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Highway Haiku: Going in Circles

 

“Going in Circles”

 

On a spinning wheel

Beasts circle, musically

Destination: Joy

 

 (Highway Haiku is a regular feature of Travels With Ace. To see them all click here.) 

Something to quack about

A new generation of Woestenducks entered the world Saturday, when the eggs laid by the duck named after my mother cracked open and at least eight — maybe more — ducklings emerged.

I was visiting Arbor Acres, the duck-crazy retirement community where my mother lives, and by the time I left that evening, eight of the eggs had hatched, and four more were about to, according to Bo Bowers, a resident who monitored the nest all day long from a nearby folding chair.

It was Bo who, when the Arbor Acres flock was dwindling last year, ordered 16 ducklings of various breeds, raised them in cages at his home until they were old enough to survive on their own, then released the newcomers — each named after a resident of the community — into the Arbor Acres pond.

The duck named after my mother was the first one to become pregnant. She built herself a nest of pine needles in which to lay her eggs under an azalea bush just outside the window of my mother’s room.

Bo counted 13 eggs in her nest last week, but when he later found one had been stolen and destroyed, apparently by a crow, he saw a need for increased vigilance.

He put a little fence around the nest, then watched and waited all Saturday — getting up from time to time to chase off the geese and other ducks who approached.

Once all the ducklings emerged, Bo gently gathered them, placed them in a box and took them home, ensuring that, for the next six weeks, they won’t become the victims of predators. Those include coyote, fox, crows, herons and at least one good-sized turtle who lives in the pond and, attacking from below, is believed to have pulled a few baby ducklings, bobbing along behind their mothers, into its depths.

On Saturday, I stepped outside my mother’s room and asked Bo how many eggs he was sitting on, and whether he’d like to borrow my tent for the night. Despite my teasing, he let me get close enough to take a picture.

Mother duck sat firmly on her nest, protecting the unhatched eggs, and making sure none of the ducklings ventured off. I was able to see one who poked its head out (that’s it under the hosta leaf, in the bottom right corner of the picture atop this post).

As news of the births spread, the crowd grew outside the window of my mother’s room. Other residents, staff and even a security official showed up to take a look.

Bo was still sitting sentry when I left. One could argue that he’s interfering with that whole “survival of the fittest” thing. But (being not particularly fit) I’ve never been a big fan of that. Besides, Bo, having brought the ducks to Arbor Acres, feels more than a little responsibility for them, and the second generation they are producing. He sees nothing wrong with giving them a headstart — at least until they’re big enough to avoid the snapping jaws of the turtle that lurks beneath.

I agree. Long live the Woestenducks.

Why drinking and bricklaying don’t mix

We don’t see either Jesus or the Virgin Mary in this — and nobody else does, either.

While strolling in downtown Winston-Salem, Ace and I came across this seeming testament to how not to lay bricks.

It’s the side of what’s known as the Pepper Building. Whatever adjoined it was torn down,  revealing this strange patchwork of bricks and mortar that apparently dates back to its construction.

We can only think of three possible explanations:

1. A bit too much bricklayer partying the night before.

2. Somebody didn’t want to haul the extra bricks back to the truck.

3. The Pepper Building sneezed.

Roadside Encounters: Elsie

Name: Elsie

Age: Almost 6 months

Breed: German shepherd/beagle mix

Encountered: At Reynolda Village, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: Adopted two months ago by a young couple, Elsie bumped into Ace, quite literally, as we rounded a corner in a collection of shops, restaurants, galleries and businesses known as Reynolda Village. The village was originally built by tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds to house workers at his estate.

What was the Reynolds country home is now the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, and it and its surrounding 1,067-acre estate — complete with hiking trails and formal gardens — seems to be pretty dog- friendly (though not leash-free) territory.

Elsie — and our guess is she was headed for K-9 Doggie Bakery and Boutique, just around the corner — was initially taken aback upon running into Ace, but only for a second. Then she seemed mostly curious, and fearless. She sniffed those parts of him she could reach, then attempted to engage him nose to nose, before she and her humans moved on.

