Friday, August 7, 2015

Satans Kingdom

And more silliness during my son's visit.  On one beautiful day we decided to finally track down the elusive town of Satans Kingdom, Vermont.  If you pull out the Vermont Gazetteer - or check out the GPS on your phone - or just do a Google search, you will come up with the town of Satans Kingdom (interestingly, plural - as in many Satans - and not possessive; although, to be fair, that's a fairly common transition on road signs).  However, trying to locate Satans Kingdom, at least geographically, is much more challenging.  Gary's mother and I went searching for it years ago, but could never track it down.  If you head south on Vermont 7 and pass through Middlebury (and past, at least temporarily, the A&W Restaurant, but that's another post) you'll come to state road 53.  Take a left - go east - on 53 and you'll wind past beautiful Lake Dunmore and before you come to Fern Lake, the GPS will let you know that you're passing Satans Kingdom (although there are no signs - if there were ever signs I'm sure Middlebury University students swiped them eons ago).  There is a private driveway which we carefully (that is, quietly and timidly - we are talking about Satans Kingdom) wandered down, and then walked into the woods.  Apparently a large rock is Satans Kingdom - or, to make a better story, is sitting on top of Satans Kingdom - or, even better, is sealing/securing Satans Kingdom.  On the way out we ran into the local postman making rounds, and Gary, being my son, went up and asked him to clarify the exact location of Satans Kingdom.  The guy, who was unfailingly pleasant, rolled his eyes and said he's heard that so many times, but that it didn't exist now nor had it, in his opinion, ever existed.  Gary thanked him, but then leaned over to me and let me know that the guy was obviously a member of the local coven and was in on the conspiracy.  And that should have been the beginning of a very bad horror movie.  Instead we just drove off and went swimming and doubled back to A&W for cheese curds.  Clearly, more investigation is in order.

According to the GPS this rock is Satans Kingdom.  I challenged Gary to write up a screenplay to send to the SyFy Channel based on Satans Kingdom.  Finally, I'm sure most scripts for SyFy movies must take at least two hours to write, so I'm expecting to see something soon.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


Life is very strange, as we all know.  I was taking a break from writing to devote some much-needed time to cleaning my desk.  Yes, I hate writing so much that cleaning seems like a good option by comparison.  I love researching and thinking about how projects might come together - spiriting out connections is one of my few intellectual gifts - but there comes a point where you have to stop reading and researching and burrowing down rabbit holes and actually have to write.  To be fair, I have written a lot this summer, and some of it is actually fairly interesting, but I'm still miles and miles away from this project coming together.  So, anyway, I was taking a welcome break from writing and found a years-old package from Bob Dash, who taught for years at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.  I didn't know Bob that well, and spent exactly three weeks getting to know him years ago on my first trip to Jordan.  I was there on a State Department grant to study Islamic and Arabic culture, and was thrown together with twelve amazingly friendly professors in what was doubtless the best academic experience of my life.  At the beginning Bob seemed like more than a bit of a grouch, but he ended up being a great guy.  A couple years later he sent me a package with two CDs full of pictures, which, in the midst of the general chaos of my life, I never opened.  Later, in one of those odd inexplicable coincidence that only happen in Dickens novels and real life, I found out that Bob had died of cancer.  So, here I am today, and what do I find at the bottom of a drawer - about three offices later - but this original package.  In addition to bringing back a lot of great memories, it was also more than a bit of a gift.  it reminded me of a great time, and of a man that I wished I had gotten to know better.

A picture that I spirited from his collection, this of Mukawir.  I've always said that it was exactly at this moment - and at this spot - where I fell in love with the Middle East.

Touring the NEK

Oddly, my son assured me that he had never actually visited the Northeast King during the fifteen years we've lived in Vermont.  Of course, I don't believe him, but last Sunday we decided to take advantage of a beautiful day and head north.  We were positive that we were going to see moose along the way, but I'm always positive that I'm going to see a moose, and I never do.  We cruised around with no particular goal in mind, but ended up stop in Newport and spent a couple hours soaking up Lake Memphremagog.  We didn't see the famous lake monster Memphre - or maybe it's just an evil spirit (I forget) - but it was a lovely place just to relax.  We also took a run up to Derby Line.  In the happier pre 9/11 days you used to be able to walk through the library from one side of the border to the other, since the building was built square on top of it, but those days are long past - I still wanted to swing by and check it out, but it was last Sunday.  On the way back we stopped in Lowell, Vermont to grab a snack, which turned out to be a pleasant, if long-delayed, time.  Gary kept threatening to ask people where the baseball stadium was, pretending that the Lowell Spinners, a Red Sox minor league affiliate (from Lowell, Massachusetts), and long-time rival of the Lake Monsters, played in tiny Lowell, VT.  He's always causing mischief, which I'm sure he gets from his mother.

Lake Memphremagog.  We didn't pick up any evil vibes that day.

The Boy resting at the shore.

When Gary was much, much younger his nickname was Little G, but at a certain point he definitively stated that he didn't like the name, so he just became G, and I lost my nickname, and simply because Scudder.

