The News from Brownsville 2003 Laramie Crocker

Spring, 2003
Brownsville, Vermont

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

Well, it's been raining a lot this week in Brownsville, my home town.

[applause]

Miss Ruthie O'Malley, who works up at the Poplar Hill Farm, a piece of God's Country that is about the closest to heaven that any of us will ever get, considering the deeds we may or may not have done, or whether God was looking at the time, reports on her answering machine that some sheep went missing. If you call up to the farm, her normally sweet, if crisp, educated, New England Yankee voice can be heard on the message, in a rather concerned, agitated, prim tone -- the tone of a librarian calling to alert you of your late fee for "The Joy of Sex", a fine, informative book, one that I spent many hours as a pubescent lad studying in some detail, but nevertheless a book the librarian would rather not admit exists in the first place -- Miss Ruthie's voice can be heard speaking rapidly, as though not a second is to be lost in the recovery of these animals:

"Hello, this is Poplar Hill Farm. On May 23, three of our sheep went missing and are wandering around Woodstock. They are ours, if you see them, please let us know."

As though the good townfolk over in Woodstock will see the sheep and exclaim, "well now aren't those the Poplar Hill Sheep, I do believe I recognize them." Perhaps they have ear tags. I don't know, I can't say I've ever met the Poplar Hill Sheep.

[laughter]

Up at our place, the lack of hot water continues to hamper efforts at maintaining cleanliness, both of body and of dinnerware. The dishes are now piled in great stacks, every one of the dishes in the house, in fact, is now dirty -- the cupboards are bare, in the true sense of the phrase. Having an empty pantry leads to starvation directly, but having empty cup-boards simply leads to shameful reuse, and ultimately, in dire cases, to starvation by lack of cutlery. I have taken to keeping one plate, one bowl, and one large spoon rinsed off, like a single, shaven Tibetan monk, in his frigid mountain temple, carrying his one wooden bowl and his one cup in his robe, rinsing his rice out with his broth, then his tea, the ultimate in utilitarian efficiency. I don't wash the little teaspoons, there seems to be an infinite supply of them in the drawer, so I have taken to using these to sneak spoonfuls of yogurt, ice cream, and peanut butter from the tubs in the fridge, eating American style -- over the sink -- and sometimes, in sinful excess, I use a teaspoon to eat my pasta, direct from the pot, and then slide the spoon quietly into a pot of water that sits in the sink, the pot that is now brim full of dirty teaspoons. Of course, now the sink itself is full of pots, so I don't heat anything up any more, except for foods that can be cooked in the non-stick frying pan: pancakes and quesadillas. The pancake batter is mixed from a box into my monk's bowl, which is then quickly rinsed after use. The water from the well is just too darn cold for a good washing, so I use a quick rinse before any food particles have a chance to set in.

And believe me I know: I've been reading about food particles a lot lately, obsessively, driven by fear that the food particles massing in the kitchen will achieve not only sentience, but will revolt and demand healthcare and free elections. I pore over websites about dishwashers. In my state of lack of hot water and excess of dishes, which I am now determined not to wash by hand, even when hot water is restored, I have spent more money than a body should have on a fancy dishwasher, about going rate these days, I'm afraid, but still more than my father would like to see me spending on what is, after all, even though I hold the mortgage and live here alone, still his house, and will continue to be so long after his days. The blessed machine won't arrive for ten more days, maybe 13 counting weekends, and I've yet to even install the hot water heater. But still, I've researched and selected and ordered, so, you see, I now know all about wash cycles, sterilization temperatures, rack spacing, sippy-cup lid holders, soft food disposals, and hard food grinder disposals, as they are called in the Large Kitchen Appliance trade, as though when washing dishes you will routinely put whole bowls of cracked walnut shells in to be cleaned. There are lengthy, technical discussions on the deposition of food particles and the devices to combat this modern malady, this scourge upon the happiness and the cleanliness of the God-fearing home. I subscribed to ConsumerReports.org. I looked up ratings on epinions.com by happy housewives from the banal ("I love my new Maytag!") to the butch ("I installed it myself!") Some of these fine ladies go on at considerable length, with detailed essays on the selection, purchasing, fulfillment, installation, and operation (is obtainment a word?) of the latest in a series of home improvement selections designed to stay the inevitable, but hopefully avoidable, stare into the black hole of existence to contemplate the meaning of being.

One attempt to stave off the starvation that can result from not an empty pantry but an empty cup-board, is to invite my friends over for dinner of pot-luck on paper plates. And one such dinner I have planned is Mr. Cooper's birthday party this coming weekend. You see, he's just turned eight years old.

