot is empty and I can back up the car to the library’s secret trash bin. And then I unload this crap myself and hoist over the edge of a five-foot tall dumpster. It is not fun.

And then I drive to the gym and work out so, yeah, I guess unloading trash can be as aerobic as pedaling a stationery bicycle but I still don’t like it.

Here is a close up of the kind of books that I throw out:

I want to punch the person who donated these books, AS IF they would be appropriate for sale in a nice little book shop on the north shore of Long Island.

Ugh: This is a tiny book(below)  (that’s my s6 iPhone for scale). No way, nope. I don’t want any book in my store that contains the words “in utero”:

Also, No:

Other stuff:

I found the laminated photo of a little girl inside a paperback biography of Teddy Roosevelt (the book passed muster and is now in stock at the store), and the train ticket from Livorno to Florence from March, 2009, I found inside a paperback novel, on page 25. Someone didn’t like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time very much.  I feel you, Italian train traveller. I didn’t like that book at all.

We already have 2 copies of The Curious Incident, so I threw out the one that had the train ticket in it.

To elaborate a bit on last week’s blog post, about me being bored, I now must confess that when I wrote last week’s blog I was on Day 14 of a diet. You see, a couple of months ago I had my yearly physical and I learned that I had gained 4 pounds since last year’s physical, on top of the 4 pounds I had gained the year before. It doesn’t take a genius to spot a worrying trend there.

So I put myself on a 1200 calorie / 45 grams of protein a day diet. I also joined a new gym and I work out an hour every morning on exercise routines devised by my personal trainer, so, La Di Da for me.

It’s easy to start a diet. It’s exciting to be on the road to good health! It’s empowering to know you have finally got off your ass and are DOING something!

By Day 14 you have lost the will to live. No nice thick slice of ciabatta toast in the morning (whole wheat bread instead…boring), no fabulous homemade gourmet pizza on Friday (chick pea pasta with marina sauce instead…boring). And forget about greek yogurt — there is no way I am eating greek yogurt. Salmon, in any way shape or form: Nope. Six almonds as an afternoon  “snack”? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Whoa –No cheese enchiladas??

I’m a girl who keeps a photo of my favorite cheese enchiladas on my computer’s desktop because I AM IN FREAKING LOVE WITH CHEESE ENCHILADAS:

Lunchtime enchilada special at Little Mexico in Westbury, Long Island.

And the most absolute, horrfying, life-sucking WORST OF ALL : I have to cut my wine consumption by half.

I don’t know if you’ve recently experienced a day in Trump’s America while totally sober, but it is torture.

So my friend sent me this (NSFW):

I mourn my lost wine-drinking days because I have recently discovered a  fantastic pinot grigio that is only $6.99 a bottle so, as any reasonable person would do, I recently went to Total Wine and bought three cases of the stuff. I was in line at the check out desk, behind a stall, stocky, mid-30s, blue-collar looking guy who is buying a dozen bottles of an Australian red wine called 19 Crimes.

19 Crimes, the story behind the label: On August 20, 1865  one James Wilson, an Irish nationalist who enlisted in the British Army to avoid arrest for the battery of a police officer, was court martialed for desertion and mutinous conduct and sentenced to death, a sentence later commuted to life imprisonment with hard labor. On October 12, 1867 he was placed aboard the Hougoumont, the last convict ship to sail to Australia. The wine, a blend that is brooding with richness, is like the wine rations served on convict ships in that every sip deserves to be savored.

So, yeah, I’m in line behind a big bruiser who is buying 19 Crimes wine and I’m loading my many bottles of cheap white wine onto the conveyor belt, and the bruiser ahead of me accidentally lets go of his trolly and it ever so lightly rolls backwards, into me.

“Oh!”, the guy says, “I’m so sorry, darlin’!”

I did not expect that.

Then he notices my inventory of white wine and he says, “Wow, somebody’s going to have a great night tonight!”

I follow his gaze to the evidence of my immodest lust for wine and I say, “Winter’s coming.”

Which was true. Who doesn’t stock up on wine when it’s August and you start degrading the cold, dark mornings and the cold, dark nights of November? But I had not meant to quote Game of Thrones. It slipped out.

So the guy laughed really hard and wished me a Good Winter when he rolled out of the store, and  now I wish everyone would call me “darlin'” instead of “ma’am”.

As of today, Day 20 of my diet, I have lost 3 1/2 pounds, so I’m not as bored as I was last week. And if I budget my calories just right, there is enough left over for a glass or two of wine now and then, and on one of those happy evenings recently, Top Cat and I went for cocktails at an open-air restaurant that has a fantastic view of The Long Island Sound.

At sunset there was a lot of thunder and lightening in the air, and we watched a huge storm roll across the waters of the Sound and engulf Manhattan on the far shore:

Behind the storm came this:

It was so exhilarating to be out in all that weather, watching this blessed Earth do her thing, and when the rain came pouring down on us it was warm and exciting, and life should always be like this. Because life on earth can be so wonderful. But it’s a lot better with wine.

Other news: The Stromness Rock is setting out on its ramble around America this weekend, and all you lovely volunteer tour guides will be receiving an information package later this week.

Candy has begun her annual walkabout, which happens every August when she deserts her favorite napping spots in the house and lives outside for one or two or three months. We don’t know why she does it. But she does come back noticeably thinner, so maybe there’s the answer.

Candy, Day One of Walkabout. The raccoons dug up the paving bricks in the background, looking for cat food kibble that spilled out of their bowl that is usually on that top step. I think that’s cute.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.

See you here next week.

XXOO

 

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No. 1 way to not be bored:

K I T T E N S.

 

I tried to get 9-week old Penelope to pose next to my favorite book of 2019 and this is how it went:

Sometimes when you are a kitten and you’ve been horsing around on the dinner bowl holder, you suddenly get the urge to catch 40 winks:

Then, when you’re all rested, it’s time to cavort with the sibs:

Pork Chop, the only boy kitten, is never, ever bored:

 

No. 2 way to not be bored:

A traditional backyard Maryland Crab Feast.

Even if you don’t like to eat crabs whole — whole crabs look too “animally” whereas a crab cake looks less like it should be scuttling across the floors of silent seas and more like something that goes well with a nice chardonnay — a traditional backyard Maryland Crab Feast with a bunch of Marylanders who always have plenty of white wine on hand is a swell way to keep boredom at bay.

P.S. I tried this last weekend and I was not bored for several days straight because, in addition to executing the No. 2 way to not be bored, I made a swift pivot to the No. 3 way to not be bored.

Which is:

Visit Mr. Fluffy.

From Maryland I moseyed next-door to Washington, D.C., which is where a certain rescue cat namely Mr. Fluffy (rescued from the mean streets of Long Island in 2017) now resides with his forever family.

In 2017 Mr. Fluffy was sick, scrawny, filthy, smelly, and bedraggled.

In 2019 he isn’t, in a big way.

This (above) is not Mr. Fluffy being bored. This is Mr. Fluffy being blasé. There’s a difference. Except if you are a cat, and then it’s just another word for “being a cat”.