To see all our Roadside Encounters, click here.

Serendipity: The curious routes stuff takes

A rolling stone gathers no moss. We’re not rolling stones anymore.

During our year of travel, Ace I and I gathered few things that we did not immediately consume – simply because, living out of a Jeep Liberty, the bulk of it being occupied by a big dog, there was no space for them (though we did get that cowboy hat).

Once we came to a stop – for now, at least, settling into the home I was born in 57 years ago – we have again fallen under the tyranny of stuff.

For nine months, free of stuff’s burden, we bounced around the country, going to a new town every day or two, and during that time accumulated virtually nothing except friends and stories. After that, during our month-long stops – dwelling in a trailer park in the Arizona desert, an unfurnished house in Baltimore and the basement of a mansion in North Carolina – we slowly started to get new things. Now that we plan to stay put, for six months or more, in Winston Salem – and have hauled the contents of my storage unit down south – we are inundated.

Sorting through it all is equal parts joy and hassle, and it has led me to this conclusion: The more still you stay, the more stuff you need — or think you do.

But there’s something else I’ve come to realize, sifting through my personal effects, about stuff: Inanimate as it may be, it has a life of its own, and it often goes on a journey of its own, down a path different than ours. That’s how I end up with your stuff, and you end up with my stuff.

I’m amazed at how much of “my stuff” wasn’t originally my stuff, at how perhaps even the majority of my belongings – furniture in particular – was handed down, recycled, procured through Craigslist, yard sales, thrift stores, or rescued from Dumpsters into which, in my view, it had been disposed of prematurely.

Our stuff, like people, like dogs, comes and goes from our lives. It moves on to the homes of friends, relatives, or complete strangers, via Goodwill, eBay or Craigslist (a good place to get stuff, just not dogs). It ends up, or so I like to think, where it’s most needed.

I told you last week about my mother’s desk, which became a home furnishing about the same time I did. It was in this house when I was born. I grew up with it in New York and, later, Texas. After my parents’ divorce, my mother kept it until she moved into a retirement community, and I hauled it up to Baltimore. Now, it has circled back to the first home it was ever in.

In my new place, the bed and coffee table I’m using are my cousin’s; the book I’m reading belongs to a Baltimore friend; the dining table I eat on was purchased, via Craigslist, from a local couple who started life together with it, but couldn’t take the fact that it only had three, not four, matching chairs. My clothes are in a dresser that I think once belonged to my father’s parents.

But most of my furniture — not counting that which came from Ikea or WalMart — came from my mother.

She revisited it all last week, coming over for dinner. My sofa, loveseat actually (though rarely used for that purpose, if you don’t count Ace), is one of two matching ones she had. When she moved into a retirement community, she only had room for one. The other went with me to Baltimore, but now sits in my new place, less than a mile away from its mate. In my place, too, are, among her former possessions,  some marble egg-shaped bookends, a wingback chair and an old rocking chair she made a point of trying out one more time.

There’s also a large amount of stuff from my ex-girlfriend/still goodfriend, including five of her artworks, now prominently displayed. During my travels she kept some of my stuff.  In my recent move, I got some of it back, left some with her, and took a few things she was looking to get rid of, including two bedside tables, some decorative pillows and this tray-like accessory that really pops, which I further like because the blue part reminds me of Ace’s tail.

I reclaimed my blender, for instance, but she kept my grill, my fire pit and, though I could never understand why she wanted it,  a sad looking little platform I once built out of three pieces of plywood to make my computer monitor sit higher.

A few weeks ago, it became, with some slight modifications, a hutch for a group of new born bunnies found in her neighborhood.

Our stuff passes from parent to child, from brother to sister, from neighbor to neighbor, from friend to friend, and sometimes even makes it way from home office to animal kingdom.