One of my general rules of thumb is that you don't order food out of its natural boundaries, but we decided to visit Cajun's Snack Bar anyway.  We especially liked all the alligator signs.

Gary starting to fade.  The place was packed, which might explain why it took an hour to get hot dogs.

Still, they were good hot dogs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Super Cyclone

One of the many interests that Gary and I have shared over the years - as we also always did with his mother - was the love of really bad movies.  I'd hate to think how many horrific science fiction and monster movies we've watched together, and that, of course, also explains our shared love of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  This visit we've had the opportunity to watch several movies together, both more legitimate ones at the Roxie downtown - Ant-Man (not bad for a Marvel Universe movie - pretty clever at times) and Mr. Holmes (excellent and highly recommended) - but also a couple real dogs we streamed on Netflix - Super Cyclone and Earth vs the Asteroid.  While we both really loved Mr. Holmes, and discussed it and the entire Holmes canon over coffee at Muddy Waters after the show, I think we had the best time laughing over the utter absurdity of Super Cyclone, which was one of those embarrassingly bad movies where the continuity errors are beyond belief (sort of like Plan 9 From Outer Space bad) - we're driving at night, during the day, during a storm, in the sunlight, fake rain is falling on the car - but somehow not getting rid of the dust on the car, and now it's dark again - and on and on and on.  Priceless.  Ming Na clearly had a student loan payment due when they approached her with that script.

Grabbing sushi at the co-op before the movie.  If we were with my excellent friend Cinse we'd have smuggled malted milk balls into the theater, but we weren't, and so no one did, nor has she ever done so - nor anyone else.

The Quarry

My son has been trying to get me to go with him for a swim at the quarry above Barre for over a decade.  Recently he passed through the state and, in addition to spending so much wonderful time with him, he finally dragged me up there.  We've had such a wonderful time, and doubtless the blog will be reflecting all of our adventures from the past week.  It's just makes me so happy to spend time with him.

And the requisite background information.  This is not the main quarry that you see when you initially climb up the hill above Barre, and I didn't even know it existed.  It's a beautiful walk up from Graniteville.

I don't think you're allowed to park at the base of the hill anymore - and it's easy to blow right past it.

If you climb to the top you can get a really pretty view looking down upon the main quarry, and the mountains in the background.

Yes, and on we trudge to Gondor.  Although the quarry is officially abandoned, although the trail is maintained, there are immense piles of granite (known as grout) which the local stone masons must use for practice.

Some of the works are pretty whimsical, and they pop out randomly, which adds to their charm.
And some are pretty fierce - obviously, I sent a picture of this one to my friend Andy Burkhardt.

And here is the upper quarry.  I do like this picture quite a bit, although I have typically, and clumsily, framed it - one of the classic signs of amateur and amateurish photographers.
I'm struggling with the blog today, and the pictures and popping up randomly and out or order, but I don't have the time or energy to keep fixing them.  Here's a lovely little cliff, and if you squint you can see my son at the top.  And, yes, we both did jump off from up there - him much more gracefully than me.

As part of my research I've been rereading James Fenimore Cooper's The Leatherstocking Tales, and for some reason this picture of my son reminds me of The Last of the Mohicans.
And a closeup of Gary on top of the cliff.  He jumped off a couple times with no trouble; his father much less successfully.  As might be expected, I lost my sense of balance flying down and managed a slap my leg pretty dramatically - and still have a lovely round six inch bruise to show for it.

And here's Hawkeye on top of the cliff looking at an even higher cliff.  He was endearingly protective of me.  Mainly he just wanted to spend some time with me and go for a swim.  We got to the edge of the cliff and he said, "You know, you don't really have to do this."

And here's the bigger cliff that the local kids just refer to as Death.  My son has actually seen someone jump from up there, but made it clear that he thought it was pretty insane.  We figured it had to be around seventy or so feet high, whereas our "little" leap was "only" around twenty-five.

I've written on this blog before that the Ryan Adams song This House is Not For Sale is my official song of my 50's.  This may be my official picture.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hey Hey My My

There are times when I'm actually quite proud to live in this odd little place.  The other night, for only the second time in my life, I actually was able to see Neil Young in concert.  It was the first time since I saw him on a bizarre one man electric show during one of his experimental periods in the early 80s.  This was also, unbelievably, his first performance in Vermont in his long and unmatched career.  He seemed remarkably happy to be here, and a lot of this relates to the unabashedly liberal politics of the state and the fact that VT is leading the fight against GMO - hence the name of his album The Monsanto Years.  He gave $100,000 from the proceeds of the concert to back Vermont's legal fight.  In the end he is a man of principle, and that's odd in the today's world of media whores.

Here's a playlist, which I wanted to get down before it faded away.

After the Gold Rush
Heart of Gold
Long May Your Run
Old Man
Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)
Out On the Weekend
Unknown Legend
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
From Hank to Hendrix
Harvest Moon
Wolf Moon
Looking' For A Love
Moonlight in Vermont
A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop
People Want To Hear About Love
A New Day for Love
Country Home
Down By The River
Workin' Man
Monsanto Years
Love And Only Love

Random reflections.  The experience is still too unsettled and raw for the construction of a unified essay; plus, I"m taking time away from grading and my own research/writing, but maybe I'll revisit this later.