Mr. Fluffy lives with world travelers who do such interesting stuff as write intellectual property policy papers on behalf of the lesser-known African countries and work within the system to alert Democratic senators to keep any more Trump judges off the bench, who also keep plenty of wine handy, so you never risk being bored any time you visit Mr. Fluffy.

 

No. 4 way to not be bored:

Read a book.

Good lord no, not that book.

The Story of Cutlery is a book that I thought would be with us to the end of days in the used-book store that I manage for the benefit of the local library but Lo, last week someone came in and bought it. I didn’t feel good about that. The Story of Cutlery is a book that un-ironically tests the outer limits of the publishing industry and challenges the book-lover’s belief that books are culturally relevant to a wide swath of readers, and having this book in stock is what made me feel that being the manager of a used-book store wasn’t a total waste of time, and was, rather, a whimsical and erudite part of my personality. But now it’s gone and I am bored.

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of people carry on about Toni Morrison (1931 – 2019) so I suppose I should read one of her books.  I understand that she’s a great writer and was, in person, supremely dignified and kind. So I will probably not be bored by The Bluest Eye or Beloved, I suppose, but I’m not looking forward to reading either because I fear it will be good for me.

However, it would make a nice change from the usual books with what I keep company.

This (above) came in last Tuesday. Nobody buys this book any more — the only interesting thing about it was the inscription, which I always check for before I throw any book away:

Is that it? Is that all the Scholarship Fund gave out? Or did they hide a check under the Albert Camus entry? [From The Fall: “The truth is that everyone’s bored. Hurrah then for funerals!”]

This is another inscription that also came in:

And this is the book that Abby’s admirer got her for the 22nd of December 1998 :

Abby might have been a wonderful human being but her friend thought she had a crap vocabulary or was just a tiny bit stupid, and wanted to help, is my guess.

Of course the person who donated this (below) was sure that there was a long line of people who were eager to get their hands on an old year book from a small liberal arts college in Yonkers with a C+ rated “party scene” whose 2019 graduates earned an average starting salary of $28,9000:

Sarah Lawrence has an acceptance rate of 53%:

Harvard has an acceptance rate of 5.3%. That decimal place is why parents bribe their kids’ way into Harvard, and not so much Sarah Lawrence.

And now I’ve run out of ways to not be bored and I am bored.

Oh, lordy, it is terrible being bored. At my age, being bored shows a sad lack of gumption. After all, I have many years experience of living on this planet and I’ve worked out a few ways to not be bored (see above) but on days when I’m not herding kittens, or in Maryland, or discussing how to abolish the electoral college with a nice pinot grigio on the side, I am bored. BORED.

A few years ago I took a test that was popular on line at the time, a test that answered the age-old question If You Were a Dog, What Kind of Dog Would You Be?

Turns out, I am a chow chow.

Standoffish, not good with small children, bossy, below-average “listener”, judgmental, quiet, and a teeny bit vindictive.

That’s the dog.

Except for the vindictive part. That’s all me. But I digress.

So, I asked the internet, How Can I Not Bore a Chow Chow?, my thinking being that the answer might be useful in overcoming my own bored chow chow soul.

Here’s what chow chows like to do: They like to hunt, they like to herd, and they like running through tunnels.

So I’m heading out to the Lincoln Tunnel for a little jog, and if I bag some small game along the way, well then, I’ll be in a great mood to blog all about it next week.

Until then, have a great weekend, Dear Readers.

And as always, Dear Ones, let’s Keep Hope Alive.

 

Until that blessed day:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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These are my next door neighbors (left to right) Penelope, Antoinette, and Pork Chop. I am riding herd on them while their parents are at the beach. I am finding it difficult to tear myself away from their cuteness.

Also, I’m in a very bad mood. I am not voting for anyone who was on stage on the second night of the Democratic Circular Firing Squad (except for Joe, who I hope doesn’t run) because if criticizing Barak Obama and Bill Clinton is the only way a candidate can think of “standing out” then here’s my big F.U.

So I’m taking a kitten break today, Dear Readers. Let’s meet up on Tuesday, when I have something more positive to say.

I’ll also have more kitten pictures!

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In November 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected president because it’s the 21st century and Congress has STILL not gotten rid of the  Electoral College and while we’re at it, we should get rid of fucking Iowa too.

In November of 2016 I knew these were going to be dire times, Dear Readers, dire. Miserable. Calamitous. Wretched. Depressing. Sickening. Etc.

I knew I was going to need something other than/in addition to copious amounts of alcohol to not let Trump and his sniveling lying cheating stupid evil family and friends get to me during the next horrible four years. So,  in January 2017, I made a New Year’s Resolution that I would keep a Gratitude Jar, which is totally against my personality but, desperate times, desperate measures.

For those of youth might not know what a Gratitude Jar is: A Gratitude Jar provides a simple way to cultivate the habit of being mindful of the good things in your life. Each day, you write a note about one thing for which you’re grateful, and you put it into the jar where they collect as a reminder of the good things in your world.

Vivian’s Gratitude Jar (Mr. Bibs included for scale. My jar is as big as a cat!)

As I type this on Thursday July 25, Trump has been in office for 915 days, the same number of days that I’ve been keeping a Gratitude Jar.

My Gratitude Jar has 2 notes in it.

And now, having listened to the Mueller testimony to the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees yesterday, 2 notes in 915 days of Trump seem like a lot. I know we say this all the time but, just when you think things can’t get any worse, THEY DO.

And now I hate Bob Mueller in addition to everything else I hate about America right now.

The best thing I can say about the Mueller hearings was that the Democrats seemed to be very organized. They couldn’t ask Mueller questions (since Mueller wasn’t saying diddly squat), so they read into the record of the proceedings all the damning findings of the Mueller Report (since Mueller wasn’t saying diddly squat). Made me think of a problem I am having at the used book store (that I manage to benefit the local library). I keep asking the wrong questions and, as we discussed last week, everything depends on asking the right question.

People call me up and say, “I have books that I want to donate.”

I act like this is the best thing that’s happened to me since February 4, 2017 when I heard If You Could Read My Mind by Gordon Lightfoot on the radio, a song that I had not heard in 9 years (thank you, Gratitude Jar).

And then I ask, “What kind of books do you have?”

You would think that this is not a tough question to ask of someone who collects books. But in my experience, people seem to be surprised by this question.

Here are some of the answers I have received to this question, “What kind of books do you have?”:

All kinds of books.

I have hard books and soft books.

Nice books.

The usual kinds of books.

Books from my house.

And my favorite; Books for reading.

I got a call this morning, and the woman says, “I have books that I want to donate.”

I ask, “What kind of books do you have?”

And she says, Two big garbage bags of books.

I was not in the mood. So I tell her exactly what is on my mind. I say, “Well, I’ve been doing this a long time and I know from experience that when a person puts books in garbage bags it’s because they aren’t very good books.  [Tip: People who really love their books take the time to pack them in boxes.]

And she says, in an insulted tone, My books are really good books. There’s some text books, there’s a thesaurus, I have baby books, and some paperback fiction!