About three months ago, I gave my friend Arnie in Baltimore my old, then in storage, bookcases. Just last week I sent him the hardware needed to put them together, found in the very last box I unpacked. The couple that moved into the Baltimore rowhouse I rented now has my entertainment center — solely because it was too darned heavy to move.

I guess we all go through life simultaneously shedding and gathering. I turn to Goodwill for both. It has lots of my stuff, and I have lots of their’s, because sometimes we part with stuff that, shortly thereafter, we find ourselves needing again. While staying for a month in an unfurnished rowhouse in Baltimore, I bought this lamp. If I sell it again, it will have to be for five dollars, because the price drawn on its silver base with black marker, I’ve found, is impossible to remove.

During my mother’s visit last week — and we’ll give you the full “reveal” of my new place next week – she also recognized a footstool that once belonged to her. It’s the only item that did not really fit in with my new color scheme — color schemes, though the phrase sounds nefarious,  being another thing, like accessories that pop, I learned the importance of during my unfortunate addiction to HGTV.

My mother had re-covered the footstool decades ago with a shiny striped fabric of mauve and blue, so it would match a chair she had re-covered in the same material.

She agreed that, given my color scheme, I should re-cover it again.

“What’s underneath this cover?” I asked. She had no idea.

Removing a few tacks, I pulled it off to reveal the original cushion cover — a handmade needlepoint by her aunt “Tan,” whose grave we had visited and put flowers on the day before Easter.

At the time, not remembering her that well, I attempted to learn more about Tan, whose real name was Kathleen Hall. There’s a school named after her in Winston-Salem, but I could find little information about her on the Internet, as she died in 1983. Leaving a potted delphinium on her grave, I regretted that — even supplied some memories by my brother and my mother — I could reconnect with her only superficially.

It was a little eerie  — her handiwork turning up in my house a week after I visited her grave. But it added a little more heritage to my new place, a link (real, not the Internet kind) to another family member, not to mention, though I’m no expert on it, what appears to be some damn good needlepoint.

And, in an added touch of serendipity, it matches my color scheme.

Highway Haiku: Adventures in unpacking

 

Pieces of my past

Freed from their dark cardboard jails

What the hell is this?

We’re at that point in our unpacking now where there are just a few lingering boxes, and they all contain what I will loosely call junk — items that I’ve hung onto for reasons sentimental, hopeful and, more often, unclear and irrational.

All those 34-inch waist blue jeans? Hoarding those paid off. After decades of wishful thinking, they suddenly fit now, after our near year on the road. My baseball autographed by Willie Mays? It — though his name is fading – still falls into the category of forever keeper.

But what of all the rest — the five unpacked boxes that remain: a jumble of shoelaces; matchbooks; cables, cords and adaptors that I have no idea what they go to; marbles; sea shells; little green plastic toy soldiers; a doggie Christmas stocking; old dog collars; artwork by my son; artwork by my self; unlabeled VHS tapes that contain who knows what and I have no way of finding out; cassette tapes of which the same can be said; old sunglasses; remote controls with nothing to control; owner’s manuals for things I haven’t owned for a decade or more, old keychains, some of them with mystery keys; a set of large plastic ears that fit over your real ears; a fake severed finger in a pool of blood; balls of all kinds; musky smelling pipes; business cards for people I can’t remember ever meeting, mysterious names and numbers scrawled on bits of paper?

All, mostly, things that served a purpose, things that were important, once; and at least one item that, as mentioned in our poetry above — it has been some time since our last Highway Haiku – we’ve never been able to figure out.

Mixed in with these are souvenirs accumulated during my travels as a writer — some Korean money; two stuffed dogs from a company that clones dogs; chips of wood from the woodpile outside the Unabomber’s isolated cabin in Montana, a framed get-out-of-jail-free Monopoly card; a matchbook from the Mustang Ranch in Nevada, a no-longer-greasy stone from the Exxon-soiled shores of Alaska; a photo of a twenty-something me swilling Thunderbird wine with two hoboes on a dirty mattress in Lexington, Kentucky.