I got really emotional as soon as soon as he appeared on stage and started singing After The Gold Rush.  Yes, I cried.  Growing up out in the middle of nowhere in southern Indiana he meant everything to me.  It was having someone out there who completely got the sense of alienation, but also oddly hope, that I felt.  I've listened to songs like Helpless probably tens of thousands of times, and they still give me goosebumps.  To see him, for what may be the last time (neither of us are getting in younger) was practically overpowering.  I just feel that for years his music kept me focused.  I think my mom was afraid that I spent way too much time listening to depressing music, but it actually had exactly the opposite impact.  It taught me that its OK to be sad, and that sitting in the dark quietly reflecting on the absurdity and cruelty of life, is actually a very healthy thing; and that in the end it gives you a greater love and appreciation for the inherent beauty of life.

Young can still bring it.  He's 69, and spent three hours thrashing with Promise of the Real, and a bunch of guys who are thirty or forty years younger than him.  Their versions of Down By The River and Love and Only Love were incendiary.

Before the show Kelly and I were enjoying some fried dough when Daryl Hannah walked up and asked us questions about it, mainly whether ir was sweet or savory and how it was made.  The best part of the experience was that Kelly clearly had no idea who it was, and when I told her after Hannah walked away she initially didn't believe me.  I had one of those odd experiences where within about seven nano-seconds I had three contradictory experiences: shit, that's Daryl Hannah; wait, that can't be Daryl Hannah; oh, yeah, that makes perfect sense, it's Daryl Hannah.  My only regret is that I didn't offer her some of the fried dough.

I had a great time with the excellent Kelly Thomas.  She's quite the Neil Young fan herself, which I discovered a couple years ago and I left her in possession of some of my NY CDs when I took off for the UAE for a year.  I thought for a long time that she really detested me (as many people do, quite appropriately), but now we've become great friends.  She's a good, gentle soul.

He played several songs that I would not have bet a tired dime that he would actually play in concert.  I liked that he play Words (Between The Lines of Age).  It's a song which I love a lot more in its rough form (a couple of his albums replicate twenty minute versions where he is tinkering with it, which better displays the complexity of the song) as compared to the final polished version.  He also played Lookin' For A Love.  It's rare to hear a song off Zuma other than Cortez the Killer.

I actually sort of liked the new songs from the Monsanto Years album.  They're a bit preachy, but you have to admire the fact that at 69 he's still passionate about things and won't back down.

Doubtless, more later, but it was an amazing night.  It made me feel that at 55 I can still accomplish things, and that, to paraphrase a line from one of his new songs, it's a bad day for doing nothin'.

The excellent Kelly Thomas on the way to get fried dough, and face mysterious destiny.

Kelly's great friends Chris and Carolyn.  I didn't get to spend enough time with them, but they seem like great folks.  I did get to chat with Carolyn about Young and Lucinda Williams, and these are obviously essential foundations of an excellent person.

It was odd, in some ways, to have the concert at the Fairgrounds, but we're a small state and this is our biggest venue, which may also explain why Young had never made it to Vermont before the other night.  It was a night that threatened storms, but in the end only provided a wonderful backdrop to an amazing concert.  The lightning in the distance made the end of the concert even better.

A terrible picture, but an amazing moment.  Neil's first song was After The Gold Rush, with the requisite replacement of "in the 1970's" with "in the 21st century."  I cried as soon as he started singing.  It's hard to express what his music has meant to me over the decades.

Monday, July 20, 2015

My Actual Night in Wadi Rum

In a previous post I discussed the amazing night we spent in the Wadi Rum, and, truthfully, I will never forget it.  We're already discussing our next trip to Jordan, which will have to include at two nights, hopefully more, in the Wadi Rum.  However, I didn't actually get to sleep in that lovely little desert hut that was reserved for me.  As is well documented, I have profound sleep apnea, which would mean that trying to sleep without my CPAP machine is almost impossible - I definitely wouldn't sleep much, and my extraordinary snoring would assure that no one else would get any sleep at all.  Still, I had warned the students and Cyndi, and positioned myself as far away from others as possible, and just decided to cowboy up and accept that it was going to be a bad night (and brutal next day).  However, we were sitting in the large communal tent when I noticed a plug-in, which, I discovered, was fueled by solar power.  I asked if I might be able to sleep on the floor in the tent, and the Jordanian who ran the camp, as one would expect from a Jordanian (famous for their hospitality) immediately set up a little bed on the floor - and they even went out of their way to be quiet and prematurely shut down the party of a group of German tourists in the other part of the communal tent.  And, so, here is my bed, replete with my CPAP machine, which has toughed it out and traveled all over the world with me, and once again helped me pull through what might have been a bad night.  It ended up being a great night, and I rose, a little achy, but prepared to tackle Petra.

Not a bad set up, all things considered.  They dragged a slight mattress and a large pile of blankets, and I survived the cold desert night just fine.