So I tell her that we don’t accept text books, reference books, child raising books, and the fiction has to be in excellent condition. No sound coming from the other end.

“I think you can just throw those books out, guilt-free,” I say.

She responds: Thank you for your time but I’m sure I’ll find a library in the city that will accept them, and she hangs up on me.

Hint: Libraries don’t want your raggedy-ass text books either.

But I have to find a better way of asking people to tell me about their books. Anybody got any advice?

We got a donation at the used book store (that I manage to benefit the local library), an item that was so depressing that I didn’t want to show it to you Dear Readers but, since we’re all depressed anyway (Mueller testimony), I think it’s the right time to bring it out:

This is a small pamphlet published by the New York State Civil Defense Commission in the early 1050s.

Caption: Ball of fire one second after burst.

These survival tips are so ludicrous . . .

. . . could anyone have believed that any of this stuff would actually work?

The guy on the left, the one with his head under his briefcase, makes me laugh every time:

Right: When your city has been hit by an atomic bomb, you want to put on a nice clean frock and tie an apron around your waist and find a cushion to kneel on before you scrub the radioactive particles off your kid.

A while ago we got in a slew of mid-century books:

They were interesting to me because of the author photos, from a time when authors were important people and their likenesses took up the entire back cover of their books:

Note the similarity of the far-Away expressions. The pipe is a nice touch, n’est-ce pas?

Hortense Calisher got an obit in the New York Times:

She wrote a lot of novels about women’s lives, none of which I care to read.

When this book came in, it proved to me that some people are using our used book store as a handy book-removal service:

Is there anything about this book that does not scream TRASHCAN????

If you are in the market for a 30-year old almanac I’m sorry, this one is already in the dumpster:

This too:

THIS one, however, is going into my personal library, for obvious reasons:

I wish I could read that dog’s mind.

This is another book that I want to own, but I don’t want to read:

Human Destiny, by Leconte du Nouy, no dust cover.

I found a treasure tucked inside this book, Human Destiny:

Cute vintage card from 1950, called And So To Bed by the well-known illustrator and fairy artist, Molly Brett. This post card is very collectible these days, going for about $10.00 on eBay, but it’s the message on the back of it that makes it priceless:

It looks like sweet Douglas never sent this to Mr. Noel, whose last name I’ve had to erase because a quick Google turns up info about Mr. Noel  being a big deal at the United Nations directly after the war (WWII) for many years, and with the French government, whose 1996 New York Times obit says he had no wife or children who survived him. Gee. I hope Douglas and Mr. Noel got a lot of face time, so that sending the post card was not necessary. That long dash ———— is worth a thousand words.

My next book also has a French connection:

First Edition, The Last Time I Saw Paris, by Elliot Paul, no dust jacket.

Sample of Paul Elliot’s writing: “The rue de la Huchette, in time and place, had a beginning, a middle, and an ending.” I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.

This book is too damn boring to read, but too cute to throw out. What a dilemma. Like that’s what I need more of in my life these days, dilemmas.

 

Speaking of Nazi-esque immigrants from Eastern Europe who married Trump for a green card, remember how Melanoma Trump’s hometown in  Slovenia honored the First lady with a statue of her?

Turns out, the sculptor of this homage is a time traveler, and he made this likeness of Melanoma to show us what she will look like in the future! No joke!

Because look what was in St. Tropez last month — the first Mrs. Trump, with the face that she deserves:

Ivanka, are you paying attention? This is what you get for being a Nazi.

Am I petty just because ugly Trumps make me happy?

Me and a friend were drinking the other day and we decided that it was time for a revolution in America. They did it in Puerto Rico! Why can’t we do it here?!

Trouble is, neither of us know how to start revolution, but, since our combined age is 148 years old, we’re pretty sure we can figure it out by the weekend.

And when we do, I’ll let you know.

Have great weekend, Dear Readers. Remember, a good scrubbing after the news cycle will remove all those nasty Trump cooties. I can recommend a pinot grigio exfoliant.

XXOO

 

 

 

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Last Sunday was Bastille Day in New York City.

The Alliance Francais closed 60th Street from Lexington Avenue to Fifth Avenue and the rue was packed with food stalls and clothing booths and mimes and tourist info stalls, and New Yorkers.

Business was brisk at the marinière stall:

The marinière was adopted by the French Navy in 1858 as part of its uniform for sailors. The stripes on the shirt were supposed to make it easier to spot men that had gone overboard. The shirt is also known as a Breton shirt because, in the 19th century, a lot of sailors came from Brittany.

Speaking of Brittany, there was a crepe stall:

That’s the flag of Brittany in the background.

I liked the Asian girl in the patisserie stall who had two little French flags waving from her chignon:

It was stinking hot and crowded like crazy so Top Cat and I strolled through the block party once, bought a bottle of organic salad olive oil from a town near Carcassonne, and headed back home.

We took the Stromness Rock with us:

In Penn Station (Long Island Rail Road, etc.).

 

On the E train (subway).

 

Lexington Avenue at 53rd Street (Citicorp).

That is Top Cat’s hand in every frame, holding the Stromness Rock while I snap the photo.

So, yes, Top Cat and I are still together and still hanging out with each other, doing fun stuff, just like the olden days. The Battle of Scotland is behind us because we work at our marriage, or whatever. As a couple, we concentrate on not hating each other for too long a time.

I have always wanted to punch someone in the mouth whenever it has been said to me (back in the really olden days, when we were all young and newly-partnered and hashing out the “happily ever after part” of our lives) that “Marriage takes work.” 

What a stupid thing to say. Does that statement have any information in it? Tell me, what is the work you’re supposed to do in a marriage? Is it so very different from any other kind of work that you have to do to be a kind, thoughtful, caring person in the world? Is marriage work more magical?  If so, what the fuck is it???

Also, I hate work.

So when someone was stupid enough to give me that line about marriage takes work,  this is what I used to do instead of socking that someone right in the kisser: I used to stop the conversation and say, “Say that again, only this time don’t use the word work. Tell me, Marriage takes ________ (fill in the blank).” In other words, use a different word to tell me what it takes to keep two people in an intimate, close, time-consuming relationship from killing each other.

I can not remember a single time that someone was able to fill in the blank.

Worthandwisdom.com, Go fuck yourself.

Getting back to the topic at hand, you all know that I’ve been reporting on a harrowing ten days that Top Cat and I endured in each other’s company in Scotland. As you know, it was awful. Top Cat and I loathed each other for hours and days and days at a time.

A lot of you, Dear Readers, have emailed me with your gratitude for what I have written about our conflict because my story made some of you feel better, feel relief, feel consoled, and/or feel less guilty about the times that your own Significant Other, love of your life, Dearly Beloved has driven you desperately bat-shit crazy.

First of all, You’re Welcome.

Second, I can report about the fits and tiffs and sulks and murderous impulses that I experienced while I was in Scotland with Top Cat because I speak about it all from a safe place. My connection with Top Cat — the legal, emotional, and historical connection that we have — is solid. Even when it gets rocky, it is solid. I know that, and he knows that. (Well, I mostly know that. Nothing is 100% knowable, right?)