They, too, occupy the boxes of items not essential to everyday life — boxes labeled “junk,” though not all fall under that rubric. (Speaking of which, where did I put my rubric? I thought I packed it away with my milieu, under my ephemera.)

I remember a time in my life when I only had one junk box. How did I get up to five? It seems once we outgrow and leave behind our childhood toys — hey, there’s my squirtgun! — we find other stuff to squirrel away, in my case enough to fill a box every five years or so.

In these boxes – oh look, a yo-yo! — are items of great sentimental value, nestled with items of questionable value (plastic vomit, anyone?), nestled with items of no apparent value and, sometimes, no clear purpose.

Which brings me to these wooden things — pictured atop this entry.

I’ve probably had them for a couple of decades at least, and I believe they came from the home of grandparents. I haven’t a clue what they are, yet I’ve held on to them, moved them from home to home, and packed and repacked them away in junk boxes.

Maybe you can help me out.

Allow me to describe them. They are made of wood, polished on one side, grooved wood on the other. They interlock. They have a brand name, “Blitz” emblazoned on one side. They are slightly bigger than your average blackboard eraser, about the size of a telephone receiver, or what used to be size of telephone receiver.

What they do — or ever did — I don’t know. My best guess, given the grandparents I think they came from were once in the laundry busines, is that they have something to do with the maintenance of garments.

If you know, I’d love to hear. If you just wish to hazard a guess, I’d love to hear that too — for often there can be more fun in the guessing than the knowing. (The first person to provide the correct answer will receive some slightly used plastic ears; I won’t just lend you an ear, I will give you two.)

We are nearing the last of our boxes, and have made five trips now to the Goodwill donation center down the street. I love that place. One can drop off unwanted items with such ease — you pull in, drive over one of those gas station hose bell ringer things, and a smiling man comes out with a cart to help you unload. Then you’re off. It all goes so smoothly — unlike much else in life — that I’m tempted to start dropping off items I actually need.

Need, of course, being a relative term. If we learned anything during our travels it’s that so much of what we think we “need” is really just what we want, or are convinced we must have by advertising and the media. In our 11 nomadic months, food, water, coffee, something to sleep on, a roof when the weather’s yucky, an electrical outlet and, of course, each other, sufficed nicely. Not until Ace and I moved into a structure of our own did I start feeling the need to accumulate things – even as I’m doing the opposite of that, getting rid of the junk.

I really shouldn’t call it that. It’s an overly broad term that’s unfair to some of those items that reside in the boxes so classified. “Accessories,” or “accoutrements,” would be a kinder label, but those are too easily misspelled, and take too long to write on the side of a box.

And, in truth, they have value. In a way, these items — your junk, my junk — are like life’s loose change: However seemingly trivial they appear, taken together they amount to something. We keep them because, even when packed away, they are pieces of our identity, they’re what makes us us, and throwing them away is like throwing pieces of ourselves away.

That, in my case, those pieces include yellowing newspaper clippings, whorehouse matchbooks, big plastic ears and a severed thumb in a pool of blood, says something.

I’m just not sure what.

Settling in at the ancestral homeplace

I think my paper towels — flowery as they are — say it best.

We’re moved — not settled, but moved – into the apartment in Winston-Salem, N.C., in which my parents lived when I was born.

After 40 different residences in 10 states over 57 years, and  nearly a year on the road with Ace, circling the country twice, I’m back where I started.

Life, that is.

Here in the apartment in which I spent my first year — none of which I remember — we’ve still got a few weeks of unpacking/organizing/decorating ahead, but we’re getting comfortable (always dangerous). We’re back on the grid (always expensive). And we’ve got enough tiny bars of Motel 6 soap to last until 2015.

Returning to the ancestral homeplace was purely accidental. It was about the time Ace was diagnosed with a herniated disc. I started looking for a place that, unlike our mansion basement, didn’t require going up a lot of stairs. On an outing with my mother, who lives in Winston-Salem, I — seeking a better connection with my white boy roots — asked her to show me the apartment where she and my father lived when I was born.