[applause]

For those of you who haven't met him, Mr. Cooper the Extremely Good Looking Dog is my constant companion -- faithful, if more good looking than smart. We celebrated his birthday last night, he and I, by sitting in front of the fire, with the worlds best music on the CD player, loved by dog and man alike -- Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's "So Far" -- and we enjoyed a bowl of ice cream each -- well, not truly a bowl in my case -- I used a teaspoon to eat directly from the tub, and spooned him a generous helping into his empty dog bowl, which he lapped up with frantic abandon. I'm not sure how good ice cream is for his constitution, so normally he's limited to licking out the ice cream tub when I'm done, a duty he takes quite seriously. However on this occasion, as on every birthday, I let him have a whole bowl to himself, softened, so that he won't swallow the ice cream whole. I'm not sure he understands that it is, in fact, his birthday, or why he gets such a one-in-a-year treat, but he was happy to get the ice cream just the same. Earlier in the day, we sat on the porch, between thundershowers, the only kind of showers happening around here these days, and I fed him a few spoonfuls of peanut butter, using, of course, fresh teaspoons for each dip. Even a dirty, dishless bachelor reels at the idea of dogslobber going back into the peanut butter jar. I don't know who benefitted more from the experience. Mr. Cooper loves peanut butter, but watching his tongue frenetically lapping all the way out and back in against his upper palate, attempting to extract all the peanut butter deposited there, watching this was more hilarious than I can explain. If you've seen this, you know. If not, words cannot explain the side-splitting laughter that results watching the poor beast caught between enjoying the pure goodness of peanut butter and wondering if he can ever restore the state of his tongue.

At any rate, the waterheater sits in my living room, out of its box, while I ponder the correct pipe fittings to purchase, and make phone calls to order obscure vent pieces for the machine. This is no ordinary water heater -- this is a marvel of modern technology. It is a European-style on-demand propane fired water heater, complete with computer control for flow and temperature, and a sealed combustion unit with a fan. It is a very expensive piece of equipment. For the price I could afford to fly round trip to Hotsprings in Colorado three or four times to bathe. But once installed, it will allow me to take showers of any length, or hot baths of any depth, though not, in practice, any deeper than the rim of the Jacuzzi tub upstairs. Although, even a military, two minute shower sounds pretty good these days. To install the propane tank, I needed to get a trench dug, running twenty feet from the house. I phoned the nice lady down at the job bank in search of laborers to come dig between rainstorms. The universal response from the underemployed seemed to be "Can't he get a backhoe to do that? It's awfully hard work." Well, Yankee ingenuity, I guess, not necessarily a willingness to work hard. I suppose that's where ingenuity comes from after all -- trying to avoid labor. I can't say I blame these fellows too much, after spending a Winter trying to keep warm against sub-zero temperatures, maybe there's just no energy left. I, of course, wintered in Sunny California, so I had the strength to go out in the rain and dig up the trench in about an hour. It felt good to break a sweat after poking away on the computer for so many days.

Spring is in the mountains. The lilacs are blooming, which, by itself, is newsworthy and worth a trip up here. The leaves on the trees are now fully out, though still that brilliant bright green that lets so much light filter down to the forest floor, and makes me think of the enchanted emerald city of Oz. Mr. Cooper and I take walks in the woods, amazed at the variety and subtle beauty of the small wildflowers that bloom in among the pine needles and maple leaf mulch. It seems only yesterday that I was trudging through the snow in snowboots, only the Pine, Hemlock, Fir and Spruce trees still green, seemingly against all odds, impervious as they are to the ten, twenty, even thirty degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Living in Vermont is like inhabiting a painting. In Spring, Summer and Fall, the painting is impressionist: soft, rich colors cover the canvas, except that you are in the middle of it, amazed at the three-dimensionality. In Winter, the picture is a flat, perfect etching in black and white: Birch trees outlined against snowbanks and gray skies. Now, thousands of tiny maple seedlings are once again making an attempt at treehood, standing a valiant 8 inches tall, hoping to gain height before they are overtaken by the blanketing ferns that seem to grow a foot a day. Walking in the forest, I fear stepping on the maple seedlings, not knowing which select few will become the towering hundred-foot-tall trees some day. I walk with avuncular care, not wanting to step on greatness.

The creek is too mad and too full to swim in, because of all the rain. I did get one dip in it during a week of sunshine, a quick swim on account of the water temperature. And I did spend a little time on dam building, hefting the slimy, massive rocks back onto the dam. In the thaw, it seems, a giant tree, one that had settle in previous years smack dab in the middle of the dam, was lifted and moved thirty feet downstream by the rushing melt. The power of the water is awesome. Some of my best rocks were knocked downstream by the branches being dragged across the dam, I suppose. The water flows too powerfully in the center to allow me to do any serious construction there. With my bare feet struggling for purchase in the slimy stones on the creekbed, the largest rocks I can lift and place in the middle of the flow are tossed aside by the torrent as though they were the empty plastic milk jugs that come floating down the creek from time to time.

So its been a quiet week, if kind of a stinky one, although not as stinky as the previous week, when Mr. Cooper adorned himself by rolling in decayed carrion, and I had to give him a hose bath with the very cold well water out in the yard, but not before he paraded his funk all through the house. So Mr. Cooper is now clean, smelling sweet, and I am the one with the funk, but he doesn't seem to mind, especially when I bribe him with teaspoonfuls of goodness. If you have any forks or large soupspoons, be sure to send them our way; the Yankee propane tank installers may decide that it is simply too much work, and the dish situation is not getting any better.

That's the news from Brownsville, in the Green Mountains of Beautiful Vermont, where all the sheep are well known, all the women wear plaid and can operate chainsaws and shotguns, all the men are kind, if not clean, and all the dogs are Extremely Good Looking.

[applause]

Thank you, and good night.


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