And I’m going to tell you the way that Top Cat and I repaired the huge break in our relationship was not work. It was this:

After Top Cat and I had had several attempts at having a good talk about what went wrong in Scotland, we found that we kept talking in circles. I would ask him, Why did you make us miss the bus in Edinburgh? (That incident on the streets of Edinburgh is what started everything that went downhill.)

And he would answer: I didn’t think we had to hurry; I would never thought that the driver would take off without us; I wasn’t trying to make us miss the bus, etc. And then he would say, Why do you keep asking me this??? Why do we have to talk about this again???

One night, me and half a bottle of pinot grigio were sitting out on the patio feeling aggrieved, as usual, at the end of one of these circular conversations, and I had a Hallejula moment. What I realized was that every time I asked Top Cat, Why did you make us miss the bus in Edinburgh? I had been asking the wrong question. And as long as I kept asking the wrong question, all of Top Cat’s answers were going to be wrong also. No wonder we kept talking in circles.

And I suddenly understood what the right question was.

The right question was simple, but it wasn’t going to be easy to ask. Asking the right question was going to make me vulnerable, and feeling vulnerable is as horrifying to me as throwing up on myself in public.

But I knew that I was not going to repair this break in our relationship unless I asked the right question no matter how much I’d rather be tough and not so ruffled-kitchen-curtain-girly. So I gathered my courage and drank the rest of my wine. The next day, I sat down with Top Cat and I explained that I wanted to talk about Scotland again, but this time I wanted to ask him something I’ve never asked him before. He said, OK, let’s hear it.

And I asked: Why don’t you love me enough to walk fast with me so I don’t have to worry about catching the bus in Edinburgh? Follow up question: Why don’t you love me enough to do what you can to ease my ocassional anxiety especially when what you have to do is such a small thing and I need it so rarely?

Top Cat sat back in his chair and thought for half a second (a long time) and he said, “That is a very valid question.”

And that was the exact right answer. NOW we can talk.

And we did, and it was wonderful, and that’s why I love my Top Cat.

All it took was thinking about what my true and deep feelings were, and being brave enough to ask the right question that was based on those true and deep feelings. That’s not work; that’s just awareness. Oh, and sitting out on your patio with half a bottle of pinot grigio, and that is certainly not work.

So let’s now talk about The Stromness Rock.

THANK YOU all you marvelous Dear Readers!

Rachel, Christine, Carol, Amy, Marilyn, Susie, Jeanie, Thea, Alex, Maryanne, Leslie, and Angel!

I have an itinerary for The Rock, and it’s going to go around America clockwise, starting in Virginia. Then: South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Washington (state), Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

I will be contacting you this coming week for your addresses (you’re all on the ChrisHanuKwanSolstice list!), and I’ll pack The Rock and its passport and instructions for posting pix, and we’ll get this tour started. I hope to have it back here on Long Island in time for Fall foliage before I send it back to Orkney, where it will have oh, so many stories to tell.

This weekend, for example, The Stromness Rock will be experiencing a hot spell here on The Isle of Long that they will not believe up there, in the isles of The North Sea. The USA National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory for noon though 10 p.m. Saturday, when temperatures will hit 96 degrees and which our very high humidity will give us a heat index of 105 degrees. *cough climate change*

Same on Sunday. *cough catastrophic climate change*

I’ll be making sure that the herd stays cool . . .

. . . by making them stay inside in the basement, where it’s always wine-cellar-cool. Seriously. Top Cat has his wine cellar down there, and this weekend we’ll turn it into our Cat Cellar.

Ha ha.

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones. What a weekend this will be! July 20: Let’s remember where we all were when we watched Neil Armstrong take one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind, when it was the first time humans had seen our beautiful, fragile, life-giving, wrecked, doomed, home planet like this:

1969 Earthrise over the moon’s surface. Photo credit: USgov.

I love you, Earth. It was nice knowing you.

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Inverness to Glasgow.

It’s a mere 168 miles. Drive time under 4 hours. That’s like driving from New York City to Baltimore, a trip that Top Cat and I have made about a dozen times. 168 miles. Easy, right? Right?

This is what the road looks like between New York City and Baltimore:

OK, so Scotland is not the USA; they don’t make 12-lane turnpikes in Scotland.

So, this is what the road (called the A9) looks like between Inverness and Glasgow:

Well, that’s what one of the roads between Inverness and Glasgow looks like. There’s another road between Inverness and Glasgow, and it looks like this:

This other road is called the A82.

The A82, according to Scotland’s Transport Minister, “sits in one of the most challenging landscapes in Scotland.” “Challenging”? What Fun!

The A82 was laid out in the early 1920s and has not been widened or re-engineered since. Even more Fun!

As a result, the Highlands Transport Partnership, which advises the Scottish government on roads and traffic, has declared that, of the 167-mile length of the A82, only 42 miles of it “can be considered to be of a functioning standard.”

FUN!!

Here’s what the locals have to say about the A82:

It is not scary per se. Most of the hair-pin turns have crash barriers and it is beside a loch, not on a mountainside or up in the forest. [Mountains and forests are scary.] But the A82 is very wiggly, and the camber is not well-fashioned in parts, making it literally stomach-churning.

I actually dislike driving the A82 – portions of it wiggle along lochsides in a stomach-churning way, and you will not be able to average more than 35mph (because of the limitations of the road, the ubiquitous caravans and the tour buses trying to own the highway!)

The road is not up to current design standards, its twisty and narrow and there are many blind bends where you wonder what you’ll encounter when you round the corner. It can be a tense drive especially if raining.

Americans: Have you driven in the UK before, i.e., on the left side?? If not, BEWARE!!! Our Scottish roads are thinner than comparable US roads, by a couple feet. Less margin for error. Not to mention the buses, RVs and lorries coming at you at high speeds!!!

As the major road in the western highlands, the A82 has very heavy truck traffic and, because of the narrowness of the roadbed, there is only a six-inch clearance between the average compact car and certain death in the form of an on-coming 40-ton semi.

If you are driving the average compact car on the A82, you will be gripping the steering wheel in sheer terror, hour after hour, as you continually dodge road-hogging trucks and tour buses. The way you will avoid being killed is by depositing  the passenger-side of the car, every mile or so,  into the road-side ditch where, more often than not, your car will slam into one or more boulders, or drop into a sickeningly deep pot hole, or hit a hidden stone curb, or smash into some other obstruction or crater that causes the car and the humans inside it to thump and crash in a variety of revolting shudders, convulsions, jitters, jolts, shimmies, shakes, and/or quakes.

If you are the passenger, each of those hundreds of detours into the ditch will give you a mini-heart attack and make you increasingly angry at the driver for not staying in the damn lane for chrissake because all we need now is a flat tire in the middle of traffic on a minuscule two-lane blacktop miles away from any service station on a road that you had to take.

If you are the driver, each of your petrified passenger’s screams will greatly, and ever-increasingly, piss you off because you don’t need more drama as you tensely clutch the steering wheel and, mile after mile, stare down oblivion coming straight at you as you do the best you can to not get killed.