When I saw a “for rent” sign in its window, it seemed to be fate – even though moving in, since it was unfurnished, would require reclaiming all the possessions I placed in storage 11 months ago, when Ace and I departed on our journey, and hauling them down south.

Moving day was also a homecoming for this desk (left), which my parents purchased on a trip to the mountains nearly 60 years ago, and which, when my mother moved into a retirement community, I took home to Baltimore.

It’s fragile, in need of repair, and I thought one more move would surely kill it, but it survived and now holds a prominent position in the living room in which it resided long ago.

That’s in College Village, an apartment complex when it was built in the late 1940s – in anticipation of Wake Forest University’s move to town.

It was built in a neighborhood – or what there was of one then – of far ritzier homes. And several longtime residents have told me there were objections to its construction at the time. All that affordable housing would lower property values, it was feared. My mother recalls a friend, back then, telling her, “You’re looking at the slums of tomorrow.”

Whatever feathers it ruffled, it was OK then — in the days my mother pushed my older sister down the street in this contraption (left) — and it remains OK now.

It’s quiet, very quiet, and pleasant, most pleasant, with lots of grassy expanses. Birds are constantly chirping, and chipmunks are everywhere. There’s also an opossum who’s not shy at all.

The housing units themselves are small and unassuming, but sturdy — made when things were built solidly, with plaster walls. I haven’t heard the slightest peep from neighbors — a pleasant respite from my nights in Motels 6’s, where, more than once, groans and slamming headboards kept me awake.

Still watching the old budget, I’m trying to settle in without spending too much money — buying bookshelves from Wal Mart, my sheets from K-Mart, and hitting Target for my high end needs. It’s amazing how it’s impossible, even at so-called discount stores, to walk out having spent less than $100.

Unpacking, at first, was a little like Christmas, for I’d forgotten about many of my possessions during their time in storage. After a week, it has gotten old, and I’m down to mementoes and junk. and it’s all I can do to get through a box a day.

I wonder if, when I do get everything unpacked and put away in another week, that will be the time the urge to hit the road hits me again. If so, this time, I plan to ignore it — well, mostly.

Ace, who doesn’t like the noise involved with unpacking, likes to sit outside while I rip through boxes, amid the big oak trees, probably about my age, that line the street.

He seems to enjoy watching the squirrels feast on the dropped acorns, which pile up in mounds. He doesn’t chase the squirrels — unless they start to do that running around the tree trunk in circles making squeaky noises thing, in which case he’ll rush over like some overzealous lifeguard to get them to knock it off. He’s content, otherwise, to just watch them sit on their hind legs and nibble away. After a few days watching, he tried an acorn himself. It wasn’t to his liking.

Although there have been one or two more painful yelps since Ace finished up a second round of the medicine for his herniated disc, he seems this time to be getting better.

I’m not sure if he’s up for any more long trips, and I guess, as I try to read his mind, that he’d prefer hanging around and meeting the dogs and humans in the neighborhood. He’s still up for short trips though, eager to get in the back of the Jeep, which he’s no longer permitted to do by jumping. The handicapped ramp is part of his new routine.

He has met two dachschunds who live a few doors down, but not the Chihuahua a few more doors down, who I’ve been told is not one to toy with.

Conveniently, there’s a bar and restaurant half block away, where my mother says there used to be a grocery store. Next door to it, there’s a gym I have no intention of joining, and in the basement, according to a sign on the window, ballroom dancing is offered. ( I checked with Ace and he’s not interested.)

The restaurant’s a little pricey, so when I visited I just ordered an appetizer — one whose selection may reflect the fact that, though you can take the boy out of the south, and the boy out of Baltimore, you can’t entirely take the south, or the Baltimore, out of the boy:

Crab hushpuppies.

I will tell you this much, hon. They was some goo-ood eatin’.

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