Oh, look, here are some photographs of Look What Happened To My Car on The A82:

 

 

In other words, the A82 is a bitch to drive and no one in their right mind would choose it as the way to go from Inverness to Glasgow.

So that’s what we did. We drove 168 miserable miles on the absolute worst road in Scotland.

And, to add to the Fun!, we made sure that it was pouring rain the whole way.

Do you remember, way back at the beginning of this story, back when we were all young and gay, that the estimated drive time (on the A9) between Inverness and Glasgow was about 3 1/2 hours?

On the A82, it took us six hours.

And then we got to Glasgow . . .

Stock photo from the internet but this is exactly how Glasgow looks when you are lost.

. . . and just for the Fun! of it, we drove around and around in circles for an hour there, searching and cursing for the way to get to Wigtown.

Top Cat pulled over a couple of time to ask passers-by for directions, but either the passer-by didn’t speak English, or they didn’t know, or they only snarled at us to get the fook out of the bus lane. But not all Glaswegians were unhelpful.

When Top Cat dashed inside a hotel to ask for directions, he came out with an authentic Glaswegian-drawn map:

Unbelievably, this map got us on to the A77, a bucolic road that meanders south from Glasgow through the scenic countryside of Galloway.

A word about the A77:

In 2007, researchers from The Association for Safe International Road Travel concluded the A77 was the 23rd most dangerous road in the world. That’s right, the world. Within a single decade 30 people died on the A77 and close to 250 people were seriously injured.

So, yeah, the A77 was no picnic, either.

 

By the time we pulled into Wigtown, ten hours after leaving Inverness, Top Cat and I were barely on speaking terms. We were mentally debilitated, emotionally frazzled, resentful and tired, and feeling both shame-faced by our own actions in concocting the worst road trip ever, and also powerfully victimized by the other’s part in concocting the worst road trip ever.

It was my idea to drive from Inverness to Glasglow. It was Top Cat’s idea to go via the A82. Two equally bad ideas.

Now, here we were in Wigtown, and we can’t stand the sight of each other. Again.

I can’t tell you that we had a happy ending, five days later, as we wrapped up our adventures in Scotland. Nope. It took us two weeks after we got home to process the experience (from Edinburgh, to Orkney, to Inverness, to Glasgow, to Wigtown) and come to a mutual understanding that re-established the love and respect that we have for each other. But, for real, Top Cat and I are good. And on July 11 we are celebrating 15 years of eventful, wonderful, aggravating, delicious, challenging, and life-making marriage.

P.S. The car rental company in Scotland charged us about $200 for a damaged front passenger-side tire and a dented wheel. All those detours into all those ditches added up.

 

Thank You to all you lovely Dear Readers for volunteering to take the Stromness Rock for a visit to your neck of the American woods. YOU ARE THE BEST!

I will work out an itinerary of its cross-country journey and post it next week. I’m probably going to over-think it and include some sort of “passport” to accompany the rock so that its to-ings and fro-ints will be recorded for posterity, because why not, if you have the chance, to over-complicate things?

And lastly, because you would never believe it unless you had seen it with your own eyes, here’s a book that we got in as a donation to the used book store that I manage here on the north shore of Long Island:

 Yes, of course it’s self-published.

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones. May all your road trips lead you to the land of your dreams, and may you never end up on the A82 of life.

 

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It’s hot here on the north shore of Long Island. HOT.

And it’s the Fourth of July, and we have a four-day holiday weekend, and I am feeling lazy.

So let’s all take a day off and let’s all soak in the Summer and let’s all laugh at the little man in the White House who has to throw himself a big parade.

I’ll see you here in one week!

 

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Last Friday, cocktail hour on the patio. It’s a rare evening of light and warmth here on the north shore of Long Island, and Top Cat and I were soaking up the golden rays and the zephyr breezes like we were a pair of those swans that mate for life, gliding on the smooth surface of untroubled waters. The weekend has officially begun, and it’s the first day of Summer-like weather. I think,  This was a good time to talk about a touchy subject. I ask Top Cat, “Why do you think we were so off during our [ 10-days of rants and sulks] trip to Scotland?”

He puts down his drink and thinks about it.

“Well, we got off to a bad start and just never recovered,” he says. I notice that his answer is basically just a re-wording of my question, and although I usually find tautologies hilarious, in this instance I want answers so I do not comment on the circularity of his reply.

“I know that,” I say. “But why couldn’t we recover?”

And then he says something that I never expected to hear. He says:

“It was hard for me to say it then, but you were right. So I’m saying it now, that about a lot of things in Scotland, you were right.”

And here is a story about one of the things that I was right about. I was right about Wednesday:

My mind works vertically. So, when I map out a trip, I make a chart like this (above). Each day of our trip gets a column, and I do a lot of research and planning before I enter activities into each column. When I arrange the columns in succession, into a chart like this, I can get a good visual idea of the “flow” of the days.  (BTW, this chart travels with me, attached to all the many receipts and confirmations and supporting docs I’ll need for hotels and planes and cars and trains, so I can keep track of things.)

In the Wednesday  column of our trip to Scotland, I had planned just one thing: We were going to pack a lunch and at 12 noon we were going to take a 32-mile ferry ride north, to Rapness Pier on Westray island, and then walk two and a half miles to a rock formation known as The Castle of Burrian to see PUFFINS.

I had it all figured out.

Now, if you have read last week’s story, you know that Top Cat and I have, the previous day, managed to go a whole day without fighting. So we get up on Wednesday morning and by 10 o’clock we have had a big breakfast without incident and we are walking the mile from our BnB into Kirkwall. And Top Cat announces that he has other ideas about what he wants to do for the day.

For the sake of maintaining our streak (of not fighting) for another day, I do not argue with him. I’m not completely happy about this sudden change of plan, but I’ll go along.

So we tramp to the tourist office, we slog to the car rental office, we google stuff on our phones, we investigate tours and public busses and private car hires to go to other parts of the main island, other neolithic excavations, other villages, other bird-seeing sites, and maybe we’ll even go chase orcas.

After all that, guess what we end up doing.

We end up taking the 12 noon ferry to Westray to go see PUFFINS. Exactly what I had planned a month ago.

The skyline of Kirkwall on the main island of Orkney.

Rapness Pier on Westray island:

We’re on the way to see PUFFINS!

The island of Westray has had human settlements on it since 3500 BCE, and currently has a year-round population of 600. But mostly the island is a home to birds. The spectacular sea cliffs are home to thousands of seabirds including 60,000 common guillemot, 50,000 black-legged kittiwake, 30,000 razorbill, and numerous black guillemot. 

The Castle of Burrian (below) is a colossal sea stack renowned for being the best place on Orkney to see PUFFINS at close range. OH MY GOD, I couldn’t wait to get here!! To see it covered with thousands of PUFFINS!!

PUFFINS only come on shore during their breeding season, from mid-April to mid-August. They dig burrows on steep sea cliffs, and each female PUFFIN lays one egg per year.

As you can see from the photos, we had a lucky break in the weather on this Wednesday when we went to see the PUFFINS! It was still mighty cold, but it wasn’t raining ! PUFFINS!

After a 2 and a half-mile hike from the pier through a few light rain showers, through tall wet grass, on paths at the very edge of the coast (no guardrails!),  we’re here at the Castle of Burin and we search the area for PUFFINS!

And THERE ARE NO PUFFINS!

I learn later that when the weather is fine, the PUFFINS all go fishing. It’s when the weather is lousy with pouring rain, maybe even sleet because that can happen in May on Orkney, that’s when the PUFFINS stay at home and roost upon the Castle of Burrian by the thousands.

Well, I figure there has to be at least one PUFFIN who’s like me, who would like to take advantage of an empty Castle of Burrian and stay home with a good book and a cup of tea.  So I stay and watch, and watch, and watch…and at last I see my totem bird waddle out from her burrow:

Look hard. There’s a PUFFIN in there. I did not expect them to be so small, about half the size of a sea gull.

I am so excited I could plotz.

But where, O Where, is Top Cat?

This is Top Cat, looking at a different cliff.

Top Cat had got bored looking at the place where the PUFFINS were supposed to be so he staked out a different cliff out of sight of the Castle of Burrian. So, because he did his own thing (as he is wont) he never saw a PUFFIN.

PUFFINS, when you get the chance to see them close up (or with a really good zoom lens) look like this:

After tramping 5 – 6 miles to the Castle of Burin and further along the coast back to the starting point, I was cold and wind-blown and soggy of spirit. Top Cat wanted to hike even further out to another side of the island so I left him to his own devices while I, with a lovely graduate student from Manchester that we met on the ferry, went to have a cup of tea at the only cafe within five miles:

It’s the converted car garage of the only house within walking distance to Rapness Pier.

After a bracing cup of tea and a Scottish clootie, we all boarded the last ferry off of Westray at 5:55 (arrive Kirkwall at 7:20).

You only need to make a reservation on the ferry if you are bringing a car with you. If you are a pedestrian, you can buy your ticket on the same day.

Upon landing back at Kirkwall (the capital of Orkney, BTW), we took our grad student to the bar/cafe called The Reel to see the Orkney Accordion and Fiddle Club:

It was the hot spot on that Wednesday night so the place was packed. We ran into practically every tourist and resident that we had come into contact the previous two days. We had wine and beers and a jolly good time. We left a ten pound donation for the musicians and we walked the mile out of town back to our lovely BnB in the 10 o’clock twilight:

So the day went pretty much according to plan (my plan), minus the lack of PUFFINS, with just the right amount of chance encounters and unforeseen blessings that make travel such a serendipitous thing no matter how thoroughly you plan it. Plans are good. We should trust The Plan. Not that I’m bragging…but everybody on this trip should, by now, as the sun sets on Day Four of the Scotland Vacation, Get With The Plan.

Or so I thought.

When we flew to Orkney from Edinburgh, the trip took  50 minutes. Getting off of Orkney and traveling to Glasgow by land and sea, the trip will take 2 days. But don’t worry. I have a plan.

Step one: Thursday morning, leave Orkney by ferry and head southwards to the tip of mainland Scotland.

Thursday morning, the ferry from mainland Scotland arrives with 200 passengers who will climb aboard 8 coaches for their various day tours of the isles of Orkney.

 

That same ferry turns around and heads back to the Scottish mainland. Top Cat and I are the only passengers getting off of Orkney this morning.

 

The ferry pulls into John o’ Groats, a small settlement on the mainland of Scotland, the northernmost settlement on Great Britain.

 

A motorcycle club from Manchester gathers for a souvenir photo at the famous milepost on the northernmost tip of Great Britain:

Step Two: Mosey win John o’ Groats for an hour and five minutes (have a nice cup of tea in one of the half-dozen cafes available to wanderers and motorcyclists in John o’ Groats).  Top Cat and I will then board the bus that takes us to the train station in Thurso.

So far, everything has gone to plan.

Looking back, now, on how the rest of the day went, I have to say that sometimes I don’t know what gets into us.

Step Three: It’s now 12:45 in Thurso, and we decide that we would like to skip sight-seeing in Thurso and hop on the 1 o’clock train to Inverness. Problem is, I have pre-purchased our tickets (at a great savings, a month ago), and they are for the 4:32 train to Inverness. In order to convert our pre-paid tickets from the 4:32 to the 1:00, we would have to pay a penalty that amounts to 37 pounds, or $51.00. Which, taking into account the money I saved from pre-purchasing the tickets a month ago, is really only a net penalty of $38.00.

I don’t know what gets into us.

For some reason, we dither and agonize over paying the penalty. OK, the net penalty of $38 almost doubles the cost of the tickets, but it’s only THIRTY EIGHT DOLLARS and we are really in the mood to not hang around Thurso and we are dying to get, as soon as possible, to Inverness.

Oh, how we dither. We calculate and extrapolate and weigh pros and cons as if we were discussing our last thirty eight dollars in the world. Top Cat especially does not like the idea of paying a $38 penalty AT ALL. And if I do say so myself, he’s acting as if I have blown our entire budget by buying the wrong tickets to Inverness in the first place, and I am resenting that I have to take the blame for this dire, catastrophic THIRTY EIGHT DOLLAR miscalculation.

I really do not know what gets into us. As we stand in the Thurso train station and bicker about $38.00, we have so much cash in our pockets that we will end up coming home with over 300 Scottish pounds that we couldn’t manage to spend. But, as is always the case, conversations about money are never (or almost never) about money.

In the end, we pay the $38 penalty and board the 1 o’clock train to Inverness. The conductor makes one pass through the car, calling for all Thurso tickets, and I hold up our newly-issued premium-priced tickets, and he walks right past me as if I am invisible. I am so taken aback that can’t even holler at him YO!  Get back here and take these damn tickets that cost us so much peace of mind!

The conductor is in his 20s and to him, I know from experience, a middle-aged lady like me is invisible…but that has never happened to me when I’ve had my husband in tow. We never see the conductor again.

And now comes the Fish Incident.

Top Cat had purchased fish — some kind of herring, I think — from The Orkney Fisherman’s Society two days ago. It’s what he will have for lunch on the train to Inverness. (I have a cheese sandwich.)

I can not abide the sight of fish, and I especially can not abide the smell of fish. Also, I can not abide people who eat smelly food, such as fish, on public transportation, such as trains. But, since I am not in charge of the world, I can not kick Top Cat off the train for eating smelly fish, so I eat my cheese sandwich in silent, and begrudging, magnanimity.

Top Cat eats slowly. He is enjoying the train ride, the scenery, the shot of whiskey he got off the drinks trolley, and he is especially enjoying his stinking Orkney fish. The minutes tick by.

AN HOUR LATER I can’t take it any more. “OK,” I hiss, “It’s been a fucking hour. Get that stinking fish out of here!”

Top Cat takes great offense to my tone. I take offense that he’s taken offense, and that it took him a goddamn hour to eat his goddamn stinking fish. So that’s where we are…again.

For some reason, Top Cat then pulls out a map of Scotland and studies it. Tomorrow, we are driving from Inverness to Glasgow, and then on to Wigtown. I already have a plan but Top Cat, looking at the map, wants to go a different way. We debate, and then we argue, but Top Cat is adamant. Because, judging from the map, my way looks boring.

His way will be scenic, judging from the map.

Top Cat’s Scenic Route

So we are, to put it mildly, not on the best of terms when, 90 minutes later, the train pulls into Inverness station, in the pouring rain, and we have to find our way through town and across the Ness River through heavy dinner-time traffic IN THE POURING RAIN. We have different ideas about the best way to navigate our way from here to there, and arguing about it on the sidewalk IN THE POURING RAIN is not the best way to reach consensus.

After a false start, and another one, Top Cat does succeed in getting us to our destination, and that’s a good thing.  But now it’s my fault that I booked us into a B&B that he hates. I concede that he has point. The room is very small, and the bathroom is even smaller, and the shower is ridiculously small. But it’s just one night and shit, we’ve been through harder days and had worse rooms (like a mere four years ago when we walked across England on Hadrian’s Wall for 90 miles and yet always managed to cozy up at the end of a grueling day) so I think to myself, and I’m sure it shows on my face, Suck it up, buttercup.

Top Cat stalks out to find a pub and I stay in the room, watching TV. On a BBC program about Glasgow I learn that there’s an  historically significant subway system in the city, so I eagerly put on our To Do List. (P.S. I later learn, in Glasgow, that its historically significant subway, like the rest of Glasgow, sucks.)

The next morning, sore feelings slightly mended by an evening apart from each other and a good breakfast, Top Cat and I continue discussing travel plans for the day. Top Cat wants to drive down from Inverness to Glasgow on the A82 more than I want to drive down from Inverness to Glasgow on the A9, so I give in. OK, we’ll take the A82.

Here’s a picture of the way I wanted to go, on the A9:

Here’s a picture of the way Top Cat wants to go, on the A82:

You might be reading this and you might be wondering, What’s the big deal about the A82?

Here’s the big deal: Three weeks later, Top Cat and I will be sitting on our patio at our house on the north shore of Long Island, soaking up the golden rays and the zephyr breezes of the first Summer-like day of the year, and we will be like a pair of those swans that mate for life, gliding on the smooth surface of untroubled waters, and he will put down his vodka martini and say to me, “It was hard for me to say it then, but you were right. So I’m saying it now, that about a lot of things in Scotland, you were right.”

He will then look at me with love and say, “We should never have taken the A82 from Inverness to Glasgow.”

And that’s a tale of misery that I will share next week. That will be the final installment of Top Cat and Vivian’s  Battle of Scotland, I promise.

But I also promised you, last week, to a story that isn’t really about Scotland (remember?) So here’s my story that isn’t really about Scotland, and it starts in Scotland:

Let’s go back to when Top Cat discovered the Orkney Fisherman’s Society, where he buys the herring that will cause so much stinkitude on the train to Inverness.

Trust me, the Orkney Fisherman’s Society  is well off the tourist track. It’s about a mile out of the town of Stromness, and Top Cat was in heaven when he found that he could get fresh Scottish fish for lunch (and a herring for later). We bought his fish, and were sitting at a picnic table outside the Orkney Fisherman’s Society, having lunch, when something baby-blue, a small flat rock in the corner of the parking lot, caught my eye:

I pick it up and turn it over; there’s a message on the other side. I take it inside the Orkney Fisherman’s Society and ask the nice Polish girl who works there what it means. She brings her supervisor out of the back office, and it is explained to me that this is a game that is going on in the small town of Stromness on Orkney.

There are a number of painted rocks hidden around the town, and the game is that when you find one of them, you take a photo of it, post it to the Facebook page of Stromness Rocks, and you hide it somewhere for someone else to find, and repeat.

“Can I take this home to New York and hide it there?” I ask.

The two ladies at the Orkney Fisherman’s Society look at each with surprise. “Oh, yeah,” they agree, “That would be different.

So I took the blue rock home, and yesterday Top Cat took it to Times Square in New York City:

Of course Top Cat didn’t hide the rock in Times Square because Top Cat and I are going to Kobiayashi Maru it. We are changing the rules of the game.

So far, this is the only Stromness Rock that has made it off Orkney. What we would like to do for this Stromness Rock is, we would like to send it around the world. Or around America. America’s a pretty big, and scenic, place.

So, Dear Readers, if you have a desire to take a rock from Orkney to your hometown and are willing to photograph it at a memorable landmark for the children of Stromness, please contact me. Let’s make a chain, from me to you to you to you…put out the word.

The Stromness Rock fits easily into a pocket or a purse, so if you are traveling to an exotic locale it would be easy to take it along for the Photo Op.

Everybody who takes the Stromness Rock for an outing will be put on my ChrisHanuKwanSostice list and will receive my hand-painted holiday card this coming December.

And everyone who gets on the list will be entered into a contest to win one of my original watercolors (we haven’t had a give-away in a long time!). I’ll paint the portrait of the cat or dog of your choice.

 

Have a great Pride Weekend, everyone. I have to go break up a fight in the Comments section of this blog now, but I will be back here next Thursday or Friday and I hope you’ll be here too.

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We had one, count ’em: ONE, sunny day this past week here on the north shore of Long Island and Steve made the most of it.

Life is good when you open your front door and there’s a cat on the mat, dreaming in the sunshine. Otherwise, it’s been raining all day, every day, and the house feels damp and dreary and the used book store that I co-manage for our local library has been swamped with abundant useless donations. I have no interesting stories from the world of books this week, so let’s go back to The Trail of Tears AKA My Scotland Adventure.

If you thought that last week’s tale of woe in Edinburgh was the end of the drama let me assure you that that was just the beginning.

When last we saw Vivian and Top Cat, they were arguing while stuck at Security in Edinburgh Airport, watching the seconds vanish as they tried to do 30 minutes of business in 10 minutes’ time. I race to the gate to hold the jet to Orkney while Top Cat tries to persuade officials that his two bottles of duty-free vodka mean no harm to the people and institutions of Scotland. The doors have just been opened for access to the plane to Kirkwall (capital of Orkney) but no one had bothered to actually get on the plane yet.

I scan the concourse for any sign of Top Cat and when at last I see him coming my way I wave to him, almost happy to see him, “Here we are! We made it!” but he avoids eye contact. He stops half-way to the gate and sits down with his back to me. This is classic Silent Treatment shit. Fine. That’s how he wants to do this, fine.

I take my place at the back of the line to board the plane, and as I hand in my boarding pass I tell the man at the desk that my husband — the guy lingering in the waiting area — has to be the last person on the plane.

“Likes to make an entrance, does he?” the man jokes. “No,” I say to myself; “He’s just being a dick.”

I have arranged, via a phone call to LoganAir several weeks ago when I bought our tickets and I asked the lovely Scottish lass at HQ what were the best seats for viewing our flight over Scotland, for us to sit in the back of this 30-seat plane. I take my seat in row #12 and wait for Top Cat to take his,  row #13. But he sits in row #9.

He intends to ignore me even on the plane. But his plan is thwarted when the steward tells Top Cat that he has to move because every seat on the plane is booked, so he reluctantly sits behind me.

He chats with the rugby player across the aisle and we do not speak during the 50-minute flight.

We land in Kirkwall (pop. 9,293), Orkney.

The airport is a very large shed.

Our lovely B&B host picks us up and drives us to his home about a mile outside of city center. We dump the bags and walk out to town.

This is the city center:

It’s rude of me, but I had to get a snap of this young girl walking home with her groceries because she’s holding a huge bottle of Scotland’s famous national drink, IRNBRU. Its orange and tastes like fizzy bubblegum.

We stumble upon a gorgeous Photo-Op when I spot a fat white-and-orange cat comes strolling down the road. I fumble to get my camera out of my pocket, so Top Cat decides to call to the cat PssssPssssPsss and scares the poor thing. She starts to run almost out of my frame, but I manage to catch the moggy just in time (see below, but it’s not the picture I envisioned).  We are being cautiously civil to each other, Top Cat and I, but the truce is very fragile, so I do not bitch at him for not fucking keeping his fucking mouth fucking shut.

The Universe rewards me for my forbearance because I find a 5-pound note on the sidewalk. I’m pretty sure it did not belong to the cat or else I would have returned it.

We take in Saint Magnus Cathedral, but not together. I mean, we are in the cathedral at the same time, but we are never in proximity to one anther.

This is what 9:30 PM looks like in Kirkwall, Orkney in late May:

This is sun set at 10:00 PM from our bedroom window:

I want to settle in and watch the BBC in our little sitting area in the room, but Top Cat says he didn’t come all the way to Orkney to watch TV and he’d rather discuss travel plans for tomorrow. So I graciously turn off the TV and wait.

Top Cat sits and sulks. I am pissed. The B&B is lovely, but it was Top Cat’s choice and it’s a mile out of town and that’s a long way to walk when it’s 45 degrees and raining. I am pissed that we didn’t stay in the charming little place I found right in the center of town but noooooo, Top Cat thought it would be too “busy”. [P. S. Kirkwall is never “busy”.] I am pissed because I had wanted to book a day tour of Orkney’s tourist spots but Top Cat said No, we’ll manage it ourselves, even though he has not done any research into what there is to see until a few hours ago when we hit the Tourist Office in “busy” downtown Kirkwall. I am pissed because  I’ve done a lot of research about Orkney and I’ve turned off the TV and now he’s not even talking to me about what his plan for the day will be. And I am still plenty pissed about what happened in Edinburgh.

I will not bore you with how we never got around to discussing plans for tomorrow and how the fight started and how it escalated, and how really nasty it got. But at 10:00 Top Cat walks out and I sit in my chair. I don’t turn on the TV. I sit in my chair, hating him, Kirkwall, Orkney, and Scotland. But him most of all.

Top Cat comes back after half an hour but we did not speak. I sit in my chair, he goes to bed. I sit until it gets dark, and I sit until it is midnight, and I sit until it is 2AM. Then I wake up in the chair sometime in the middle of the night, which is just before dawn on Orkney in May:

I go to bed, and Top Cat is lucky that I do not stab him in his sleep.

In the morning, something wakens me with a jolt. It is Top Cat. He is kissing me on the cheek, and he’s saying he is sorry that he lost his temper last night. He’s heading into town. “Text me when you’re up,” he says. I fall back to sleep.

Several hours later, I find Top Cat sitting outside the ferry terminal in Kirkwall. I kiss him and I say, “Let’s start over.”

Top Cat says, “So we wont’ talk about what happened last night?”

“Yeah, we will,” I say, “But later, when we’re OK.”

P. S. During this trip, we will add to that future talk (when we are OK) several other topics of conversation, one called That Problem In Thurso Was Your Fault, another one called Only Dickheads Eat Fish on The Train, one that we refer to as  The Rain Wasn’t Your Fault But Everything Else in Inverness Was, and the huge bone of contention that we call The Hideous 265 Miles Before and After Glasgow That You Made Even Worse.

And we take a long, long, healing walk in the countryside of Orkney.

Same photo as above, but this one was taken by a nice lady passing by.

Orkney is a good place to be if you love Standing Stones. Above, in order:

Barnhouse Stone, aligned to the entrance of the net-lithic tomb called Maeshowe (the mound in the background), c. 2800 BCE.

The Stenness Standing Stones, the oldest henge in the British Isles, c. 3100 BCE.

The Stenness Watch Stone, 19 feet high, probably sited as a link between The Steness Standing Stones and

The Ring of Brodar, generally thought to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC, and was, therefore, the last of the great Neolithic monuments built on the Ness.

We still had plenty of sunlight left so we got on a bus and went to the other large (pop. 2,200) town on the island.

Cruise ships stop in at Stromness, as in Kirkwall, and the cruisers pile out in a horde and nobody in town likes them.

I found a thrift shop for The Cat’s Protection League in Stromness and I bought a wonderful old illustrated copy of Wind in the Willows for 80 pence and I give the sweet girl at the till the 5-pound note I found in Kirkwall. She was very thankful but since a cat helped me find it in the first place, it was the only thing to do.

We continued on to the very southern tip of the island to Saint Margaret’s Hope (pop. 550).

A tree! I saw a tree!

Orkney used to have forests about 10,000 years ago, but in the Bronze Age (about 3,700 years ago) the climate changed, becoming every colder and wetter. Whatever forest did not die out due to the harsh conditions was cut down by the humans to make way for farms in the little land that remained fertile for crops.

We walked around town, saw stuff, and stopped in at Robertson’s General Store. When Top Cat was at the counter ordering our drinks, one of the locals heard his accent and drawled, “The cruise ship must be in town,” which I only understood a little too late to correct him with a kindly, Shut the fuck up do we look like fucking cruisers??

In the UK, you can order a Small, Medium, or Large glass of wine, and the bartender knows exactly — to the milliliter — how much to give you. I don’t like it.

People we met in St. Margaret’s Hope and elsewhere on the island who were delightful include the Scottish woman walking her two dogs that she got from Corfu, where her daughter runs a rescue; the English lady who bought her Orkney house on the phone sight unseen; the lady whose great-great-grandmother was famous in 1850 for eating the most expensive breakfast in Scotland; a group of university students from Edinburgh who play folk music on Orkney which included the one guy had a crush on a girl he kept calling Vivian! Vivian! Vivian!; the ten-year old boy who drinks coffee; the punk/hard rock guy from Sweden who designs kilts; the woman who owns wooly pigs from Korea because they do very well in Orkney climate; the Polish girl who’s lived in Stromness for 6 years and works at the Fish Shop where Top Cat got the fish he ate on the train, etc etc etc. We had a lot of people to talk to, so that kept us out of trouble.

So ends our Good Day in Orkney.

Next week I may, or may not, tell you about the next fight on the agenda, depending on whether or not you, Dear Readers, are fed up already. But next week I definitely have a nice story for you, set in Scotland but not really about Scotland, that we can make inter-active!

See you next Friday, Dear Ones.

Have a great weekend, and don’t eat fish on the train.

XXOO

 

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